Fractured Hard Bodies: Rocky, Rambo and the Expendables.

Fractured Hard Bodies: Rocky, Rambo and the Expendables.

Ronbo

Time slips away and leaves you with nothing mister but boring stories of glory days.”

 Bruce Springsteen

There are summer tours which prepackage former music pop stars in an effort to capture revenue from an aging demographic. The audience is required to suffer through the artists’ latest work before being rewarded with the bands classics tunes. Featuring a cast of former stars, The Expendables, (2010) directed by Sylvester Stallone acts as a summer tour of aged cinematic action heroes from the Reagan era of the 1980’s. The former hard bodies conventions that propelled these stars have been rendered obsolete and been replaced by the more formidable verisimilitude of violence as spectacle.

Rocky, (1976) and, First Blood, (1982) directed and starring Stallone spawned a bifurcation in the hard bodies cinema, a movement that relied on fear of potential Fascism “ in the Reagan era, with the resurgence of an increasing militant, vociferous and powerful Right, the Fascist potential forcing itself to recognition,”[1] through its glorification of the male physique. Rocky Balboa, the simpleton character, relies on physical prowess over intellect to pursue his goal. Rocky, as a boxer, is only flesh and blood and thus emotionally subjected to elations and self-loathing as determined by his fallible physical being. This humanistic limitation is visually reinforced as Balboa trains by pounding away on bloodied sides of beef in a meat locker. John Rambo, while initially rooted in physicality, possesses the extension of weaponry which provides him an emotional shield. Rambo gains emotive invincibility though lending agency to the familial object of the material world of knives, guns, explosives and machines. This key differentiation is further magnified in conjunction with political intonations in the Stallone franchise sequel films, Rocky IV, (1985) and Rambo: First Blood Part II, (1985).

The year 1985 marked a second term of presidency for Ronald Reagan in the United States. It was clear that the cold war had effectively been a victory for the U.S. as evidenced by the dissolution of the Soviet Empire into breakaway republics such as Georgia, Croatia, and Kosovo. Reagan bolstered the U.S. military with a buildup of defense spending while promoting the global influence of democratic institutions and capitalism. Despite its position as leader in a New World Order, the U.S. was still haunted by its defeat in Vietnam; the Stallone films confront this specter of the past through cinematic fantasy.

The Regan Era has been described as merging politics with cinema in both cultural and ideological representations. Stallone’s films exemplify this notion in their admonishing the virtuosity of the U.S. soldier, exposing corruption of U.S. government, and vilifying the Russians. Robert Sklar observes the political influences of Rambo, First Blood Part II, “at the deepest levels of ideology and fantasy, The United States refused to concede that it had lost the war in Vietnam; through violence and masculine strength, defeat could be redeemed, rectified, transmuted into victory on other, larger fields of battle.”[2] The victory which Sklar denotes comes through exposing the North Vietnamese regime as a puppet state of the U.S.S.R. If the U.S. defeat in Vietnam resulted from Russian support of North Vietnam, mirrored in the U.S. support of Afghanistan in its war with U.S.S.R., then it stood to reason that U.S. victory in the cold war equated to a protracted victory in Vietnam. While a political analysis of backroom brawls by the U.S. and U.S.S.R. in third world countries, as an alternative to mutual assured destruction, is beyond the scope of this inquiry it may serve as a political foundation for the films discussed.

