Ahhh, the good old days. When you could take the family to a movie and not have to worry about it warping the minds of your little children or offending the senses of the adults.
A friend and I were just talking last night about how hard it is trying to let our kids enjoy the world of entertainment out there (movies, tv, video games, etc.) without having to worry about what their going to be exposed to in the process.
Now while must of us can agree that at times it seems like the folks making this stuff must have lost their minds (or morals) let’s not get to far down the “it was better in the good old days” road before we check ourselves.
In all honesty, the movie industry has been pushing the limits almost since the very beginning. In fact some of the earliest movies were motion studies of (amongst other things) naked women going up and down stairs and along sidewalks. These would be pretty controversial today …. much less the late 1800′s when it was filmed.
The first movie strip scene ….. 1896. (Bedtime For The Bride)
The first movie censored for content – gyrating hips and pelvis ….. 1896. (Fatima’s Coochie-Coochie Dance – What a great title.)
First on screen kiss? Also 1896, “The Kiss”. No this might not seem like much today but back then ….
The very first kiss on film was between a Victorian couple seen in this Edison kinetoscope in a filmed scene enacted from the Broadway stage play The Widow Jones – the titillating short 20-second film loop, with a close-up of a nuzzling couple followed by a short peck on the lips (“the mysteries of the kiss revealed”), was denounced as shocking and pornographic to early moviegoers and caused the Roman Catholic Church to call for censorship and moral reform – because kissing in public at the time could lead to prosecution
With all of the firsts in 1896 it must have seemed like the whole world was going to hell.
The first American feature-length sex film? 1913′s “Traffic in Souls“. It was also the most expensive film of it’s time ($57,000) and the highest earning ($450,000).
However, if you want to talk about movies that raised (lowered?) the bar you can’t ignore what is perhaps one of the most a) offensive b) ground breaking c) historic movies of all time …… D.W. Griffith’s 1915 “The Birth of A Nation“.
Can ya’ guess why this movie riled people up?
Well, let’s just put it this way. It was originally titled “The Clansman”. It was used for years as a recruiting tool for the KKK (as recently as the 1970′s) and it’s extreme and racist depictions of blacks set up some of the first major censorship battles. It’s release led to riots in major cities and that was after two scenes were cut out (one including a love scene between a Senator and his mixed race mistress). Slavery, inter-racial sex, race relationships and the birth of the KKK ….. yeah, it was a controversial movie.
Ironically, it was also the first blockbuster (controversy sold even in the “good old days” too) making $18 million and was the most profitable movie every until Disney’s “Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs” (thank you Walt for saving us).
Okay, let’s jump up in time a bit.
1943′s – The Outlaws
Though perhaps tame by today’s standards (it’s been rated G) but when it rolled out it directly challenged the Hays Code (predecessor to the modern MPAA film rating system) which set the standards for moral acceptability.
Can you guess why?
Turns out that Howard Hughes (the ultra rich, genius, eccentric who in his later years became a hermit) who was the director didn’t think the camera was doing his leading lady justice (or at least one particular area of his leading lady). So he had a special push-up bra designed to “accentuate” her shape. The powers that be were not impressed and helped keep it out of wide release for over five years. (It also helped launch the career of Jane Russell.
In 1967 two movies competed for the first one to utter the “F” word ~ “I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname” with Orson Welles and “Ulysses” which was nominated for an Oscar and was based on a James Joyce novel.
All right, so before this post turns into a movie review – What’s My Point?
The point is simple. Entertainment has always pushed the limits and sex, violence, language are the three biggest ways to push it. If we’re going to lament our downfall as a society, we’re going to have to go back farther than the 90′s …. probably that early film in the 1880′s – Eadweard Muybridge’s Primitive Motion Studies (from 1884-1887) – The Human Figure in Motion – Descending Stairs and Turning Around – that showed the naked women walking down stairs. Heck, we were already shooting women naked way back then!
Now, is this stuff more common in today’s films - absolutely.
Does it mean that we shouldn’t care – absolutely not.
Fortunately today with the Internet we have access to more information to make better, more informed decisions when it comes to our children’s and family’s viewing choices.
Our interview with one of the founders of one of those great reference sites “Kids In Mind” is a great place to start. In the interview not only do we discuss the current ratings system but also how it’s evolved and what it means. The “Kids In Mind” website is great because not only does it give you reviews of the movies but it also gives detailed description of scenes, discussion topics and descriptions of the message that the movie imparts to allow you to decide if it’s appropriate for your child and family.
Another great site for parents is Common Sense Media. While it doesn’t have the detailed descriptions that “Kids In Mind” does it does have a lot of other information that is useful including reviews by other parents and kids who have seen the movie. Common Sense Media also provides detailed descriptions of Websites, Televsion Shows, Books, Music and both Online and Video Games.
Personally, for our family we use a combination of the two sites. Staci tends to prefer “Kids In Mind” reviews, while I prefer Common Sense Media but to be honest more often than not we use both sites reviews to get a full review of the movie (game, show, books, etc.) that we’re considering.
Hopefully this posting and the interview help your family …. if nothing else you’ve now got some cool movie trivia to share. If you’re interested in learning more check out these links :
- The American Movie Classics Filmsite
- Film History By Decade
- History of Sex In Cinema
- The Internet Movie Database
- RogerEbert.com (hey, growing up before the Internet “Siskel & Ebert” was THE movie reference and two thumbs up was the measure)
- Film Milestones & Turning Points