17NASModule1ArticleTheProductionCodeOf1930.docx

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The Production Code of 1930 From virtually the earliest years of their existence, movies were regarded by many people as a baleful influence on public morality. In the United States, censorship was exercised pretty much on a local option basis. Many states and individual cities had their own censorship boards that often ordered the deletion of shots, scenes, and/or title cards before a film could be exhibited within its borders, sometimes banning films outright. The fact that a film was banned somewhere was very often turned into a marketing ploy to gain publicity in other, less easily offended cities. By 1922, however, spurred by several recent high-profile scandals involving Hollywood celebrities, calls for some type of federal action were heard. In self-defense, motion picture producers passed a succession of moral rules or “codes” meant to guide the content of motion pictures, overseen by former postmaster Will Hays and often referred to as the “Hays Code.” Although most producers followed these voluntary rules, after a few years the guidelines started to relax and by the coming of sound in the late 1920s the treatment of crime, violence, sexual infidelity, profanity and even nudity became alarming to some people. It is possible that the advent of synchronized sound, with gunshots and swear words suddenly audible, added to their impact on sensitive ears, and increasing use of color photography left less to the imagination with suggestive costumes. More calls came for public censorship.
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In 1930, therefore, a new code—which came to be known as the Hollywood Production Code—was written. The industry accepted it nominally, although many movies stretched it to its limits or simply ignored it, prompting more public outcry. Movies made between 1930-34 are thus often referred to as “pre-code,” even though the Production Code was theoretically in effect. Many filmmakers during this period tried to stretch the code to its limits, if not defying it outright, especially in their use of sexual innuendoes, risqué costumes, and implicitly immoral characters. In 1934, due partly in response to 1933 films like Baby Face, Gold Diggers of 1933, She Done Him Wrong, I’m No Angel, and many others, a mechanism was set up to enforce the code. For the next thirty years, virtually every film produced or exhibited in the United States had to receive a seal of approval from the office of Joseph Breen, the head of the Production Code Administration. Films were not rated for different ages by the Production Code Administration. They were either approved by the Code for release or not, and the major studios would not release a film without the Code’s seal of approval. In the 1950s a few filmmakers and distributors started to defy the code (especially with foreign imports), and by the 1960s many of the code’s restrictions were loosened if a film’s advertising carried a notice recommending it for mature audiences.
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