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Wednesday, 2 March 1927

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaVicePresident of the Executive Council) . - On the 5th August, 1926, Senator Grant submitted a motion for the appointment of a royal commission to inquire into the moving picture industry generally, and in doing so delivered a very informative speech, which showed that he had devoted considerable time to the study of the subject. At different times other honorable senators have also expressed strong opinions in regard to the operations of the moving picture industry in Australia. The Government, which has now had time to give attention to the terms of the motion, has also been considering some of the facts, and it would be as well if I supplemented the figures submitted by Senator Granton the 5th August, 1926, which were then the latest available, by others showing the present position of the industry. The following facts have been suppliedby the Department of Trade and Customs: -

During the year 1926 there were imported into the Commonwealth 1,960 films of all classes - scenic, topical, educational, medical, commercial, and dramatic. The details of the importations are -


It will be seen that more than threefourths of the films imported into Australia were the product of the United States of America -

The length of each reel is approximately 1,000 feet, and as several copies of a film arc usually imported, the total number of feet of film imported was -


The figures previously given refer only to one copy -

Of these films 697 were dramatic or feature films of five reels and over. They were imported in the following numbers, with respect to the country of origin.


It will thus be seen that the United States of America supplies Australia with 93 per cent, of its feature-film requirements. This applies to practically the whole of the British Empire. This state of affairs is due in great part to the advantage American producers enjoyby reason of the enormous home market available to th em.The average weekly attendance at picture theatres in the United States of America is 50,000,000, or half the annual attendances at Australian cinemas.

One-half as many people attend pictures in America in one week as do in Australia in a year.

Thus the American film can earn its profits in the domesticmarket, and is sent abroad to gather in whatever else it can. The British or Australian film, however, has only a very limited field. The number of theatres in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States of America may be taken as 3,000, 1,200, and 15,000 respectively. It will be seen that even if a British or Australian picture got into every home theatre existing, it has little chance of making the same profit as the American film that is shown in only one out of three American theatres. The position is really worse by reason of the " block booking " system, as Senator Grant points out, many British and Australian films are precluded from exhibition in any shape or form.

I have also before me the latest report of the Chief Film Censor and the Commonwealth Censor, stationed in Sydney, who censors all films imported into Australia. In this report there are some very interesting points which I should like to bring before the Senate. I shall not quote the figures in his report, which have been given in that which I have just read from the Trade and Customs Department. Dealing with the result of his work, the Censor says -

These 1,960 films- the number I quoted from the previous report - were dealt with in the following manner: -


As many of these films were scenic or topical pictures of one ortwo reels, whereas it is the dramatic films of five reels and over, forming the bulk of the imports, with which the censorship has mostly to do, the work of the censorship is best understood by having regard not to the number of films, but to the number of reels and feet. The figures are : -

The films which chiefly concern the censorship are, as we have said, the feature or dramatic films. Of these 697 were imported in the following numbers with respect to the country of origin . -

The Censor in his report then proceeds to show what is done with rejected films, and goes on to make this comparison -

In 1925, 721 picture films were imported. Of those, 322 were passed without eliminations, 331 after eliminations, and 68 were rejected in the first instance. It will be noted that the number of rejected films has increased, while the number passed after eliminations has decreased. This result follows on the censorship's policy to reject outright films which are radically bad rather than to attempt to amend them.

He makes some very interesting comments on the present system of conducting the censorship, and expresses some opinions as to what he thinks should be done in dealing with films. I shall quote only one of his statements in this connexion : -

It is just as well to speak plainly on these matters. We have been told recently that we put the producers to much needless expense, and that the methods we adopt are not " good business." It is necessary, therefore, to make the position quite clear. What we would plead for is a little more refinement and less' vulgarity. Assuredly, there are many films which give the highest form of enjoyment presenting a good story, dramatically handled, well acted, and beautifully photographed. But there are too many which have none of these virtues. It is the business of criticism to endeavour to reduce their number.

In this connexion, it may be said that the practice of showing two feature films a night has not a little to do with the multiplication and importation of mediocre films. In by far the greater number of Australian picture theatres the nightly programme includes two features. The first feature shown is invariably of the cheapest kind, and does much to destroy any interest that the main attraction may have.

The purport of the remaining comments is that, in striving to make a film interesting, those who produce it are, apparently, of the opinion that they have to make it what is vulgarly termed " spicy." Very often, the good story which the film depicts is spoiled in this way. Moreover, there is a general tendency to appeal to the sex instinct, particularly in dramatic films, those who produce them apparently believing that there can be no real appeal to the dramatic tastes of the people in any other way. Unfortunately, such pictures are generally associated with the lowest form of sex appeal. The Censor points out that pictures in which women who have been made the victims of men's passions are shown are generally presented in such a way that, instead of inciting pity for the victims, they appeal to the lowest sex instincts of those attending the theatres. The difficulty confronting the Censor is that he cannot say definitely that such pictures are immoral. It is rather that they are vulgar. Yet the effect on the community, and especially on the younger generation, cannot be anything but harmful. That is a serious thing for any community. The vogue of the cinema is so universal, and the pictures make such a strong appeal .to th'i younger life of the community that no country can afford to allow the moral sense of its future fathers and mothers to ,be thus sapped or injured. This matter is,

There is another phase of this question to which Senator Guthrie has devoted particular attention - the use of the film for purposes' of propaganda. Personally, I have no objection to any country using picture films for that purpose; and, therefore, I do not share the views of those who have denounced picture producers in the United States of America for what is called the " American boost " in their pictures. Those producers have a. perfect right, if they so desire, to boost their own country.

