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Condemned by The Catholic Legion of Decency

Discussion in 'The Moving Picture' started by scotrace, Mar 4, 2016.

  1. scotrace

    scotrace Head Bartender Staff Member

  2. The Legion of Decency carried a great deal of influence with the Production Code Administration -- Joseph Ignatius Breen, the head of that office, and the man who was actually in charge of enforcement of the Code, was a militant Catholic layman and was closely tied to the Legion of Decency. If the Legion criticised or condemned a film, whether for "moral" or political reasons, Breen was certain to do likewise. The upshot of this was an industry-enforced censorship operation that wasn't so much geared to the wishes of "mainstream America" as it was to a very narrow subset of Americans.

    Breen was also strongly influenced by a German agent by the name of Georg Gyssling, who ensured that American filmmakers avoided being too mean to his masters in Berlin. This harmonized well with Breen's overt and profound anti-Semitism, but that's a whole 'nother story....
  3. Inkstainedwretch

    Inkstainedwretch Practically Family

    I was raised Catholic in the '50s when the LoD list was still posted prominently in every church. I remember looking at the "C"titles and thinking that these films must be unspeakably evil. Years later seeing them on tv, I found myself asking, "What in hell were they seeing?" Almost all were utterly innocuous. Some, like "The Three Musketeers," were understandable: it portrayed a cardinal as a bad guy. But most seemed to contain no immorality whatsoever. It's still a mystery to me.
    Stearmen likes this.
  4. Religion used as a means of manipulating the proles, in order to protect vested pecuniary interests? Oh, say it ain't so, Joe....
    Bushman and Stearmen like this.
  5. Benproof

    Benproof A-List Customer

    I'm sure there is always some society who wishes to ask as the guardian for normalcy and decent values. Was that global or just in your side of the world :)

    I was always impressed by the Exorcist! Written by a catholic priest, it portrayed morality with a bit more fun :)
    rocketeer likes this.
  6. Thank goodness they never got a peek at my life story! Yowsah!

    Blackthorn likes this.
  7. rocketeer

    rocketeer Call Me a Cab

    Is it true at one time the word 'Toilet' and images of a lavatory were not allowed in the US film codes?
  8. Two quick ones:

    Still, possibly the scariest line ever delivered in any movie comes from the above-referenced "The Exorcist:" "God is not here today Priest."

    And while I have no respect for censorship or our "moral betters" - and the people who promote that are almost always a bit creepy - I will acknowledge that our lightly censored world today has resulted in one big garbage can of pop culture. I'll still stand with anyone against censorship, but the result isn't rainbows and unicorns.
    Benproof likes this.
  9. The one thing to be said for the LOD is that it was consistent -- the studios knew what they were dealing with. With the Breen Office, they were basically dealing with the personal whims of one very peculiar man -- a man who on the one side stood for the most rigid, narrow, and reactionary point of view possible and who on the other hand was often extraordinarly vulgar and vicious in his personal dealings. He was, in a great many ways, the same type of man as Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.

    And like McCarthy he was willing to play ball with you if you were willing to play ball with him. The Production Code was very thorough, but it had loopholes, and Breen would help a producer get thru them if there was a bit of quid pro quo -- if you kowtowed to him sufficiently he might concede to you on something you felt strongly about. That's how Selznick got "damn" into "Gone With The Wind." But if Breen didn't like you, or if you had done something to cause him to lose face, he would use the Code as a bludgeon against you until you realized who was boss. He especially relished using this power against those whose Eastern European Jewish ancestry made them, in Breen's own words, "the scum of the earth."

    In the end the Code wasn't about morality. It was about the ego, the personal prejudices, and the lust for power of one man -- Joseph Ignatius Breen.
  10. Benproof

    Benproof A-List Customer

    Toilet humour is now a genre well and truly accepted in the bowels of our social consciousness. No sssht...

    Well the moral brigade filtered out what was appropriate for society's higher standards of social norms then (than now).

    Today, we have self-appointed critics...RottenTomatoes and other bona fide critics and every spotty teenager with internet and an opinion emanating from his bedroom who replace these authoritarian boards.

    This is a worldwide trend in permissive society.

    Somewhere in China with the communist board, the morality of the communist board dictates the social norms; not twitter or facebook. Hence, an author referencing social themes such as "abortion", is subjected to the red line censorship of the board editing works. Not because abortion is morally offensive, but because it violated social policy. That is the opposite extreme of our democratic consequences.

