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  • Although this is a very recent documentary and only came to DVD in the last few years, I was surprised that it had no captions of any sort. While I can't get mad only at this film, it sure is annoying when you don't have this option if you need it or want it.

    I noticed when the film began that it was produced by Hugh Hefner. This seems like a logical choice but also colored the focus of the film a bit--but more about that later.

    The film is about the early days of films at the turn of the 19th century up until the implementation of the strengthened Production Code in 1934. However, the bulk of the film really was on the period from 1920-1934. So, early sexuality in films is really glossed over and is given in a very abbreviated fashion. For example, although a brief clip is shown of the very important "May Irwin Kiss", the reason for its importance and the sort of films that immediately followed it really aren't explained. This really is not one of the more educational or exhaustive documentaries on this period and I suggest you look elsewhere for discussions on early sexuality as well as sex in foreign films (where there was often a lot more). Also, the film manages to make broad sweeping comments about the Flappers and sexuality of the 1920s and gives the impression that sex was rampant in the 20s (if only), though this actually represented a small portion of the public and not the US in general. The 20s was not as sexually charged as the documentary alleges nor the mid-late 1930s as prudish as is implied (I am sure people DID manage to still have sex following the implementation of the Production Code).

    Another problem I noticed is that the reasons for the Production Code were not given a balanced discussion. Unlike the film's contention that is was mostly about sexual repression and a bit about the violence in films, there was much more to the story. First, as there was no ratings system (and wouldn't be until the late 1960s), movies were for general audiences. So, families might see a wholesome film during the early 1930s, but they could also see a film where topics like abortion and adultery (mostly promoting it) were common and they might see and hear cursing, violence and sex. So, there really needed to be SOMETHING done about films as I assume most parents wouldn't want Junior seeing this content. I would agree that the intrusive Code was a bit extreme and a rating system would have been best. But the film never really explains that SOMETHING needed to be done--considering some of the most egregious examples of inappropriate film content came from family films ("Tarzan and His Mate" had a very length and very sexy nude swimming scene) and religious films (DeMille managed to include bestiality, lesbianism, nudity and VERY graphic violence in "The Sign of the Cross"--a film about the early Church!!).

    While this sounds like I hated the documentary, I didn't. But I am also a history teacher and film nut--and this film really isn't the best when it comes to the topic. Such documentaries as "Complicated Women" are better, but frankly I still recommend "Why Be Good" as there really aren't many documentaries that address this topic! A nice BALANCED and THOROUGH discussion of the topic of sexuality in Pre- and Post-Code films would be great. In fact, if you find one, let me know.
  • Why Be Good? Sexuality & Censorship in Early Cinema (2007)

    *** (out of 4)

    Pretty good documentary covering the early period of cinema and how sexuality brought forth the Hays Code and then the Production Code, as well as others, who tried to act for everyone by pushing their morals. The documentary covers shorts from as early as the 1890s all the way up to the Hays Code being put into place. If you're unfamiliar with this era then this documentary is a must see as it pretty much goes into all the basic information someone would need to know. We learn about the earliest days when films were censored from state to state and how scandals like Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle caused Hollywood to try and shape up and keep negative news out of the media. We hear the fate of stars such as Pickford, Dietrich, Bow, Brooks and Mae West. We learn how directors like Cecil B. DeMille would push limits with his star Gloria Swanson. The documentary does a nice job at giving us this basic information and it's strongest points is when it discusses how certain stars got fed up by Hollywood trying to control their private lives. The bad reputations of Bow and Brooks are discussed and we learn about the likes of John Gilbert who would crash and burn while trying to fight the system. The documentary does jump over certain underground films that were fighting the system, which is a shame since the exploitation genre, even more adult and pornographic materials, were being released underground. TENDER HEARTS, INTOLERANCE, THE CHEAT, WHY CHANGE YOUR WIFE, THE SHEIK, THE LADY, IT, BABY FACE, THE WILD PARTY and SHE DONE HIM WRONG are just a few of the clips shown.
  • I don't know that you couldn't find this sort of material and the values it projects in a half dozen other documentaries, yet it's not bad. It rolls along with excerpts from early films through 1934 and show us clips of sex bombs and beauties (all women except for Valentino) who came and went during Hollywood's heyday.

    Some of the stills are unusual. Those of us used to seeing Marlene Dietrich in her later American movies may be surprised, as I was, at her fresh, youthful beauty, of which there was only a glimpse in "Der Blaue Engel." Extended treatment is given to Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, and Mae West. Jean Harlow bobs through a scene or two.

