Frustrated by the manner in which the Motion Picture Association Of America (MPAA) rates films, a documentarist hires a private detective to expose the members of an unaccountable panel of mostly non-film experts whose identities are kept as secret as their political and religious affiliations.
Judging by the number of filmmakers willing to contribute their tuppenyworth to this documentary, director Kirby Dick is clearly not alone in thinking that the MPAA has an agenda that far exceeds its mandate to advise both artists and the public on the content suitable for showing on America’s cinema screens.
Indeed, the investigations of private eye Becky Altringer and her cohorts seem to bear out the suspicions of Kimberly Peirce, John Waters et al that US films are censored by ultra-conservatives whose verdicts can neither be challenged nor explained. And it’s no accident that the majority of these aggrieved directors are ‘independents’, without the clout of the big studios behind them — unlike the MPAA itself, which was established with the assent of Hollywood’s major players after the collapse of the notorious Hays Code.
But while such accusations of industry bias are compelling, the strength of this acerbic polemic lies in its discussion of the seemingly arbitrary criteria by which this smug cabal reaches its decisions, censoring sex more stringently than violence and gay sex more than straight sex. In this regard, the revelations uncovered are telling in indicting Jack Valenti and those who have endorsed the MPAA’s reactionary crusade.
Packed with amusing graphics, animated sequences and damning testimonies, this is a landmark denunciation of Hollywood infantilisation and protectionism.