Hollywood V. Hard Core

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In 1972, The Godfather and Deep Throat were the two most popular films in the country. One, a major Hollywood studio production, the other an independently made "skin flick." At that moment, Jon Lewis asserts, the fate of the American film industry hung in the balance.

Spanning the 20th century, Hollywood v. Hard Core weaves a gripping tale of censorship and regulation. Since the industry's infancy, film producers and distributors have publicly regarded ratings codes as a necessary evil. Hollywood regulates itself, we have been told, to prevent the government from doing it for them. But Lewis argues that the studios self-regulate because they are convinced it is good for business, and that censorship codes and regulations are a crucial part of what binds the various competing agencies in the film business together.

Yet between 1968 and 1973 Hollywood films were faltering at the box office, and the major studios were in deep trouble. Hollywood's principal competition came from a body of independently produced and distributed films—from foreign art house film Last Tango in Paris to hard-core pornography like Behind the Green Door—that were at once disreputable and, for a moment at least, irresistible, even chic. In response, Hollywood imposed the industry-wide MPAA film rating system (the origins of the G, PG, and R designations we have today) that pushed sexually explicit films outside the mainstream, and a series of Supreme Court decisions all but outlawed the theatrical exhibition of hard core pornographic films. Together, these events allowed Hollywood to consolidate its iron grip over what films got made and where they were shown, thus saving it from financial ruin.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"…an accomplished, comprehensive, and provocative new history of censorship and the American film industry…And what of the perennialtussles between politicos and the film industry? All show business, suggests Lewis, make-believe veiling the real power structure that hasnothing to do with morals, let alone art (it would be interesting to get his take on the recent marketing brouhaha and its relationship tothe recent threatened actors and writers strikes). A staggering saga worthy itself of a Hollywood movie, Hollywood v. Hardcore is filmhistory at its most illuminating and intense."

-The Boston Phoenix

"This is a fascinating account, both entertaining and scholarly."

-Journal of the West

"When it comes to censorship in Hollywood, the bottom line is the ticket line. That's the central message in Jon Lewis's provocativeand insightful investigation of the movie industry's history of self-regulation.…Lewis shows that Hollywood films are a triumph ofcommerce over art, and that the film industry has consistently used internal censorship and government-industrial collusion to guaranteethat its cash flow is never seriously threatened."

