Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Production Code - Part Two

Well, I must confess I am surprised.

I thought that I would get a slew of comments after people actually read the old Hollywood Production Code. To recap briefly, the Code was enforced between 1934 and the mid-1960s. Movies made between 1930 and 1934 are known as "pre-Code" films, and while tame by today's standards, could often be pretty racy. Some of them got so bad in terms of near nudity and portrayals of drugs and homosexuality that it generated a huge outcry from churches and a significant portion of the public. That outcry in turn came close to provoking governmental regulation, and the motion picture industry decided to begin policing itself rather than have that happen.

As you read the standards imposed in the Code, I am sure even some Christians might find them a bit strict or "prudish." There may be a few of the standards that are arguable, but by and large I wish the Code was still enforced. In my humble opinion, the films that were released between 1934 and roughly 1955 were the greatest films ever produced by Hollywood, and they didn't need profanity, obscenity or graphic violence to get the story across. They relied on great acting and imagination.

In the documentary about the pre-Code era aired over Turner Classic Movies the other night, it was interesting to see how filmmakers did all they could to try and outwit the standards watchdogs. As time went on and society began liberalizing again, some moviemakers rebelled outright. The reason often given for this rebellion was artistic. I am willing to grant that in some cases. But not all. It is very clear that some of the filmmakers weren't doing it for art's sake. It had already been amply demonstrated that titillation wasn't necessary to tell a good story or to get a point across. Some of these filmmakers wanted to be vulgar, shocking, profane and obscene. They wanted to flout the standards because they ultimately wanted the standards torn down. They found moral standards too confining and outmoded, and they wanted to mock and flout them at every opportunity. Some of them raised the issue of hypocrisy or realism. There was a seamier side of life and it needed to be shown. They really loved to show stories where those who preached strict morality were found not to be practicing what they preached. These filmmakers used the occasional real hypocrite to justify throwing the standards out in toto.

Look what's happened to motion pictures and our overall culture since then. It's a cesspool. Joseph Breen and the Code enforcers warned at the time that bad entertainment would have a cumulative effect on society. They were right.

It's not just the fault of the movies, of course. There are many, many factors that contribute to the degeneration of a society. The educational system is certainly among the indictable. The steady drip, drip, drip from a variety of sources wore away at traditional values and morality. Now, anything goes.

Before I close here, I must say this. I recognize that there are many fine actors, directors and producers out there. They are making some good movies worth paying to see. Many of them are done by independent filmmakers and are apart from the studios. However, I personally refuse to watch most modern films. I find nothing in them that interests me in the slightest, and on the rare occasions when I do watch one, I'm not too long in the film before I encounter something that makes me change the channel or get up and leave.

I am distressed at recent changes in the programming at Turner Classic Movies. I fell in love with TCM because they largely showed the old, genuine classic films. Of late, they've taken to showing newer films and even pushing the envelope with movies featuring homosexuality and all the other vices that ought to be shamed and not celebrated. I imagine I will have to begin ordering old films on DVD if I want to watch a film.

Is there anything that can be done? Yes. A lot of power is in the box office. If enough of these movies tank, hopefully Hollywood will get the message. Beyond that, more Christians and traditional moralists need to get involved in the industry. Actors, producers, writers, directors, and yes, financiers. Christians all too often mount an Exodus instead of trying to be salt and light in the system.

I am sure my views on this will generate some argument, even if no one posts comments. I have a few Christian acquaintances who find my view of morality too confining, which I find very interesting given what Scripture says on the matter. But Christians these days cherrypick Scripture as well as morality.

Ooops. That's another fight for another time and another post.


Randy said...


I, for one, agree for the most part on what you are saying. I really only watch one show a week that I enjoy. The rest is rubbish.

Your commments were on target.


threegirldad said...

Although specifically directed at the TV rather than the Film industry, the late Steve Allen's comment at the 1997 Banff TV Festival (from his keynote address) still seems apropos: "vulgarians entertaining barbarians." That phrase later morphed into the title of his final book, Vulgarians at the Gate.

Ron said...

So is there even a code anymore? You couldn't prove it by me unless there's only one rule.

1. Free for all!