I usually do a lot of research and re-writing for my posts here on my blog. This is not one of those posts. It is off the cuff, about an issue I just ran into on American Movie Classics channel. AMC started out as a purely classic film channel, with no editing or commercials, much like Turner Classic Movies still is. After a few years, AMC turned into a commercial channel, no longer showed just classic films, and generally started a downward spiral in terms of its programming. Frankly, I don't often watch AMC unless there is something special I want to see.
AMC showed Holiday Inn with Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby just the other day. It has become a Christmas classic, and I set it to save on the DVR. I figured that way I could zip through the commercials and see the film without much distraction. I sat down to watch it tonight. Most classic film buffs know that the story is of a country inn, which the owner (Crosby) decides to open only on holidays. Each holiday would be celebrated with dinner, dancing and special musical numbers in honor of the particular day (Astaire is featured in many of those). As the movie went on, Lincoln's birthday was celebrated. The actors were preparing for the big number, and then suddenly the movie jumped to after the number, completely deleting the number itself.
Yes, the number was "Abraham" and it was done in blackface, like a minstrel show. Many of the old musicals included minstrel numbers. It was a different time with different perspectives. Fortunately, we have evolved as a culture and have a better understanding of how these musical number affected black Americans. No one would dream of resurrecting this type of musical racism, and, to paraphrase another movie that brings up similar arguments, blackface has "gone with the wind." And rightly so.
However, it is a part of history, and a lot of history is unpleasant. The struggle of a culture to rise above bigotry and stupidity is a long and painful process, and we have come a long way from our beginnings. In our day now, political correctness is used to justify many revisions of history, and our classic films are just beginning to come under fire. We have seen great books like Huckleberry Finn banned from schools because of language, with no understanding of the book as a piece of literature that was anti-racism. Other books have met the same fate. Now it is beginning to show up in film. I remember not too long ago seeing Mel Brooks' Robin Hood, Men in Tights on a cable station. Certainly not a great movie classic, but it was cut to pieces. Someone with a gay agenda decided to remove all semblance of gay jokes in editing it. If you have seen the movie, you know that resulted in the movie being shredded to pieces since so much of it was a spoof on that particular issue.
Holiday Inn is the first well-loved classic film of which I am aware that has been censored so blatantly, this time by AMC. This is a disturbing and dangerous precedent. There are so many agendas from so many groups, where will it end up? Can classic films weather this upcoming storm? There is already a movement beginning to remove all smoking from all films. How on earth could you ever have a Bette Davis or Humphrey Bogart movie with such restrictions? A few years ago, the post office designed a stamp to honor the great blues guitarist Robert Johnson. They used his most famous picture, holding his guitar with a cigarette. They erased all traces of the cigarette. Now it is their idea of what Robert Johnson should be, not what he was. It is no longer Robert Johnson -- it is what a censor allowed.
Who is the censor? It could be anybody, somebody's friend, an elected official, an appointed bureaucrat -- what does it matter? And you can bet that the people looking for the politically incorrect will not be the least bit interested in the fact that they are altering another person's work, taking over a writer's brain or a director's vision -- none of that will matter. Classic film could end up being either butchered or not allowed to be shown at all. Don't laugh -- it could very well happen. It has already begun. If you have not read George Orwell's 1984, do it now. It is a brilliant portrayal of the ease with which history can be revised and eventually erased at the whim of a government.
The real message of censorship is that we, the people, are too stupid to experience history, that we cannot determine right from wrong, that we cannot learn from what was, and wost of all, that there was nothing to love that does not conform to current culture. Even with the blackface numbers, the musicals were still good movies and a true picture of an era. Are we to pretend it never happened? Are we to lose all beauty and goodness from that era just because there are some things that were bad?
If Turner Classic Movies ever gives in to this, I give up. In the meantime, I am squirreling away all of the favorites I can get my hands on in case this awful trend continues to its natural conclusion. I am very fearful of what I see as a movement of censorship that rivals any in history. It must be fought down -- there is so much to lose.