Sickies Making Films

85 min. Joe Tropea, dist. by Video Project, www.videoproject.com. 2018. DVD $89; acad. libs. $295; DVD + DSL $395. Public performance; closed-captioned. FILM STUDY
From their earliest days, movies were fertile ground for censorship. At first, it was a "crazy quilt" of state, city, and local boards, each with different rules and standards. This documentary covers the history of American film censorship, with an in-depth focus on America's last board, operating in Baltimore from 1916 through shockingly as late as 1981. Surprisingly, the first censorship organizations were composed of progressives who ranked movie decency with temperance, child safety, women's rights, and food purity issues. Central was the Victorian idea of acceptable public vs. private behavior, shared in early, crowded nickelodeons. Inevitably, race was a concern, whether in boxing newsreels or epics such as D.W. Griffith's 1915 silent film The Birth of a Nation. Other topics include precode Hollywood, the debut of talkies, the dilemma of foreign films, court challenges, and Cold War paranoia.
VERDICT Cinematic provocateur, Baltimore native, and director John Waters lends needed humor and a dose of common sense here. While lacking first-rate production values, the video is recommended for mature audiences.

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