Thursday, March 06, 2008

Censorship in Movies

"Bill C-10 is in no way a form of censorship - its not about restricting freedom of expression, as the Opposition likes to suggest. The purpose of the bill is to bring integrity to the tax system, the goal of the bill is to reassure the public a how taxpayers money is spent," Heritage Minister Josee Verner

Some of you may not know this but the Canadian government has a new bill, C-10 that has gone through the House of Commons and is now on to the Senate to be approved. In it there's 'an amendment to a federal tax credit program most Canadian film and television productions rely on for funding.'

I only recently heard about this and was angry. Supposedly, this means the government or a committee could deny tax credits to a project they "[deem] offensive and "contrary to public policy". If the bill passes I don't know if this 'denial of tax credit' would happen or not but the threat is still there. And if they did interfere in movie and television productions I can tell you I would be writing letters.

One problem I have is that it was only four months after the bill passed in the Commons that it became a 'hot topic' on the news. If this was so important to people then surely they would have been up in arms about it the moment it passed. Is the Canadian Film Industry lax when it comes to paying attention to these kind of things? Or is it just the media that's slow on the uptake?

Now, I love movies. This may not be entirely apparent from my list on the sidebar but I really love them and I'm a total geek when it comes to movie trivia. For example, did you know that in "Gone With the Wind", in the burning of Atlanta scene, what's really being burnt is the old set from 1933's "King Kong"? It's awesome! And a little tragic. I'm also a big fan of well-written tv shows. Battlestar Galactica Season One anyone?

What you may not know is that this isn't the first time movies have come under threat. In the 20s, various scandals came to light that caused the public to call for censorship. One well known incident was the trial of comedy star Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle who was charged with being responsible for the death of actress Virginia Rappe at a wild party in 1921. So in 1930, the Hays Code (the Production Code) was adopted but not enforced until 1934.It required all films released on or after July 1, 1934 to obtain a certificate of approval before being released. This practice was continued for more than 30 years in the US.

One instance of censorship involved "Tarzan and His Mate" from 1934. There was some brief nudity involving a body double for Maureen O'Sullivan. All of these scenes were edited out of the master negative of the film.

Another, more ludicrous adherence to the Code was when cartoon Betty Boop had to change from dressing as a flapper to an old-fashioned housewife skirt. It's hard to imagine that people were so paranoid they were willing to censor cartoons. It also reeks of a certain fanaticism to seek out any and all instances that could be considered "inappropriate" for the masses. Interestingly enough, the Catholic Church was also involved in this, creating the Legion of Decency. They sound like a group of cassock-wearing super heroes who spread their message of proper etiquette and good manners to the world.

Here are some of the rules the Code enforced.

-Nudity and suggestive dances were prohibited.
-The ridicule of religion was forbidden, and ministers of religion were not to be represented as comic characters or villains.
-The depiction of illegal drug use was forbidden, as well as the use of liquor, "when not required by the plot or for proper characterization."
-Methods of crime (e.g. safe-cracking, arson, smuggling) were not to be explicitly presented.
-References to alleged "sex perversion" (such as homosexuality) and venereal disease were forbidden, as were depictions of childbirth.
-The language section banned various words and phrases that were considered to be offensive.
-Murder scenes had to be filmed in a way that would discourage imitations in real life, and brutal killings could not be shown in detail. "Revenge in modern times" was not to be justified.
-The sanctity of marriage and the home had to be upheld. "Pictures shall not imply that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing." Adultery and illicit sex, although recognized as sometimes necessary to the plot, could not be explicit or justified and were not supposed to be presented as an attractive option.
-Portrayals of miscegenation were forbidden.
-"Scenes of Passion" were not to be introduced when not essential to the plot. "Excessive and lustful kissing" was to be avoided, along with any other treatment that might "stimulate the lower and baser element."
-The flag of the United States was to be treated respectfully, and the people and history of other nations were to be presented "fairly."
-The treatment of "Vulgarity," defined as "low, disgusting, unpleasant, though not necessarily evil, subjects" must be "subject to the dictates of good taste." Capital punishment, "third-degree methods," cruelty to children and animals, prostitution and surgical operations were to be handled with similar sensitivity.

Just imagine how this limited the artistic vision. All the movies out there that were never made, the tv shows that didn't receive approval. But just as with speak easies and Rum running during Prohibition, Hollywood was able to sneak around the censors or bend the rules in some circumstances.

If you're interested in seeing exactly what the Hays Code was determined to eliminate, Turner Classic Movies has a DVD set called "Forbidden Hollywood" about films that were banned by the committee.

What do you think about this bill? Will it pass, will it affect which movies get made and which get shelved due to funding?


Bradinottawa said...

Your thoughts on censorship are spot on.
Come share them with some people!

Melanie said...

I love how the Heritage Minister has convinced herself that witholding funding based on somebody somewhere 'deeming something offensive' is not censorship. Whoever has the money has the power to censor.