NEW YORK — 'I want to do a film about the prison governor who revolts against his job of hanging a man ... but I don't think the censor would [allow] it. Capital punishment is part of our law, and we mustn't propagate against it."
Alfred Hitchcock made this complaint in 1938, when the British Board of Film Censors was doing for England what the Production Code Administration and Legion of Decency were doing on the other side of the ocean. Censors didn't stop the master of suspense from a decades-long spree of crime movies, but they did stifle his wish to make films on a 1926 general strike and the controversial Sydney Street police siege. If an idea was "too obviously a criticism of the social system," the director lamented in another article, the censors always said no.
Censorship is one of many tantalizing topics discussed in Sidney Gottlieb's new anthology, Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Writings and Interviews, a well-chosen gathering of essays, lectures, and other materials in which the filmmaker discussed, analyzed, and promoted his own work. The book's five sections cover "Actors, Actresses, Stars" and "Technique, Style, and Hitchcock at Work," among other subjects. Together they shed fascinating new light on a director whose work is both critically respected and popularly adored.
Censorship is the central issue in Sex & Sensibility: Reflections on Forbidden Mirrors and the Will to Censor, by Marcia Pally, a noted film critic and free-speech authority. Dealing thoughtfully with cultural material ranging from movie ratings to alleged "hidden messages" in popular songs, she stimulates thought about issues frequently taken for granted by polemicists on both ends of the political spectrum.
Other valuable perspectives are found in the classic Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies, by Robert Sklar, newly reissued in an updated form. Long applauded for its pioneering integration of film history with social and political events, the book now includes incisive material on recent movies ranging from "JFK" and "Schindler's List" to "The Times of Harvey Milk" and "The Thin Blue Line."
Packed with insights on US history and the power of popular culture to shape our perceptions of it, "Movie-Made America" is worth a careful look by every movie-made reader.
Sin and Censorship: The Catholic Church and the Motion Picture Industry
By Frank Walsh
Yale U. Press, $35
Hollywood Censored: Morality Codes, Catholics, and the Movies
By Gregory D. Black
Cambridge U. Press $27.95
Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Writings and Interviews
Edited by Sidney Gottlieb
U. of California Press, $29.95
Sex & Sensibility: Reflections on Forbidden Mirrors and the Will to
By Marcia Pally
The Ecco Press, $11
Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies
By Robert Sklar
Vintage Books, $20