To consider film as a study in symbolism is to invite a clash of modernist predetermined secular beliefs, in combination with one another, in an effort to derive new meaning, “The search for “something else” is the essence of symbolism. In this case, the narrative theme stands for an ideological meaning.”[3] This inquiry seeks to explore enmeshments of the traditional tropes of sexuality and violence as separate entities within cinema. Rocky and Rambo, as physical icons, infuse the spectator with a heightened level of phallocentric empowerment. This grafting of spectator onto character is achieved through scopophilia as “taking other people as objects, subjecting them to controlling and curious gaze.”[4] Narcissistic tendencies within scopophilia harken the spectator to don the mask of the hard bodies’ character “the cinema has structures of fascination strong enough to allow temporary loss of the ego while simultaneously reinforcing the ego.”[5] While the spectator body sits awash in passivity an alternate ego derives pleasure, or envy, through inhabiting the idolatrized human form. Characters, Rocky, and Rambo, are each unified in the embodiment of self-sufficient or rugged individualism further enabling the surrogate hosting for the alternate ego. The hard bodies mask acts as an externalized shield enabling fantasy conquest through possessing super-human strength and endurance. Rambo moves beyond the limitations of flesh and blood as a master of the machines of weaponry. This extension of physicality is visually extricated by a sweeping tilt which begins at the tip of his oversized knife blade then slowly trails up his arm, accentuating a vein bulging biceps muscle, and ending on his doleful facial expression. Rambo shifts the visual pleasure derived from objectifying the female form of “Woman as Image,”[6] to the phallic representation of weapons for destruction. The phallic symbolism may be considered both as sexual or metaphysical.  The later of which, is to occupy and displace generating completeness and lack, in accordance with the binary signifier derived in the context of Lacanian theorization. It could be argued that the entirety of Rambo’s character is representational in sexualizing the acts of violence. The doomed relationship with the female lead is transitory and superseded by the broader context of sexual inference.  As an example, Col. Trautman, (Richard Crenna) verbally instructs John that he will be “inserted” and “extracted” from the jungle, akin to denotations of the primordial jungle as representing the womb in Heart of Darkness.[7]  Once Rambo is deployed he penetrates the enemy encampment and completes his mission with a fiery explosion. This metaphor may have subconsciously appealed to audiences as a gratification model of a sexual-warrior hybrid.

Stallone’s film, The Expendables, has shed rugged individualism in favor of the buddy system. This enables Stallone to delegate the brunt of physical stunts as may be required due to his age. The nakedness of the hard bodies’ character is now hidden and only revealed in darkened rooms as a tattoo covered icon of past glory.  Comedic relief in the form of ‘one liner’ jokes harken back to the golden age of hard bodies’ film. Violence is often restricted to darkened set environments with quick paced editing of fight impact close up shots. This raises violence to the level of fetishized spectacle as the female leads are now reduced to domestic violence and torture emblems. The narrative and goal oriented plot is similar in its use of government conspiracy, rescuing the ill-fated, and vigilante violence to evoke justice. The warring faction shifts from the U.S.S.R. in Rambo, to an “enemy within” form of capitalistic greed, controlled by a corporate drug CEO, in The Expendables. Sequel production is set to rapid fire with The Expendables 2, (2010) and The Expendables 3 (In Production, 2012). In the modern era Vietnam is a tourist destination, celluloid violence rages on and endless bullet casings litter the celluloid landscape while the hard bodies’ characters of the Regan era proved, in Rambo’s prophetic word, “Expendable.”

Bibliography

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. U.K: Blackwood’s Magazine, vol. 10000, February, 1898.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” in Film Theory & Criticism, 7th edition, edited by Leo Braudy & Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford University Press. 2009.

Sklar, Robert. Hollywood in the Age of Reagan, Moodle Posting.

Wexler, Joyce. “Writing About Violence in a Secular Age: Conrad’s Solution.”

College Literature 39, no. 2: 98-109. 2012. (accessed February 3, 2013).

Wood, Robin. Hollywood from Reagan to Vietnam…And Beyond. New York: Columbia

University Press. 2003.


[1] Wood, Hollywood from Reagan to Vietnam… and Beyond, 151.

[2] Sklar, Hollywood and the Age of Reagan, 345.

[3] Wexler, Writing About Violence in a Secular Age, 106.

[4] Mulvey. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, 713.

[5] Mulvey, 714.

[6] Mulvey, 715.

[7] Conrad, Heart of Darkness, 1.

