Censorship and movies.

Blackboard Jungle - A movie the State Department didn't think depicted the America of 1955.

Censorship On The Grounds Of Embarrassment – 1955 – Past Daily Reference Room

Censorship and movies.
Censorship in Movies: Blackboard Jungle – A movie the State Department didn’t think depicted the America of 1955.

Censorship in the Movies – Lecture by Gilbert Seldes – September 19, 1955 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –

Mostly likely impossible to put yourself in America of 1955 – but it was a time many things happened, either out of fear or loss of face on a national level that would confound and perplex the average American of 2023. Case in point, the censorship of the social drama Blackboard Jungle – a pivotal film in that it depicted our culture at the cusp of considerable social change, especially in music since it was the first major motion picture to feature Rock n’ Roll in the soundtrack. “Rock Around The CLock” by Bill Haley and The Comets, which opened the film and set the tone for the events to come, has been considered by many to be the film that ushered Rock n’ Roll into the mainstream American diet. It also touched on Juvenile delinquency as a problem facing many American cities and the tip of an iceberg many felt was brought on by the Cold War and the undercurrent of anger bubbling under the veneer of our society.

Because of that, and maybe a number of other reasons, the film was deemed not representative of the America the State Department wanted portrayed to the rest of the world. Blackboard Jungle was subsequently withdrawn from competition for Best Picture at the Venice Film Festival of that year, at the insistence of State Department Ambassador to Italy Claire Boothe Luce, who instead had it replaced with a film considered safe and non-threatening to the perceived ideals of America in 1955.

It triggered an outrage in Hollywood and the film community in general, who severely criticized the State Department, blaming it for censorship in not allowing a film many thought was not as evil as Luce purported it to be to be put in competition with other films and to be judged on its artistic merit and not as a representative of America in 1955.

This lecture, given by critic Gilbert Seldes from September 19, 1955 indicates the amount of outrage expressed by Hollywood at the time. That it was censorship in its lowest form and that excluding it from the festival was done out of fear that the Soviet Union would see it and be compelled to call the film a “confessional of outrageous and salacious behaviour so common in America”.

In 1955 we were in the midst of so much social upheaval that putting a lid on it only exacerbated the problem in the eyes of the world.

Here is that lecture by Gilbert Seldes as he gave it on September 19, 1955.

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