When people are asked to define Canadian film-making, or give an example of a distinctive Canadian style, many cite the work of the National Film Board. Peter Morris has stated in the preface of Embattled Shadows that,
"until recently, the heritage of Canadian film has been virtually ignored. It was popularly assumed that Canadian film began with the founding of the National Film Board of Canada in 1939, and that if anything happened prior to this, it was neither interesting nor relevant." 1Peter Morris, Embattled Shadows (Montreal:McGill, 1978), Preface, p.i.
While it is true that the National Film Board has had a great deal to do with the way Canada is viewed by foreign countries and to a lesser degree Canadians, it was not the original author of the film style which would come to be deemed Canadian. The genre of documentary film is too wide to define the Canadian style, the origins of Canadian film belong to a subset of documentary film, that of the sponsored film. To illustrate this point, this paper will document the activities of one of Canada’s most successful production company, Associated Screen News of Canada.
In the early days of motion pictures, many small film companies sprung into existence, only to close due to bankruptcy or debts in short order. Many failed without producing a single film.2 For a brief overview of this period see “Canadian Film-Making In the 20th Century”, Canadian Cinematography, Vol.1, No.1, November 1961. pp.3,12-16. For more extensive information see Peter Morris’ Embattled Shadows. Both of these references were early attempts to encourage the study of Canadian film and consequently contain several factual errors. It was the desire of these authors that by discussion, the full history of Canadian film would be brought foreword. Thanks to this initial effort by scholars such as Morris, new information has been unearthed. Unfortunately, this material remains in disparate articles, waiting to be combined together into a comprehensive volume.
In Europe, the Lumiere Brothers profited from their cinematographe, by distributing only the products of their invention. Lumiere company men were under strict orders not to allow anyone to see the mechanics of the machine. In America, a group of businessmen banded together and used patent laws to maintain a monopoly. Through these monopoly actions, both groups were able to recover all costs and were assured of a market for their production.
Motion pictures, on celluloid film, were invented at the close of the nineteenth century. 3 Edison patented laboratory devices such as the Kinetophonograph, capable of showing film in synchronization with a phonograph record, in 1891. The Lumiere Brothers patented their Cinematographe on February 13, 1893. The Lumiere Brothers would be the first to demonstrate publicly a practical device for the production and projection of motion pictures a year later. Practical sound synchronization systems would not appear for another forty years. These films were extremely short, approximately a minute in length and simply documented reality–a train arriving at the station or workers leaving a factory. This non-fiction film would develop into the documentary and the newsfilm. Fiction film may have started with George Melies, a magician, who upon viewing the new invention immediately saw possibilities for motion pictures as a means of entertainment.
In the late 1890’s, audiences would view with anticipation any scrap of film which was produced, but soon the novelty wore off. Audiences became more sophisticated and wanted more entertainment, either through stories, or the portrayal of natural wonders i. e. Niagara Falls, or news events i. e. The Toronto Fire of 1904–some of the earliest footage shot in Canada.4 Material filmed by the Edison Company and reproduced from paper prints held in the U.S. Library of Congress.
Therefore, the cost of producing film increased as audiences became more sophisticated and producers sought an assurance of a market for their finished product. To this end, the government of the United States erected tariff barriers in 1910 which effectively denied foreign producers access to the American market. At the same time, American production companies either purchased outright the few Canadian film distributors, or signed exclusive distribution deals with Canadian theatre owners. Many independent theatre owners complained they could not get timely access to the most popular films.
Canadian film-makers were unable to distribute their films through foreign owned (or controlled) exchanges, a problem which remains today. Without an outlet for their product, few fictional films were made in Canada by Canadian production companies. Under these conditions, many Canadians were reluctant to invest in Canadian productions. Therefore, Canadians who were interested in film production travelled to America to become involved in motion pictures.5 Mary Pickford, Mack Sennet, Jack Warner, Ernest Shipman and many others. Without a base of financial support, Canadian production companies were not able to maintain a consistent existence.
One such company that did have the vision and the resources to finance film ventures was the Canadian Pacific Railway.
The Chairman of the Canadian Pacific Railway, William Cornelius Van Horne (1843-1915) saw a purpose for film as a means of communication and propaganda. An aggressive and imaginative marketer, wholly devoted to the expansion of the CPR, Van Horne saw a niche for film which would provide a return unrelated to exhibition revenue.
In 1904, the CPR commissioned Charles Urban to make a series of films detailing the benefits of life in Canada to encourage emigration from Europe. In 1907, the CPR sponsored a Film\Lecture series in Europe, given by a Canadian farmer who, as a hobby, filmed events in his daily life.
In 1920, the CPR was approached by Urban to invest in a venture which would result in the formation of Associated Screen News of Canada.
In 1932, ASN launched what was to become the longest running series of privately produced Canadian short films, the Canadian Cameo Series. This series, a decade before the National Film Board was to produce short films, had the task of depicting Canada to Canadians and others around the world. Gerald Pratley has stated that in a time when American movies and newsreels dominated the screens of Canada, that ASN “… alone battled for their place on the screen and reminded Canadians that they did”
have a country and that it did have some attractions and many interesting people.6 Gerald Pratley, Torn Sprockets (Toronto: Associated University Press, 1987), p.36.
What was the Canadian Cameo’s “place” on the screen? The Cameo series did depict images of Canada, but why should a Canadian firm have to “battle” for exhibition in their own country? Why do Canadian firms have to battle today for exhibition in their own country?
This paper will address these questions by examining the influence which specific individuals, the CPR and the Canadian government, may have had in the course of development of film production in Canada.
By the examination of the formation, the highlights and the demise of Associated Screen News of Canada, the application of these principles and attitudes may be seen. Through this examination, this paper will explore the myth that there is a “short way” to a Canadian film industry. Both Gordon Sparling and John Grierson felt that short films would provide a basis for a Canadian film industry, but for very different reasons. By examination of Associated Screen News and specifically, the Canadian Cameo series, this idea will be explored. It will be documented that while the production of short films may give technical experience to film-makers, it does not lead to the eventual production of feature films, nor the creation of a successful film industry.
The Origin of Motion Picture Production in Canada
In Canada, the production of motion pictures has been and remains, an especially risky business due to several factors. A small, predominately English speaking population has proved a tempting market for both American and British producers who have been able to utilize economies of scale. This factor, combined with the reluctance of Canadians to invest in Canadian developments, has lead to the situation today where over ninety percent of the films screened in Canada are produced in a foreign country. This situation is not a recent occurrence but the question remains as to why it did occur?
The debate as to the first projection of motion pictures in Canada has raged on for many years. For many years it was assumed that the first projection of moving pictures in Canada took place on July 21st, 1896. The Holland brothers, Canadian agents for Edison, presented a program of films to an audience of 1000 in Britannia Park, Ottawa. French-Canadians adamantly denied this claim insisting that the first projection took place one month earlier. French language newspapers record that on June 28th in Montreal, Louis Minier and his assistant Louis Pupier exhibited Lumiere’s cinematographe in a private home to a small audience.7Germain Lacasse, “Cultural amnesia and the birth of film in Canada,” Cinema Canada. June 1984, pp.6-7. This was possibly the first screening of motion pictures in North America. A compromise has been reached in which the Minier showing is now acknowledged to be the first showing of motion-pictures in Canada. However, since it was a private showing, the Holland Brothers are given the credit of the first, public projection of motion pictures in Canada.
Of more importance than where the first projection took place or who was responsible for introducing motion pictures to Canada, is the common element that these projections shared; neither programme included material that had been filmed in Canada or by Canadians. This small footnote foreshadows the course of Canadian film history. The Canadian people enthusiastically embraced this new medium of communication; however, since the first projection, Canadian movie screens have remained filled with predominately foreign images.
The irony of this development is that it was these same Holland Brothers who convinced Edison of the commercial potential for motion pictures. On April 14, 1894, the Holland Brothers opened the world’s first Kinetoscope8The Kinetoscope was the apparatus invented by Edison and W.K.L. Dickenson for the viewing of motion picture film strips. Approximately seventeen feet of film, in a continuous loop, were passed under a magnifying lens through which the viewer peered. This device spawned the name of “peep-show” viewers. The major difference between the Kinetoscope and devices which followed was that the Kinetoscope did not project the image of the film. in New York city. From the success of this venture, Edison was encouraged to make further developments in what he considered to be just a laboratory toy.
Therefore, while Canadian entrepreneurs were involved in the commercial development of the film industry from the beginning, the production of feature films did not develop in Canada in proportion to its development in America, France, Britain or Germany.
This was due, at least in part, to the extremely tight controls which were imposed by the inventors of motion pictures, both Lumiere and Edison, on the availability of their devices. In Europe, the Lumiere Brothers profited from their cinematographe by only allowing projectionist hired by Lumiere to project the films. These men were under strict orders not to allow anyone to see the mechanics of the cinematographe.9The Cinematographe was both a projector and a camera.
Films produced prior to 1910 consisted primarily of one reel and were often shot out of doors using limited sets. Accordingly, the cost of these films was not very great. However, as multiple reel films began to emerge with more elaborate sets and costumes, the cost of producing films began to rise. Since the majority of films produced at this time were silent, these films were able to be distributed world-wide.10The use of inter-titles appeared quite early in film history; however, it was a relatively easy matter to replace these with translated titles. Many films did not even have inter-titles, which made them truly universal. Films from Germany, Italy and France were popular with Canadian audiences, in addition to the films from Britain and America.
In America, in order to guarantee their financial return, the major American firms involved in the production of motion pictures and equipment formed the Motion Picture Patents Association. The Motion Picture Patents Association (MPPA) was a powerful trust group which was formed in 1908 by Edison, Vitagraph, Biograph, Kalem, Lubin, Selig, Essanay, Pathe Exchange, Melies and Gaumont. These companies pooled together their patents on film, camera and projector technology. The MPPA then used their legal ownership of the patents to control the production, distribution and exhibition of motion pictures in the United States. Through pressure and intimidation, the MPAA either purchased or forced out of business all the exchanges in the U.S. with the exception of William Fox. Control was extended into Canada by the refusal of the MPAA to sell to Canadian producers and exchanges unless they were licensed by the MPAA.11History records many unsavory incidents between Canadian independents and MPAA directed goons. For examples, see Janet Wasko, Movies and Money (Norwood: Ablex, 1982), also Manjunath Pendakur, Canadian Dreams & American Control (Toronto: Garamond, 1990). Through these monopoly actions, the MPAA was able to ensure that its members made a profit. In addition, MPAA members were assured of a market for their film production. This monopoly existed from 1908 until 1915 when U.S. anti-trust legislation forced its dissolution.
These factors contributed to the fact that the film industry in Canada did not begin to develop until approximately 1913.12Prior to this date American studios would send entire American crews to film on location in Canada. As no Canadians were involved in the production of these films, they have not been recognized as Canadian productions. With the exception of the Canadian Pacific Railroad Co. (to be discussed later) the only production of film in Canada was by freelance newsreel cameramen or hobbyists. The freelance cameramen, for example W. James and Son of Toronto, sold their material to American or other foreign newsreel companies. These companies then used this material in editions which were distributed in Canada.
In 1913, the Canadian Bioscope Company of Halifax produced Evangeline, which was filmed in the Annapolis valley. This film is considered to be the first Canadian feature film.13Peter Morris, Embattled Shadows (Montreal :McGill,1978) ,p. 49. Evangeline was first screened at the Empire Theatre in Halifax the next year. Evangeline was distributed throughout Canada and the U.S. and according to newspaper accounts was well received,14Moving Picture World, Vol. 19, 1914, p.662. Based on the success of Evangeline, Canadian Bioscope Company produced six more films in 1914, of which three were theatrically released: Mariner’s Compass, The Mexican Sniper’s Revenge (In the Enemies Power), and Saved From Himself. In 1915, with the advent of war, Canadian Bioscope Company was dispersed and the films auctioned.
Independent film companies occasionally surfaced to produce films, for example, the All Red Feature Company of Windsor (the “All Red” referred to the British Empire). These independent companies, many of whom folded without ever releasing a film, did not have the financial backing necessary to establish or maintain the studio system as in Hollywood. They were also unable to achieve wide-spread distribution, the revenues from which would have allowed them to continue production. One company did establish a studio, located in Trenton, which figured prominently in Canadian film history long after the company which built it went bankrupt.
In 1916 George Brownridge,15George Brownridge’s involvement began with his position as general manager for the British and Colonial Film Company. This company produced several “interest” films depicting Canada between 1910 and 1915. These films were similar to the CPR films, concentrating on natural resources and tourism. Several of these films were also distributed by the CPR. Brownridge remained involved in different film projects in Canada until approximately 1935, when after the dissolution of the Ontario Government Motion Picture Bureau there are no further references to him. a Toronto film distributor and promoter, formed the Canadian National Features Company. Brownridge promoted this company as a nationalistic alternative to the American film industry. Nationalistic sentiment was high in Canada at this time in part due to Canada’s involvement in the First World War.
There was also a strong anti-American sentiment, likely influenced by the after effects of the 1911 federal election in which free trade with the Americans was strongly rejected. Film censorship boards had been established in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba by 1911 and in British Columbia and Alberta by 1913.16Moving Picture World, Vol. 10, 1911, p.273i Vol. 15, 1913, p.1208i Vol. 16, 1913, pp. 578, 1365. Among the first acts of these boards was the banning or censoring of films which contained “an unnecessary display of U.S. flags”. In addition, the American MPAA had recently been dissolved by the U.S. courts. The combination of all of these factors likely lead Brownridge to believe that this was the opportunity to establish a film production industry in Canada.
Canadian National Features was incorporated in June, 1916, with $278,000.00 from private Canadian investors. By early 1917, a two story studio complex had been completed in Trenton. In addition to the main building there were two large houses for cast and crew and an open air stage. The cost of this complex was $24,000.00 and an additional $12,000.00 was spent on the purchase of photographic equipment,17Moving Picture World, Vol. 33, 1917, p.680. With a cast and crew assembled from both Canada and the U. S., Brownridge began the production of two features, The Marriage Trap and Power. However, before the completion of the second film, Canadian National Features did not have enough money to meet its payroll obligations and suspended operations.
In 1918, the short lived Pan American Film Corporation occupied the Trenton studios. Pan American had great plans for the production of a bi-weekly newsreel and comedy shorts, but after a very few releases, Pan American folded.
In 1919, Brownridge returned to these studios with his new firm, Adanac. Brownridge completed and released The Marriage Trap and Power. He then began work on the feature, The Great Shadow, which extolled the dangers of Bolshevism.
It was rumoured that J.R. Booth, one of the owners of Tesa Films of Ottawa, was to use the studio in 1922, however nothing was ever produced.
In 1923, the Ontario Government purchased the Trenton Studios for use by the Ontario Government Motion Picture Bureau.18Ontario established in 1917 the Ontario Government Motion Picture Bureau as a division of the Department of Agriculture. The Bureau originally produced films demonstrating new farming methods, but later produced comedy and dramatic productions as well as operating as an exchange for some foreign produced pictures. The OGMPB established a system of travelling projectionists using the now obscure Pathe format of 28mm safety based film. This system of travelling projectionists was adopted by the British Ministry of Information and later by John Grierson at the National Film Board, The Ontario Motion Picture Bureau remains an under researched, though important area of Canadian film history. The OGMPB would use these studios to produce many short films and several longer dramatic films, for example, Cinderella of the Farms (1930).
In 1928, the OGMPB rented the Trenton studio space to Canadian International Films Ltd., for the production of Carry On, Serqeant!19Carry On, Serqeant! was directed by the British cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather. This silent film was released just as sound films were making their appearance. The lack of sound has often been cited as the reason for its lack of success. However, since the majority of theatres in Canada were not yet equipped to project sound films, this is likely only part of the reason. The lack of success can more likely be attributed to Bairnsfather’s inexperience in directing film and to the dry, heavy, moralizing tone of the film itself. The production of this film involved many of the film technicians from the OGMPB and the Bureau also processed the film. The director of the Bureau, George Patton, had a cameo appearance in the film as well.
With the dissolution of the Ontario Government Motion Picture Bureau in 1934, the studios which were to have been “Hollywood North” were donated to the town of Trenton.20Mitchell Hepburn, Letter to Mayor of Trenton, July 22, 1935, Motion Picture files, Archives of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario. The main studio building still stands today and is used to house a dry-cleaning firm.
From this description of the attempts to create long-term production companies in Canada, it becomes obvious that the time had passed when small firms might be able to create a production facility and survive.
Due to these initial failures, private investors became leery of investing in other Canadian firms. without access to the distribution system, few Canadian films were seen, even though there was a supposed market for them. The situation is perhaps best described in this American assessment of the early Canadian attempts at motion picture production:
Dependence on American capital and American products inhibited the development of the Canadian motion picture industry from the start. Surrendering control of the local feature film market to exporters, distributors, and exhibitors from its southern neighbor, and to a lesser extent England, Canada concentrated instead on the production of documentaries. Ephraim Katz, The Film Encyclopedia (New York:Perigee,1982), p.201.21Ephraim Katz, The Film Encyclopedia (New York:Perigee,1982), p.201.
Canada’s concentration on documentaries was dictated by the fact that very few firms in Canada had the resources to become involved in film-making. Those who did engage in film-making did so in order to utilize a new and more persuasive form of communication. These early Canadian documentaries were sponsored commercials produced by either big business or government.
The first Canadian firm to become involved in film-making was Massey-Harris. In 1898, Massey-Harris hired the Edison company to come to Canada and film one of its new binders at work on an Ontario farm. This film was first shown at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto and was later shown at various festivals around the world with the aim of encouraging sales,22Hye Bossin, Canadian Film Weekly Yearbook 1947-48 (Toronto: Film Publications of Canada Ltd., 1948), p.28.
Due to the early date of this film, it is likely that Massey-Harris was one of the first companies in the world to sponsor a film solely for the purposes of commercial advertising.23This statement is based on the date of the Massey-Harris film and a brief survey of British, American and French archival film holdings. However, one year earlier, the Canadian Pacific Railway sponsored a tour of England by a farmer cum amateur cameraman who projected images of his life on the prairies. These films were shown as part of an evening’s presentation designed to encourage emigration to Canada. While these films had not been originally commissioned by the CPR (as the Massey-Harris films had been), the CPR was quick to recognize the potential benefit of this persuasive medium. This represents the beginning of the CPR’s long involvement in film.
