2016 Wis. L. Rev. Forward 1 (2016)

handle is hein.journals/wlron4 and id is 1 raw text is: 










   FORBIDDEN FILMS AND THE FIRST AMENDMENT

                         JEREMY  GELTZER*

     The story of film and the First Amendment charts a steady course
toward  creative freedom. Within one  hundred  years, motion pictures
developed  from a fairground attraction into an art form, and from a
revolutionary technology  into an industrially produced mass  media.
More  accessible to large audiences and more powerful in delivering a
                                 message  than any previous medium,
                                 the movies quickly transcended their
                                 origins as a penny-parlor amusement
                                 to  become   an  important  cultural
                                 influencer.
                                      During  the first decade of the
                                 twentieth century a web of local and
                                 regional  film censors  crisscrossed
                                 the   country.   These    regulators
                                 intended  to protect the  morals  of
                                 their communities, but the effects of
                                 their activism created a  patchwork
                                 of   inconsistent standards.  Harry
                                 Aitken, President of the Mutual Film
                                 Corporation,  was  one  of the  first
                                 film  producers   to  challenge  the
                                 state's authority to censor and delay
                                 his pictures. But Aitken was less of
a First Amendment  warrior than a practical businessman. As he saw it,
regional censorship  was  holding  up  his  company's  time-sensitive
newsreels.  He  questioned the  state's authority to regulate motion
picture content. By 1915 Aitken had an answer, but it wasn't the result
he had hoped for.
     In Mutual  Film  Corp.  v. Industrial Commission   of Ohio'  the
Supreme  Court  unanimously  held that motion pictures did not qualify
for First Amendment   protections.2 The Court's reasoning  hinged on


     *    Adapted from chapter 18, Is Censorship Necessary?, of Dirty Words
and Filthy Pictures: Film and the First Amendment by Jeremy Geltzer, published by the
University of Texas Press (January 2016), http://www.utexaspress.com/index.php/
books/geltzer-dirty-words-and-filthy-pictures. The author can be contacted at
mrgeltzer@gmail.com.
     1.   236 U.S. 230 (1915).
     2.   Id. at 244-45.

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