Advertisements

The Exorcist: A Horror Freakshow


The Exorcist: A Horror Freak Show

Image

Mrs. MacNiel and Regan

 

Disgust, shock and revulsion were the reactions expressed by movie patrons as they exited the theater. They absolutely had to tell their friends, many of whom could not fathom such abominations, and most decidedly would want to see it also. This is an old story. The film was, Freaks (1933), and similar scenarios had played out in any number of circus and county fair, “freak shows”, dating back over a century. Exploitation in all manner of maladies and malformations of unfortunate humans and other such oddities have generated public curiosity, for perhaps, as long as the public has existed. It is upon this heap of human suffering and indignity, on which, The Exorcist (1973) builds its stature as a, pre-blockbuster era, Hollywood mega-picture.

Today, the film is considered by some as an early essay in realism horror. However, it also presents a convoluted vision of western culture, and more specifically, a disintegration of conventional American society. Some examples of these “freak” or contorted conventions, once formerly banned under censorship restrictions as imposed by the Product Code Administration, include blasphemy upon Christianity and Catholicism. The affront to Christian morality is exhibited in both verbal desecration and iconographical defiling of religious objects. The American family unit is portrayed as in dissolution. Its father figure both absent and uncaring, the single career mother is consumed by material wealth, while the child exists in a world of magical thinking. There is a notion of extreme class division, with little middle ground, as a chasm between rich and poor that exists within western capitalist society. This is depicted through both the bourgeois social strata of the MacNeil’s and the dehumanization of the poverty stricken Father Karras. The MacNeil’s can afford the best medical care for Regan, (Linda Blair) and yet, Father Karras, (Jason Miller) is forced to leave his mother in an ill begotten state institution. Hypocrisy of western medical science is displayed through physicians who smoke cigarettes and are unable to find a cure. They sit powerless in board meetings and despite the litany of testing performed can only suggest “witchcraft” as an alternative. However, the most disturbing of these cinematic sideshow attractions is the sexualizing and profanity used in the exploitation of a minor. Vincent Canby’s review stated, “They’re getting their kicks out of seeing a small girl being tortured and torn, quite literally”[1], also noting that audience members were inattentive if, “the tormented child on screen was not vomiting bile at the priests, masturbating with a crucifix, screaming obscenities about the young priests dead mother, or, for fun, turning her head 180 degrees to the rear”.

I recall the fervor that surrounded the film’s release in 1973 as a sentiment of catching a glimpse of the unspeakable rather than praise of its stylistic form or production value. Indeed, it was the gross out special effects, which generated excitement and interest in the film. The plot was only of a secondary concern. The public’s strong desire to peer inside the darkened tent and ogle the cinematic oddities resulted in mass box office receipts. It was so financially successful that the film is considered a catalyst of change in American Cinema, Thomas Schatz states, “The Exorcist pushed the logic and limits of the genre to new extremes, resulting in a truly monstrous hit and perhaps the clearest indication of the emergent New Hollywood”.[2]

Realism elements found in The Exorcist aided in its nominations for ten Academy Awards in 1974. This honor was rarely bestowed within the horror genre and the film won two Oscars, one being for Best Sound Design. It is not the cacophony of guttural vocal effects, but rather the absence of sound, as noted by this viewer, which adds to the pseudo realism. The aural depth of the silence creates a spatial perceptual void that positions the spectator for the auditory onslaught of bumps, thumps and the demon voices emitted from the possessed child. This use of silence had previously proven an effective style technique in the film M, (1931) directed by Fritz Lang.

A secondary stylistic form is creative camera movement and its use creates a perceptive discord in the spectator. This occurs during the sequence that Mrs. MacNeil, (Ellen Bertyn) and Lt. William Kinderman, (Lee J. Cobb) are discussing the death of Jack Dennings, (Burke MacGoweran) who has been found with his neck twisted completely around at the bottom of the stairs outside Regan’s bedroom window. The director uses multiple dollies out in a rotational series of cross cut shots, which break the 180 degree rule. This form denotes an unraveling of the fabric within the rational centralized content being discussed in the dialogue. The rational logic is that the murderer would have been a “large strong man” in order to account for the body’s condition. Mrs. MacNeil and Lt. Kinderman are visually separated from the explainable core of their conversation and into a realm of uncertainty. The irrational conclusion being exposed is that Regan, as demonic surrogate and possessed of super human strength, committed the murder. This unexplainable implication is slowly disclosed entirely through use of camera movement.