Involvement of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company in Film
It might be difficult to imagine today the monolithic role the Canadian Pacific Railroad had in shaping the course of the development of Canada. At the turn of the century the CPR was Canada’s largest corporation with the most exhaustive land holdings in the Dominion.
There is a story, told in CPR offices and elsewhere, about a traveller early in this century who came to Canada to investigate agricultural and investment possibilities in the Prairie provinces. Having crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a Canadian Pacific steamer, travelled from Quebec to Montreal on a Canadian Pacific train, registered at Canadian Pacific’s Place Viger Hotel in the latter city, he then visited the company’s Windsor station headquarters to confer with C.P.R. officers about the company’s active role in industrial, agricultural and mineral development, as well as its land, immigration and colonization operations.
His questions answered, he went downstairs to the Canadian Pacific Railway ticket office to send off some messages by Canadian Pacific Telegraph and a few gift parcels by Canadian Pacific Express and to purchase his rail tickets for travel onward to Western Canada. “There you are, sir,” said the ticket agent, handing him an envelope full of tickets and reservation forms, “your train leaves tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m.” Because the city was on “Daylight Savings Time”, the agent added, helpfully, “that’s Standard-Railway-Time.” “Good God!” rejoined the traveller, “does the C.P.R. control the time, too?”24Marc Choko & David Jones, Canadian Pacific Posters 1883-1963 (Montreal:Meridian Press, 1988), p.131.
This un-named, possibly fictional, traveller voiced an opinion of the CPR which was not far from the truth. By virtue of its status as the largest industrial concern in Canada, the CPR wielded incredible power both directly and indirectly. The CPR’s close ties to the federal government lead to its pivotal role in the development of Canada. The CPR and the government co-operated and their goals were often assumed to be mutually interchangeable.
The history of the development of the CPR is in many ways the history of Canada. Many people believe that the physical cross-Canada link of the CPR is more than simply a railway. Some Canadians believe that the CPR is one of the factors which holds this country politically and socially together. Whether or not this is actually the case, the CPR has encouraged the promotion of these sentiments to further its own advancement and generate public good will.
When the Canadian government awarded the national railway franchise to the CPR, the Government of Canada paid the CPR $25,000,000.00. This money was in addition to $27,700,000.00 worth of constructed track and bed and 25 million acres of land.25General Publicity Department, Canadian Pacific Facts and Figures (Montreal: Canadian Pacific Foundation Library, 1937). The CPR had to act quickly to convert their land holdings into cash in order to keep the company liquid. E.J. Hart states,
“It (the transcontinental rail line) was completed at such a cost that the company immediately began examining every possible avenue of making money to reduce its enormous debt load and to pay its operating costs,”26E.J. Hart, The Selling of Canada (Banff: Altitute, 1983) ,p. 7.
In order to achieve these goals the CPR formed several internal departments, including the Colonization and Immigration Department and the General Publicity Agents Office.
The Colonization and Immigration Department of the CPR acted to attract foreign immigrants to come to Canada in order to farm the vast land holdings of the CPR. These immigrants came to Canada on CP Steamships, travelled to their “new homes” by CPR, and a CPR agent collected their payments to the Company. The CPR heavily promoted its settling of the Canadian west; however there were difficulties.
In order to communicate their message, the CPR used every technique available. CPR President and Chairman, William Van Horne (1843-1915), known for his shrewdness, began the tradition of allowing authors and poets free passage on the CPR from Montreal to Banff. Van Horne’s belief was that the writers would be inspired by the scenery (and service) and would then publish glowing accounts of their travels. These personal endorsements, seemingly independent of CPR’s advertising, would stimulate other travellers. Passage was also granted to artists, from whom the CPR would purchase one or more of their works to be used as illustrations for future brochures. The artists would later exhibit or sell other works and, in doing so, generate interest in visiting the scenes depicted in the paintings. The artists and the authors were not directed what to paint or what to write, nor did the CPR wish to become involved in arbitrating taste. Van Horne’s directives concerning who was to be granted free passage did not include judgements regarding artistic merit. More important to the CPR was the artist’s ability to reach world wide audiences. Therefore, the struggling Canadian novelist was less favoured than the Times columnist who dabbled in short stories.
Many of the foreign writers and painters were so taken with Canada after they arrived that many did not return to their homelands. Instead they remained, adding to the mosaic which shaped this country. For example, one such person was A.C.Leighton, originally brought to Canada by the CPR to produce illustrations for brochures. Leighton became fascinated with the high mountain passes through the Rockies and was peripherally involved with the Group of Seven.
The first posters and lithographs produced in Canada were for the promotion of the CPR. For many years it was through the auspices of the CPR that these materials were produced. These posters and lithographs have been described as,
... promoting simultaneously, the company's interests as well as those of the country, through the mass dissemination of graphic materials.The posters of Canadian Pacific, alone, constitute one of the largest production efforts that has come to light around the world. The company's successful use of the poster through a period of eighty years, and its innovations in silkscreen production techniques over a twenty-year period, make Canadian Pacific's contribution to the history of the medium not only an important one but an essential one.27Marc Choko, Canadian Pacific Posters 1883-1963, p.16.
As early as 1891, the majority of tourists registered in CP’s Banff resort were Americans, reversing the previous predominance of European visitors. In order to capitalize upon this fact, the CPR spared no expense on its rail cars, advertising them to be more luxurious than Pullman (the current standard of luxury). The CPR developed vacation resorts in the Rockies, calling them “the North American Alps” or the “Canadian Pacific Rockies”. Another aspect of these campaigns urged the wealthy to take the “waters” at Banff. The reason was that if the CPR could encourage the wealthy to attend, thereby creating a bona fide tourist resort, other people would wish to visit. The CPR was so successful that even today the only parts of Canada which many Americans are familiar with are Banff, Lake Louise and the Rockies. Canada still has the tourist image of a wilderness vacation retreat in many American minds.
The CPR promoted tourism and development in the Canadian west, indeed the vision many people have today of Canada is based on that information. The CPR was anxious to present Canada as a wilderness vacation paradise, a wilderness fit for sport and a storehouse of raw materials. These visions of Canada were beneficial to the CPR because they would provide the freight service to remove the raw materials, and the hotels and passenger service to accommodate the tourists.
These visions of Canada were also helpful to the Government of Canada which worked closely with the CPR in its promotions. For example, the first pamphlet the Government of Canada produced was to promote Banff national park and was issued in conjunction with the CPR to help support the CPR’s marketing efforts.
Van Horne himself was one the most prolific of the CPR copywriters and was keenly aware of the need for promotion. It was Van Horne who was said to have stated, “If we can’t export the scenery we’ll import the tourists”. To achieve this objective, Van Horne and the CPR made use of every medium available. However, it was through the medium of motion pictures that the CPR was best able to export the Rockies. The “Canadian Pacific Rockies” were a popular subject of many short films and newsreels.
The CPR maintained an extensive library of films which were available through all of its passenger agents around the world.28As early as 1890, the CPR had an extensive network of passenger agents throughout the world. In addition to a large number of offices in the United States and Britain, the CPR maintained offices throughout Europe, Australia, Japan, India, Burma, Ceylon, Egypt, South Africa and several South American countries.
The CPR provided these films, accompanied by a lecturer, to any interested parties or groups. These presentations were particularly popular in Europe and the united states. The focus of the European presentations was often immigration. The American programs tended to centre primarily on tourist aspects of Canada. Banff and Lake Louise were the most popular of the tourist film subjects, while prairie farming was the most popular subject of the immigration films.
In 1897, James S Freer, a farmer in Manitoba, filmed scenes of his daily life. Many of these scenes often featured a CPR train passing across the fields. Freer created a program entitled, “Ten years in Manitoba”. The CPR sponsored Freer on a tour of England where he projected his films and gave a personal talk about life in Canada.
In 1901 Clifford Sifton, then Minister of the Interior, agreed to sponsor Freer on a second tour of Britain, using the same films, but under “the auspices of the Canadian Government”,29Hugh Dempsey (ed), The CPR West (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 1984), p.248. Sifton reported that,
The CPR has initiated a series of animated photographs of Canada, it's scenery and its industries, which is much in demand. Naturally my department co-operates in any efforts that have for their object the dissemination of knowledge about Canada.30Canada, Department of the Interior, Report (Ottawa:King's Printer, 1899), p.114.
This tour was less of a success than the previous one, likely because Freer travelled to the same audience with the same material.
In 1902, the CPR hired Charles Urban (1871-1942)31Charles Urban was an American inventor who, in 1897, created a projector called the Bioscope. After running into patent difficulties with Edison, Urban moved to England to continue his work and film-making. Urban also developed the early colour process Kinemacolor. to produce a series of films depicting life in Canada and the CPR. The CPR’s selection of Urban to produce this series of films was likely influenced by the fact that in addition to producing films, Urban also maintained a distribution network in Britain. This arrangement ensured that the CPR’s films would be screened across England, a factor that could not be guaranteed by an independant producer.
Urban produced a series of thirty-four films entitled “Living Canada”. These films were shot on a flatcar which was pushed in front of an engine. Urban and the CPR scripted several short dramas featuring life in the Canadian West. Urban received strict instructions from the CPR not to include any winter scenes in these films. The CPR believed that Europeans already had an exaggerated view of the winters in Canada and did not want to do anything that might encourage these fears. Urban disobeyed this directive and produced films which featured Montrealers enjoying the winter, skating on the st. Lawrence River and riding in horse drawn cutters. These films were released by Urban himself rather than through the CPR like Urban’s other films and were well received by European audiences. It is significant that while Urban’s films did feature snow, they were not set in the middle of the open prairies where the majority of the new immigrant settlers would eventually settle.
In 1910, the CPR once again commissioned a series of films and this time the contract was awarded to the Edison company.32The Edison Company was chosen to produce these films for The Edison Company reasons as the similar reasons as the previous choice of Urban, assured distribution in the targeted market. It also indirectly acknowledges the difficulty which independent Canadian film makers faced in trying to get their films distributed. The CPR wanted large-scale distribution for its sponsored films and Edison, through the power of the MPPA, had the ability to have the finished films screened in the desired marketplace, something independent Canadian companies could not guarantee. In addition, the choice of Edison to produce these films subtly indicates the enlarged focus of the CPR’s advertising, from Britain to America. Supervising the Edison Company for the CPR was Capt. J.S. Dennis.33Captain J.S. Dennis win continue to have influence over CPR film-making until his death. Dennis, a close friend of Edward Beatty, would become Beatty’s assistant when Beatty became President of the CPR in 1918. Dennis was the head of the CPR’s sUbsidiary, the Canadian Pacific Irrigation and Colonization Company. Dennis was not only aware of the power of this new medium, but was also aware of the growing sophistication of the Canadian audience. In 1911 Dennis wrote:
...the great mass of the public want to be amused and entertained, not instructed, and if they are to be educated it must be in a subtle, delicate manner...if the class of story that appeals to Johnny and his girl runs prominently through mining, or lumbering, or fishing, or ranching films, they will unconsciously swallow the knowledge.34Norman Rankin, interview with J.S. Dennis, printed in Man to Man Magazine, number 6-7, June 1910-January 1911, p.28.
Dennis’ statement is important in the context of the CPR film-making because it enunciates for the first time the basic motivation behind the CPR’s involvement in this medium. Every film that the CPR produced was designed for the promotion of the CPR, regardless of any ‘public service’ benefits.
The CPR exhibited their sponsored films at every public occasion they could. In 1915, the CPR constructed a large, Parthenon-like building for the Panama World Exhibition. One of the most popular features of the CPR exhibit was the continuous showing of films depicting “all parts of Canada that are likely to attract tourists and settlers”.35Motion Picture World. Vol. 23, January-March 1915, p.107.
In 1918 George Brownridge approached John Murray Gibbon with the idea of producing dramatized pUblicity short films for the CPR. Gibbon’s response, according to Brownridge, was to suggest another manner in which Brownridge might use his film-making talent to “help” the CPR.36National Archives of Canada (hereafter NAC), Moving Image and Sound Archives (hereafter MISA) Hye Bossin Collection, an unpublished manuscript by Brownridge. Also quoted in Morris’ Embattled Shadows, where Morris claims further authentication. The author of this paper was not able to locate any other authentication.
The Great Shadow, produced in 1919 by Brownridge’s new firm Adanac Productions, detailed the dangers of the “red menace”. It was a powerful anti-union, anti-communist document designed to frighten the workers of Canada into believing that any step towards trade-unionism would result in economic disaster and hardship for all Canadians. The release of this film shortly after the Winnipeg General Strike was considered “timely” by some Canadian industrialists and Parliamentarians.
Scholars have long pondered the extent of the relationship between the CPR and George Brownridge. Sir Edward Beatty is known to have also harbored these anti-bolshevist prejudices and was therefore considered by Brownridge to be a likely supporter for this project. The CPR did not publicly give money to support Brownridge in his project, however Beatty (and Gibbon) did give him moral and material support. Beatty presented Brownridge to the Reconstruction Association,37The Reconstruction Association was an organization based in Montreal of which the major industrial corporations in Canada were members. The Reconstruction Association’s object was to promote continued industrial development in Canada. and supported a motion to donate funds from that Association in support of Brownridge. Brownridge was also given office space and secretarial support in the CPR Telegraph Building, as well as other facilities. Despite these actions, the CPR was careful to downplay any talk of their involvement with the project and in January 1920, Adanac issued a statement denying the financial involvement of the CPR.38Moving Picture World. Vol. 43, 1920, p.64.
Brownridge’s film was eventually produced and received wide-scale release throughout Canada and the united states. The audience was swelled by the fact that many corporations (including the CPR) gave their employees free tickets to see The Great Shadow as a “bonus”. According to Urban, some corporations even screened the film in the factory cafeteria during lunch hour.39NAC, MISA, Hye Bossin Collection, Interview with Charles Urban, no date.
In 1919, the CPR also hired Charles Urban to produce a documentary film of the Prince of Wales’ tour of Canada. The CPR hoped that by documenting the visit of the Prince of Wales to Canada they could elicit favourable pUblicity. The Prince, who was a very popular figure in Canada, ensured the widespread projection of this film. In addition, not only was the Prince a notable and popular figure, but he was travelling by CPR on his journey across Canada.
Some sources are of the opinion that the CPR was the star of the film, not the Prince of Wales. The dialogue stressed the strength of the mighty CPR engines, the luxury of the Prince’s rail car and the CPR hotels, the punctuality of the time-table and the courtesy of the staff. The film was designed not so much as a document of the Prince’s travels, but designed to lure those who wished to travel as a Prince. The film was very popular and received wide distribution throughout North America, Europe and the Commonwealth.
Government Involvement in Film
In 1910 the United States became the first national government to become engaged in the regulation of film by enacting tariffs against foreign produced films. Britain quickly followed America’s lead. Other countries, for example Germany, enacted quota laws which restricted the importation of American films to a percentage proportionate on the number of German films distributed in America.
In Canada, provincial governments would act first in the area of film regulation and censorship. As stated earlier, several of the provinces enacted censorship boards and attempted to control the content of the films projected. While British films were preferred to films of other origin by the early Canadian lawmakers, a quota system was never adopted. The reason for this is due in part to the division of authority between federal and provincial governments in Canada. The regulation of the projection of motion pictures is considered to be a provincial responsibility; however, quotas on the importation of motion pictures fall under federal trade authority.
In 1914 Canada did enact tariffs on the importation of all foreign produced films, but without a strong domestic industry this cost was simply passed along to the viewers. Despite appeals to enact a quota system which would restrict the flow of imported films, the Government of Canada decided this was not in the interest of Canadians. In addition, the Government had little interest in fictional film, which it considered a vulgar form of entertainment. Therefore, without an established Canadian feature film industry to lobby them, the Government saw no reason to anger the Americans and risk trade retribution in another sector of the Canadian economy.
At the same time, American production companies were buying out, or signing exclusive distribution deals with Canadian theatre owners. Many independents complained they could not get timely access to the most popular films, thus the genesis of a problem which remains today. without an outlet for their product, few fictional films were made in Canada by Canadian production companies. Canadians were reluctant to invest in Canadian productions, although many Canadians travelled to the states to become involved in motion pictures.40As mentioned in the introduction, people such as Mack Sennet, Mary Pickford and Jack Warner. One does not have to delve too deeply to see that this situation continues today. Without this base of financial support, Canadian production companies were not able to maintain a continued existence.
The Canadian government’s first official agency to become involved with the production and distribution of film was the Imperial War Office. The War Office Cinematographic Committee was formed in 1916 to co-ordinate the many requests from individuals and companies seeking either war footage, or permission to produce war footage.41 Many of these requests came from either American studios or freelance cameramen hoping to sell footage to the American studios. America was not involved in the war at this time and the easiest way to obtain war footage was through Canadian offices.
Lord Beaverbrook chaired this committee, which sub-contracted much of the actual film-making to the Topical Film Company of London. Beaverbrook was not satisfied with these results and the committee purchased fifty-one percent of the Topical Film Company’s stock, thereby ensuring control over production.42National Archives of Canada, RG 20 163 16613, Vol. 1.
In 1917, the War Office Cinematographic Committee contracted “Mr. David Wark Griffith, the well known film producer, for the production of a cinematographic film dealing with the War.”43Ibid, memo dated July 27, 1919.
Hearts of the World was first shown in London in 1918, and was later released world wide. The profits from this film were donated to war relief charities. The War Office Cinematographic committee was disbanded in 1919 with the shares in the Topical Film Company being sold and the profits donated to charity.44Ibid.
The Origins of the Exhibits & Publicity Bureau
In addition to the war effort, the two government departments most interested in motion pictures were the Department of Trade and Commerce and the Department of the Interior – specifically the Parks Branch. The Ministers of these departments, Sir George Foster and Dr. Roette, respectively, were known to have discussed the use of film and other media for the promotion of Canadian natural resources, industrial capabilites and tourism destinations. During a visit to England in 1915, Foster visited several British studios and made inquiries into the operation of the film industry there. In response to these inquiries, Mr. Clozenburg of the Cartoon Film Company of London offered to “popularize and advertize Canada, and its resources, by means of Cinematography.” 45NAC, RG 20 163 16613, Letter from Mr. Clozenburg, Cartoon Film Company of London, to Sir George Foster, Minister of Trade and Commerce, dated June 29, 1916. Clozenburg’s offer was rejected by Foster, likely due to the $50,000.00 per year cost of such an agreement. However, Foster remained interested in the use of motion pictures for nationalistic promotion.
