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Thursday, 3 March 1927

Senator GUTHRIE (Victoria) . - I rose to congratulate the Government on its readiness, as expressed yesterday, to appoint a royal commission to investigate the picture-film industry in Australia, which, in my opinion, requires to be probed to its very foundations. But the Minister has now submitted an amendment providing for the appointment of a select committee from the two Houses, instead of a royal commission as proposed by Senator Grant. I am not able to say whether a joint committee will be as effective as a royal commission in obtaining evidence on oath regarding the industry in all its branches. If, however, the Minister can assure me that a select committee will have as much power as a royal commission, I shall be pleased to support the amendment.

Senator Crawford - A select committee will have practically the same powers as a royal commission.

Senator GUTHRIE - Will it be able to take evidence on oath?

Senator Crawford - Yes.

Senator GUTHRIE - I hope that a strong committee will be appointed to make the inquiry indicated, because I take the view that, as the industry is conducted at present, it is an absolute menace to the Empire. I am aware that some people will suggest that I am exaggerating the danger, but after a careful study of the industry in all its aspects I honestly believe that both as regards the prestige and trade of the Empire, as well as the moral well-being of its peoples, the film industry as conducted abroad is a menace. The Minister having assured me that a joint committee will have full poweer to take evidence on oath, I intend to support the amendment, and I congratulate the Ministry upon its action.

Senator Thompson - If there is any credit in the proposal at all give it to Senator Grant.

Senator GUTHRIE - I do not care to whom the credit is given. I understand that some people hold that those who think with me on this subject are making too much of the danger. If they study the position, and familiarize themselves with the character of some of the pictures that are being sent to Australia and the other dominions, but which are rejected by the censors even with their present limited powers, they, too, will realize the seriousness of the position from an Empire point of view as well as from its moral aspect. Having to a large extent led the attack upon the American combines, I naturally expected that abuse and ridicule would be levelled at me in some sections of the press - not the leading newspapers, I am glad to say - which seem to be working in the interests of these powerful American organizations. In view of the many unfair and unscrupulous statements made about me in some newspapers in Australia, America, and elsewhere, I should like to say that, believing that I could do more to help to clean up the picture industry if I were not financially interested in it, I have studiously refrained from becoming in any way connected with it. I have not, nor do I intend to have, a farthing in vested in it, either directly or indirectly. For the information of some honorable senators who apparently do not agree with me on this subject, I should like to read one of the ' resolutions carried by the

Economic Sub-Commitee of the Imperial Conference in England recently -

Recognizing that it is most important that a larger increasing proportion of nlms exhibited throughout the Empire should be of Empire production, the Conference commends the matter for the consideration of the Empire Governments, with a view to early and effective action to deal with the serious situation now existing.

The report went on to emphasize that the proportion of British films shown throughout the British Empire was only 5 per cent, in Great Britain, 8 per cent, in Australia, 10 per cent, in New Zealand, and 1.3 per cent, in Canada; the balance of the films shown being of foreign and chiefly American manufacture. The Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce), in his speech yesterday, inferred that in my criticism of American films 1 was especially attacking American people. I have no desire to do that. I am in no way anti-American, but it is just as well for us to know the class of films which the American producers are turning out. Naturally, they " boost " their own country, and they do it very effectively. For this they are to be commended. They are alive to the fact that trade follows the film, and, consequently, they largely advertise their resources by means of moving pictures. They do not lose sight of the fact that throughout the world 100,000,000 people attend picture theatres every day. Even in this sparselypopulated country there were 100,000,000 attendances at picture theatres last year. It is estimated that 20 per cent, of the white population of the British Empire last year attended picture theatres. Moving pictures provide the most popular form of entertainment to-day. Ve do not blame the American people for knowing that, nor do we blame them for having perfected their organization for the production and distribution of their films. I object to American films only when they flagrantly' distort historical facts, or when, as so often happens, they are of an antiBritish character. I regret that Senator Pearce yesterday suggested that, in my criticism of the film industry, T was making a bitter attack upon American films in general. I did nothing of the kind. I recognize that American producers are very clever, and I admit that with their powerful organizations they produce many of the best pictures obtainable at the present time. But whilst they produce many good pictures, they also film a great deal of rubbish. On this subject the Economic Sub-Committee of the Imperial Conference urged -

That the Governments of the various parts of the Empire should encourage the production of films within the Empire by (1) effective Customs duty on foreign films; (2) ample preference or free entry for films produced within the Empire; (3) legislation to prevent "blind" or "block" booking; (4) the imposition of requirements as to renting or exhibition of a minimum quota of British films.