The Exorcist helped to formulate a pattern through which “New Hollywood” could build audience excitement and attendance. The film was based on a bestseller novel and generated a wide public interest and controversy. The film studio possessed the desire to repeat the success of The Exorcist in the future as they continued to lure patrons into the darkened tent of curiosity.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

 

Canby, Vincent. “Why The Devil Do They Dig ‘The Exorcist’?” The New York Times,

January 13, 1974, accessed January 18, 2013.

Shatz, Thomas. “The New Hollywood.” In The Film Cultures Reader, Edited by Graeme

Turner (New York: Routledge, 2002).


[1] Vincent Canby, “Why the Devil Do They Dig ‘The Exorcist’?,” New York Times, January 13, 1974, 107.

[2] Shatz, “The New Hollywood,” in The Film Cultures Reader, ed. Graeme Turner (New York: Routledge, 2002) 190.

Applause: Advent of the Sound-Image (1929)

 Applause: Advent of the Sound-Image

Kitty Darling as Martyr for the Stage

George A. Larkins

    

 

     Applause (1929) is a unique early film using a monaural mixed sound track to produce spatial depth not typical in earlier Hollywood productions. The film presents as a melodrama backstage musical and its plot revolves around Kitty Darling, (Helen Morgan) a dancer who is past her prime, and her innocent daughter April, (Joan Peer) who is reluctantly being groomed as a bankable replacement. Groundbreaking use of camera movement in the film is a remarkable achievement; however, the acoustic spatial design will take forefront in this inquiry. Applause, in its creative use of sound, changed the industry trends of the past and laid the groundwork of future cinematic audio production. In looking at methods of film sound design, both pre and post Applause, we can gain an appreciation of the film in shaping the evolution of sound cinema.

     Director Rouben Mamoulian refused to restrict Applause (1929) to the flat dialogue recording used by Paramount and other studios. Instead, his theater background and desire to capture the essence of a bustling burlesque culture inspired him to move beyond traditional filmmaking practices. Applause was produced during a significant period (1927–1933) of the silent film to sound film transition. Prior to its release, sound production suffered from problems associated with camera noise, actor’s vocal pitch, arc lighting hum, microphone design, and projection synchronization. As a result, filming often occurred only within the soundproofed confines of the studio set. This created a sterile audio environment that Mamoulian would overcome through innovative approaches to existing recording methods. Lucy Fischer’s, Applause: The Visual and Acoustic Landscape (p. 240), describes the result, “Yet on the sound stages of Paramount’s Astoria studios Mamoulian managed to create an aurally dynamic film.” Fischer’s article also merits the fabrication of sync-sound outside the studio environment and his presentation of the perceptive auditory world that is revealed by silence. In one such scene, Kitty sits alone with only the low dialogue of two lovers speaking off screen in the hallway. This sound design is connotative to optical-image point of view. It is reasonable to consider that the spectator hears the auditory point of view of Kitty’s character. Other notable sound-image building occurs backstage as the stage show music encroaches beyond the dressing room and actor’s dialogue both on and off screen.

Mamoulian’s first directorial effort has been described in Looking at Movies (2010) as experimental by explorations in new ambient noise exercises or, “loud expressionistic sounds that overwhelmed ordinary as well as intimate conversations” (p.280). At times, Applause seems caught between these two worlds of existing staged audio and the real world cacophony of sound. The effort to replicate acoustic realism is shown in sequences such as a street scene where the raucous noise of the burlesque theater appears to pour out of its entrance door. Applause also utilized another new technique by recording two separate tracks and then combining the multi-tracks into a single mixed track. This important first step in film sound post-production would soon be adopted and improved by other major studios.  The sound recorded during filming could now be replaced by mixing audio sources that were over dubbed in a more refined and polished fidelity. It is this blending of on screen, off screen, and asynchronous sound that sets Applause apart from prior sound films.