    Half a dozen talking heads describe the evolution of censorship in Hollywood movies, but most of it will be familiar to buffs. There are a few topless scenes but they're brief. It's not a very sexy movie. Pushing the envelope is represented by somebody like Joan Crawford or Barbara Stanwyck shouting, "Men made me what I am!" (Gasp.) The narration by Diane Lane is informative but clumsy. It gets it point across almost despite itself. "Some queens faded into the shadows; others continued to wear the mask of stardom." Something like that; I wasn't taking notes.

    The social background -- the liberation of women and the relaxation of Edwardian norms -- during and after the war (Kids, that's World War I) are briefly limned it. "Vamps" like Theda Bara ("Arab Death") didn't last long. "Flappers" like Clara Bow lasted into the sound period.

    The dialectic between the gods of Hollywood movies and the agencies of Breen and Hayes are described. My God, I'm glad I don't look like Will Hayes, ex Postmaster, who was a censor. He looks like some kind of chimera, as if one of his parents had been a comic book character. His agency would simply take a pair of scissors, snip out any parts of a film they found offensive, and throw the pieces away -- gone to hell, I suppose.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This documentary about sex and censorship in early Hollywood qualifies as one of the best that you will find about the subject matter and it covers a great deal of ground not only with regard to cinematic history--from the silent to the sound film--but also does so within the context of social history. Director Elaina Archer and scripter Scott Eyman have done a terrific job integrating show business history with social history so that it would be ideal for freshman classes in film studies at the university level. Clocking in at a concise but credible 70 minutes, "Why Be Good" contains much that most people don't know about Hollywood. The line-up of stars and starlets that Archer and Eyman concern themselves with is considerable, and they have interviewed several heavyweight cinema scholars ranging from Jean Basinger to Mark Viera as well as important industry insiders including western producer A.C. Lyles, make-up artist Michael Westmore, and William Wellman, Jr. Anybody who doesn't know much about early Hollywood and the scandals that took their toll on the careers of Fatty Arbuckle, Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, and Mae West as well as the significance of director Cecil B. DeMille, film censor Will H. Hays, and celebrities Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks—who founded United Artists with Charles Chaplin--will find this documentary a treasure trove of information. The impact of social history on film, particularly the changes in fashion, hairstyle, and sexuality is presented with depth and taste that is quite impressive. Mind you, some mild nudity is presented, but there is nothing pornographic about it.

    "Why Be Good" gets off to a solid start and addresses its subject matter and themes: "Within 35 years not just what is possible but what is permissible is completely altered. This is the story of how the movies reflect and influence a time of rapid change, how social, military and artistic advancements created a new world on the screen and behind it. Mostly this is the story of the tensions that existed between the films that are created, those that censored them, and the ones who opposed such censorship." Archer and Eyman begin with the earliest films and follow through to the last film—"Of Human Bondage" that was released before the Motion Picture Production Code was enforced. Although "Playboy" publisher Hugh M. Hefner appears in the opening credits as one of the producers, "Why Be Good" boasts a wealth of information about the rise and fall of many Hollywood thespians. This documentary boasts a large number of archival clips from many landmark films and is highly recommended for students of cinema while actress Diane Lane of "The Cotton Club" provides the narration. Anybody who was anybody between the dawn of film and 1934 when the Production Code was finally enforced is treated. Not to be missed!
  • Sometimes documentaries on Hollywood don't seem like documentaries at all. This is a good example. Maybe it's because of the familiarity of what is being shown and the stars ability to captivate your attention. Still,the pleasant narration by actress Diane Lane immediately draws you in to the world of the golden age of cinema, telling us the hows and whys without reason Hollywood was basically forced to conform to ridiculous codes obviously steered by the church. It was censorship. Something that was needed to keep America holy. But all at once?

    Removing partying and nudity from the screen ( and radio too) was only a vehicle by which the censors began their agenda into brainwashing America into a false sense of reality. They forced Hollywood to always make the bad guy lose, the loose woman die or reform, and the American patriot concur in the name of God. Meanwhile in our own government much worse was going on behind the scenes, but having the censored Hollywood serve as a barometer as to what the average sheepish American will buy as the truth, Hollywood censorship ultimately became a powerful agent in distracting Americans ( and maybe Western Civilization in general) into fighting among themselves and holding each other accountable for upholding these bogus unspoken laws.

    Today we face the very same subtle tactics. We know what they are, and if we are wise we know how incessant and paradoxically evil something as simple as a Hays Code can become. And become it has! Never mind the rating system introduced 50 years ago. The people currently running our nation operate on the platforms that were set up by those who were around during the Hays Code.

    Perhaps I am way off here, but I don't think so. Slowly Americans are waking up when they aren't being sucked into a video game or...a movie. I'm guilty of that, but am awake. So many in the 20's and 30's were awake too. Thank God!

    Also enjoyed very much, the very infectious little theme song, sang by a little known ( at least on Google) vocalist, Irene Liberatore. What a voice!