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Wednesday, 11 August 1926


Senator GUTHRIE (Victoria) . - I am very pleased that the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) will shortly be leaving Australia to attend the Imperial Conference, which will open in London on 19th of October next. Australia will be worthily represented at that important gathering. I am particularly gratified that the Prime Minister of Great Britain has decided that the production 'and exhibition of films in the British Empire is of such national importance that it occupies fifth place on the agenda paper. In this matter we have been given a good lead by His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, who has been responsible for the establishment in Britain of the British National Film League. Presiding at a meeting of that league recently the Prince said -

It is well worth the British nation's while to take the film industry seriously and to develop it to its utmost as a national industry. The British National Film League is to be congratulated, not only on its idea of organizing these British film weeks, to inaugurate which we are met here to-day, but also on the moment it has chosen to inaugurate them. It is up to us to see that the British film pictures . . . take their due place in the theatres of the world, and particularly on British screens.

It is as well that we should realize that the film-producing companies in the United States of America have practically captured the markets of the world and are using the moving pictures for propaganda along the lines of American thought and for the cultivation of American ideals, particularly amongst the rising generation of all countries. They are' clever enough to know that trade follows the films. We cannot blame them for taking advantage of the wonderful opportunity that is presented to them per medium of the film. Comparatively few people realize its -remarkable advertising value. Figures relating to the industry are most impressive. Americans speak of picture shows as " movies." It is estimated that 100,000,000 people attend movie shows every day in the different countries of the world. It is known, further, that 50,000,000 people attend the movies in the United States of America weekly, and that the box ' office receipts total £100,000,000 a year. The figures relating to Australia axe equally startling. Though we have a population of only 6,000,000 of people, last year over 100,000,000 people paid for admission to picture 'theatres throughout the Commonwealth. It is estimated that every man, woman, and child in the British Empire attended the movies 20 times last year. That America has a stranglehold on the industry is seen in the fact that last year American companies exported 200,000^000 feet of films, which, as I have said, are used so extensively for American propaganda. Australia imported and paid for 1,753 American films.

Ninety-five per cent, of the pictures shown in the Mother Country and 96 per cent. of. the pictures shown in Australia last year were of American production. They are shown not only in the heart of the Empire, but in every town and hamlet throughout' our far-flung dominions. We cannot blame the Americans, because by this means they are increasing their prestige and trade throughout the world, even to the extent of crippling the prestige and trade of other nations. It is unfortunate that associated with American pictures is a great deal of an antiBritish propaganda. The producers are not satisfied to flaunt the Stars and Stripes, but according to their pictures the heroes and heroines in every walk of life, be it commerce, art, science, sport, or war, are Americans. In many of their films, as in their plays, the fools, rogues, inefficients, and cowards, are almost invariably depicted as Britishers. I recently witnessed in Melbourne a clever American play entitled " The Best People." It was amusing and well acted ; but, unfortunately, the coward and fool of the piece was depicted as an English lord who was kicked out of the room many times by a little drunken " weed," the son of an American millionaire, whom 99 out of every 100 Britishers could have put across their knees and smacked. This propaganda is so persistent that our children are beginning to wonder whether the power of the Empire is waning. I have taken the trouble, with the assistance of many eminent citizens, men and women, to ascertain the nature of the pictures exhibited to Australian children on Saturday after.noons, and the influence they have on their minds. They are beginning to think that the British Empire, after all, is not the power that counts to-day, but that the heroes and heroines who won the war and have done everything else worth while are Americans; in fact that the old Mother Country is decadent. Many of the pictures are not in the interests of the moral wellbeing of our children. As Professor Wallace said in his official report, the films are frequently of a very doubtful character. Is it not time that we Britishers bestirred ourselves, and realized the great power of the films, and the inevitable effect of this anti-British propaganda? We should take steps to show the people of our own- Empire, and particularly of our own country, something of the glorious traditions and deeds of our own race. We should have pictures illustrating the size and wonders of the British Empire, and the advantages enjoyed by Australia as an important part of the commonwealth of free nations that we delight to call the British Empire. I claim that the picture industry as it exists to-day is a menace to the prestige of our Empire and of the white race. It is in the grip of foreign combines.

