Université Paris Nanterre & Sorbonne University, June 27-29th, 2024
The implementation of the Production Code in 1934 established a pre- and post-classic Hollywood era. From 1934 onward, the studios submitted their productions to some internal control to ensure the conformity of contents and guarantee their commercial viability at a time when ideological and religious elites were actively trying to enforce the respect of moral principles. After focusing on the studio “system” in the 1980s, Hollywood studies rediscovered the power and freedom of early talkies in the 1990s. This movement was initiated by cinephiles at a retrospective that Bruce Goldstein entitled “Pre-Code Hollywood” at the New York Film Forum in 1988. American scholars in this movement circumscribed the periodization of the Code's implementation to the talking years alone and focused on the idea of “Forbidden Hollywood” (Vieira, 1999, 2019; Black, 1994) taken up by the Majors on the occasion of the re-release of the catalogues of the Warner Archive Collection, Sony, Universal and Fox. The Warner retrospective and the Lumière Festival in 2019 at the Paris cinema Le Louxor entitled “Forbidden Hollywood”, or the release of the DVD box set Universal Pre-Code Hollywood Collection (2009) with the evocative subtitle “6 Shocking Films From the Era Before Rules!”, and a second one in 2020, have contributed to fixing in the collective imagination the existence of an era during which everything would have been allowed in Hollywood between the advent of talking pictures in 1927 and the rigorous enforcement of the Production Code (the “Hays Code”) in July 1934. In the Spring of 2022, the Criterion channel proposed a cycle dedicated to the “Pre-Code Paramount” by applying the same definition. A collective representation started emerging according to which the implementation of the Code took place in two periods: one transgressive and provocative from 1929 to 1934 (“Pre-Code Hollywood”), the other conservative and strictly regulated from this pivotal year on.
This international conference aims at re-examining the notion of “Pre-Code Hollywood” and its periodization as they are now commonly adopted by scholars, critics, and film enthusiasts. Indeed, the establishment of the Code did not occur abruptly with the publication of a first text in 1930, followed by the application of a reworked version in 1934, but developed over the years from the adoption of the Thirteen Points in 1921. Recent historiography (L. Leff and Simmons; F. Bordat) has thus demonstrated that, far from wishing for censorship, Will Hays sought above all to avoid federal censorship and to protect the vertical integration of the studios. Hollywood met with several attempts to prevent federal censorship as well as untimely cuts by local censorship boards (Studio Relations Committee in 1922, “The Formula” in 1924, the “Don'ts and Be Carefuls” of 1927, the first version of the Code in 1930 and the “final” version of the Code in 1934). These steps confirm that Will Hays' action was part of a logic of permanent negotiation between producers, religious lobbies, the federal government, local censorship boards and women's clubs (General Federation of Women's Clubs, Woman's Christian Temperance Union...).
We propose to bring together scholars interested in the first decades of Hollywood’s production to examine the socio-political, ideological, and aesthetic negotiations conducted by the studios before July 1934, to go beyond the approach that consists in reducing “Pre-Code cinema” to the early days of the talkies, generally approached through the prism of scandal, provocation, and the expression of the forbidden. The aim is to take a fresh look at the impact of this rise in censorship from 1921 onwards, on the evolution of genres (and even the emergence of new ones), and on the intensification of the public conversation on the need for censorship. This conference will therefore focus on how films were made prior to 1934, despite or because of these tough negotiations, and on how the studios and the Hays administration were able, at the same time, to use the power of public opinion and respond to its pressures to protect the Hollywood industry.
Papers may address the following topics:
Please send your proposals and a short bio-bibliography before October 1st, 2023, conjointly to: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com