censorship


censorship
   STANLEY KUBRICK ran into censorship restrictions with SPARTACUS (homosexuality and violence), LOLITA (pedophilia), and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (rape and violence) because of prohibitions in the Motion Picture Production Code and the Legion of Decency. The code had its origins in 1930 with Will Hays, the president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPAA), who was approaching the end of his eighth year in endeavoring to maintain “the highest possible moral and artistic standards in motion picture production. ” His system of recommended “Don’ts and Be Carefuls,” instituted since 1927, had not proved to be a satisfactory way to police the movie establishment. Some stronger document or code was needed to define strict guidelines for filmmakers. The Production Code, as it came to be called,was written by two men: Martin Quigley, a self-appointed “apostle of decency,”was the publisher of The Motion Picture Herald; and the Rev. Daniel A. Lord was a Jesuit priest at St. Louis University. Both were Catholics. Together with Will Hays, they went to Hollywood to present a proposed code, which was accepted in March 1930. The code stipulated a list of prohibitions. In the first section there is a brief summary of those prohibitions; in the second section, called “The Reasons,” there is a discussion of basic principles to be followed in making morally constructive pictures. The code was not aligned along strictly religious or denominational principles; rather, its moral construction hearkened to the Ten Commandments, universally accepted by the adherents of Judaism and Christianity. But, as historian ALEXANDER WALKER says, “It is the principle underlying the wording that reflects the Roman Catholic inspiration. For it is based on the belief that the sinful can be redeemed through the technique of penance. In the censorship manual, this goes under the name of ‘moral compensation. ’ It means that whoever commits a sin or a crime in a film must be made to suffer remorse, or repentance, or retribution—the degree of each to be apportioned to the gravity of the offence.
   At the outset, the code’s General Principles distinguish between desirable entertainment—that which improves and refreshes the spirit of mankind-and that which is not—that which degrades humanity. This duality is maintained throughout the document. In addition, the code is explicitly states that movies can affect man’s moral standards. It is difficult, the code declares, to produce films intended for only certain classes of people. Movies must take into account the demographics of the cultivated, the illiterate, the mature and immature, the young and old, law-respecting and criminal. Thus, that which is permissible in a stage play (which presumably is directed at only certain classes of people) must necessarily be restricted in a movie.
   Specific recommendations included the following:
   1. Evil should not be presented in an attractive light.
   2. Wrongdoers must not be sympathetically portrayed.
   3. Natural and human law must not be ridiculed.
   4. Right and wrong must be clearly demarcated.
   5. Adultery in a comedy is to be avoided; in a drama never justified.
   6. Seduction and rape are not permissible in comedies; in dramas they must only be suggested.
   7. Murder shall not be graphically shown or justified. Revenge is prohibited and murderers must not be sympathetic.
   8. Oaths shall not be muttered, save in reverence.
   9. Nudity is never permitted.
   10. Religions shall never be ridiculed.
   11. Illegal drug traffic shall not be depicted.
   12. Sex perversions are never permitted.
   In addition to Spartacus’s and Lolita’s obvious violations of these Production Code restrictions-which occasioned many negotiations and subsequent changes in the script—Kubrick had to deal with the rating system of the Roman Catholic Legion of Decency. The Legion of Decency was formed in April 1934 by the Catholic bishops of the United States to provide moral guidance for practicing Catholics. The legion rated films in four categories: unobjectionable for general patronage; unobjectionable for adults; objectionable in part; and condemned. Although the legion had no legal authority, its threats of box-office boycotts of “objectionable” films carried considerable weight in Hollywood.
   Because of the sexual perversions implied in Lolita, the Roman Catholic Legion of Decency placed Lolita on its “condemned” list (any Catholic who saw such “lewd” pictures would be committing a sin in the eyes of the church). Historian Gregory D. Black discusses in detail the objections to Lolita in his book The Catholic Crusade Against the Movies, 1940–1975. In this case Kubrick and his partner JAMES B. HARRIS hired Martin Quigley—frequently a mediator between film producers and the Legion of Decency—as a paid consultant “to guide them through the labyrinth of codes and Catholics. ” Eventually, after many changes, the film was approved by the MPAA. Certainly, Lolita underwent “changes of a vital nature” in order to avoid a “condemned” rating. The casting of Sue Lyon, for example, helped to mollify the Legion of Decency censors because the actress looked older than the 12- or 14-year old nymphet of the novel. (Meanwhile, the British Board of Censors gave the film an X certificate, restricting the film to adult viewers. ) As for Spartacus, the homosexual implications in the “snails and oysters” scene between Crassus (LAURENCE OLIVIER) and Antoninus (TONY CURTIS) were also objected to (a scene later reinstated in the ROBERT A. HARRIS restoration). There is no question, according to historian Murray Schumach, that “this scene was killed because of the Legion. ” Indeed, continues Schumach,“ Some of the bloodiest violence was also eliminated for the same reason. ”This refers, in particular, to battle scenes displaying dismemberment of the soldiers. Kubrick had used dwarfs and armless men with breakaway prosthetic limbs to convey a realistic illusion. )
   By the time A Clockwork Orange was released in 1971, the Production Code had been replaced by Jack Valenti’s Ratings Administration. Its X rating went to films of an exceptional, or even pornographic, violent and/or sexual nature. This seriously impaired a film’s box office potential, as many newspapers refused to run advertisements for X-rated films. A Clockwork Orange was given an X rating which Kubrick strongly protested, but to no avail. Meanwhile, in London the film was also given an X certificate for its British release. Ironically, the severest act of censorship directed against the film came from Kubrick himself. In 1974, after an eruption in Britain of violent actions allegedly inspired by the film, Kubrick, who was highly disturbed by these allegations (and who was fearful of reprisals upon his family), ordered WARNER BROS. to remove it from circulation—perhaps the only instance in which a filmmaker had the clout to demand a major studio impose such a ban.
   References
   ■ Black, Gregory D. , The Catholic Crusade Against the Movies, 1940–1975 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997);
   ■ Gardner, Gerald, The Censorship Papers (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1987);
   ■ Schumach, Murray, The Face on the Cutting Room Floor (New York:William Morrow and Company, 1964).
   J. C. T. and J. M. W.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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