Movie houses during the introduction of sound film utilized a single audio source to present the monaural movie disc recording. Typically, it could be placed behind the screen to convey the voices as emanating from the actors. This single source approach may explain why the production by Mamoulian relies upon variable loudness of the dialogue and off screen ambient noise to create depth. The monaural sound field exists as a singular vertical plane as opposed to the widened horizontal plane that is present in multi-channel stereo recording. The only means of producing spatial depth in a single channel audio track is to adjust the variable loudness of source tracks. When we consider that real world sound approaches us from all directions, which is all encompassing, it becomes clear how important the audio presentation is to the cinematic experience.  Mary Anne Doane outlines in The Voice in Cinema, “The place in which the signifier manifests its self is the acoustical space of the theater” (p. 323). The spatial dimension of sound in Applause brought the audience one step closer to verisimilitude in cinema. If screen realism was restricted by flat images then sound realism was equally limited by monaural single-track recording. Just as deep space composition adds dimensional reality to the optical-image, the multi-track recording widens the dimensional reality of the sound-image. The techniques that Mamoulian used to create the sound-image in Applause may seem simplistic compared to today’s sophisticated 9.1 surround standards. However, they would have been quite exhilarating, perhaps even slightly unsettling, to audiences that had only just begun to adjust to the flat dialogue audio of “Talkies”.

     Applause manages to create a universe within the screen despite the bumpy tracking of early film camera movement and sometimes abrupt audio level discontinuity. As a result of the bold direction of Applause, other films, such as Gold Diggers (1933) and Citizen Kane, (1941) would benefit.  Further advancing the foundations of deep space composition and acoustic design resulted in a seamlessly integrated, pure optical-sound image would provide a truly satisfying film experience for the spectator.

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

    Barsam, Richard., Monahan Dave. Looking at Movies: an Introduction to Film, New York:

W.W. Norton & Company, (2010) Print.

Doane, Mary Anne. “The Voice in the Cinema: The Articulation of the Body and Space”,

Film Theory & Criticism, Braudy, Leo., Cohen, Marshall. New York: Oxford

University Press, (2009) Print.

Fischer, Lucy., “Applause: The Visual and Acoustical Landscape”, Film Sound: Theory and  

                    Practice. Belton, John., Weis, Elisabeth. New York: Columbia University Press

(2009), Print.

 


Missing the Boat: PCA racial neglect surfaces in Lifeboat.

George A. Larkins

April, 25, 2011

Missing the Boat: PCA racial neglect surfaces in Lifeboat.

Canada Lee as Racial Sterotype.

            The Production Code Administration (PCA) began as an industry self regulating review board in 1929. It existed, in part, to provide regulation over the Motion Picture Producers Distributors of America (MPPDA) in response to pressures from political, religious, and moral groups. During it’s tenure it allowed for the exhibition and exploitation of African Americans as a subservient class. The portrayals of African Americans in early Hollywood film appear as inherently racial in nature. This oppressive sociological segregation according to Thomas Cripps may be traced to slavery or a “social substitute for bondage” (19). The 1944 film Lifeboat and performance by Canada Lee (Charcoal, Joe) provides a unique opportunity to explore the issues that led to and perpetuated this trend in American cinema.

Annotated Bibliography

            Robert Maltby presents a thorough review of the Production Code Administration formation in Genesis of the Production Code and it’s accompanying Documents (1995). In his essay the various religious and political influences that shaped the drafting are explored. Key elements that called for the protection of race and the omission of that protective language are provided. The article does not provide any justified reason why the final draft removed the protective language in regards to race.

Thomas Cripps provides a groundbreaking account of black film history in Slow Fade to Black (1977).  Historical topics covered include early Black Cinema as a response to the misrepresentation of African Americans by Hollywood studios. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) protests to negative stereotypical characterization and examples of such in the film Lifeboat. The book does not provide an in depth analysis of the black or white emotional responsiveness to the exhibited characterization.

