"The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" ... Bogart, Shakespeare, The Maltese Falcon, Those Great Movies

Friday, December 11, 2009

Brief Reflections

By ClassicBecky

I believe that many classic movie lovers fear the same thing I do, namely, political correctness.  I remember a few years ago when the United States Postal Service released an honorary stamp in tribute to the great blues artist Robert Johnson.  The most famous picture of Johnson that we have is of him looking into the camera holding his guitar and smoking a cigarette.  The Postal Service decided to digitally remove the cigarette from his mouth because of political correctness.  They changed Robert Johnson as he was to a false Robert Johnson who would fit their ideas of what is acceptable.  That is a horrifying travesty.  Anyone who has ever read George Orwell's "1984" is aware of what can happen when such thinking is taken to the limit. 

Our beloved classic films could very well be treated in the same way in the current climate.  Obviously there are things in classic films that society has evolved enough to realize are offensive, i.e. racial stereotypes, social habits that are no longer acceptable, etc.  However, this is history on film, and to change history is to crack the foundation of truth.  I fear that possibly in the near future, these movies will be cut and pasted to remove any dance numbers, comedy bits or habits that no longer fit a society of political correctness.  Removing smoking alone would be a full-time job, especially with a Bette Davis or Humphrey Bogart movie!

This is not a paranoid fantasy.  It happened to Robert Johnson's picture.  I have already seen a movie so chopped up, certainly not a classic one by any means, "Robin Hood - Men in Tights" by Mel Brooks.  Whoever edited this movie for the particular channel that showed it removed all references to gay jokes.  If you have seen that movie, you know that this resulted in its being chopped to pieces.  This may not be a stirring call to arms because of the particular movie, but it illustrates my fears.  If it could happen to one movie, it can happen to another.  Those of us who love classic film must be alert to this kind of trend and speak out if and when it finally hits the films we love.   History is history and truth is truth.  Neither should ever be changed.


  1. A thought-provoking editorial, Becky. I remember when a friend of mine walked out of a film society's showing of BIRTH OF A NATION. I asked her why and she said it was because of Griffith's heroic portrayal of the KKK. I suggested that she look beyond that and focus on Griffith's significant contributions to the art of cinema. But she couldn't...and I think there are others who feel that way, too. But a film altered is no longer the same film. With two notable exceptions (ALIENS and BLADE RUNNER), I also don't care for directors' cuts of their famous movies...though I suppose one could argue that the director's vision was tampered with from the beginning and he or she is just restoring it.

  2. Another example: the word "terrorist" also seems to be a touchy word these days. I was watching the Richard Donner cut of "Superman II" not long ago and noticed that he cut out the scene in the Daily Planet when Clark and Perry White talk about terrorists, which was in the original movie.

  3. When I was raising my sons and introducing them to classic films, I always talked to them about the old ways of racial stereotypes and bygone beliefs. I encouraged them to look at these things as part of the past, and to see the movie in its own context of history. I try to do the same thing with my grandkids. I think you must judge any work of art according to its unique background and era. If we can't do that, much of the great literature of the world would be considered incorrect, even works of art, and we would be destroying the very essence of the cultural past. Thanks all for commenting on my little reflection.

  4. Good points. I never really thought about films being edited for PC purposes. I'll be more attentive now.

  5. Becky I was too am irritated about this trend. I don't smoke, but let's criminalize it either. In fact, I believe they did remove the cigarette for Bette Davis' stamp photo. It's one thing to not encourage smoking, but to pretend that these people were of a different time/era and did not know the dangers we do today is ridiculous. As you said, history is history.

  6. I can't type! First two sentences, Take 2!
    I am irritated about this trend too. I don't smoke, but let's NOT criminalize either.