- “Why I Am Ashamed of the Movies”Editorial Policy, Early Hollywood, and the Case of Camera!
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In November 1922, Ted Taylor, publisher and de facto editor of the Los Angeles– based motion picture trade publication Camera!, printed a laundry list of ailments that he saw plaguing the motion picture industry. In his words, Taylor was “ashamed” of the movies:
• Because there is no adequate distributing system for independent producers
• Because companies such as Paramount, Metro, Universal and Fox force many mediocre pictures on exhibitors before they can show one worthwhile one
• Because the screen is not conducting any campaign to teach the American people the un-Americanism of censorship
• Because they are largely neglecting the great fields of informative pictures of science, history, geography, art
• Because they are still making pictures for the 14- year-old minds and are neglectingthe15–50-year-oldminds
• Because they tolerate the insulting attitude of American newspapers
• Because they tolerate the existence of parasites who pose as motion picture people and who mulct the public by selling valueless stock and valueless “lessons”
Outside of that, the movies are all right!1
Though Taylor followed this with a section titled “Why I Am Proud of the Movies,” it was clear that his shame outweighed his pride. This compendium of complaints reveals a [End Page 49] telling cross section of perceived problems facing the film industry in the late 1910s and early 1920s. This tumultuous period in motion picture history, as Richard deCordova has noticed, was in many ways one “strongly marked by contrast, contradiction, reversal and sudden change.”2 Camera!, as an artifact of the era, can very much be situated within this context of an industry in flux, and in many ways the publication represents an attempt at navigating these contradictions.
As scholars of the era have established, the motion picture industry’s “transitional” period was largely complete by 1917, and Hollywood’s dominance as a production center was essentially intact by the end of the decade.3 However, while the transition of film production to southern California was more or less complete by 1919, much of the “para-infrastructure” of the industry—notably the trade and fan press—remained entrenched in the east. As a weekly Los Angeles–based trade publication, Camera! was a notable exception to this tendency. As a chronicle of the industry, its unique positioning in southern California granted Camera! considerable strategic advantage in terms of the immediacy of its access and coverage. At its peak, Camera! was a well-read, respected, informative, and influential voice in the affairs of the industry, offering an on-the-ground viewpoint at a time when the majority of film publications remained rooted on the East Coast. But as tensions in the industry increased in the early 1920s, so too did the critical tone of the paper. While Camera!’s editorial policy, as well as its more implicit agendas, clearly shifted over the duration of its press run from 1918 to 1924, it found its most activist voice under publisher/editor Ted Taylor throughout the year 1922. Taylor, former publicity agent for the recently murdered director William Desmond Taylor, took over the publication’s editorial control along with his wife, Ruth Wing, amid the chaos of Hollywood’s infamous “scandal” years. Uncompromisingly committed to the health of the burgeoning yet troubled film industry in Los Angeles, Camera! under Taylor and Wing’s stewardship championed certain aspects of filmmaking practice, notably that of scenario writing, and publicly took on elements perceived as detrimental to the industry’s development. Chief among these was an active, high-profile campaign to root out supposedly “fake” schools of acting that purportedly preyed upon naive Hollywood hopefuls. More controversially, Camera! increasingly demonstrated suspicion toward the newly minted Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), its director Will Hays, and the emergent standardization practices of the film industry. As such, Camera! as a historical document represents a unique and critical voice that laid bare and exposed many of the underlying tensions of its era.
Yet, despite its apparent archival value as a chronicle of a critical period in motion picture history, Camera! has to date...