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Why Be Good? Sexuality & Censorship in Early Cinema (2007)

An overview of the portrayal and influence of sexuality on film, from the silent era until the administration of the Hayes Code in 1934.

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Chris Basinger ...
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Jeanine Basinger ...
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Cari Beauchamp ...
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Leatrice Joy Gilbert ...
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Bob Mitchell ...
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Barry Paris ...
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Maria Riva ...
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Michael Schlesinger ...
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Kevin Thomas ...
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Marc Wanamaker ...
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William Wellman Jr. ...
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An overview of the portrayal and influence of sexuality on film, from the silent era until the administration of the Hayes Code in 1934.

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23 May 2007 (USA)  »

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Adequate As History.
15 October 2014 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

I don't know that you couldn't find this sort of material and the values it projects in a half dozen other documentaries, yet it's not bad. It rolls along with excerpts from early films through 1934 and show us clips of sex bombs and beauties (all women except for Valentino) who came and went during Hollywood's heyday.

Some of the stills are unusual. Those of us used to seeing Marlene Dietrich in her later American movies may be surprised, as I was, at her fresh, youthful beauty, of which there was only a glimpse in "Der Blaue Engel." Extended treatment is given to Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, and Mae West. Jean Harlow bobs through a scene or two.

Half a dozen talking heads describe the evolution of censorship in Hollywood movies, but most of it will be familiar to buffs. There are a few topless scenes but they're brief. It's not a very sexy movie. Pushing the envelope is represented by somebody like Joan Crawford or Barbara Stanwyck shouting, "Men made me what I am!" (Gasp.) The narration by Diane Lane is informative but clumsy. It gets it point across almost despite itself. "Some queens faded into the shadows; others continued to wear the mask of stardom." Something like that; I wasn't taking notes.

The social background -- the liberation of women and the relaxation of Edwardian norms -- during and after the war (Kids, that's World War I) are briefly limned it. "Vamps" like Theda Bara ("Arab Death") didn't last long. "Flappers" like Clara Bow lasted into the sound period.

The dialectic between the gods of Hollywood movies and the agencies of Breen and Hayes are described. My God, I'm glad I don't look like Will Hayes, ex Postmaster, who was a censor. He looks like some kind of chimera, as if one of his parents had been a comic book character. His agency would simply take a pair of scissors, snip out any parts of a film they found offensive, and throw the pieces away -- gone to hell, I suppose.


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