Documentary News Letter (1942-1943)

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DOCUMENTARY NEWS LETTER APRIL 1942 WE HAVE OUR TROUBLES TOO! By MARY LOSEY, noted U.S. Documentary Expert. at first glance an invitation to write about U.S. wartime documentary propaganda has the ring of opportunity. But then the eye stops, frozen on a word—"policy". Whose policy.' Which policy? Not long ago we learned from our president that Washington has its Cliveden set, which has a policy. The exponents of defence have a policy. So have exponents of offence. There is a business as usual policy. A business better than usual policy and an all-out policy. There is the timid policy that the public is to be informed "in terms of" facts. How it smacks of all the mimeo- graphed reports stacked end on end, "dictated but not read". There's the policy of sending shorts of South America on subjects that will offend nobody. And there's a policy that decides that some producers of prophetic documentary films are incompetent because they made films attacking fascism before it was nice to be anti- fascist. Occasionally, too, there is thecatch-me-if-you- can policy of a producer who gets loose and makes a picture saying that South American young people are much like North American young people and therefore have a common ground for fighting the Axis. Or others wander off and make a film about nursery camps because they think they arc important, especially since we have no plans for the care of young children in this war. In Washington they have a dozen different policies ranging from the sponsors of The Land (not yet released), to the Office of Emergency Management which believes in keeping us informed on the battle of production. The O.E.M. is telling us that we can and are making the necessary instruments of war. And this we are glad to know. The only catch is that after you've said that we can make tanks and we can make bombers, and we have a lot of electric power, then you can go on to say that we also make cannon and ships, but there is an end to it eventually and you come smack up against a rather forgotten commodity—people. One brush of the O.E.M. with this ticklish subject is an unforgettable item called Women in Defence. First you get a girl in coveralls pirouetting a la Adelaide Hawley while a commentator tells you that women are going to work in this war, and they arc going to dress to fit, and becoming too. Before you quite get your bearings you realise to your horror that Katharine Hepburn, whom yOu really like quite a lot when she stays on her own side of the railroad tracks, is telling you how our women are doing their bit in industry. As I remember it the pictures here arc a repe- titious montage of women doing things that it is supposed to be remarkable for women to be doing. You might as well have had the Duchess of Windsor teaching British film audiences the Lambeth Walk. There are some bright spots which lamentably have nothing whatsoever to do with the U.S. documentary policy. They have to do with the National 1 ilm Board of Canada and sonic of the productions that have reached America from via the Ministry of Information. Grierson's polic> of illuminating the Canadian war effort b\ relating it to the rest of the world is erhaps not ideally suited to duplication here since the citizens of these States, like the citizens of Britain, still have the habit of thinking that the rest of the world is related to them. All the same we will get more light from seeing the strategy series from Canada and more realisation of the fact that we are fighting a global war than from any of our own productions. The fact that from henceforth American audiences will have the monthly opportunity to see The World in Action is the best news of the moment. Perhaps it is not beyond the realm of possi- bility that Hollywood will have taken a lesson from the audiences flocking to Target for Tonight. The time is past when Selective Service was just a huge joke on a bunch of guys who used to make fifty bucks a week and now have to work their heads off for twenty-one dollars a month and a sergeant who talks and acts like a Brooklyn Dodger fan. We were pretty pompous a year ago in our judgment of the British product that came our way. "London can take it", we said. "Yeah, but can she dish it out?" I shudder to think what our snooky spectacles of the latest sweater girl singing blues in the officers' mess make of our war effort. This is not to disparage some notable shorts such as Eyes of the Navy, The New Spirit, with Donald Duck to tell you that all you gotta do is do it, or the easy-to-take friendly advice of a film like Safeguarding Military Secrets. But with such notable exceptions and some individual con- tributions such as those on Out Russian Front, you can chalk up Hollywood's contribution to date as a dead loss. "Some day," says Bob Flaherty, who has dis- covered quite a bit of America himself these past few years. "Some day we will wake up and dis- cover that it takes more than machines to win this war: it also takes people." When that day comes it will show in our films. Then our films will recognise that this is no football game but a fight; that we want light,- not cheerleaders. Then films will begin to shed light wherever they can. They may begin with simple geography but however they begin they will teach, relate and lead. No one can sit down at his typewriter and out- line to-day the films that must be made this year or even this month. But that is not a question for policy but for plan. Plan will change from week to week. Policy must be a clear and constant directive. The American people are free men and women who wish to fight to make their freedom lasting and real. Our policy will be to make films which will help them to understand the job before them and to fortify the courage and will to do it. Living Movement ;; CARLYLE defined Progress in just those two words! In paying due tribute to the aptness of the sage's definition the Kinematograph Weekly translates the spirit into action. Current events are reported for our readers in relation to the general advance, artistic and technical, by which progress in Kinematography is achieved. Keep abreast of progress in your craft — read the 93 LONG ACRE WEEKLY LONDON : : W.C.2