This review appears to be shadow-banned on letterboxd, so I’m porting it over here. Originally reviewed October 4, 2016.
“For example one teacher said that she felt that Darren Wilson wasn’t wrong, that she felt that he should’ve shot him.”
“And that’s what she said?”
“What was the first thing y’all said in regards to how she felt?”
“My exact words were, ‘Man did you hear what she just said? She must be crazy.’ Those were my exact words. Like, when she said it, I couldn’t believe it like, i- it all saw makin’ me feel like, makin’ me wanna stay more distant from those teachers. Like, we can’t really relate so, how can you sit there and talk to me, like, I don’t understand.”
“If they catch us, we don’t know what could happen. We could be the next Mike Brown, for real. They wonder why we just take off running. It’s not that we doin’ anything bad, we scared to be around them. If they see young black kids, trouble, that’s what they think right off the bat, trouble.”
“Black folk are seen and thought to be innately criminal. Innately terrifying. More powerful, more strong, beastly. Which is why you can have a recording of Darren Wilson referencing Mike Brown as something other than human, as an ‘it’. And if that perception is guiding our engagements with folk, the biggest problem is not about the use of weapons alone, as in physical weapons, but as in the ideological weapons we need to rage war against.”
So I went in this documentary expecting to get pissed off. At the bias. Because if there’s anything I’ve learned about the Black Lives Matter movement over the past several months, it’s that the cases of police brutality they base the foundations of their cause on are horseshit. Case in point, Michael Brown. It doesn’t take long to debunk the whole, “He was an angel who did no wrong to the officer or to anybody,” theory. A video here, a video there, and you realize that the officer was in fact within his legal and logical rights to shoot that guy. But no matter. Once it made headlines by the biased sack of shit news media that chose to spin the story in the most racially-motivated way possible (as they continue to do to this day), the riots began.
Justice for Brown. Hands up, don’t shoot (a situation that didn’t happen at all, so even that is built upon a lie). So let’s also loot and burn down some buildings while we’re at it. The court house? The police station? No, that’s too dangerous, let’s take out the easy targets.
The riots were bullshit, and anyone who loots stores that had nothing to do with the events are sacks of shit, I don’t care if they’re crackers or niggers.
And of course the documentary didn’t cover any of that. Because the poor suffering black community has to be held in a shining light. It’s bullshit manipulation.
That being said, the documentary did go into a direction of understanding that I wasn’t expecting. Because the black community in Ferguson was (is) poor, the black community in Ferguson was (is) suffering. But it’s not because police are discriminately killing black people left and right because their racist emotions got the better of them. Oh no, it’s more logical than that, though no less anger-inducing. The city of Ferguson (and a portion of the city of St. Louis from what I understand) initially had a housing plan that developed in the 60s. Long story short, it fell through, and the city began doing horribly financially. And what’s the best way to generate income for the city if there is a sector of Missouri that isn’t offering a source of income due to failed businesses and minimum wage housing where the black community lives paycheck to paycheck (how and why the housing plan initially failed is left out of the documentary)? By ticketing the shit out of them. Get police to patrol areas and target low-wage earners for citations and ticketing, at which point they will go to court, where they can’t afford a lawyer, and they will most likely plead guilty to it, and they will be stuck having to pay off the fine, which is anything but cheap for them. Add onto that fact that there are more tickets that citizens living in the city, and you’ve got yourself a very bad state of affairs. But it got the city the money income it was looking for to keep itself going. And to make sure the process got more effective, they would hire more and more police officers.
“You need so many police officers that you start getting to a point where the quality of those police officers I think is being compromised, to say the least.”
This explains perfectly why there is such disdain between the black community and the police force. So why isn’t this in the news more often? Because it targets the higher ups? Top officials? Well if there’s any good that came out of this, it’s that ever since the riots and protests, despite how misdirected they were, something happened as a result of this.
“On March 4 , the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report of the Ferguson Police Department. It confirmed that officers violated constitutional rights by disproportionately targeting African-Americans and exploiting them as sources of revenue.”
As a result, the mayor and the police chief and a few others stepped down from their positions. Now one can only hope that progress will be made. But to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how. What is an honest and legal alternative mean for the city to generate income and not go bankrupt? Is progress being made towards such a goal? I don’t know. I’m not an expert on the subject, and I just don’t know. What I do know is that, if there’s to be protesting, it would go a lot better if they picked their spots and methods for protesting more logically. Such as in front of the court house where they are given their fines to pay, or in front of the police station where the cops are at who hand out these tickets, or at the mayor’s office.
There is an injustice being done in similar towns with similar black communities, but this isn’t a nationwide epidemic as far as racism is concerned. Believe me, if they could pull this off on a white community, or dare I say a mixed community, they would. And they do. Because I’ve lived in and been to such communities. It’s nothing new for the police force to seek out giving tickets to citizens, because that generates their paycheck and is what keeps the courts going and generates revenue for the city. There needs to be a better way than that. This is something to focus on, on a city by city basis. So why can’t something like that be the focus of the media as opposed to this racially/viewership-motivated cherry-picking those fuckers do?
Michael Brown, Black Lives Matter, Hand up Don’t shoot, those are built on lies. The anger built from mistreatment by the police and the city government is not. Can we find some common ground here?
(I can’t stop loving you.)
I’ve made up my mind, to live in memory of the lonesome times.
(I can’t stop wanting you.)
It’s useless to say. So I’ll just live my life of dreams of yesterday.
— Ray Charles
Rated: 3 / 5
This film has an interesting way with music, and it works. It may not be traditional to play a Ray Charles song the moment when everything is blowing up as is bound to happen in an anime, but it pulls it off. It’s just too bad I didn’t feel the anime was strong enough to match up with the lyrics.
It starts out with red lines making intersections among a black screen. A target? Paths crossing? Or just a simple opening credits stylistic choice? Who know? More importantly, it starts black and white, and grainy, before emerging as a bountiful amount of yellow/gold lights, brightening up the dark. The film stays this well lit up until the coup, where the snow starts to fall and the colors become more and more muted, until near the end, encapsulating the film’s arc. As any film art 101 student would know, this indicates that life is good, then it’s not, but then it will get good again. But I find such a conclusion questionable for this film.
The main reason I went and watched Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was to prep myself for this version of it. This movie is not a shot for shot remake in the slightest. In fact, ziggurat and futuristic utopia with underground workers and some Christian metaphors aside, these are very different films. Sure there’s a robot girl created for different purposes among the 2 parties involved, but she behaves differently than in the 1920s Metropolis. The Supreme Being, as she’s called, is the 2 girls made one from the older film, both the demented robotic version, and the good version. She starts out good and innocent, and angelic as bluntly shown at one point, mainly due to her ignorance and lack of knowledge, and hair growing solar powers. But as she goes on and gains more and more knowledge about herself and those around her, she eventually transforms, quite suddenly actually, when some internal part of her (the heart part I believe) activates. Then she becomes an enemy to all of mankind, including Astro Boy.
The theme from the first film is that the mind and the hands need the heart as a mediator. Well, that’s not the theme from this film, though it does put some emphasis on the heart. If I understand correctly, when the heart activates, what’s really going on is that it’s shutting down. She no longer has a heart or emotions, just as her creator eventually desired. The repercussions are disastrous, because a Supreme Being without a heart will reign down destruction. One could say that she learned to be this way because of the violence she’s seen, but really, when you think about it, it just ends up being due to programming, which takes away from the film.
In fact, the finale is when things start to fall apart. Of course they designed the ziggurat to become an uncontrollable time bomb when a robot they had designed for it decides to take control. Of course there aren’t any backup security measures. Of course the tower would start to do things unexpected by the very people who built it. All this wiring and circuitry shit just comes out of the blue because, fuck it, anime’s need a big bombastic over the top finale. Things just happen manically because the script says so from that point, not to mention our two protagonists are the only ones to somehow survive the destruction of the ziggurat.
So, yeah, I found things that I disliked this time around, after haven’t having seen this movie for many years.
Like more films of today, the question and theme is on artificial intelligence. Can a machine think for itself? Can a machine love? Are machines better than humans? You know, all that bullshit, a theme that I’m not a big fan of. It’s not as universal as the themes found in the Fritz Lang original.
All that aside, the animations are largely fantastic, even if some of the CGI meshing doesn’t, you know, mesh all that well or look all that good compared to the 2D style. Many of the camera views aren’t close ups, they are pulled back to give a large view of areas of the city, allowing for a massive amount of detail to be captured in many frames. Close-ups are used sparingly, and largely saved for brief moments. Another difference between this film and the old silent picture is that there are less details shown about how this society functions, technology-wise. I mean, there are the robots, and the robot firemen, robot firehoses, robot garbage collectors, robot detectives, robot everything. As one character states, the machines will replace man and take all their jobs one day (which is a guarantee if the political cocksuckers keep attempting to raise minimum wage to the point where having and maintaining machines is cheaper than having human workers; sorry, tangent).
There are sectors of people who are for machines and their rights, and those who don’t believe machines have any, so they resort to violence against the machines, destroying them (some in the coup, others for security reasons). The film makes sure we are supposed to feel sad when machines are killed off. Killing off a machine that places some animal symbol in a spotlight. Killing off another that is up on some advertisement mannequin. And guess what? No explanation is given as to why those dumbass machines were there in the first place, which makes the film feel manipulative as hell. “Oh the poor machines, why do they have to kill them? Boohoohoo!” You know what, fuck the machines. There are only 3 to care about in the entire movie, who’s reasons for acting in such a way as to be killed off make sense and the context is understandable and more clear. The rest of them can burn in robot hell for all I care.
What makes me sad is that now I can’t enjoy this movie as much as I used to. And there’s plenty to admire about this film. Great animation, decent plot, interesting music, good characters. The first 3/4ths of the film are solid enough before the “the less fucks we give for the sake of the action, the better” finale, except for a few things:
* The mad doctor who created Supreme Being Tima. Not much motivation as to why he’s wants to run away with her, or what his real intentions of creating her are if not for Duke Red. There’s a brief moment when we first see him that gives a potential reason that links back to the original film. He’s glancing at an old picture of Duke Red’s daughter. But that’s all we get. You know, considering that this is a Japanese film, and that the Japanese aren’t know for being subtle when it comes to film, you would think they’d clear that up somehow. But they don’t, so I’m just assuming this is a nod to the mad doctor character from the silent film, and settling for a character with less dimensions to him.
* Some robots that die to make the viewer feel sympathetic about it, when the average viewer probably wouldn’t give a flying monkey shit about them.
So, what could’ve been done better then? Well, the above two points could’ve been easily resolved with more footage and an expansion upon the subjects. But the finale, well, why not link things back to what happened midway through the film? Duke Red creating the ziggurat with the intention not to make the city/nation more grand and beautiful, but also as a way to gain power and threaten the world with the power of the ziggurat, which can shoot lazers at the sun and cause the sun’s radiation (the sun’s rays) to hit the Earth and mess up the robots (not to mention the citizens themselves if the radiation was bad enough). Is it so difficult to have crazy blonde Tima just hijack control of the lazer and threaten to use it to destroy humanity or something? Or just control all the robots in the city and eventually the world (it does that already, but they need more More MORE!)? Build upon what you’ve laid the groundwork for movie! You can’t just pull shit out of the blue for the hell of it. We’ve already got Takashi Miike for that.
The main characters, Kenichi and Tima, their relationship with one another isn’t all that well developed, so when the turning point of the story happens, the emotional impact isn’t as great as is needed (not to mention that Tima’s turn happens a bit too drastically with no hint that it would happen in that way).
This film has some heart to it, but not enough. I rewatched this with the intention of enjoying it again, but I can’t enjoy it like I used to. Unless there’s something I’m missing, or some other way of looking at the film that I haven’t comprehended. Still, all in all, it is a beautiful looking film. The CGI may not mesh perfectly, but it’s the next best thing compared to Memories. Three stars is the best I can give it, and 1/2 of those stars is due to sympathy.
I expected this documentary to be more of a one-sided “make peace, not war” film which showed how muslims are becoming unjustly discriminated against and imprisoned for being potential jihadists, but are really just nice people.
To my surprise, that’s not what this is.
This takes a hard look at both sides. The film mainly focuses on one incident where this guy gets arrested and charged and sentenced for 4 counts of conspiracy, an American born and raised muslim. It focuses on the family members, mainly the sister and occasionally the mother, who are saddened by this and say that there is no way he would ever do such a thing, etc. I expected the film to mostly compose of that, until it showed the other side, one of the officials discussing how he and others were tracking this guy, what led them to eventually arrest and charge him, why they did so, their history with cases like this, and so on. It becomes a very muddled grey area, where you can’t be sure if this guy was as innocent as his family claims, or not.
But the film doesn’t just focus on that small scale. Throughout the runtime, it goes bigger, talking about how people become jihadists, how they become terrorists, incidents involving terror attacks (mainly the Boston marathon bombing and the Fort Hood attack), the culture and atmosphere of the environments such events lead to, etc. It even mentions the English speaking magazines written by whosoever that talk about how one can become a terrorist, make bombs, how to attack, etc. How a bad economy makes opportunities more rife for citizens to become terrorists.
But most importantly of all, the film even offers a solution to the problem (not some solution that’s going to guarantee jihadist attacks never happen again, there’s no such thing as a 100% guaranteed solution, terror attacks have always happened since the beginning of civilization). That teachers and families must not be afraid to confront and discuss this issue with their children. Because one way or another, children will get curious enough to go online and look this stuff up and come to their own conclusions. Better to discuss it early on, at the right age, when they can be educated on why it’s bad and so on. Because one of the reasons some people go on to become terrorists, bad economy aside, is because it’s a subject considered too taboo for school and families. That’s bullshit, and that’s the wrong stance to take. It should be discussed, it should be talked about, there should be discussions about it.