            Berys Gaut’s essay Identification and Emotion In Narrative Film (1999) explores the relationship of the “spectators emotional response to film” (201). The strength of the essay is offering a new approach to existing cognitive theories in viewers emotional responsiveness to film. Gaut’s article does not discern racial cognitive interpretations, which could provide insight into black and white audience’s differing emotive response’s to negative racial portrayals.

Production Code Administration

            The film Lifeboat certainly contains racial discriminative elements that may have been avoidable had the PCA included protection from willful offensive treatment of race. The review process for the film Lifeboat addresses censorship concerns only in relation to the group and individual moralistic behavior of white passengers. In contrast, the review poses no restriction or objection to the negative racial tone and immoral acts imposed on the sole African American character. Furthermore, the PCA allowed for a continued representation of the stereotypical socially denigrated Negro at a time when movie viewing was approaching its peak attendance on a national scale. For both black and white audiences such portrayal evoked the capacity to do harm. The moral fabric of American society should be constitutionally based on the premise that all men and women are created equal. The PCA failed to follow it’s own underlying principle of disallowing creation of entertainment that does harm to human beings in lowering the moral standards of those who see it .

The 1930 code drafting was claimed to be necessitated by the advent of sound in film production. In Richard Maltby’s essay “Genesis of the Production Code”, the development process is a series of drafts culminating in a pamphlet entitled “A code to maintain social and community values in the production of silent, synchronized and talking motion pictures” (33). An additional  document referenced as “Reasons” for the code was adopted at the same time and was only distributed internally to the MPPDA until 1934, after which it was distributed with the code pamphlet. This “Reasons” section was developed as a separate document in an attempt to conceal the Catholic influence of Father Daniel P. Lord’s involvement in it’s drafting (40).

The “Reasons” attempted to bridge the schism that divided Catholic leader Father Daniel P. Lord and Jason Joy, director of the Studio Relations Committee (SRC) versus Irvin Thalberg, representing the nine Jewish majority owned studio heads. The primary argumentative difference is whether the viewing of motion pictures influence’s broad moralistic and spiritual values or if it is merely a form of entertainment.

Maltby’s account of the October 4, 1929 meeting of the MPPDA board of directors contains Jason Joy’s explicit language that “Willful offense to any nation, race or creed” (33) shall not appear in motion pictures.

      Joy’s final draft of January 1930 reflects his initial intent, however, the defining comments in regards to race have been removed “The motion picture, of necessity, must satisfy the yearning that every person from every walk of life has for mental recreation, relaxation and stimulation. It must not entertain part of the people all of the time and all of the people part of the time, but all of the people all of the   time. Entertainment has also cultural and inspirational values and so important an element as the motion picture must consider the foundation on which it is built”(39).

            Clearly, Joy’s original language would have provided a basis for equal protection in regards to race, while his final draft favors a broader scope that is more subjective in nature. Attached as an exhibit to Joy’s draft was Lord’s “General Principles” which recognized the moral importance of entertainment that can prove harmful or helpful to the human race. In his draft Lord states, “It enters intimately into the lives of men and women and affects them closely; it occupies their minds and affections during leisure hours, and ultimately touches the whole of their lives. So correct entertainment raises the whole standard of a nation. Wrong entertainment lowers the whole living conditions and moral ideals of a race”(41).

If wrong entertainment includes racial stereotype of second class citizenry, then it can be reasonably be assumed that such characterization in Lifeboat would be willfully offensive to race.

Thalberg’s subcommittee drafted it’s own set of “General Principals” reflecting their opinion in the pure entertainment aspect of motion pictures. Their principals were in keeping with studio’s desire for less restriction on content. The draft stated, “People see in it a reflection of their own average thoughts and attitudes. If  the reflection is much lower or much higher than their own plane they reject it” (35). The studio head committee members rejected the notion that cinema could be ”an essentially moral or immoral force” (35). Thalberg’s draft conceded that it may be objectionable to show the branding of humans or animals.

