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Hollywood Before the Code (1921-1934)

Hollywood avant le Code (1921-1934)

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Published on Thursday, July 20, 2023

Abstract

We propose to bring together scholars interested in the first decades of Hollywood’s production to examine the socio-political, ideological, and aesthetic negotiations conducted by the studios before July 1934, to go beyond the approach that consists in reducing “Pre-Code cinema” to the early days of the talkies, generally approached through the prism of scandal, provocation, and the expression of the forbidden. The aim is to take a fresh look at the impact of this rise in censorship from 1921 onwards, on the evolution of genres (and even the emergence of new ones), and on the intensification of the public conversation on the need for censorship.

Announcement

Université Paris Nanterre & Sorbonne University, June 27-28-29, 2024

Argument

The implementation of the Production Code in 1934 established a pre- and post-classic Hollywood era. From 1934 onward, the studios submitted their productions to some internal control to ensure the conformity of contents and guarantee their commercial viability at a time when ideological and religious elites were actively trying to enforce the respect of moral principles.

After focusing on the studio “system” in the 1980s, Hollywood studies rediscovered the power and freedom of early talkies in the 1990s. This movement was initiated by cinephiles at a retrospective that Bruce Goldstein entitled “Pre-Code Hollywood” at the New York Film Forum in 1988. American scholars in this movement circumscribed the periodization of the Code's implementation to the talking years alone and focused on the idea of “Forbidden Hollywood” (M. Vieira, 1999, 2019; G. Black, 1994) taken up by the Majors on the occasion of the re-release of the catalogues of the Warner Archive Collection, Sony, Universal and Fox. The Warner retrospective and the Lumière Festival in 2019 at the Paris cinema Le Louxor entitled “Forbidden Hollywood”, or the release of the DVD box set Universal Pre-Code Hollywood Collection (2009) with the evocative subtitle “6 Shocking Films From the Era Before Rules!”, and a second one in 2020, have contributed to fixing in the collective imagination the existence of an era during which everything would have been allowed in Hollywood between the advent of talking pictures in 1927 and the rigorous enforcement of the Production Code (the “Hays Code”) in July 1934. In the Spring of 2022, the Criterion channel proposed a cycle dedicated to the “Pre-Code Paramount” by applying the same definition. A collective representation started emerging according to which the implementation of the Code took place in two periods: one transgressive and provocative from 1929 to 1934 (“Pre-Code Hollywood”), the other conservative and strictly regulated from this pivotal year on.

This international conference aims at re-examining the notion of “Pre-Code Hollywood” and its periodization as they are now commonly adopted by scholars, critics, and film enthusiasts. Indeed, the establishment of the Code did not occur abruptly with the publication of a first text in 1930, followed by the application of a reworked version in 1934, but developed over the years from the adoption of the Thirteen Points in 1921.

Recent historiography (L. Leff and Simmons; F. Bordat) has thus demonstrated that, far from wishing for censorship, Will Hays sought above all to avoid federal censorship and to protect the vertical integration of the studios. Hollywood met with several attempts to prevent federal censorship as well as untimely cuts by local censorship boards (Studio Relations Committee in 1922, “The Formula” in 1924, the “Don'ts and Be Carefuls” of 1927, the first version of the Code in 1930 and the “final” version of the Code in 1934). These steps confirm that Will Hays' action was part of a logic of permanent negotiation between producers, religious lobbies, the federal government, local censorship boards and women's clubs (General Federation of Women's Clubs, Woman's Christian Temperance Union...).

We propose to bring together scholars interested in the first decades of Hollywood’s production to examine the socio-political, ideological, and aesthetic negotiations conducted by the studios before July 1934, to go beyond the approach that consists in reducing “Pre-Code cinema” to the early days of the talkies, generally approached through the prism of scandal, provocation, and the expression of the forbidden. The aim is to take a fresh look at the impact of this rise in censorship from 1921 onwards, on the evolution of genres (and even the emergence of new ones), and on the intensification of the public conversation on the need for censorship. This conference will therefore focus on how films were made prior to 1934, despite or because of these tough negotiations, and on how the studios and the Hays administration were able, at the same time, to use the power of public opinion and respond to its pressures to protect the Hollywood industry.