In 1916, the Bureau for Commercial Economics, a United states government agency, asked the Canadian government for films detailing natural resources and hydro development possibilities in Canada. The Bureau wished to circulate these films to potential American investors. The Bureau for Commercial Economics had a library estimated to contain several million feet of film documenting investment possibilities throughout the United States and South America. The Bureau informed the Deputy Minister of Trade and Commerce, F. C. T. 0′ Hara, that American investors wished to see films which documented the resource potential of Canada. These films were described as “… the preparation and displaying of propaganda on Canada’s natural resources in the United states to support British Government loans.”46NAC, RG20 107, 24089, VOL.1 Bernard Norrish in memo detailing his personal career.
There seems to have been no discussion over why Canada, a sovereign country, was being mortgaged for Britain’s debts.
Eager to encourage foreign investment, 0’Hara47F.C.T. O’Hara was Deputy Minister of Trade and Commerce from 1908 until 1931. O’Hara, a long-term friend of Norrish would continue to be helpful to him, lobbying for beneficial legislation, even after Norrish left and formed ASN. felt this was an excellent idea 48F.C.T. O’Hara suggested to Minister Sir George Foster, “some of the other departments are apparently going into it (making films) on their own hook, but I think that if we were to go into it a bit more actively, we could save considerable duplication and establish an important work in this line.” NAC, RG20 107 24089 11 May 1917. and approached the Department of the Interior – Water Powers Branch about the possibility of producing these films.
Bernard E. Norrish (1885-1961)49Bernard Esterbrook Norrish was born in Walkerton, Ontario, 1885. After attending high school in Walkerton, he enrolled in Mechanical Electrical Engineering at Queen’s University in Kingston, graduating in 1908. Norrish worked for the Department of the Interior, but returned on leave to Queen’s to undertake a Master I s of Science, Engineering, graduating in April 1910. Upon returning to the Department of the Interior, Norrish was employed with the Water Powers Branch. was employed with the Water Powers Branch as the Head Draftsman. Norrish’s work involved experimenting with new techniques of photographic analysis. His work also lead him to an interest in moving pictures which he aggressively explored in his spare time. To satisfy his interest in motion pictures, Norrish had visited the E.I. and S. Corporation’s studios.50The E.I. and S. Studios were the largest in the United States at this time. On a visit to New York, he also visited the Essanay Film Company in Chicago and the Ford Motor Car unit in Detroit, which also produced films. with his interest, Norrish was therefore the obvious choice when the department needed someone to supervise the production of the films.
The Water Powers Branch, not having the technical facilities to produce these films, contracted the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company of Detroit.51Essanay was one of the original signatories to the Motion Pictures Patent Association. Norrish was to oversee the production of these films to ensure accuracy. However, Norrish’s involvement in the project soon grew to include writing, directing and editing of the films which were produced. Norrish later reported that “at least 90% of the direction … was entirely in the hands of government officials.” 52NAC, RG 20 107 24089, Vol.1. B. Norrish, memo to O’Hara, November 29, 1919.
During 1916 and 1917, approximately six films were produced by the Essanay Company and Norrish. Five of these films concerned hydro-electric power and one depicted the harvesting of wheat. Sir George Foster was impressed with Norrish’s work and made an application for the transfer of Norrish from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Trade and Commerce. Norrish joined the Department of Trade and Commerce on September 1, 1917.
Bernard Norrish was a very aggressive and energetic person, who was anxious to make a mark for himself in this new field of government film-making. Norrish’s eagerness is detectable in a memo from the Deputy Minister to the Minister of Trade and Commerce which states in part:
"Norrish is most anxious to know what name has been given to the department so as to erect a sign ... also to know what his title is to be so that stationary may be printed." 53NAC, RG 20 24089, Vol. 1. F.C.T. O'Hara, memo to Sir George Foster, no date.
The first employee was Arthur E. Reeves, formerly of the Essanay Company who had been the cameraman on the water power films. The category of cameraman did not exist in the civil service at this time, therefore Reeves was hired as a junior clerk, earning more than Norrish himself did at the time. For the first year the staff consisted of Norrish and Reeves alone. Norrish not only supervised the production of films, he also wrote the scripts, directed the films and in some instances, was the cameraman as well.
Norrish planned extensive production facilities for the new unit. This was the first government agency in the world to be involved directly in the production of films. Norrish’s design and mission of the Bureau would influence others, including John Grierson. While Norrish was establishing production facilities, he also purchased and distributed films produced by freelance cameramen 54Byron Harmon produced many of these films. Harmon also produced several films for the CPR, primarily of the Rocky Mountains, which depicted Canada’s industrial potential.
By February 1918, Norrish had nearly completed laboratory and studio facilities and announced a schedule of releasing ten short films a year at a cost of $1500.00 each. These films were to be distributed throughout Canada, the united states, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.55NAC, RG 20 107 24089, Vol. 1. Norrish to O’Hara, February 7, 1918. They were to be made available overseas, though the travel offices of Canadian Pacific Steamships.
A draft of the order in council establishing the new bureau was written in April 1918. In May, the Department of Trade and Commerce held a screening of Canadian industrial and travelogue films for all cabinet ministers, senators and members of Commons by way of an announcement of the new agency. The official press release for this event states that this projection was favorably received and portrayed the intention of the new agency:
Publicity is a means to an end, and in the case of the Trade and Commerce department the inauguration of a motion picture bureau is the beginning of a pUblicity campaign to make Canada known, as she really is, at home and abroad.56 NAC, RG20 107 24089, Vol.l. Department of Trade and Commerce press release dated May 1, 1918.
By August, six films were in production, directed by Norrish and filmed by Reeves.
On September 19, 1918, an Order In Council officially established the Exhibits and Publicity Bureau of the Department of Trade and Commerce with Ben Norrish as its director. The Bureau was set up to promote Canadian resources and products to foreign countries and to encourage foreign investment. Documents to the Minister of Trade and Commerce from the Deputy Minister indicate that the funding spent on these films would not be recouped by their projection, but rather that they were an important tool in the selling of Canada to foreign investors.
Sir George Foster, Minister of Trade and Commerce, faced stiff opposition to the new bureau both in and out of the House of Parliament. Some members of the opposition asked “the names of the leading moving picture stars who are employed by Canada?” and if “these films show moving pictures of our (government) ministers?”57Canada, House of Commons, Debates, June 6, 1920, p. 4544.
Foster proposed an Order-in-Council which required all government departments to use the services of the Exhibits and Publicity Bureau rather than hiring private cameramen. After a bitter battle in committee, the Department of Agriculture was exempted on the grounds that they required the use of slow-burning or safety film since their projections took place in a variety of casual locations (schools, barns and churches) and were projected often by unlicensed operators.
It was Norrish who suggested that an Order In Council be passed requiring all government departments to be obliged to employ the services of the Exhibits and Publicity Bureau. 58National Archives RG 20 107 24089, Vol. 1. B. Norrish, memo to F.C.T. O’Hara, no date. Norrish feared that if such exemptions were allowed, it would weaken the chance of survival of the new bureau. Norrish protested to Foster that films could be printed on safety stock for use by the Department of Agriculture, however he was not able to change the decision. On March 29, 1919, another Order In Council specifically exempted the Department of Agriculture from the previous order in council. These exemptions, as Norrish feared, would eventually lead to the downfall of the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau and its eventual absorption into the National Film Board. There is no evidence that the Federal Department of Agriculture ever utilized safety film to any large extent.
In February 1919, the first of the films in the “Seeing Canada” series was released. This series was originally designed for foreign release, but rising feelings of nationalism at the time prompted the Bureau to also release these films domestically.
It has been suggested that with the release of these films and their domestic appeal that “Norrish’s concept of the role of the Bureau clearly began to move beyond the narrow definition of industrial propaganda implicit in the order-in-council.” 59Peter Morris, Embattled Shadows, p.134.
Industrial propaganda was certainly implicit in Norrish’ s original conception of the series, detailed in this memo to O’Hara:
"I would suggest that, for the present, we confine our efforts to the preparation of 10 reels of pictures per year, each reel complete in itself. One reel releases will give us the maximum in the way of advertising." 60National Archives, RG 20 107 24089, Vol. 1. B. Norrish, memo to O'Hara, dated February 7, 1918.
If there was a shift away from industrial propaganda it was towards propaganda designed to encourage tourism as evidenced by these titles of early pictures in the series: The Most Picturesque Spot in North America, Lake Louise, A World of Scenic Wonders, Wooden Shipbuilding in Canada and Building Aeroplanes in Canada. The last two titles suggest the encouragement of manufacturing in Canada rather than just raw material export. The Department of Trade and Commerce may have been trying to expand the focus of these films, however the scenic films proved to be the most popular. In response to a question in the House of Commons, Foster revealed that the two most popular titles in the Bureau’s library were Lake Louise and The Most Picturesque spot in North America (Banff National Park). 61Canada, House of Commons, Debates, May 20, 1918, p.2268.
The Canadian Moving Picture Digest reacted enthusiastically to the Seeing Canada series. However, in the course of praise, telling comments are made about the perception of the role of these films:
This is the purpose of these films - to enable the people of the world to know the Canada which they have heard so much about in the last four years of war; to attract to Canada, as a result of showing a new and fertile field for industrial development, thousands of bona-fide businessmen and millions of foreign capital. 62Canadian Moving Picture Digest, February 13, 1919, p.13.
The Exhibits and Publicity Bureau was a success and enthusiastic reports came in from around the world wherever the Bureau’s films had been screened. At the 1919 Trade Fair in Lyon, the Bureau projected over 14,000 feet of film in a specially constructed pavilion. Solid distribution networks were established through embassy, trade and CPR offices around the world.
By the fall of 1919, staff numbers had grown to fourteen, including three cameramen. The Bureau also boasted of “the largest and best equipped studio and laboratory in Canada.” 63Moving Picture World, Number 42, 1919, p.340. One of these new staff members was John Alexander, a lifelong friend and associate of Norrish, who was a projectionist at Ottawa’s Capital theatre before joining the Exhibits and Publicity Bureau.
The Bureau’s international profile was raised to such an extent that United States Secretary of Commerce Redfield quoted the Canadian example when requesting a larger appropriation for American government film productions. 64Moving Picture World, March 1919.
All of this publicity was costly. In his year-end report to the minister, Norrish stated that while expenses for the Bureau were $90,000.00, revenue from film showings only totalled $1600.00. 65RG20 170 24089, Vol.l. B. Norrish, memo to O’Hara, December 1919. The Bureau had never been intended to return a profit, its value being instead in beneficial propaganda:
"It is considered that the net result of this propaganda will be not only the harnessing of general pUblic interest in foreign countries to our vast natural resources, but also the attraction of capital to the development of new water- powers and the location of new industries." 66Canada, House of Commons, Sessional Papers "Report of the Department of Trade and Commerce," (Ottawa: Kings Printer, 1920), p.17.
In spite of the perceived propaganda benefits, Foster was not able to defend the Bureau’s budget. In 1920 the Bureau’s budget was reduced. This budget reduction could not have come at a more difficult time for Norrish. His chief cameraman, Arthur Reeves, had recently left the Bureau. Reeves was the most technically competent of the Bureau’s photographers at that time and the only one able to light and shoot indoor scenes. The majority of the Bureau’s films were shot outdoors and the other cameramen were able to continue making these films. However, work ground to a halt on any industrial films which required sequences involving the interiors of factories or machinery. Reeves had been lured away by a larger salary and Norrish was in the difficult position of trying to replace Reeves, and with less money.
A further source of frustration to Norrish was increased pressure from other government departments on the scarce resources of the Bureau. Instead of having the Bureau produce films for the other departments Norrish complained to O’Hara that “seemingly every government department expects me to hand over stock and cameras without assurances that they have a qualified camera-man or without a story set out”. 67NAC, RG 20 170 24089, Vol. 1. B. Norrish, letter to O’Hara, no date.
In three years Norrish had built the Bureau from an idea into a viable agency. This small but effective unit produced an ever increasing number of films for various government departments and was receiving acclaim from around the world. Certainly the role of film in the Empire Marketing Board sprang from the practical example of the Exhibits and Publicity Bureau and Norrish’s direction. Later, John Grierson would state that it was Norrish and the Exhibits and Publicity Bureau which gave rise to his own ideas about the role of government film production agencies. 68NAC, RG 20 162 26708, Vol.l. Clipping from Ottawa Journal, no date [March, 1936]. However, for Norrish, his tenure in government film-making was about to end.
In 1920 Norrish was lured away by the only other major producer of film in Canada. One with whom Norrish had so often co-operated in the past as they had similar goals, the Canadian Pacific Railway.
After the First World War, Hollywood and its commercial view of film-making began to dominant the world markets. This was aided in no small way by the fact many French, German and Italian studios lay in ruins. 69Motion picture film during the First World War was literally ground up to reclaim the nitrate component to be used in the manufacture of gunpowder. As was documented in the first chapter, Canada consisted mainly of commercially sponsored films or travelogues. Both Ontario’s and the federal government’s involvement in film-making was for the purpose of education and persuasion, with little thought given to entertainment or art. An ever increasing number of theatres were being constructed in Canada; however, motion pictures were still considered by many to be a “lower-class” form of entertainment. 70The Government of Manitoba passed a theatres act in 1918 which banned “frivolity in films”, feeling that such presentations would lead to further moral and social decay.
This sentiment was held world-wide but seemed particularly strong throughout the Commonwealth. In Canada, Australia and Britain, such socially respectable people as teachers and ministers were often given free tickets or discounted admissions, as their presence was thought to lend an air of respectability. While the middle-class and working class people flocked to the theatres, the wealthy and those who wished to be seen as wealthy and cultured did not. Since these were often the same people who controlled investment in Canada, it was difficult to raise capital for film production.
It was common film-making practice at this time for independent producers to produce a simple one or two reel film and then sell the film outright to the theatre owners. This practice, however, left theatre owners with large, unwanted, inventories of old movies. In order to remain profitable, the theatre owners needed access to a large and ever-changing selection of films to keep the public’s attention. Therefore, the owners were very receptive to the introduction of film exchanges. With an exchange theatre owners could rent the film for a fee proportionate to the timeliness of the particular film.
The first exchanges were established by the larger theatre owners themselves. Many of these owners operated more than one theatre, and films were rotated through all the screens before being retired or sold to a less affluent theatre. Very quickly however, the Hollywood producers realized that film distribution was not only extremely lucrative, but allowed for additional control.
In 1922, in the United States the American film producers and distributors bound together and formed the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA). 71In 1945 this association changed its name to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) which remains active today. The MPPDA of the twenties and thirties acted in a similar manner to the Motion Picture Patents Association by forming a single vertically integrated institution. Motion pictures produced by members of this association were guaranteed distribution thorough affiliated theatre chains. The practice of “block” and “blind” booking was developed at this time through the actions of the MPPDA.
In Canada the power of the MPPDA was exerted through the control which the American organization exercised over the importation of motion pictures into Canada. Within two years, the Motion Picture Exhibitors and Distributors of Canada (MPEDC) which was formed in Toronto in November 1924. The MPEDC was incorporated with the following objectives,
"To promote and conserve the common interests of those engaged in the motion picture industry in the Dominion of Canada by establishing the highest possible moral and artistic standards in motion picture production, by developing the educational as well as the entertainment value and the general usefulness of the motion picture by diffusing accurate and reliable information with reference to the industry, by reforming abuses relative to the industry, by securing freedom from unjust or unlawful exactions and by other lawful and proper means." 72Statement made by MPEDC printed in Canada, Department of Labour, "Investigation into an Alleged Combine in the Motion Picture Industry in Canada," Report of the Commissioner (Mr. P. White), April 30, 1931 (hereafter referred to as the White Report), p.28.
This statement almost mirrored the organizational statements of the MPPDA, excepting of course that there were no motion picture producers in the Canadian organization, only exhibitors and distributors. In fact, the MPEDC was established with a loan of $2500.00 from the MPPDA 73The White Report, p.30. John Alexander Cooper was named the first president of the MPEDC although policies were directed from the MPPDA’s offices in New York74 The White Report, pp.163- 4. The MPEDC was commonly known as the Cooper Organization and while one would assume from its title that most members would be Canadians, the reality is that most were New York based businessmen, American film producers and distributors. In its 1931 investigation, the Canadian Department of Labour, revealed that of the MPEDC’s 1929 total revenue of $27,236.56, approximately eighty per cent of this was from New York distributors.75The White Report, p.30.
The Cooper Organization lobbied the Canadian and provincial governments against censorship, newsreel or other quota’s, tariffs and in general any legislative action which would have been detrimental to the American majors’ dominant position in the Canadian marketplace. One example of Cooper’s influence occurs in 1931, when the Ontario government concerned about the “quality” of films projected in that province, considered introducing a bill which would require more British films. As was stated earlier, this was a popular notion which was seen as the best method of improving screen selections. In addition, the British Government had enacted a few year earlier, in 1927, a bill which required U.K. exhibitors to devote a portion of screen time to films produced in the Empire. The largely Loyalist government of Ontario was inclined to follow these lead. Cooper was instructed by the Americans to ensure that this legislation did not pass. H. Masters, general manager of United Artists Corporation office in Canada wrote to his New York office saying,
"I certainly hope that Col. Cooper and the Motion Picture Exhibitors and Distributors Association gets busy and brings pressure on the proper parties, to stall this bill along, as we are having enough trouble in Canada, without being compelled to supply English pictures.76Haskell Masters to E. Raftery, March 21, 1931. United Artists papers, State Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin. Quoted in Pendakur, Canadian Dreams & American Control (Toronto: Garment, 1990).