The finale of the film couldn’t have been done any better. It all comes to a head when the CIA official, who talked about the why and how of arresting that potential terrorist guy, gets in the same room as that guy’s family, his sister and mother. They talk about the whole incident. Was it wrong? What should they have done? If they could go back would they change anything? Role reversal? Etc. It’s a fantastic thought provoking sequence that has no clear easy answers to it. It’s worth sitting through the entire film just to get to that moment it’s been building up to.
That being said, they could’ve trimmed a couple minutes off the runtime during some portions. But as is, it’s actually a fairly good documentary. It’s not as one-sided as you might think, takes a look at several sides (including the side of a muslim teacher who discusses the importance of the cultural learning and the consequences of not making the hard subjects talking points), and is something that I honestly think should be considered for viewing in modern culture classes.
“There’s a difference between having black skin and black thinking.”
— Spike Lee 
So lately I’ve been told to lighten up. To not take things so seriously. Just lighten up, stop looking for metaphorical messages within films that you find insulting, and just enjoy the damn movie. That’s the message I got from at least one individual in response to my Red Sparrow review.
Well, its well acted, well written and directed, good production values and that torture, knife fight scene was incredible. While all of this happened on screen you were pissed off, angry for what?
Well-acted is a bit more on the subjective side in this case, considering the use of Russian accents (or more accurately, the brief moments they weren’t used). In any case, the acting isn’t the main problem. It’s the portrayal.
Well written. In what way? It’s because of how they wrote some of these characters that irritated me in the first place.
Well directed. So well directed that it gets in your face (see strangulation scene). Though I won’t deny the director has talent.
Production values. That alone never makes a movie good. Especially when a large portion of that is spent on actors more for their name than for their talent and being best suited for the role. At best, production values can make a movie look good, not be good. The other factors determine if those good looks are put to good use.
The torture and knife fight. It’s decent. Not near enough to save this film. I’ve seen better.
As I stated in the review, I was pissed and angry about the depiction of both the men and the women, how they were largely charicatures made more to convey a metaphor, and it being a metaphor I despise from films made in this day and age that know fully well what kind of shit message they are peddling. That’s also why I disagree with the writing, enough to not even bothering to consider what leaps in logic this film may have in it, assuming I did get past the charicature issue. But considering that issue is something that negatively affects society today…
Or is it not obvious that this is one of those female empowerment films that empowers women at the expense of men by making the men out to be morally and mentally inferior? If I wanted a film about female empowerment, I’d watch fucking Thelma & Louis, or Basic Instinct, or Mad Max Fury Road, or Aliens, or Blood of Heroes. If I wanted a film about Russian espionage, I’d watch Gorky Park, or The Hunt for Red October, or No Way Out. And if I wanted a film where a lady gets revenge on despicable men who wronged her, I’d watch I Spit on Your Grave (preferably the remake).
Every single one of those films, for one reason or another, is superior to Red Sparrow.
WaldoOh my, all of what you say doesn’t have anything to do with the movie itself. Are you angry when watch movies? Methapors and hidden messages? In this movie?! You’re reading way too much into a simple spy film.
In Thelma and Louise, isn’t Darryl inferior then too? In Aliens, what about the Paul Reiser character? You gotta loosen up a bit. Just a bit.
I’ve seen Citizen Kane and Refeer Madness. So my education so my education in film is done. Decency is a big point with you. I don’t get it. You got too many issues going on while watching a movie. That’s all right. Enjoy them in your way. Everything’s good.
It may be true that I have a few too many issues with films in general, but there’s a reason for that. 2 reasons actually.
1. I’m naturally picky about films, from the little things to the big things. I have no problem with this mainly for the sake of battling consumerism. The less films there are that please me, the less there are that tempt me to buy them. That, and there’s too many films out there in existence that set the bar high enough that I see no reason to lower it.
2. Protection from brainwashing. Particularly from elements like those in this film, among others that promote SJW virtues. I have been a victim of similar stuff in the past, and I’ll be damned if I drop my guard and allow it to happen again. So I aim to spot these little “lessons” that are in films like this, determine how deliberate and volatile they are, and if it’s bad enough, call them out on that bullshit.
The way I can ensure I don’t go over the edge with this is by being open to challenges on my position, and meeting them head-on, and see if my position stands up to scrutiny. That is one way I find out if I’ve been buried under the muck after a period of time, under the spell of one agenda or another. Losing a debate where much of what one was taught most of your life can be quite liberating and enlightening. Pity many on this site won’t allow for that anymore. And why? Because they’ve become the same brainwashed victim I used to be in the past; only difference being they’re not willing to see if their position stands up to scrutiny even while attacking the positions of others.
So now you know the why of my position. If you think I’m exaggerating on the influential powers films can have over people, I can link to a 20 minute youtube video that can show otherwise, but I have a feeling an escapist fellow like yourself isn’t ready for the black pill yet. Hopefully you’ll never need to be. It’s a funny thing though. I recall about a year ago you had no interest in debating the merits of a certain film, that you were on this site to have fun, not to debate. Nice to see you’re making progress. Who knows where you’ll be next year, or the year after. As for me, make no mistake. Having my position challenged and argued over is something I not only find fun, but also find that it tends to enhance the viewing experience of the film being discussed.
So yeah, I’ll admit, I’m a real hardass when it comes to these things. So I agree, there are times when I need to learn to lighten up; though that’s probably a poor choice of words given that it’s currently black history month. I should be darkening up. Regardless, I aimed to find a film appropriate for the occasion. Some film that, at least from the outset, seems like something I can take in a fully lighthearted manner. Have a little fun. Not be so judgemental. Not attack it for its devious subliminal intentions (assuming it has any). It’s a wish some ask of me.
… be careful what you wish for.
Soul Man (1986) review
Rated: 3 / 5
“I’m riding my man Obama. I think he’s a visionary. Actually, Barack told me the first date he took Michelle to was Do the Right Thing. I said, ‘Thank God I made it. Otherwise you would’ve taken her to Soul Man.'”
— Spike Lee 
Now for those of you who aren’t familiar at all with this film, well, it has garnered a reputation for being one of the most offensive movies ever made. Why? Because it’s about a student who just got accepted into Harvard, but doesn’t have the financial means to get into Harvard; so in order to get the scholarship funds needed to support himself in Harvard, he changes his skin color from white to black (via tanning skin pills; ’cause apparently that’s a thing), making him the prime candidate for gaining a black scholarship. Oh yeah, this sounds right up my alley, one without the black muggers to fuck me up and steal my shit.
That’s right, it’s going to be one of those kinds of reviews people. Brace yourselves. I’m well past the point of giving a fuck.
Anyway, I went into this film expecting a lighthearted, albeit very non-PC, comedy with plenty of black jokes along the way, plus some intentioned and unintentioned morality race-relations lessons. And for a while, that’s basically what I got. The jokes were landing well a good portion of the time. But there were a couple sequences that went on for too long that just ended up being cringe-inducing. In particular, the sequence where Mr. Soul Man is playing basketball and failing (too) miserably at it.
There’s also the scene where he tells his girlfriend and parents that he’s white/black that also ended up being cringe. You know, one of those scenes where the protagonist is on the verge of having his secret uncovered and landing him in serious trouble, and shenanigans happen where he tries to juggle one problem after another, until it all inevitably falls apart. Those types of sequences drive me nuts simply because they exist just to prolong the inevitable. All I can think it, “Just get it over with already! Just let the fucking hammer fall!” The only film that ever got away with that, mainly because the entire film is all about this, is The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Thankfully, those moments are few and far between. There’s plenty of great dialogue which, while one would think it would get dated, only becomes more legendary due to events that happened over the last few years. For example:
“Gordo, it’s going to be great! These are the 80s man! It’s the Cosby decade! America loves black people.”
Although, without a doubt, the most hilarious and anti-PC moment in the entire film has to be the dinner sequence with Leslie Nielsen (yeah, he’s in this, and to my shock, he plays the whole thing straight-faced).
That sequence is easily the pinnacle moment of this film. It had everything condensed during that minute and a half that I hoped would be in this film. A play upon stereotypes, taken to the extreme, in the most over-the-top and hilarious (in my personal opinion) way possible.
“[Soul Man is a] cheaply-made cynical viewpoint of black involvement in American life.”
— Benjamin Hooks, then-executive director of the NAACP headquarters in Baltimore 
Normally this would be the point where I would set up some barriers for some who would take offense at me enjoying an offensive movie there-bye making me an offensive person who has offensive tastes, and mention how this is a segment that parodies black stereotypes just as much as it parodies white people who view blacks in that stereotypical fashion (thus making this satire and not just exploitative for exploitation’s sake), but what would be the point? Plus I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t say I would’ve enjoyed the hell out of this film if it was racially offensive just for the sake of being racially offensive. Because despite what people may say about how, “We all need to get along, and the way we must do that is by not exploiting minorities in any fashion no matter how well or ill-intentioned,” or, “Jokes like thee should never be made because someone will inevitably find them so offensive they’ll get all depressed and either commit suicide or harass/murder someone,” they’re all hypocrites who are completely and utterly full of shit (yes, that means the majority of you negative letterboxd reviewers; go ahead and block me and unfollow me, I’m used to that by now).
“Anyone who disagrees with my outlook on the world calls me a racist, in the hope that they’ll draw attention away from their own beliefs.”
— Spike Lee 
While they condemn any form of mockery done at the expense of, oh say, black people (of any gender and sexual preference), they would fully endorse the mockery done at the expense of white people. Which in this case, I guess one could say the equivalent of this would be that film White Chicks.
And of course many films today usually make a mockery of straight white men, and Christians. And many condemn the mockery from whichever direction because they proclaim it puts down one gender/race/belief in order to empower another. And to that I say everyone, every gender, every race, every belief, deserves to get mocked. Because I think we can all agree that there comes a point in your life when your just minding your own business and then something happens that makes you think, “… You know what? The human race is stupid.” And we are. No matter what race you belong to, what gender you are (in spite of what you may identify with to clash with reality), what belief you hold, there will always be something about you because of your gender/race/belief that deserves some mocking in one fashion or another. So I say just sit back, relax, take the blunt of the jokes, and give some back, and enjoy the jokes made at the expense of others. Sometimes if a joke is done well enough at your own expense, you’ll laugh along with it too.
Even the whole race-relations thing is a joke. This film makes fun of black people just as much as it does white people. For example, back to that dinner sequence, one could say it makes a mockery of black people by stereotyping them (let alone having the whole blackface thing). One could also argue it makes a mockery of white people because it portrays them as individuals who look at black people in that stereotypical manner. Some stereotypes elevate black people to a higher level than the average is capable of, such as when the mother fantasizes about the blackface guy ravishing her. Some stereotypes demote black people as those who are heroin-addicts who mistreat their wives/girlfriends while eating watermelon. And sometimes, dare I say, the stereotypes are accurate. And every race has a stereotype. From the black guys with big dicks, to the black girls with the fat asses, to the bitter old white guys who hate everyone non-white, to the white chicks who bitch about everything. And I say it’s alright to have all of the above portrayed so long as it is done with the awareness that not everyone conforms to those stereotypes. The danger would be in believing only in those stereotypes.
Back to the film. So throughout the course of the film, the protagonist has this arc about understanding what it’s like to be black, kind of. And this arc is accomplished by inserting even more stereotypes, done at the expense of white people. You have the white stalker cop waiting to bust Soul Man for any little error made while driving. You have the two white college guys always making black jokes. You have the guy who owns the apartment building who is racist. You have the bitter old white guy who hates black people. And you have the hippy daughter who wants to sleep with anyone non-white so she can experience some of their repression, which should theoretically become liberated during intercourse.
And it’s that moment where I believe the film has a relevant message for all those people around nowadays who think they understand the alleged plight of the black race and wish to help them at the expense of others, and going to extremes to do so. The message being, they’re friggin’ idiots.
To my surprise though, the film actually had some solid emotionally investing moments. I wasn’t expecting that in this film. And these emotional moments revolve around three specific characters. The protagonist (played by C. Thomas Howell), his potential love interest (played by Rae Dawn Chong), and their teacher (played by James Earl Jones). James Earl Jones plays his role in the most dead-pan manner, not once cracking a smile at any joke, only smiling when he’s sincere in something he is about to say, which does not happen often. He’s the kind of instructor all teachers should consider to be a role model. He doesn’t bullshit, doesn’t tolerate students that bullshit, and never accepts late work, no matter the excuse students may come up with. Either you work as hard as is necessary to complete your studies, or you’re not good enough. I loved how his commanding presence humbled Howell’s character at multiple points, not just wiping the smirk off his face, but also dismantling his goofball/asshole attitude.
It’s a similar scenario with Chong’s character, who is there strictly to work hard and learn, having no time to play along with Howell’s shenanigans. Howell eventually learns, slowly albeit naturally, that he can’t approach his time at Harvard the same way he approached his previous schooling. By not taking the school work too seriously, and trying to goof off and have fun a good portion of the time. You know, like the majority of those college comedy flicks from the 70s through the 90s. Hell, I’d say that attitude is still prevalent in most films of this genre. Not that I have anything against those types of films per-se, it’s just refreshing to see a film that’s a bit more humbling towards films with that attitude, showcasing that hard work is necessary to succeed. And the professor and female classmate demonstrate this clearly to Howell’s character. And so he matures, and becomes a more responsible individual. It’s a surprisingly solid arc I wasn’t expecting to be pulled off in this manner, especially in a film like this.