Miles of films were excised by the cen.sor last year, and the parts excised were of a most degrading character. They were an insult to the intelligence and moral sense of the Australian people. It is essential for the. British Empire and the white races generally to uphold the prestige of white women and white men. Those of us who saw the films that were censored will remember that they depicted white women being sold as slaves to black men. We saw white women being disposed of at auction to Indians, Arabians, and negroes. When not submissive they were often whipped by coloured people, and submitted to lustful brutality. Films of this nature are being shown in India and the East, and they must have a most damaging effect upon the prestige of the white races. Australia is a big island continent in the Pacific, with an undefended coast line of 12,000 miles. We hold the richest, and one of the most tempting lands in the world, and we have rightly determined to retain it as a white man's country. In India the coloured population out-numbers the whites by 1,000 to one. There, white women, and also white men, have been rightly placed upon a pedestal; but visualize the effect there of pictures showing the degradation of white women as the property of black men S


Senator Foll - I do not think that such films would help the United States of America much . with its own coloured problem.


Senator GUTHRIE - Possibly they are not shown in America, but we know that they are displayed elsewhere. How often do we see crude, lewd, suggestive American films in Australian picture halls? The criminal is held up as the hero 'of the piece; the clever burglar is shown entering a house and making off with the spoils. I dare say that if we asked the Criminal Investigation Department of Victoria the cause of the increase in dime, especially among children, the answer would be that it is due largely to the class of pictures witnessed by the youth of this country.'' The standard of morality in this regard has, sunk low in America. In that country' there is much to admire, but the almightly dollar is apparently the chief god. In only six of the 45 States is a censorship exercised over films. In New York State it is now proposed that the censorship should be removed. I have no desire to curtail the amusement of the rising generation; but has our own Empire no traditions, no prestige, no flag? Have we no standard of morality and no heroes ? We are proud that our Empire comprises nearly one-fourth of known lands, and that onefourth of the total population of the world pays homage to the Union Jack. No empire has been so powerful or made such strides, in literature, exploration, colonization, heroism, athletics, and scholastic achievements as ours. No empire has such scenic grandeur. Loyal Australians are proud to know that no part of the world is more suitable for the production of high-class films than their own country. We have an ideal climate, wonderful scenery, tradition and achievement, and our fauna and flora are unique. We are proud of the deeds of our pioneers, who came to this country in cockle-shells of boats over 100 years ago, and blazed the trail through the Australian bush. They faced great hardships and eventually won through. We are justly proud of the record of the Australian soldiers. I am glad that- their' incomparable, acts of heroism-.in the landing at Gallipoli are to be depicted on the film serpen. Although we will be faced '.with difficulties in combating the foreign picture combines, we can. at least remind our own children of that memorable episode of the Great War. The world has been shown a picture called " The Great Parade," an American production depicting how America won the war.- Honorable senators were privileged to see it at the censor's office. The screening- took two .hours. At the beginning we saw, " In 1917 all was peace and quietness, and then war came." The war began in. 1917 ! The film then shows the men- of the' United States, cowboys and others, rushing to the Stairs and Stripes. It shows them- leaving their native shores, but it does not show them being transported in British' vessels convoyed by British warships. Nor does it state that every American' soldier's steel helmet was made in Manchester and his rifle in some part of Englan'd. f It does not state that not one of ' their *' Liberty " aeroplanes was fit to enter' the fighting zone. All it does is to show"' how America won the war. ' Fortunately,, that picture has not been liberated in Australia. I have received letters from many " diggers " telling me what they would do if it were shown in this country. I should not blame them for doing what they threaten. One of the bravest and most romantic incidents of all time was the Zeebrugge raid, in which the Vindictive took a splendid part. That incident has been filmed by a British company, but it has not been shown to the world. Yet pictures like " The Great Parade " are shown in every country. Another picture which has been exhibited throughout the world shows the German fleet surrendering to the American navy at Scapa Flow ! The irony of it ! British producers also produced a wonderful picture" showing the battle of Ypres, but it was banned in the United States. Que would have thought that the people of that country would not object to a British film, depicting some of the great battles, being shown in their country; but no; it was banned because the Americans were not there. The people of the United States see only those films which are produced in their own country. I desire to pay a tribute to the work performed by the Commonwealth film censor in Melbourne,

