The Academy Film Scholars Lecture featuring Thomas Doherty
"Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen & The Production Code Administration"
In the third in a series of lectures spotlighting recipients of Academy Film Scholars grants, Thomas Doherty, professor of American studies at Brandeis University, will present highlights from and discuss his research for his newly published scholars grant book, Hollywood’s Censor: Joseph I. Breen & The Production Code Administration.
Doherty’s book tells the absorbing yet little-known story of one of the most powerful men in motion picture industry history. Joseph I. Breen was a media-savvy former journalist and public relations agent who reigned over the Production Code Administration, the Hollywood office tasked with censoring the American screen, from 1934 to 1954. Breen dictated “final cut” over thousands of movies – more than any other individual in American cinema, before or since. His editorial decisions had a profound effect on the images and values projected by Hollywood during the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War.
Breen vetted story lines, blue-penciled dialogue, and excised footage (a process that came to be known as “Breening”) to fit within his strict moral framework. Empowered by industry insiders and millions of like-minded Catholics who supported his missionary zeal, Breen strove to protect “innocent souls” from the temptations beckoning from the motion picture screen. There were few elements of cinematic production beyond Breen’s reach – he oversaw the editing of A-list feature films, low-budget B-movies, short subjects, previews of coming attractions, and even cartoons. Populated by a colorful cast of characters, Doherty’s insightful, behind-the-scenes account brings a tumultuous era – and an individual both feared and admired – to vivid life.
Thomas Doherty serves on the editorial board of Cineaste and is the author of Cold War, Cool Medium: Television, McCarthyism, and American Culture; Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930–1934; Projections of War: Hollywood, American Culture, and World War II; and Teenagers and Teenpics: The Juvenilization of American Movies in the 1950s.
Established in 1999, the Academy Film Scholars program is designed to stimulate and support the creation of new and significant works of film scholarship about aesthetic, cultural, educational, historical, theoretical or scientific aspects of theatrical motion pictures.
Monday, March 17, at 7:30 p.m.
At the Linwood Dunn Theater.
Admission is free, but tickets are required. Tickets available March 3.
Putting Looney in the Toons
A Double Centennial Tribute to Tex Avery and Michael Maltese
Tex Avery and Michael Maltese, both born a century ago in early 1908, crossed paths at the Warner Bros. animation studio back when it was Leon Schlesinger Productions (now affectionately referred to as “Termite Terrace”). Among their collaborations and individual career achievements are many of the wackiest moments (animation or live action) ever devised for the film medium. This double centennial tribute returns to the big screen some of the short cartoons Avery and Maltese worked on together as well as selected highlights from their prolific individual careers in animated theatrical films.
Avery’s directorial approach to animation was to celebrate the medium’s unique energy and limitless possibilities at a time when Disney animation was striving for increased pictorial realism. Maltese, who wrote dozens of animated shorts over the course of his career, was perfectly suited to incorporating Avery’s madcap style into the evolving stable of Warner Bros. characters, which included Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd.
Avery began his career at Walter Lantz’s Universal cartoon studio, working on Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. In 1935 he moved to Warner Bros., where he would create Daffy Duck and crystallize the personality of Bugs Bunny. From 1941 to 1954 Avery directed cartoons for MGM, introducing audiences to Screwy Squirrel, Droopy Dog and a whole new style of animated humor. In 1954 he initiated his final theatrical cartoons for Walter Lantz (four of which he actually completed, more of which were finished by Alex Lovy); some of these cartoons were Chilly Willy’s best.
Maltese began at Warner Bros. in 1937 and actually appeared on camera as a studio guard in You Ought to Be in Pictures, a 1940 Porky Pig short. After working with Avery and many other Warner directors, Maltese would go on to collaborate primarily with Chuck Jones, writing and storyboarding some of the most memorable Warner cartoons ever made, including What’s Opera Doc?, Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century and One Froggy Evening.
To complement the screenings, “Putting Looney in the Toons” will also feature a unique autobiographical element - audio presentations of rare recorded interviews with both Avery and Maltese (again, singly and together) discussing their careers with film historian Joe Adamson.
Monday, March 24, at 7:30 p.m.
At the Samuel Goldwyn Theater.
Tickets are $5 for the general public and $3 for students with a valid ID. Tickets available March 3.
Casting a Shadow: Creating the Alfred Hitchcock Film
Alfred Hitchcock presented himself as the sole author of his work – a director whose films translated his creative genius to the screen. In reality, however, Hitchcock was a deeply collaborative artist, working intensely with actors, producers, cinematographers, screenwriters, editors, and production and sound designers to create what the public knew as “an Alfred Hitchcock film.”
Born outside of London in 1899 – just a few years after the invention of motion pictures – Hitchcock got his start at Famous Players-Lasky’s studios in Islington, London, designing titles for silent movies. In 1925 he made his directorial debut with The Pleasure Garden and went on to direct more than 50 films over the next six decades. He made transitions from the silent to sound era and black-and-white to color film with inventive ease, and throughout his career his films demonstrated the possibilities of the medium in both technique and content. At the same time, the director never lost sight of his audience, and today his films remain extremely popular and unabashedly entertaining.
Although Hitchcock’s image as a solitary and visionary artist was periodically buttressed by his own strident pronouncements for the press, “Casting a Shadow” reinforces the notion that in as complicated an art form as film, masterpieces do not spring from an artist’s mind fully formed. In fact, Hitchcock himself once said that his movies were created “slowly, from discussion, arguments, random suggestions, casual desultory talk and furious intellectual quarrels.” Through drawings, paintings, storyboards, script pages and clips from such classic films as Shadow of a Doubt (1943), North by Northwest (1959) and The Birds (1963), this exhibition reveals how Hitchcock’s colleagues contributed critical ideas and how the director himself engaged his team in the creative process; it examines how the films were crafted, sometimes frame by frame, as a collective enterprise that would ultimately be shared with an audience.
“Casting a Shadow: Creating the Alfred Hitchcock Film” is organized by the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, in collaboration with the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library.
Support for the exhibition is provided by the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Northwestern University; the Alfred J. Hitchcock Foundation; American Airlines; the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; the Louis Family Foundation; the Myers Foundations; James B. Pick and Rosalyn M. Laudati; and the Rubens Family Foundation.
Exhibition curator Will Schmenner, Motion Picture Curator for the Block Museum at Northwestern University, will lead two free gallery talks: Friday, March 14, at 4 p.m., and Saturday, March 15, at 3 p.m. in the Fourth Floor Gallery. No reservations are necessary.
Through Sunday, April 20.
In the Academy’s Fourth Floor Gallery. The Fourth Floor Gallery is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends from noon to 6 p.m.
Admission is free.
Announcements of upcoming theatrical sound film exhibitions.