Warning! TCM’s Condemned Film Festival is Here

condemned

Throughout the Month of March TCM will be risking damnation by airing “condemned” films every Thursday night beginning this evening with The Story of Temple Drake (1933) followed by Black Narcissus (1947), Design For Living (1933), The Outlaw (1943), Baby Face (1933) and Wild Boys of the Road (1933). These movies all have one thing in common: they were condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency. According to TCM’s monthly Now Playing guide, the CLOD was founded in 1933 and dedicated itself to “combating objectionable content in motion pictures (often of a sexual nature) from the viewpoint of the Catholic Church.” The program will be hosted by Sister Rose Pacatte, a member of the Daughters of Saint Paul and founding director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies. She is also the author of several books about film and has served as a juror at the Venice, Berlin, Locarno and Newport Beach film festivals.

It’s probably not surprising that TCM’s Condemned Film Festival has come under scrutiny from some sources and individuals who find the programming objectionable and Sister Rose Pacatte’s involvement unacceptable, particularly during Lent and the run-up to Easter Sunday. To provide more insight on this upcoming series I decided to contact TCM programmer Millie De Chirico, who kindly answered my questions and Director of Program Production Scott McGee, who allowed me to quote from an insightful interview he did with Sister Rose. I hope it might encourage viewers of all types and stripes to tune in, no matter what their religious affiliation may or may not be.

The Condemned Film Festival was the bright idea of Scott McGee and Millie De Chirico selected the 27 films scheduled to air March 3 through March 31. Millie, who grew up Catholic, was happy she got the opportunity to program the festival because she hopes it will provide an “Interesting and fresh lens with which to view these films.” I suspect that some viewers might tune in just to see some titillating and taboo entertainment but the programming has a lot more to offer besides a few cheap thrills. Anyone remotely interested in film history and censorship should find it fascinating. When I asked Millie about the festival’s goals she explained, “I hope it gives people a look into the relationship between religion and the arts.”

The films scheduled to air are loosely arranged by the decades they were released beginning with the 1930s into the 1970s and run the gamut from a smoldering Jane Russell seductively pouting, sneering and jiggling her way through The Outlaw (pictured above) to the surreal and sexually suggestive horror-infused fable, Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973). The exception is the last day of the festival, which features “Special Circumstance” films that make up their own unique category and include Baby Doll (1956), Strange Cargo (1940) and Rififi (1954). I’m particularly looking forward to seeing Sister Rose introduce Black Narcissus tonight and I am curious how she’ll represent two of my long-time favorite films, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966) and John Huston’s Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), both airing on March 10. When I asked Millie if she was looking forward to any of the films scheduled she added, “I really like the last night of the festival, which is all the ‘Special Circumstance’ films. And personally, I love that we’re showing Ice Castles (1978) as part of the festival.”

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When asked about her programming choices and the difficulties the festival presented, Millie explained that, “It was not that hard to find films . . . It was more about figuring out what we could get access to play on the network. I got most of what I wanted but there were some titles that I would’ve loved to play, but because of content issues, we couldn’t . . . The biggest challenge was just finding the actual rating and verbiage from the Legion itself. When Sister Rose came to the studio she actually brought an old copy of the Ratings Book, which was essentially distributed in the church but wasn’t something a pedestrian could go out and buy.”

It’s surprising that Sister Rose Pacette agreed to host the event, especially in light of some of the negative attention she’s received. In an interview with TCM’s Scott McGee, Sister Rose explained how she reacted to being asked to participate in the festival joking that, “Maybe there’s some kind of divine irony in this? I really don’t know. It is funny and it isn’t. Especially because of some of the reactions that I’ve been getting, the push back, people think I’m endorsing movies that were condemned between 1933 and 1965, and then a little beyond that. It’s not an endorsement to be able to talk about these things and it’s unfortunate I think that people get scared by a willingness to explore and to be educated, and to be fascinated, and to be interested. But be that as it may, my first reaction was, ‘Sure. I’ll do it.’”

sisterrpShe went on to say that films such as The Song of Bernadette (1943) and The Trouble with Angels (1966) had buoyed her desire to become a nun explaining that, “Saint Ignatius says that God is present everywhere. We can find God everywhere and I think that we can find God at the movies. There’s a sacramental quality to film . . . Film is an outward manifestation of inner realities and we see the inner realities of these characters played out before us. It’s someone else’s imagining but our imagination can engage as well, especially if the story is meaningful to us. If something in the characters, the hero’s journey if you will, touches us in some way.” She also acknowledged that films impact us all differently expounding on the idea by saying, “Nobody sees the same film the same way so there’s no way to generalize how a person will respond or how an audience will respond . . . There’s no way to predict that because a human person is a universe and we all have different experiences, different educations, different expectations of the movie. And because of that, that’s what we bring to our movie watching experience.”

After quoting the renowned French film critic and fellow Catholic André Bazin who once said “The cinema has always been interested in God,” Sister Rose added “We see the face of humanity in cinema and it’s in the face of humanity that we find God, we find that divine spark. So if a film is truly human it’s truly of the divine, and if it’s about the divine then it’s truly human. They’re mutually inclusive, they’re not exclusive . . . Some people deem some of these condemned films as difficult. Well, maybe they were for the times and maybe it was just so overwhelming for audiences to see their imaginations played out in front of them in sight and sound? But I think that if we appraise these stories calmly, we’ll see much deeper than how they were evaluated 80 years ago.”

