Motion Pictures: A Study in Social Legislation

National Board of Review censorship recommendations

The above document contains some of the recommendations from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures for cuts to be made to some unnamed films. Donald Young, later professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, was no admirer of this private organisation which made censorship recommendations which were not legally binding and could be ignored locally. Young was the author of Motion Pictures: A Study in Social Legislation, now added to the Bioscope Library. Published in 1922, this PhD thesis must be one of the first doctorates to be awarded for the study of motion pictures.

Young’s subject is the influence of motion pictures upon the American people, particularly children. As a piece of supposedly scientific social investigation it is remarkably partisan. It takes as read reports conducted by various groups with an interest in the morals of society which found motion pictures to be generally pernicious in their effects, and comes down on the side of legalised state censorship (by 1922 eight American states had instituted film censorship laws). A National Board of Censorship, later the National Board of Review, had been instituted in 1909, but its recommendations carried no legal weight. This is therefore not the social study that it claims to be, but rather an expression of fear, albeit one that is artfully and authoritatviely expressed. Under the guide of social investigation, it looks for ways to control the medium whose malign tendencies are taken as a given.

The value of the text is firstly the period attitudes that it demonstrates, with the evidence that it calls on to support this. Secondly, it provides a rich picture of the various forms of municipal and state regulation that existed, their operations and aspirations. Thirdly, there are the several appendices with useful information, including the numbers of cinemas across America, state by state; figures for the importing of films from other countries; the rules of the British Board of Film Censors; the Standards of the Pennsylvania Board of Film Censors (the first US state to have censorship laws); and samples of eliminated scenes by the National Board of Review (as illustrated above). It is available from the Internet Archive in DjVu (3.1MB), PDF (9.4MB), b/w PDF (3.4MB) and TXT (232KB) formats.

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