prog: 1903

Censorship, U.S.A.

The Hollywood cinema as regards censorship and control, zoom on the ‘pre-Code’ period.

During a few years, between the arrival of ‘talkies’ and the summer of 1934, Hollywood enjoyed a kind of freedom which found no match in the three decades that followed. So much so that many will forget that, well before the 1960s, one had been able to see on screen explicit films which resembled real life and spoke like adults. One was a long way from the asepticized, Manichean and infantilizing world that will be imposed as tally by the sanctimonious of all stripes.

The Roaring Twenties
The 1920s are crazy: economic growth, liberalization of customs, women’s emancipation, prohibition and explosion of organized crime, jazz, frivolity and decadence… at least for part of the population, young and urban. The film industry is in full swing, the public wants a show that lives up to the expectations. The movie industry soon follows suit and will not hesitate to call a spade a spade.

The Sins of Hollywood
During this period, in Hollywood, a series of sordid scandals and affaires make the headlines in the press. The film industry is associated with depravity. The protests spread all over the country, the leagues of virtue and other catholic lobbies organize boycotts with the local authorities, which make the law as regards censorship up to that point. The boxoffice trembles, the investors retract and the government threatens to intervene. The big studios must act, a large public relations’ campaign is organized: Hollywood will take the matter in its own hands and apply auto-censorship. In order to do so, the main studios create the ‘Motion Picture Producers’ and ‘Distributors of America’ and place a saint at its head: William Hays. He will incarnate the rise of moral standards and will write, in 1930, the ‘Production Code’ (aka ‘Code Hays’) describing in much detail what can and cannot be seen and evoked on screen onwards. But…

1930 - 1934: Pre-code Hollywood
During four years, the Code remains a mere symbol. Hays limits his action to recommendations and is subordinated to the studios which, given the economic crisis, push the limits to attract the public to the theatres. The films become more and more provocative. If censorship is integrated, it is more so out of mockery! The pressure and threats of boycotts intensify, the influential Legion of Decency leading the crusade.

Summer of ’34
The MPPDA reorganizes, the Code kicks in. Although it isn’t mandatory in theory, in practice no film can be shot and distributed without the stamp of approval of the Production Code Administration, directed by the enthusiastic catholic Joseph Breen Codes. The Hollywood cinema turns on its head almost overnight. Orthodoxe Christian morals become its new trademark (which still prevails no matter how provocative or independent). Censorship is also retroactive since the pre-Code cinema is proscribed from the theatres and later also from TV. Certain films are recut according to the new provisions or give way to remakes of a higher moral standard with a few years interval!
If one can regret the freedom of tone of this period, the strict framework of censorship will force the directors and screenwriters to be more resourceful in order to bring out their ideas. The insinuation becomes an art and some think that the constraint was beneficial by encouraging subtlety. In addition, to plunge the spectators in the parallel world governed by the laws of censorship, an increasing number technical and narrative resources are deployed. The music underlines the intrigue, the rhythm intensifies, the screen widens. The Hollywood style is forged and its success guaranteed.

C for Censorship Classification
Since the 1950s and especially in the following decade, certain films challenge once again the code of censorship. It becomes increasingly possible not to be subjected to its rulership. The MPPDA (become MPAA) must evolve to keep up with social change, TV and the arrival of the new European, cinema. In 1968 the Code is replaced by a system of classification still in force nowadays. Officially, there is no longer censorship on the contents, films will simply be classified for a public considered suitable. The wind of freedom blows again. Except that mechanisms of economic nature will bring another kind of censorship, increasingly marked by the growth in the monopoly of the big studios in the film industry.

15.12 > 19:00

Thou Shalt Not

Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood

Steven Smith, 2008, US, video, ov st fr, 68'

+ The Mystery of the Leaping Fish

John Emerson, 1916, US, video, silent, st int en, 25'

+ Betty Boop meets Will Hays

Dave Fleischer, 1933-1938, US, video, ov , 2 x 6'

28.11 > 22:00 + 15.12 > 21:00
5€ / 3,5€

Kirby Dick, 2006, US, video, ov st fr, 98'

01.12 > 18:00 + 20.12 > 20:00
5€ / 3,5€

Van Guylder, 1971, US, 35mm, ov , 82'

06.12 > 22:00 + 20.12 > 22:00
5€ / 3,5€

Mark Rappaport, 1997, US, video, ov , 100'

08.12 > 17:00 + 13.12 > 22:00
5€ / 3,5€

lang: en
id_rubrique: 1910
prog: 1903
pos: aval