I don’t align myself with any particular religion but I appreciated Sister Rose’s thoughtful contemplation on cinema during her interview with Scott MacGee. I think she’ll bring a distinct voice and an interesting perspective on the films she introduces, whether she approves of them or not, so I hope you’ll tune in.

Below you’ll find a link to the TCM Podcast with Sister Rose along with a full schedule of the films being shown and links to other articles about TCM’s month-long Festival of Condemned Films.

Further reading & listening:
- TCM Podcast: Interview with Sister Rose Pacatte
- Official schedule for TCM’s Festival of Condemned Films
- CatholicPhilly.com (digital successor to The Catholic Standard and Times, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia) on TCM’s Festival of Condemned Films
- Film Censorship in Focus – This Month on TCM by Will McKinley

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15 Responses Warning! TCM’s Condemned Film Festival is Here
Posted By Emgee : March 3, 2016 9:00 am

That’s Jane Russell, not Jayne Mansfield. But yes, they did have things in common.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : March 3, 2016 9:11 am

Thanks for catching my typo, Emgee. Curvaceous babes one and all! I suppose that’s the kind of reply I should expect for posting this after midnight. I spent too much time making my nifty Jane Russell graphic. My mind must have slipped. Time to get some sleep…

Posted By LD : March 3, 2016 12:31 pm

For the most part, I grew up Catholic. I remember my mother, who was a huge movie fan, saying the only thing the CLOD accomplished by condemning films was to increase the attendance to them. Although I have seen many of the films, I am looking forward to viewing them again in relation to the CLOD guidelines and especially with the comments by Sister Rose. Thanks Kimberley for the info.

Posted By SpellChecker : March 3, 2016 1:37 pm

Speaking of typos, shouldn’t that be “Lemora”, not “Lenora”?

Posted By Will McKinley : March 3, 2016 3:06 pm

Thanks for the link, Kimberly. Very excited for this series!

Posted By kingrat : March 3, 2016 6:38 pm

This is a great idea for a series, and I’m looking forward to the introductory materials with Sister Rose. Many of the TCM Film Festival attendees will have met or at least heard both Scott McGee and Millie De Chirico, whose enthusiasm for film is contagious.

ICE CASTLES? Seriously?

Posted By swac44 : March 3, 2016 10:09 pm

Robby Benson wears some pretty tight-y whities in Ice Castles…but I’m guessing there’s some premarital hanky panky that CLOD (love that acronym), or some other body, disapproved of.

Posted By robbushblog : March 4, 2016 5:48 pm

Yeah, I’m interested to know exactly why each of these films was banned or found objectionable.

Posted By Jenni : March 4, 2016 7:30 pm

i remember my friends in jr high going to see Ice Castles, and the hit song that came from it, but I didn’t know it was ever labeled by the decency league??!! My mom subscribed to the Catholic Chronical, which came from the Toledo, OH Diocese, and it had a section that gave thumbs up or thumbs down to movies and tv shows. I have told my own kids that growing up, if the Catholic Chronicle condemned it, we couldn’t see it. I don’t recall Ice Castles receiving a “condemn” vote!

Posted By Patricia : March 28, 2016 1:48 am

An exploration of this sort has its merits. By the same token, I would like to see similar media explorations done as to what Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu religions/their leaderships find offensive and to see such films with commentaries showcased during those religions high holidays, as was done to the Christian religion during Lenten season by TCM.

Posted By Blakeney : March 31, 2016 11:50 pm

I’m a lapsed Catholic. I’ve always gone with my own conscience as far as what to watch. And I don’t watch a lot of sensationalist stuff, past or present, because the only point of it seems to be sensationalism. “Look at this!” it seems to cry, “it’s shocking!”. Yeah, so?

Maybe there’s a point to all of it, but whole lot of it seems to be for effect. I believe in thinking for oneself. And being aware of what you consume – for body, mind, or soul. Just because something was once banned, censored, whatever, does not necessarily make it a masterpiece of sensitive artistry. Sometimes tawdry is just tawdry.

Posted By swac44 : April 1, 2016 12:57 pm

Masterpieces, perhaps not (I can’t defend The Outlaw as any kind of a good film), but still a valuable lesson in society’s changing morays. I had no idea films like The Competition or Ice Castles could be considered as condemned, and it’s not hard to imagine someone today still wanting to see those titles.

Unfortunately, my cable company’s signal was compromised on one of the Thursdays, so I didn’t get to see one of the titles I was looking forward to most, Lemora. The Competition was also unwatchable that day, which is unfortunate, as it’s one of the few Richard Dreyfuss titles from his heyday that I haven’t seen.

Posted By robbushblog : April 1, 2016 1:42 pm

Yeah, THE OUTLAW is bad. Hughes was lucky he had Jane Russell and her breasts in that movie. Otherwise it would have been totally forgotten.

Posted By swac44 : April 1, 2016 3:34 pm

I watched it for Walter Huston. Poor Jack Buetel, he didn’t work for almost a decade after he played Billy the Kid.

Posted By robbushblog : April 1, 2016 3:44 pm

I watched it for Jane. Walter was an added bonus. Based on his work in THE OUTLAW, it was right for Buetel not to work for 10 years. He was terrible.

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