Oddball Films and guest Curator Taylor Morales bring you, Sex, Censorship and Betty Boop: The Ladies of Pre-Code Hollywood, a collection of films exploring Hollywood’s fascination with female sexuality in the years before 1934, when the industry adopted the Motion Picture Production Code, a set of moral censorship standards that governed the US motion pictures industry between 1934 and 1968. The Code, which banned all forms of overt sexuality and “immorality”, forced Betty Boop to lengthen her skirt and cover her garter. This collection of films and cartoon shorts captures the good, the bad and the offensive of this remarkable pre-code period. Looking back at the era with a critical eye we see examples of sex as an avenue to power for females as well as a means of exploitation. Our evening will begin with a dance lesson from the queen of sex appeal, Ms. Betty Boop, in the Fleischer brothers' short The Dancing Fool (1932). In this cartoon Betty Boop teaches her animal friends how to shake their stuff, and shakes her building to pieces in the process. Our next film, the Janus Films documentary, The Love Goddesses Pt. 1 (1965), explores the rise of female sex symbols from the silent film era through the 1930s. Greta Garbo, Mae West, Jean Harlow and other love goddesses grace the screen in classic scenes that taught the world how to love. We then turn from glam to ham with Red Noses (1932), a live-action comedy short about two female office workers sent to the Turkish baths by their boss when they are too sick to go to work. This thin plot is more of an excuse to enact a series of comedy bits involving scantily clad women on treadmills and mechanical horses. It does not disappoint. Next, we’ll move from the hilarious to the egregious with Polly Tix Goes to Washington (1934), a “baby burlesk” starring 3-year-old Shirley Temple, in one of her first films, as Polly Tix, a high-class call girl sent to Washington to seduce a congressman into voting on a Castor Oil bill. This film displays the darker side of pre-code sexuality, landing on the wrong side of the precarious line between satirical and sinister. We will come full circle with our last film, another Betty Boop cartoon, Minnie the Moocher (1932), featuring the first known filmed footage of jazz band leader Cab Calloway. When Betty runs away from home she finds herself in the company of a cast of scary creatures. Will she make it back home?
Venue: Oddball Films, 275 Capp Street San Francisco
Admission: $10.00 Limited Seating RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or (415) 558-8117
The Dancing Fool (B+W, 1932)
Bimbo and Koko are sign painters hired to paint the lettering on the window of “Betty Boop’s Dancing School". Inside Betty teaches her friends how to shake their tail feathers to the tune of "Dancing to Save Your Soul." This cartoon provides us with a glimpse of the kind of dancing and outfits that would be banned from Betty’s cartoons only two years later.
This film, produced in 1965, examines how, from the silent film era to the 1930s, societal attitudes about onscreen portrayals of love and sex evolved on screen. The film provides a collage of the progression of female starlets from engenues, to vamps, to the love goddesses of the pre-code era. See Marlene Deitrich, Mae West, Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo and others in scenes from their most famous and sumptuous performances.
When Thelma Todd and Zazu Pitts go to a Turkish bath to get rid of their colds they are subjected to undressing, strange mechanical devices, an enormous treadmill, and one of the least relaxing massages ever depicted on screen. Zazu wants to leave but can’t find her clothes so she steals a men’s suit and walks through the women’s baths. Chaos ensues.
Shirley Temple later called this film "a cynical exploitation of our childish innocence." In her autobiography Shirley Temple Black recalls the plot: "I was a strumpet on the payroll of the Nipple Trust and Anti-Castor Oil Lobby. Mine was the task of seducing a newly arrived bumpkin senator." Shirley’s mother designed the black lace undergarments and bra her daughter wears on screen. This “Baby Burlesk” casts a group of toddlers in adult roles. The result is cringe-worthy, but gives an honest glimpse of the laissez faire attitude to censorship in the pre-code era.
Minnie the Moocher (B+W, 1932)
Jazz musician Cab Calloway and his band provide the score to this fascinating Betty Boop short and themselves appear in a live-action introduction—Cab’s first known film appearance. In Minnie the Moocher Betty decides to run way from home when her parents insist she eat her dinner despite the fact that she doesn’t want to. However when Betty and buddy Bimbo the clown find themselves in a spooky forest haunted by a cast of jazzy ghosts, they scurry home.
Taylor Morales is a Wesleyan University graduate of Film Studies and African American studies. In her free time she screen prints stencil sweatshirts of silent film actresses.