THE IRON CURTAIN AND THE SILVER SCREEN
AN ADDRESS BY FRANCIS S. HARMON, LL.B.
Chairman: The President, Mr. Thos. H. Howse
Thursday, March 24th, 1949
HONOURED GUESTS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN
It is a generally accepted fact that what one sees makes a more lasting impression on the human mind than what one hears. When you combine these two methods of communication, as in the motion picture, it is easy to visualize the powerful propaganda agency which the movies can be.
Our guest of honour, Mr. Francis S. Harmon, Vice-President of the Motion Picture Association of America, has chosen as the title of his address "The Iron Curtain and the Silver Screen", which suggests that he may have something to say about Russia. We can well imagine the importance which is attached to moving pictures as propaganda, both inside Russia and elsewhere.
Mr. Harmon was born in Mississippi, served in the first world war and on his return graduated from Harvard Law School. He then became Assistant Attorney General in his native State and later editor and publisher of a daily newspaper. Mr. Harmon was elected President of the National Y.M.C.A. in 1929 and two years later became head of the International Committee of the Y.M.C.A. of the United States and Canada, in which capacity he travelled throughout North America, Europe and Asia.
Our speaker first became associated with the motion picture industry in 1937 as Executive Assistant to the President of the Motion Picture Assocations of America. He served as liaison officer between the industry and the United States Government during the war and in this capacity was closely associated also with John J. Fitzgibbons in aiding Canada's war effort. It was through Mr. Harmon that the War Finance Committee at Ottawa received such splendid co-operation from the Motion picture industry.
I take pleasure in presenting Mr. Francis Stuart Harcoon, Vice-President of the Motion Picture Association of America and Vice-President of the Motion Picture export Association.
Mr. President, fellow members of the world community of nations, my friends of the motion picture industry
That was an exceedingly gracious introduction from the lips of your President. An added touch which I appreciated came from Colonel Bennett outside the door of this room when he handed me a few moments ago this sealed package here which I understand is a printed volume containing the speeches of my predecessors on your program.
Believe me, I was not treated in such a genteel fashion two weeks ago when I addressed a club in New York City. The secretary of that organization, a good friend of mine, is accustomed to write up the minutes of the preceding annual meeting in an inimitable style which is strictly his own. Just prior to my introduction, instead of being given a sealed copy of previous speeches, I had to listen while the secretary read aloud his minutes in which he panned repeatedly and unmercifully, the speaker of the year before. Amid roars of laughter and much applause his minutes were unanimously adopted. Then as the master of ceremonies began his introduction, several people started walking out of the room.
Their hasty exit reminded me of--another occasion when a war buddy of mine was introduced at the fag end of a long, long program. People began to go out, not in ones and twos, but in coveys as we say in the quail country from which I come. The distraught master of ceremonies leaped to his feet and exclaimed "Wait a minute! Don't you know who this fellow is? He went through hell for us on the other side and it's up to us to do as much for him here today!" So you see, in the light of past experience, I can and do genuinely appreciate the very gracious introduction and cordial reception accorded me today.
Frankly, I feel very much at home speaking to an audience anywhere in Canada. For 5 years as the head of the International Committee of Y.M.C.A.'s of Canada and the United States, mine was the rare privilege of talking to audiences throughout North America about this merging world community in which we live and the responsibilities and opportunities which world citizenship entails.
Another real satisfaction in coming to Canada is that of renewing memorable wartime associations with friends and colleagues here. Your President mentioned the close relationship which existed during the war years between Mr. Fitzgibbons and his excellent motion picture committee--Don Henshaw and your Government officials--and our own War Activities Committee of the Motion Picture Industry in the United States.
To show you how I really feel about Canada and Canadians and how my associates in the United States feel about you, let me cite one wartime illustration. We provided 43,189 motion picture prints of feature pictures on 16 mm film without any change whatever for the entertainment of members of the armed services of the United States in combat areas overseas. I wrote a letter to a high ranking officer in Washington stating that although this gift was made officially to the armed services of the United States, any Canadian unit anywhere in any combat area was entitled to exhibit these same films on precisely the same no-charge basis as for men and women wearing the uniform of the United States of America.
During the past 18 months the film industries of our two countries, and more particularly the representatives of your Government and of our industry, have developed a unique pattern of co-operation which has achieved notable results.