Recently the Victorian Government passed legislation making it compulsory for 2,000 feet of British Empire films to be included in every picture programme. As the average length of a film is about 14,000 feet, the proportion of British films demanded is not very great, but the action taken by the Victorian Government is a step in the right direction, particularly since it provides, further, that 1,000 feet of the British Empire films shall be made in Australia. One newspaper, which is entitled Anyones or No-ones, in its attack on this measure, describes as hysterical the applause of the Victorian Government - the principal supporter of which is Senator Guthrie, who is grinding an axe as big as himself in his advocacy of Empire films.

That statement is untrue. I have no axe to grind. My only purpose is to try to do some good for the British Empire, and for this great country in which we live, by advocating the production of films within the Empire that will deal with some of its great traditions, as well as depict its scenic grandeur. No part of the world is better suited to the production of films than Australia. The race from which we have sprung has the most glorious traditions in all fields and activities throughout history, and my one desire is to do something to promote its welfare. I realize the very small part which I, as an individual, can play in this great movement, and how comparatively little any one man can do ; but I am glad to see that there is a worldwide desire for the production of cleaner and better films. This newspaper, or Noones, says -

Senator Guthrie,who keeps his film activities extremely quiet on this side, has evidently been burning the midnight oil with the formation of the Empire Film Distributing Agency 'particulars of which have reached us via the British trade press) which is crowing over the Victorian legislation, providing that all exhibitors show a minimum of 2,000 feet of British Empire film in every programme.

Fortunately most of the newspapers of Australia are behind the movement to endeavour to cleanse the film industry as well as to encourage its development throughout the Empire. There is an interesting cartoon in the Bulletin of the 24th February, showing how some persons change their opinions. It is of Sir Victor Wilson, who, when a member of the Senate in 1922, said that picture shows had, in many instances, become the curse of a country. The comment of the Bulletin is, " but as president of the motion picture distributors in 1926 he asserted that the vogue of the movies ' had been accompanied by a very considerable reduction in crime in New South Wales." It seems to be a popular form of employment for many expoliticians to join up with these huge combines, which are out to prevent the expansion of the industry throughout the Empire, including Australia. The Bulletin goes on to show that the "movies," as Americans call them, have had a very damaging effect upon the moral well-being of the people, particularly the children. If we were to consult tha records of the Police Department, we should be informed that the number of juvenile crimes in the community had increased enormously owing to the bad effect of pictures, which so often depict a criminal as being more or less of a hero. The Bulletin continues -

In point of fact, the New South Wales crime statistics showed a persistent increase between. 1920 and 1925, particularly in respect of juvenile crime. The Police Department now reports that there were further heavy increases last year.

That, of course, entirely disproves Sir Victor Wilson's assertion that the picture shows have not been harmful to the child mind. I applaud the many newspapers from which I could quote for the splendid stand they have taken in support of the production of films within the Empire, which could be shown for the benefit of our own people even if they could not be exhibited in other countries. I could quote the Bulletin, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age, the Sun Pictorial, and other newspapers which have dealt very effectively with this question, and have shown the damage which is being done to the moral well-being of our people bv the class of pictures that has been admitted into Australia. Of the American films imported last year, 50 per cent, had to be cut by the censor, who is doing splendid work with the limited power he enjoys, and who says that many imported films, although not actually obscene, are not in the interests of the moral well-being of the people. He further states that the average American film is misleading from an educational and trade point of view. The general opinion of the Australian press and the people of the Commonwealth, is that the Commonwealth censor's powers should be extended, and I am hoping that the evidence that will be tendered to the proposed committee will convince honorable senators that it is necessary to give the censor even greater powers, not with the intention of being hostile to any nation, but to prevent the introduction of obscene films which can have only a demoralizing effect on the minds of the young people. A great many films are disgustingly suggestive, and tend to deal at unnecessary length with sex questions. Those of us who have seen the filthy films which the Commonwealth Censor has rejected - some of which, he says in his report, were so flagrantly filthy that instead of returning them to the country of origin, he burned them - realize the necessity for a very strict censorship and an inquiry into the operations of the industry. We not only wish to cleanse the industry, but to encourage the production and exhibition of British pictures. Apparently, some of the showmen here are so dominated by the American combines, and so much under the control of an American producing combine, that one big firm has booked up a three-years' supply of films from one producing house in the United States of America, and. it is doubtful if those who have made such arrangements will be permitted to exhibit British pictures. Some very remarkable and beautiful pictures have been produced within the British Empire, but it is most unlikely that many, if any, of them will be made available to Australian picture theatre patrons by certain more or less tied houses. We have never seen in Australia the beautiful British picture entitled "Mons," or "The Zeebrugge Raid," which depicts one of the most wonderful exploits in British history. There are also other pictures entitled "Ypres," " Armentieres," as well as that illustrating the Prince of Wales's world tour, which we have not seen.

