Screen Excess

“…. In 1964 the first film made for television, The Killers, was released theatrically instead. Especially after the Kennedy assassination, the film was considered simply too violent for television. This was also the year the first network television showing of Psycho (1960) had to be canceled for the same reasons. The demands of ‘prudence’ held sway in both these instances, they also serve to point out that television, not the movie theater, was now the domain of prudence. The movie theater had become something else.

The Killers is important both because it was made for TV and also because it ended up playing in theaters first. The onset of television movies–movies that were explicitly made for the small screen–necessitated a change in our attitudes toward what we considered different about theatrical movies. By force of circumstances, The Killers inadvertently pointed the way since denial of a television broadcast said in effect the difference was censorship. Psycho had already extended the boundaries for graphic violence four years before, so its unfitness for television made clear that movie theaters were the appropriate venue for such explicitness. Appropriately, the denial of its television showing immediately led to a full-scale rerelease of the Hitchcock film. Throughout the 1960s, graphicness came to be associated with theatrical features.

“Gross-out films represent the most extreme development of this change because they embrace, as their grossness implies, explicitness as part of their aesthetic….”

Paul, William. Laughing Screaming: Modern Hollywood Horror and Comedy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. Print. p. 8-9.


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