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Firstly: A brief history of censorship in American Film
In the early days In the early days of Hollywood shortly after the development of film-making as an industry, moralists objected to the amount of nudity, sexuality, criminality and violence portrayed in films. Censorship boards were set up in various states and controls began to be imposed, often on a voluntary basis, once moving pictures became widespread and available to mass viewing audiences (encouraged by the popularity of nickelodeons, first called "arcade peepshows") However, the vast complexity of various local, state and national censorship laws added to the problem of enforcement, i.e. in some states an ankle couldn't be displayed, or pregnancy couldn't be mentioned.
Early Scandals To appease various groups worried about the powerful effects of movies on the mainstream and growing resentment of the 'get-rich' quick Hollywood mentality, the film industry made some efforts to self-censor its own production, worried that it might be shut down --- especially after a very publicised case that made headlines.
Fatty Arbuckle In this infamous September 1921 Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle scandal (for the rape and murder of young 27 year-old starlet Virginia Rappe in San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel), the popular silent comedian was eventually fully acquitted of the eventual manslaughter charge after three trials.
So… in 1930 The MPPDA creates A Code to Maintain Social and Community Values in the Production of Silent, Synchronized and Talking Motion Pictures, also called the Production Code or the Hays Code. It condemns movies that "lower the moral standards" of viewers and promises that "the sympathy of the audience shall never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil, or sin."
Pre-Code Hollywood At first Movie producers paid little attention to the Code, however.
What is pre-code cinema? Pre-Code: shorthand for the era of Hollywood movie-making between the advent of sound in 1929 and the ascendance of Hays Office censorship in 1934. The term is in fact a misnomer. The Production Code was written and officially adopted in 1930, but for the next four years, like Prohibition, it was flouted with near impunity.
1929 – 1934: A fascinating time in Film History The appeal of pre-Code movies lies not in sex, violence or vulgarity (there's more than enough of those in the infinitely more explicit cinema of the last forty years) but in their attitude, which conveyed the pessimism and irreverence of their time. Radical cultural changes in the wake of World War I, the farce of Prohibition, the 1929 stock-market crash and the Great Depression combined to create a pervasive disillusionment and loss of respect for authority and traditional values. For a few years the lack of rigorous censorship allowed movies to channel the mood of the country and to capture society warts and all. They depicted adultery, divorce, rape, prostitution and homosexuality; bluntly portrayed alcoholism and drug addiction, glorified gangsters, con artists and fallen women. With a distinctive blend of cynicism and exuberance, they offered escapist entertainment but also bitter and sometimes radical visions of a society on the verge of breakdown. Let’s watch some…
In 1934, two key events The Catholic Legion of Decency is formed. An estimated 10 million Catholics sign a pledge "to refrain from viewing all objectionable movies or attending any theater that showed such films." However, the Legion advocates self-regulation, not government regulation, because of concern for separation of church and state. The risk of Catholic boycotts, however, provides an economic incentive to placate Catholic critics. Joseph I. Breen becomes head of the new Production Code Authority, which enforces the Hays Code. Under Breen, who serves for 20 years, the PCA is closely allied with the Legion of Decency. During this period, movie production companies are essentially required to join the PCA, and any company that releases a film without its seal of approval is subject to a fine.
Post-code movies The Production Code spelled out specific restrictions on language and behaviour, particularly sex and crime. It prohibited nudity, suggestive dances, and the ridicule of religion. It forbade the depiction of illegal drug use, venereal disease, childbirth, and profanity. The language section banned dozens of "offensive" words and phrases, leading to the shocked outcry from many moviegoers when the film Gone with the Wind included the word "damn." Criminal activity could not be depicted on film in a way that led viewers to sympathize with criminals. The sanctity of marriage and the home had to be upheld. Adultery and illicit sex, although recognized as sometimes necessary to the plot, could not be explicit or justified and were not supposed to be presented as an attractive option.
Banned Words (1) No approval by the Production Code Administration shall be given to the use of words and phrases in motion pictures including, but not limited to, the following: Alley cat (applied to a woman); bat (applied to a woman); broad (applied to a woman); Bronx cheer (the sound); chippie; cocotte; God, Lord, Jesus, Christ (unless used reverently); cripes; fanny; fairy (in a vulgar sense); finger (the); fire, cries of; Gawd; goose (in a vulgar sense); “hold your hat” or “hats”; hot (applied to a woman); “in your hat”; louse; lousy; Madam (relating to prostitution); nance, nerts; nuts (except when meaning crazy); pansy; razzberry (the sound); slut (applied to a woman); SOB.; son-of-a; tart; toilet gags; tom cat (applied to a man); traveling salesman and farmer’s daughter jokes; whore; damn; hell (excepting when the use of said last two words shall be essential and required for portrayal, in proper historical context, of any scene or dialogue based upon historical fact or folklore, or for the presentation in proper literary context of a Biblical, or other religious quotation, or a quotation from a literary work provided that no such use shall he permitted which is intrinsically objectionable or offends good taste).
