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by Thomas Doherty

From 1934 to 1954 Joseph I. Breen, a media-savvy Victorian Irishman, reigned over the Production Code Administration, the Hollywood office tasked with censoring the American screen. Though little known outside the ranks of the studio system, this former journalist and public relations agent was one of the most powerful men in the motion picture industry. As enforcer of the puritanical Production Code, Breen dictated "final cut" over more movies than anyone in the history of American cinema. His editorial decisions profoundly influenced the images and values projected by Hollywood during the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. Cultural historian Thomas Doherty tells the absorbing story of Breen's ascent to power and the widespread effects of his reign. Breen vetted story lines, blue-penciled dialogue, and excised footage (a process that came to be known as "Breening") to fit the demands of his strict moral framework. Empowered by industry insiders and millions of like-minded Catholics who supported his missionary zeal, Breen strove to protect innocent souls from the temptations beckoning from the motion picture screen. There were few elements of cinematic production beyond Breen's reachhe oversaw the editing of A-list feature films, low-budget B movies, short subjects, previews of coming attractions, and even cartoons. Populated by a colorful cast of characters, including Catholic priests, Jewish moguls, visionary auteurs, hardnosed journalists, and bluenose agitators, Doherty's insightful, behind-the-scenes portrait brings a tumultuous eraand an individual both feared and admiredto vivid life.
Download Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration epub
ISBN: 0231143583
ISBN13: 978-0231143585
Category: Other
Subcategory: Humanities
Author: Thomas Doherty
Language: English
Publisher: Columbia University Press; First Edition edition (November 2, 2007)
Pages: 440 pages
ePUB size: 1974 kb
FB2 size: 1674 kb
Rating: 4.2
Votes: 813
Other Formats: doc azw lit docx

Most interesting account of “old hollywood”. Love the history
Doherty is a great writer and this book is a must-read book if you are interested in the Pre-Code era of Hollywood films.
Any student of Hollywood and 20th century history will come across the name of Joseph Breen and the Breen Office regularly enough to know, in very general terms, who he was and what his office did (he was the head of the Production Code Admin office whose job it was to vet and censor all Hollywood product during its golden era-1930s to 1960s). But rarely do we get much more than a paragraph or two about the guy and the office which completely controlled the most powerful form of media in the most powerful country during its most powerful time. This book, long overdue in my opinion, takes you through what happened and when and why. I found that in reading this book, my understanding of developed in Hollywood over those years made much more sense.
This book clearly explains the intricacies of movie censorship. Even without knowing too much, any reader may jump in and discover why Hollywood movies were as dull as ditch water from 1934-1968. The whole book centers around Joseph Breen, his censorship office and his furious efforts to thwart movies. It would be fascinating just to focus on him, but the book deftly links him to the rest of efforts by politicians and a stodgy Catholic clergy to impose morality on the nation. Throughout the text readers are treated to a man who wanted any taint of subversion or sensuality bleached out. Yet the efforts failed.
We see that the writers trumped censorship by doubling the dialog and oblique innuendos. Hence in "The Maltese Falcon", Spade faces off against a homosexual gang of thieves (Peter Lorre & Sydney Greenstreet), and Mary Astor reveals that she was the murdered Thursby's lover--through obscure observations. For example Ninotchka is an oblique commentary on Communism disguised as a love story. It didn't matter what the movie or cartoon, writers had either to go over their audiences' head or dumb down a storyline to get any profound or salacious detail in.
All this continued throughout Breen's woozy tenure as censor. But in the post WWII environment, the censorship of movies combined with the popularity of television, worked against it. Directors rebelled, starting with Otto Preminger's "The Moon is Blue" and ending with Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho". Those films included more and more blatantly offensive materials to try the waters. Ultimately, the Censorship Board became a ratings board in 1968, conceding the battle to Hollywood.
The author reaches an unexpected conclusion. The 1930's to the 1950's aren't really Hollywood's Golden Age. In fact they were a period of Film Infantilization and finger-wagging moralism. Many films that were outright raunchy (Convention City), politically daring (Duck Soup), or bawdy (Belle of the Nineties), were airbrushed, suppressed or destroyed. He argues that the films were decent but could have been much better. All this because reactionaries got together and repeated conservatism's mantra:Decadence. This book serves as a starting point for alternative studies of the Studio System. Next, one should proceed onto "Dangerous Men" and "Complicated Women".
Brandeis Professor Doherty has really found his groove in attacking the power of the Catholic Church in bringing moral reforms to the raunchy Hollywood film industry. Joseph Breen was a strong family man with six children and former journalist selected to enforce the Hayes Code of 1934.

Hollywood producers and directors voluntarily submitted to this control because the power of the press had already brought the ultimate sword to their necks: film boycotting due to the increasingly lewd films of the 1920's. Rather than wait for further public outrage to stir up the federal hornets nest of regulations, they created their own code and body of enforcement. That main body was our Mr. Joseph Breen.

Since subscribing to Turner Classic Netwoork on cable, the solid storytelling and intelligence of old Hollywood films is evident to me. I and many others love them. It shows almost another planet of stronger social mores and shame and embarrassment over scandals and crime and such things as divorce. It is the world I remember from my own childhood. Were people unaware that dreadful and painful and violent things were happening all around them? Of course they knew and spoke I hushed to us over victims and perpetrators. The Irish still do! People didn't speak about cancer and other still dreaded diseases. My own cousin in Ireland was expecting. Before marriage. That was bad and she became my cousin in the doghouse whom I was not allowed to meet. That was in County Mayo in 1980. She ultimately married that farmerboy and they are still together.

So. Was it worse to live under such strictures? For the individual especially the women: yes. For the greater society? Now we can debate it. Whether public morality and mores matter is the real hard nut of Dr. doherty's book.

He argues convincingly that all censorship destroys art.

But turn on TCM and see the result of the Hayes Code. Timeless films that are a pleasure to follow. The women are scarcely dump. Katherine Hepburn and many 1930's and 40's film show women as tough and savvy and witty. Bob Hope teamed up the other night with Paulette Goddard to fight Cuban zombies in 1940. He compare them to democrats. That wasn't censored and it would be today by modern political correctness.

Today's tv and film actresses are mostly skinny and tough and olive skinned. They have to put up with a lot of outright sex acts not just innuendo. Men are not yet shown naked except from a distance on their fanny sides. If you don't like the sight, such as Sandra bullocks or God forbid, these aging actors like David Niven or Fred Astaire, naked, just close your eyes.

The notorious prudishness of the Americans was nothing compared to the Russian or Chinese communists. These were outright true government censors stopping films before they began.

Read this book if you are an old film buff but keep in mind what real book running is: the Russians were doing it long before the Nazis burnt down the sex books of the sexual institute in Berlin.

And don't forget children of the left: a great number of Hollywood directors came straight from Berlin's Caberet mentality and pre war Babelsburg outside Berlin. Yes German Jewisj directors and actors brought ideas offensive to both left and right wing viewers.

Decadence That is the cry of the communists against the USA.

Yet both hitler and Stalin loved privately viewing their USA films and picking up their mass control ideas from them while banning them to their own citizens.

Just saying. Hey if Breen filled a need for Hollywood producers, they controlled him too. They had the money.

We can learn from the past and consider boycotts again.