Maltby’s essay “The Production Code and the Hay’s Office” reveals that the majority of Lord and Joy’s drafts were condensed and omitted racially moral language in favor of restrictions on sex, crime and violence. The notable retained language was, “No picture should lower the moral standards of those who see it”(43). and “natural law is understood the law which is written in the hearts of all mankind, the great underlying principles of right and justice dictated by conscience” (44).

            Lifeboat was produced nineteen years following the release of the controversial film Birth of a Nation (1915). The later film sparked outrage by the NAACP inciting demonstrations. In Boston, according to Edward Campbell Jr. “Soon after the film began, one protester threw an egg at the screen. In all, it took two hundred police officers to clear away the demonstrators” (59). By 1942, the NAACP, having received no protection by the PCA, managed to procure a meeting with the studio executives. They were promised change in “depiction of Negroes on screen in keeping with the changing times” (Cripps, 376).

The PCA code review file of Lifeboat contains a series of objections in regards to  language, nudity, violence, and mob behavior. All inferences are individually directed towards the immoral behaviors and actions of Caucasian characters. Joseph Breen, the enforcer of the code in Hollywood, in his letter dated September 23, 1943, questions the advisability of the line “We weren’t a mob when we killed him.” This cognitive awareness by the PCA of the influence on viewers of mob violence only serves to amplify the disregard of the African American.  Instances of derogatory types and stigmas in Lifeboat, according to Cripps, were acknowledged by the producer Darryl Zanuck, who “fretted over making the Negro role an “assistant steward” who sings, recites psalms, “boogies up” a song, and admits to being a pickpocket” (378). The assistant steward position was regarded as no more than a janitorial position and in charge of a commissary on a boat with no supplies.

The PCA also missed other key opportunities to take corrective action in regards to Joe’s character. According to Donald Bogle “ The passengers symbolize specific elements in a full democratic society” (139). If this notion can be accepted and as Daniel Leab denotes “Joe should logically be on screen more than he is. When the survivors vote on various decisions, Joe abstains for no discernible reason” (127) then Leab’s theory that he never actually becomes part of the group has deeper sociological implication. This portrayal may be construed as representing the African American as a non participant or as being excluded from white democratic society.

Blatant depictions of racism in earlier films may be less discernible in Lifeboat, however, the subtle nuances of second class citizenry that “Joe” represents are clearly evident. This unflattering portrayal of the  African American is arguably equally, if not more, offensive than southern old plantation celluloid depictions. Negligent actions and behaviors on the part of the PCA , Hollywood Studios, and to a greater degree, the Federal Government to protect and equally represent all U.S. Citizens could plausibly be considered as causing harm.

The inaction to protect the white movie going public may have caused a counter-affective effect. Gaut states “to identify affectively with him is to imagine feeling what he feels”.(205) In presenting a false representation of one dimensional stereotype characters, the white viewer is denied an opportunity to connect empathetically.  White audiences as a result could adopt racial misconception and possible prejudices resulting in lowering their internal moralistic standards. The black spectators of such films likewise may, as Gaut defines “identify epistemically” (205) believing that they too are denigrated, individually and in society, resulting in an emotive response of repressive anger from being publicly exhibited as second class citizens.

The persistent willful misrepresentation of the African American race may have furthered mistrust of white controlled institutions designed to protect and provide equal treatment, namely the PCA and the United States Federal Government. Having been recognized  by the fourteenth amendment as United States Citizens in 1868 and being granted voting rights in 1870, African Americans were deserving of said protection. The preoccupation by the elitist oligarchy that was the studio system and the Production Code Administration with sex, crime, and violence, ultimately overshadowed the potential moral servitude of the code and constituted failure.

Larkins 8

Works Cited

            Bogle, Donald. Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks. New York: Continuum

Publishing, (1994). Print

Breen, Joseph. Letter to Col. Jason Joy. Sept. 23, 1943. Lifeboat file. MPPA Production

Code Administration Files. Reel 21, Microfilm Collection, History of Cinema, Series

1; Hollywood and the Production Code, Oakland University , Michigan.

