“Everybody knows when you go to the show
you can't take the kids along.
You've gotta read the paper and know the code
of G, PG, and R, and X,
and you gotta know what the movie's about
before you even go.
Tex Ritter's gone, and Disney's dead,
and the screen is filled with sex.”
-Statler Brothers, “Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott”
This quote represents a thought that I hope has crossed more minds than just those of the Statler Brothers. Being a child of the nineties, most of the movies that have been out since my birth have been tainted with unnecessary and alarming sex and violence. There used to be a time when a family could go to the theatre and Mom and Dad didn’t have to have their hands ready to cover their offspring’s eyes in order to preserve their innocence. In fact, when movies were first being made, there was a code of conduct that said an on-screen kiss could last a maximum of three seconds. Nowadays, it’s hardly considered a kiss if it only lasts that long. The same goes for violence; it used to be that the most violence you ever saw in a film was a shootout between John Wayne and some other unfortunate cowboy (I’ve watched enough Westerns to understand that pattern – nobody outshoots John Wayne), but the 42 or so “Saw” movies blew every one of Mr. Wayne’s gunfights out of the water about one hundred times over with non-stop gore and what I’ll refer to as “body-chopping,” for lack of a better term. How did this happen? How can the popular movie of the year go from 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz,” which I have been able to enjoy with my family since the day I was born, to 2009’s “Inglorious Basterds,” where, watching from between my fingers, I witnessed multiple human scalpings, a man be clubbed to death, and a Nazi soldier get a Swastika engraved onto his forehead with a field knife?
To understand my theory on what changed the movie industry, we must go back in time. In fact, let’s go back again to 1939. During this time, the Motion Picture Production Code had been in operation for nine years and would continue to do its job of censoring the content of movies until 1968. Basically, the MPPC decided what was and wasn’t appropriate for a public audience, and they were pretty strict. Along with the on-screen kiss rule, movies produced in the U.S. couldn’t show any kind of sexual relations between an unmarried couple, the mixing of different races, or even a pregnant woman. I figure that all these regulations probably made producers want to push the boundaries a bit since, as we see all the time nowadays, racy movies tend to attract a larger audience. Now, along with “The Wizard of Oz,” the other movie cleaning up at award ceremonies in 1939 was “Gone With the Wind.” I remember a scene in this movie where a handsome, strong, Clark Gable sweeps Vivien Leigh (who was a distressed damsel if I’ve ever seen one) into his arms and carries her up the stairs and into a bedroom. The next scene shows Vivien Leigh in bed the following morning with the covers pulled up around her, and Clark Gable sitting at the end of the bed, smoking a cigar. The producers might not have been allowed to show exactly what happened between the two that night, but the audience understood anyway. This scene was considered racy for its time period, and people loved it. I don’t know if “Gone With the Wind” was the pivotal point for the movie industry or not, but I do know that through the years, more and more sex and violence get incorporated into films. The only difference is now, adding a sexual or violent scene into a movie isn’t considered pushing boundaries – it’s almost expected that one of the two if not both will be present at one point. And to me, this is sad. Yeah, there are some movies where a little adultery or a few punches are quite necessary to the plotline, but there are others, however, that only add it in for some confusing (and most likely perverted) reason. Take, for example, “Black Swan”, which I had originally been planning on watching with my dad. I really enjoyed that movie, but there was this one, out-of-the-blue sex scene that wasn’t at all needed to make it a good movie. It was a little part, but it was so racy and uncalled for that I was highly grateful that my father wasn’t in the room.
Don’t misunderstand me – it’s not like I think the MPPC should come back and control what does and doesn’t make it into theaters. I really do believe that there are some instances when scenes that are a little hard to watch do belong in movies to get a point across, but more often than not, those moments can be left out of the final product. I hope that one day, things will start turning around and movie producers will be able to do what they did once before, and make movies that don’t wander so far off the plot trail and into barbaric territory. Maybe there could be some sort of code of conduct that decides how long a sex/violent scene should last, or if it should make it into the movie at all. I take pride in the fact that when I watch a movie, the determining factors of whether or not I liked it revolve more around emotional truths, original ideas, or other things that leave me thinking about the movie long after I’ve left the theater. I don’t care quite as much about how many guys Bruce Willis will have killed by the end of the film, nor do I wish to see all the intimate details between Kate Winslet and her newest lover. I hope that one day these things will change. I hope that in the future I’ll be able to go to the theater with my kids and without worry about what they’ll be exposed to.
“Whatever happened to Randolph Scott
has happened to the industry.”
Thank you, Statler Brothers. I couldn’t have said it better myself.