SMAD. An Organ of Student Opinion. 1936. Volume 7. Number 8.
Nutshell Knowledge — V.—Talkies
To be a commerical success a talkie must be reduced to the lowest common level of understanding so that it can have a wide appeal. It must be spectacular rather than significant.
It enables the tired student to identify himself with the glamorously beautiful and the recklessly wealthy. All people who lead drab lives and are too tired to use their imaginations can find day-dreams of romance and power ready-made on the screen. The talkie helps to build social stability, for by providing these people with imaginary satisfactions it removes their desire to build a new form of society where they could have enough money, health and leisure to attain real happiness in their own lives.
A crowd of intellectual snobs in Wellington used to run a Film Society which showed pictures that didn't have a wide enough appeal to be commercial successes. The last picture they showed was "Turk—Sib," a Russian picture which surely had no real entertainment value, for it had no love interest and was merely the story of the building of the Turkestan-Siberia Railway. Immediately afterwards a magistrate decided that they couldn't do things like that, and the Society was wound up.
Magisterial wisdom has decided another point, the relevance of which is not at first apparent. The success of the prosecutions after the 1932 riots proved that the riots were caused by the agitation of Communists and not by unemplyment, poverty and hunger with their attendant misery and degradation. Social conditions are quite all right, and cranks who deny it are dangerous. Hollywood saw this, and decided that the continuance of civilisation depended on dissuading these cranks from all getting the same ideas. Hollywood read the warning in Karl Marx's call "Workers of the World Unite; it set to work to split the ranke of the reformers.
For instance, too many people thought that wars are caused by the clash of rival imperialisms, all striving for the expansion that alone can bring prosperity to a capitalist country. Hence "The First World War" which implied very clearly that the last war was caused by the megalomania of emperors. Hence also "The Great Impersonation" which showed that it was the work of the armament manufacturers. I take off my hat to the man who conceived the brilliant idea of adapting Oppenheim's story of a German spy in England and producing a film which showed how a representative of International Munitions Ltd. helped to bring Britain into the war.
Hollywood patriotically fights against the disloyalty that is everywhere springing up. Every news reel has its spectacular parade with martial music and the tramp of marching feet. Hollywood knows that no intellectual conviction can render a man immune from the emotional appeal of this red-hot rhythm.