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Political Censorship of the Cinema

  • Robert Justin Goldstein

Abstract

During the twenty years preceding the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, a new form of entertainment was born: the motion picture. Its accessibility to mass audiences far outstripped that of any previous form of entertainment, and by general consensus the movies were viewed as a far more powerful means of communication than the theatre or the press. Given this perception that the cinema was both the most wide-reaching and powerful means yet developed of communicating with a mass audience, and conservatives’ well-established fears of the spread of ‘dangerous’ ideas through an attractive medium which could speak to all classes of the population, it is not surprising that demands for censorship of the movies developed quickly. Such demands gained widespread support among conservative elites, who generally viewed movies in much the same way as earlier authorities had perceived the theatre, as a hotbed of vice and subversion. They were especially concerned over the enormous appeal (and affordability) of the cinema to the lower classes. Thus, in 1914, a conservative Russian legislator, outraged by a newsreel depicting him in what he viewed as an ‘insulting way’, termed the movies ‘the new plague’, and warned his colleagues, ‘Beware! It may be I today, but it will be another tomorrow, and the day after loftier persons — in the service of the state — who will be ridiculed by this frightful weapon of propaganda, employed towards the revolutionisation of the popular masses.’1

Keywords

Royal Decree Police Chief Mass Audience Live Theatre Political Propaganda 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Jay Leyda, Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Film (Princeton, NJ, 1983) pp. 72–73.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Gary Stark, ‘Cinema, Society and the State: Policing the Film Industry in Imperial Germany’, in Gary Stark and Bede Lackner, Essays on Culture and Society in Modern Germany (College Station, Tex., 1982) p. 124Google Scholar
  3. D. J. Wenden, The Birth of the Movies (London, 1974) p. 90.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Neville Hunnings, Film Censors and the Law (London, 1967) p. 35Google Scholar
  5. Peter Kenez, The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization (Cambridge, 1985) p. 105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Richard Taylor, The Politics of the Soviet Cinema (Cambridge, 1979) p. 7.Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    Richard Taylor, Film Propaganda (London, 1979) p. 38.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Richard Abel, French Cinema (Princeton, NJ, 1984) p. 38Google Scholar
  9. Paul Leglise, Histoire de la politique du cinéma français (Paris, 1970) pp. 30–2Google Scholar
  10. René Jeanne and Charles Ford, Le Cinéma et la presse (Paris, 1961) pp. 313-14Google Scholar
  11. National Council of Public Morals, The Cinema: Its Present Position and Future Possibilities (London, 1917) pp. 314–15Google Scholar
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  13. 13.
    John Trevelyan, What the Censor Saw (London, 1973) p. 26;Google Scholar
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  15. 14.
    Mira Liehm, The Most Important Art: Eastern European Film since 1945 (Berkeley, Calif., 1977) p. 12Google Scholar
  16. Nicholas Powell, The Sacred Spring: The Arts in Vienna, 1898–1918 (New York, 1974) p. 46Google Scholar
  17. Peter Besas, Behind the Spanish Lens (Denver, 1985) p. 17; Taylor [note 3] p. 7; Hunnings [note 3] p. 311.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Norway is briefly discussed in this source at pp. 326–7, as well as in UNESCO, The Film Industry in Six European Countries (Paris, 1950) p. 73.Google Scholar
  19. There are brief mentions of Norway and Sweden in John Harley, World-wide Influences of the Cinema: A Study of Official Censorship and the International Cultural Aspects of Motion Pictures (Los Angeles, 1940) pp. 169, 186.Google Scholar
  20. The British system is discussed in James C. Robertson, The British Board of Film Censors (London, 1985)Google Scholar
  21. Rachel Low, The History of the British Film, 1906– 1914 (London, 1949) pp. 84–91Google Scholar
  22. Guy Phelps, Film Censorship (London, 1975)Google Scholar
  23. Ernest Betts, A History of British Cinema (London, 1973) pp. 47–9Google Scholar
  24. and Dorothy Knowles, The Censor, the Drama and the Film, 1900– 1934 (London, 1934) pp. 167–276.Google Scholar
  25. 20.
    Paul Monaco, Cinema and Society: France and Germany during the Twenties (New York, 1976) pp. 52–3Google Scholar
  26. Daniel Cook, A History of Narrative Film (New York, 1981) p. 111Google Scholar
  27. M. S. Phillips, ‘Nazi Control of the German Film Industry’, Journal of European Studies, 1 (1971) 43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kate Betz, ‘As the Tycoons Die: Class-Struggle and Censorship in the Russian Cinema, 1917–1921’, in Nils Nilsson (ed.), Art, Society, Revolution: Russia, 1917–1921 (Stockholm, 1979) pp. 198–236.Google Scholar
  29. 31.
    Michael Stoil, Cinema beyond the Danube (Metuchen, NJ, 1974) pp. 40–2.Google Scholar
  30. 33.
    Stephen Bottomore, ‘Dreyfus and Documentary’, Sight and Sound, 53 (1984) 292.Google Scholar
  31. 34.
    Margaret Dickinson and Sarah Street, Cinema and State: The Film Industry and the Government, 1927–84 (London, 1985) p. 8; Monaco [note 20] p. 52.Google Scholar
  32. See generally Nicholas Pronay, ‘The Political Censorship of Films in Britain between the Wars’, in Nicholas Pronay and D. W. Spring (eds), Propaganda, Politics and Film, 1918–45 (London, 1982) pp. 98–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Marcel Le Pierre, Les Cent Visages du Cinema (Paris, 1948) pp. 269–86.Google Scholar
  34. 38.
    David Welch, ‘The Proletarian Cinema and the Weimar Republic’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 1 (1981) 4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Robert Justin Goldstein 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Justin Goldstein
    • 1
  1. 1.Oakland UniversityRochesterUSA

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