OK, I have another one of those crazy hypotheticals.
Pick a movie made some time in the last 20 years. I will take it back to 1930s America and release it. Your objective is to pick a movie that will do two things:
(a) make as much money as possible
(b) it’s OK for people watching the movie to have a reaction of “wow, that’s a totally revolutionary movie unlike anything I’ve ever seen before” (as long as they like it and tell their friends to come). It’s not OK for them to have a reaction of “I honestly don’t understand how that film could have been made. Is this an experiment? Did a wizard do it? Did Satan do it? Did time travellers do it?”
A few details:
(1) I’ll take care of the logistics of transferring the movie to 1930s style celluloid, etc
(2) I’ll also redo the movie’s credits in 1930s style
(3) I’ll also use magic to resolve the issue that none of the actors in the movie will be anyone that anyone’s ever heard of, and it wasn’t released by a studio they’ve heard of, and any of them who read Variety had never had the slightest inkling that this film was in production, etc.
Up. It’s simply a beautiful piece of art, one that brings you to tears and then makes your heart soar. It has humor, tension, glorious scenery and color, and the artwork is jaw-dropping by today’s standards. Imagine what it would inspire people to try and do!
Titanic might suit the bill, with a little editing for those bits that won’t get past the censors. Familiar story, lots of lush costumes and production designs, and editing that won’t give the average '30’s moviegoer as seizure.
Mr. Selznick? I have this exciting script for a thriller. A real crowd pleaser. Have you seen the works from a young British director, goes by the name of Hitchcock? Yeah, I now, funny name, but you should give a look to his work, he would be perfect for this… The script? Oh, yeah… it’s about a mystery and ghosts and… well, you’ll see.
How about a modern movie actually set in the 1930s? People couldn´t fail to notice the everything - everything - in the movie is slightly, uncomfortably off. People speak slighly funny, their body language is off, they wear the wrong clothes, they behave in slightly weird ways and display strange sensibilities.
With any luck, it could be mistaken for a subtle artistic statement about the alienation of modern man in the age of machines.
At least 5 films were made about the Titanic by this time. Passing the censors would be the least of the problems. Way too many of the survivors and nexts-of-kin of the victims are still alive and ready to sue. Events in those first films were so highly fictionalized that the ship itself got renamed in most of them.
Or Public Enemies. Granted it’d run into all sorts of problems with the censors, but I think at least a sizable minority would love it if they got a chance to see it.
I think that the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie would do well in front of a 1930s audience.
In fact, on the screenwriters’ commentary track on the DVD, one of the writers imagined that he was making an old time swashbuckling adventure back in the studio system days, and imagining that he had the studio’s stable of talent to work with. For example, he singles out the two Marines guarding the Interceptor and says that he envisioned them as an old vaudeville comedy team when creating the dynamic of how they interact during that bit of exposition about the nature of the Black Pearl and its crew.
The Hayes Code didn’t really go into full force until after 1934. Also, I’m not sure if period censorship and social mores was part of the OP. If so, I think **O Brother **might’ve passed muster before 1934 but probably would’ve had to have some cuts after that. Road to Perdition would’ve had problems with the violence and the language regardless of whether it was 1930 or 1934 even if the basic story could’ve remained intact.
It was adopted in 1930 and phased into full effect by 1934. But the Hayes Code didn’t appear out of nowhere - it was a response to calls for movie censorship that had been growing throughout the twenties. The Hayes Code was basically an acknowledgement from the studios that censorship was going to happen so they’d be better off taking it on under their own central control rather than let every town enact its own standards.
But there were no studios that were trying to push the envelope in 1930 - they were all trying to avoid exacerbating the issue.
Look at some the elements you had in O Brother, Where Art Thou? - the heroes were escaped convicts and the authorities were protrayed as the villains, there was mocking of political figures (Pappy O’Daniel was a real person although he was actually the governor of Texas not Mississippi), you had a strong anti-Klan and pro-civil rights message, you have a couple who were divorced, you have a bible salesman as a villain, you have a sympathetic portrayal of a bank robber and a blues singer who sold his soul to the devil, you have three half-naked sirens, and you’ve got a title that’s based on a line from a movie that won’t be made for another ten years. By the time you get done editing out all the controversial parts, you’ll be lucky to have a five minute short left.
As I said previously, the OP didn’t say anything about how he would deal with the inevitable censorship problems a modern movie would face in 1930 so until MaxTheVool addresses it in a later post, that question remains unanswered. As for your opinion that much of **O Brother’s **subject matter would’ve been taboo even during the period between 1930 and 1934, I’ll have to mildly disagree with you. (I wish we had someone like Eve–our former resident expert on the subject of pre-Hayes Code films–to chime in with her take on the subject.) For one thing, you’d be surprised by the things they let fly by during that period that were cracked down on later. Also, during that time, there were studios like Warner Brothers that were more willing to push the envelope and deal with more controversial issues in their movies like, for example, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (one the movies O Brother pays homage to). As for your contention that nobody in Hollywood would’ve been willing to make a movie critical of the Ku Klux Klan during the 30s, I don’t think even the most conservative studio execs at the time were that sympathetic for the views of the KKK (which was in political decline at that time). Warners even took on the KKK (albeit through a thinly-disguised surrogate) in 1937’sBlack Legion. This is not to say some things in O Brother would’ve been trimmed but there certainly would’ve been much more than five minutes left.
Up and Pirates of the Caribbean would never pass this. Both of them are completely dependent on computers. Nobody in the 1930s would be able to watch these films without the question of how they were produced completely dominating any discourse about them.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) would probably be your safest bet - the animation is slick but not too slick and there are no elements (that I’m aware of) that would be baffling or offensive to a 1930s audience. The Little Mermaid (the first film in Disney’s 1989-99 “second renaissance”) would probably also do well. Aladdin relies too heavily on Robin Williams’ shtick and impressions of post-1930 celebrities and later films incorporate too much computer work.
I’m not sure how well The Lion King would go over.