Although the Cooper Organization supposedly included exhibitors, the only exhibitor listed as a member was Famous Players Canadian Company – who was as stated previously, vertically integrated into the Paramount organization. Independent exhibitors or distributors were not represented by the MPEDC, its purpose was strictly to enforce American control. In enforcing this control, the Cooper brought to Canada the same techniques of “block and blind booking” as were used in the United States.
Block booking is a marketing tactic used by distributors to sell a group, or block, of films to an exhibitor. This block contains one or two high quality or popular films in addition to a number of mediocre or poor films. In order to receive the popular films, the theatre must agree to rent the entire block. Independent exhibitors in Canada, or the U.S., were not able to negotiate to accept only the prize films, they must also take the duds. The reason for this, according to Percy Taylor of Canada RKO Distributing Corporation was, “Who will pay for the production of the other pictures?”77Percy Taylor quoted in The White Report, p.155 Therefore, the risk of producing a picture with a poor return was greatly reduced. If the picture was of lower quality it would be sold in a block and profits would still be made.
Blind booking is a similar process to block booking. However in blind booking, the exhibitor commits to a group of motion pictures before the pictures are ever produced. The films would be sold as “an Errol Flynn vehicle” or other such popular favourite actor or actress.
Both of these techniques created savings in marketing costs for the major producers. Each picture did not have to be promoted separately any longer, and in addition a minimum guaranteed market was also established for each picture.
The theatres had to subscribe to the block and blind booking system if they wished to obtain the first quality pictures which were necessary to remain in business. This resulted in exhibitors receiving more films than they needed (or wanted) in order to obtain a sufficient number of box office hits. Independent exhibitors would occasionally end up with more films than they could project in the given time and passed some rental films on without showing them at all.78The White Report, pp.152-3.
This glut of films created a difficult situation for the Canadian film producer. All of the available screen time was filled by the commitments to the distributors who sold in block. The independent Canadian producer found it difficult (if not impossible), therefore, to have his films exhibited.
The development of block and blind booking was pivotal in solidifying the financial backing of the Hollywood studio system and continues to influence film-making today. The networks of guaranteed distribution enabled Hollywood to obtain funding from established financial institutions. Previously, large financial institutions or corporations were hesitant to invest in motion pictures because of the difficulty in predicting which movie might be a success.
"When you make a steel rail you make something that is so long and so heavy and of such a quality. But when you make a foot of film, it is subject to the judgement of millions of people, each with his own standard of measurement."79Wasko, Movies and Money, p.31.
However, by ensuring distribution and exhibition, rental rates were guaranteed. With the support of the American capitalist system now behind Hollywood, studios began producing films at an ever- increasing rate.80For a detailed description of these events see, “A New Era in Film Financing (1919-1926)” in Janet Wasko, Movies and Money.
Some distributors tried to remain outside this group, one of these people was William Fox. Fox ran a small chain of theatres but decided not to go along with the MPPDA. Instead, Fox established his own production company to supply his theatres and managed to find support from competing banks, new immigrant banks outside the Rockefellor\Chase banks which supported the association. Fox managed to survive until forced into bankruptcy in 1933.
In Canada the situation was different. Banking in Canada was, and remains to a certain extent, a much more conservative process than in the United States. The majority of the bankers in Canada invested in tangible assets such as land and minerals. Canadian bankers were not interested in investing in a risky business like motion pictures, particularly since exhibition was not guaranteed.81Even if it were possible to guarantee exhibition within Canada, this market alone was not enough to generate the profits bankers expected. In order to generate a sufficiently large return to attract the bankers, wide- spread exhibition in the U.S. or Britain would have to be achieved.
Film-makers in Canada found that they had difficulty competing with American studios. Without the support of the banks, Canadian film-makers did not have the funds to establish studios and create as polished features as the American studios. Canadian film-makers could not afford the salaries of the major American studios leading to the drain of talented Canadians leaving this country for higher U.S. wages. This was despite the fact there was a market in Canada for non-American films.
After the First World War, Canadians were openly resentful of films depicting American heroism in the war. The late entry of the Americans, followed by their claims of glory, was seen by many Canadians as offensive. Riots took place in theatres at the showing of such films and a ban on the projection of the image of the American flag was invoked in some provinces. The issue was even raised in the House of Commons,
(T)he Government of this country ought to have a greater and closer control of the moving pictures shown in this country. If we go to the moving picture theatres, we see nothing but American pictures, nothing but the glorification of the American flag.82Canada, House of Commons, Debates. March 6, 1919, p.267.
Canadians were proud of their contribution to the war. In this outburst of patriotic fervour, Canadian painters and novelists began to achieve international appreciation. However, for the majority of Canadians, culture sprang from Britain and the response, therefore, to the overwhelming number of American films, was to demand more British films.
A few Canadian businessmen did try to compete with the U.S. studios, the most prominent in Canadian film history being Earnest Shipman. Other Canadians tried to break the distribution stranglehold, for example the Nathansons and the Allens. The story of their battle gives insight into the difficulties faced by those who attempted to compete with the Americans. It also details why some Canadian businessmen were to fail, while others found success in allying themselves with the American studios.
N.L. Nathanson and the Allens
Britain, the United States and many of the European nations acted to erect trade barriers to the importation of motion pictures and equipment early in this century. The largely independent and transient film producers who operated in Canada were either acting as agents for American producers or were not large enough to constitute a political presence. Consequently, protective tariffs were not erected until much later. The result of this lack of action was for well-financed individuals to move into the Canadian market and purchase the small independent film exhibitors and exchanges here.
In his unpublished essay, “The Rise and Fall of the Allens”, Kirwan Cox details the establishment of the first Canadian theatre chain. In 1906, Jule and Jay Allen established theatres in Kingston, Berlin (now Kitchener) and Chatham. To supply these theatres the Allens also established the Allen Amusement Corporation, a film exchange, thus following the American pattern of vertical integration. The uncertainty over the supply of films caused by the formation of the Motion Pictures Patent Association in 1908, in addition to the general uncertainty in the motion picture business, prompted the Allens to sell their interests and briefly retire from this business.
In 1910 the Allens re-entered the exhibition business establishing theatres in Canada’s burgeoning West. The Allens’ first theatre was the 600 seat Monarch in Calgary. In 1913, they constructed, also in Calgary, the Allen Theatre – a true movie palace, complete with balcony and organ. The Allens also established the Canadian Film Exchange to supply these theatres.
The Allens established a Canada-wide chain of these lavish movie palaces. Elaborate theatres were an attraction on their own and did not necessarily relate to the quality of picture shown in these theatres. However, because of the architecture and the atmosphere, first run films were shown at premium prices.
The opulence of the theatre was also designed to attract the middle class and wealthier patrons who traditionally did not attend the movies, further adding to the “air” of the event.
These palaces were justified financially because first run theatres provided between fifty and eighty percent of the revenue for a film.83Huettig, Economic Control of Motion Pictures, p.79.
In 1915, already distributing films across Canada, the Allens purchased the distribution rights to Paramount films and formed Famous Players Film Service Ltd.
With the war in Europe, the supply of motion pictures from Britain and Europe was sharply curtailed. The American producers moved to fill the gap and Paramount quickly began to emerge as the premier film producer in the United States. Their fortunes tied to Paramount’s, the Allens became very wealthy and embarked on a period of expansion, establishing lavish movie palaces throughout Canada and even venturing into the United States. By 1920, the Allen chain was the largest theatre chain in Canada with 45 theatres. The Allens had plans for world-wide expansion, the first being the Allen theatre in Detroit. When it was opened this theatre, with 3500 seats, was the largest theatre in the world.
The growing world popularity of American motion pictures had also convinced the prominent studios, for example Paramount, to expand internationally. Adolph Zukor, Chairman of Paramount, approached the Allens with an offer to buy a fifty percent interest in the Allens’ theatre chain. The Allens refused the Paramount offer. Viewed with the benefit of hindsight, it is difficult to understand why the Allens’ felt secure when their fortunes had been created from their relationship with Paramount. The Allens were so confident about their position that they even bragged to their neighbour, N.L. Nathanson, that they had stood up to Zukor.
Nathanson, who had not previously been involved in motion pictures, saw this as a golden opportunity. Nathanson approached Zukor with a proposal for a string of theatres across Canada, funded by Paramount and managed by Nathanson. Zukor reluctantly rejected Nathanson’s proposal as the Allens had an exclusive contract with Paramount until 1920. Encouraged, Nathanson quietly established a small theatre chain on his own.
In 1920 the Allens’ distributorship agreement with Paramount was up for renewal. Zukor retaliated against the Allens by transferring the exclusive Paramount franchise to N. L. Nathanson.
Nathanson signed an agreement with Zukor on February 20, 1920, giving Famous Players Canadian Corporation the exclusive right to distribute Famous Players-Laskey pictures in Canada for a period of twenty years. Although legally incorporated as a Canadian company, Zukor was named the president, with Nathanson being named the managing director. This agreement gave Famous Players-Laskey the same vertical integration arrangement (production-distribution-exhibition) in Canada as it had in the United States. It was as if the border between the two countries did not exist, thus setting the example for future relations.
The Allens continued to expand in an attempt to compete with Nathanson and by 1921 they operated fifty-five theatres across Canada, in all of the prime markets and locations. However, Nathanson embarked on an ambitious expansion plan as well, often selecting locations beside or across the street from Allen theatres. In order to build these theatres, the Allens had to raise the necessary capital from local share offerings. Nathanson, however, was backed by the international capital resources of Paramount which inevitably proved to be too much for the Allens, who declared bankruptcy in 1924. Nathanson then purchased at discounted prices the theatres he wished from the receiver and solidified his monopoly position in Canada.
One of these early producers was Ernest Shipman. Shipman, or “Ten-percent Ernie”, was undoubtedly one of the most flamboyant and interesting of Canadian film-makers. During his career Shipman produced several feature films, the most successful of which Back to God’s Country (1919), starring his wife, Nell Shipman. Shipman financed these productions by creating a new company for each production (for example, Ottawa Film Productions Ltd.), and by selling shares to local people. These films were shot in that area and many of the same people who purchased shares were used as extras in these productions. These techniques enabled Shipman to convince many people to invest in film production who otherwise would not normally have been so inclined. However, it was difficult to raise large sums of money in this manner. Production of the film might be stopped in the middle in order to raise additional funds. On one occasion, Shipman used a portion of the funds raised for the production of a new film to print release prints of a previous film.84NAC., Archibald Norrish Collection. Archibald Norrish, Letter to B. Norrish concerning investment of the former in the Ottawa Motion Picture Company, no date. The profits from exhibition were returned to new film production.
Few of Shipman’s films produced a large financial return, although all but the final picture returned at least a token profit to the original investors. This is largely due to difficulty that Shipman experienced in attempting to have his films distributed. Shipman’s most successful film, Back to God’s Country, was distributed in America by First National. In 1919, First National was just establishing itself as an American distributor, and Back to God’s Country was the company’s first success. However, by the time Shipman returned with future productions, a controlling share of First National was purchased by Famous Players-Lasky. Solidly ensconced in the Hollywood system. First National was reluctant to distribute independent films.
In order to get any of the MPPDA members to distribute his films, Shipman had to underwrite the majority of the costs. These costs were primarily the striking of release prints, which seriously threatened the liquidity of Shipman”s companies. The independent producer then gave these prints to the distributor for circulation. However, independently produced films were often of low priority to the distributor and did not receive the same promotion as major studio releases.
Independent theatre owners in Canada were often reluctant to show films distributed outside of the normal distribution system for fear of upsetting their regular suppliers.
It was necessary for Shipman to create a new company for each production not only to encourage local investment but as a hedge against creditors if something should go wrong. This lack of continuity meant that Shipman was never able to accumulate a sufficient pool of capital to form a stable studio. This transient nature of Canadian film-making has lead to the fact a critical mass of people together has rarely evolved as it did in Britain, France, Italy and the United States.85Most Canadian films today are produced in the same manner. A new production company is formed for each film to limit liability in case of bankruptcy. This procedure all but eliminates the possibility of establishing a studio.
Shipman tried valiantly to arouse the Canadian public, but his appeals fell largely on deaf ears. Shipman placed advertisements and articles in trade and popular papers, but to little avail. Shipman published an article in Moving Picture World in which he lashed out against the “Trusts” or “booking combines” and attempted to stir a nationalistic reaction. Little response came from the general public and none can be discerned as coining from the government. Shipman’s article read in part,
"In defiance of "trusts" or "booking combines" the ten productions herein announced will continue to be exploited until every foreign country and a reasonable quota of theatres in the English speaking world, have been contracted for."86NAC, MISA, File 2263, Advertisement by Ernest Shipman, "Telling the truth in pictures."
Shipman realized all too well the difficulties which faced independent film producers and distributors, however he was unable to affect the events which were gradually forcing all independent producers out of business. A small group of Hollywood companies, notably including Paramount, were beginning to force the unaligned independent producers out of business. They did so by either owning or signing contracts with the majority of the first run theatres in both Canada and the U.S. By controlling the first- run theatres the companies controlled approximately 67% of the motion picture rental revenue in Canada.87The White Report, p.38. In addition, they also produced films with the leading actors, actresses and directors all firmly locked into exclusive contract arrangements.
This action was not confined to Canada;88E.W. Hodkinson, the original founder of Paramount, and a strong proponent of independent production, was forced out of his own company and retired in 1924.however, it had the greatest effect on Canadian producers as they all were independent producers.
In 1922, Shipman established his own distribution company in Toronto, the Ernest Shipman Film Service.89Moving Picture World. Vol.59, 1922, p.560, 726. However this company was not able to attract a sufficient number of independent theatre owners to rent films. Shipman was caught in a downward spiral. Without popular films, Shipman could not interest a large number of theatres; however, without a proven distribution network, popular producers would not contract him to distribute their films. Some of the independent theatre owners were afraid of angering the large American controlled distributors by dealing with Shipman, and thereby cutting their own lifeblood. Within a year the Ernest Shipman Film Service would close, ineffectual against the established American owned or controlled distributors.
Shortly after the demise of this company, Shipman moved to Florida, trying to establish a studio there, however this too failed and Shipman left the motion picture business entirely.
The major American studios of the time were not specifically targeting Shipman, or for that matter any Canadian. The studios were simply acting to solidify their control over all production, distribution and exhibition of film in North America.
Formation Of Associated Screen News
Charles Urban, who had produced the successful film of the Prince of Wales tour, and his associate, Captain J. Baynes,90Captain George McLeod Baynes was involved with several film- making projects with Urban in the United States. Baynes and Terry Ramsaye produced the Seiznick newsreels, which lead to ASN’s production the Seiznick newsreels. Little is known about Baynes. He did not produce any films in Canada, and after the demise of ASN in New York, Baynes disappeared from film-making. approached the CPR with a plan for investment in a new motion picture production company.
Urban and Baynes proposed to establish Associated Screen News, New York, which would produce and sell newsreel stories to other major newsreel companies. Urban had also acquired the rights to Selznick News and the company would produce and market this newsreel as well. Edward Beatty consulted with his senior publicity agent John M Gibbon. Gibbon suggested to Beatty the establishment of a Canadian division of this company, preferably in Montreal so as to allow the CPR easy access to facilities in the production of their own advertising materials.
John Murray Gibbon (1875-1952) B.A.(Oxford), L.L.D.(McGill), F.R.S.C., was employed by the CPR as an Advertising Agent May 1, 1907. Gibbon travelled along CPR routes in Europe and the Orient, writing brochures for use in publicity. Gibbon made many trips to Canada, escorting European journalists or in the preparation of articles, until offered a promotion to a position based in Montreal. Gibbon moved to Canada in 1913, taking the position of General Publicity Agent and quickly became a close friend and confidante of Edward Beatty. Gibbon was an author and a lyricist, writing books, articles and innumerable brochures promoting both the CPR and Canada. Gibbon was the founding president of the Canadian Authors Association and also the founder of the CPR sponsored Trail Riders and Skyline Hikers of the Canadian Rockies. With CPR backing, Gibbon was the organizer of at least 16 ethnic folk festivals across Canada. Gibbon saw film as a means of recording these other arts and cultural events, to demonstrate them to others around the world. The festival’s purpose was not only to promote culture, but in addition to promote travel to such festivals and to give the travellers a reason to remain at a particular CPR resort. The motor car was surpassing the train in popular transport as improved access and road ways were constructed. Therefore, since many of the travellers were not arriving by train, an event was necessary to attract them to a particular area or entice them to linger longer.
Gibbon was the first Publicity Agent of the CPR to attempt to foster positive relations between the CPR and the French-language media, hiring the CPR’s first francophone as his editorial assistant. Gibbon’s unique contribution to Canadian society was the juggling of CPR’s goals and those of Canadian culture.91For a detailed examination of the contribution to Canada made by John Murray Gibbon, please see Gary Kines, “Chief Man-of-Many-Sides”, unpublished M.A. thesis (Carleton, 1988).
It was Gibbon who suggested that the CPR approach Bernard Norrish and ask him to manage Associated Screen News of Canada.
Gibbon and Norrish were well acquainted with each other through previous dealings between the CPR and the Exhibits and Publicity Bureau. The CPR, aside from producing and distributing their own films through their Immigration and Colonization department, acted as world-wide agents for the distribution of Canadian Government motion pictures. With their world-wide network of steamships, railways and sales offices, the CPR proved to be an ideal distributer.
John Gibbons and Colonel J.S. Dennis travelled to Ottawa to make their proposal to an initially reluctant Norrish. Norrish felt his position as head of growing government agency presented greater security and possibilities for personal advancement than an as yet unformed company. Norrish was eventually persuaded by his close friend, John Alexander, to accept the position with the CPR.
In May, 1920, Norrish resigned his government post, leaving Raymond Peck as acting director,92Raymond S. Peck was later made director of the Bureau on April 1, 1923, on the Minister’s authority. Peck was responsible for the very popular film, Lest We Forget. Peck was also responsible for the Bureau’s change of name to the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau. Peck was director until his death in May 1927. Peck was succeeded by Captain Frank Badgely, who was the last director of the CGMPB (1927-1941). to take a position in the CPR marketing department.
In June, 1920, Urban announced the formation of Associated Screen News, New York Ltd. and of its wholly owned subsidiary, Associated Screen News of Canada. Plans were also announced for the future formation of Associated Screen News of Great Britain, although there is no record that such a company ever existed.
