restricted access 5. Militating Hollywood
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5 MILITATING HOLLYWOOD M I L I T A T I N G H O L L Y W O O D • 403 . . . At first one might not assume that manifestos and Hollywood go hand in hand. This selection of manifestos proves otherwise. The chapter begins with a series of manifestos written by right-wing producers, directors, scriptwriters, and journalists about the threat to the American way of life posed by communism. Writers and signatories as diverse as Cecil B. DeMille, Ayn Rand, Walt Disney, and William Randolph Hearst wrote manifestos targeting the Red Scare and Hollywood’s role in it. These manifestos speak both to the profound isolationist strand of conservative thought in the United States that was eventually pushed aside, albeit temporarily, by World War II and to the desire for Hollywood to maintain global domination of movie screens. These manifestos can also be seen as foreshadowing the political debates that would emerge in the postwar 1950s, and the rise of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Yet if one manifesto dominates the chapter, and indeed classical Hollywood cinema, it is the manifesto I contend is the most successful film manifesto of all time, the Motion Picture Production Code. The Code was not written as a bulwark against communism but against an even greater fear on the part of Hollywood: government intervention. The set of rules the Code unleashed led to an unintended series of consequences that codified what has now become known as classical Hollywood cinema. In Ulysses Unbound Jon Elster argues that in certain cases censorship has actually helped the creative process. Elster argues that constraints can benefit creativity, whether these constraints are imposed by the artist (as in the case of the Dogme ’95 manifesto) or by outside agents. This idea in many ways goes against the grain about what one might think is beneficial to the artist ’s freedom of expression, but Elster argues that constraint allows new, more artistically compelling aesthetic forms to develop. One of his key examples of outside preconstraint is the Motion Picture Production Code. He writes: “Movie directors were constrained by the code to use indirect means in representing certain themes, notably sexual ones. In some cases at least, the effect of the constraint was to enhance rather than detract from the artistic value of the representation.” He goes on to claim that “the idea of leaving something to the viewer’s imagination is also central to the argument that the Hays Code, while intended to ban eroticism from the movies, actually enhanced it.”1 While Elster is careful to make the point that this in no way means the Code did not also have a negative impact (he notes that many potential films were never made because of the Code, including Welles’s The Heart of Darkness), this line of argument does foreground the fact that rule-following, central to so many manifestos, creates new, and at times unforeseen, modes of artistic expression. There are countless examples of the development of what we could call the indirect language of the Production Code in classical Hollywood cinema; one needs only to think of the final scene in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (USA, 1959) to understand the Hays 404 • M I L I T A T I N G H O L L Y W O O D Code–inspired version of the montage of attractions developed under the Code’s guidelines : Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) and Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) begin to engage in amorous foreplay in the sleeping compartment of a speeding train before Hitchcock cuts to an exterior shot of the train charging full speed into a dark tunnel. In his article on eroticism and the cinema André Bazin makes a similar point when he argues that Marilyn Monroe’s subway-grate scene in The Seven Year Itch (Billy Wilder, USA, 1955) is more erotic than her Playboy centerfold, crediting the censors along the way: “Inventiveness such as this presupposes an extraordinary refinement of the imagination, acquired in the struggle against the rigorous stupidity of a puritan code. Hollywood, in spite and because of the taboos that dominate it, remains the world capital of cinematic eroticism.”2 Bazin also acknowledges the profound downside to censorship but nevertheless understands that the presence of the Code necessitated the development of a new language for Hollywood cinema. Elster concludes his argument by proposing that “the Hays Code raised the level of sophistication of directors, actors, and viewers. Even...


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