Cripps, Thomas. Slow Fade to Black: The Negro in American Film 1900-1942. New

York: The Oxford University Press, (1977). Print

Campbell, Jr., Edward. The Celluloid South. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee

Press, (1981). Print.

Gaut, Berys. “Identification and Emotion In Narrative film”. Passionate Views: Film,

                 Cognition, and Emotion.  Plantinga and Smith. Baltimore: The John Hopkins

University Press, (1999). 200-216. Print.

Leab, Daniel. “From Sambo to Superspade: The Black Experience in Motion Pictures”.

Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, (1975). Print.

Maltby, Richard. “Documents on the Genesis of the Production Code”. Quarterly Rev. of

                 film & Video.  15.4 (1995). 33-63

Maltby, Richard. “Genesis of the Production Code”.Quarterly Rev. of film & Video. 15.4

(1995): 5-32

Maltby, Richard. “The Production Code and the Hays Office”. Grand Design: Hollywood

                 as a Modern Business Enterprise, 1930-1939: The History of  American Cinema,

                Volume 5. Balio, Tina. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc. (1995). 37-72. Print.

Babyface (1933): Production Code Administration Influences

George A. Larkins

January 24, 2012

Baby Face: PCA Review File

The Production Code Administration censorship board classifies Baby Face (Alfred E. Green, 1933) as a sex film. Primary morality issues include the portrayal of a woman using sexual prowess to “sleep her way to the top”. The fear of a negative impact on society’s impressionistic young female audience members required sweeping censorship changes by the PCA. The final scripting and released film are significantly changed in an effort to meet the PCA requirements. A first example of the extent to which censorship shapes the final film, arguably venturing into the areas of scriptwriting and directing, are evidenced in a 5/12/1933 entry entitled only as “Memorandum for the Files” (p. 33-36). The original memorandum addresses four proposed areas that Joseph Breen deems necessary for revision. Most notable are the third and fourth proposals wherein full revision of character dialogue, actions, blocking, editing cuts and fade in/fade outs are drafted. The contriving of a final moralistic scene appears to be original scriptwriting on the part of Breen. Although the original scripted memorandum drafted by Breen was never sent, it is also stated that “Most of the suggestions were incorporated in a revision” (p. 33). The entry leaves one to question the defined role of the censor and whether Breen asserts his influence and aspirations beyond that role.

A second notable area of significance is the May 19, 1933 correspondence to Mr. James Wingate from Warner Brothers Film Editorial by H.J. McCord. The document entitled “Changes in dialogue on ‘Baby Face’” contains both the original inclusion and censored elimination of any reference to controversial German philosophical doctrine of Nietzsche (p. 46). The entire context of the film is diametrically torn by this moral opposition and ultimately results in a convoluted conformity. The original script would have included Adolf Cragg (Alphonse Ethier) advising Lily Porter (Barbara Stanwyck) to use men to advance and exploit her female attributes in some big city. Lily Porter might have incorporated and seen to fruition Nietzsche’s “will to power” as opposed to conforming to Christian and Judaea Slave-Morality. An original scripted accolade of Nietzsche as “the greatest philosopher of all time” and quotation “All life no matter how we idealize it is nothing more nothing less than exploitation” is removed from the redrafted version. In its place is the inflection of a Christian moral servitude and the choice between the “right way and the wrong way” with dire warning that following the wrong way carries a high price. This blending of moral and philosophical positions creates a discord in the final text. The notion that the “big city” or urban dwelling is a place to stay clean and be a success opposes the typified country setting as clean and wholesome in such films as Applause (1933). In the final sequence, Lily must give up her ill-gotten material possessions and returns to Erie with her husband to begin a new life of hard work and ethical redemption. This returns her to the same place from which she began, filled with the sweat and toil of the steel mills and “men, dirty, filthy men”. The road of life has many detours and the possibility that she will find redemption in such an environment seems plausible at best. The Nietzsche foundation for her sexual independence and female rise to power are instead thwarted and vilified by the PCA in an effort to save her soul.