CITY ISLAND: THOUGHTS ON THE CODE (AND MAKE OUT SCENES)
Yes, dear readers, I've heard you loud and clear. The make out session is on its way. But first...
I thought, while I had your attention, I'd attempt to interest a few of the newer readers of this modest blog who joined us once production commenced on "City Island" to the blog's original intention--the celebration of my twin obsessions, old movies and jazz, as purveyed clip by clip on the wondrous thing known as youtube. (Jesus that's a long sentance. Anyone still reading?) The vehicle for this would not be un-"City Island" related, however; I've found a quite amusing montage that a youtuber named Nicoley132 built revolving around the pre-code era and, among other things, people making out in old movies.
Briefly, the Production Code was established circa 1933 in order to rid movies of salacious behavior and improve the country's low impression of Hollywood's notoriously low morals. But before the code anything went, short of pornography. Sex was much more open in the late silent and early sound era than it ever was again until the late 1960's. Violence had an edge that wasn't matched until decades later as well. And gay characters were part of the movie landscape as well--albeit in a comic way of course, but still they were there, in a refreshingly open way.
I bring this up because of the curious form of self-censorship that filmmakers now practice. Since the collapse of the Production Code (a gradual process that began with the use of the word "virgin" in Otto Preminger's "The Moon Is Blue" in 1953) and the installation of the bizarre group known as the MPAA (they're the ones that assign movies a rating), the burden has shifted to the filmmaker to decide what is appropriate to include in his or her movie. When making a movie like "City Island", for instance, we are conscious of attempting to appeal to a wider more family-driven audience--which leads to the assumption that the rating we wish to acheive would be a PG-13. But what exactly constitutes the standard of this rating? The MPAA will never tell you. From past history, though, it can be assumed that only a modicum of foul language will be tolerated. For some reason, the characters in my movie exclaim "Shit!" quite a bit. Wlll this be a problem? Perhaps. It goes without saying that "Fuck" gets you an "R". I wonder why? Is the sexual connotation of F*#$ worse than the excretionary connotation of S*?
Then there's sex, which the MPAA seems much more concerned about than violence. A good make out session is probably OK. But what happens when hands start reaching for parts of the human anatomy? Generally the theory is to avoid this if you want to stay in the land of PG-13. There was an interesting documentary made a few years ago about the people who actually comprise the membership of the MPAA and how the power to rate movies has fallen into the hands of this strange cabal. When you see who they are, you begin to understand why violence in movies is more tolerable than sex. Let's just say that Obama's brilliantly true comment (which he was forced to back away from) about bitter people clinging to guns and religion comes to mind when putting a face on the MPAA. It's a game without a playbook and the filmmaker is never sure of where the chips will fall. Alternate versions of scenes are frequently shot for language reasons. Sometimes an appeal can be made to the MPAA and they will suggest changes that might alter the rating. Other times they are implacable and silent; nothing will move them to reconsider the rating they've bestowed.
Below see a nice montage of pre-code revelry, set to the great Sinatra recording of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes". Normally I eschew these homemade youtube montages--preferring to post proper chunks of movies and performances, but this person did a nice job of cutting picture to the record. And they had the taste to pick Sinatra. And tune in Monday for the real thing...
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 8:52 AM