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The United States versus The Spirit of '76
January 14, 2014 7:10 AM   Subscribe

Inspired by Griffith's Birth of a Nation, costume company owner Robert Goldstein decided to make an inspirational, patriotic movie about the Revolutionary War. May 1917 proved to be wrong time to debut his film.

With the United States having just declared war on Germany, the film, which depicted the British as enemies, was considered traitorous. Before its premiere, the head of Chicago's censorship board, Metallus Lucullus Cicero Funkhouser, confiscated the film. When Goldstein tried to show the film in Los Angeles, he was arrested, tried and convicted under the Espionage Act, sentenced to ten years in prison, bankrupting him and ruining his life.
posted by dances_with_sneetches (20 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's what happens when you are tone deaf to the zeitgeist.
posted by Renoroc at 7:14 AM on January 14


Metallus Lucullus Cicero Funkhouser
This goes on the list of approved baby names for my next grandchild.
Metallus Lucullus Cicero Funkhouser Foont has such a nice ring to it.
posted by Floydd at 7:19 AM on January 14 [8 favorites]


Funkhouser was also responsible for getting The Sower out of public view. And here I am thinking it was Boston that was so easily shocked.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:23 AM on January 14


That's what happens when you are tone deaf to the zeitgeist.
posted by Renoroc at 10:14 AM on January 14 [+] [!]


The use of this patently unamerican word: zeitgeist, is seditious. Guards! Take this man away...
posted by ennui.bz at 7:24 AM on January 14 [8 favorites]


ennui.bz? Sounds like some sort of French-Belizean subversion, if you ask me. Clap him in irons!
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:27 AM on January 14 [5 favorites]


I'm pretty sure Funkhouser went on to play bass for GWAR.
posted by adamrice at 7:39 AM on January 14 [7 favorites]


This stuff still happens although no one goes to jail over it. Master and Commander changed the bad guys in the book from Americans to the French to keep from offending Americans and the remake of Red Dawn changed the villains from Chinese to North Koreans.
posted by octothorpe at 7:43 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]


...apparently at the urging of Woodrow Wilson's Justice department--on the grounds that it would create hostility toward Britain, America's new ally against the Kaiser.

Now wait a fucking minute. "America's new ally against the Kaiser." What the hell?

Britain started the war against Germany. It was Britain who declared war on the Kaiser. It was Wilson who tried hard as hell to keep America neutral. Britain was never "America's new ally against the Kaiser" it was, as my son says, "other way around."

So why would Wilson throw this guy in jail for producing an anti-British film? Wilson was pretty anti-British himself and would have been happy to keep America out of the war.
posted by three blind mice at 7:48 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


The war had already started by the time the film debuted. Wilson certainly went about fighting it full-throttle, passing the Espionage and Sedition Acts to curb contrary anti-war opinions.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:53 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


Funkhouser was also responsible for getting The Sower out of public view.

What did he have agains Michael Guido?
posted by TedW at 8:01 AM on January 14


I've always felt Kaiser Permanente should be disbanded on the grounds of being a pro-Austro-Hungarian organization.
posted by Bromius at 8:05 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


Wilson certainly went about fighting it full-throttle, passing the Espionage and Sedition Acts to curb contrary anti-war opinions.

It still doesn't make sense. The American Revolution is an inherently anti-British story. But on a second reading....

"Why did the feds throw the book at Goldstein? Obviously they wanted to make an example of him; Goldstein's defiance of the censorship order seems to have infuriated Judge Bledsoe."

So it's more about the Federal government wanting to exercise its (emergency war) power over free speech than concern about relations with Britain.
posted by three blind mice at 8:09 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


So it's more about the Federal government wanting to exercise its (emergency war) power over free speech than concern about relations with Britain.

Thank goodness we live in more enlightened times and don't have to worry about such tyrannies.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:22 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]


That Chicago censor probably would not have been thrilled with this joke.
posted by SlepnerLaw at 8:41 AM on January 14


three blind mice: "Now wait a fucking minute. "America's new ally against the Kaiser." What the hell?