Professor Wallace. He has a very difficult task to perform under' the powers that are conferred on him, but he is doing his work honestly and well. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten), who has some jurisdiction over the production and export of films, if. not over their importation, is also doing good work. The work performed by the Commonwealth film censor is so important that it might be wise to enact further legislation giving him extended powers. Of the feature films imported into Australia in 1925, the censor rejected 1,757,849 feet. Complete films of a length of 8,359,537 feet were passed, and an additional 9,104,522 feet were passed after portions had been eliminated. More than half of the feature films produced in America and sent to Australia were so bad that they were rejected, or passed only after cuts were made in them. Some of the films were of so filthy a nature that they were not even returned to the United States, but were burned at the censor's office. Such films are an insult to the Australian people. Do the American producers think that our morals are so low that we would permit such pictures to be shown to our children? Notwithstanding the heavy cuts made in some films, the censor, because of his limited powers, has been forced to pass much which I and many others consider should not be exhibited in Australian theatres. Many people who would patronize picture shows as a cheap and convenient form of amusement now stay away because of the doubtful character of many of the pictures exhibited. In his report, the Commonwealth censor states: -

Generally speaking, the censors always delete assaults on women, indecent and vulgar attitudes, " first-night-of -marriage " scenes, prostitution, drug-taking, excessive brutality in any form, executions, murders if depicted in revolting detail, travesties of religion, the advocacy of free love, scenes' of child-birth, excessive shooting, and scenes in brothels. In recent months it has been found necessary to take a more decided stand against films which represent criminals as heroic persons.

These are not pleasant things to refer to, but they show the necessity for a strict censorship. When in America, I found that many of the people there looked upon all Australians as the descendants of convicts, and therefore of no account. The censor's report continues -

There are scenes in the films which sin grievously against good taste, but which the censors cannot rule out under the present regulations.

Some of the advertisements sent out with the pictures for exhibition on the hoardings are worse than the films themselves. I have here a number of " catch lines " suggested to Australian exhibitors for exhibition on hoardings and for newspaper advertisements. Some of them are so lurid that I do not desire to dwell on them, but I feel that I must mention some. They read as follows: -

Catchlines for advertising, programmes, Heralds, and throwaways: - '"Husbands and Demi-husbands"; "Mistress versus Wife"; " Marriage is a game of give and take - give up your freedom and take the consequences " ; "He thought a woman was overdressed if she wore a wedding ring"; "Sex is the curse of men and the currency of women"; "Boldly conceived episodes and situations to keep you guessing " ; " Can two live just as freely as one"; and so on.

I shall not disgust the Senate by reading further. Another column in the publication from which these catch lines have been extracted is headed " Teasers," and contains statements which are more, lewd than those I have quoted. It is unfortunate that one has to take this stand in the interests of the moral well-being of our people, especially our children; but it is our duty, as public men, to face facts, and to speak the truth without fear or favour. There is no doubt that these great picture combines, which are possessed of enormous wealth as well as great organizing ability, will do their best to make it hard for men like Senator Grant, myself, and others, who are prepared to say what we think of their productions. But I am not afraid of their threats. In Germany the picture industry has been protected to some extent. The Germans are the only people who, so far, have attempted to fight the great American picture combines. Germany has passed a law providing that 50 per cent, of the programmes in all picture theatres in that country must comprise pictures made in Germany.


Senator Grant - A good idea.


