Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Sweet Sixteen Goes to War: Hollywood, the Naaf and 16mm Film Exhibition in Canada during Wwii

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Sweet Sixteen Goes to War: Hollywood, the Naaf and 16mm Film Exhibition in Canada during Wwii

Article excerpt

Resume: Cet article s'interesse au visage changeant de I'industrie cin6matographique canathenne et a la relation fragile que cette industrie entretenait avec le format 16 mm tout au long des annexes de la Seconde Guerre mondiale. L'usage grandissant du format 16 mm comme technologie d'exploitation par I'industrie cinematographique canathenne lors de la guerre fut directement relief au rdle crucial que le format jouait comme outil d'apprentissage et de divertissement dans les camps de I'armee canathenne. Le comite des films de la marine, de I'infanterie et de I'armee de I'air, dirig6 par N.L. Nathanson et le colonel J.A. Cooper, etablit des ententes sans pr6c6dent avec les principaux studios am6ricains pour obtenir la presentation de leurs films dans les camps canathens. Meme si cela n'a jamais ete preVu comme tel, ces activitis ont effectivement servi a saper les conceptions recues sur la facon avec laquelle, et le contexte dans lequel, les films de format 16 mm devaient §tre correctement exploites.

In July of 1941, a disgruntled Canadian soldier stationed in Petawawa, seething with frustration over the poor quality and out-dated nature of the films exhibited in his army camp, penned a letter of complaint to the "Government Film Dept." under the pseudonym "Victor Winner." The letter inquires,

Why can't we have some modern copies of motion picture films in this camp - Petawawa? You ought to send us something up to date and CAN the stale ones coming here to the Canadian Legion, the YMCA and the Salvation Army (emphasis in original). We are intelligent soldiers and can reason out why you haven't given this field of Entertainment your best! You must be old like the films, or, too busy enjoying yourselves out in Civilian Life where you can select your own up to the hour entertainment... enough of that old junk give us your Best if you want our Best!1

The soldier's complaining letter, however anecdotal, provides a revealing glimpse into the import accorded to entertainment and diversion during a period of war mobilization. In this colloquial but heartfelt plea, "Victor Winner" is essentially implying a direct, causal relationship between the novelty and quality of in-camp entertainment and the subsequent quality of the soldiers themselves. The best soldiers, apparently, are those who are properly entertained.

The use of motion pictures in war mobilization efforts is hardly a novel phenomenon. Virtually since its inception, politicians and propagandists have been employing the cinema and harnessing its appeal and potential during wartime contexts. To cite an obvious example in Canadian history, one need look no further than the National Film Board's initial activities during World War II. Yet the cinema has served in the mobilization for war in far more subtle ways than overt propaganda. Paul S. Moore, for instance, explains how day-to-day moviegoing in Canada during World War I was simply rearticulated as a patriotic activity, with barely an adjustment to the actual production and programming of films themselves, as showmen of the day altered the rhetoric of their promotions and donated box office proceeds to the war effort.2 The particular screenings that "Victor Winner" refers to in his letter represent another such initiative, wherein popular cinema was deemed an essential and instrumental apparatus in the mobilization and training stages of World War II, Motion pictures in this context were seen less as a tool of propaganda (though one cannot deny the particular political tone of Hollywood films from this era) and more as an integral diversion necessary for the maintenance of troop morale.

Furthermore, the letter from "Victor Winner" is relevant for what it indicates about the nature of film exhibition during this period in Canadian history. It has perhaps become a cliché to say that film studies as a discipline marginalizes issues of technology, exhibition and social context at the expense of textual considerations and interpretations of motion pictures. …

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