THE TASK WHICH LIES BEFORE THE PROPAGANDA FILM STUART LEGG The realist film can create a living interest in work and the problems behind our systems of industry, transport, com munication, and public utility. The commercial cinema fails to bring these subjects to the screen. commercial publicity began in this country in the late nineteen-twenties. First efforts were un-coordinated and clumsy. Publicity managers, preoccupied with the problems of sales-increase, were inevitably influenced by the appeal methods of the well-tried poster and press advertisement. They expected the film to be a tame addition to the battery of existing advertising media. Film producers, seeing in the new use of film an added source of finance, were glad to obey their sponsors' every whim. The cinema became lined up with the other "quick-return" methods with little or no investigation to determine whether its persuasive powers lay in the direction of short-term advertising. Under these conditions the advertiser's demands came first. The film itself became a matter of secondary importance, a vehicle for putting across an exhortation to buy the goods in question. Inevitably, a formula was established for the "good advertising film," and the formula was that of the sugared pill. The publicity scenarist found himself faced with a set of conditions, invented by no one in particular, but with which his script, if he wanted to get it accepted for production, must comply. First, his film must not be more than 500 feet (about five minutes) in length, since exhi bitors would not devote more than that amount of programme-time to advertising matter. Second, he must have an intriguing and preferably misleading title at the beginning, and a slamming slogan at the finish (this latter largely dictated by the current ads. of the client). Third, he could fill in the space between title and slogan with any crazy story he could think upbut the more the film resembled the opening of an ordinary programme picture the better. Fourth, on no account must he mention or even hint at the product advertised until the final slogan should take the audience by surprise. This method of approach was based on insufficient study of the potentials of the film medium. It pre scribed a moving poster, with all the limitations of the poster and none of its advantages. It failed to realize that film is an instrument governed by its own laws and demanding conditions widely different from other advertising forms for its successful operation. Moreover, the belief that a good publicity film must have high entertainment value implied that its stan dards of production must equal those of the feature film. The feature film of the time (just before the coming of sound) had attained a remarkably high standard of constructional and technical competence the publicity film, limited in production resources, had not. Further, the whole approach was based on faulty psychology, for it failed to take account of the resent ment of an audience tricked by the sugared pill. The problem had been tackled the wrong way round. In their efforts to satisfy the sponsors the producers endeavoured to fit the new baby into the old, ready- made clothes. They did not realize that commerce and industry could not only open up a vast and rich field of new material, but could also provide the basis for a new form of cinema. In 1929 there appeared a film which was to lay the foundations of the English propaganda cinema. This film was "Drifters," made by John Grierson for the Empire Marketing Board. In essence Drifters was a straightforward account of the herring industry. It explained fishing methods, it dealt chronologically with the processes of catch, market and distribution. But into his main narrative the director wove the intense drama latent in the everyday lives of the drifter's crew. His conflict was the age-old conflict between man and the sea; his issues, the struggle to 206 drag a staple food from the nets and the rush for a THE HARNESSING OF THE FILM AS AN INSTRUMENT OF

Industrial Arts en | 1936 | | page 46