The formation of the new company was financed by a private share offering in both the United States and Canada.93Most notable of the Canadian investors was Nat Nathenson. Nathenson’s family would eventually purchase Associated Screen News from the CPR thirty-five years later. The CPR, following in the tradition which financed the railway itself, was not a shareholder in the venture, but rather advanced seventy percent of the needed funds to Urban through interest bearing bonds.94 CPR Archives, ASN files, B. Norrish, Undated history of Associated Screen News of Canada. The CPR appointed Colonel Dennis to be the president of Associated Screen News of Canada and moved Norrish from the marketing department to make him manager of the new company. One of Norrish’s first acts was to hire John Alexander away from the Exhibits and Publicity Bureau as a cameraman for the Canadian division of ASN.
The problem of consistent funding which plagued Canadian film-makers was solved for Associated Screen News of Canada by it being owned by the CPR. This was, however, a double-edged sword both for ASN and film-making in Canada. While the CPR provided the stability needed to establish a proper studio that no previous Canadian film-making venture had been able to acquire, the type of films which were to be produced would carry a strong vested interest.
The CPR decided to invest in Associated Screen News because although it had been involved in the production of motion pictures before, the wide-spread theatrical release of such pictures was not assured. Results depended on the size of the circuit securing the release. The CPR believed that operating their own production company with ties to larger American interests would provide greater distribution avenues.
Associated Screen News of Canada produced all the films reguired for educational or promotional needs by the CPR. ASN also operated a photographic service concession in CP’s hotels. Associated produced photographic ‘views’ and booklets which were sold to tourists, in addition to offering photographic processing services for the hotel guests.
In addition to these responsibilities, ASN’s production department was responsible for producing Canadian content material for the American newsreels.
Today’s current debate over the amount of air-time given to Canadian artists in radio or television or television programs finds its genesis in provincial legislation (originally Ontario and Nova Scotia) which required that foreign newsreels distributed in these provinces contain at least one story of Canadian or Commonwealth interest. British newsreels entered without restriction, however American companies had to splice in material, usually about the scenic beauty of Canada. Forests, beauty pageants and Royal visits made up the majority of these stories. Since the majority of newsreels released weekly editions, a steady source of Canadian material was needed.
Originally Associated Screen News was involved in the production and distribution of newsreels for, Gaumont Newsreel, Kinogram Newsreel, Seiznick Newsreel and Gaumont Pictorial Life. These newsreels were projected in approximately four thousand theatres in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and South America.95CPR Archives, ASN files, B. Norrish, memo to L.B. Unwin, no date. Two of the early Kinograms were Beautiful Banff, and Lovely Lake Louise. These newsreels received wide North American and overseas distribution. In addition to serving to reinforce the view of Canada as a wilderness, they also were subtle advertisements for the CPR. The hotels featured at both Banff and Lake Louise were operated by the CPR and the most accessible tourist route to these places was by the CPR.
Canada’s geographical size made it difficult for a single newsreel company to give national treatment to Canadian events. Few private companies were able to afford the necessary travel costs. However, Associated Screen News cameraman travelled as ‘guests’ of the CPR. In addition, they also received free accommodation at CP hotels. Both the completed motion pictures and the raw stock were shipped “free of charge” over Canadian Pacific rail, sea, and later, air routes. This factor alone gave ASN a sizable advantage over any other would be competitor. It also imparted a subtle bias towards the CPR in all of the productions. Famous politicians or visitors were nearly always recorded either at the station or at one of CP’s hotels. In all of the human interest or scenic segments, the visitor arrived at these locations by train.
ASN also produced a number of scenic films which depicted the “natural state” of Canada, designed to encourage tourism. The short film Moose is typical of the type of film which was produced by ASN at this time. This three minute film details the actions of a moose casually emerging from the forest’s edge and wading into a stream to feed on the vegetation. Shot from across the stream, this three minute film reinforces the notion of Canada as an unspoiled wilderness and builds expectations in the minds of viewers as to what a Canadian vacation might include.
All of this was of course part of a careful plan that is perhaps best enunciated by Norrish himself in his theory of “eye-mindedness”. Norrish felt that humans possessed a mental tendency he termed “eye- mindedness”, that a thought impression, once gained, was never lost. Norrish felt that diverse kinds of information could be transferred to the viewer through motion pictures in such a manner that the viewer would not feel as if (s)he were being instructed. Norrish pointedly stated that these methods could be used to achieve such goals as stimulating patriotism or selecting a vacation destination. In an article published in 1922, Norrish explains his understanding of the persuasive power of film,
"For instance take scenic films. They show sport life of the mountain parklands- glorious sporting lakes and streams- holidayers having the time of their lives. Next summer holiday time, association of ideas will finally lead prospective tourists to think mountains, fishing, boating, etc., and then parks, mountains, trout, where found, come to their minds naturally as a result of the natural functions of the mind.96B. Norrish, "The Educational Possibilities of Motion Pictures," Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers. No. 10, May 1920. This paper was delivered at an SMPE conference which was held in Montreal. While in Montreal, SMPE members stayed in CP hotels and the executive members travelled by rail as guests of the CPR.
In 1923, ASN of Canada secured the contract to supply the Canadian footage for inclusion in Pathe newsreels. Some of ASN’s Canadian stories would be utilized in Pathe’s worldwide releases, which Norrish described as being “of some national moment.”97CPR Archives, ASN files, memo from B. Norrish, no date. Copy in author’s possession. Norrish undoubtably received personal satisfaction in acquiring Canadian Pathe, as it was Pathe which had bitterly objected to his “Seeing Canada” series, and had been given Trade and Commerce money at a time when Norrish was fighting to establish his own budget.
ASN’s contract with Pathe coincided with the closing of Pathe”s office in Toronto. The Ontario government purchased the equipment of Canadian Pathe and hired several of the employees to work for the Ontario Government Motion Picture Bureau.98In 1934, when Premier Mitchell Hepburn closed the OGMPB, the assets, including printing materials, were sold to ASN. Therefore, film scholars are occasionally able to identify OGMPB material found in ASN stock shot library.
It was also in this year that ASN of Canada began what would become one of ASN’s most lucrative ventures.
Silent films, as all commercially released at this time were, have been said to be universal, but as the plots developed, inter-titles were added to explain passages of time or important dialogue. In 1923, Norrish and Alexander created a small art department and laboratory, in addition to the newsreel division, to create bilingual inter-titles and splice these into American features for release in Quebec and Canada. Associated Screen News of Canada became the first firm in North America to provide this service which was to become a mainstay of the company’s revenue.99It is ironic to note that Astral Communications, who now own the ASN laboratory buildings, generates a portion of its revenue from the dubbing of American features into French for projection in Quebec.
While Associated Screen News of Canada profited, its ‘parent’ company in New York experienced financial difficulty. Without the steady contracts which the CPR gave to the Montreal office. Urban and Baynes were suffering in New York. In 1924, in order to repay the debt to the CPR, all capital stock in
Associated Screen News, New York Ltd. was transferred to the CPR. The CPR closed the New York operation and named Norrish the President of the re-organized Associated Screen News of Canada. The CPR extended to the Canadian shareholders in Associated Screen News, New York, the privilege of purchasing an equivalent number of shares in the new organization. It was understood that the shareholders would give Canadian Pacific the first option on the sale of their shares.
Nat Nathanson was given five hundred shares of Common Stock in payment for “his connection with contracts for feature printing”.100CPR Archives, ASN files, B. Norrish, memo to L.B. Unwin, no date. Copy in author’s possession. These services also likely included the distribution of ASN films through the Famous Players Canada distribution network. Without such an agreement, it is unlikely that ASN material would have been able reach as large an audience.
At the time of this reorganization, the CPR considered moving ASN to Toronto, which was the centre for film distribution in Canada. Norrish argued to keep ASN in Montreal. One reason was that not only was the CPR head-quartered in Montreal, but Montreal was the largest and most metropolitan city in Canada at the time.
Another factor was that the drama between Nathanson and the Allens was currently unfolding. In addition, Norrish could see the pressure which the major American studios were putting on independent producers. ASN’s decision to produce only sponsored films was likely influenced by these factors. Since this drama was unfolding primarily in Toronto, by remaining in Montreal ASN was out of the direct line of conflict.
Montreal was also closer to Ottawa, both geographically and culturally, and to the largest customer of sponsored film and propaganda, the Federal Government.
Norrish maintained his contacts in the Federal Government, particularly with the Department of the Interior, Parks Branch. Norrish, having formerly been employed with Department of the Interior, was well acquainted with many of the people in the Department. Of particular benefit to ASN was Norrish’s friendship with J.C. Campbell, who was the Director of the Parks Branch. The Parks Branch was most anxious to spread the word of Canada’s wilderness to increase tourism attendance in the national parks. The Parks branch had many films produced at ASN, much to the consternation of Ray Peck. Peck, who took over from Norrish as the director of the Exhibits and Publicity Bureau, found Norrish to be a thorn now that Norrish was in the private sector. While Norrish previously argued that all government film- making should be performed by the Bureau, as President of ASN he was now in direct competition with the recently retitled Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau. Peck complained loudly to the Minister of the Interior and to the Minister of Trade and Commerce claiming that Norrish and “that CPR gang” were undermining his department.101NAC, RG20 107 26904 Vol.1., Raymond Peck, memo to F.C.T. O’Hara, no date.
In the re-organization of ASN, John Alexander was assigned to CPR films and was sent on Canadian Pacific cruises to the West Indies and South America aboard the Empress of Britain. In 1926, Alexander was assigned to the Empress of France, where his duties also included operating a darkroom aboard ship for the processing of passengers’ films. Alexander and his assistants were responsible for producing both still and moving pictures of the passengers in exotic locations. This was primarily for Canadian Pacific publicity purposes, although many wealthy passengers often wished a record of their adventures.102At least one such record exists in the ASN collection held in the National Archives of Canada, MISA. A visit to Africa and a lion hunt are documented for one wealthy individual. Passengers were photographed in such activities as exploring Pompeii, walking along the Great Wall of China and golfing off the Great Pyramid of Cheops.
Alexander left ASN in 1928 after a disagreement with Norrish, and formed a company flying bush plane charters. Alexander later returned to ASN in the mid-thirties after a fire destroyed his planes, whatever differences Alexander and Norrish had were forgotten. Alexander was made ASN’s chief salesperson and he held great influence over Norrish.
In 1925, Roy Tash, one of Canada’s most famous newsreel cameraman, came to work for Associated Screen News of Canada. Tash was to work for ASN for almost thirty years and supplied the majority of Canadian news stories. Roy Tash is perhaps most famous as the official photographer of the Dionne Quintuplets.
Also in 1925, ASN expanded their American contacts to include the newsreel divisions of such firms as Paramount, Universal and Fox. Canadian items were now finding their way into some of the international releases of these corporations; however, they were usually stories extolling wilderness or natural beauty which would encourage immigration or tourism and subtly credit the CPR.
ASN also made use of an extensive network of free-lance cameramen in the early years of its operation. These were men that Norrish had become acquainted with during his time at the CGMPB. One example is Byron Harmon, who was based in Banff. Harmon shot Virgin Fields for Explorers (1918) in the Canadian Rockies, which was later sold to Norrish. Harmon was frequently hired by the CPR and later by ASN to film “mountain scenes”.
In 1926, construction was begun on a new building to house ASN and on a new, modern laboratory. Previously, the only laboratory work with which ASN had been involved was the production and printing of inter-titles.
Norrish established a film processing laboratory at a cost of $150,000.00 (in 1926 dollars). Processing laboratories had been established and folded in Canada before, however this was the first laboratory to be established with sufficient capital backing to ensure its completion and operation. ASN’s intentions were not only to process their own footage, but also to actively solicit foreign printing contracts.
ASN’s decision to establish a processing facility in 1926 was likely influenced by the Federal Government’s enacting of additional import duties on the importation of motion picture films bringing the tax to six cents a foot. American distributors in Canada had to pay a tax on every foot of film brought into Canada. Norrish convinced foreign producers to send the negative of the film to Canada, thus only being charged the tariff once. Then the desired number of release prints could be struck, tariff free, at ASN.
These import duties were of concern to the American studios as evidenced by an editorial in Motion Picture World which stated,
"Import duties on film which go into Canada are very high. The distributer must pay 3 cents\foot for each positive print which he imports and in addition to this he must pay a heavy duty on advertising. On a package of advertising valued at $2.00 the duty paid was $1.57."103Motion Picture World. August 14, 1920, p.774.
By capitalizing upon the protectionist tariff duties, the laboratory grew to become a source of guaranteed revenue for ASN.
In 1927 Associated Screen News of Canada processed 17,000 ft of American feature film for release in Canada. By 1928 the figure grew to 21,600 ft. This was to be the basis for the profitability of Associated Screen News, with processing of foreign features accounting for over a third of all profits.104CPR Archives, ASN files, B. Norrish, memo to L.B. Unwin, no date. Copy in author’s possession. Associated Screen News became the laboratory of choice for the American majors.
Previous labs in Canada were small shoestring operations, primarily because motion picture technology was still developing. The CPR funding enabled Associated Screen News to purchase the most advanced processing equipment of the time and to establish a stable presence.105The laboratory processed approximately thirty million feet of film a year. Morrish claims that KODAK established the raw stock plant in Weston, Ontario to meet ASN’s laboratory demands. This plant supplied ninety-five percent of ASN’s raw stock requirements.
While the laboratory would increase in its financial importance to ASN, The Department of Colonization and Immigration of the CPR remained the mainstay of production. The majority of films produced by ASN were for CPR promotional purposes.
Throughout this period, the Colonization and Immigration Department of the CPR, through Associated Screen News, continued to make films touting the natural beauty and opportunity provided by Canada’s wilderness. None of ASN’s newsreel stories would include anything of the hardship on the prairies, nor of the difficulty of adjustment experienced by many of the British settlers. Many of the central European immigrants adjusted quite readily to the hard labours of the Canadian West. However, the majority of the British immigrants were used to dwelling in cities. They were captured by the romantic ideal of Canada that was presented in the CPR films, but found the reality very different indeed. For example, in 1923, the CPR experienced a revolt by disconsolate settlers in the prairies who were unable to pay their debt. A report from the previous year had shown that 316 farms were abandoned or operated by non-owners. In 1924 the company offered compensation in the form of writing off five years of interest and three years water of rental. The CPR dropped the price of dryland farms in irrigable areas from twenty-five to ten dollars an acre. The depression continued and people were still unable to pay. In 1927, the CPR again reclassified all lands, good irrigable land near the rail line was set at fifty dollars an acre. Less valuable properties were priced as low as ten dollars an acre. Non- irrigable land was set at five dollars an acre, approximately twenty percent of what it had been several years earlier.106David C Jones, “It’s All Lies They Tell You” in Dempsey, The CPR West (Vancouver: Douglas & Mclntyre Ltd., 1984), p.108. Despite these disputes, in 1929 Associated Screen News produced From British Home to Canadian Farm for the CPR. This silent, two reel silent film photographed by Roy Tash continued to promote the myth of idyllic farming on the Prairies, making no mention of the ongoing disputes.
Not all of the films produced by ASN were about the west, other titles included, Apple Growing in Evanqeline’s Land, Curing Fish in Nova Scotia, Subterranean Treasure (a profile of Canada’s coal industry), Canadian Gold Petroleum, and The Making of Newspaper. All were designed to attract either settlers or industrial investment to Canada. These types of industrial investment needed the services of the CPR. The CPR supplied the necessary means to move ore and coal to processing centres. Newsprint was shipped to Europe on CP ships. CP Ships also provided carriage for people immigrating to begin a new life in Canada.
The nature of these titles reinforces the close co- operation between the CPR and the Canadian government. Indeed, Norrish must have often felt that he had not changed jobs. This is supported by the statement Sir George Foster made in the House of Commons announcing Norrish’s successor,
"(H)e (Norrish) was taken from us by the Canadian Pacific for exactly the same kind of work, but at a much larger salary than we were able to give him."107Sir George Foster quoted in Canada, House of Commons, Debates. March 6, 1921, p.1226.
A 1924 Kinogram Travelogue, Victoria, produced by Associated Screen News, is another example of the subtle advertising which benefited the CPR by association. In this film, the visitor to Victoria arrives at the CPR dock. Upon disembarking the CPR Motor Princess, the visitor looks around at the excitement and bustle on the CPR wharf. The visitor looks up to see the provincial parliament buildings and then over the ocean to see the CPR Princess Charlotte. The visitor then travels to the legislature buildings, walks along tree lined streets leading to CP’s Empress Hotel including several scenes of the gardens and verandas of this hotel. The visitor then travels to the Butchart gardens. There are several other city scenes and then to the beach to look at shells and driftwood, while a CP ferry plies the Strait of Juan dc Fuca in the background. Back to the hotel and the day ends with the sun setting over the harbour. The carefully cultivated image leaves the viewer with an impression of a beautiful city, brought to you through the CPR.
In addition to the travel films, ASN became engaged in the production of sponsored films for most major corporations in Canada. Industries in Canada quickly realized the advantage which films would give them in promoting their product.
As was stated in the first chapter, Massey-Harris sponsored the first Canadian commercial film to demonstrate their harvesters. Other corporations at this period hired on staff their own cameramen. These people were involved in making films through in-house advertising departments. In 1915-1916, Ford produced several issues of its own newsreel, Ford Canadian Monthly, which was distributed through its dealers.
Few corporations had the capital resources of Ford, but even Ford as productions and equipment became more expensive and complex, hired free-lance cameramen to produce films. Associated Screen News, backed by the CPR, gave respectability and more importantly, confidence that the contracted productions would be finished without financial difficulty. Associated’s client list included the major Canadian corporations of the day: for example, Eaton’s, Shell, General Motors, Massey-Harris, Northern Electric. ASN also produced films for the governments of Nova Scotia, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta.
Many of the large corporations used films to indirectly promote themselves. Cinema audiences were becoming more sophisticated and the simple novelty of seeing a moving picture, even though it was a simple advertisement, was wearing off. Fictional short films depicting the client or their product began to appear.