    Our norms today are firmly rooted in the gutter; anything spiritual and valorized has to be categorised as heady or lofty, in order for us to dismiss....or lofty and fundamentalist ... in order to jeer at it.

    Lovely lot of people we are this century :D
    Fading Fast likes this.
  11. Benproof

    Benproof A-List Customer

    A truly terrifying existential moment where Cartesian doubt starts to make the viewer wobble at the fragility of the Father Karras :)

    The fascinating thing I find, revisiting it as an adult (instead of the horror of watching it as a child), is the profoundly human dimension in the film. Father Karras' own experience of death ... of his mother - empties him of faith, just as he discovers his mother has also lost hers before her death.

    This sub plot in the Exorcist is a powerful prefiguration in the society it was written for: authority dies in its throes and the greenhorn amateurs left to deal with the exorcism parallel our own lives, trying to muddle through doubt and uncertainty with our own powers.

    The real life story (The Exorcism of Roland Doe) which inspired The Exorcism is fascinating. Well, Rotten Tomatoes finds less interesting quotes compared to the ominous above. The language shift from the original is quite appalling :(

    • The Demon: What an excellent day for an exorcism.
      Father Damien Karras: Really? You would like that?
      The Demon: Intensely.
      Father Damien Karras: But won't that drive you out of Regan?
      The Demon: It would bring us together.
      Father Damien Karras: You and Regan?
      The Demon: You and us.
      ‐ Submitted by Maya B (3 years ago)

    • Regan MacNeil: I got a lot of problems. I need help.
      ‐ Submitted by Jesse K (3 years ago)

    • The Demon: Do you know what she did? Your cunting daughter...
      ‐ Submitted by Glenn M (3 years ago)

    • Regan MacNeil: Mo-ther...Make it stop!
      ‐ Submitted by Tim R (3 years ago)

    • The Demon: What a wonderful day for an exorcism!
      ‐ Submitted by John M (3 years ago)

    • The Demon: Your mother sucks cocks in Hell, Karras, you faithless slime.
    Fading Fast likes this.
  12. I have no respect for censorship, but Benproof hits on something I think about a lot: is there some non-censorship way - no government oversight, no "industry" review board, etc. - to have social standards that don't result in our pop culture dominated by junk and the default setting for many to be cynical to anything that feels "highbrow" or "uplifting?"

    Conventions, unwritten-rules of behavior, common practices take hold in a culture away from its written rules and laws to govern behavior and set standards for what is right and wrong or, at least, positive or negative. Is there a way for these not-top-down, not-forced norms to steer us toward a less-tawdry mass-market culture than we have today? Maybe not, and if the only alternative to what we have today is forced censorship, then I'll take what we have. It's just that on my more-positive days, I like to think there could be a better outcome.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2016
  13. There was no specific wording about toilets or toilet jokes, but the Breen Office generally -- ah -- eliminated these thru the interpretation of clauses relating to "good taste." Scenes set in bathrooms were not uncommon -- you'd often see a man shaving or a woman primping her hair or whatever in a bathroom mirror -- but you didn't see the working apparatus of the room itself.

    Prior to 1934, toilet, bathroom, and outhouse jokes were extremely common. They were a particular favorite of Mr. Disney, whose early animated shorts abounded in these types of gags. The vaudeville/movie comedian Chic Sale built his entire career on a routine about a carpenter who builds nothing but outhouses, and has firm views on the virtues and disadvantages of the various styles. And it was a rare cartoon showing a bedroom where you didn't see a chamber pot under the bed. Such humor wasn't expunged from popular culture simply by Joseph I. Breen ruling it out of the movies, though -- as any individual issue of "Ballyhoo" magazine or a Johnson-Smith novelty catalogue will attest.

    The first time any part of a toilet appeared on American television was in 1957, in an episode of "Leave It To Beaver," in which Beaver and Wally concealed an illicit pet alligator in the toilet tank.
  14. I think that's when you get into a discussion of differing cultural values -- and exactly *whose* cultural values should prevail, a question which has as much with the inculcation of social class attitudes as with "values." A person raised in a rural agrarian culture is going to have different cultural values from a member of the urban/semi-urban working class, who is in turn likely to have very different cultural values from a member of the urban bourgeoisie. Whose values are superior, and who gets to define that?