Senator GUTHRIE - Yes. Moreover, the German law provides that for every film imported into that country, a German film must be sent to the country whence it came. I understand that under this arrangement, although the United States of America buys a number of German films, they are not always produced there. Practically no British films are ever exhibited in the United States of America. The Victorian Parliament is the only State Parliament in Australia which has taken any steps to encourage the Australian picture film industry. A bill has been introduced to that Parliament providing that in every programme, 1,000 feet of film must be of Australian production. That is a step in the right direction; but when we remember that at each exhibition 14,000 or 15,000 feet of film is shown, the proportion is not nearly great enough. Unfortunately, most of the picture showmen in Australia are in the grip of the' American combine, and they are forced to make that. 1,000 feet comprise what is known as Gazette. Frequently, the worst 1,000 feet of Australian film procurable is shown, with the result that at times the Australian portion of the evening's entertainment is hooted, because ii compares so unfavorably with the more attractive films produced in the United* States of America. I am glad that throughout the British Empire there is a movement, led by the Prince of Wales, and backed by influential persons, to encourage the production in the British Empire, by Britishers, of films depicting the true history and deeds of Britishers. Is not our Empire the greatest in the world? Are not its history, its literature,' its deeds of heroism and exploration, its" colonization, invention, science, commerce, its scenery, and everything that is essential to the production of the most attractive pictures, the best that the world can give? I am glad to say that the people behind this movement are determined to produce pictures in the British Empire, and to show them in the British Empire, even should they not be powerful enough to force their exhibition in other countries. An important branch of the company, with a capital of probably £500,000. is, I understand, to be formed in Australia. Honorable senators realize that to fight the American picture combines: money is needed. Fortunately, there are sufficient public-spirited men in Australia who view this project, not merely as an investment, but also as one of national importance, and who are prepared to devote their money and time to it in the interests of the British Empire. The Australian company proposes to establish in Sydney an up-to-date studio, which will be available for every producer, however poor or small he may be. Some very clever young men and women have produced good pictures in Australia, but they have not had sufficient capital to guarantee continuity of supply, and their productions have been frozen out by the combine which controls the picture theatres, and either pays them a paltry price, or screens their pictures at the commencement or end of the programme. If a company is formed, the poorest producer will have the right to hire its studio, and will not be charged an exorbitant rate. Australian producers have had a very lean time. They have had to combat what is known as the block booking system. Although the combine does not own the whole of the picture theatres in Australia, the proprietors are not at liberty to choose what films they will take. They must book a year ahead, and accept what is sent them. They are, therefore, entirely at the mercy of the combine. It may be argued that a large amount of profit is being made by the combine in Australia, because picture theatres are invariably crowded. I point out that 60 per cent, of the takings of the picture theatres is sent to America, the amount annually being between £4,000,000 and £5,000,000. There are numbers of good actors and actresses in this country, but no one with sufficient capital has stood behind them, and they have not had an opportunity to show what they are capable of doing. They have been forced to go to America in the past in order to make a living. It may be contended that the United States of America purchases some of our products. Certainly a small proportion of our wool is bought by that country because they cannot get such good wool elsewhere; but what encouragement is given to that trade? We impose a duty of Id. or l£d. on their films, but they charge ls. a pound on our wool. The balance of trade in favour of America and against Australia is equal to £35,000,000 per annum. I blame, not the Americans, but our own people for their lack of loyalty to Australian produce. We should build up an Australian sentiment, and should preach and practise pride in the Empire and Australia. When it was suggested that the British Empire Film Producing and Dis- tributing Company should be formed, opponents of the movement wrote to the press stating that it was impossible to produce pictures in the Empire. The. secretary of a theatrical union in Melbourne, who evidently took his instructions from the combine, .actually wrote to the Melbourne press stating that Great Britain had not sufficient money to enable her to make pictures. Ye Gods and little fishes! Our great Empire contains one-fourth of the population of the world. Its capital has been used more extensively in the development of the world than that of any other country. It did more to win the world war than any other nation. Great Britain lent Russia, Italy, France, Belgium, and other countries huge sums of money. Although it did not lend money to the United States of America, it equipped her soldiers, who were eventually sent to the war, with helmets, rifles, and aeroplanes. Britain is the only combatant nation that so far has made any attempt to repay its war debts. It is an insult to the intelligence of our people for any one to say that Great Britain has not sufficient money to make pictures, and it shows to what depths some persons are prepared to descend. Great Britain undertook the role of guarantor for weaker nations to the extent of hundreds of millions of pounds, so that they could purchase munitions from the United States of America, and she is repaying in gold those debts, which are not really her debts, to that country. In addition, she is foolishly sending across there £35,000,000 annually for. picture films. These little Australians who have no faith in their country, their Empire, or their fellow men and women, are a menace to Australia. They are either frightened, or are paid by the com:bine. The picture film combine is as big a menace as, and has a greater grip on Australia than the petrol combine. It is a powerful antagonist, because of its great wealth. During the war, the United States of America did not " dig in " at Flanders until late in 1917. But it dug into the picture film industry so firmly that it will be very difficult for any company to obtain a footing outside the British Empire. If we follow the German example by passing a law making it obligatory for 50 per cent, of the picture films that are screened in Australia to be produced "within the Empire the industry will flourish, expand, and be profitable, giving employment to thousands of people in the Old Country, and 4,000 or 5,000 in Australia. The American producers admit that, prior to the war, some of the best pictures were those produced in Great Britain. The war broke out in 1914, not 1917. Great Britain's casualties numbered millions of men by 1917. Even Australia had 50,000 deaths before the United States of America sent her soldiers into the fighting line. That nation took advantage of the fact that the men and women of Great Britain who were not at the Front were fully employed in the manufacture of munitions and other necessaries of war. They had no time to develop the picture film industry. Consequently the United States of America had a clear field to organize thoroughly, and they obtained a strangle-hold on the industry.