One example of this type of film was Forward Canada, produced by ASN for General Motors of Canada. The depression had not affected the majority of Canadians as severely as it did the United States, but sales for General Motors were below desired levels. Realizing that producing an advertisement film promoting their cars to people who could not afford them would not be effective. General Motors launched a campaign to raise the level of wealth and expectations in the Canadian people. General Motors’ philosophy predicted that “good times” were just around the corner. GM wished to convince people that if Canadians only applied themselves and worked a little harder, everyone would benefit. GM decided to produce a film entitled. Forward Canada, a strident film advocating consumerism as a means to salvation. The director of corporate advertising for GM Canada had attended the University of Toronto. There he had been involved in several Hart House productions with a fellow who was now working as a director for Paramount in New York City. Gordon Sparling was contacted in New York and asked to return to Canada to direct this film for General Motors.
Gordon Sparling108Gordon Sparling was born in Toronto in 1900 and later attended the University of Toronto. While studying at Trinity College Sparling became involved with the Hart House Theatre. This association led to his employment, in 1924, with the Ontario Government Motion Picture Bureau. It was at the Trenton studios of the OGMPB that Sparling learned the craft of film- making and directed his first film. In 1926, Sparling convinced George Patton to send him to New York for a week of observation at Paramount’s Astoria Studios. Upon his return Sparling wrote a detailed report of the updating required by the OGMPB in order to keep abreast of the advances in film-making. Sparling kept generating suggestions, proposals and memos for the modernization of the OGMPB until he became frustrated and left in 1927 to become the assistant director on the film, Carry On Sergeant!. In 1928, Sparling joined the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau (CGMPB) in Ottawa. The situation at the CGMPB was not much improved over the OGMPB. Sparling left the CGMPB within the year and found employment at Paramount’s Astoria Studios in Long Island. returned to Canada in 1929 to make the necessary production arrangements to produce Forward Canada!. The Detroit firm which General Motors had contracted to supply the motion picture equipment “disappeared”, leaving Sparling to seek an alternative facility. Stranded, Sparling approached Associated Screen News concerning the provision of equipment and processing facilities for the production of the film.
Forward Canada! (1930), was a short, bombastic film (321 feet) which extolled the protestant work ethic and industry as the means to Canada’s salvation. GM wished to convey that the Depression could be turned around and that prosperity was “just around the corner”, if Canadians would put “their shoulder to the wheel”. This theme would emerge and dominate the sponsored films which Sparling later produced.
Norrish and GM were both impressed with the completed film, Forward Canada!, and Sparling with the facilities at ASN.
Sparling was cautioned when he left Paramount, that his return was not guaranteed as Paramount was considering closing its New York studio operations and moving to Hollywood.109 Paramount left the East coast at this time in a bid to avoid the unionization of its workers.
Therefore, when Norrish asked Sparling about his future plans, Sparling responded by developing a concept for an all Canadian series of short, dramatic, sound films. Norrish accepted Sparling’s proposal, with the caveat that Sparling would also produce sponsored commercial films similar to Forward Canada!. Sparling agreed and Associated Screen Studios was formed as a division of ASN with Sparling being placed in charge of production.
Morrish’s agreement to Sparling1s proposal was likely influenced by the existence of favourable tariff laws. The Conservative government of R.B. Bennet implemented, in 1931, a non-refundable tariff on the importation into Canada of motion picture cameras and sound recorders. The effect of this tariff was that each time a foreign cameraman entered Canada, the cameraman would have to pay a non- refundable tax on the motion picture equipment. This tariff was effective in deterring the former flood of American cameramen who would cross the border into Canada in order to film one event and then leave again.
Some sources credit Norrish’s intervention with the incidence of the tariff.110 Graham, Canadian Film Technology, p.70. It is known that Norrish remained friendly with the Deputy Minister of Trade and Commerce, F.C.T. O’Hara, after Norrish had left the civil service. Unquestionably, Norrish would have lobbied his former employer for the implementation of tariffs beneficial to ASN. While it is difficult to assess the impact which Norrish may have had in the creation of the tariff, it is known that Norrish wrote to C.D. Howe in 1949 protesting the relaxed enforcement of the 1931 sound equipment tariff under the new era of the “Canadian Co-operation Project”.111 CPR Archives, ASN, Letter from Norrish to C.D. Howe dated October 5, 1949. Copy in author’s possession.
It is also possible that Edward Beatty was involved with the incidence of this tariff and the increase in the tariff per foot of film imported into Canada. Both of these tariffs would bring financial benefits specifically to ASN. No other Canadian firm was in such a beneficial position as ASN. The recently elected Prime Minister R.B. Bennet was a former CPR lawyer, colleague and close friend112 See David Cruise & Alison Griffiths, Lords of the Line (Toronto: Viking, 1988). of Edward Beatty. Beatty did not hesitate to exert his influence, as evidenced in the Bennet government’s dealings with CPR and CNR after the election of the Bennet government. Beatty’s biographers have stated that if Beatty wished to see a cabinet minister, Beatty called him and the minister scurried to Montreal.113 Miller-Barstow, Beatty of the C.P.R.. p.154.
Whatever the reasons which may lie behind the implementation of these specific tariffs, both Beatty and Norrish were influential with members of the government and the civil service. Neither man was reluctant to exploit this influence for the benefit of ASN.
Upon Sparling’s employment with ASN in 1930, ASN was roughly divided into four divisions; newsreel, CPR productions, laboratory and Sparling’s new production department responsible for both dramatic and sponsored short films.
The newsreel division was responsible for supplying Canadian content footage, which was sold to the American studios for insertion into the editions of American newsreels which were destined for Canada (occasionally Canadian material was included in the world-wide release of these newsreels). ASN’s newsreel division had previously remained separate from the activities of other ASN productions; however, after 1931 it would be called upon to assist in contributing material for Canadian Cameo productions.
The same was true for the cameramen involved with the production of CPR promotional films. These men had previously acted independently of the newsreel cameramen. With the formation of the Canadian Cameo series, they would be called upon to supply specific necessary footage for Cameo production. In addition, previously produced CPR footage was re-cut into Canadian Cameo episodes. While the newsreel cameramen and the CPR cameramen could be called upon to produce footage for use in Canadian Cameos, their daily direction was not under Sparling’s authority. The newsreel cameramen were given a fair degree of autonomy to carry out their tasks; however, the Advertising Department of the CPR exercised direct control over those ASN cameramen who were responsible for the CPR productions.
The third division of ASN was the laboratory. Material shot by ASN cameramen anywhere in Canada was shipped (free of charge on the CPR) to Montreal for processing. This was in addition to the lucrative contracts which ASN maintained to print the release prints of American features. In addition to printing these release prints, ASN also would print still pictures from frame enlargements for use in theatre lobbies or newspaper promotions. By 1948, the laboratory division contributed 33% of the total revenue generated by ASN.114 CPR Archives, ASN, Memo from Norrish outlining the financial position of ASN. No date; however, from dates mentioned in the memo, believed to be 1947.
The studio division of ASN consisted at first of only Sparling and Alfred Jacquemin. Together they began to produce commercial shorts for clients such as Simmons and Massey-Harris. Shortly after Sparling joined ASN, Norrish called him into the office and demanded to know why it took two men to film each project. Morrish also questioned the time taken to prepare a script and why, during filming, Sparling just sat and directed. Sparling was vindicated when ASN began to receive compliments from the clients describing the films as perfect for the sophisticated audiences. Norrish relented and Sparling returned to applying his imagination to otherwise dull topics.
Sparling’s particular ability in film was his talent in transforming a mundane commercial film into a short drama, comedy or suspense film, rather than simply depicting the manufacturer’s product. Sparling’s talent lay in his ability to manipulate the film information so that the viewer received several different messages at the same time. This ability to use subtle persuasion to convey a message with humour coincided with Norrish’s theories of “eye-mindedness”.115 Norrish’s theory of “eye- mindedness” is explored briefly in the previous chapter.
Sparling viewed the commercial productions as a necessary evil, as “bread and butter films”.116 National Archives of Canada, MISA. Taped interview with G. Sparling. The majority of these films he described as “simple, workman-like productions”117Ibid. which consisted of simply visually detailing a company’s product or service. In other films, Sparling would be given a free hand to script and produce the film with minimal guidance from the corporation. To Sparling the commercial productions provided an opportunity to experiment with new ideas and techniques, at another’s expense (the marching feet which opened Forward Canada!, were later used in Rhapsody in Two Languages). When Sparling arrived at ASN, the company was primarily engaged in newsreel and laboratory work and had little need for a studio. Therefore Sparling’s first task was to establish and equip a complete sound studio, which he did by 1936, despite the fact that Canada was in the midst of a depression. Sparling convinced Norrish to spend the necessary capital by acquiring facilities in a piece-meal fashion, justifying each piece as necessary for a sponsored production.118 ASN also invented, built from scratch or modified a large portion of their equipment. Sparling, and the other ASN cameramen, used innovative techniques to produce images without elaborate facilities. See Gerald Graham’s Canadian Film Technology, 1896-1986. Lacking a proper studio, most early films were shot either on location or in make-shift interiors.
This symbiotic relationship within Associated Screen Studios between sponsored films (both by the CPR and other corporations) and the Canadian Cameo series provides insight into the definition of Gordon Sparling”s film-making style.
The Canadian Cameo Series
Gordon Sparling agreed to lead the production department at ASN based on Norrish’s promise that Sparling could produce a series of dramatic short films. Sparling was eager to produce general entertainment films and he has stated the time that he spent at Astoria “gave me the itch to produce feature-length entertainment movies myself”.119 Sparling quoted in “Canadian Film Pioneer Honoured”, Documents of Canadian Film. p.36. However, with the average cost of such a film being approximately $200,000.00,120Lewis, Howard T. The Motion Picture Industry, 1933. he realized this was not possible. Sparling’s desire was to take what he would term “The Short Way to Canadian Entertainment” by producing dramatic short films. However, even short films were expensive to produce. Paramount estimated that in 1933 the average cost of a ten minute short film was $75,000.00. The return on this film would amount to approximately $110,000.00 from the entire North American audience.121Ibid ASN would never be able to spend that amount of money on the production of a single Canadian Cameo, and no Cameo would ever return an amount of money close to $110,000.00. Even with tariff protection, the domestic Canadian market was simply too small to justify such an expense. 122In 1932 (the launch of the Canadian Cameo series) there were 1100 theatres in Canada, 705 of which were equipped for sound projection. In comparison, there were 900 sound equipped theatres in New York State alone! Each episode in the Canadian Cameo series was produced for an average cost of three thousand dollars.123The limit of $3000.00 per Canadian Cameo episode was exclusive of laboratory, studio and other production facilities which were balanced against the CPR and other sponsored films which ASN also produced.
The Canadian Cameo series consisted of eighty-four episodes which were released between 1932 and 1954 (with a hiatus during the war). All the episodes of the Canadian Cameo series were sound films and many were also in colour.
The Canadian Cameo series was originally launched as two complementary series, Canadian Cameos and Sports Chats. The two series were merged together under the single Canadian Cameo title in 1935, primarily for ease in marketing and promotion. The episodes of the Cameo series rigidly adhered to the industry standard for short films of one reel, ten minutes in length. 124There were two “double-length” special edition Canadian Cameo releases. The Thousand Days and Royal Banners over Ottawa Until the sixties, it was expected that a theatre’s program would include not only the featured film, but also several other shorter films. These films might include cartoons, newsreels, short dramas or some combination of all three. By adhering to a ten minute format, Canadian Cameos could be easily integrated into the theatre’s exhibition format.
Sparling planned for the release of a new Canadian Cameo each month to provide a steady, reliable, Canadian option for the theatre owner. Sparling described the Cameos as:
"...designed for general theatre audiences — no axes to grind, no 'messages' to hammer home, just good entertainment with a Canadian flavour." 125Sparling in "The Short Way to Canadian Entertainment".
Sparling’s aversion to “messages” likely stemmed from his experiences with government film-making. As well, audiences were becoming more sophisticated and public opinion was against films which were deemed to be propaganda. Motion pictures were considered to be entertainment by the theatre owners and as such they did not want to alienate any of their patrons. As an illustration of this policy, in 1931 Famous Players, the largest chain in Canada, passed a ruling that “no newsreels of a controversial nature” 126Raymond Fielding, The American Newsreel. p.128. were to be shown in their theatres.
The Canadian Cameo series portrayed a vision of Canada which was commonly held by middle-class Canadians in the nineteen thirties. There was no controversy present in the Canadian Cameo series, nor did they challenge or confront the viewer. The vision the Canadian Cameo series presented of Canada was not an exploratory vision but rather a confirming vision. Sparling’s Canadian Cameo series could be seen as the evolution of Norrish’s earlier “Seeing Canada” series, up-dated to attract current audiences. The episodes of the Canadian Cameo series treated the various topics in a familiar, comforting way. For example, although the series was created in the Depression of the thirties, no evidence of the Depression is ever seen in any of the Cameos. Even the film Forward Canada! euphemistically referred to “a little slowdown”; however, not even as innocent a reference as this would be mentioned in any of the Canadian Cameo episodes.
Since the Canadian Cameo series was popular across Canada, it can be assumed that it was in some way representative of the vision of Canada which was held by the majority of Canadian society. The Canadian Cameo series, in representing a vision of Canada, featured a diverse range of topics from sporting events and activities to dramatic and musical productions (although the majority of Canadian Cameos featured travel or tourism).
In an interview during the production of one of the early Cameo’s, Sparling stated:
"We are pegging away on all of Canadian life that we can make interesting enough to sell to Canadian exhibitors. Which, against the Hollywood makers, is some job. But we are doing the job. The country is teeming with subjects...Our lot (ASN studio) is teeming with ideas on how to use them. All we lack is markets to sell." 127Gordon Sparling quoted in Augustus Bridle, "Canadian Feature Cameras Cranking on Canada's Life", Toronto Daily Star, February 27, 1932.
Sparling’s first sentence includes the caveat, “interesting enough to sell to Canadian exhibitors”. Ignoring the fact that most Canadian exhibitors were in some way linked to the major American studios (as previously explored in chapter two), it is important to remember that the motion picture exhibitors did not take risks. Motion pictures, while popular, still suffered from the stigma of perceived moral jeopardy. Consequently, censorship by governments and self-censorship by producers was widespread. Certain topics were taboo. This restriction on the treatment of topics did not first include sexual issues but rather issues of Communism, labour and trade unionism. These issues were considered to be dangerous because they questioned the basis of current society. Therefore, theatre owners would not exhibit, nor would any film-maker conceive of producing, any films which questioned the order and authority of the day. All film served to reinforce the social order which governments of the day, wished the public to perceive. Additionally in Canada, the dearth of independent film producers meant that either the government or large industry controlled the finances needed to produce films and their exhibition. It is inconceivable, therefore, that any films, critical of the current order, would ever have been produced.
Film historian Gerald Pratley has stated of the Canadian Cameo series:
"...that in a time when American movies and newsreels dominated the screens of Canada, ASN alone battled for their place on the screen and reminded Canadians that they did have a country and that it did have some attractions and many interesting people." 128G. Pratley, Torn Sprockets (Toronto: Associated University Presses, 198?), p.23.
The Canadian Cameo series played on screens across Canada, and had the largest commercial success world-wide of any previous Canadian series. 129The Canadian Cameos were distributed throughout Britain, Europe, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, China, the United States and several South American countries including Brazil and Argentina. However, it is important to remember that Gordon Sparling did not dictate social attitudes through the Canadian Cameo series. Instead, the Canadian Cameos enunciated a view of Canada which was commonly held by Sparling and his contemporaries. Therefore, the selection of topics which were to be included or excluded from the Canadian Cameo series allows for an examination of what type of bias may have been present in this series. The actual depiction of scenes and events in the Canadian Cameo series is less important than what Sparling considered to be a suitable Cameo topic.
An illustration of this point of view is found in the Canadian Cameo, Making Mounties (1936). 130Two Canadian Cameos both titled, Making Mounties were produced. One episode was produced in 1936 and the other in 1950. Making Mounties documents the training which the cadets receive in order to become members of Canada’s most famous police force. The vision of RCMP officers in their scarlet tunics, performing the musical ride is one of the enduring and dominant images of Canada. This Cameo made an attempt to portray a realistic image of these men; however, it ultimately focuses on the musical ride. It is of interest that during the production of this Cameo, Sparling had difficulty convincing the RCMP Commissioner to perform the musical ride as all of the officers at the Winnipeg station were “on alert”. Hungry, unemployed workers and farmers from across western Canada had arrived in Winnipeg with the intention of marching “on to Ottawa” 131Details of the On to Ottawa march may be found in John Thompson and Allen Seager, Canada 1922-1935; Decades of Discord (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1985). to present their situation. Ottawa, remembering the Winnipeg General Strike, was determined not to have a second occurrence and alerted the RCMP. No ASN cameraman documented the marchers and Sparling was careful to exclude any shots of the riot vans which were parked on the edge of the field where the musical ride was being performed. 132NAC, MISA, Sparling interview. Also, John Thompson & Allen Seager, Canada 1922-1939:Decades of Discord (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1985), p.272. Sparling viewed his role as producing “entertainment films”. The fact that the RCMP was mobilized in order to deal with a group of people marginalized by the mainstream view of Canadian society was not discussed or explored by the media at the time.
Another example of this bias is illustrated by the production of two Canadian Cameos whose sole focus is the British Royal Family. Royalty visiting Canada has always been a large media event and it was no different with ASN. These two Cameo episodes were among the most popular in the Canadian Cameo series. Since visiting Royalty usually travelled by train when touring Canada, ASN was in a unique position for photographic opportunities. Two Canadian Cameos were produced which featured the Royal visitors. The first was Royal Banners Over Ottawa (1939), which documented the last visit to Canada by King George VI and Queen Mary. This Cameo was a special twenty minute Cameo and was shot in Dufaycolor. This colour Cameo was something of a coup for Sparling as all other footage of this visit by the King and Queen was in black and white.
Sparling travelled to Dufay’s lab in Britain (on CP’s Empress of Britain) where the footage was processed. Sparling edited, scored, recorded narration and had the release prints of the finished film struck all in time for the Empress’s return voyage to Canada. Royal Banners over Ottawa was in theatres within a week of their Highness’ departure from Canada and was a tremendous financial and political success. 133Unfortunately, due to the unstable nature of the early Dufaycolor process, no prints of this film are known to exist. The success of this Cameo is judged from newspaper accounts of the time. According to Sparling, the profit from Royal Banners Over Ottawa was sufficient to finance the rest of the year’ s production.