I arrived in Toronto today just a few hours after an important announcement of the relaxing of Canada's austerity program. Mr. Fitzgibbons and myself remember another trip of mine to Canada just a few days after the austerity program was begun. It was not at all certain then whether or not an undiminished supply of Hollywood motion pictures which Canadian patrons wanted to see and which we were anxious to provide for your theatres, could continue to cross the line. How easy it would have been at that time when you were hard pressed for dollars for your top officials to have followed the conventional bureaucratic routine and invoked the old stereotypes--bans, quotas, frozen funds--the vicious circle our distributors have come to know so well in other countries!
Instead--thanks to an imaginative approach on the part of your key men in Ottawa--we were able to work out a program which has kept films moving from Hollywood studios to Canadian screens; a program which has brought dollars from Canada to Hollywood to help pay the cost of making these same pictures; and also a program which has materially increased the volume of United States tourist dollars accruing to Canada, thereby enabling you to pay us. In Hollywood this mutual aid plan is called "The Canadian Co-operation Project". Let me outline briefly just how the plan works.
In 1947 Canada received $241,000,000 from American tourists. Last year the total was up to 270 million United States dollars--an increase of 29 million dollars. This increase of 29 million dollars was more than twice the sum remitted to Hollywood to finance Canada's share of the production cost of 435 feature 'length pictures.
At the inception of the project I ventured to tell a group of your national officials that if we were given the opportunity we could help materially to increase tourist business in Canada. We were given this opportunity. We worked closely and, I believe, effectively with your Tourist Bureau and your Department of Trade and Commerce in stimulating an ever-growing stream of American vacationists to visit your beautiful land of lakes and mountains. We released 12 films on United States' screens each of which was devoted in whole or in part to a portrayal of Canada's beauties and attractions in summer and in winter. We also produced and released a rather serious film titled NEIGHBOUR TO THE NORTH which, through excellent dialogue, effective picturization and exceedingly good animation, summarized in an interesting fashion the trade and dollar problem confronting Canada in her relationships to Britain and to the United States. Some 40 million movie-goers in my country will see NEIGHBOUR TO THE NORTH in some 12 thousand theatres and gain a clear understanding of triangular trade and foreign exchange.
We got 13 top-flight Hollywood stars to make recordings about Canada which were used on 400 radio stations in the United States along with musical programs of your Leslie Bell Singers. Each of these stars stressed some important fact about Canada on each of these recordings. Mr. Rupert Lucas representing the C.B.C. is now in Hollywood working with Colonel Blake Owensmith, Co-ordinator of the Canadian Co-operation Project, in completing a second series of 13 radio recordings with another group of outstanding Hollywood personalities gladly participating in these programs.
By governmental action and official shortsightedness Canada could have imposed an iron curtain of bans and quotas. Instead, representatives of your government, in full co-operation with representatives of our industry, refused to curtail the transmission of ideas by way of the screen: Through our joint efforts a mutually satisfactory arrangement was worked out. The Canadian Co-operation Project is indeed a credit to men of imagination and goodwill who repudiated any, iron curtain techniques.
Hollywood is the international centre of the world of sight and sound where talent and creative genius from everywhere are welcome. The literature and music of all the world is brought to the screen through technicians and artists from all over the world. In a real sense, therefore, Hollywood belongs to Canada and to Chile, to Austria and to Australia, to France and to Brazil as well as to the United States. Hollywood is as international as the oceans.
I hardly need to remind you Canadians here today that two of your stars have done outstanding screen portrayals of two of our greatest presidents. Your own Raymond Massey is the screen's foremost Abraham Lincoln. Your own Alexander Knox made Woodrow Wilson come alive again to millions of movie-goers too young to have known this great crusader for one world. Ingrid Bergman, born in Sweden, now portrays France's Maid of Lorraine in Wanger's epic film, JOAN OF ARC. Edward G. Robinson, an American born in Rumania, played the role of Dr. Ehrlich, a German Jew, when that film opened recently in Munich in the presence of the Lord Mayor and a distinguished company of Germans and Americans. Luise Rainer, Austrian born, brought to millions throughout the world a vivid picturization of the Chinese peasant mother in THE GOOD EARTH. Dr. Max Steiner, Viennese composer, wrote a four-hour musical score for GONE WITH THE WIND, in which a British girl played the Georgia heroine, Scarlett O'Hara. Greer Carson, the British MRS. MINIVER of the war years, becomes today the Polish-French Eve Curie, in a film which is among the most popular of all the pictures now being released in Central and Eastern Europe. Yes, Hollywood films have world casts and appear on world screens for a world audience.