Senator Payne - The American picture combine has successfully evaded the payment of taxation in Australia.


Senator GUTHRIE - I am pleased to receive that interjection. This Parliament foolishly rejected the proposal to increase the duty on imported films. I do not argue that the higher duty would have kept out those films, but I do say that it would have lent encouragement to the production of films in Australia. Substantial preference should be given to pictures that are produced within our Empire. Mr. Lang, the Premier of New South Wales, had an act passed providing for the payment of taxation on . the gross takings of picture theatres, but those assessments have never been sent out. I suppose the combine would have no difficulty in proving that no profit was made, by invoicing the pictures at an extraordinarily high price. This matter is to be discussed at the forthcoming Imperial Conference. I feel sure the Australian Government will lend its support to any company that is formed for the purpose of producing films within the Empire. . A company can be formed that will be in a' position to fight the great combine. If only a percentage of the pictures that are produced were screened, the venture would be profitable. Those who are behind the movement are determined to recapture some of the Empire's lost trade and prestige. In no way can that be more readily done than by producing and exhibiting pictures of which we shall be proud; that will amuse, educate, elevate, and at least be clean and fair. Some persons still contend that we are not able to do it. If honorable senators peruse the columns of the Sydney Bulletin, the Melbourne Age, the Melbourne Argus, and other newspapers, and study the statistics relating to the production of pictures in Australia, they will find that, with a very limited capital, a number of pictures have been produced in this country that have proved a financial success. Although big studios and financial backing were lacking, pictures such as " The Mystery of a Hansom Cab," were produced at a cost of between £2,000 and £3,000, and returned to the producers between £10,000 and £12,000. If a good studio could be equipped in Sydney or elsewhere at a cost of, say, from £200,000 to £300,000, a great deal more could be done. Our climate is suited to the production of pictures. Some of the best artists who are helping to produce pictures in the United States of America to-day are Australians. They can be brought back to this country. We could also obtain the services of the best producers and artists from the Old Country, and, if necessary, from the United States of America. We do not want to dig in the cesspools of history for our material. What a romantic picture could be built around the events that have occurred in Australia from the landing of Captain Cook to the opening of the Federal Capital city by the Duke of York at Canberra! What a romantic picture could be produced under the title of " Sir Ross Smith Conquers Space," depicting the wonderful flight from England to Australia of the late Sir Ross Smith and Sir Keith Smith as a foundation! With all our glorious traditions and conditions, why should it be necessary to import American producers, actors, and actresses to present, for instance, The Term of Bis Natural Life? That story is a black blot upon British history, and also on Australia. The story, which is 100 years old, is to be revived in order to show how persons guilty of small offences were cruelly and tyrannically treated by being placed in irons in dungeon snips and the dark cells. As we are often told that we are descendants of convicts, people in other countries who see that picture will naturally think that we have sprung from the type depicted, which, of course, is not true. Australians are descended from heart and branch families of the Old Country. It will also be said that Britishers settle their dominions with such persons, and that migrants coming to Australia will have to associate with and possibly marry the descendants of convicts. God knows, we need an increased population to help develop and defend this country, but migration is not likely to be assisted if The Term of Eis Natural Life is shown in other countries. Some honorable senators might think that I hold extreme views on this subject, but I honestly believe that it would be most harmful for American producers to come to Australia to produce a film depicting the convict system. Miss Eva Novak has, on behalf of the directors of Australian Films Limited, requested the pleasure of honorable senators at the Union Masters' Studio, Bondi Junction, on the 16th August, to view the firm The Term of His Natural Life; and afterwards to partake of supper with this lady. I expect many of lis will be present. This is very clever propaganda on the part of certain interests.


