What Michael Moore hath wrought, part 917: a documentary whose star is its director, and just about everything wrong with it stems from that fact. Kirby Dick's This Film Is Not Yet Rated is a muckraking exposé of the Motion Picture Association of America, and a fairly successful attack on the hypocritical and sex-phobic ratings system. Through interviews with some of the directors who have tangled with the MPAA and lost (you always lose, tangling with the MPAA), such as Kevin Smith, Matt Stone and Kimberly Peirce, Dick proves what all of us have known all along: anything vaguely kinky is bad in Hollywood, and anything showing women can possibly enjoy the sex act is really, really bad. Decapitations? They're fine.

The film suffers a bit from familiarity (does anyone need to be told that the ratings system is flawed), and yet it is valuable for providing all of these arguments, with film clips to back everything up, in one neat package. The style is a bit maddening at times, full of many bright-colored graphics with hard-to-read fonts, and it's clear that Dick is trying to make an academic subject a bit more accessible, with mixed results (worst example: a list of all the directors who received or were threatened with an NC-17, while comprehensive, is almost impossible to read, and it's frustrating to see Aronofsky and Kubrick lumped in with Stone and Smith, as though there isn't a fundamental imbalance in their films' merits).

Running alongside this commentary is an actual plot, in which Dick hires a private investigator (she is a lesbian, which the film takes some pains to make sure we notice; why this matters is unclear, but I can't think of a single explanation that isn't exploitative) to track down the anonymous members of the MPAA ratings board, on the arguement that accountability and transparency are necessary things in any censorship body in a functioning democracy. Which I agree with, and it is hard not to get angry that not one of these "typical American parents" has a child younger than high-school age. The problem is that Dick fashions himself as a iconoclastic hero for violating these people's privacy, even though it's fairly clear that his is a temporary, unimportant victory. This is the chief difference between someone like Moore and someone like Dick: both are self-aggrandizing, but Moore knows he's not making things better. Dick suffers from annoyingly sopomoric delusions of self-importance. His tone is endlessly snarky, and frankly grating. It takes a lot to make my sympathise with the people who called Eyes Wide Shut pornographic, but he comes close.

Still, the material is interesting, and some of his muckraking does have a purpose. I just wish he wasn't such a Dick about it.

I'm really sorry about that.