Condemned by The Catholic Legion of Decency

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

  1. Benproof

    Benproof A-List Customer

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    Fading Fast - about 15 years ago I turned my back on television and pop culture. I didn't watch television nor buy newspapers when I was 16, and I decided that I wasn't going to be a part of the modern throwaway culture.

    We can retreat; withdraw, and isolate ourselves in little bubbles like this. I tried this, much like many an American hero emulator of Henry David Thoreau. After all, transcendence is what we all want, even if we do not acknowledge the need in us.

    The subculture and counterculture forms its own culture: the exiled out-groups become the in-groups from which other exile-groups spring. We have a cultural relationship with our society, which is more diffused with the breakdown of the global barriers with the internet.

    Consequently, the critical faculty of being able to discern within culture, spawns its own market. We see the rise of the counter-culture sub-culture (I like Edward's description of the Young Fogeys, rebelling against the era where technological dehumanisation commences, which itself is supplanted by the Anarcho-dandyists). Now, we are at the point of curatorship.
    Curated shops, selling us what has been carefully filtered and selected for us. As if we are idiots who cannot choose and pick for ourselves? Not really. These curated shops, filter out what we already do not want. They filter in, our similar interests, and so we have a new relationship with curated materialism. Our local film society like the NFT can produce their annual agenda and we participate in that as a part agreement of that curated mass. Or we leave it.

    Same with the film industry: when there are no moral guides (such as parents, or the Catholic League of Decency), we have moral relativism where anything goes and unthought appreciation of a blockbuster film, confuses artistic creative cinematography for something of less aesthetic value with more entertainment value. The moral arbiter of what is proper or good, then becomes "I". Not the Catholic League of Decency. "I" however is not reflexive, and cannot see through its own biases and prejudices, which means if "I" am the one who decides rather than forced authoritarianism, "I" risk being lost in a sea of bad choices.

    In an individualistic libertarian society (is that America?), freedom to choose is privileged over making the right choice for the greater good (communistic utilitarianism).

    I actually like having a list of authoritarian agreed standards: that way I can seek out the underground black market banned films easier :)
     
  2. Inkstainedwretch

    Inkstainedwretch Practically Family

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    Several versions of "The Three Musketeers"made the B list, meaning that kids couldn't see it. Apparently they figured adults understood that Richelieu was a politician, not a churchman. Note, however, that in the 1948 version, starring Gene Kelly, Richelieu (Vincent Price) is referred to only as "the Prime Minister"or as "Richelieu," never as "the Cardinal,"and Price appears only in civvies, never in his canonical vestments. Had to walk carefully around the LoD.
     
  3. Abraham

    Abraham One of the Regulars

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    The Exorcist was an excellent movie. One that is typically praised by Catholic apologists -- both clerical and lay.
     
  4. Benproof

    Benproof A-List Customer

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    Teenagers and goths too!

    Maybe just mother didn't approve ;)

     
  5. AdeeC

    AdeeC Practically Family

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    The list is surely incomplete. There were dozens and dozens of films from 1933 to early 1934 that would have caused appropriate outrage. Not surprised to see the musical Murder At The Vanities there though. Released just prior to the full enforcement of the production code deliberately to thumb its nose and cause outrage to the wowsers before they took over.
    I don't believe the CLOD represented mainstream Catholic values. They were just one of many religious groups agitating for censorship but were louder and had people in the right places.
    As for Breen, he was just another power abuser not unlike J Edgar Hoover.
     
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2016
  6. MisterCairo

    MisterCairo I'll Lock Up

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  7. JackieMatra

    JackieMatra A-List Customer

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    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_films_condemned_by_the_Legion_of_Decency
    Does anyone have the complete list of films that were censured by the Catholic/National League of Decency?
    Not just the "C" list of "condemned' films above, but the "B" list of "morally objectionable in part" films, as well?
    I spent some time searching but couldn't find anything more comprehensive than the Wikipedia list above.
     
  8. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    I have no truck with censorship, but what was funny is that the first one on the list "The Story of Temple Drake" is probably the most "pre-code" of all the "pre-code" films. It's got a lot in it...of everything - wanton sexuality, rape, murder, general misogyny, nudity (or close to it) - this was no "we had sex out of wedlock, but are deeply in love and will get married soon " precode - this one had the pedal to the metal the whole time.

    And, yes, the categories are interesting and funny.
     
  9. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    I'm deeply offended that Wheeler and Woolsey don't get a single picture on the list. "So This Is Africa" was, according many of the bluenoses of the time, the smuttiest picture ever made, and was a major factor in the controversy that spurred the formation of the LOD.

    Wheeler (emerging from cave where he's just spent the night with Tarzana the Ape Woman) -- That was the best night's sleep I've had in years!

    Tarzana -- Moh! Moh!

    Wheeler -- No - no. I've had plenty. Plenty! Ah! Some people may like nine or ten - but eight's enough for me ...


    And "Diplomaniacs" and "Hips Hips Hooray" definitely have their moments as well.
     
  10. PeterB

    PeterB One of the Regulars

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    At the risk of sounding out of step I must say I am with the Legion. That period coincided with some of the best films ever made in America. Film makers had to be subtle and I can watch most of that period's films with my children.
     
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  11. MisterCairo

    MisterCairo I'll Lock Up

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    So the end justifies the means? I like watching movies with my children, too, but if the cost is that I can ONLY watch those kinds of movies, I'll pass.
     
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  12. JackieMatra

    JackieMatra A-List Customer

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    It is more than curious to me that the greatest years of American cinema coincide so precisely with the rigorous enforcement of the Hays Code from 1934 through 1952.
    Certainly this was greatly enhanced by things such as the huge exodus of members of the European film industry to North America and the destruction of the old studio system after 1949, however, I cannot help but think that the enforced Hays Code required film makers in the U.S. of A. to rely on things other than sensationalism to attract audiences.
     