“A white man donning blackface is taboo. Conversation over — you can’t win. […] But our intentions were pure: We wanted to make a funny movie that had a message about racism.”
— C. Thomas Howell 
Where the film does tend to falter, in my opinion, is where many critics tend to primarily bash the film for, though more harsh than necessary because racism. The whole thing of Howell’s character gaining insight with life from a black man’s perspective. The segment with the cop tailing him and eventually putting him in prison. How he brushes off the black jokes done by these two white guys until he starts to find them more and more offensive the more he becomes acquainted with the black lifestyle. And, of course, the speech near the end where he gets in a serious conversation with the professor. It becomes too much, and unnecessarily preachy. Granted, I could tell the film was eventually going to arrive at a point like this, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. There are a few issues with this.
1.) The film starts to come off as having the attitude of that crazy hippy chick who wants to bang black people because she pities them. As in the film starts to pity black people with how society treats them. The typical portrayal of cops similar to how they are portrayed in films like Higher Learning. The typical attitude that blacks are treated unfairly and are less able to attend college as a result of systematic racism. I can’t fault the film entirely for this considering this was a mindset that is somehow just as prevalent today as it was back then. But this is due to a misconception that is easier to swallow than some inconvenient facts to this narrative because society has been conditioned to believe this. Several studies by those with PhDs, one of the more popular ones being published in a book known as The Bell Curve, indicate that the differences in race are more than just skin-deep. Muscle mass and bone density aside (let alone average height), there has been shown to be an average IQ difference between the races. That, on average, blacks have a lower IQ than whites. Similarly, Asians tend to have a higher IQ than whites. This is a study that has proved controversial, to say the least, to the point that these scientists who do these studies are shamed, publicly ridiculed, and sometimes have their careers ruined, even though all they had in mind was to report the facts in their studies when it came to their studies on the intelligence factor. Today, it gets bad enough to the point where Asians are the ones being subjected to racial discrimination by universities, because the Universities give preferential treatment to blacks and latinos. Not to say blacks weren’t subject to systematic racism in the past either. And I can’t say in all certainty that this wasn’t a reality back in the mid-80s. But the contradiction lies within the film itself. How there is a black professor who is quite intelligent, and a few other black students studying at the same university, enough to match up with the average population statistics in the country. Making the implications of the racial struggle a bit questionable.
2.) The film already had a strong (albeit overly convenient) plot point on how Howell’s character’s black impersonation to gain a scholarship had actual consequences, by having another black individual lose out on that scholarship opportunity because of him. That development had enough of an emotional gut-punch to carry the film the rest of the way through to the point where all the other messages regarding discrimination look weak at best, pointless at worst.
3.) The worst of the film’s problems in this regard come near the end, when Howell’s character punches these two white guys who were making black jokes throughout various segments of the film. For one thing, these two are just another typical white stereotype. For another, it puts forth the message that it’s not ok to joke about black people. Even though a good portion of the film (some would say the entire film) was spent doing just that. And joking about white stereotypes in the process. It’s not a good attitude to have. As I said earlier, everyone deserves to be made fun of. Everyone has stereotypes and flaws that could use some lighthearted mockery at their expense, so that they can learn to toughen up, not take them seriously, and learn to have fun at the expense of others as well.
“Our little film was maligned by the black community led by a jealous Spike Lee, who has never seen the film.”
“If you watch the movie, it’s really making white people look stupid.”
“It is adorable and it didn’t deserve it.”
“I always tried to be an actor who was doing a part that was a character versus what I call ‘blackting,’ or playing my race, because I knew that I would fail because I was mixed. […] I was the black actor for sure, but I didn’t lead with my epidermis, and that offended people like Spike Lee, I think. You’re either militant or you’re not and he decided to just attack. […] I’ve never forgiven him for that because it really hurt me. […] I didn’t realize [at the time] that not pushing the afro-centric agenda was going to bite me. When you start to do well people start to say you’re an [Uncle] Tom because you’re acceptable.”
“I am somewhat baffled by the big upset about Rachel Dolezal [former NAACP chapter president]. […] Why is it such a thing now about her wanting to ID black? I say welcome her in — let her dress up in brownface and frizzy hair. It’s a compliment and refreshing. … I am tired of how the white liberal community, which is racist, and the black community, which is also racist, [is] overreacting yet again. We have bigger fish to fry these days like ridding the streets of guns [and] funding for mental health organizations to assist those in need.”
— Rae Dawn Chong 
And, of course, there’s the inevitable backlash over this film. Something people still harp on today. Spike Lee raised hell about it. The NAACP raised hell about it. And it has garnered enough of a cultural disdain (despite being a financial success at the box office) to where the film in of itself is considered taboo. Some say that the film in of itself is racist. Others will say that, despite the film’s good intentions (or what it believes to be good intentions), its effect on society could only be negative. I say let’s turn the tables back on those people. Rather than say the films “good intentions” are misguided, let’s say that those who decry the film as offensive and racist and harmful, are the ones who proclaim to have good intentions, but they wind up being the ones affecting society for the worse. Rather than stating the film should be given the taboo label, say that it should be taboo to label a film as such when it has no intention of being anything more than just a fun comedy with a bit of heart to it. At the very least, its heart is in the right place. And I’m sure those who decry its existence believe their hearts to be in the right place as well. Because, in all honesty, from what I’ve seen and heard about the incidents surrounding the film, it’s those who decry the film as racist who wind up causing more harm to society than the film itself. Because they won’t allow more films like this to be made anymore, alongside other films that have no problem portraying whites as stereotypical as possible, portraying straight men and women as stereotypical as possible, in all the negative ways; while at the same time portraying blacks, latinos, and gays in a stereotypical fashion that is as positive as possible.
I say it’s time for society to learn to loosen up. And hopefully generation Z will lead that charge. Because if only some people can be made fun of, but not others, then that will lead society down a dangerous path. So get back into the attitude and groove of the 80s and 90s. We shouldn’t have any care about who we offend, so long as it is done in earnest jest with no harm intended. Because when making a joke, it is often (if not always) done at someone else’s expense. Well, let everyone get a taste of that expense. For fairness. And because everyone deserves to have a laugh.
“Soul Man [is a] very positive motion picture that is meant purely to entertain.”
“Your bride is over 3000 years old.”
“She said she was 19!”
This movie was made for me. I knew I would be in for a good time when the film opened with a fight sequence with Kevin Sorbo and his long chest-length “metal band” hair with heavy metal music being played over it all. This is how I like my cheese served! There so much of it, a glass of red wine is mandatory!
First I’ll say that Kevin Sorbo, he, uh, really can’t act. But you still gotta love him. He’s like a polar opposite to Reb Brown for bad acting. Reb Brown is wooden, but awesome when he yells and shoots heavy weaponry and is energetic. Sorbo is almost never convincing, but he is less wooden and can put on some good sword and sorcery fight scenes. It’s a shame neither of them were ever in a movie together. The 90s could’ve used it, and the best we ever got was this one episode from Hercules The Legendary Journeys which had a piss-poor fight scene between the two where neither one of them really did anything, and they took the whole idea of “the art of fighting without fighting” too literally. I mean, Kevin Sorbo was Hercules, and Reb Brown was Ares, the God of War. How do you fuck that up?
But anyway, this is a pure Conan rip-off, sort of. Originally, this was supposed to be the 3rd Conan movie titled Conan: The Conqueror, but Ahnold turned the role down, and so Sorbo stepped in along with a few small script rewrites. It kind of shows too, but trust me when I say that this cheese-fest greatly benefits from this, because the plot gets downright ludicrous in the most entertaining of ways.
And Taligaro, played by Thomas Ian Griffith, really cheeses it up with his heated rivalry with Kull. The way he stares at Kull, with that look of, “IIIIII’m better than you aaaaare,” is just great.
And then there’s the smokin hot antagonist Akivasha played by Tia Carrere; oh how I wish she was his main love interest. But then again, if she switched roles with Karina Lombard, the villain wouldn’t have been as good. After all, the whole idea is that she’s supposed to be a smoking hot seductress fire goddess (at least up until the finale, then she’s just a fire goddess).
The fight scenes, while nothing spectacular, are entertaining and well done, especially the fight in the ice cavern. That fight deserves special mention because of the heavy metal playing, plus Kull taking weapons out of the hands of frozen corpses and using them against everyone; it’s kind of awesome.
The film must have had a budget that is better than it deserved, because aside from some fire, green screen, and dated 90s cgi effects (this is no Jurassic Park in that regard), this has some pretty good set designs, props, and practical effect work on the fire goddess during the finale. She looks downright scary and evil for one moment with a face that only the devil himself could have, before completely transforming into something completely (albeit intentionally) over-the-top. And then it all culminates in a scene that should go down in legend the the greatest gross-out laugh-out-loud make-out scene in film history. I love this movie!
And there are plenty of other tidbits to keep you going up until that moment. Aside from the entertaining fights, and the portion of the movie where Harvey Fierstein shows up and feels completely out of place (probably how some people feel about Chris Rock in The Fifth Element, except that I didn’t mind his part in that movie), there are some great lines, so-idiotic-it’s-entertaining moments (why are the guards standing around and letting their king get killed? why isn’t Kull revealing himself to still be alive in public after the announcement that he’s dead?), and action sword and sorcery cheese delivered in the best way possible that only the 90s could do.
It may be one of the decades that produced some of the worst movies of all time (in the they aren’t entertaining in any way, not even the so-bad-it’s-good way), but when their films hit like this, I forget all about the other shit and fall into a state of pure metal rockin’ bliss. I can’t recommend this movie enough to anyone who is looking for a film that rips off Conan in the most entertaining ways since The Beastmaster, Deathstalker, and The Sword and the Sorcerer. Conan: The Barbarian should be taken for granted.
PS: I hadn’t seen this film since I was a kid, and in 1997, that was the only time I saw it. So watching it again now, now remembering very much of it, a spark came into my head when I saw the demon face on the moon. And I thought to myself, “For some reason, that seems more important and familiar to me than anything else in the movie. Why is that?” It wasn’t until the film was halfway over when I realized, “Oh! That’s why!” And then I couldn’t wait for the finale. If you’ve seen Deadly Friend and grew more eager in anticipation for an upcoming scene after that old bitch-lady takes the basketball away from these kids, you’ll know the feeling.
PPS: Oh yeah, this line is in the movie:
“I have altered our pact. Pray I do not alter it any further.”
All of [the scandals] made the media, and of course America, question: What is Hollywood like? We go to see the product that they make every week. And they’re feeding us ideas and images. But how do they live? Are they not living by the same standards, the same moral values by which we live?
— Mark Viera
If the law is wrong, it ought to be changed; but the power for that is not with us.
–Chief Justice Morrison Waite of the United States Supreme Court; Virginia Minor v. Reese Happersett (1874); case in which the Court ruled that the Constitution did not grant anyone, specifically a female citizen, the right to vote even when a state law granted those rights to certain citizen classes.
The first real motion picture celebrity was an actress who went by the alias Biograph Girl. It wasn’t until 1910 when she was signed by Universal Pictures for advertisements and personal appearance tours (not to mention going on to appear in 300 films); that was when her name was revealed, Florence Lawrence. She would also go on to invent (but not patent) the automobile “signaling arm” (to indicate when you’re turning and which direction) and the first mechanical brake signal in 1914. She would fall on hard times after suffering from relapse in 1914, her career would flounder in the early 1920s, suffer from bad personal relationships, and commit suicide in 1938. She would not be the first, or last, celebrity to suffer a terrible late-career fate. But she would outlive others, who became stars after her.
1914, Mary Pickford became the first real movie superstar. Canadian-born, co-founder of United Artists film studio in 1919 (as did the other famous film star Charlie Chaplin, and D.W. Griffith), she would star in 52 feature films. Her fame faded when “talkies” (film with sound) grew in popularity from 1927 and onwards. She retired from acting in 1933, and became an alcoholic (the same year prohibition ended). After a tumultuous relationship with her family members, she became a recluse for the rest of her life until her death in 1979.
1914-1919, Theda Bara became popular. Known as one of the earliest motion picture sex symbols, she was also known for being a vamp (dark and seductive) in her film roles. Unfortunately, most of her films have been lost to the ravages of time.
Women’s clubs/organizations were prevalent during this time period. They worked heavily to make prohibition and women’s suffrage legal.
1917, the same year famous silent film star Buster Keaton arrived on the film scene, America entered into World War I. Soon after, the film The Spirit of ’76 is released. A film portraying the Revolutionary War. The film would be confiscated by the Chicago censorship board maker of the film, and Robert Goldstein would later be tried and convicted under the Espionage Act, for portraying Britain, America’s ally in World War I, in a negative light. This film has been lost to the ravages of time.
December 18, 1917, thanks to the efforts of women’s rights organizations, the 18th Amendment (prohibition) is proposed by Congress. Prohibition would become the rule of federal law two years later.
November 11, 1918, World War I ends, and the American economy took a nosedive. There was no need to be manufacturing weapons and inventory for war now. When the soldiers returned stateside, they flooded an overwhelmed job market made all the worse when a depression hit at the start of 1920. It made many look forward to finding an escape from reality and into entertainment. Since the motion picture industry showed no signs of slowing down, and with the growing popularity of various movie celebrities, the movies were an optimal choice. And with the European continent devastated by the war and in poor financial straits, it was prime time for Hollywood films to take advantage of the international market like never before.
January 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment is adopted into law. Billy Sunday declares:
The reign of tears is over. The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile, and children will laugh. Hell will be forever for rent.
1919, popular actor Wallace Reid suffered a serious leg injury. In order to finish filming the scenes he was to be in for the film In the Valley of the Giants, the studio would have their doctor provide Reid morphine. From that point on, without having time set aside to allow him to recuperate, Reid would become addicted to morphine.
