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New Film Geeks Series Focuses On Pre-Code Hollywood

Sign of the Cross’ kicks off series on Sunday at Digital Gym Cinema

Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

Cecil B. DeMille's "Sign of the Cross" features Charles Laughton as Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar. The film kicks off the Film Geeks SD's Breaking the Commandments: Pre-Code Hollywood series at Digital Gym Cinema on Jan. 6, 2019.

Danny Reid, blogger

Beth Accomando, KPBS film critic

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Breaking the Commandments: Pre-Code Hollywood

Jan. 6: “Sign of the Cross”

Feb. 3: “I'm No Angel”

March 3: “Babyface” and “Night Nurse”

April 7: “Design for Living”

May 5: “Cock of the Air”

June 2: “The Divorcee”

July 7: “The Mask of Fu Manchu” and “The Most Dangerous Game”

Aug. 11: “Golddiggers of 1933”

Sept. 8: “Possessed”

Oct. 6: “Island of Lost Souls” and “White Zombie”

Nov. 3: “Dinner at Eight”

Dec. 8: “Scarface” and “Public Enemy”

Film Geeks SD kick-off a new year-long film series called Breaking the Commandments: Pre-Code Hollywood at 1 p.m., Sunday, at Digital Gym Cinema. Here's what Pre-Code Hollywood is all about.

As one of the volunteer programmers for Film Geeks SD, I will be co-presenting a new year-long film series one Sunday a month at Digital Gym Cinema dedicating to showcasing films made between 1930 and '34 in Hollywood. This era has come to be known as "pre-Code" because it was a period of time when the Hollywood film industry chose to ignore the restrictive Production Code that dictated what could and could not be shown in films.

In order to provide some insight into pre-Code Hollywood is all about, I spoke with Danny Reid of On Twitter he describes himself as "Dedicated to celebrating Hollywood films released 1930 to '34, when movies were complex and a hell of a lot of fun."

I met Reid at the TCM Classic Film Festival where pre-Code films are gloriously showcased. In fact, seeing a series of pre-Code Hollywood films at the TCM Classic Film Festival is precisely what inspired co-programmer Miguel Rodriguez and I to pursue a film series dedicated to movies made during this era. We were thrilled to discover that the cinephiles coming to Digital Gym Cinema were also interested in these movies and voted to select it as the theme for one of our year-long film series.

Photo credit: Warner Brothers

Barbara Stanwyck holds her own and learns how to use men to get what she wants in the pre-Code film "Baby Face."

On his blog Reid states that the quickest definition of “pre-Code” is that it "refers to an era in motion pictures from the arrival of sound (aka "talkies") in 1927 to the mandatory enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code in July 1934. This era is notable for while being censored, it is not as severely censored as the films that follow that July 1934 date. The fascination with pre-Code films often comes from how openly suggestive and fun the majority of films that compromised those seven years are. Sex, drugs, miscegenation, portrayals of homosexuality, and a host of other issues that would be banned from public consumption for several decades are indulged in and exploited frequently by then-big Hollywood studios. Films could be exploitative and lurid or sophisticated and adult."


A Code to Govern the Making of Motion and Talking Pictures

A Code to Govern the Making of Motion and Talki...

Copy of the code to govern the making of motion and talking pictures : the reasons supporting it and the resolution for uniform interpretation by Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc., June 13, 1934.

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The film series kicks off Jan. 6 with Cecil B. DeMille's Biblical epic "Sign of the Cross" that famously had a naked Claudette Colbert taking a milk bath. DeMille discovered early on that the best way to show nudity, depravity, violence and people indulging in sin was to disguise his work as religious movies. The film series highlights some delicious comedies ("Design for Living," "Cock of the Air," "Dinner at Eight"), gritty dramas ("Baby Face"), horror ("Island of Lost Souls," "White Zombie"), musicals ("Golddiggers of 1933"), and gangster films ("Scarface," "Public Enemy").

This is the time when Mae West could openly proclaim that a "hard man is good to find" and Norma Shearer could respond to her husband's adultery with some sleeping around of her own so she could tell her philandering spouse, "I've balanced our accounts." The surprise of these films is how modern they sometimes feel and in some ways they represent a sort of freedom that Hollywood movies never quite recaptured with the same gusto and deliciousness.

I will be posting a longer interview with Reid on my Cinema Junkie podcast in February, but for now enjoy this brief introduction to the world of pre-Code Hollywood.

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