The second Canadian Cameo to feature the British Royalty was Royal Welcome (1951). This Cameo documented the first visit to Canada by the future Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Using CPR connections, Sparling and Jacquemin were granted permission to travel on board the royal yacht “Britannia” with the royal couple, the only cameramen who were allowed so to do. The resulting Ansco Color Cameo was well received by Canadian audiences.
In viewing the episodes of the Canadian Cameo series, the lack of French topics or titles becomes apparent. This bias is understandable given the fact that both Sparling and Norrish only spoke English, despite the fact that ASN was located in Montreal, and later employed several French-speaking directors.
The few Canadian Cameo episodes in which Francophones appear represent the people in trite stereotypes. For example, the token and stilted view of French-speaking Montrealers in Rhapsody in Two Languages (1934). Another example is The Fruitful Earth (1951), in which Francophones are displayed as happy habitants who tend the earth, dance and have the Roman Catholic church as the centre of their community. In Acadian Spring Song (1935), young lovers are portrayed strolling through blossoming apple orchards. The fact that none of these films was dubbed into French indicates that French-Canadians were not the intended audience. These Cameos simply reinforced the commonly held English visions of French-Canadians instead of attempting a more accurate depiction. This poor representation of French-Canadian culture is indicative of the overall Canadian mood towards French- Canadians rather than of a specific attitude at ASN, 134ASN was the first North-American company to begin inter- titles in French. During the Second World War, when the federal government wanted French-language movies to support the war effort, the National Film Board, not employing any Francophone directors, turned to ASN for directors such as Lucien Roy (1919- 1943). although the net effect is the sane. The Canadian Cameo series might be summed up in a similar manner to the way in which D.B. Jones described the early NFB productions, “…English-Canadian, and they were positive and optimistic. Geographically, they avoided the province of Quebec; aesthetically, they shunned the negative.” 135D.B. Jones, Movies and Memoranda, p.88.
In addition, due to the tight budget of the Canadian Cameo series and the limited markets, it was difficult for Sparling to justify dubbing all of the Canadian Cameo series into French. In spite of this situation, seven French-language versions of Cameos were produced. The Canadian Cameo episodes which were dubbed were, Le Petit Frere de Grey Owl (1938/9), La Peche dans les Nuacres (1939), Le Retour du Bison (1939), Un Rovaume du Cheval (1939), Natation de Fantaisie (1937). Les Grandes Ecluses (1948). Ballet des Ondines (1938) and Un Sport du Tonnerre (1952). The choice of episodes suggests that the intention of these French versions was not to be more representative to a Canadian audience, but rather was intended to promote foreign sales.
The first five Cameos to be dubbed into French (in the order above) were all in production at approximately the same time 136Although Grey Owl’s Little Brother was released in 1932, Le Petit Frere Du Grey Owl was not dubbed until 1938/9, after the English version had been an immense world-wide success. and were part of a package which was sold to a Paris distributor. The two “water-ballet” Cameos were produced with the intention of world-wide release and therefore were also dubbed into French. Un Sport du Tonnerre was likely dubbed because it was one of four films about the annual brier which ASN produced for Imperial Tobacco. ASN had been commissioned to produce two short films (English and French versions) for promotional use by Imperial. The footage was then re-cut into the two Canadian Cameo episodes. Imperial Tobacco was not the first organization to benefit from this type of arrangement. This re-editing of sponsored commercial material for the production of Canadian Cameos was quite common because of the budgetary limitations which Sparling faced.
The first six Canadian Cameo episodes, owing to tight financing, were produced with the co-operation of the Parks Branch. An agreement was struck which allowed the ASN crews free access to national parks and permission to re-edit any previously shot material. In return, the Parks Branch hoped the additional exposure through the Canadian Cameos would generate a positive tourist response to Canada’s parks.
"Money for original productions was scarce at first, but fortune intervened through the auspices of National Parks of Canada which had all its film work done at Associated. Moreover, the Parks Branch was willing to allow its material to be used commercially in exchange for a screen credit. Thus a group of eight early Cameos can trace their provenance to the National Parks material." 137Canadian Film Institute, material prepared for a retrospective of Gordon Sparling's films, held at the National Archives theatre, Wellington Street, Ottawa. October, 1981.
This was not the first time the Parks Branch had co-operated with private industry for promotional purposes. The Parks Branch was already quite familiar in dealing with the CPR for the promotion of tourist destinations. The establishment of Banff National Park, Canada’s first national park, and the development of this area as a tourist destination was carefully orchestrated by the Federal Government and the CPR. 138E.J. Hart, The Selling of Canada: The CPR and the Beginnings of Canadian Tourism (Banff: Altitude Press, 1983).
Two of the silent Parks Branch films. The Beaver People and The Beaver Family, featured one of Canada’s most successful impostors, Grey Owl. In the nineteen thirties and forties a tremendous personality cult formed around this man, whom we now know as Archibald Belaney. 139See Donald B. Smith, From the Shadows: The Making of Grey Owl (Saskatoon: Western Prairie Books, 1990).
It is unimportant, however ironic, that Grey Owl was not actually an aboriginal person to the historical impact of these two Cameos. Belaney portrayed the expected role of a native, re-enforcing the commonly held stereotyped qualities. The real irony is that a true aboriginal would have had to play exactly the same role to have been judged “authentic” by the audiences of the time. The prevailing attitude towards aboriginal people may be inferred by citing the Diamond jubilee of Confederation document. Aboriginal people are referred to several times as the “Redman”, Metis are called “half-breeds” and the Inuit are never mentioned. The colonialist attitude is further evident in the section which details the administration of reserves, under the heading “Our Indian Wards”. The document attempts to convince its readers of the patriotism felt by aboriginal people; however, in attempting to do so, the document reveals more about the author’s patriotism. The document states:
"There is no class of our population more patriotic or more loyal to British institutions (emphasis added) than our Indian wards." 140National Committee for the Celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation., 1867-1927 Confederation and After: Sixty Years of Progress, p.79. Hereafter referred to as Diamond Jubilee of Confederation, Report.
The two Parks films (Beaver People & Beaver Family) were re-cut into two Canadian Cameo episodes, Grey Owl’s Little Brother (1932) and Grey Owl’s Strange Guest (1934). These two Cameos received international distribution and ranked among the most popular and profitable episodes of the Canadian Cameo series. 141By 1957, more prints of Grey Owl’s Little Brother, had been struck than any other Canadian film. Like the Canadian Cameo episodes which depicted French-Canadians, the Grey Owl Cameos were not designed to portray an accurate image of aboriginal people to other Canadians. Instead, these Cameos portrayed Grey Owl as the noble savage, concerned with the wilderness. This image was immensely popular with American and European audiences who saw Canada as an unspoiled wilderness to explore. The resulting interest in tourism benefited both the Parks Branch and the CPR, who were eager to cultivate this image. In addition, the success of these two Cameos early in the series (#6 and #21), provided the Canadian Cameo series with much needed revenue and exposure.
ASN’s close contacts with the Parks Branch lead to the production of one exceptional Canadian Cameo episode. Return of the Buffalo (1934). Ostensibly, Return of the Buffalo details the establishment of Wood Buffalo National Park; 142Wood Buffalo National Park was established in 1927. however, what is exceptional about this Canadian Cameo episode is its tone. Return of the Buffalo details the reasons for the near extinction of the buffalo, placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of the “white man”. Native people, although portrayed in a stereotyped manner, are shown to have a balanced relationship with the buffalo. This balance is upset by the “white man’s greed” with his “merciless guns”. The most surprising element of this Cameo is the portrayal of the CPR. In dramatic tones the narrator speaks of the railroad as having crossed the buffalo’s “once free plains” and of the great damage to the habitat this has caused. The Cameo ends on the enthusiastic note that with the establishment of this national park, the buffalo now has “new-found security in the lands of his ancestors.”
This Cameo was dubbed into French and was part of a package (with the two “Grey Owl” Cameos) that ASN tried to sell abroad. It is possible that this Cameo was designed to appeal to an early “environmentally aware” audience, those people in Europe who were interested in the wilds of Canada being preserved for their recreation. Whatever the reason, Return of the Buffalo exists as an oddity in the Cameo series. No other episode in the Canadian Cameo series is critical of progress, white society or most surprisingly the CPR. Return of the Buffalo was produced at the height of the Canadian Cameo series and ASN’s fortunes; therefore, it is possible that Sparling felt confident enough to experiment with this different manner of treatment.
One can only wonder what the CPR thought of this portrayal of the CPR by one of their own divisions. Sparling’s depiction of the CPR is particularly surprising when one remembers that the CPR was so sensitive about its public image that it restricted images of snow early in early sponsored films. Other speculation might suggest that it was because of the tone of this Canadian Cameo episode that Sparling received negative reaction from his corporate sponsors and did not attempt such a topic again.
The CPR and the Canadian Cameo Series
One can not overstate the importance of the CPR in determining the development of Canada. Since the inception of Canada, the social and economic development of Canada has been closely tied with that of the CPR. The railway was used to entice British Columbia to join the Dominion. The railways were and remain responsible for transporting the bulky, raw resources of wood, wheat and minerals which comprise the majority of Canada’s export goods. The development of the Prairies is also linked to the CPR. The CPR not only lured new immigrants to Canada, the CPR also transported these new Canadians to the prairies and their new homes. Finally, the CPR provided the means by which to market the fruit of their labours. In addition to the actual role which the CPR played, the CPR also encouraged the mythology which surrounded the actual developments and enhanced the public perception of the CPR. The Government of Canada assisted the CPR in the promotion of this exaggerated tale. For example, a document released by the Federal Government on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee of Canada stated: “A railway was essential and the builders of this great railway were the real makers of Canada.”143 Diamond Jubilee of Confederation, Report, p.36. One of the original goals of the CPR in the formation of ASN was the production of favourable publicity, as is illustrated in an internal memo from L.B. Unwin, Vice-president of the CPR, to D.C. Coleman, Chairman, regarding the possible sale of ASN in 1944. In assessing the offer to purchase ASN. Unwin states:
"...in taking an interest in the moving picture field the Company desired that it should receive as much publicity as possible in news reels and other forms of moving picture displays. With the development of Associated Screen News under our direction, that has no doubt been accomplished - possibly so much so that it is now taken for granted rather than made a conscious effort. We would give up our control of the company (ASN) and would stand to lose any benefits which accrued to us from that control."144 CPR Archives, ASN files, L.B. Unwin, in a confidential letter to D.C. Coleman dated August 9, 1945.
The sponsored films which ASN produced for the CPR and which were distributed through the CPR were an obvious source of publicity. However, through the Canadian Cameo series, this publicity continued in a less overt manner. It was not Sparling’s deliberate intention to use the Canadian Cameo series to advertise the CPR. However, as a consequence of being owned by the CPR, camera crews having free passage on the CPR and often being on location for the CPR, any additional footage shot would bear an inherent bias favourable towards the CPR. For example, The Pathfinder (1932) was cut from material originally filmed for the CPR. This Canadian Cameo documents the career of Tom Wilson, who was the first white man to discover Lake Louise.145 The CPR made extensive use of Tom Wilson as a guide and raconteur to entertain tourists. John Murray Gibbon had a bust of Wilson cast, and held an unveiling ceremony at the establishment of the CPR’s first hotel at Lake Louise. In addition to Lake Louise, the other internationally known image of Canada was the Rockies, or the Canadian Pacific Rockies as CPR and CP Steamship brochures named them. Even today the Rocky Mountains remain in many people’s minds as one of the images of Canada. The Rocky mountains were actively promoted by the CPR as a tourist destination. Eight of the Cameos were entirely devoted to this geographical region and several other episodes contained segments featuring the Rockies.
Five of the Canadian Cameo episodes featured the sport of skiing. Three of these skiing Cameos were filmed in the Rocky Mountains, providing obvious benefits to the CPR. In addition there were also skiing Cameos which featured Northern Quebec. In the nineteen thirties the situation was different as many of the roads in the skiing areas of Quebec were often closed in the winter. The only reliable means of transportation from Montreal were the special “ski-trains” which the CPR ran each week-end. These specially equipped coaches had wicker seats and racks specially designed to hold poles and skis. The timing of these trains was scheduled so that a skier could leave Montreal in the morning and return that evening. Cameos such as Fair and Cold (1933) do not mention the CPR; however, if one wished to take part in the winter fun depicted, the CPR provided easy access.
A further example of unintentional publicity favourable to the CPR can be found when one examines the Cities of Canada sub-series of the Canadian Cameos. Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa are all obvious choices for Cameo topics. Toronto and Montreal are the two largest cities in Canada as well as major cultural and economic centres. Ottawa was chosen because of its position as the nation’s capital. The other cities chosen for Cameo treatment were Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary and Victoria (although Canadian Cameos were actually only ever produced for Calgary and Victoria). Sparling wanted to include Winnipeg in the Cameo sub-series of cities of Canada; however, this idea was vetoed by Norrish.
It has been well documented how the CPR actively encouraged immigration to Canada. However, although ASN produced the pictures which detailed the arrival of these immigrants, few minorities were ever seen in episodes of the Canadian Cameo series. No prejudice is displayed; minorities are simply invisible.146 The only exception is the first segment of Spotlight Number 4. Collaiste Chaidhlig, the only Gaelic college in the world and located in Cape Breton, is featured. Since culture and civilization were defined in relation to Britain, there was little of interest in Winnipeg. Therefore, while Canadian Cameo episodes might focus upon a Scottish minority or portray the inhabitants of Quebec, the depiction of Ukrainian or Hungarian minorities was not considered to be of sufficient interest to be included in an entertainment film. The Scots and the French were considered founding peoples, while the Ukrainians and Hungarians were simply newcomers.
The selection of cities to be included in this sub-series also betrayed a subtle prejudice, beneficial to the CPR. Without exception, all of the possible cities for consideration are located on the CPR’s trans- Canada route. While it is almost certain that the CPR did not tell Sparling which cities he could film, ASN’s association with the CPR dictated the choice. Sparling likely gave little thought as to the choice to include Calgary and not Edmonton for example. If only one city in Alberta were to be selected, Edmonton, a larger city with greater historical importance and Alberta’s capital city, would have been the logical choice. However, the selection was likely based on the fact that ASN cameramen had free train passage on CPR lines. Since the episodes of the Canadian Cameo series were always produced on a tight budget, why spend additional funds to travel north to Edmonton, when passage to and lodging in Calgary was free? The resulting Cameo did not mention the CPR, but it is not necessary. The reality was that in order for most Canadian and foreign tourists to travel to Calgary, they did so on the CPR.147 It is important to remember that the trans-Canada highway was not begun until the 1950’s and would not be completed for over a decade. The only way for the majority of travellers to reach the cities and areas depicted in the Cameos was to travel by rail.
In addition to rail travel, Canadian Pacific was eager to promote travel on their steamships. CP Steamships benefitted from the early Cameo, Our Caribbean Cousins (1933), which was composed of material used in the Canadian Pacific Steamships sponsored film. Palmy Ports. These two films are nearly identical in visual content and even possess the same production number. It is difficult to believe that even with the difference in narration148 It was common practice in film production at this time for productions to create the sound track separately from the filming. Many of the CPR and Massey Ferguson commercial films made by ASN for world wide distribution feature identical images with only the head and tail credits translated and a different audio track. the two films would not have similar promotional value to the CPR. Travelogues were an expected part of the program at any theatre; however, the essential difference with this film was the fact that Our Caribbean Cousins was not identified as being produced by a vested interest. Two years later Distant Cousins (1935) was released as an episode in the Canadian Cameo series. Distant Cousins was re- edited from material given to the CPR by the Australian Government intended to promote tourism. The Advertising Department of the CPR then passed this material on to Norrish and Sparling. To complete the Cameo, Sparling used footage which had been shot by the ASN cameramen assigned to CP’s “Empress of Australia”. Since CP Steamships maintained a regular schedule of sailing to Australia, they were in a position to benefit from any increased interest in tourism to Australia. In addition, it was only because of ASN’s connections to the CPR that Sparling was able to inexpensively produce such a Cameo.
ASN’s connection to the CPR also lead to the production of the Canadian Cameo, Music from the Stars (1938). While filming On Top of the World (1937) for CP Hotels, a production recording Horace Lapp’s orchestra at the Banff Springs Hotel, Sparling conceived the idea of an all musical Cameo. Subsequently, the next time Lapp and his orchestra played at the Royal York in Toronto, the CPR arranged free passage to Montreal for the orchestra to Associated’s studio. Sparling hastily shot the Cameo in one day and then rushed the musicians, some still in black-face, back to Windsor Station. The CPR had delayed the afternoon train to Toronto so that the orchestra could return to play their evening engagement. No other film company would have been able to arrange for free train passage, let alone be able to have the train delayed to match their schedule.149 Sparling interview, PAC, MISA.
Music From the Stars (1938), one of Sparling’s personal favourites of the Canadian Cameo series, approximates the flamboyant nature of the Hollywood features which Sparling would have liked to produce. This Canadian Cameo is unique for its lack of narration; the film opens to the sounds of the orchestra. Lapp’s orchestra performs a collection of songs while the camera lyrically explores the orchestra, heightened by several optical effects. Music from the Stars, was released to a receptive audience, who, if they wished to see Lapp’s orchestra live, had only to travel to a Canadian Pacific hotel, or take a cruise on one of CP’s Steamships.
Dramatic and Comedic Canadian Cameo Episodes
Never forgetting his original intention for the Canadian Cameo series and in spite of budget limitations, Sparling produced several Cameos which were purely dramatic. Sparling’s dramatic Cameos, prior to the arrival of television, were one of the very few opportunities in which Canadian artists could express themselves to a national audience.
Shadow River (1933) was the first of these solely dramatic Cameos to be released. This Cameo featured Lorna McLean reading Pauline Johnson’s poem “Shadow River” to dramatized images of the Muskoka stream which inspired Johnson. This Cameo has withstood the passage of time well, and is still an interesting short film.