Senator Duncan - The pictures are produced in the first instance for exhibition in the United States of America.

Senator PEARCE - Yes. We must cot overlook the fact that, in the first instance, those pictures are produced to meet the demands of the home market of over 110,000,000 people in the United States of America. Australia, with her 6,000,000 people, receives only the spillover, as it were. I do not think that we are wise to indulge in a tirade of abuse against the producers of pictures in the United States of America. They are following the commercial instinct, and appealing to the home market of their own people.

Senator Ogden - Senator Guthrie urged that there should be a greater production of Empire films.

Senator PEARCE - We can endeavour to stimulate Australian production without attacking the American films which come here. They come to Australia because there is a market for them here. When we realize the powerful propaganda which the cinema makes possible, and the insignificant proportion of British films exhibited in Australia, it behoves us, not to abuse the Americans, but to do something in the British Empire. In criticizing and denouncing other people when we have the same capacity that they have to produce these things within the British Empire we are wasting our time and beating the air. Within the British Empire is a variety of scenery unequalled by that of any other country. Moreover, in historical associations the Empire is unrivalled. Tho historical associations of the British Isles, India, the East and tie West Indies, Australia, New Zealand,

Senator Sampson - And awful travesties they were !

Senator PEARCE - English literature teems with examples of the home life of the Empire which, if put into films, would be both educational and interesting.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - A film depicting Oodnadatta, for instance, would be most interesting.

Senator PEARCE - The country surrounding Oodnadatta is as suitable for the making of a film as are the deserts of Arizona. Central Australia provides a setting for a film quite as good as the scenes depicted in many of the films shown in this country. Moreover, into such films could be interwoven happenings as dramatic as any of the exploits of " Bill " Hart. Unfortunately, although these opportunities exist, we do not exploit them; nothing is done. This subject has excited interest throughout the British Empire. At the Imperial Conference of 1926 it was discussed. In the appendix to the Summary of Proceedings the following statement appears on page 403 : -

The general economic sub-committee beg to make the following report to the Imperial Conference on the subject of the exhibition within the Empire of Empire cinematograph films: -

(1)   The importance and far-reaching influence of the cinema are now generally recognized. The cinema is not merely a form of entertainment, but, in addition, a powerful instrument of education in the widest sense of that term; and even where it is not used avowedly for the purpose of instruction, advertisement, or propaganda, it exercises indirectly a great influence in shaping the ideas of the very large numbers to whom it appeals. Its potentialities in this respect are almost unlimited.

Then we have the further statement -

It is a matter of the most serious concern that the films shown in the various parts of the Empire should be to such an overwhelming extent the product of foreign countries, ana that the arrangements for the distribution of such Umpirefilms as are produced should be far from adequate. In foreigncinema pictures the conditions in the several parts of the Empire and the habits of its peoples, even when represented at all, are not always represented faithfully, and at times are misrepresented.

I think we all indorse that -

Moreover, it is an undoubted fact that the constant showing of foreign scenes or settings, and the absence of any corresponding showing of Empire scenes or settings, powerfully advertises - the more effectively because indirectly - foreign countries and their products.

On page 405 the report proceeds -

Great importance is attached by the subcommittee to the larger production within the Empire offilms of high entertainment value and films of sound educational merit, and their exhibition throughout the Empire and the rest of the worldon an increasing scale. The subcommittee have considered various methods by means of which it has been suggested this object could be most usefully assisted by the Governments of the various parts of the Empire. These methods include: -

Effective Customs duties on foreign films, whether accompanied by a change in the basis on which duties are payable or otherwise;

Ample preference or free entry for films produced within the Empire;

Legislation for the prevention of " blind " and "block" booking;

The imposition of requirements as to the renting or exhibition of a minimum quota of Empire films.

The sub-committee are in full agreement as to the need for remedying the existing position and promoting the production and exhibition of Empire films, and recommend that remedial measures of the kinds indicated in the preceding paragraph should be considered by the Governments of the Empire.

The sub-committee recommended the following resolution, to which the conference subsequently agreed: -

The Imperial Conference, recognizing that it is of the greatest importance that a larger and increasing proportion of the films exhibited throughout the Empire should be of Empire production, commends the matter, and the remedial measures proposed, to the consideration of the Governments of the various parts of the Empire, with a view to such early and effective action to deal with the serious situation now existing as they may severally find possible.

The Commonwealth Government has taken into consideration the various speeches which have been delivered in Australia, indicating the local feeling which has become general, and also the report of the sub-committee of the Imperial Conference and the resolution which I have just read, and it feels that it is essential that an effort should be made in Australia to ascertain the lines upon which the Commonwealth could proceed to carry into effect what is universally desired. The subject is by no means an easy one to handle.It needs the fullest consideration. All interests concerned should be afforded the opportunity to submit their views - not only the importers, but also those who claim that they can produce films locally.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The general public should also be considered.

Senator PEARCE - That is so. With that end in view the Government has come to the conclusion that the time is ripe for, and that the subject is worthy of, the appointment of a royal commission. If the Senate passes this motion,we shall take it as a direction for the appointment of a royal commission, which will almost certainly be of a parliamentary character, to investigate and report to the Governor-General upon the situation as it exists to-day, and upon the means by which remedies can be applied.

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