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Behind the Mask of Innocence: Sex, Violence, Crime, Films of Social Conscience in the Silent Era Paperback – 1 Jul 1992

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars 3 reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another must-have book from Kevin Brownlow! 13 Feb. 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a fabulous book, covering some of the more risque elements of the silent film era, as well as covering political issues. Loved Mr. Brownlow's coverage of HYPOCRITES (1915), a Lois Weber film which exists but is unfortunately as yet inaccessible on video. Can't wait for his Mary Pickford coffee table book to come out, hopefully in the next few months!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lost Picture Shows 13 July 2009
By Acute Observer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Kevin Brownlow is a film historian who wrote other books. This tells about the silent films produced in the early 20th century that dealt with the problems of the times. These were: crime, poverty, drugs, alcohol, racial and ethnic prejudices, epidemics, sexual mores, police and government corruption, prison conditions, immigration, and labor struggles. Then the Hays Office began the national censorship of Hollywood films. Many believe that early 20th century American life was serene but the truth was far different as recorded by the silent films and uncensored history. This book attempts to set the record straight from the films of that era (p.xv). That is like reconstructing current society from the films shown on TV and in the theatres. [Does that work for you?] The 600 pages have a wealth of detail on films few have ever seen. Then as now, films were "ripped from the headlines" to meet the interest of their customers.

Films appealed to workers who were often illiterate. Their realistic stories brought condemnation from the wealthy but neither prevented or caused revolution. Movies with a message of education weren't popular but entertainment was. [Still true today?] Progressives sought to control the working class (p.xviii). Can "science and technology" solve the political problems of society? The political repression of the 1920s ended social films (p.xix). Prohibition was part of that (p.xxi). Brownlow wrote about these films because hardly anything has been written about the silent social films (p.xxv). This is a richly detailed book that covers a range of topics usually avoided in academic histories. It will educate you about life in the early 20th century as shown on screen.

Chapter 1 discusses "Censorship": the National Board of Review, State and Municipal Censorship, Will Hays. Films could erode the lower classes' faith in authority (p.4). Censors were composed of wives of the wealthy (p.5). Were there attacks on free speech (p.10)? The US Supreme Court ruled in 1915 that the First Amendment did not apply! This was overturned in 1952, and shows the arbitrary judgment of the Court. Chicago the city with the strictest censorship had the highest crime rate. Firearms were forbidden on the screen (p.12). Chicago banned the 1932 film "Scarface". Will Hays banned "too provocative" scripts and anything political (p.17). The rules were not water-tight (p.20). But it influenced American films (p.23).

Chapter 2 discusses "Matters of Sex" in 67 pages. Many surviving films have been heavily censored (p.26). These topics are more heavily censored today (Social Disease, White Slave films). Chapter 3 warned about drug addiction. Chapter 4 is on "Prohibition". Movie theatres competed with saloons for entertainment (p.123). Chapter 5 is about "Crime" (70 pages). Chapter 6 tells about "Political Corruption", Chapter 7 about "Women's Suffrage". Chapter 8 is on "Prisons". Chapter 9 is on "Poverty". Aren't these topics censored today? Chapter 10 tells about "The Foreigners", the longest chapter with 120 pages. Chapter 11 deals with "Industry" on its 82 pages. The topics are "Child Labor", "Socialism and Populism", "The Red Scare", and "Capital versus Labor". These topics are still censored. There are 44 pages of `Notes' and over 4 pages of a `Selected Bibliography'. This book has the details of history book with the topics of scandal and controversy. Brownlow made two mistakes on page 463. The right to keep and bear arms is part of English Common Law and not a "tragedy". Big Bill Haywood was not convicted of the murder of Governor Steunenberg.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars MR. BROWNLOW DOES IT AGAIN 13 Jan. 2000
By lisa a andrzejewski - Published on
Format: Paperback
Another awesome achievement by Kevin Brownlow. A fascinating and informative document for everyone who cherishes the silent film era.
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