The Filmmaker's Obligations As One Producer Saw It. VOICES FROM `HOLLYWOOD'S GREATEST YEAR' PART III
YESTERDAY, in excerpts from a 1939 Monitor article, Academy Award-winning director Frank Capra argued for total control when making films. Today producer Harry M. Warner, one of Hollywood's fabled Warner brothers, suggests in his 1939 essay that moviemakers - along with schools, churches, and service organizations - have an obligation to address issues of ethics, patriotism, and individual rights. Many producers today are apt not to think of such loftier responsibilities at all, but rather to make ``entertainment'' films with heavy doses of sex, violence, and mayhem. Yet in 1939, just as World War II was about to break over the world, studios were understandably concerned about the ability of films to inspire and illuminate.
Warner, one of filmdom's early moguls, was instrumental in forging low-budget genre films, such as the James Cagney gangster films, and, later, films with social conscience. Monitor critic David Sterritt says, ``Warner's thoughts - if not their missionary flourishes and touches of promotional hype - might be profitably heeded by many a cynical production chief today.''
THE men and women who make a nation's entertainment have obligations above and beyond their primary commercial objective, which is the box office. In the long run Hollywood, collectively, and producing companies, individually, will succeed or fail, in my opinion, exactly in the proportion in which they recognize these obligations.
The problems of production, distribution, and exhibition of motion pictures are many and varied. They must be satisfactorily adjusted, or we fail almost before we start. But with the mechanism of our industry fairly well established, we can give earnest consideration to our implied duties to ethics, patriotism, and the fundamental rights of individuals.
The motion picture producer shares this obligation with the schools, the churches, the service organizations of all kinds, which stand for tolerance, for decent thinking, and fair relations with the rest of mankind. I do not mean that we should attempt, in the theater, to teach all the lessons, preach all the sermons, or solve all the political problems of the world.
We cannot do this, but we can and should give a helping hand to the causes of good government, of fair play, or understanding between peoples of the world. We work in the most universally understood medium ever devised. The motion picture can be a great power for peace and goodwill, or, if we shirk our obvious duty, it can stand idly by and let the world go to pot.
Hollywood believes in America as firmly as any community believes in it, and we possess the added advantage of being able to express our faith in the common language of the screen. These are not the problems of the actor, the director, or the technical men of pictures as much as they are the problems of the producer. It is his attitude that usually determines the content of any picture, and the strength of his faith in the ultimate good judgment of the majority will be the guiding factor in keeping the Hollywood product worthy.
I would be the last one to claim that all our efforts have turned out as well as we hoped they would. Producers, like others, make mistakes.
When we make a picture like ``The Life of Emile Zola,'' we fairly glow with pride and we glory in the fact that he public gives us tangible proof of its wholehearted approval. We will try again with ``Juarez,'' with the same great star, Paul Muni. The struggle of the remarkable Mexican to save his nation for its own people is so surprisingly paralleled by world events today that the timeliness of the subject matter is obvious.
Not all pictures can be ``Zolas.'' As long as there are varying tastes, different viewpoints, incompatible interests in the world, we, as producers, must seek to please the greatest possible number of future patrons. We believe we owe that to our audiences, our stockholders, and ourselves. But this need not and, I sincerely believe, does not mean that we cannot, at the same time, continue to foster new and increasing respect for the fine things in government, literature, and life.
Our primary problem, let me repeat, is to make enjoyable box-office entertainment. No producer can slight that. But above and beyond that is an ever present duty to educate, to stimulate, and demonstrate the fundamentals of free government, free speech, religious tolerance, freedom of press, freedom of assembly, and the greatest possible happiness for the greatest possible number. To that end our company and, I believe, our whole industry, stands pledged - now and for the future.
Last in a series. The first and second parts were published Monday and yesterday.