Britain started the war against Germany. It was Britain who declared war on the Kaiser.
"
Britain declared war on the German Empire when it invaded neutral Belgium, as it promised to. The German campaign in Belgium, along with the sinking of neutral maritime commerce, transformed the war in the United States the from just another European squabble like the previous Franco-Prussian War into a war against everything the United States had been trying to accomplish internationally since its inception. Namely the promotion of democracy, the sanctity of international commerce, the protection of small countries, home rule, and varying degrees of progressive de-colonialization. It really was weird that suddenly Britain was genuinely a natural ally to American aims rather than the anxiously decaying competitor everyone was expecting it to continue to be.
three blind mice: "It was Wilson who tried hard as hell to keep America neutral. Britain was never "America's new ally against the Kaiser" it was, as my son says, "other way around."

So why would Wilson throw this guy in jail for producing an anti-British film? Wilson was pretty anti-British himself and would have been happy to keep America out of the war.
"
Wilson was virulently antiwar through his first term, opposed by Republicans led by Teddy Roosevelt in not building up the army, and tried desperately to mediate everything despite being ignored by all sides. However, he clearly wasn't at all forced into the war by Republicans in his second term and once he made up his mind was conspicuously fully committed to it. The film was released a month after Wilson's Declaration of War speech, where you can read his opinion yourself.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:16 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]


Creel Committee.
posted by marienbad at 10:20 AM on January 14


three blind mice: "So it's more about the Federal government wanting to exercise its (emergency war) power over free speech than concern about relations with Britain."
You've missed the point, it was neither. The American international relationship to Britain was solidly irrelevant to either Wilson or the progress of the war, the British government was desperate enough for as much American participation in the war as they could get that they would and did put up with all manner of shit from the US. Censoring this film and promoting cultural efforts to romanticize Britain and English culture, really, had nothing to with Britain and everything to do with selling the war against the Central powers to an American public that was still deeply suspicious of the British Empire and ambivalent towards anything that would protect it.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:14 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]


I wonder if Metellus Lucullus Cicero Funkhouser was the inspiration for Wolfgang Amadeus Thelonius von Funkenmeister the Nineteenth and Three Quarters?
posted by bakerina at 5:08 PM on January 14


When I edited a magazine about American history we ran an interesting article on this subject. There's also a book about it.
posted by Man-Thing at 5:24 AM on January 15


(Thanks, Man-Thing)

Hollywood was just bending over backwards to promote the war, and as many of the honchos were first generation German with loyalty to prove, they were perhaps more compliant than a deeper rooted Anglo might have been.

It would appear that the Major was not totally unsubtle. From Variety:

THAT CHICAGO CENSOR.

Chicago, July 3, 1917.

"The Little American," the newest Mary Pickford feature and thought to be the most stirring picture she has made since producing independently, was denied a permit to exhibit in this city, by the local censor board headed by Major Funkhouser.

The announcement of its rejection was made last Friday and in a newspaper interview the morals officer revealed a hostile attitude toward the Pickford effort.

The reason apparently is that "The Little American" is too intensely anti-German, and as a considerable percentage of Chicago's population is of Teutonic extraction racial trouble might result from its exhibition.

The story of the film concerns an American girl (Miss Pickford) who goes to France to nurse an aunt, ill from exposure after being submarined, and who finds herself in her chateau, a hotbed of war-crazed • German soldiers. The latter are supposed to commit outrages and it was that feature that probably grained against Major Funkhouser. However one of the local critics says the film, which was directed by Cecil De Mille, is without doubt a masterpiece of direction, acting and photography."

The Artcraft was to have released the picture here Monday, though it had been advertised to open at the Studebaker on Sunday.

The Douglas Fairbanks picture 'Wild and Woolly" was held over a second week instead.

The ruling of Major Funkhouser does not affect the picture in other Illinois cities, as many of the latter have their own censors or depend on the National censorship board.

Today's Examiner carries a two column editorial attacking Major Funkhouser with strong invective for banning the Pickford pictures, saying the ruling is imbecilic.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:27 AM on January 16


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