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hepclassic

The Daringness of Pre-Code GLBT characters

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I have only seen a few Pre-Code films, but of those I have seen (Ladies They Talk About, The Sign Of The Cross to name a few), I am amazed at how daring it was for Hollywood to show GLBT characters. Now, none were prominent (minus Queen Christina), and this was a time of great orientation oppression in America, but the fact that they were there is a good historical marker, and well worth exploring. I saw this video a while ago of a documentary TCM showed, well worth the watch: 

 

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They did not seem to have a problem with swishy gay men as comic figures- lesbians at least were treated with a bit more seriousness.

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They did not seem to have a problem with swishy gay men as comic figures- lesbians at least were treated with a bit more seriousness.

True. It wasn't perfect, but at least there was representation. 

 

The Pre-Codes did so much to encourage discussion on social issues, especially reflecting on the passing of the amendment granting women the right to vote. Gender was a topic that was hot, and in those films, accessible to discuss. 

 

That being said, where would Marlene Dietrich be without the way she was ambiguous with her gender? 

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And not only was Marlene ambiguous about her gender, men such as Gary Cooper seemed so knowing about it and in on the game. My take on the Code is that it was intended to create a mindset which didn't previously exist to any great extent, and then reinforce it exhaustively so that the public was forced to buy into it or appear suspect themselves. Bullies love to do that. Someone's always trying to legislate "morality" in one way or another. People were apparently having too much fun (or being too "open") in the movies and it had to stop, according to the high-minded types who only had the public's interest at heart. Uh huh.

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In our responses on these forums let's be tolerant and respectful of other beliefs, even if they don't share your views.

 

Thanks!

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Gotcha. With long-held beliefs, it's easy to forget that not everyone shares them or needs to. I don't see the Production Code as a force for good and I could have stopped there.

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Gotcha. With long-held beliefs, it's easy to forget that not everyone shares them or needs to. I don't see the Production Code as a force for good and I could have stopped there.

I don't think they were a force of good either, and I'll leave that at that. 

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Gotcha. With long-held beliefs, it's easy to forget that not everyone shares them or needs to. I don't see the Production Code as a force for good and I could have stopped there.

 

The only good I can see coming from the Production Code was that it did push creativity;   Directors and sceenwriters had to really think outside the box on how they could get an ideas and concepts across that the code restricted.  

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I like how they were able to circumvent the Code by getting away with what they were able to get away with amid the censorship. 

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The code was started because the studios did not want the gorvernment to get into their business- it was a way to keep Hollywood movies "clean" and "family friendly".  It was a form of self censorship.

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The code was started because the studios did not want the gorvernment to get into their business- it was a way to keep Hollywood movies "clean" and "family friendly".  It was a form of self censorship.

That really didn't come to pass until Joseph Breen took over for the frontman Hays, who previously was just a front and had a huge exception list. 

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The code was started because the studios did not want the gorvernment to get into their business- it was a way to keep Hollywood movies "clean" and "family friendly".  It was a form of self censorship.

 

Yeah, the coerced form of "self" censorship.

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Will Hays was the front man- all about fronts. 

 

Joe Breen was the executioner, and no one came to his funeral from the show business community. 

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The only good I can see coming from the Production Code was that it did push creativity;   Directors and sceenwriters had to really think outside the box on how they could get an ideas and concepts across that the code restricted.  

It took a while for this to sink in, james, but you're right. It forced filmmakers to reimagine those ideas and concepts, to approach them in more subtle ways, which for gay subjects may have been a blessing. While we're applauding the the boldness and explicitness of the pre-Code era, let's not forget that some of that explicitness manifested itself as broad and offensive stereotypes. When TCM did their LGBT lineup a few years ago, we saw things like "Algie The Miner", which now appears to be positively twisted to a modern audience. Limp-wristed, lisping (probably, though it's silent) no sense of propriety...the whole nine yards. The fact that the Code may have been responsible for dialing some of that back to more reasonable levels and for forcing moviemakers to think in more subtle terms could be seen at least partly as a good thing. Of course, it also meant that even filmmakers who were sympathetic (or at least not hostile) to gay subjects may have simply avoided them rather than walk the fine line they would be required to. It's hard to say, because the Code covered everyone, so who knows what individuals might have done otherwise. Anyway, your point was a good one.