SenatorFoll. - I think " Mons " is now being shown here.

Senator GUTHRIE - I believe so, but only after much difficulty. It is always difficult to arrange for British pictures to be shown in any important picture theatre. When that wonderful film entitled " Romantic India " was brought to Australia it could be shown only in those theatres which were not within the recognized circuits. The picture based on Dicken's beautiful story, " A Tale of Two Cities," a marvellous production, with Sir Martin Harvey as the principal actor, was also shown only in outside theatres. It seems almost impossible to arrange for British pictures to be shown in many of the leading Australian picture theatres, but I am hoping that we are gradually creating such an atmosphere that people will insist upon the big combines, which have some of the exhibitors under their thumb, including in their programme a fair proportion of British productions. According to a press report, the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Pearce) said it was the desire of the Government to assist as far as possible in the development of film production within the Empire. He went on to say -

It wouldbe noted that the number of rejected films had increased, whilst the number passed after eliminations had decreased. That result followed on the censorship's policy to reject outright films which were radically bad.

Despite the censorship, he said, there had been no general improvement. Senator Pearce is also reported as having said that I had directed attention to the propaganda aspect of the film industry. I have not taken any objection to the clever use of the films for trade propaganda purposes by the Americans, but I do object to many of the films produced in America which depicts Britons as cowards, fools, and renegades, and British officers running from the enemy. There is also a production showing a Royal roue falling off his horse; and another in which the impression is conveyed that America won the war in 2 hours and 10 minutes. That picture is entitled " The Big Parade." I previously took exception to it, after witnessing a private screening, and I understand it is now to be shown after a certain amount of censoring. At the very commencement there is an insult to every ex-soldier of the British Empire who left home to fight for his country. It commences by suggesting that the war started in 1917-" 1917 ! All was Peace and Quietness ! And then War Came ! " - although at that time the British casualities numbered 3,000,000.

Senator Foll - There was peace and quietness in the United States of America at that time.

Senator GUTHRIE - Yes ; but the picture does not suggest that. It depicts cow-boys joining up, but it does not show them being transported to Francein British ships, convoyed by vessels of the British fleet. Neither does it mention that the American army was supplied with British equipment, and even with aeroplane engines manufactured in British factories. I do not intend to criticize the efforts of the Americans in the war, although they were verylate in comingin; but with a population of 115,000,000, they lost only some 36,000, whilst Australia, with a population, at that time, of little more than 5,000,000, lost 60,000 men. As " The Big Parade " shows only one flag, and suggests thatonly one nation was opposing the German forces, picture-show patrons, particularly children, would think that the great war was fought and won by the Americans.' This is the sort of thing that I strongly object to. Pictures showing the glorious traditions of our race are black-balled by the American combines.

Senator Thompson - A very beautiful British picture, entitled " The Happy Ending," has recently been shown here, and the honorable senator should give them credit for that.

Senator GUTHRIE - I do, butI am directing attention to the fact that we should create a desire for the production arid exhibition of good British pictures.

Senator Thompson -i do not agree with the honorable senator's comments concerning " The Big Parade."

Senator GUTHRIE -From a photographic view-point it is a wonderful production, but apart from that very little can be said in its favour. Hundreds of British pictures, perfect in technique and excellently photographed, cannot get a footing in this country. If a committee is appointed it will, I think, bring out some startling facts. It will show that the industry here, as well as in other parts of the Empire, is to a large extent in the hands of a huge, wealthy, and well-organized American combine. I do not object to their boosting their own country, but I strongly protest against historical facts being distorted, and Britishers being ridiculed or depicted as fools, cowards, and degenerates. By means of the cinema we should present to our children at their most impressionable age the glorious deeds and traditions of the Empire to which we and they are fortunate to belong. In the interests of the British Empire, the future of the industry and the moral well being of our people, I support the proposal for the appointment of a sub-committee to investigate the film industry.

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