Papers may address the following topics:

  • The influence of early ideological and political pressures on Hollywood contents from the early 1920s
  • The influence and impact of censorship and local committees
  • The emergence, consolidation, and evolution of film genres as a function of or despite censorship awareness
  • The evolution of Hollywood’s aesthetics when faced with increasing censorship and the demand for censorship during this period
  • The turn of the talking pictures and their provocative contents: saving the studios and the radicalization of censorship
  • The promotion of films: the different strategies between silent films and talkies’ advertising tactics and press kits
  • What does the press (general and specialized) say? What role did it play in the public debate about censorship and in the reception of films?

Keynote speakers

  • Thomas Doherty, Brandeis University
  • Charles Wolfe, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Marguerite Chabrol, Université Paris 8

Submission guidelines

Please send your proposals and a short bio-bibliography conjointly to: apaquet-deyris@parisnanterre.fr, claire.dutriaux@sorbonne-universite.fr, g.menegaldo@gmail.com & f.e.pheasant-kelly@wlv.ac.uk

before October 1st, 2023.

Selection committee

  • Claire Dutriaux, Sorbonne Université
  • Gilles Menegaldo, Université de Poitiers
  • Anne-Marie Paquet-Deyris, Université Paris Nanterre
  • Fran Pheasant-Kelly, University of Wolverhampton

Bibliography

Black, Gregory D. Hollywood Censored- Morality Codes, Catholics, and the Movies, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (1994) 1996 


Chabrol, Marguerite. De Broadway à Hollywood. Stratégies d’importation du théâtre new-yorkais dans le cinéma classique américain. Paris, CNRS, 2016.

Doherty, Thomas. Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934, New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Facey, Paul W. Legion of Decency: A Sociological Analysis of the Emergence and Development of a Social Pressure Group (Dissertations on Film). New York, Arno Press, 1976.

Gledhill, Christine. Home is Where the Heart Is, BFI, London, 1987, 2003.

Halbout, Grégoire. Hollywood Screwball Comedy 1934-1945. Sex, Love, and Democratic Ideals. London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2022.

Jacobs, Lea. The Wages of Sin, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1997.

Leff, Leonard J. & Jerold L. Simmons. The Dame In the Kimono: Hollywood Censorship and the Production Code from the 1920s to the 1960s. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1990.

McGregor, Alexander. The Catholic Church and Hollywood: Censorship and Morality in 1930s Cinema. New York, NY: I.B. Tauris, 2013.

Morris, L. Ernst & Lorentz Pare. Censored: The Private Life of a Movie. London, Jonathan Cape & H. Smith, 1930; London, Fb&c Limited, 2018

Mosley, Leonard. Zanuck: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood's Last Tycoon. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1985.

Quigley, Martin. Decency in Motion Pictures. Bristol, Read Books, 2007.

Vieira, Mark A. Forbidden Hollywood, Philadelphia, Running Press, 2019. Sin in Soft Focus. New York, Harry N. Abrams, 1999.

Places

  • Sorbonne Université, 1 rue Victor Cousin
    Paris, France (75)
  • Université Paris Nanterre, 200 avenue de la République
    Nanterre, France (92)

Date(s)

  • Sunday, October 01, 2023

Keywords

  • Hollywood, code de production, censure, studio, cinéma

Contact(s)

  • Claire Dutriaux
    courriel : claire [dot] dutriaux [at] sorbonne-universite [dot] fr
  • Anne-Marie Paquet-Deyris
    courriel : apaquet-deyris [at] parisnanterre [dot] fr
  • Gilles Menegaldo
    courriel : g [dot] menegaldo [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • Claire Dutriaux
    courriel : claire [dot] dutriaux [at] sorbonne-universite [dot] fr

License

CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Hollywood Before the Code (1921-1934) », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Thursday, July 20, 2023, https://doi.org/10.58079/1blz

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