Senator Payne - Does the honorable senator intend to accept the invitation?


Senator GUTHRIE - Tes ; but I do not intend to change my views concerning the undesirability of producing the picture, which will give to the people in other countries an entirely wrong conception of Australia and Australians.


Senator Payne - Does the honorable senator suggest that he will be the only one who intends to oppose its exhibition?


Senator GUTHRIE - No; I fully expect every honorable senator to support me. Australia is a great country, and we have every reason to be proud of it. I have been around the world on two occasions, and during my travels I have been astounded to find that, although literature concerning the other dominions is available, the infor mation relating to Australia is of the most meagre character. The only paragraphs of Australian news in British newspapers refer to Australia as a land of strikes, droughts, snakes, or bush-fires. On one occasion recently, in connexion with the bush fires here, a paragraph appeared in an American newspaper under the heading of "Australia Burnt- Off the Map*" All that is published in overseas newspapers is short paragraphs concerning the prevalence of droughts or snakes or about some burglary or other crime. No indication whatever is given of the opportunities afforded to migrants, no publicity is given to the fact that many who started in Australia without a penny are now millionaires. People on the other side of the world do not realize that we produce one-half of the world's 'supply of fine wool, and an enormous quantity of the very choicest wheat, butter, fruit, and other products of a very high standard.


Senator Chapman - The honorable senator would make a good publicity agent for the Commonwealth.


Senator GUTHRIE - Yes, and I intend to advertise its potentialities through the medium of picture films which I hope will shortly be produced in this country. It is our duty to assist those who are willing to establish the industry, and who, if they receive the support of the people, will produce pictures of industry, romance, sport, and. what is most important, clean pictures which can be seen by the younger members of our community with advantage instead of harm.


Senator Duncan - Such pictures are needed.


Senator GUTHRIE -Yes. Let us help our war-weary Empire, which has done so much to assist us. [Extension of time granted.] I shall conclude by saying that the Prince of "Wales has set a fine example. The Prime Minister at the forthcoming Imperial Conference will also have a unique opportunity to support this movement. It should soon be known that it is our desire that an Empire Picture Production and Distribution Company should be formed to produce films depicting the tradition, glories, wonders, and possibilities of this great Empire. I am glad to say that many leading citizens have already promised support, and all are working in an honorary capacity.If a company is formed there will be no promoters' shares and no demand for excessive dividends. One gentleman told me that he was prepared to invest thousands of pounds in the venture, not with the idea of obtaining a substantial financial return, but with the sole object of assisting an industry which must eventually be for the benefit of the Empire, and particularly Australia. The intention of those interested in the venture here is to co-operate with those engaged in similar work in the Mother Country, and in the other dominions of our far-flung Empire. Picture films are displayed to 100,000,000 persons daily, and provide the quickest, best, and most impressive means of educating the peoples of the world.

Debate (on motion by Senator Crawford) adjourned.







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