Thursday, December 2, 2004

Portland Film Censors Busy


Yesterday at the library, I found this interesting wire-service article, which is subtitled "Fans Driven to Suburban Houses by Official Cutters." It is interesting in that it details censorship practices of the time, practices which were certainly applied to the films of Louise Brooks when they were shown in Portland, Oregon. The article dates from December, 1927.
Portland Film Censors Busy
Spicy bits on the legitimate stage are quite all right, but the same scene in the movies in Portland constitutes a grave error and calls for drastic scissor action. Portlanders must not look upon movie kisses which are too long. Similar restriction, however, is not placed on movie fans of villages of the "back country."
Such is the status of censorship in Oregon.
There is no state censorship law, so the villagers escape the penalty of seeing only that which censors rule is nice. Portland, the one large city in the state, has a censor board which leaves no doubt as to its willingness to function.
But, strangely enough, the powers of the Portland Board of Motion Picture Censors appears to be limited to the silver screen. Ten nude girls may not appear in films exhibited here. But 10 nude girls could appear on the stage and never a word would the board say, although the police might say and do considerable. Not that 10 undressed bits of femininity have ever appeared on a local stage, but 40 one-quarter clad girls have, and any mathematician knows that they are equivalent to10 entirely disrobed flappers.
Portland is only one of several large cities having a picture censor board, but perhaps no similar group has commanded the same degree of publicity.
For example, there is the time the board ruled that a drawing of a nude girl on a theater program was improper and ordered the management to cover her rawness before circulating the programs.
Vainly theater men protested that she was a reproduction of Spanish art, but they were told no bull fighters were in Portland. And so the entrancing curves of Spain's best was wasted behind the blankness of thick bond paper which was pasted over all but the figure's head.
The censor board is composed of three members, one of whom represents the movies. The other two do not. They are appointed by the mayor and are assisted by a staff of 70, mostly women, viewers. These viewers are given monthly assignments and scan every picture before it is exhibited. Presumably they say: "Cut that kiss by eight feet," or "undressed chickens are limited to fowls."
And that is the reason why, as frequently happens, a rabid fan will journey to Gresham or other nearby village when the film makes what apparently is a broad jump.
But the cutting board and its viewers go on cutting and in most instances a cut stays out. The city council, however, is the board of appeal, and upholding the censors is infrequent. As a rule, however, the cutting goes on without interference, for it is easier for an exchange man to cut out footage than to wade through an official council hearing.
I did a quick Google search on the Portland Board of Motion Picture Censors and found this link, their annual report from 1921.

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