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The filmmakers of the code era had to find a way of getting around it's restictions- some of which border on the ridiculous.  The image of gay people at the movies in the early half of the 20th century reflected the popular view of society at that time.

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The filmmakers of the code era had to find a way of getting around it's restictions- some of which border on the ridiculous.  The image of gay people at the movies in the early half of the 20th century reflected the popular view of society at that time.

True- but I guess having gay characters at all was considered subversive to the collection of "upright", uptight, self-righteous non-movie watchers who played their hand in getting any representation that was borderline positive out of the films. 

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The time period you're mentioning had the "sissy" character. Portrayed by actors like Franklin Pangborn, Eric Blore, Edward Everett Horton. Effeminate characters that you basically knew were gay, but they couldn't dare directly suggest that.  Earlier tonight, I watched "Broadway Melody of 1929", the first musical to win a Best Picture Oscar. And while watching it, in a scene in a theater, the "sissy" is trotted out, a costume designer, swishy and in the film solely to be ridiculed by others in the film. You sort of wince at that depiction of gay people, but as you said, it did reflect the popular view of society at that time.

The filmmakers of the code era had to find a way of getting around it's restictions- some of which border on the ridiculous.  The image of gay people at the movies in the early half of the 20th century reflected the popular view of society at that time.

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A friend of mine once told me that any representation is better than no representation at all. In the Pre-Code context, it has its upsides and downsides. 

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The time period you're mentioning had the "sissy" character. Portrayed by actors like Franklin Pangborn, Eric Blore, Edward Everett Horton. Effeminate characters that you basically knew were gay, but they couldn't dare directly suggest that.  Earlier tonight, I watched "Broadway Melody of 1929", the first musical to win a Best Picture Oscar. And while watching it, in a scene in a theater, the "sissy" is trotted out, a costume designer, swishy and in the film solely to be ridiculed by others in the film. You sort of wince at that depiction of gay people, but as you said, it did reflect the popular view of society at that time.

Well that type of gay character is still popular in the current time period.    e.g.  the gay characters in Modern Family.    

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Well that type of gay character is still popular in the current time period.    e.g.  the gay characters in Modern Family.    

I know- it bothers me that the only way mainstream America can accept that kind of sexual diversity is to pair the stereotype with the real. I have a cousin who told me about the show, and these are his exact words "the fat one acts more gay than the skinny one- but it's more funny when they butt heads." My cousin doesn't know a lot of GLBT people. 

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I know- it bothers me that the only way mainstream America can accept that kind of sexual diversity is to pair the stereotype with the real. I have a cousin who told me about the show, and these are his exact words "the fat one acts more gay than the skinny one- but it's more funny when they **** heads." My cousin doesn't know a lot of GLBT people. 

 

Well the gay people I know are also a mix of the "stereotype with the real".    e.g  some act like the fat one in modern family (and a few I know like him on steroids,  especially after a few drinks),  and some don't.    

 

The new George Lopez show is based on this theme;  while he doesn't wish to be stereotyped as a Mexican-American (e.g.  he gets into it with whites on the show that assume just because he is Mexican-American he must act a certain way or like a certain thing),   most of the humor comes from the fact that,  when George is under stress his inter 'mexican' comes out.     He isn't sure if he should embrace this or be embarrassed by it.    This is 'fine line' comedy and Lopez is one of the best at it.

     

The only T.V. show I can think off that did something similar with gay characters was Six Feet Under  (but with a lot less humor).    

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Since I am a thespian, I know a lot of GLBT individuals, and they are diverse in thought and opinion as they are looks and self-expression, but I've only known one stereotypically gay person, and that was in high school, and it was so hard for me to be nice to him because I thought he was fulfilling social stereotype to get ahead rather than challenge social stereotype like me. Anyway, I didn't bully him or anything- it was his life. At the time, I was just envious of the attention. Anyway, I'm glad high school is over. 

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Also I don't mean to body shame by quoting my cousin. My cousin's words are my cousin's words. 

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