Illinois’ Lisle Station Museum has an exhibit about the little-known and less-remembered history of film censorship in Chicago under the direction of what was originally called the Police Censor Board, formed in 1907, the first such oversight organization in the country. It remained in force until 1984, though of course its work had long since been superseded by first the Hays code and then the MPAA.
Titled “Banned in Chicago: Eight Decades of Film Censorship in the Windy City,” it examines the history behind film censorship in Chicago and provides a glimpse into the types of films that were being censored and a broader look at the implications of censorship throughout America.
Though this gathering, vividly illustrated with documents and photos and embellished by clear writing, is based on serious academic research, it is wildly, somewhat weirdly and even comically entertaining.
For each film viewed, the board members would fill out censor cards, detailing their complaints. The card regarding the movie “Woodstock” in 1972, for instance, contains notations such as a “hippie cult song festival,” “nudity, free sex and pot smoking.” Efforts to ban that film were unsuccessful.
Not so “Scarface.” That 1932 film, generally regarded as the first gangster movie, starring Paul Muni and written by former Chicago newspaperman Ben Hecht, never did play at any Chicago movie house when it was first released. Such was the clout of the board for a time.
It will be on display through August 16, 2014.