September 28, 1920 – Eddie Cicotte and Joe Jackson confess to participated in the fixing of the 1919 World Series by the Black Sox. The scandal causes the creation of the position of ‘Commissioner’ to serve as the public face of reform. The film industry would learn from this example as it formed the Motion Picture Producer Distributors of America (MPPDA). Similar scandals were arising within Hollywood, with accounts of celebrities having booze parties and prostitutes, having plenty of money and connections to live a party lifestyle when they weren’t working. Meanwhile church leaders and women’s organizations would continue to rally the public against Hollywood.
1918, Charlie Chaplin (age 29) abruptly marries 16-year-old Mildred Harris. They divorced two years later, causing quite a public stir. In 1922, he married Lolita McMurry, also 16 (making the name almost ironically appropriate). They would divorce in 1927 after a sensational divorce case. During this sensational divorce, women’s clubs successfully urged some states to bar the showing of Chaplin pictures.
Starting in the 1920s, Hollywood allowed mandated abortions on their actresses. Studios determined whether or not a pregnant actress to should keep the baby (taking into account demand for her star presence in their upcoming films). Joan Crawford, Jeanette MacDonald, Tallulah Bankhead, and Bette Davis had abortions for the sake of their careers in motion pictures. Studios even pressured (forcefully) some actresses, such as Jean Harlow and Judy Garland (who became pregnant in 1941 at age 19) were forced to have abortions, sometimes with their parents contributing towards pressuring them to having an abortion (that includes the mother, particularly in Garland’s case).
August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment (women’s suffrage) was adopted into law. Politicians began courting the new block of potential voters.
September 5, 1920 – Model and actress Olive Thomas accidentally ingests mercury bichloride and kills herself. The bichloride had been prescribed to her husband, Jack Pickford to treat his chronic syphilis. The press ran wild with the incident, some accusing Pickford of murder, others declaring Thomas committing suicide after her husband forced her to participate in drug-induced orgies, among other wild theories. This became one of the first big scandals that would rock Hollywood.
Thanksgiving 1920, a gang of around 8 young men would drug and sexually assault 2 teenage girls in San Francisco. This incident would make headlines, and be perpetuated when more women came forward with similar rape charges (referring to separate but similar incidents). 75 women’s clubs would have their representatives attend a meeting on December 13, 1920, and form the Women’s Vigilance Committee (WVC). Their goal: to curb vice, and support female victims, witnesses, and family members at trials.
March 1921, the National Association of the Motion Picture Industry (established in 1916) would issue “Thirteen Points” that the movie industry was to avoid for the sake of avoiding promotion of immoral conduct, in order to appease the ever-growing protests of religious/womens organizations. This ultimately didn’t work, as many studios flat-out ignored the existence of the points.
Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle would begin his rise to fame in 1913. He was a big name alongside that of Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton, even working with both of them on separate occasions (and was close friends with Keaton). A comedian who’s role was largely slapstick humor, and taking the blunt of most jokes (partly because his on-screen character deserved it at times). However, September 5, 1921, Labor Day, that day marked an incident that would not only change his life forever, but also drastically accelerate the controversy of the motion picture industry (let alone Hollywood), and increase the pressure from both women and religious organizations. It was a night of partying at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco for Arbuckle and company. A party with plenty of booze, which was illegal at the time, though virtually all major Hollywood stars did this.
Arbuckle would spend a portion of the evening alone in a room with another aspiring film actress Virginia Rappe, a woman who used to be a fashion model, advocated for women to seek non-traditional forms of employment, became a clothing designer, all before she reached the age of 25 (though she would lie about her age during her film career, claiming to be younger than she was). After they spent a portion of the evening together at the party, she would spend the next two days in physical pain before being admitted to an asylum for treatment. (It was common for actors to get medically treated anywhere but hospitals to keep things on the down-low, especially since actors were known within the industry to be drug users and alcoholics, which could cause medical problems the industry didn’t want to be made public.) She would die September 9, 1921, 4 days after the event at the hotel. William Arbuckle would be accused of rape and manslaughter, be arrested, and tried at the courts.
From there, the controversy would explode. This event would be the catalyst women and religious organizations had been praying for to ignite their war on film, and turn the war in their favor on what they considered an immoral practice that needed to be reigned in and suppressed. It would also be the catalyst that would cause the government to get even more involved in the industry, outside of pro-war propaganda films (which was no longer relevant since the Great War’s end in 1918). And the controversy would be covered by the papers, many of which were controlled by William Randolph Hearst. The papers would largely smear and ravage Arbuckle’s image, while portraying Rappe as an innocent angel. And this wasn’t limited to just America. This also made international headlines, as Arbuckle and his films were also popular in foreign markets.
A former friend and director Arbuckle worked with, Henry Lehrman (who was also former domestic partner of Rappe), would speak out against Arbuckle.
Would I kill Arbuckle? Yes. I feel just as any other man with red blood in his veins. I will not deny that I have said I would kill him if we were to meet. I hope the law will punish him and that he will receive full justice for the crime.
— Merrit, p.118
District Attorney Matthew Brady, the prosecutor on the case, worked with the WVC to rally against Arbuckle, hoping their influence and his association with them, combined with the potential of securing a guilty verdict, would ensure his maintained position as District Attorney when the next election took place.
Religious organizations and preachers would also speak out against Arbuckle.
He has assaulted public decency and morality. He has betrayed the thousands of little children who laughed at his antics. He has defied chastity and mocked virtue.
— Evangelist Robert Shuler [Merrit, p.165]
The only exceptional priest who spoke in Arbuckle’s favor would be the Protestant preacher who spoke out against alcohol, Billy Sunday.
I feel sorry for ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and do not see how any court in the land could convict the fallen idol for murder or manslaughter. […] The girl died, but I believe her death was caused by an accident and not by Roscoe Arbuckle.
Theaters across the nation would pull and ban all Fatty films to avoid controversy.
September 14, 1921, the Los Angeles city council held a meeting to discuss increasing film regulation. Protestant ministers spoke in favor of regulation and censorship. The president of the Motion Picture Directors Association, William Desmond Taylor, would speak out against such regulation. He would make a statement titled “The Nonsense of Censorship.”
Censorship of motion pictures is a menace to the very principles of the Constitution of these United States of America.
November 14, 1921 – December 4, 1921, the first trial of Roscoe Arbuckle takes place, with 5 women and 7 men on the jury. The WVC (the president of the club at the time was Dr. Mariana Bertola) sided heavily with the prosecution. The jury (which had their names and addresses released in the papers) voted 10-2 not guilty. It was a hung jury, where one of the women jurors, Helen Hubbard, became internationally famous as the “lone holdout.” She was too stubborn in her refusal to acknowledge some of the facts of the case. She would make a statement post-trial, referring to her time on the jury:
There is no place for the woman on the jury. […] Any woman is a fool to even get on one if she can possibly get out of serving. I’d rather die than go through it again. The general attitude and language of the men is offensive to a woman.
— [Merrit, p.225]
It is worth noting that at this time, it was still a bit controversial for women to be serving on the jury. This had been legalized in California in 1911, and still remained questionable that women could be considered fair and impartial jurors. During this Arbuckle trial, the Chicago Tribune would state:
It is a fair presumption that the cause of exact justice was injured by the presence of the women on the Arbuckle jury. A woman might have to overcome her aversion for a man charged with immorality before she could get anywhere near the issue of whether he was guilty of manslaughter.
— [Merrit, p.225]
The WVC, of course, praised Hubbard’s stance. Nothing much was said of the other 4 women who voted not-guilty along with the other 6 men.
January 11, 1922, the second trial begins. This time the jury would consist of 11 men and one woman.
It’s not prison I’m afraid of. It’s not the loss of fame or fortune. It is the loss of regard; the loss of affection, the fact that the kids may think I am guilty that hurts me…. Guilty? The law says a man is not guilty until he is proven so. But, my friend, let a man once be arrested and charged with a crime; let his name go broadcast in those first, cruel stories, regardless of fact, and he is branded guilty…. I have suffered.
— Roscoe Arbuckle [Merrit, p.244]
January 14, 1922 – William Hays resigns his cabinet post as the Postmaster General to become the President of the newly formed Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA). His annual salary would be $100,000, an increase from his postmaster general annual salary of $12,000, and even higher than the president of the United State’s $75,000 annual salary. He would stay on as postmaster general until March 4.
February 2, 1922 – The director William Desmond Taylor, the director who spoke out against censorship, is found murdered. The murder, unsolved to this day, unraveled careers of several Hollywood stars and further damaged Hollywood’s reputation. Actresses revealed to be addicted to cocaine, underage girls alleged to have sexual relations with the deceased director, among other various acts of prostitution, drug dealing, and prohibition gangsters. Taylor’s death exposed more than just the incidents he was involved in. It exposed the actions of others within Hollywood.
This would cause the papers to refocus their attention on Hollywood in general, bringing back up accusations of the depravity and danger within Hollywood. This would, in turn, increase calls for film censorship. There would also be a movement among Hollywood critics who would espouse nativism and anti-Semitism, since most of the major studio heads were immigrants, all of whom were Jewish.
The American public is ardent in its hero worship and quite as ruthless in destroying its idols in any walk of life. It elevates a man more quickly than any nation in the world, and casts him down more quickly–quite often on surmise or a mere hunch. It is the general inclination, when trouble happens to strike in film circles, for the thoughtless to whisper, malign and gossip and to speak with that mock sagacity of the times of “the inside dope”[…]
The man and the woman who thus accepts as worthy of esteem this filmland neighbor should do himself or herself the moral honor of refusing to accept tattle and shoulder shrugs in place of fact–as he undoubtedly would in the case of his respected physical neighbor.
–Statement attributed to Arbuckle [Merritt, p.255]
Hollywood wouldn’t be in much of a position to defend itself, since there were other celebrity controversies already brewing, if not already exposed in the papers (such as aforementioned Chaplin marriage and extra-marital affairs controversy, and Olive Thomas’ accidental drug overdose). They needed a sacrificial lamb to keep the mobs at bay. Arbuckle, the one of their biggest stars that currently had the biggest spotlight shined on him due to the controversy and the coverage in the papers, would be their prime candidate, regardless of his innocence or guilt.
February 3, 1922, the second trial ends, in a 10-2 hung jury vote of guilty, with only the lone woman juror, and another male juror, voting not guilty. The defense was overconfident in this trial.
The public is tired of seeing some morally rotten but highly paid actor or actress glorified and held up as an idol. The public is tired of having sex flung in their faces. People who live decent lives, the mothers and fathers with families that they are trying to raise to be upright and decent, are tired of seeing film after film picturing infidelity and red love. They are tired of seeing the other man as a permanent fixture in the home–according to the movies. They are giving the producers their chance to reform from within. If they don’t, public opinion won’t do any reforming at all. It will simply annihilate the motion picture industry altogether, just as it did the saloon.
— District Attorney Matthew Brady [Merritt, p.278]
March 13, 1922, third trial began. This time, there would be 8 men and 4 women on the jury. April 12, 1922, they would all reach a verdict of not guilty. The 12 jurors would make a statement following the acquittal.
Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him. We feel aslo that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration, under the evidence, for there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of this crime. […] The happening at the hotel was an unfortunate affair for which Arbuckle, so the evidence shows, was in no way responsible. We wish him success, and hope that the American people will take the judgement of fourteen men and women who have sat listening for thirty-one days to the evidence, that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame.
Arbuckle would also make a statement.
For this vindication I am truly grateful to God and my fellow men and women. My life has been devoted to the production of clean pictures for the happiness of children. I shall try to enlarge my field of usefulness so that my art shall have a wider service. It is the duty of all men to use the lessons that have been given them by experience and misfortune for the benefit of all–to make themselves more useful to humanity. This I shall do. I can only repay the trust, confidence and loyalty bestowed upon me during my trouble by millions of men and women throughout the world by rendering service in justification of their faith.
Arbuckle was broke after the trials. Thanks to his celebrity habit of reckless spending, his attorney fees, and the fine to be payed for unlawful possession of alcohol, he was in dire need of finances. Finances he hoped to recoup with ease once he got back to working in movies again.
April 18, 1922 – Will Hays forbids Roscoe Arbuckle from ever working in Hollywood again. However, it would not be Hays who acted alone on this. According to Hays’ memoirs, Joseph Schenck and Adolph Zukor came to him after the third Arbuckle trial and demanded Hays and the MPPDA be the ones to publicly blacklist Arbuckle, while keeping their names (and thus Paramount Pictures) from being associated with the blacklisting. In turn, it would give credit to the MPPDA for coming out swinging, getting Hollywood to clean up its act, an act publicized (and at times blown out of proportion) by the papers, and the Protestants, among other organizations. Arbuckle’s films continued to be banned across the country (as they had been since prior to the first trial).
“Fatty” Arbuckle was a movie “goat.” While he escaped conviction in court he was crucified by public sentiment which demanded that somebody be made to pay for the loose lives of too many of the movie stars. It was just Arbuckle;s misfortune that the choice fell upon him. It might have been anyone of a number of others no better than he. A little more than usual vulgarity and an accident directed selection of Arbuckle. So he is paying for it all.
–Editorial in a Wisconsin newspaper, November 22, 1922 [Merritt, p.289]
Senator Henry Lee Miles would denounce Arbuckle while on the floor of the US Senate, and further state:
At Hollywood, California, is a colony of these people, where debauchery, riotous living, drunkenness, ribaldry, dissipation, free love, seem to be conspicuous.
