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CFP: Hollywood and the Production Code: Criticism and History (King’s College London)

April 4

Hollywood and the Production Code: Criticism and History.

Friday, 6th July 2018: A one-day symposium held at King’s College London devoted to the style-based investigation of the influence of the Production Code on Hollywood cinema.

The symposium will take in a range of issues concerning the impact of the Code on “golden age” Hollywood filmmaking. Part of the symposium will also be devoted to a close consideration of the style of “pre-Code” filmmaking (generally understood as 1930-1934).

There is currently a strong consensus, grounded in the detailed archival work of major film historians, that 30-34 was not, after all, “pre” the Code but was a period in which the Code played an important role in shaping the content of movie fictions. Yet film festivals and TV channels (TCM, for example) continue to find an audience for early-30s productions by signalling, via the “pre-Code” moniker, their tonal, narrative and moral distinctiveness. Prior to the work of Lea Jacobs, Richard Maltby and others, the establishment of the PCA in 1934 had been seen as the key moment of change. Maltby observes that “The differences between movies made in the early 1930s and those made later in the decade are undeniable” (2003), but argues that these were a result of gradual not sudden change. Yet some subsequent scholarship seems too willing to pass over the “undeniable” formal differences in 1930s films, with the evidence from the archive displacing textual analysis as a method of investigation. “Hollywood and the Production Code: Criticism and History” aims to re-consider this balance.

The symposium also aims to investigate the sometimes tacit assumption that the Code played a crucial role in the development of the style of classical Hollywood through the 30s, 40s and into the 50s. Was an unintended consequence of the constraints of the code that it stimulated richer forms of dramatisation and expression? Was the necessity of allusiveness and subtlety over the more declarative forms of earlier periods a slender silver lining to the clouds of politically retrogressive (self)regulation?

The symposium is avowedly “style-based” in that all papers will be expected to engage closely with the formal and stylistic character of specific films. However, discussion of the impact of censorship, regulatory and industrial practices should provide an essential framework for the analysis and we would expect many papers to engage directly with archives relating to the PCA etc. Indeed, re-examining the relationship between the archive and films themselves is a central motivation for the symposium.

Given the importance of detailed engagement with film style, there will be at least one screening programmed for the evening before the symposium, and titles of films under discussion will be circulated in advance.

Topics for the symposium might include (but are not limited to):

–         -The Code’s apparent impact on and/or relationship to particular genres: musicals, comedies, crime films, melodramas (“fallen women” films, melodramas of the unknown woman etc.)

–         -The relationship between the Code’s dictates and the tonal qualities of Hollywood movies.

–         -The relationship between practices of close analysis and practices of film history/historiography with particular reference to Hollywood censorship 1930 to early-50s.

–         -Performance and the Code

–         -Visual style and the Code

–         -Dramatisation and the Code

Symposium Respondent and Participant: Professor Lea Jacobs, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Deadline for proposals: Wednesday 4th April 2018. Acceptance of proposals will be confirmed by the 18th April 2018.

Please submit proposals to: kclproductioncodesymposium@gmail.com

Conference organiser: Dr. Tom Brown, Senior Lecturer, Film Studies, King’s College London


April 4
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