U S E O F WEAPONS
IAIN M. BANKS
Banks revisits the universe of the Culture, in a science fiction tour
de force of awesome imagination
. .visinnarg, clever and wicked. His speciality is his sense of scale and signiﬁcance"
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AND IN ORBIT HA RDBA CK: THE STATE OF THE ART
A MEMBER OF MAXWELL MACMILLAN PERGAMON PUBLISHING CORPORATION
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tnore dubious ‘exploitation‘ films. with more flesh than substance.
‘Rcform movies started almost as soon as pictures began to move.‘ says Brownlow. "I'he mutascopes —' the amusement arcade peep-show machines - showed films about divorce or police brutality. but these were mostly exploitation films. The more serious ones began in the days of the nickelodeon. with directors like D. W. Griffith. who made pictures about crime. white slavery and poverty. That continued until the First World War. when a new form ofcensorship moved in and they faded out.‘
With the birth ofthe ﬂamboyant Jazz Age. the social picture began to stick in the gullet ofan increasingly middle-class audience. Tired ofthe accusing prod in the ribs. people demanded escapism. and the unwritten law of the film-maker became. ‘If you want to send a message. send it Western Union.’
Whilst millions of minds proved malleable to the ‘improving sermon‘ however. the film-maker could be a reformer and the message was a seller. Brownlow. with intricate description. recreates in his book the films which touched the minds and stomachs ofAmerica. Margaret Sanger‘s Birth Control ( 1912) was sheer propaganda dressed in the robes of melodrama. promoting contraception and slamming abortion. Heralding a string of ‘syphilis films'. Damaged Goods was a crusading vehicle for its star and director. Robert Bennett — a hard-hitting portrayal of the effects ofthe disease. pointing the accusing finger at society.
Behind The Mask ()flnnocenee recognises the often threadbare division between the true reform film and the glitzy exploitation picture. The marketing devices employed by the early film companies smack of the cynicism
Still from The Devil's Needle. a drug shockerlrom 1916
which lies behind today's massive industry. ‘A system of block booking existed. where you sold your year's output before you even made it.‘ says Brownlow. ’l’itillation was pedalled unashamedly in order to attract exhibitors and audiences. and producers often invented titles at complete variance with the films' content. His .\'aughi_v Sig/i! and Sex. titles clearly designed 'to excite the bodily fluids. proved to be no more than ‘extremely boring melodramas'.
Following a series of scandals which threatened to hang the film industry from its own noose. Will H. Hays was wheeled in. ‘Earning S 100.000 a year. llays imposed self-censorship on the film industry.’ explains Brownlow. who regards Hays' system as initiating the temporary death ofthe daring film- maker: ‘Hays says that we must not let the motion picture duplicate the standard ofthe novel or the stage play. which means that they must not be bold or adventurous. Although film-makers got away with a bit here
and there. on the whole a blandness descended over the subject matter of the pictures.‘
Behind The .llask ()flnnoeenee is the final part of Brownlow‘s ambitious trilogy about American silent cinema. With loving precision. he regards himselfas having come ‘full circle' from The Parade 's Gone By. a tribute to the entertainment films ofthe 1920s. through The War. The West And The Wilderness. to the exhuming of the social-conscience movie which. with some dignity. exhausted itselfeven before the ‘purging' force of Hays‘ censorship blew it all away.
Behind The .llask ()flnmn‘enee.‘ Sex. Violence. Prejudice. (‘rimes Films ()f Social (‘onseienee In The Silent Era is published by J onathan (.‘ape. priced £35.
78 The List 5 — 18 April 1991