Film, Censorship And Historic Research

The relations between film and culture, or film and ideology, have been found in various ways. One of these is to view film as mirrors of the dominant culture in which they are made. In this aspect movies are attributed documentary qualities, and a reflectionary relationship is created between movies and society. Applying this theory a problem occurs; i.e. both optimistic musicals and film noirs were made in America in the forties. Which of these are the accurate reflection of American society? The conclusion must be that the use of this mirror term or reflection metaphor is just not good enough. It is unsatisfactory because it overlooks the many variables that movie making consists of. To make a movie one has to deal with a system of selection and combination, both different and competing cultural aspects, and industrial and institutional factors have influence on a movie production. A feature film does not reflect the truth; it shows a constructed and narrated world. In order to create this world, it has to regard the conventions, rules, myths and ideologies of the society from which it was born. In addition the medium itself has restrictions.

There are more satisfactory methods to use in the analysis of film and culture. The use of methods from other fields of research have added valuable tools to the field of film research. In general there are two ways of approaching the relation between film and culture; textual and contextual. The textual approach to the film medium concentrates on the film text to read the cultural function of film. This method tends to focus on similarities and typical texts rather then the opposite, and this gives the method structuralist tendencies. It also tends to work by tracing the mythologies and ideologies in the film back to sources within the culture; it is based on the assumption that the film text consists of certain determined rules, and that the culture author this text. An example of this approach is the work of Paul Schrader on film noir, and the way the subject of women in noir has been treated. A contextual approach on the other hand is more interested in the analysis of outside determinants in the film industry, such as cultural, political, institutional and industrial factors. All of these factors are elements that have influence on the production of a movie, and a movie text. In the study of film and culture the best result would perhaps come from combining these two techniques since both deal with themes relevant to these studies.

Film institutions have political interests that determine which films are made, and which films are seen by an audience. One of the reasons for this is found in peoples identification with the nation. Nationalism functions as a tool to value the nation over the individual, so that if one accepts this nationalism one subordinates oneself to the nation. The idea of the nation sets a set of rules of ethics and moral, and thus defines what is American (in this case). If one possesses this identification one can gain political power. In this aspect it becomes important to control the arts, (because art are representations of the nation), so that it have coherence with this idea. Art--in this case movies--can represent different viewpoints on the desirable homogeneous image of the nation state. This multiplicity is of course not wanted, and thus there are tried methods of controlling this.

In America in the forties and fifties, measures taken to prevent un-national activities. Within movie production there was the Production Code and a bit later, HUAC. The Production Code was a set of censorship regulations governing the Hollywood productions. It laid down rules for what the movies were permitted to show. It labeled issues like nudity, the use of drugs, homo sexuality and so on taboo. Still film noir deals with several of these subjects, its messages are hidden within the movies. Sometimes this prohibited material is showed off screen, cast in another form with the message barely concealed, or in other ways disguised. In this manner there existed a Hollywood self censorship. In 1947 the House of Un-American Activities Committee started their investigation of the film industry. This committee won political influence, and the questioning of the status quo was labeled un-American. This was a subject dealt with by the film noirs.