BANNED FILMS: Movies, Censors and the First Amendment by Edward & Roger K. Newman de Grazia

BANNED FILMS: Movies, Censors and the First Amendment

Email this review


From a rigorously anti-censorship viewpoint (lawyer de Grazia is a veteran defender of First Amendment rights): a competent, if oddly disjointed, legal-history of American movie censorship--followed by a chronological catalogue of film-censorship cases (brief rundowns on the facts and issues in 122 movie bannings). Quickly reviewed here: the early Supreme Court decision (involving Birth of a Nation) that denied movies any constitutional freedom-of-speech-and-press protection; the ensuing freedom of local government authorities to ban films--mostly on grounds of ""immorality""; the film industry's attempt to ward off censorship (and the Catholic Church's Legion of Decency) through self-regulation--the Motion Picture Production Code, a.k.a. the ""Hays Office"" and then the ""Breen Office."" In short, say the authors: ""By the late 1930s, the combination of governmental censorship and industry self-regulation threatened to suffocate American movie creativity."" In 1952, however, the Supreme Court finally agreed that movies deserved the same protection as other forms of speech-and-press--so the focus then shifts to the federal level, where the Court struggles to limit that protection by defining ""obscenity"": there's the Brennan doctrine (""prurient interest,"" ""utterly without social importance,"" a national standard), later giving way to the Burger doctrine (community standards). But while clearly deploring this ""new balkanization of the First Amendment,"" the authors acknowledge that ""the waves of censorship that were forecast . . . failed to materialize."" Still, despite the actual freedom in today's practice, ""movies in this country are still not really free"" . . . since the much-divided Court has been unable to produce a clear ""rule of law protecting the freedom to watch. . . ."" Serviceable constitutional history, with a few useful cross-references to industry practice--but too academic and choppy for most non-specializing readers.

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1982
Publisher: Bowker