Showing posts with label Breaking the Code. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Breaking the Code. Show all posts

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Volume II ~ It's so Pretty!

It's so pretty! And it's mine, all mine! It comes with 5, count 'em 5 films plus a documentary. What a great deal and what a beautiful package. My picture doesn't do it justice. Go out and get one and support Pre-Codes!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Breaking the Code: Sunday Night Double Feature

On Sunday evening, my friend Kevin and I headed over to the Harvard Film Archive to watch a Pre-Codes double feauture. They were having a Pre-Codes marathon weekend (those words together are like music to my ears). For those of you who aren't familiar with Pre-Codes, they are a group of films made from the 1930-1934 before the Hays Code really clamped down on censoring. So filmmakers during this time period got a way with a lot more than they could in the late '30s up until the '50s. Pre-Codes are little gems and I'm always excited to watch ones I hadn't seen before.

Kongo (1932) - This was the first film we saw. It stars Walter Huston (of the royal Huston line) as a wheelchair bound man in Zanzibar lusting after revenge against the man who he blames for leaving him paralyzed, stealing his wife and getting said wife pregnant. He uses illusions, magic tricks and sugar cubes to wield power over the natives in the jungle. He lives with two outcasts, both of whom obey his every command, and as well as his highly-sexed Portuguese girlfriend, played by Lupe Velez. Everything changes when a drug-addicted doctor, Conrad Nagel, arrives at his hut at the same time the daughter, Virginia Bruce, of the man he despises is being sent from a convent into the middle of the unforgiving jungle.

The film was very interesting if you get past all the racism as well as the vast amounts of baby oil the actors had to rub on their bodies to give off the appearance of being in a constant state of sweat. What I liked best is that the actors, except for Lupe Velez, all looked the antithesis of glamour. They were dirty and grungy and Walter Huston especially was not pleasant to look at. But what else would you expect from living in the middle of a sweltering jungle? I liked that sense of realism that got lost during the reign of the Code until film noirs started making a presence. And Virginia Bruce is outstanding in this film. And I hold to the fact that I think she looks shockingly like contemporary actress Alexandra Holden.

The Sign of the Cross (1932) - Worth every penny and every second! This is exactly what I envision a film about the end of Rome and the rise of Christianity to be. Kudos to Cecil B. DeMille for this wonderful and grand epic. It's pro-Christian and anti-Roman Empire as you would expect, but it doesn't feel force fed. The Christiniaty in this movie is new and not fully formed. The Christians themselves don't have a full understanding of what it is to be a Christian but they hold on to the knowledge they have of the life of Christ and the power of the sign of the cross and that's what keeps them going. In that its very realistic. And the Romans are of course hedonistic and brutal but there is a humanity that is brought to them through the main protagonist, Marcus, a high-ranking official under the rule of Emperor Nero, who falls in love with a Christian girl. I can't really go on without ruining the story for you, but the realism in the film keeps it from being overly sentimental.

There a few things that stand out of this film to me that I would like to mention. The first being DeMille's very cruel use of a little Christian girl. She's strategically placed in key scenes to wrench out the tears of the even hardest of hearts. It's DeMille's special sadistic touch. Then there is Frederic March who is absolutely amazing as Marcus. I didn't even recognize him as I'm sure he had to buff up to play this role. And he wears very form-fitting and revealing clothes and he's very charismatic overall, and my heart fluttered a little every time he graced the screen. The last thing I must mention is the infamous scene (no not the orgy) with a nude Claudette Colbert bathing in a huge tub filled with donkey's milk. That's right folks, milk straight from donkeys. And you watch as the servants are milking sad donkeys and pouring buckets into a big well which connects to the bath inside. Bleh! The scene itself is very provacative and its said that DeMille took a week to shoot that as he was trying to get a glimpse of Colbert's naked body every time she stepped out of the bath. But a quick-thinking assistant was ready with a towel and DeMille never got his lustful glance.

Kongo is not on DVD but Sign of the Cross is. So if anything, try to watch at least one of these amazing Pre-Codes!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Breaking the Code: Blow-Up (1966)

In my journey to discover those films that broke the Code, it was imperative that I watch Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966). It's been heralded as the film that not only broke the Code, but threw it in the garbage can and lit said garbage can on fire. A veritable middle-finger in movie form.