-The New York Times Book Review

John D. Thomas
[A] provocative and insightful investigation of the movie industry's history of self-regulation...
New York Times Book Review
Linda Williams
Jon Lewis weaves a compelling narrative of how box office needs-rather than moral strictures-have dictated the history of film regulation. Telling the complex and fascinating story of how Hollywood abandoned the Production Code and developed the ratings system and then telling the even more compelling story of how the X rating became a desirable marketing device when hard core pornography became popular, Hollywood v. Hard Core reveals a great deal about the true business of censorship.
Thomas Doherty
As provocative as his sometimes X-rated subject matter, film scholar Lewis detects an intimate relationship between the seemingly strange bedfellows of mainstream Hollywood cinema and hardcore pornography. From postal inspector Anthony Comstock to virtue maven William Bennett, from the Hays Office that monitored the golden age of Hollywood to the alphabet ratings system that labels the motion pictures in today's multiplex malls, Lewis's wry, informative, and always insightful study of American film censorship demonstrates that the most effective media surveillance happens before you see the movie. Hollywood v. Hard Core is highly recommended for audiences of all ages.
Entertainment Weekly
Manages to pack a few punches. Lewis uncovers the Motion picture Association of America's roots in the Red scare (not to mention anti-Semitism, ethnocentrism, and elitism), showing how the post-World War II witch hunts ultimately spawned the corporate conglomeration that defines Hollywood today…undeniably fun.
Boston Phoenix
an accomplished, comprehensive, and provocative new history of censorship and the American film industry…And what of the perennial tussles between politicos and the film industry? All show business, suggests Lewis, make-believe veiling the real power structure that has nothing to do with morals, let alone art (it would be interesting to get his take on the recent marketing brouhaha and its relationship to the recent threatened actors and writers strikes). A staggering saga worthy itself of a Hollywood movie, Hollywood v. Hardcore is film history at its most illuminating and intense.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Lewis's exhaustive history of censorship in American motion pictures starts off with a bang as he traces how the fledgling Motion Picture Association of America allied itself in 1947 with the House Committee on Un-American Activities to increase its power. The truth of the Hollywood adage "when they tell you it's not about the money... it's about the money" is repeatedly confirmed as Lewis demonstrates how the MPAA, which is supposed to serve as a watchdog for parents, really functions to promote big Hollywood business and discourage upstart independents. Lewis's chronicle of prominent skirmishes with the MPAA censors begins in the '50s (with The Moon Is Blue, Baby Doll and Tea and Sympathy) and continues into the '60s, when an X rating didn't necessarily indicate pornographic material (Midnight Cowboy, A Clockwork Orange, The Killing of Sister George), before moving into the present day (Eyes Wide Shut, Showgirls). The MPAA doesn't come off as an evil censor so much as a money-driven business concern--unlike Ted Turner, who apparently sabotaged the release of his own company's Crash and Bastard Out of Carolina because of his distaste for the projects. Only a fraction of the book covers the few years in the early 1970s when Hollywood was actually threatened by the popularity of hardcore films like The Devil in Miss Jones and Deep Throat. If there's a problem with Lewis's investigative report, it's that it is exhaustively complete: there is no detail too small to trace back a century, making it an outstanding reference but too detailed for most general readers. Photos throughout. (Jan. 1) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Although censorship guidelines have existed since the early days of film, their most organized form was developed in fairly modern times more to ensure substantial economic returns for the studios than to protect the public. Lewis (English, Oregon State Univ.) presents a well-researched history of the subject and analyzes the social, political, and financial motives that drive the ratings system. He discusses general film content, disputed scenes, definitions of pornography and obscenity, boundaries of compromise, artistic intent, among other topics. From the development of the industry and the blacklist days to the threat of independently produced hardcore films and recent market trends, the author studies court rulings, pivotal events, studio philosophies, and public figures ranging from Fatty Arbuckle to Richard Nixon. Lewis concludes that the industry's regulations grew from an astute evaluation of criteria relating to potential box office appeal and the necessity of maintaining overall control. The bottom line, he argues, is about money not art. For scholars, students, and those who work in or are seriously interested in the film industry. Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A look at the sometimes friendly, but often contentious relationship between the Hollywood movie industry and the makers of sexually explicit films. From to , Lewis (English, U. of Oregon) examines the success of "skin" films that made Hollywood sit up and take notice<-->especially at a time when their own sales were falling<-->and how the "legitimate" film industry used the MPAA rating system to push sexual films from mainstream theaters, and pressed court cases that outlawed most theatrical exhibition of hard-core pornographic films. Illustrated with b&w (non-explicit) photographs. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Jeffrey Geiger
Content regulation of films, Lewis argues, is less about upholding moral standards than about maximizing studio profits. At the heart of Lewis's study are events that took place in 1968--when the MPAA's film-rating system was created by its president, Jack Valenti--and 1973, when the Supreme Court made several landmark decisions that refused Federal protection to pornography, effectively eliminating its wide-scale theatrical distribution...This book offers a detailed investigation into the history behind these events; along the way, Lewis profiles key films that either challenged content regulation--such films as 'The Moon is Blue,' 'Les Amants,' 'Blow-Up,' 'Easy Rider,' and 'Pink Flamingos'--or that collapsed under its constraints--like 'Tea and Sympathy.' What sets this book apart from other recent, similar studies is its fine focus on legal history and its blow-by-blow accounts o fmajor court cases which have affected the film industry.--Jeffrey Geiger, London Times Literary Supplement, June 15, 2001
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814751428
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2000
  • Pages: 377
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jon Lewis is Professor of English at Oregon State University where he has taught film and cultural studies since 1983. His books include Whom God Wishes to Destroy . . . Francis Coppola and the New Hollywood, The Road to Romance and Ruin: Teen Films and Youth Culture, and (as editor) The New American Cinema.

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Table of Contents

1 How the Blacklist Saved Hollywood

2 Collusion and Conglomeration in the Movie Business

3 What Everyone Should Know about the Motion Picture Code and Ratings

4 Hollywood v. Soft Core

5 Hollywood v. Hard Core

6 Movies and the First Amendment

7 A Quick Look at Censorship in the New Hollywood

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