Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mistrust and Redemption in Hollywood - part 2

The Code contained 12 principles that guided the production of filmmaking. The first principle set the tone for all twelve commandments. “No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence, the sympathy of the audience shall never be thrown to the side of wrongdoing, evil or sin.” The eighth commandment is also noteworthy because it says, “No film or episode may throw ridicule on any religious faith.”

Hollywood had capitulated for its own survival and accepted a form of censorship. You can only imagine how they must have felt. For the most part, the films that Hollywood produced in the 1920s and early 1930s contained virtually no nudity, violence, sexuality or graphic violence. What were they being punished for? Perhaps the lifestyles of a few directors and actors created a backlash against Hollywood. Can you imagine if Hollywood told the Church what they could preach and proclaim in their pulpits? Do you think we would protest? Consider it an injustice? Whether we like to admit it or not, the Body of Christ imposed censorship and control on Hollywood.

In other words, we denied their First Amendment Rights of free speech, and we have paid a price. It’s no wonder that many in Hollywood still resent Christian influence in the industry. The Eighth Commandment made it impossible for filmmakers to ever question the action of a Christian or criticize the Church. We often see that the movies from the 1930s to the 1950s contain  many references to God and embrace the very principles of Christianity more than they do today. You can make a case that some of this is present because God is at work in film, and there were far more Christians working in the industry. We must face the fact that Hollywood had no choice but to reflect this in their films because the Eighth Commandment required them to do so.

What resulted is what many call the Golden Age of Hollywood. We have to ask the question whether this is because of the Hays Code or in spite of it. God has always been at work in Hollywood. His Spirit has been present from the very beginning. With a code or without a code, God will fulfill his plan. I’m convinced that the Code was more of a hindrance because God always chooses free will. God wants to speak to filmmakers and will reveal his truth. He does not need a production code to do that.

By the 1960s, the Code was running into problems. It was becoming more difficult to enforce because Hollywood’s traditional studio model was failing. In other words, the business model was no longer working. Hollywood could no longer control production costs. Their monopoly of production, distribution and exhibition had been broken up by the Federal government. Profits were dwindling as television was cutting into Hollywood’s audience. Along with social change that was occurring in American culture in the 1960s, the Code’s days were numbered. Both the Protestant and Catholic church realized they no longer wanted to support the financial responsibilities that were required to enforce and manage their respective presence in Hollywood.

By the mid-1960s, everybody was looking for a way out. The solution was a new rating system administrated by the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA). Movies would now be rated according to their content and restrictions would be implemented by age group. For example, R-rated movies would be restricted to anyone under the age of 17. It seemed to be a workable solution for all parties.

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