The California Congress of Women and Parents supported the banning of his films, as did the San Francisco Federation of Women’s Clubs. The general public, with the aided influence of women’s and religious organizations, plus gossip articles in the papers, was still generally against Arbuckle and in support of keeping his films suppressed. In addition, the public grew even more curious as to the (secret) lives of Hollywood and the celebrities they (once) admired.
After the Laughter Dies
May 1922 – The Sins of Hollywood: An Expose of Movie Vice is published by an anonymous author, later identified as Ed Roberts (former editor at Photoplay).
To the boys and girls of the land these mock heroes and heroines have been pictured and painted, for box office purposes, as the living symbols of all the virtues–
An avalanche of propaganda by screen and press has imbued them with every ennobling trait.
Privately they have lived, and are still living, lives of wild debauchery.
Unfaithful and cruelly indifferent to the worship of the youth of the land, they have led or are leading such lives as may, any day, precipitate yet another nation-wide scandal and again shatter the ideals, the dreams, the castles, the faith of our boys and girls!
It is for these reasons that the SINS OF HOLLYWOOD are given to the public–
That a great medium of national expression may be purified–taken from the hands of those who have misused it–that the childish faith of our boys and girls may again be made sacred!
If the screen is to be “cleaned up,” the sores must be cut open–the puss and corruption removed–This always hurts! But it is the only known way!
During the 1920s, several women would become major Hollywood stars. Colleen Moore’s fame would arrive in the early 1920s, being known as one of the first flapper girls (meaning a 1920s woman who showed disdain for conventional dress and behavior). Then there was Clara Bow, who would become the first natural sex symbol (and would be known within Hollywood to freely sleep around with several men).
Many of these stars, however, would not have a good end to their stardom.
May 27, 1922 – Actress Audrey Munson attempts suicide in Mexico, New York, by attempting to swallow a solution of bi-chloride, the same substance that killed Olive Thomas. Unlike Thomas, she would survive the attempt, but became mentally unstable, and would spent the next 65 years in a mental institute until the day she died.
December 20, 1922, Hays released a statement referring to Roscoe Arbuckle:
In our effort to develop a complete co-operation and confidence within the industry, I hope we can start this New Year with no yesterdays. “Live and let live” is not enough; we will try to live and help live.
While this was taken to mean it was ok for studios to screen “Fatty” films again, and employ Arbuckle, it was later revealed in Hays’ memoirs that Hays didn’t intend for Arbuckle to work in movies again so much as be given the opportunity for employment elsewhere, so that he could at least make a living; in the spirit of fair-play and charity. Ultimately, the statement ended up ringing hollow in the industry and with the public. Women’s and various Motion Picture organizations, religious groups, and teachers groups, all still demanded Arbuckle films not be shown.
Arbuckle would release a statement, asking for “the rights of an American citizen,” to be treated fairly and not be unjustly/maliciously be attacked by others who are “refusing to abide by the established law of the land.” He would even quote scripture, and reference Jesus and his acts of forgiveness. His statement proved futile in improving his position. Even theater producers offered Paramount sums of money in order to purchase Arbuckle films that hadn’t been exhibited. Paramount would refuse. Arbuckle’s career was virtually finished.
Thus, as author Greg Merrit states, “It was America’s first great battle in a culture war.”
January 1922 – Actor Wallace Reid’s morphine addiction eventually spiraled out of control. He would eventually be admitted to a sanitarium after a mental breakdown. Will Hays would visit him at the sanitarium December 19, 1922, and would later proclaim that despite his state, Wallace was recovering. Wallace would later die in the sanitarium on January 18, 1923, a fate similar to the one Audrey Munson would face. His widow produced a movie about the dangers of morphine addiction called Human Wreckage (1923) which toured the country. The film is lost, unable to be viewed today.
The board of motion picture censors of Portland [Oregon] today ordered the arrest of Andrew Saso, manager of a theater, on the ground that he had shown a motion-picture featuring Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle. Films featuring Arbuckle have been banned by city ordinance since October 15, 1924.
— Los Angeles Times, December 14, 1932 [Merrit, p.359]
March 3, 1931, The Star Spangled Banner is made the national anthem via congressional resolution, signed by president Herbert Hoover.
Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
June 29, 1933, Roscoe Arbuckle, who was on the verge of a potential acting come-back, dies in his sleep of a heart attack. Some papers would declare that he literally died of a broken heart.
Here is the sad spectacle of a man being punished by so-called democracy! A man who was acquitted of a trumped-up charge by three American juries! But our militant good people arose to crucify, to persecute an innocent man! They dragged him down from the topmost pinnacle of being the clean and funny comedian that he was and made of him the world’s most tragic figure!
— Rupert Hughes, making a speech towards Roscoe Arbuckle at a 1925 Hollywood banquet [Merrit, p.307]
Regarding Virginia Rappe, and whether or not Arbuckle actually caused her death by raping her, it seems unlikely. There really isn’t any evidence that indicates he did rape her. At worst, he might have had consensual sex with her, but even that is a bit far-fetched, at least from what I’ve concluded from my research. As to what caused Rappe’s health deterioration during and after the party, there are a number of things that could’ve contributed. One, years of alcohol consumption weakening her bladder. Two, the fact that she has had at least two abortions in the past (part of that whole Hollywood mandate thing that began roughly in the 20s), and one abortion could’ve caused a small tear to her bladder that grew overtime. Plus the doctors did anything but treat her symptoms correctly for at least the first two days after they were shown.
In any case, there is at the very least a reasonable doubt as to Arbuckle’s guilt. Sure he led the celebrity lifestyle, become a higher class than most American workers, and spent in excess for mansions, vehicles, booze, parties, etc (as many top-paid celebrities back then did, and still do today). But that doesn’t excuse the wrongful condemnation by women’s rights organizations anyway (among others). And the parallel’s to today’s #MeToo movement are uncanny.
It only seems ironically fitting what events would take place just before Arbuckle’s death.
July 13, 1923 – The Hollywoodland sign is erected.
September 18, 1932, Millicent Lilian ‘Peg’ Entwhistle, known for being a stage actress, was on a downward spiral career-wise. She would hike to the Hollywoodland sign, climb a ladder on the “H,” and threw herself down the mountain. Her suicide note would read, “I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain.” Soon after, the one and only film she ever appeared in, Thirteen Women, would premiere November 11. It would be neither a critical or commercial success. When it was re-released in 1935 during the Hays Code era, 14 minutes would be cut from the film.
In order to promote reform, it is first necessary to show the wages of sin.
Utilitarianism (noun): A theory that the aim of action should be the largest possible balance of pleasure over pain or the greatest happiness of the greatest number — Merriam Webster
Paternalism (noun): A policy or practice of treating or governing people in a fatherly manner, especially by providing for their needs without giving them rights or responsibilities. — The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
June 15, 1917, Congress passed the The National Vocational Education Act, subsequently known as the Smith-Hughes Act. Developed by Senator Hoke Smith and Representative Dudley M. Hughes of Georgia, this act was passed in response to those advocating for vocational education, to reform the way education was done so that it would, in theory, make America more globally competitive, economically-speaking, by being more efficient at how it taught and trained youth for industrial jobs. This act allowed for federal funding of states with schools which offered vocational education. In the long-term, mainly during the early 1980s, the results of this act were mixed. It was shown that the job training provided by the programs created as a result of this law tended to be outdated compared to present needs of various industries. There was also unintended consequences of segregation. Not just with what tracks blacks and whites would take, not just with what tracks were designated for girls and boys, but also due to the class status of the students.
However, there was to be a string attached. January 1916, a bill was proposed for the creation of the Federal Motion Picture Commission.
The Senate and House majority was Democrat. Dudley M. Hughes would request a revision to the Smith-Hughes act he initially helped write. This revision intended to create a new division of the Bureau of Education. The division would be called the Federal Motion Picture Commission, a commission intended to regulate, and at their discretion censor, all films within the United States, and would do so at the Federal level. This would be supported by Dr. Wilbur F. Crafts (superintendent of the International Reform Bureau), and by the Catholics and Methodists.
Hughes would make the following statement to support his argument for the creation of this commission:
While the idea of censorship of motion pictures is distasteful to our clients, as well as to others in the business, our support of the principle of regulation embodied in the bill before you is due to our realization of unfavorable conditions in the industry which can not be corrected by ordinary means nor by sporadic and occasional criminal prosecutions, procured by the better elements of the business or by individual or organized reformers. The motion-picture business, now of vast financial importance, has had a mushroom growth and is not yet homogeneous and standardized. Too many persons engaged in the business look upon it as a temporary means of getting money instead of a permanent business, the continued profit of which is dependent upon the quality and character of the productions. They are like miners who quickly exhaust the high-grade ore and leave the low grade on the dump. They find the opportunity for such methods in producing and exhibiting sensational productions which display scenes of lust and crime.
Unfortunately, the public is not yet discriminating and goes to see both bad and good, which are usually to be found upon the weekly program of the same theater. Still more unfortunately, the vicious picture brings the larger return to the exhibitor and producer, because it gets the money of the regular customer and the sensation-seeker also. The state of affairs constitutes a temptation hard to resist and, in fact, the production of vicious pictures is constantly increasing just because they are more profitable. If the industry is to endure, if decent people are to stay in the business, this cancer must be cut out. A Federal regulatory commission should prove a fearless surgeon and we therefore favor such a commission.
— Dudley M. Hughes, 64th U.S. Congress, First Session, H.R. 456
A bill to create a new division within the Bureau of Education. To create the Federal Motion Picture Commission. Bureaus for this commission would be located in Los Angeles, California, and New York City. These bureaus would review films and determine if they shall be licensed for exhibition (ie if they shall be allowed to be shown in theaters). The bill also contained the following noteworthy sections:
Section 8: That the commission shall license every film submitted to it and intended for entrance into interstate commerce unless such film or any part thereof is obscene, indecent, immoral, inhuman, or is a reproduction of an actual bull fight or prize fight, or is of such a character that exhibition would tend to corrupt morals or incite to crime.
Section 13: That the commission shall annually, on or before the first day of January each year, submit a written report to the United States Commissioner of Education. In this report, and from time to time by other means, the commission may recommend films particularly suitable for children, and may make suggestions regarding the recreational and educational uses of motion pictures.
Then Reverend John Macmurray, Pastor of Union Methodist Episcopal Church of Washington D.C., had an interesting say, to say the least.
[…] a large degree of paternalism is absolutely imperative in a democracy. Where every man’s voice must be heard and heeded in the decision of important matters, it is essential that that voice be intelligently raised for the commonweal or Commonwealth, as well as for the benefit of its owner; the aim being the “greatest good for the greatest number.”
It must be a thoroughly trained voice.
The function of the parent is to bring children into the world and train them for the State.
Where parents are too weak, or not wise enough or unwilling to train children thus the State must take the place of the parent. Sometimes the intelligent and capable prefer that the State do this work for their children, as better equipped for the work. Consequently the State has in a large measure taken the place of the parent in training the child and that with the consent of the very large majority of American citizens. What one State has done or is doing, a number of other States, agreeing and consenting, may form a group of States to do–United States. So now the State or a group States provides the conditions by which children are to be brought into the world; designates who shall be their parent, how they shall be born; then what the child shall eat and drink and how it shall eat and drink; what kind of air it shall breathe; what kind of clothes it shall wear; who shall nurse, train, and teach it; what it shall learn and what it shall not learn and when it shall learn it; when it shall play and what and where; when the child shall go to sleep and when it shall arise; provides for conditions of sleep; designates the route by which it shall go to and return from school; takes it from the parent and directs its activities, and may claim its services–the State may under certain circumstances take it away from the care of the parent completely; designates its mental food and its moral surroundings and everything that has to do with its moral welfare and development. When the child grows to manhood that care still continues.
The State tells me what I shall eat, how I shall eat it; what I shall drink and how and when I shall drink it; what kind of air I shall breathe; what I shall wear and how I shall wear it; what kind of house and home I shall have; tells me what I may do in the way of occupation and what I may not; what shall be my amusements and what shall not; takes care of my health; tells me how I shall ride and even what I shall pay for transportation. The State tells me what kind of books and papers I shall read; what kinds of pictures I shall look at and what dramatic performances I shall witness; how I shall marry and whom; how I shall be born, live, die, and be buried.
In fact the State, as a parent, mixes itself into almost all of my personal affairs, and I have become so accustomed to it that I do not demur or resent it. For whatever personal liberty and personal rights I have, and they are very great, I am willing to surrender in most cases because I receive more than the equivalent for what I give in the benefits accruing to me from the mutual voluntary surrender of the personal liberty and rights of others. I have no right to expect to benefit from the surrender of others unless I surrender myself to the benefits of the State. If I am not willing to abide by and be obedient to the laws and regulations of the family government for the good of all the family and let my parents direct, then I can kick and register my kick, or I am at liberty to run away and betake myself as far as possible from these obnoxious family laws and rule. Any American citizen in good standing is free to go to any spot on this globe and be freely welcomed except by those governments where, under the circumstances, he is least likely to go.
He is free to go to Mars if he can find safe transportation.
To be too insistent on personal rights and personal liberty at the expense of others is anarchy, and anarchy is not consistent with itself.
Therefore the State or a group of States may and does say: No influence shall be allowed to neutralize the effects of our public training and instruction; whatever it is wise for the child to receive we shall give; what is not wise we shall withhold.
The State teaches all useful knowledge–arts and sciences. What it does not teach may be regarded as neither useful or necessary but sometimes harmful. The States does not teach burglary, forgery, gun toting, licentiousness, losseness of necessary marriage bonds, or anything else classed as crimes, incentives to crime, nor resultant in crimes against the laws of common decency and proper human development. What the parent State refuses to teach in morality it should not permit outsiders to teach, and thus it regulates or refuses to allow those things which teach lessons subversive of or contrary to the purpose of the State.
