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John D. Thomas[A] provocative and insightful investigation of the movie industry's history of self-regulation...
— New York Times Book Review
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.
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.
"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,
"…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,
"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."
-Thomas Doherty,author of Pre-Code Hollywood
"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."
-Linda Williams,author of Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the "Frenzy of the Visible"
"This is a fascinating account, both entertaining and scholarly."
-Journal of the West,
Posted May 14, 2014
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