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2016
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  13. JackieMatra

    JackieMatra A-List Customer

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    It has been suggested that a reason why the Catholic church ceased making its list of banned books public was so that people would not be seek these books out as they would not be aware of them.
     
    Edward likes this.
  14. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    The Legion also meddled in radio during the 1930s. It was a protest in the New York City area orchestrated by the LOD in late 1937 that resulted in Mae West -- or even any *mention* that such a person as Mae West existed -- being banned from network radio for nearly thirteen years. West had appeared as a guest star on the Chase & Sanborn Hour. the highest rated program in the country, on the night of December 12th, and appeared in a not-very-risque comedy sketch opposite Don Ameche, based on the story of Adam and Eve. Later in the program she exchanged ribaldries with Charlie McCarthy -- among other things she invited Charlie to "come up and play in my woodpile" -- and between the two routines she roused, among other things, the Legion's ire.

    Despite LOD claims that "thousands of letters" flooded NBC and Standard Brands to protest the broadcast, a subsequent investigation of the affair by the Federal Communications Commission revealed that there were, at most, only about four hunded complaints received -- out of an estimated audience for the program of 23 million people -- and most of those complaints appeared to be form letters generated by the Legion itself, and mailed in and around the greater New York area. Tempest in the coffeepot though it was, the sponsor and NBC publicly apologized for the incident, and advised Miss West that her future broadcasting services would no longer be required. When comedian Fred Allen proposed to joke about the affair on his own program later that week, the NBC censor advised all performers on the network that she was to be persona non grata, and CBS soon followed suit.

    400 fake form letters had that much power in an industry where sponsors lived in terror of offending anyone who might then not be inclined to buy their product, and the Legion understood very well how to manipulate that power.
     
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  15. There is much in your and Peter B.'s statements. Although the Code was, for the most part, ridiculous in its stringency, it did force film-makers to be very creative, particularly during the classic Film Noir cycle. For example, a character in a war film like "To Hell and Back" could utter the line, "Well, I'll be a dirty name," and the adults would get the meaning without offending anybody's sensibilities. Today, almost nothing is held back, for the sake of "realism." Am I justifying the Code? No, just making an observation.
     
  16. AdeeC

    AdeeC Practically Family

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    I would say there were more negatives than positives with the code. Improving production standards glossed over the overal lameness of Hollywood with some exceptions. And if ignoring the exploitation and lurid aspect of precode there were far more creative efforts made in that short period than for several decades later IMO. Just looking just at content, European and Japanese films were far more interesting and advanced even though most were made on poverty row budgets. People growing up on a diet of just Hollywood after the code were fed a warped and confused pseudo kindergarten reality for the most part. Incongruous with the ideal of freedom of speech and thought which has long been touted as a cornerstone of American culture.
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2016
  17. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Whenever a restriction is put on an artist, it forces creative solutions that, sometimes, are better than what would have come without the restriction. In the early days of the Internet, I was writing (I'm not comparing myself to an artist, I'm just a hack writer, but the point is still valid, I think) economic and financial market commentary on a website that had limited space owing to technology constraints, so I had room for only about (from memory) 150 or so words to summarize the day's trading activity.

    While I grumbled about it, it forced me to become much more concise, to vet out all but the most critical points and, in truth, the pieces were very tightly written and probably better owing to the limitation. I improved my skills as well as, when necessary, I can convey a lot of information with few words (not something I practice often on FL - here, I just blather on). The code definitely forced some creative solutions and interesting approaches to conveying normal human conditions not allowed by the code - and sometime, my guess, this resulted in a more interesting and nuanced movie.

    It wouldn't hurt directors today to study that period to understand how not everything has to be shoved in your viewer's face and how subtlety can sometimes be more powerful than today's preference of aggressive reality. That said, the concept of censorship and its limitations on freedom are wrong and, despite some tangental good, I'm glad that control is over.
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2016
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  18. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    I think the main legacy of the Code was an increasing sense of movies as little more than commercial product, to be ground out according to a timetable to fit the release schedule. We all know the great gems of 1930s-40s Hollywood -- but those gems were far outnumbered by pointless, artless, meaningless program pictures that had nothing to say about anything. Even TCM, which has historically mined deeper than most other outlets, hasn't really dived all that deep into the sluice basin that was studio-era Hollywood. It's instructive to sit down at a microfilm viewer or Google News and look over the movie pages for a year's worth of any moderate-sized newspaper. How many titles do you recognize? Everybody loves "Casablanca," but it was only on your neighborhood screen for a few days, to be followed not long after by "The Cowboy And The Girl" or "You Can't Ration Love."

    Not that all pictures *have to* say something -- there's certainly a place in the world for entertainment that has no purpose other than to distract you from your problems for an hour or two, especially when it comes to comedy. But those writers and directors who did in fact have something of substance to say found the going much rougher under the Code, because the Code *wasn't just about sex.* It was also about promoting a certain sort of orthodoxy that didn't rock the boat, didn't question the existing order, and didn't promote any point of view other than the point of view that the main purpose of pictures was to make money. That a few writers and directors managed to sneak something past the watchdogs is no credit to the Code itself.
     
    Edward likes this.
  19. Yet much of the above was due to the rise of the "double feature" during the Great Depression, when theater owners tried to offer more bang for the patron's bucks, thus the formation of "B" units within the major studios, as well as the establishment of "Poverty Row" studios like Monogram, Mascot, Republic, Grand National and a plethora of others.
     
  20. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    ^^^ And, in a way, it's like TV today: 95% garbage, 5% some really well done material.
     

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