Those who oppose paternalism are benefited by and acquiesce in paternalism in all things except when it interferes where they are directly interested, but since they in each case must of necessity be in the minority, and since the “greatest good for the greatest number” must be the thing sought for, they must eventually give way to the wish of the majority.
There can be no doubt but that if this bill passes Congress and becomes the law of the land, this seeming paternal feature will be consented to by the mass of the American people, for their silence and acquiescence will be equivalent to consent when they possess right at hand the power to reject if they should choose to do so. Gentlemen of the committee, you know and I know that the majority of common-sense American people will accept your decision and the action of Congress in favor of the regulation asked for in this bill with equanimity. It is this thought which comforts those who favor this bill.
Now, there is, however, a common ground on which our motion-picture friends and ourselves may stand, for those persons are surely our friends who contribute to our happiness and enlightenment.
That common ground is the censor-not censorship. I feel, after all, that our friends who have done so much for our pleasure and instruction in furnishing these motion pictures do not object to censorship, as it is called. They are not afraid of that. They would be the very first to disown such a fear. They really covet censorship. They have it now in a limited and uncertain manner. But they very reasonably fear the censors with the almost autocratic powers which they will possess–the possible favoritism, partisinship, and corruption–the big stick which may be held over their business with its over $350,000,000 annual income.
And those who have had any experience with many high-priced commissions of the Government feel that this fear is not altogether groundless.
Let them feel quite sure of the fair and square deal for all, that favoritism, partisanship, and possible injustice shall not prevail, and the really strongest objection to this bill must be removed. The higher priced the commission the greater will be the temptation to fill that commission with men who have no other qualifications than political ones, and what one man with appointing power is strong enough to withstand the pressure which must receive fullest attention.
Mr. Chairman, the committee of which I am the chairman is making an investigation of the character of the pictures now being shown in the nearly 80 motion-picture theaters in the District of Columbia, and would be pleased to have the privilege of submitting the results of this definite investigation to you and the committee for your consideration.
This speech gives me chills. Makes me downright terrified that someone made a speech in support of such Orwellian concepts in a meeting of Congress in America. That they would think the idea of a paternalist State/government that would have that much control over their citizens, and that would somehow prevent favoritism, partisanship, and injustice. Stuff like this begs the question, “What loony bin did this psychotic fuck escape from?” Stating that this act of censorship will lead us down a path that will eliminate favoritism and partisanship, while at the same time talking about a majority of common-sense people, the majority, and the power and ethics of the State being superior to that of any individual. Anyone who disagrees should be imprisoned or brainwashed to believe otherwise. I honestly don’t know how it is a film hasn’t been made about this event that hasn’t been a smash hit. It would have a plot revolving around the immorality of Catholics, the potential dangers of government, the threat to individuality. Everything is there that any half-assed cliched film full of stereotypes would be crawling over.
Following this were Statements from the Christian Unions and Societies, which all pretty much boil down to stating that they received information and complaints from other individuals and organizations, various citizens, who state that the films they’ve witness are improper, suggestive, exhibit immoral character; have unclean purposes; they subvert morals, ideals, good citizenship; they corrupt the youth. And, therefore, films must be subject to the most strict form of censorship before being exhibited to the public. But there is an entry worth noting from a Mr. H. F. Worley (keep in mind that films didn’t have a rating system during this time; all films were basically Not Rated):
Many of these things would not be so objectionable to older people of experience and settled opinions, but our membership is largely composed of children from 7 years of age up to and including high-school age. In some cases the pastors are complaining bitterly against the motion-picture shows and have preached sermons calling attention to the harmful effect of some films, and as no one can determine from the title or the outside illustrations the nature of films, it will have the effect of many of our people remaining away from the shows and put them in bad odor.
Many of the films are not obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, or indecent […], but they do show features that are immorally suggestive, picture crime in a way to make heroes of the criminals, show the details of safe breaking and other criminal acts make the show a school in crime, and make many suggestions promotive of vice, trickery, and crime.
We object to the motion-picture play showing so much of loose married relations, adultery, infidelity, and jealousy. If a stranger should suddenly drop down upon this earth from Mars and get his information from the motion pictures of to-day, he would immediately conclude that there is not a single good, pure, virtuous woman or mother in the United States, as they make a mockery of married relations and marriage vows. The youth of our land is being educated through what they see in the motion picture and they will come to have the same view. The pictures also set forth un-Christian views of life and cast reflections upon the most sacred things in life. They too often hold up to ridicule the preacher and the priest. There is often undue and unchaste familiarity between the sexes. Deaf-mutes are very expert in catching what is being said in a conversation by watching the movement of the lips. They have reported many times that the conversations carried on by the actors in the motion pictures were not only inappropriate to the picture, but were often vulgar and vile. Of course, the rest of the audience can not detect this. There is too much prominence given to the interior of saloons and dance halls and drinking and drunkenness. They often show too much detail regarding seductions and criminal assaults.
They prostitute the law, show the officers of the law and constituted authorities in an unfavorable light, and often the criminal escapes with the ill-gotten gains, marries a good girl who knows nothing of his past, and reforms. Other boys will think they can do the same. There is too much killing–it is too promiscuous–and the men die too easily. It tends to make life cheap. There is too much revenge, and jealousy is too prominent.
The manufacturers do not all have a decent regard for the sentiments of the people of the Southern States of of other sections, or for the races.
Some of the so-called “problem” and other plays may have a good or at least not a bad moral ending, but the story itself is so dirty that the end does not justify the means. What is not shown in the picture is supplied by suggestive explanatory wording. My little boy and girl often ask me “Daddy, what does that mean?” I can’t tell them, but they get an impression that is indelibly photographed on their brain. In early adolescence, children are very impressionable and imitative, and such pictures as I have described tend to brutalize and degrade them. If it comes to a point where children must be kept away from the shows, very few parents will go and it will only be a matter of time when they fall into bad repute. The companies that are now producing nothing but clean pictures should not attempt to defend the business generally, including those who turn out improper pictures. This same warning was sounded against the saloon in the last two decades, but in their generation the liquor trade thought they were “wiser than the children of light” and that they were too deeply intrenched in politics and habits of men to be disturbed in what they considered as their rights. If they had kept within the law and due bounds and had regulated those of their number who openly flouted the law and conducted indecent places, the great prohibition movement in this country would not have attained its present proportions. A word to the wise is not necessary.
I wish to emphasize in the strongest terms that I am in favor of the motion-picture play and think it has a great future if it is kept clean. I firmly believe that a Federal inspection or censorship of the films before they are exhibited would be a benefit to the manufacturers, distributers, and exhibitors. It would give them a standing. People would not hesitate to go, feeling that they would be in no danger of being offended or their children of seeing something undesirable. I am surprised that they have fought the bill.
Perhaps that’s because they have some sense of logic that you do not?
The Rev. Mr. Brady says that we “don’t put certain books in the hands of our children.” That is just what we are trying to do with regard to motion pictures–not to allow certain ones to be exhibited, or, to use Brother Brady’s words, “too keep them out of the sight of our children.”
When restrictive or regulative measures have been pending before the committees of Congress in the past, I have heard the same specious arguments advanced as to why they should not be enacted into law as are now put forward by the motion-picture manufacturers. They want to be let alone. They say that it is impossible to select five or more men who can pass on these films, but with unbecoming lack of modesty they admit that the five or six men in their plants are capable of deciding what is desirable and what is not. This is a strong assertion of virtue on their part to the effect that they are able to select men who can do this work satisfactorily but that the great Government of the United States can not.
They state that the legislation will infringe on their personal liberty. We have a great deal of civil liberty but very little personal liberty. Adam had it, but it was restricted by Eve’s personal liberty when she came. In like manner Robinson Crusoe had it in unrestricted degree until Friday came. This law is no more an infringement of personal liberty than the pure-food law, opium law, forcible vaccination, prohibiting prize-fight pictures from being shown, holding of duels, lotteries, etc.
They say that this act would be unconstitutional. If so, why do they oppose it? The courts would determine that in their favor if it is unconstitutional. I take it that they fear that it is constitutional.
Or they may fear the court is full of dumbfucks who don’t consider enough of the ways in how the act would be detrimental to the constitution. You know, like the 1915 ruling declaring that film shouldn’t have first amendment rights.
Conservation is the spirit of the day. We are conserving our natural resources in forests, water power, etc. We are spending large sums to save our fruit crops from blight and to prevent and cure diseases of cattle and hogs. I submit that the greatest resources of our country are the boys and girls, who will be the men and women of the next generation. One of them is worth infinitely more than all the hogs in the land.
An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure. If a sewer pipe leaks in a home or on a public street, no one would counsel that it be let alone to see what the effect would be. No; they would all wish to stop up the poisonous flow of gas at once. They would want to take no chances at all, even though the leak might be very small and the effect be harmful in a small degree. If it were at all harmful, everyone would agree that it must be stopped at once. That is exactly the position we take regarding the motion pictures. The manufacturers agree with us that there are some pictures harmful in some degree and others that should not be exhibited at all. In fact, they have been prohibited by the courts from being exhibited at a number of places in this country. How much more necessary that we should stop this flow of poison into the youthful minds! It would not affect the pictures that are now clean, and in fairness I wish to say that there are some companies that I have never known to turn out a questionable picture.
The worst feature of the effect on the youthful minds is that the harvest will not be reaped this year or the next, but the seed is being sowed and the crop will be gathered in the next generation. If preventive measures are not taken now, they will be too late for this generation. We can not expect to sow weeds and reap grain. “As we sow, so shall we reap.”
For the benefit of the youth of the land as well as of the motion-picture manufacturers I trust that you will favorably report this bill and urge its enactment into law in such form and language that it will not injuriously affect any legitimate, well-intentioned manufacturer of clean films or place a burden or hardship upon him. If so, we shall feel deeply grateful to you and the manufacturers will soon see the benefits derived and will rise up and call you blessed.
That statement, “An ounce of prevention is worth of ton of cure,” does have truth to it when put in the right context. But he uses it in one context to emphasize its use in another. I’d go into details as to the problems with this, but William Seabury would do that (more on him soon).
Rev. Harvey J. Brown:
The power of pictures over the imagination and destiny of one family illustrates the moral and psychological necessity of guarding the latent force of pictures in our homes, unless we want our children to be like the pictures they view.
Well, I’ll give Harvey Brown some credit. The least that can be admitted is that motion pictures do have a psychological effect on people, carrying the potential to influence them towards doing one thing or another. Of course, if one is mature and wise enough, it shouldn’t be much of a problem, and they should only be influenced by pictures in the best ways. Those who are not, in particular children, should have some protection from this influence. But that should be at the discretion of the parents, especially because each child is different, let alone each family.
Those were the main arguments for the bill. Now for the arguments against the bill, or what I’d like to call common-sense and less Orwellian. Made by William M. Seabury of the New York bar, general counsel for the Motion Picture Board of Trade of America:
And we predict it will be demonstrated that the proposed legislation is not only wholly unnecessary and an utterly ineffective and a useless expedient for the correction of any existing evil, but that it is ruinous to the fifth largest industry in the country and will constitute a vicious, dangerous, and un-American piece of legislation, which in itself is a serious infringement of the liberties of the citizen and in reality is the announcement of the commencement of governmental censorship of the drama, the press, and of free speech, events so abhorrent and repugnant to the letter and spirit of our institutions and laws as to require from this committee its emphatic and positive denunciation and repudiation.
The motion-picture industry of this country is credited with being the fifth largest industry in the United States from the standpoint of capital invested.
As a medium of thought expression the motion picture is said to reach approximately eight to ten millions of our people daily, and the percentage of adult and infant attendance at these exhibitions is said to approximate, respectively, about 90 per cent for adults and about 10 per cent for children.
Seabury would go on to cite news articles to make his point.
Moving pictures of prize fights are forbidden. Several large Chicago papers applaud. Yet these same papers devote full pages to showing actual scenes from the battle fronts in Europe. A prize fight does not kill. A battle picture that does not show men being destroyed by hundreds fails. Why permit one to be shown and deny the right to the other?
— Chicago Journal, Dec. 17, 1915
“The free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the inalienable rights of man, and every citizen may freely speak, write, and print on any subject, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty.” (Art. I, sec. 7, Constitution of Pennsylvania.)
The fear of libel laws keeps the press within bounds and the fear of the laws against exhibiting indecent, libelous, or immoral pictures will prevent the movie managers from offending public taste. Especially if those who transgress are punished under the general laws covering such offenses.
— Philadelphia Public Ledger, Sept. 30, 1915
If censorship is right in principle, why is it not extended to include every variety of entertainment? Why censor the 10-cent motion-picture play and exempt the $2 so-called problem play?
— Chicago News, Nov. 2, 1915
The general public takes no great interest in the controversy over film censorship. Members of the tribe of Comstock and certain others who are greatly concerned that there shall be no ridicule of race and religions at the movies appear to be the active backers of censorship.
— St. Louis Republic, Oct. 29, 1915
Kansas is not the only State where Carmen [1915 Cecil B. DeMille film] was prohibited from being shown by the censors. In Ohio and Pennsylvania the scissors were wielded whole-heartedly, and finally the picture was kept from these States altogether, as it has been in Kansas.
Comment: These are the three States in the Union that have State censorship.
— Topeka Daily Capitol, Oct. 24, 1915
The best of literature has been ransacked by the motion picture for the children. Sinbad the Sailor, Robinson Crusoe, the Cricket on the Hearth, Three Little Bears, Cinderella, the Children in the Tower, form a feast spread for their enjoyment.
