Independent production

Glimpses of Britain and USA history

When we speak of independent production, we are not referring to the independence of film producers who are somewhat grudgingly allowed to exist on the fringes of the Hollywood industry, using money borrowed from the big banks and dependent on the system of distribution and exhi­bition controlled by the Big Money. Production which is independent in a creative sense must be free from monopoly control, free from the class domination of the bourgeoisie, and-this is a condition which is in some respects most difficult to guarantee-free from the ideology of the dominant class.

Hollywood has trained many facile craftsmen, whose accomplishments deserve study and respect. But studio methods tend to deaden creative ini­tiative, and to set narrow limits on the development of talent. Contempt for people, and therefore for art, is inherent in Hollywood’s attitude to­ward its own workers, toward the product which they make, and toward the audience.

In film, as in other forms of expression, the creative opportunities which every serious artist seeks are stifled, not only by Hollywood’s belt- line system of production and by the recent increase in political censorship, but by capitalism’s basic hatred and fear of free expression. Being hostile to art, capitalism demands servility and renunciation of the right to observe and create freely, as the first condition of cultural “respectability” and employment.

There are some supposedly “progressive” cultural workers who have little feeling for these potentialities. While they recognize the dangers of fascism, they feel that their “artistic integrity” is best defended by staying aloof from social issues and devoting themselves to aesthetic values-thus accepting the deadening limitation which capitalism imposes on them.

There are formidable obstacles in the way of independent cultural pro­duction. The subjective difficulties of the artist in discarding the old bag­gage of bourgeois “art” are, to a considerable extent, the reflection in the mind of the artist of the real objective impediments.

The obstructions in the way of independent motion picture production are no less, and in some respects greater, than those in other field. Films are expensive to produce. The political attention focused on Hollywood shows that the rulers of the United States take the film very seriously as an instrument of propaganda, and will do their utmost to prevent its use for any democratic purpose. They have the advantage of a tightly controlled monopoly, which operates the major theatre chains and can exert a great deal of economic pressure on the small and theoretically “independent” exhibitors.

Emphasis on independent film activity does not involve underestima­tion of the struggle to influence the Hollywood product, nor is it based on disregard of the creative and technical achievements of the commercial film, in the United States and in other countries. The motion picture art of the Soviet Union has exerted a wide influence everywhere, including Hol­lywood. Indeed the history of the Hollywood film includes periods when the example of certain Soviet pictures brought major changes in directorial and photographic techniques. In the middle twenties, Potemkin was inten­sively studied and imitated. In the nineteen-thirties, Hollywood’s approach to cinematic art was revitalized by such pictures as The Road to Life, Cha­payev, The Youth of Maxim, and the films dealing with Lenin’s life.

The world’s greatest motion picture artist has lived and worked in Hol­lywood, during the whole of his distinguished career. While Chaplin’s world reputation, and management of his own company, have given him a good deal of creative latitude, he has functioned under the general condi­tions of Hollywood production, both in the operation of his studio and the Big Business control of the exhibition of his pictures.

There can be no better proof of capitalism’s hatred of art than the exclusion from the United States of an artist loved and respected by mil­lions throughout the world.

In all of Chaplin’s films, from his earliest work to the moving affirma­tion of the beauty and goodness of life in Limelight, there is an imaginative depth, combined with realistic understanding of social forces and class relationships, which must be studied and re-studied by every artist se­riously concerned with the problems of the film.

The repressive power of Wall Street places difficulties in the way of an independent film art in the United States. But the artist who faces the diffi­culties looks to great reward in the gratitude of the people, in patriotic accomplishment, in the magnitude and beauty of the stories that wait to be told-the riches of legend and history, these struggles of labour and the Negro people, the heroism of daily existence. There is tenderness, emo­tional depth and moral power in the common life of the classes that have not lost confidence in themselves, in their country, in the future.

From: Film in the Battle of Ideas by J. H. Lawson