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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Monday (9/13/10) 4:46pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

[Missed a week, mainly because of Out of Bounds.]

Movies:  This Film Is Not Yet Rated
TV:  Burn Notice [3x05-3x08], Commentary!
Books:  <none>

This Film Is Not Yet Rated
This is Jack Kirby's documentary about the MPAA ratings board -- the people who decide, sometimes with whimsical arbitrariness, whether a movie is G, PG, PG-13, R, or the dreaded NC-17.

The film's point of view is predictable and straightforward:  the ratings board is bad.  It is biased heavily to the six major studios -- hey, the same companies that fund it!  It operates entirely in secrecy, unlike the ratings boards of any other country.  And deep down, it represents most of the quaint social mores that make America a laughingstock to the developed world:  sex is bad, sex that's not in the missionary position is worse, gay sex is a terrifying evil, and if under any circumstances a WOMAN ENJOYS SEX, it may well end our nation as we know it.

There are interesting directions you can go from there.  It's perfectly fair to explore how conservatives defend this take on sexual ethics, or to consider the extent to which the MPAA reflects America's mores versus the mores that will keep Republican lawmakers happy.  Perhaps we could ask ourselves if it's even *possible* to create ratings that serve such a radically polarized population, or explore the huge divide between the producers of art in America and a large plurality of its consumers.

You might think the documentary would go there, but you'd be presuming a level of sophistication that the documentary doesn't really have.  No, this is good old-fashioned muckraking, with Kirby doing his best to uncover the shadowy wrongdoing at the heart of the MPAA's rating system.  He employs a private investigator to find the people on the ratings board, in a running storyline that feels more or less like a reality-TV show, complete with cheap-looking video, awkwardly-staged moments, and cheesy, MIDI music on the soundtrack.  Filmmakers tell their war stories about their Kafkaesque dealings with the board.

It paints a picture of the MPAA ratings board that is more-or-less what you'd expect.  The raters all come across as quiet, middle-aged Midwesterners.  No one on the board is openly gay.  They keep a couple of priests (one Episcopalian, one Catholic) on the appeals board at all time.  So of course when you compose this group, you get some ghastly tendencies like their terror that their childrens will pick up teh ghay from the teevee.  And of course those quaint and timid beliefs wind up inflicted on society at large via the rating system.

Intellectually, I know I'm supposed to get angry about this.  Generally, though, my response is more like, "But isn't American film these days just a vacuous, pretty-flickering-light distraction for teenage boys?"  I expect current movies to have all the edginess and moral complexity of a mid-80s after-school special.  So long as these bowdlerizing old farts don't deny me my right to watch Mad Men, I think we're cool.[1]

Burn Notice [3x05-3x08]
I don't have much to say about the next few episodes of Burn Notcie, because they don't *go* much of anywhere.  Sure, Burn Notice was always more an episodic show than a serialized one, but at least the first season gave you an illusion of forward motion.  Every week, he made a little more progress towards uncovering the people who burned him.  And at least the second season had Michael slowly uncovering the Evil Plot that his employers were putting together.

Season three feels much more static.  Michael wants to get his job back.  Fi doesn't want him working with Brenner.  And... that's it, week after week.  Perhaps the strain between Michael and Fi increases as the weeks progress, but really, that's it.  Until something changes qualitatively, I just won't have much to say about it.

Oh, but I did have one side note:  this batch of episodes includes one of the first episodes of Burn Notice I've seen where a seemingly-innocent character turns out to be a baddie.  It was a bit forced, and it felt out-of-place on this show.  I always appreciated that Burn Notice was a very straight-ahead bit of escapism:  the twists in the story were along the lines of "the job is actually more challenging than you thought it was" twists rather than "everything you know is wrong!" twists.

Frankly, damn near every other show on TV wants to pull the rug out from under you at every act break.  And many shows, in doing so, make it so you just don't really care about the action.  Even LOST (arguably the most expert of the 'rugpull shows') had stretches where the story was so laden with vagueness and misinformation that I didn't particularly care about the story -- lesser shows have only fared worse.  And with this reveal in Burn Notice, I suddenly felt more distanced from the storyline.  I was sitting back, considering it intellectually, seeing how well they prepared for the 180°, and not really feeling the episode.

Hopefully this won't be a pattern for them.  I'd like the show to progress and change, but not in *that* direction.

Many DVDs have commentary tracks, where the people behind the production watch and discuss the program.  Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog scored a first, I think, with Commentary!, the musical commentary track on the Doctor Horrible DVD.

I don't have much to say about this DVD extra -- mainly I just wanted to mention that it exists, and it's a lot of fun.  In fact it has much more music than the original show, with each of the principal actors and writers getting a solo number.

And the songs are fun.  The whole thing feels like a backstage running gag that got way out-of-hand.  I can envision them gradually building up songs about these various backstage shenanigans until they finally had a full album's worth of numbers devoted to, say, the iPhone game they all wound up playing ("Ninja Ropes") or Nathan Fillion making fun of Neil Patrick Harris (the dangerously-earwormy "(Better Than) Neil").  It's innocuous and fun, and worth a quick listen if you feel like poking around YouTube for a bit.

[1] And I say that knowing full well that television Standards & Practices are leagues and leagues more insane and hidebound than anything the MPAA rating board could even dream of.  It's perfectly likely that a similar documentary about TV censorship could absolutely incense me, just because I hold the medium up to a higher standard.

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Mood: [mood icon] contemplative · Music: none
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Date:Monday (9/13/10) 4:39pm
"Best musical commentary ever!"
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