— Louisville Herald, Oct. 25, 1915
Who protects the morals of the movie censors from the “terrible” pictures they must see? Do not these have a perverting effect upon them? They are normal Kansas folk. Perhaps it is necessary that the morals of the censors be sacrificed if need be, but their plight seems to be a sorry one indeed.
— State Journal, Topeka, Kans., Oct. 19, 1915
If Carmen had been a nice, ladylike young person, Prosper Merimee would not have written a novel about her, and Bizet would never have had a chance to make Merimee’s story over into one of the most popular of all operas. And, of course, no one would have made either novel or book into a picture play. And, now, the Ohio board of moving picture censors commands that Carmen must be respectable and orderly. She must not smoke, for smoking is not commendable in young girls of Carmen’s age. She must not do other things which do not conform to be accepted twentieth century social standards. She must, in fact, be denatured. The example indicates not only the uselessness but also the large nuisance value of the State censor board. The time is not far distant when the censorship nuisance will be abated. It is the recrudescense of Puritanism wholly out of harmony with the times.
— Cleveland Plaindealer, Oct. 15, 1915
Public sentiment is the saving force in such matters (pictures about which there is doubt). It has in the past prevented the exploitation of many unsavory plays, not alone in the movies but on the legitimate stage as well.
Censorship, why? The motion picture is an art form. As such, like art itself, it must be free to practice in accordance with its ideals. The decision as to whether these ideals are worthy is too important to be left to one or two or a hundred people. The judgement must be given by the people who will benefit or suffer by the recreations they support. When this course has been pursued in the past there have been no mistakes.
— New York Evening Mail
A State or National censorship of films probably would lead to the censorship of dramatic productions, and thence to magazines, books, and newspapers.
— Waltham (Mass.) News, Nov. 6, 1915
The censorship of moving picture films has been made a political football by Gov. Willis. The result is that motion-picture exhibitors may be forced into politics. It has come to their knowledge that several films, after having been passed by the censor board, have been recalled and rejected at the direct command of the governor. One of these is “The birth of a nation.” It was barred from Ohio by executive order, because it was objectionable to certain manipulators of the colored vote. In the same connection it is told that another film was handled by the censors and approved. Remonstrance was made by a colored politician to Gov. Willis. The film producer heard of it, and said, “I”ll have to see that fellow for $100 or so.” He must have seen him for the next day the governor was informed that the objections had been withdrawn, and again the film was approved and released.
— Messenger, Freemont, Ohio, Jan. 1, 1916
The censorship of motion pictures by the States or Federal Government would put the responsibility in the wrong place. As capable of misuse, moving pictures are not in a class by themselves. Books may carry moral poison. Unwholesome books are actually sold. By very long experience the friends of law and order know it is wiser to deal with bad books after they appear instead of assuming that no publisher can be trusted.
— Boston Herald, Nov. 8, 1915
Why Federal censorship anyway? We have no official Federal board to sit in judgement upon American literature or American newspapers. We have no Federal juries to require orators to rehearse before them ere they may deliver their orations to a breathless public. But we do have adequate laws protecting the public against indecent literature, indecent newspapers, and indecent speakers. If persons violate these laws they can be punished after the act. We should have laws to protect society against indecent films. We have such laws already. We don’t need any more Federal guardians.
— Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, Jan. 2, 1916
A body of nonexpert guardians of public morals is a sore and needless irritation to the public.
— Lawrence (Mass.) Eagle, Nov. 4, 1915
Standards of people vary surprisingly along this line. If every scene that possibly may offend somebody were to be eliminated from the average film there wouldn’t be a great deal of it left.
— Joplin (Mo.) Globe, Dec. 16, 1915
There is no more need of censorship for motion pictures than there is for censorship of newspapers, for certainly it can not be claimed that the sensational newspaper is less potent in its influence than the film drama.
— New York Evening Mail, Oct. 15, 1915
The courts of Allegheny County have in a recent decision nullified the police rights of Pennsylvania cities. By declaring that the State board of censors for moving pictures is the final authority, they have taken away the fundamental power of each city to govern itself. It is impossible to believe that this decision will stand when once its meaning has been made clear.
The board of censors has plenary power to allow or disallow films for exhibition in this State. The tyranny of this body has been suffered only because appeals to the courts and to the police have been available as a check upon it. Now the court has decided that when a film has passed the censors it can not be stopped by the police.
The full effect of this decision is to tie the hands of individuals and to deliver the cities, bound and gagged, into the hands of the board. The censorship of plays properly rests with the people. Their protests are carried out by the police and by the court. There is nothing inherently wrong with the movies to make another kind of censorship necessary. And there is nothing sacrosanct about the board of censors to make its decisions irrevocable.
— Tribune, Beaver Falls, Pa., Sept. 20, 1915
The Georgia Chamber of Commerce has prepared a motion-picture film […] giving views of various phases of Georgia’s agricultural and industrial activities. Among them are pictures of the cotton industry, from planting and chopping time, through the various processes to the finished product of the mills.
We wonder if these mill pictures show the children from 12 to 15 at work? Or has Georgia a board of censorship that eliminated that little feature?
— Telegram, Bridgeport, Conn., Dec. 14, 1915
If Park Commissioner Cunneliffe’s motion-picture censorship bill passes there will soon be a demand for an enlargement of his field of activity. The people will want him to decide what the newspapers shall print, what drama shall be produced, and what books they shall read. Perhaps he will be asked to censor the sermons to be delivered from the pulpits and speeches to be made at public meetings. He will become our mental and moral dictator.
— St. Louis Post Dispatch, Nov. 4, 1915
The people themselves who daily throng the motion-picture theaters of this city and State are the best censors.
— Cleveland Plaindealer, Oct. 30, 1914
The moving picture is not an incentive to crime. Certain abnormal youths may commit crimes after seeing pictures precisely as some man may rob a jeweler’s window after gazing at the rich display it contains. These circumstances, however, indicts neither the moving picture nor the jeweler’s display.
— The Philadelphia Evening Telegraph, Oct. 12, 1914
In days not long past it was the practice of lazy thinkers to blame the dime and novel and the cigarette for crime among juveniles; to-day the same class levels its absurd charges against the motion pictures.
The guardianship of children does not stop at the door of moving-picture theater, and parents who allow their children to go without knowing what they are likely to see can not escape responsibility for their carelessness, any more than if they were to allow them to attend the performances at the regular theaters indiscriminately. The only effective censorship is the registration of public opinion.
— The Press, Atlantic City, N.J., Oct. 14, 1915
There are indications of a wide awakening of the American people to the fact that puritanical interference with innocent amusements is a species of tyranny which they have too long endured. It is bound to become as extinct as the “Dodo.”
— The Morning Telegraph, New York City, Nov. 21, 1915
We see no reason why this censorship innovation should remain within the narrow confines of the moving-picture theater. There is a world of error to conquer. The press daily, or twice daily, pours forth its torrent of comment and report. Officials are subjected to criticism. Events which must stir the moral reprobation of the censorial conscience are minutely reported. Besides there are the books, the rostrum, and the pulpit–all of these constantly offend against the convictions and predilections, sentiments, and standards of the board of censors, who confine the safeguards of censorship to the humble and comparatively unoffending “movie.”
— Tribune, Chicago, Nov. 25, 1915
The bill creating Federal censorship of moving pictures, now in the hands of the House Committee, belongs in the category of avuncular legislation. The people won’t go far astray in deciding for themselves what is proper and what is improper in filmdom. Uncle Sam has taken the trouble of regulating morals on more than one previous occasion, and he has proven himself a conspicuous failure at such work.
— The Times, Pawtucket, R. I., Jan. 3, 1916
In our so frequent discussions of the ethical side of entertainments, and especially in regard to the moving pictures, a great deal is said about “the protection of the children.” But there will always have to be discrimination on the part of the parent, and no public censor can ever take place of that.
— Journal, Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 8, 1915
The censor rejects merely because he personally does not approve of the picture. He approves for the same reason.
The pulpit was almost unanimous in commending the film pictures of John Barleycorn, yet it contained more drinking scenes than any other photoplay made.
Local or national censorship fails. At present no two people will agree, city will not accept the judgment of the State, nor the State that of a Federal comment.
— Gazette, St. Joseph, Dec. 15, 1915
The idea which had the public morals as its basis when the boards of censorship were formed has proven a boomerang to public officials. This kind of thing seems inherent in the practice of censorship. When the government dabbles in private morals condemnation is sure to follow. Censorship should not rest with any small group of people.
— Review, Fort Collins, Colo., Oct. 23, 1915
Really the best censor is a calm public mind reinforced by the shrewd sense of the amusement purveyor.
— Times, Brockton, Mass., Sept. 24, 1915
If censorship is good in principle it should properly be extended to include every variety of amusement.
— Portland (Oreg.) Journal, Nov. 1, 1915
Pennsylvania and Ohio movie censors cut out Romeo and Juliet, because Juliet is a girl in her teens conducting herself in a most unmaidenly fashion, and the play abounds in kisses and passionate love scenes. Having thus eliminated the great dramatist’s art, the censors passed, without question, modern society dramas showing elopements, assignations, murders, and suicides. The censor is a rare animal.
— Republican, Hackensack, N.J., Dec. 16, 1815 [I suspect that year is a misprint]
Hail to the Ohio board of censors! We would like to say for the sake of alliteration the board of sensible censors. But to call the Ohio board of censors sensible would not be true. We fear the board needs the broadening influence of travel and the education that goes with it.
— Reflector-Herald, Norwalk, Ohio, Oct. 18, 1915
That sums up the arguments he cited made against film censorship. Then he opted to make arguments of his own.
The police power is the power of the State to regulate the public health and morals. It is a power Congress does not possess except when used as a legitimate incident of some other existing power.
The power to regulate interstate commerce is a national and not a State power. Yet bearing these simple propositions in minds, the Supreme Court, in the Mutual Film Co. case, decided that a State regulation of the exhibition of motion pictures by means of a State censorship board, including the imposition of a State tax upon the inspection of films which originally came into the State as interstate commerce, was not an interference with interstate commerce and consequently was not beyond the authority of State enactment. How, then, can any court be expected to hold when Congress passes the same kind of an act, solely for the purpose of preventing exhibitions of pictures within the several States, that the character of the legislation, although identical, becomes changed from a statute which regulates the police power, to one which lawfully regulates commerce?
It is clear no such jugglery may logically be permitted.
When the States passed a censorship statute, the Supreme Court said it did not interfere with interstate commerce and that it was a lawful exercise of the police power of the States.
When the States passed a censorship statute, the Supreme Court said it did not interfere with interstate commerce and that it was a lawful exercise of the police power of the States.
If Congress passes a censorship statute, can the courts be expected to hold that the act is passed pursuant to this power to regulate commerce and that it is not a police measure? We think not.
The police power is exclusively a State and not a Federal power.
State censorship is not an interference with interstate commerce and is a lawful exercise of its police power in so far as dramas are concerned. How, then, can a Federal censorship bill be held to be the regulation of interstate commerce and not an exercise of police power?
The guaranty of our Federal Constitution and of the constitution of every State in the Union has been in substance that every man shall have the right to express and publish freely his thoughts and sentiments, being responsible both criminally and civilly for the abuse thereof.
It is to preserve this principle inviolate in its application to the exhibition of motion pictures, particularly to the exhibition of the news and the so-called serial motion picture, for which we earnestly contend.
We are obliged to recognize the power of Congress specifically to prohibit the introduction into this country of a film which depicts a prize fight […].
The enactment of this statute, however, involves no question of the right of the Federal Government to censor films by the exercise of the police power, and that case is no authority for the enactment of a censorship statute by Congress.
It is not pretended that Congress has any power to enact this statute other than the power conferred by the so-called commerce clause of the Constitution. And this function would be fully performed by the enactment of a law forbidding and penalizing the transportation of immoral and indecent films in interstate commerce.
The insertion of the words “motion-picture film” in an appropriate place in […] the Criminal Code of the United States would at once exert and exhaust the entire power of Congress over this subject.
If thereafter any such film was transported in interstate commerce, long before its exhibition the sender and the receiver would be amenable to the Federal criminal law.
If the film so shipped was of the prohibited character, the ordinary enforcement of the criminal law would punish the wrongdoer.
The censorship principle is said to be involved in and to underlie the Federal statutes which regulate the importation and transportation of foods and drugs […], and the protection afforded from the importation an transportation of infected animals and meat established by the Federal meat inspection law […], and other similar statutes.
But no such principle is involved in any of these statutes.
Impure food, habit-forming drugs, and infected cattle, dead or alive, are dangerous to human health in and of themselves, and inspection of such supjects is not a censorship of them.
Whether food is impure and consequently dangerous to health, whether certain drugs contain opium, morphia, or poison of prohibited character, and whether a particular cow has or has not an infectious disease are all medical facts, the existence of which is susceptible of accurate determination by competent inspection of substances already in existence. But the same result can not possibly be achieved by the censorship of a drama or of a motion picture.
There is admittedly nothing inherently dangerous from the standpoint of morality in contact with the physical substance of the films, and whether or not a particular picture when exhibited to the public, either as news, as a periodical, or as a drama, will or will not impair the morals of the community is not susceptible of specific determination except in very gross and plain cases. Such matters involve honest differences of opinion, different standards of morality, each in many instances equally good, and different ideals. One community learns a lesson and derives a benefit from the exhibition of a certain picture, while another audience in a different location may obtain no benefit from the exhibition, and might even be injuriously affected by it. But these are not proper matters for determination by any one commission for the benefit of a country of 100,000,000 people. The only legitimate censor of thought expression is the community in which the thought is expressed.
