Following the item a couple of months back on the New York State Archives’ film censorship records, let’s now turn our attention to the Kansas Board of Review Movie Index.
The index covers all films assessed by the Kansas Board of Review, 1910-1966, for which some change was demanded prior to public screening – ranging from from cutting of brief scenes to the banning of entire films. The original index, held on 3×5 index cards, lists the date, number of reels, title, film company and whether accepted, rejected or to be accepted only with specified eliminations to be made. Cards for films with such eliminations contain a detailed description of the portions to be censored, and it is these that make the online version of this index so fascinating.
The Movie Index site explains the procedure:
In its earliest existence, the board was required to “Approve such film reels, including subtitles, spoken dialogue, songs, other words or sounds, folders, posters and advertising materials which are moral and proper” and to censor films that were “cruel, obscene, indecent or immoral, or such as tend to debase and corrupt morals.” The board accomplished this daunting task by requiring that all films to be shown in the state first be passed by a board of three censors. This board had the power to remove any scenes that it felt met the aforementioned criteria. The board also could ban films in toto (as it did with D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation from 1915 to 1923 for “inciting racial hatred and sectional bias”). After being reviewed and edited, the film was then tagged with a unique serial number that identified the film as having been reviewed and passed.
Although Birth of a Nation was accepted for public exhibition in Kansas, it could only be so following eliminations made, as the Index record demonstrates:
The Birth Of A Nation
Date of Review: 1923-11-27
Company Name: States Rights
Starring: Not Stated
Notes: Film was approved with elimination. Sam Silverman submitted a sound version on 3/23/31 which was examined and disapproved 11/12/31 because of tendency to debase & corrupt morals.
Contains Smoking? Not Stated
Eliminations: Reel 2: Reduce to flash mulatto woman on floor with bare shoulders. Reel 2: Eliminate scene of Stone embracing mulatto woman. Reel 4: Eliminate scene of soldier piercing body of fallen man with bayonet. Reel 5: Eliminate scene mulatto woman fondling arm of Stone. Reel 9: Eliminate closeup of negro’s face looking through trees. Reel 9: Reduce scenes of negro chasing girl. Reel 11: Reduce scenes of Lynch holding Elsie and looking sensually at her.
Box Number: 35-06-05-12
You can search by film title, company name, performer, specific elimination (the term “negro” brings up thirty-two hits) and date range – just searching on 1910-1929 alone brings up 4,638 hits. A first rate resource, compiled by volunteers it seems, to whom all praise.
So far as I know there aren’t any other American state censorship records available online, apart from New York and Kansas, but I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who can tell me otherwise.