Hollywood, however, is more than an international centre of the world of sight and sound. It is the centre of the art of story telling through the universal language of pictures. Therefore, we of motion pictures assert the rights of- an art which uses simultaneously the multiple sensory appeals of words, music, motion, and color. This most popular of all the arts accepts fully its responsibilities to its world audience. Therefore, we oppose an iron curtain on ideas and refuse to accept dictation from any group which for any reason seeks to place Hollywood in an artistic straight-jacket.
Today Hollywood is making more adult pictures. Why? Statistics show that in the United States alone there are 10,000,000 more people today between the ages of 35 and 59 than there were 20 years ago. A similar situation exists in Canada where the life span of the individual, thanks to good health practices and scientific developments, is lengthening also. It is appropriate, therefore, that Hollywood should be making more adult films which deal with current issues in a realistic yet interesting fashion. Motion pictures need be no less entertaining because they have current significance.
I am speaking today on the eve of the Academy awards. The 3 films which are top contenders for this year's "Oscar" are illustrative of this trend toward adult entertainment--toward realism--and a portrayal of current issues. I refer to JOHNNY BELINDA, the deeply moving story of a deaf mute in your own Nova Scotia; THE SNAKE PIT, with the all-seeing camera eye moving about the wards of a hospital for the mentally diseased, and HAMLET, Britain's outstanding screen portrayal of Shakespeare's classic. These 3 films are symbolic of Hollywood's increasing determination to capture and hold a larger adult audience.
Let me hasten to add that if all pictures made in Hollywood were problem pictures, people--would soon tire of them. Many of us face far too many problems already in business--in public life--and in connection with the philanthropic institutions to which we give large blocks of our time. There is unquestionably a therapeutic value in sheer escapism, so we refuse also the dictate of the cold-blooded intellectual or the chronic killjoy who would impose his own iron curtain on musical comedies, on slapstick and on fantasy. If we made only message pictures soon there would be no audiences in the theatres to get the messages.
Sir Alexander King, the newly elected President of the Cinematograph Exhibitors Association of Great Britain, spoke truly when, in his recent inaugural address, he declared: "You cannot legislate people into the theatres; you can only attract them." Diet, whether in food or films, must have variety if it is to continue attractive.
Hollywood is also a medium of information. As a purveyor of news and a producer of fact films in documentary form, the motion picture industry claims the same rights to freedom of expression as the press and the pulpit.
Last year, for example, our 5 newsreels carried 111 items about Canada in their various issues. These were of interest on both sides of the line and helped the peoples of our respective countries living as neighbours on this great North American continent to understand one another better and to appreciate each other more. We want no iron curtain to limit the freedom of our newsreels. By the same token we cheerfully accept the responsibility which is ours of doing an honest and workmanlike job in portraying the news of the world.
Finally, Hollywood is the centre of an industry--an industry built up through freedom for inventive genius--freedom for business initiative--freedom for artistic development. Hollywood is as much a boom town as Johannesburg, Tulsa, or your own Leduc. Instead of gold, diamonds, or oil, ours was a little gadget conveying the illusion of motion, upon which men of vision and courage staked their money and their time under a system of free enterprise. Hollywood is the product of private enterprise. The heads of our producing companies accept the thesis that the privilege of freedom carries with it the obligation to be just. We are unalterably opposed to an iron curtain of state ownership or state control.
In fulfillment of our responsibilities I must call your attention briefly to the codes of self regulation which leaders of our industry adopted in, 1930 to provide standards for the moral content of motion pictures and criteria of good taste for their titles and advertising. These codes were adopted in order to make unnecessary the iron curtain of political censorship. Such censorship is arbitrary, wasteful and ineffective. What we do through industry self-discipline is an integral part of the process of production.
