Re: RARA-AVIS: The Hollywood codes

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 12 Nov 2001

Juri responded to a comment about the Hollywood Production Code forcing filmmakers to be more artistic:

"This is a usual comment made on the Hollywood production codes. It's commonly thought that the Hays code in the thirties helped the Hollywood classicism to develop itself."

Indeed it is. Gore Vidal states much the same in Celluloid Closet, a documentary on the depiction of homosexuals. And someone or other is quoted as saying something similar in just about every article and/or book I've read about the Hays Office. Frankly, I don't buy it as a global statement. Sure, some artists came up with more artful ways of saying things, but others were hindered in presenting their material. Just think of all of the false, tacked on "crime doesn't pay" or happy endings (oh yeah, I believe it that Richard Widmark is going to succeed at going straight at the end of Pickup on South Street, sure I do) there were in the '40s and '50s as artists were forced to be positive by Joe Breen and company.

The whole idea is based on nostalgia and a feeling that the best art is subtle, makes the audience work for it. I recently heard the exact same argument about rap music, again -- there's no art to it because the rapper just flat out says it, it's too explicit, no subtlety. What crap. What was it Chandler said about Hammett, that he gave murder back to those who killed for a reason? Well, in that case, shouldn't the statement of those actions and the reasons for them be equally blunt?

Now I'm not making a global statement either. Some writers are at their best when subtle, others are best with "just the facts," no matter how nasty. It's a matter of style, but I don't think one's better than the other. The art comes in the handling of each.


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