History of Sex in Cinema: Scandals Rock the Industry In the early days of Hollywood shortly after the development of film-making as an industry, moralists objected to the amount of nudity, sexuality, criminality and violence portrayed in films. Censorship boards were set up in various states and controls began to be imposed, often on a voluntary basis, once moving pictures became widespread and available to mass viewing audiences encouraged by the popularity of nickelodeons, first called "arcade peepshows".
However, the vast complexity of various local, state and national censorship laws added to the problem of enforcement, i. To appease various groups worried about the powerful effects of movies on the mainstream and growing resentment of the 'get-rich' quick Hollywood mentality, the film industry made some efforts to self-censor its own production, worried that it might be shut down especially after two very publicized cases that made headlines: Francis Hotel during a party landed the popular silent comedian in jail.
Charges were reduced to manslaughter and Arbuckle went on trial there would be three trials. Arbuckle was eventually fully acquitted of the eventual manslaughter charge after three trials. The third jury - after a six-minute verdict - stated: We feel a great injustice has been done him. We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgement of twelve men and women that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame.
Murder of William Desmond Taylor: The murder was never solved, although it appeared that Charlotte Shelby was a major suspect -- the angry "stage mother" of 19 year-old blonde starlet Mary Miles Minter who was seeing Taylor. The situation was further complicated by rumors that Taylor was homosexual. Already, "America's Sweetheart" star Mary Pickford's marriage to Douglas Fairbanks on March 28, , after they both divorced spouses to marry each other, was another symbol of the erosion of values in Hollywood.
Contrary to the scandalous affair, Pickford had always played innocent young women in her films, such as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm the 25 year-old star portrayed a teenager , and in the year of the divorce-remarriage when she was 28 portrayed a 12 year-old orphan in Pollyanna Two other notorious death-murder cases caused serious scandal in the s, and then another one in the late s: Death of Wallace Reid: For years, he had been incurably addicted to narcotics morphine was secretly administered to him by the studio after a train accident on the set during the making of the Lasky film The Valley of the Giants in Oregon.
Afterwards, he was continuously supplied with morphine and he became alcoholic , until he was forced into rehab and reportedly ended his habit in However, his health rapidly went in decline before his imminent death.
His wife Dorothy Davenport, another Hollywood star, preached that Reid's drug addiction was a disease and not a sign of his moral depravity commonly believed at the time. The story of their marriage and the husband's death was partially mirrored in A Star is Born , Conservative former Postmaster General William H.
Hays was appointed to head the organization, to begin efforts to clean up the motion picture industry before the public's anger at declining morality depicted in films hurt the movie business. Arbuckle Banished From Film-making Temporarily One of his first acts of Hays in 'cleaning-up' Hollywood, due to pressure from Hollywood's top film executives, was to banish the acquitted actor-comedian Arbuckle from film, at least temporarily, in order to distract the public.
Arbuckle would continue to make films as a director under the pseudonym William Goodrich between and The Beginning of the Hays Code Other restrictions were instituted to regulate the content of films and ban potentially objectionable themes brutality, crime, drunkenness, divorce, nudity and sex , such as those noted in Hays' list of "Don'ts" and "Be Carefuls".
The eleven "Don'ts" included prohibition of profanity, suggestive nudity, use of illegal drugs, sexual perversion, white slavery, miscegenation, sex hygiene and venereal diseases, childbirth, children's sex organs, ridicule of the clergy, and willful offense to any nation, race, or creed. The twenty-six "Be Carefuls" were only cautionary, such as the elimination of the depiction of criminality, excessive brutality, murder and rape, excessive over 3 seconds and lustful kissing, and the depiction of men and women sleeping together in the same bed.
Most studios basically ignored the regulatory restrictions, because there was no enforcement that was effective, and they knew that film-going audiences wanted to see the kinds of things sex and crime that were being blacklisted.
Also, some of these illicit behaviors could be exhibited -- if later punished within the film. A number of notable and successful films produced in the early 30s before the Code was strictly enforced -- so-called "bad girl" movies -- showed women using their sexuality to get ahead, such as in the taboo-breaking comedy Red Headed Woman starring Jean Harlow.
Additional Resources for the Pre-Code Era: A number of excellent books have been written on the subject of films in Hollywood's pre-Code era before the period of formal censorship began, and thereafter during the studio era, including these selections: Martin's Press, Sin in Soft Focus: In , the American Catholic church announced the creation of the Legion of Decency, which encouraged the production of moral films and promptly condemned any film with an immoral message.
The threat of movie boycotts by the Catholic Legion of Decency led the industry's trade association in mid to establish a stronger Production Code Administration PCA Office, headed by appointee Joseph Breen, to regulate films. Theatres were not allowed to exhibit films that had not been granted a seal. Interestingly, the Code forced film producers to creatively sublimate sex and violence, to reinvent themselves, and to find other alternatives to attract patrons.