In 1948, for example, 435 feature length pictures and 511 one or two reel short subjects received our Association's Certificate of Approval, but 2,739 different pieces of material--novels, stage plays, film treatments and motion picture scenarios-cleared through our Production Code Administration. Fifty-eight books, plays and scripts were so far below the minimum standards of decency and good taste in our Code, that they were rejected and never resubmitted. Another 57 stories in the form in which they were offered originally violated basic principles of our Code, but were rewritten, revised and finally approved. Only 51 of the 535 feature pictures had to be changed at all after they were completed. This shows the degree to which the processes of our Code Administration are geared into the lengthy processes of production. This voluntary effort to maintain through self-discipline screen standards in harmony with the customs and practices of the rank and file of the people of our respective countries, depends for its enforcement on the moral support of just such groups as your club here. The degree to which you and the members of your families support the better pictures in the theatres of Toronto registers the measure of your backing in our continuing efforts to maintain and improve the standards of motion picture entertainment. We welcome your frank criticism when you believe that we have failed you; we invite your aggressive aid when a film comes to Toronto which is not only entertaining but informing and inspiring as well.
Probably you gentlemen in this room see more screen advertisements in the papers than actual films in the theatre, so you will be interested in knowing that last year there cleared through our Advertising Code Administration 93,810 still photographs, 18,083 advertisements, 490 press books and 521 trailers. It speaks very well for the advertising agencies and for the publicity departments of the film companies, that less than 2% of all this advertising and promotional material fell below the standards set forth in our Advertising Code. So I repeat: In asserting the rights of an art and- demanding the freedom which properly belongs to a medium of communication, we have voluntarily accepted the obligation to make our pictures and their advertising conform to generally accepted standards of morality and good taste.
Let me turn now in closing, to our opportunities and obligations in areas outside of North America. All over the world, films from North America constitute the main source of screen entertainment.
Canadians who played such a determined and heroic role in two world wars need no detailed recital of the facts of the cold war now being waged between two diametric ally opposed philosophies of life. Suffice it to say that in this struggle we of the American motion picture industry are determined that the pictures sent into the occupied and "Iron Curtain" countries of Europe and Asia, be of a type which will contribute to an understanding on the part of screen audiences everywhere of the free way of life to which we are dedicated.
A few weeks after the shooting ended in World War II we organized the Motion Picture Export Association, whose members comprise most of the leading Hollywood producers and distributors of films. Distribution rights to several thousand pictures never shown in the war-torn countries of Europe and Asia were turned over to the Export Association in order that from this huge stockpile its officers might select those films which would contribute most to an understanding of the West and aid most in reorientation and re-education of the peoples of Germany and Japan. Also we sift out films which North Americans would take in their stride but which would unquestionably give a distorted picture of life here to peoples of other lands.
Through the Export Association we have sent to 13 countries in Central and Eastern Europe and to Japan and Korea, such outstanding films as ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS, WILSON, MADAME CURIE, WATCH ON THE RHINE, RANDOM HARVEST, HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY and KEYS OF THE KINGDOM. We are honestly trying to do a good job in selecting the best possible screen fare for these countries. SONG OF BERNADETTE when it opened in Vienna attracted such attention that Catholic organizations ran buses to and from the Russian Zone to bring thousands from that area to see the film. When this picture opened in Munich, Cardinal Faulhaber went on the radio urging people to see it, and gave an interview to the press. The public reaction was most impressive.
In Hamburg UNION PACIFIC played for 10 weeks. I saw Hamburg a few weeks after V-E Day and of all the bombed cities of Germany, that seemed to me the worst. This epic film which showed North American pioneers bridging a continent with links of steel and overcoming every conceivable obstacle in the process, furnished an example to the Germans of Hamburg of the way in which people of another country in another time surmounted obstacles and won through to victory. The task of the western powers in Germany today is to get such cities as Hamburg back into business where they can operate without subsidies from our taxpayers and assume a constructive role in rebuilding and re-orienting the Europe of tomorrow. We are trying to send in films which have undertones good for the Germans, good for the Japanese; films that show individuals and nations rising above adversity and winning victories of the spirit.
The dollars still flowing to Hollywood from Canadian theatres help to make possible this important service of motion pictures in the occupied and iron curtain countries. You have a stake in Hollywood. To you then belongs part of the credit for all the good that Hollywood films are doing in providing recreation, amusement, information and inspiration to the peoples of the rest of the world.
Mahatma Gandhi shortly before his assassination, declared
"I learned from my illiterate but wise mother that all rights to be deserved and preserved, rest upon duty done. Even the right to live accrues to those who perform their duty of citizenship to the world."
Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen; The art that is Hollywood--the medium of free expression for which I am speaking today--the industry which I represent--is seeking to do its duty in behalf of the free way of life which has given to it the opportunity to develop as an industry, to flower as an art, and to serve as a vehicle of relaxation and inspiration to all men everywhere.