Blow-Up is a really quiet film about just that, a blow-up. And it's title has a two-fold meaning. There is the literal blow-up, which is the picture that reveals a murder that Thomas, a visually hungry fashion photographer played by David Hemmings, blows up in order to study hidden details. Then there is the figurative blow-up which results in his discovery of the crime. You could add a third meaning, in the film's "blow-up" of the conception of what a movie is or what it should be.

If it had a precedent or if it had come later in the decade, I'm not sure that this film would have been so important in film history. People could have just seen it as another weird, swinging '60s flick. However, there are some things that make it quite remarkable. Its star, David Hemmings, is probably your best reason for watching the film. He epitomizes what one would expect of a London swinger. A gorgeous stylish man who just doesn't give a damn about propriety and is in search of his conception of the ultimate beauty. Then there is Vanessa Redgrave, who plays Jane, the woman threatened by Thomas' pictures of her at the crime scene. She is amazing to watch as she is the contemporary, troubled '60s goddess.

Finally there is the scene, that is the film, more than the actual film is the film. You know what I'm talking about. Hemmings sits on top of his model (played by Verushka) screaming "yes, yes, more, more" as he takes pictures of her as she writhes seductively on the floor. That one scene is iconic of that decade in film.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Breaking the Code: Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

All last summer, Sebastian was famished for blondes... fed up with the dark ones - Catherine

If I had to chose the one film that represented Hollywood's rebellion against the Hays Code, it would most definitely be Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). This film is as explicit as it is coy. It is in the throes of desperation - wanting to tell the viewer what it wants to say but having to hold back. The story is bursting from the seams, although it is mostly contained, some secrets find a way to ooze out the sides.

After viewing this film recently for the first time, I wondered how much of the story is representative (or at least symbolic) of the fight against the Code? Take for example, Elizabeth Taylor's character, Catherine. The previous summer she had witnessed the most utterly grotesque sequence of events that culminated in the horrific death of her manipulative cousin, Sebastian. After her return from Europe, the story is held inside her tormented mind and she is consquentially punished for the danger the truth she holds represents to others. Katharine Hepburn plays Violet, Sebastian's mother, whose incestuous relationship with her son lends to her desperate need to keep Sebastian's image alive and well - one even may say "pure". Catherine threatens to tarnish the image with the tale of Sebastian's last summer in Europe and Violet wants to literally rip the story out of her brain, by means of employing Dr. Curkowicz, played by Montgomery Clift, to perform a lobotomy.

[potential spoilers ahead]

Catherine is the owner of a story that needs to be told and encounters a long and difficult path to become the story's teller. When she is finally able to give birth to the story, the experience is painful, ensuiing in screams and sobs but in the end healing. Violet, the censor, the person still alive who is most threatened by this story is not capable of handling it after repressing it for so long.

Catherine - Story - Hollywood

Violet - Censor - Hays Code

Does anyone see the connection? I tend not to think this was in any way on purpose but it was probably a subconscious for of rebellion. It could also be the English major in me just looking for something to analyze. Who knows? What I do know is this film is unquestionably part of Hollywood's break from the code.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Breaking the Code

It is no coincidence that my favorite classic films find themselves situated before and after the Hays Code's reign of power over the film industry. (The Hays Code being the set of statutes imposed upon filmmakers to promote a particular form of morality.) Firstly, there are the pre-Codes, most notably those talkies from the early 1930s that were often playful and jovial even when they dealt with difficult subjects. Although the Hays Code was already in place during this time, it generally wasn't enforced and leaving filmmakers more carefree to explore a broad range of subjects and themes. After 1934, the Code held its grip on the industry for a substantial amounf of time. It wasn't until the late '50s, when television proved to be a dangerous competitor to cinemas when the Code began to lose its power. Films started to come out in spicier flavors to lure back those customers who had begun to hibernate in front of their televisions. Filmmakers broke more and more of the Code's statues over the next decade or so until the industry moved permanently onto a less-restrictive ratings system in 1967.

I find the films I most enjoy and relate to are ones from 1930-1934 and 1955-1960. (Even though one might consider the latter half to be early to mid 50's into the late '60s, I find that the 60's was a decade upon itself and I always view it as it's own entity.) These two timeframes represent moments of rebellion from repression. I want to take the opportunity to discuss those particular films that defied the code individually because they are so powerful and they boast the potential to shatter the people's preconceived notions of classic films.

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