    For example, I come from a background where we spoke very frankly about the process of elimination -- we didn't couch it behind flowery euphemisms. One of my first words was the S--T word, and I didn't pick it up from furtive whispers. I heard it five hundred times a day from every adult within range. My uncle, a man born in 1934 and raised under the cultural hegemony of the Production Code Administration, took great pride in his ability to fart to music, and his favorite expression of astonishment or delight was "Well I'll be dipped in liquid s---!" This kind of of language was a cultural norm in my society. Nice middle-class folks would have been horrified, but that's how it was among the small-town working class fifty years ago, and judging from the way my grandfather talked it was the norm fifty years before that as well.

    I find myself limiting my use of such words, obviously, when I'm interacting with a largely bourgeois culture, but doing so still feels forced and clumsy to me. But I do so because it's necessary to at least put up a show of bourgeois behavior when you're interacting with bourgeois people. But is there any particular, empircal reason why bourgeois values should be the norm? Are those values objectively "superior?" Or is it simply a matter of doing what you have to do so as not to offend the thin-skinned -- who are the way they are because that's *their* culture?
  15. JackieMatra

    JackieMatra A-List Customer

    Is this the entire Catholic League of Decency "condemned" movie list?

    Only two Luis Bunuel films?!!!
    Only three Mae West films?
    Greta Garbo's last film? (Two-Faced Woman 1942)
    The first film appearance of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers together? (Flying Down to Rio 1934)
    A film with an Irish-Catholic woman living together unmarried with an ape-man and swimming naked in the jungle wasn't condemned? (Tarzan and his Mate 1934)
    A film with three openly homosexual characters wasn't condemned? (The Maltese Falcon 1941)
    Billy Jack?? (1971)
    Where's a "The Three Musketeers"?
  16. I don't know the answer and am not sure that there is one. Maybe, as you seem to imply, there is no answer because there is no cultural norm writ large in the US, just a bunch of sub-cultures.

    I don't - at least I try not to - think that my view of what is "right" or "wrong," what is "uplifting" or "beneficial" is the correct view. I learn new things, ideas, cultural touchpoints almost everyday. I also enjoy some far-from-highbrow cultural experiences like the TV show "Family Guy" (lost its way in the last few seasons), but also don't believe there is no relative value to some cultural items versus others. "The Grapes of Wrath" or "The Great Gatsby" offers something of value - an insight into the human condition written with skill, nuance, perspective - that a throw-way romance novel doesn't. I have nothing against reading fluff (I certainly do off and on), but wonder if there isn't a way for our common culture to encourage, promote, inspire us to see that relative value?

    You mention bourgeois values - a word heavy with political significance - maybe I'm promoting those, but I didn't grow up in that world (while it was a different culture than yours, my dad and our neighborhood was very straightforward about most things - but not all) and really just think there are things of cultural value that take more effort to appreciate (at least for me they did) and if our culture or society doesn't promote those things, then we are, maybe, not helping more people have the opportunity to appreciate them. And I am not looking to get rid of anything - limit anything, I'm a personal freedom nut - but we do have some common culture at some level and I wonder (don't know) if we couldn't find a way to do better with it.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2016
  17. There's certainly a lot I find offensive in modern culture -- the reduction of sexuality to a cheap, standardized commercial commodity, packaged and flung in your face at every turn makes a lot of money for the Boys From Marketing, and I find this objectionable not on grounds of some sort of graven-in-stone morality, but because I think there are some aspects of humanity that ought to be free of the stench of crude commercial exploitation. We might not agree on all the philosophical underpinnings, but I think we do agree on the basic idea. I have no objection at all to a movie, for example, in which a sex scene is of signficance in developing plot or characterization, but I very much dislike a movie where the sex is just there to get the cash out of the pockets of the raincoat crowd.

    I think the solution to the dilemma lies in society simply learning not to view every aspect of our existence as yet another opportunity to wring out a buck. It has to be an evolution of our entire civilization, though, and we're a long way from that happening.
    Fading Fast likes this.
  18. All of this reminds me of an article I read some years back by a religious fundamentalist picking apart - are you ready - It's A Wonderful Life - for its immodesty and immorality.

    I tried searching for it but couldn't find it.

    You can judge almost anything as being morally corrupting.
  19. Benproof

    Benproof A-List Customer

    Very peculiar. This one I thought would have been banned.

    No man in their right mind would be allowed into a church wearing just a leopard print thong.

    The life long vocational challenges on all the nuns would be too overwhelming ;)

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