If a thought is expressed which offends the moral sense of the community in which it is published, there are ample existing remedies to redress the wrong; but it is impossible to accomplish the suppression of an exhibition of undesirable pictures by providing for their national censorship. Who would seriously suggest that an author should submit his manuscript to the Librarian of Congress for his approval and censorship before he might copyright his literacy production? Who would seriously suggest that a clergyman should submit the manuscript of his sermon to some legalized censor who had the privilege of determining the right of the clergyman to deliver the sermon to his congregation?
Who would seriously suggest that the press of the country submit its galley proofs to a national board of censors for review prior to publication?
A play or drama can not intelligently be compared to a piece of infected meat. Neither can the newspaper, the magazine,nor the sermon. And so we confidently assert that none of the statutes to which we have referred contain the slightest analogy in principle to the bill here proposed to be enacted.
We conclude from what has been said that Congress is without power to enact any bill based upon the principle of censorship of motion pictures.
Section 5 of the proposed powers the Federal Motion Pictures Commission stated:
That the commission shall license every film submitted to it and intended for entrance into interstate commerce, unless it finds that such film is obscene, indecent, immoral, inhuman, or depicts a bull fight or prize fight, or is of such a character that its exhibition would tend to impair the health or corrupt the morals of children or adults or incite to crime. The commission may license any film subject to such excisions, amplifications, or alterations as the commission may direct and require to be made. The commission may by unanimous vote withdraw any license at any time for cause shown.
Seabury would make a statement going against this very section of this power for the commission-to-be:
What number of commissioners is required in order to pass the film in the first instance and to license it, and for what “cause shown” may a license once granted be withdrawn upon unanimous vote?
And how, may we ask, is it humanly possible for the commission or anyone else to determine whether a film is “of such a character that its exhibition would tend to impair the health or corrupt the morals of children or adults or incite to crime”?
But perhaps the most extraordinary power sought to be conferred by the act is that which assumes to authorize the commission to license any film subject to such “amplifications or alterations as the commission may direct and require to be made.” This authorizes the commission to direct a manufacturer to make perhaps several thousand feet of film solely for the purpose of “amplifying” and of exploiting some idea of the commission. The commission is given the authority to determine what shall be emphasized by way of illustration or what less shall not be conveyed by the picture, and what shall be suppressed, curtailed, or entirely eliminated. In other words, the arm of the Federal Government becomes the manufacturer of motion pictures on the capital and at the expense of the producer. It dominates and controls and determines what shall be produced and what shall not. In other words, it censors pictures.
Why, may we ask, is the commission directed to make an annual report making “recommendations to importers and producers of films and to the public regarding the educational and recreational use of motion pictures”? This is only a specimen of the paternalism evidenced by the bill. We have already shown that by directing the commission and empowering it to require amplifications and alterations to be made in the film the Government in reality becomes the producer; not, however, on the capital of the Government, but upon the capital and money of the producer.
And, moreover, it is apparently contemplated that the commission shall indulge in a species of public exhortation, regarding the education and recreational use of motion pictures. Thus it will give publicity and the weight of its sanction and approval to certain films which appeal to the members of the commission, while others equally good, but which, as a matter of taste, do not appeal to the members of the commission, will be condemned by silence.
Many of the suggestions in this new censorship bill are supposed to have emanated from the Famous Players Film Corporation, the Jesse Lasky Co., producing companies which distribute their product through the Paramount Picture Corporation, which also supported the new bill, the World Film Co., the Equitable Film Co., and the Metro Pictures Corporation.
The unexpected support of Federal censorship in any form from these companies is clearly only a shallow attempt to appear before the committee in a “holier than thou” attitude, since these companies stand alone in their position and are opposed by every reputable concern in the industry.
Only those who wish to come as near the line of obscenity and impropriety as possible without incurring liability to heavy fine and imprisonment in the penitentiary welcome the immunity from Federal criminal prosecution which Federal censorship would afford. If, in the rush and pressure of business, or after the commission has been liberally educated in the “moral lessons” taught by some immoral plays, an improper film could be put through the Federal censorship commission, so much the better from the standpoint of those who haunt the border line of impropriety.
The enactment of the Federal censorship bill would not prevent the enactment of other censorship laws in each State in the Union, in each city, in each town, in each village; so that in the course of time, if the principle of Federal censorship is recognized, the industry would be inevitably censored out of existence.
The only excuse for any censorship is a desire to afford children extreme protection. But, if censorship is to benefit the children, each play would have to be censored from the standpoint of the child, so that only children’s pictures would thereafter be exhibited. This would destroy the industry. If this is not the type of censorship which would result from the creation of this Federal commission, the censorship would fail entirely in its purpose and would be worthless and unnecessary.
[…] The local conditions which have resulted from existing State censorships are cited as an argument in support of the bill. We urge the same argument for its defeat. We pointed out what happened to “Virtue” in New York and in Pennsylvania. The argument it presents is irrefutable.
In New York State there is no censorship which involves examination of the prepublicity type. In Pennsylvania a full-fledged censorship law exists.
In Pennsylvania the board of censors prohibited the exhibition of “Virtue” on the screen. An appeal was immediately taken to the court of common pleas and the ruling of the board of censors reversed and authority given to exhibit the picture, and the picture was exhibited in Pennsylvania.
In New York City, where the future exhibition of “Virtue” was extensively advertised, so that its character was known without the necessity of prepublic examination, the commissioner of licenses of the city of New York notified the exhibitor that the exhibitor’s license would be revoked if he exhibited the picture.
The exhibitor was immediately placed upon the offensive. He secured a temporary injunction to restrain the commissioner of licenses from revoking his license; but, upon the final hearing of the injunction, and before, as we are informed, the picture was exhibited at all to the public, the temporary injunction was dissolved and the ruling of the commissioner of licenses upheld, and the picture was not exhibited in New York.
This illustrates conclusively the complete and absolute inefficiency of any censorship of the prepublicity type. It illustrates that in Pennsylvania, where the people are burdened with censorship, a questionable picture is publicly exhibited notwithstanding the prohibition of the censors, while in New York, where no prepublicity censorship exists, the picture is not shown.
I haven’t been able to locate the film Virtue. For all I know, it has been lost to the ravages of time, with no copy left in existence.
No argument against censorship would be complete without a brief reference to the ludicrous manner in which it has been enforced wherever its vicious principles have been enacted into law.
[…] we were favored by the Photo Play Magazine with the advance sheets of an article by Mr. Channing Pollock, in which the facts which demonstrate the ridiculous absurdity of censorship in practice were effectively portrayed.
Mr. Pollock said in part: Considering that it is 40 years since first she (Carmen) mouthed her mad love to the music of Bizet, Carmen might have expected the deference due old age. Beautifully filmed and beautifully acted by Geraldine Farrar, she came as a bolt from the blue to shocked and surprised boards in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California. Her ancient kiss, that inspired the first big press-agent story, was ordered cut to 5 feet. “Just a little love, a little kiss,” warbled the Buckeyes, and nothing more than a yard and two-thirds of affection came within that allowance. “All love scenes showing embraces between males and females” were ordered measured and trimmed, leaving the cigarette maker to give her life for a purely paternal peck from the bashful bullfighter, Escamillo.
Come to think of it, however, Carmen wasn’t permitted to give her life, either in Ohio or in California. A local board in the latter State objected to the killing of a woman by a man, though there is no opposition to the killing of men by women. After all, girls will be girls! It is only the male who must not be encouraged! Pennsylvania banned the little set-to between Carmen and Frasquita, and the duel between Morales and Don Jose. All this had taken place dozens of times in the opera in Philadelphia, without appreciable effect upon the police records; but apparently the censors were comforted by the reflection that no one knows what an opera is about anyway. “Camille” is forbidden in England, but there has been no ruling against “Traviata.” Young persons who weep to the strains of “O Parigi, O cara” probably do not suspect themselves of sympathy with a courtesan!
Ohio prevented poor Carmen’s smoking one of her own cigarettes, and, in one State or another, the majesty of the law raised the level of her decolletage, restrained from her baring the shoulder of her rival and interfered generally with her artless displays of temper and temperament. “Carmen,” as amended and expurgated, must have borne a striking family resemblance to “Elsie Dinsmore.”
If I have failed to keep my promise, and be “excruciatingly funny,” you will admit that the censors are making it up to you. “The Scarlet Letter” was passed, after considerable argument, but no children were permitted to witness it in Chicago. To the contention that minors might read the book, answer was made that “a child of simple training and pure thoughts could read The Scarlet Letter, and, because of the purity and delicacy of its style, have no idea of its real meaning.” Charming prospect! To go through Hawthorne’s masterpiece from cover to cover without understanding a word of it!
At least, no “child of simple training and pure thoughts” would be likely to see in any picture what the censors seem to see. Few children are nasty-minded. A large section was cut from a photoplay called “The Warning” because there was a bed in the room adjoining the scene of action. Of course, a bed could have none other than an immoral purpose. How stupid of the producer not to have exchanged this obscene piece of furniture for a denatured divan. In the picturization of a celebrated play objection was made to a title covering pantomime in which a capitalist told a woman that he would employ her husband. The title read: “I’ve got a proposition to make to you.” It was cut. The censors couldn’t imagine a business proposition.
“Do you mean to say,” the board’s attorney thundered at me, “that you do not recognize this as a brothel?”
I admitted that I didn’t.
“The censors do,” said the attorney.
“Which only goes to prove,” I replied, “that the censors know more about brothels than I do.”
One of the members of the committee indicated that he had in mind the possible advisability of the classification of motion pictures–some for adults and some for children; and it was suggested that such a segregation might be desirable. Our response to the suggestion is that that is one of the matters which, if left alone, will be worked out satisfactorily, first, by the parents of the children who attend motion picture theaters, and second, by the exhibitors themselves, and finally by the local authorities. Certainly this can not be a proper matter for Congressional enactment.
It is said that the repeated depiction of crime in the motion pictures incites to the commission of crime. We remind the committee that we know of no motion picture which, in exhibiting the commission of crime, fails to exhibit its rigorous punishment. Whether such an exhibition teaches a desired lesson, or whether it may tend to incite weak-minded persons to the commission of crime, we are unable to determine.
We believe that this question, like the others, can only be satisfactorily solved by the local communities in which the exhibition of motion pictures is forced upon an unwilling public. There are no exhibitions which must be seen by the public. The public are required to pay for the privilege of seeing them. If the exhibit is distasteful to the public it is certain that it will not pay its money only to be displeased by the exhibition. So the whole matter of proposed regulation of what shall and what shall not be seen, in so far as it deals with matters of taste, sentiment, and opinion, is a matter with which no legislative body can have legitimate concern.
The substance of the argument presented showed that in reality while the terms “immoral picture,” “indecent picture,” “impure picture” were frequently used, what these proponents of the bill really wished to control were matters entirely within the domain of opinion, taste, and individual judgement. The sentiments were freely expressed by these persons that there were too many drinking scenes, that there were too many scenes of adventure and hair-breadth escapes, and that the baneful cigarette was too much in evidence.
Finally, we say let there be a cessation of governmental interference with the duties and obligations of parents. The responsibility for the welfare of the child rests primarily with the parents, and that responsibility can not successfully be assumed by Congress, nor can the burden be taken from the shoulders of the parents and placed upon those of any branch of the Government.
For all the reasons given, we respectfully urge the defeat of the bill.
That’s the last entry from Seabury, but there would be one more from Wilbur Crafts in support of the bill. Some of it is repetition from statements made earlier. Plus an argument about how censoring films is not the same as censoring stage plays.
The plea that if Federal censorship is applied to films, it should be applied to dramas, breaks down at several points. Dramas travel in memories of actors, not in commercial cans, and vary as rendered by different actors and in different places. Theaters need censorship, but it should be local censorship connected up with some bureau of information and warning. The film cans are as much an interstate matter as the cans of beef to which the Federal Government wisely applies “prepublicity censorship.”
That, and an mention of how the commission would work in terms of rejection of a film, which not only bears resemblance to the more modern MPAA, but also to online video platforms such as YouTube.
If any film is rejected, the commission must clearly set forth what part or parts are objected to and why, and the film may be presented again for license if these parts are removed.
Ultimately, this revision to the Smith-Hughes act didn’t come to pass. But it did serve as a severe warning as to how bad the backlash of the wild west film industry would be, with pressure from the churches, and from the government. Primarily in the name of protecting the children, by a desire to force standards of decency onto producers.
What fascinates me is how this attempt to amend the Smith-Hughes Act isn’t all that known to this day. And yet it set the groundwork for most, if not all, of the arguments to be made for and against film censorship. Arguments still made to this day. The event is significant not just because of the prevention of what almost occurred (though in hindsight, it ended up delaying what would later occur), but the statements made for and against. Not to mention a giant fucking dose of Orwellian propaganda thrown in there.
There is one other thing worth pointing out about this event. At two different times during the discussion for the act revision, it is stated that D.W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation is historically accurate and worth watching for educational purposes. Another indication that people back then weren’t as educated as they should be, and thus more prone to propaganda meant to divide and inspire contempt for the fellow citizen. The thing is, that can work both ways. Failure to educate on other subjects that films falsely depict can carry similar consequences. Like with Remember the Titans. Or even Braveheart.
Firstly, the historical movies have a greater appeal than objective scholarly books and articles, or well-researched popular history books. Most people do not read academic history texts and engage in the research. Neither do I expect people to start doing so. Yet many people rely on history to inform them about their own identity, as well as cultural choices or preferences.
Thus, if people can be influenced to make purchases, and think about themselves, based on what they saw in a movie that presents untruths, then historical inaccuracies are very dangerous indeed.