Weakening of the code Eventually, the strict censorship and regulation system started to go into gradual decline after World War II and as the 50s arrived. By the mid-50s, the Production Code was partially rewritten to allow, when "treated within the careful limits of good taste", such previously banned topics as drug addiction, prostitution and childbirth. The landmark Miracle Supreme Court decision of the early 50s declared that films were protected as 'free speech' by the First Amendment to the Constitution, and most censorship was ruled unconstitutional.
The ‘Miracle’ case The cornerstone decision came about regarding the showing of Italian neorealist director Roberto Rossellini's short 43-minute film The Miracle (1948, It.) The film, with a story scripted by Federico Fellini, starred Anna Magnani as a dim-witted, unwed young peasant girl named Nanni whose child she believed was the new Christ child. Catholic leader Francis Cardinal Spellman attacked The Miracle and the film was subsequently banned by the New York State Board of Regents under 30 year-old censorship regulations barring 'sacrilegious' films. In a remarkable 9-0 unanimous decision in 1952 in the case of Burstyn v. Wilson, the Supreme Court decided that the New York Board of Regents could not ban the film. The Court declared "sacrilege" too vague a censorship standard to be permitted under the First Amendment. Film was finally freed from federal censorship, although local censorship boards could still ban a film deemed 'objectionable’
1966 By 1966, the studio’s control over movie content minimal, as they no longer made movies American society & values were rapidly changing Resulted in more adult content & fewer self-restraints Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf The first film that tested the Code but the film’s distributor, Warner Bros, backed down and made cuts. Jack Valenti, becomes head of the MPAA and immediately begins to revise the Production Code. He creates the category "SMA - Suggested for Mature Audiences" for "blatant" material. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is the first film designated SMA.
Blow-up - 1966 Rather than cut nude scenes from Blow-Up, Michelangelo Antonioni chooses to release it without an MPAA seal.
The Ratings System In 1968, Supreme Court upheld constitutional power of states & cities to prevent exposure of children to books & films that could not be denied to adults 1968, MPAA announced the ratings system: G - General Audiences, all ages admitted M - Mature Audiences, parental guidance suggested R - Restricted, children under 16 would not be admitted without an accompanying parent or adult guardian X - No one under 17 admitted The philosophy behind this was that no one would dictate to filmmakers what kind of films they could or could not make.
CHANGES IN RATING SYSTEM M became GP (General audiences, Parental Guidance Suggested), then PG: Parental Guidance Suggested 1984, PG split into PG & PG‑13 1990, X changed to NC‑17: NO CHILDREN UNDER 17 ADMITTED X had come to symbolize hard-core porn Used by distributors to advertise their films MPAA trademarked “NC‑17: NO CHILDREN UNDER 17 ADMITTED” But there continues to be harsh critics of the ratings system
What do you think? Opinion writing 1)Is it necessary to restrict films or television that show nudity? Sex? What about violence? Bad language? Why? 2) Are people influenced by what they see on screen? Do you think there’s a link between on-screen violence and anti-social behaviour? 3) What are the main things you believe censors should take into account when giving a rating to a film?
Midnight Cowboy: A historical reading. In 1969Midnight Cowboy wins three Academy Awards. It is the first and only X-rated film to receive an Oscar for Best Picture. The X stands for explicit (not pornographic). This became a problem for the producers, as many theatres wouldn’t show x-rated films, nor newspapers show adverts. This explicitness is a reflection of both the time it came out of, as well as filmmakers willingness to experiment, and the decline of the studio system. Midnight Cowboy is a precursor for the ‘New Hollywood films of the 1970s.
The decline of the Studio System Due in part to falling profits and the rise of television, a vacuum arose in the industry that opened the door for fresh ideas. Hollywood was redirected and, as a result, American cinema entered a new age – an age when box-office success did not necessarily preclude sophisticated content in a movie, an age when political discourse was not relegated to non-existence or tokenism, or a niche-market. The period between 1969 and the beginning of the 1980s saw American cinema, inspired as it was by international filmmaking (such as the French New Wave), offering critical, ambiguous and highly artful movies.
‘New Hollywood’ Decline in Hollywood studio system precipitated by a change in demography and values at the end of the 60s. The emergence of the director, as a legitimate artist in his or her own right, shifted focus from the studios, which by the '60s had grown formulaic and unadventurous in their output, to a new generation of writers and directors, whose concerns and experience were markedly different from the conservative voice of the movie industry at that point.
Context within society: 1969 Release during ‘Summer of Love’ There is a historical implication of the type of society the film was coming out of: Liberal, left-wing, looking to make social progress. This is reflected in many of the films concerns Class struggle The shifting role of men Marginalisation
Two main issues in 1969 1) Crisis of American imperial nationalism produced by war in Vietnam. 2) Emergence of gay liberation movement/challenge traditional forms of heterosexual/national masculinity. The Stonewall Riots 1969 Gay riots against police for raids in the Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village NYC
How is all this reflected in Midnight Cowboy? Write a page explaining this.