For decades American Catholics exerted the moral equivalent of final cut over Hollywood cinema. Galvanized by the church hierarchy, they managed not just to control but to convert the motion picture industry.Writer Thomas Doherty shows how much things have changed since those days:
With box offices hemorrhaging in the Catholic strongholds in big cities, Will H. Hays, Presbyterian Church elder and president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), turned to a Victorian Irishman named Joseph I. Breen to negotiate surrender terms with the Catholics. Hays told Breen that "the Catholic authorities can have anything they want."
What the Catholics wanted, and got, was a censorship regime that ceded dominion of Hollywood cinema to Catholic theology for the next 30 years. On July 15, 1934, Breen set up shop at the Production Code Administration, an in-house arm of the studio system that vetted film scripts for Code violations prior to production. Thus, before the cameras ever rolled, the fix would be in. The visible mark of quality control would be a quite literal Production Code Seal of Approval, an oval logo encircling the MPPDA initials, printed on the credits of every Code-worthy film.
Between the Legion of Decency on the outside and the Breen Office on the inside, Roman Catholics made certain that Hollywood defended the faith. Of course, sin could not be exiled from the screen, but the transgression always had to be offset by what Breen called "morally compensating value" -- usually in the form of a just and certain punishment, or a voice of morality reminding audiences that crime does not pay.
When the Catholic hierarchy lost the power to energize millions of parishioners for some real Catholic action, when American Catholics responded to calls to boycott Hollywood blockbusters with approximately the same obedient deference they accorded the Vatican's advice on birth control, then Catholic dominion over Hollywood lapsed. And today the only Code that Hollywood adheres to is the kind authored by Dan Brown.On that note, The Da Vinci Code seems to be pretty much review proof (as I thought it would be), grossing over $30 million dollars on Friday alone, with a projected weekend gross of $80-85 million. Let the gnashing of conservative teeth begin!