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Friday, September 29, 2006

This Film Is Not Yet Rated, The U.S. vs. John Lennon 

This Film Is Not Yet Rated:

Even if you don’t know what the Motion Picture Association of America is, you know its work. The G/PG/PG-13/R/NC-17 system is their baby, designed to help parents decide what is safe viewing for their children. Of more than 30 similar agencies surveyed worldwide, the MPAA is the only one to operate in complete secrecy; no one knows who makes up the ranks of the raters, nor what their criteria are. Creator and former chair Jack Valenti often said this was to protect the board from “outside influences,” which would be a noble sentiment if the MPAA didn’t answer to—and only to—the seven largest studios in the country.

You see, the MPAA is “voluntary.” It’s set up by the studios and not by the government so the movie industry can appear to be self-regulating. Conveniently, this means civil necessities like “transparency” and “public accountability” are sidestepped. Likewise, a filmmaker does not have to submit his or her film to the MPAA to get it shown. But since the MPAA is hooked up to every major studio, distributor, and theater chain in the country, not getting an MPAA rating is tantamount to committing career suicide. Sure, you can get your film made. But if no one in the country will promote it, carry it, or exhibit it, what exactly was the point?

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The U.S. vs. John Lennon:

The U.S. vs. John Lennon has access to a staggering array of people, ranging from a florid Gore Vidal to a totally unrepentant G. Gordon Liddy. Seemingly everyone who had an impact on America in the 70’s is here; writers, artists, musicians, politicians, journalists, FBI agents, and activists from both sides of the political aisle. So why does the whole exercise feel so superficial?

The U.S. vs. John Lennon is a “rock doc,” as those hipsters at VH1 call it, and it has all the depth one might expect out of a typical episode of Behind the Music. The glamor is there, the glitz, the hint of the optimistically progressive spirit of the counter-culture 70’s. But there’s no fire under all the smoke. The U.S. vs. John Lennon is content merely to catalogue a basic surface history.

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