Interesting article on IMDb today about the MPAA changing its rating policy. What I found most interesting is that (unless IMDb is misquoting him) the head of the MPAA actually credited the documentary "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" with influencing their decision. I would normally expect them to say that this is something they've been considering for a while, and they reached this decision independently (like McDonald's coincidentally ending the super-size option after the film "Super Size Me" came out). Especially since the grievances aired in the movie have been around for a while. Was the MPAA so isolated that they didn't know there were complaints until this movie came out? More likely, Jack Valenti was just stubborn (his fight with Trey Parker and Matt Stone over "South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut" is pretty legendary). Seems like this Dan Glickman guy (former Congressman from Kansas and Secretary of Agriculture under Clinton) is more reasonable.
As for the actually changes, I've no strong opinion. I like the idea of a filmmaker being able to cite scenes from other movies in the appeal process. And it sounds like he might break the R rating into essentially soft-R and hard-R. That'll be interesting to see if that happens and how it shakes out (the last big shakeup, introducing the PG-13 rating, is widely seen as causing more movies that would've been made PG previously to add a little "spice" to make them PG-13, and it had very little effect on R movies).
More importantly, this would all be academic if the rating system weren't such a gatekeeper to distribution. Technically the ratings hold no legal weight and are designed to be just a guide for parents. And if you consider it from the point of view of the government telling them "regulate your own content to protect children or we'll do it for you", the system isn't that bad. Problem is, there are a lot of compelling movies that are NC-17 or unrated, and unless you live in a major metropolitan area, you'll never get to see them (at least not on the big screen). So I accept the idea that a rating system is probably needed, even useful. I welcome tweaks to the rating system, but overall it'll still be subjective. And there will be many movies I want to see that are not appropriate for children. So I don't see the issue as a rating problem as much as a distribution problem.
Any ideas out there about how to fix the distribution system so compelling, provocative, mature movies can be seen by whoever wants to see them? Just saying that theaters need to be brave and show these movies unrated (which is completely legal) is unreasonable. They still need to make money, so it's an economic issue.