Exploitation filmmakers made a number of "shock" or "educational" independent films with socially inappropriate content in the guise of providing a public service , such as Sex Madness , The Birth of a Baby , and Child Bride The latter was typical of an exploitation film designed to circumvent the Production Code restrictions with its plot that warned against underage marriage.
It was taken on road-shows enhanced by sensational advertising and taglines "Where Lust Was Called Just" by legendary roadshowman Kroger Babb, although it was banned in many locations by local censors due to its infamous underage nudity. Other 'forbidden' films were usually screened in theatres that came to be known as 'grindhouses' - since they often served as burlesque strip joints.
In the early s during a period of very stringent decency standards , pin-up queen Bettie Page and other burlesque stars appeared in a "burlesque trilogy" of vintage erotica, tauted as documentaries: Striporama , Varietease , and Teaserama -- these were extremely tame although they were designed to titillate.
By the mids, the Production Code was partially rewritten to allow, when "treated within the careful limits of good taste", such previously banned topics as drug addiction, prostitution and childbirth.
A landmark Miracle Supreme Court decision of the early 50s declared that films were protected as 'free speech' by the First Amendment to the Constitution, and most censorship was ruled unconstitutional. It was part of a longer 69 minute anthology film entitled L'Amore , It. The second episode in the film, with a story scripted by Federico Fellini, starred Anna Magnani as a dim-witted, unwed young peasant girl named Nannina, who had delusions that she was the Virgin Mary. While herding goats, she met a bearded vagabond she believed was the incarnation of Saint Joseph a role played by young screenwriter Fellini!
After she was offered wine, became drunk and passed out, she was impregnated - presumably raped off-screen. Later, believing that she was pregnant due to immaculate conception, she delivered a 'special' or 'miracle' baby in an empty church located on a rocky outcropping.
It was exhibited at the Venice Film Festival, but was basically a flop in Italy after Catholic officials denounced it as "an abominable profanation. The short film was challenged by the New York Board of Regents in , after being pressured by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese to revoke the film's license on the grounds that the work was "blasphemous" and "sacrilegious.
The film lost its license and the film's distributor, Joseph Burstyn, appealed the decision. Wilson In a remarkable unanimous decision in in the case of Burstyn v. The Court declared "sacrilege" too vague a censorship standard to be permitted under the First Amendment. Film was finally freed from federal censorship, although local censorship boards could still ban a film deemed 'objectionable'. This was the idea that film was an art form and a means of personal expression by a film's director.
Explicit foreign imports, such as Roger Vadim's flirtatious, sex-oriented Directors and Directions, , the unofficial Bible of auteurism. Other liberal European directors in the s such as Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris brought about greater changes in cinema. Greater Permissiveness and Tolerance: These court decisions and attitudes reflected society's increasing tolerance of mature themes in books, plays, and other forms of mass entertainment, and the belief that censorship was becoming obsolete.
Challenges to the system, changing cultural attitudes and liberalized, permissive morals brought about more evidences of nudity and sexuality in Hollywood's films as a result. Also, once the theatres were forced to be sold off by the studios due in part to a ruling which forced the separation of the studios from their theatre chains , the owners had more choice in the selection of films, and the burgeoning growth of television brought further competition.
Expressive 'art-house' films from Europe brought the realization that sex in films meant greater profits. More and more, with the loosening of standards and laissez-faire controls, graphic sexual scenes, criminality and violence, and coarse language were integrated into mainstream erotic films and dramas although it has often been demonstrated that erotica in films doesn't necessarily guarantee greater box-office returns , although they ran the risk of being challenged.
The motion picture industry officially abandoned the Hays Code in Originally, the X-rating wasn't trademarked or copyrighted, so adult film producers started self-applying the X rating to their films on purpose which led to the invention of XX and XXX ratings for marketing purposes.
Although relatively unchanged, various permutations of ratings systems have evolved to the present day. Some critics have called the ratings system a failure due to its subjective and arbitrary nature. Many studios have circumvented the system by self-censorship - lowering the rating of proposed films as much as possible by slicing out explicit sex and violence to avoid the dreaded NC rating , in order to bring in larger audiences. Today Sex in Films Today: Sexy and erotic images in film scenes can be displayed in many varieties and kinds of films.
They may be 'old-fashioned,' risque, blatant, mature, PG, excessive, suggestive, cheap, exploitative, outrageous, innovative, infantile, soft-hued and soft-focused, campy, voyeuristic, trashy, sensual, highly-charged, symbolic or visually metaphoric, carnal, highly-choreographed and artsy, prurient or soft-core NC Erotic films, unlike pornography, do not have as their sole purpose the explicit and graphic display of sex and nudity.
Erotica sometimes is explicit, but can often be teasing, intriguing, sylized, unique and imaginative. However, trends in recent art-house films that are unrated suggest that simulated sex is becoming more explicit, unsimulated sex - bordering on pornographic! Although most theatrical releases are often edited to obtain an R-rating, the DVD releases include the 'director's cut', with unrated, explicit extras material.
Sex in Cinematic History.