Rhapsody in Two Languages (1934) is perhaps the most best known of the Cameo series today. Peter Morris has included a description of this Cameo in his book Embattled Shadows, and a portion of this Cameo appears in the film Dreamland (1974), and the Canadian Film Institute has a made a print of Rhapsody in Two Languages available for viewing. The reason for special interest in this film lies in its innovative editing style. Rhapsody in Two Languages was originally written by Sparling in 1932, although he was experimenting with the techniques utilized a year earlier.150 Elements of this style appear in Forward Canada! (1931). Rhapsody in Two Languages was not filmed and released until 1934. Sparling claims he waited until he purchased a car with which he made the travelling shots. ASN employees were used as unpaid actors, filmed on their lunch hour. From these measures one can assume money was not available at ASN for purely dramatic shorts at this time.
Rhapsody in Two Languages is a montage of images and sounds juxtaposed with one another to evoke the frenetic, cosmopolitan nature of Montreal, then Canada’s largest city. This short is similar to Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin, Die Sinfonie Der Grosstadt (1927), which Sparling states he did not see. From a technical point of view, the images are interesting as they were combined “in-camera”, a technique that was being lost with the advent of the optical printer, which ASN did not possess at the time. It is also claimed151 Canadian Film Institute, Gordon Sparling.p.4. that this film influenced Busby Berkeley in his “Lullaby of Broadway” sequence in Gold Diggers of 1935. While this is difficult to ascertain, Rhapsody in Two Languages was distributed in the United States by Warner Brothers, Berkeley’s studio.
Sparling, encouraged by the success of Rhapsody in Two Languages, refined what he referred to as the “rhapsodic technique”, and used this style of film-making whenever possible. Examples of this technique appear in several sponsored films and Cameos. The technique combines both visual and audio elements and is most effective in simulating a passage of time. The first use of the rhapsodic technique in a “serious” film occurs in the special double reel Cameo, The Thousand Days (1942). In this Cameo, the rhapsodic technique is used with positive effect to build tension while detailing the sequence of events leading to Canada’s involvement in the Second World War. This is a stirring, slightly bombastic Cameo that compares favourably to other films of this period such as the NFB’s War Clouds in the Pacific (1941), or Frank Capra’s Why We Fight series (1942-1945). While this Cameo is not as familiar as the Capra or NFB films are today, The Thousand Days was well known at the time of its release. In fact, Sparling was asked by the trade journal American Cinematographer to submit an article detailing The Thousand Days and his “rhapsodic technique”.152 “The Rhapsodic Technique” in American Cinematoqrapher, Vol.24, No.7, July 1943. This article was actually submitted by E.S. Roberts, a member of Sparling’s staff. Note: The cover of this issue features a ASN crew filming Un de Vinqt-deuxieme for the National Film Board.
Sparling continued to use and refine the “rhapsodic technique”, using it in all of the Headlines of … sub-series. Headlines of... ran from 1948 to 1952. Sparling recalls that the year-end American-produced newsreels which ASN distributed were always popular, and requests had been made by some theatre owners for more Canadian news. ASN determined that a once yearly compilation was possible and profitable. Throughout the year ASN cameramen were encouraged to save certain news stories for possible inclusion in the final production. As was Sparling’s trade-mark, these compilations were not just simple recitations of the past year’s news, instead Sparling tried to develop a simple plot to string the different articles together.
The Canadian Cameo series was officially revived after the Second World War with the release of Canadian Headlines of 1948.153 Canadian Headlines of 1948, signalled the return of the Canadian Cameo series; however, ASN also produced Canadian Headlines of 1946 (experimental and never released) and Canadian Headlines of 1947 which was released through Benograph and was not titled a Canadian Cameo. This Cameo featured a “behind-the-scenes” look at movie production utilizing Sparling’s “rhapsodic technique”.
Perhaps the best episode of this sub-series was Canadian Headlines of 1950, which presented a small boy and his father experimenting with the new invention, television.
Sparling also used the rhapsodic technique to produce the Cameo All About Emily (1948), the story of a modern goose that laid golden eggs/ by the Canadian author and C.B.C. personality, Lister Sinclair.
In addition to experimenting with the rhapsodic technique, Sparling also experimented in producing comedy. This was a fairly risky venture as Canada was not generally known for producing comedians in the thirties and forties. Travelling “Music Hall” shows were popular across Canada; however, these productions usually featured famous British or American comedians. Sparling produced two comedy Cameos, Sitzmarks the Spot (1948) and All Joking Astride (1950) featuring the little known Canadian, John Pratt. Pratt had been featured in Canadian Army and Navy shows during the war and had received favourable reviews. After the war Pratt returned to his home in Montreal where Sparling contacted him. These two Cameos were both well received with Sitzmarks the Spot being distributed internationally by Warner Brothers, and All Joking Astride winning an award at the 1951 Canadian Film Awards.
As a more traditional and accepted form of entertainment, Sparling also produced a number of Canadian Cameos which featured choreographed skating and swimming. These Cameos provided a rare opportunity for Canadians outside of Toronto and Montreal to witness other Canadian performers. The Toronto Skating Club was featured in five Cameos: Carnival on Skates (1933), Crystal Ballet (1937), Flashing Blades (1940), Beauty and the Blade (1948) and Circus on Ice (1953, Ansco Color). Barbara Ann Scott, who went on to star in many Hollywood features, was ten when first filmed for the Canadian Cameo, Flashing Blades. Scott was also the star of Beauty and the Blade154 Beauty and the Blade was sold by John Alexander to 20th Century and was distributed as a “20th Century Short” worldwide. Carnival on Skates is of technical interest as Sparling used an experimental technique of hypersensitizing the B&W film stock so that he was able to film the ice revue with available light. which was nominated for an Academy Award that year.
Sparling produced three water fantasy Cameos:155 By this time, Sparling was able to afford to have the ASN shops build a submersible glass box\shooting platform which allowed for filming both above and below the surface of the water. Ornamental Swimming (1937), Ballet of the Mermaids (1938) and Design for Swimming (1948, Ansco Color). The importance of these films is often lost in comparison to the Hollywood films of Ester Williams. It might be assumed that these Canadian Cameo episodes were merely copies of American formulas, however this is false. Ballet of the Mermaids pre-dates the MGM cycle of Williams’ films by several years. Ballet of the Mermaids was distributed internationally and was nominated for an Academy Award. Part of its wide-spread popularity was likely due to the luminous quality of the film, having been printed on yellow toned stock and then tinted blue. The practice of tinting and toning had virtually disappeared after the advent of the optical sound track, however Sparling”s skilful use of this technique gave added visual charm to this serene Cameo.
In order to minimize the cost of production of the Canadian Cameo series, Sparling not only re-edited previously produced material, he also encouraged ASN newsreel cameramen to submit interesting footage or story ideas. It was this practice which provided the basis for two Cameo sub-series’, Did You Know That? and Spotlight.
The Did You Know That? sub-series, composed of seven episodes was suggested to Sparling by Roy Tash156 The American-born Roy Tash is perhaps Canada’s best-known newsreel photographer. Tash began his career in Chicago in 1915 and first came to Canada in 1921. Tash formed Aero Films in Toronto in 1921 and supplied material to Pathe and the Ontario Government. Tash joined ASN in 1925. Tash died on December 7, 1988. who travelled throughout Canada for ASN’s newsreel department. Tash felt that there was a market for a Cameo which was composed of a number of small, human interest or trivia stories. The actual number of individual segments in one of these Cameos varied; however, the complete Cameo remained ten minutes long. Items such as Magnetic Hill and the Reversing Falls in New Brunswick were featured. Did You Know That? was the longest running Cameo sub-series, from 1934 to 1943. The format allowed Sparling to use material which, while interesting, could not be stretched into a full length Cameo. This sub-series was inexpensive to produce, as the various segments could be filmed when an ASN crew was in the area on a CPR or other sponsored project. Segments would then sit on a shelf until there were a sufficient number to make up the ten minute running time. Theatre owners were pleased with the Did You Know That? series because they hoped that viewers would be interested in at least part of the film, if not the entire Cameo.
The Spotlight Canadian Cameo sub-series was very similar to the Did You Know That? series. The six episodes were produced in roughly the same manner as the Did You Know That? series, whenever a crew was on location nearby. Some segments had been originally intended as full length Cameos; however, when the material was edited it was not judged to be strong enough on its own. The Spotlight sub-series consisted of 6 episodes, each comprised of four unrelated items -“Four little gems in each Cameo” as they were advertised. Episodes in this series featured diverse topics from examining film sound tracks to depicting the faces of clock towers throughout Canada. Other “spotlighted” items included Collaiste Chaidhlig, the world’s only Gaelic college (in 1952) and located in Cape Breton, to Foster Hewitt, Magnetic Hill and dinosaur fossils in Alberta.
The Decline of the Canadian Cameo Series
The popularity of the Canadian Cameo series declined for many different reasons; however, the single most important reason was that Sparling and Norrish were both detached and resistant to change of any type. Given this detachment it is not surprising they were also unaware of the social changes which occurred in Canada after the Second World War. As an illustration of this, Sparling was ready to rebuild the Canadian Cameo series exactly where he left off before the Second World War. The plot and premise of the post-war Canadian Cameos differed little from those produced prior to the war. Even going so far as to repeat the filming of one Canadian Cameo, Making Mounties. The primary reason for returning in 1950 to film the second Making Mounties was to record the musical ride in Ansco Color. Although a decade and a half had passed and a World War had occurred since Sparling had produced his first Cameo Making Mounties the 1950 version was virtually identical to the Cameo filmed in 1936. The Canadian Cameo series episodes remained essentially unchanged in their selection, approach and treatment of Canadian stories. There is no difference in the manner which people and social settings are depicted before or after the war. Even the later Canadian Cameo episodes depicted the values and prejudices of twenty years previous. Sparling tried half-heartedly to adapt to the new situation, later he recalled that Circus on Ice (1953) was released without the “voice of God” narration. Sparling described the narration as being, “Brittain-like… (Donald Brittain) all the rage at the Board (NFB) so we thought we would try it”.157 NAC, MISA, Taped interview with Sparling. Whether Sparling was a poor imitator or wether the general audiences were not prepared to accept the change in narration style, Circus on Ice 158The content of Circus on Ice was the tried and true conventional formula of ice shows of which Sparling used to produce many previous skating Cameos. was not well received. Bill Singleton, salesman for ASN, complained to Sparling that this new type of Canadian Cameo was “impossible to sell”.159NAC, MISA Taped interview with Sparling. The content of Circus On Ice was the tried and true conventional formula of ice shows of which Sparling had produced many previous Cameos. While ice shows remained popular with mainstream Canadian audiences of the time, they were unwilling or theatre owners felt them to be unwilling to accept the new conventions.
It is difficult to assess therefore, if Sparling would have experimented more including new or changing visions of Canada but felt restricted by the commercial imperatives at ASN. The Canadian Cameo series was never intended to generate large profits; however, it was expected to at least break even. In order to ensure the perpetuation of the series it was likely that Sparling would attempt to maximize the main-stream market, rather than experiment with any un-conventional concept (in dealing with content). Since many of the theatre owners rejected Circus on Ice with-out ever projecting this film to a live audience, it is impossible to judge now, wether audiences were unwilling to accept the changes or wether it was the prejudices of the theatre owners which were against the new conventions.
Sponsored Film Production at Associated Screen News
Sponsored films were the mainstay of production throughout the life of ASN. ASN produced films for nearly every major Canadian corporation and many of the U.S. branch plants, including such companies as Eaton’s, SunLife, Shell Oil, Ford, General Motors, Bell Canada, International Harvester and General Electric. ASN also produced films for several provinces, including British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The films were produced for various provincial agencies, such as tourism, or for provincial crown corporations, for example, hydro- electric power utilities.
The majority of these films simply recorded the operation of large or highly technical products to potential buyers. For example, The Cat that Cracks. This film details the operations of a Shell Oil refinery. Interest today in these types of film is limited to their archival value.
In order to understand the volume of sponsored commercial films which were produced, it must be remembered that in the late twenties and early thirties, motion pictures were the pre-eminent form of mass communication. Television was a laboratory novelty, with widespread usage still two decades away. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (radio) was not formed until 1936. The few Canadians who owned wire-less receivers often were tuned into signals originating from south of the border. The programming of the first Canadian stations, such as CFCF Montreal,160 Canada’s first radio station, CFCF, was operated by Walter Darling. Darling, who joined ASN in 1932, was ASN’s chief sound engineer, often inventing much of the equipment. Darling had been an assistant to H.S. Berliner, who was involved in early experiments synchronizing film to sound discs. were little more than re-transmissions of American programming.
Therefore, if a corporation wished to convey a message to a wide-spread audience, the most effective medium was film. These films were then loaned at no charge (through the corporations’ advertising department), to service clubs, church groups, women’s institutes and schools, who were anxious to provide entertainment at their meetings. Many corporations provided not only the film, but a speaker as well, who would make a short presentation and perhaps a small donation to the service club and then project the film.161 The CPR was particularly adept at this social circuit and published a yearly catalogue of their film and\or speaker offerings. In some cases, the corporations would spare no expense and rent a local theatre for an evening. Employees of the corporation would be invited to a “Premier Gala”, with all the trappings befitting a major Hollywood release.
Occasionally, a corporation would sponsor a “public interest” film, which because of its general nature would be given to film exchanges (at no charge) and released through the general theatre network. The film would be used to fill out an evening’s program, which usually included a cartoon, newsreel, a short film and finally the feature. An example of this type of public service film is Wings over the Atlantic (1937). Sponsored by Shell Oil, this film documents the world’s first trans-Atlantic flight between London and New York, via Gander. This film was presented not as a commercial, rather as a general interest film. However, Shell Oil gas trucks and pumps figure prominently throughout the film. Another example of this type of film was a documentary, sponsored by SunLife, on a Montreal children’s anti- typhoid clinic.
The first example of Sparling’s talent in combining commercial and dramatic episodes is Beautyrest (1931). Produced by ASN for Simmons, Sparling transforms the manufacture of mattresses into a fairy tale. This silent film contained Grimm-like inter-titles162 These inter-titles were written by Terry Ramsaye. Ramsaye, originally with Seiznick Kinograms, joined ASN when the Kinogram series was merged with ASN. Ramsaye was the author of A Thousand and One Nights (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1964). and was lavishly tinted and toned.
Another example of Sparling’s dramatic style for sponsored films is The Breadwinner (1932). This was the sixth film which Sparling directed for ASN and was originally conceived as a silent film. The film was released with a synchronous music score and a talking sequence was added in the second reel. This twenty minute (two reel), dramatized commercial documentary, sponsored by George Weston Bread & Cakes Limited, depicts a domestic drama of a young man, his family and healthy Weston bread. This film was well received at the time and even jaded audiences of today can find some interesting moments. Its real importance lies in the fact that it allowed Sparling to convince Norrish of the viability of such projects. The Breadwinner provides the basic theme to which Sparling would turn when given the chance: a family drama, which is resolved by the helpful and\or timely intervention of the sponsored product or corporation.
Sparling’s next major dramatised commercial came the following year, with the three reel film, That’s Shell Service (1934). Sparling took what could have been a simple training film for Shell and turned it into a thirty minute drama. A young man is forced to leave university and a promising football career in order to return home and help his ailing father run a dilapidated service station. The young man enlists in a Shell training program and learns Shell’s “Seven Points of Service”. The film reinforces ad nauseam Shell’s service pointers from “touching your cap, if ladies present” to pointing out that Shell oil products are “sealed for your protection”. Predictably, with Shell techniques, the ailing station is turned around and not only will the man return to university in the fall, but the pretty love interest, who shunned him at the “old station”, will now await his return.
The next year Sparling directed Ale and Artie (1935), a four reel (forty minute), commercial dramatization for National Breweries. The title reflects the Cockney-style of humour, often employed by Sparling, in a pun reflecting the central character’s name, Artie. Artie, who is an executive with National Breweries, is trying to win the hand of the daughter of a crotchety old man.
The older man laments the current state of the world, believing that the situation was better in the “ol’ days”. Artie attempts to convince the old man that not everything was better, using for an example, National Breweries’ operations. The film alternates between Artie’s dialogue, which narrates the documentary portion of the film, and the comedic interruptions of the old man and his daughter. Also of interest is the strong nationalistic bias of the film. Artie goes to great lengths to explain National Breweries’ devotion to purchasing Canadian farmer’s’ produce. Artie explains National Breweries’ commitment to job creation for Canadian workers and even promotes National Breweries agricultural programs in equine husbandry in Quebec (to ensure the perpetuation of the “Black Horse”).
In directing Ale and Artie, Sparling followed a popular Hollywood format for star vehicles. Under this format, the slim plot of the film has been resolved, yet the film does not end. A device is found to insert a musical or dance sequence featuring the “star”. In Ale and Artie, when the father gives his consent to the marriage, the three gather around the radio to listen to the “Black Horse Girl”. This image dissolves to a female singer seated at a piano who performs two songs before the film ends. This sequence gives an indication of the influence of Hollywood production style on Sparling and his desire to produce films other than commercial documentaries. It also confirms, through the filmic conventions of the time, that the “Black Horse Girl” (who represents the inanimate ale) is the real “star” of the film.
In 1936, Sparling directed another longer film, for Shell Oil of Canada, entitled House in Order. This film had a length of five reels (fifty-five minutes) and was the longest commercial dramatization which Sparling produced. This film, much like the previous That’s Shell Service, extolled the virtues of being a Shell dealer. Organization, the protestant work ethic and a benevolent corporation (Shell) are portrayed as the formula for not only financial, but also personal success.
It was due to the production of this film that Sparling was able to convince Norrish to construct an extensive sound studio at ASN, which when completed, rivalled any in North America.
In 1938, Sparling directed a jingoistic film entitled. Song the Map Sings, for the Ford Motor Company. The film was separated into two distinct sections. The first section documented the “light and airy” conditions of the Windsor, Ford factory. The camera followed along the assembly line from the rolling of steel and the casting of engine blocks, to the final stage where a completed car’s tank is filled with gas. Throughout the film, the narrator extols the virtue of Ford technology and a dedicated work-force. The assembly-line workers are highlighted as being an important part of the Ford team, while the narrator extolled the stringent safety precautions taken. In one scene the viewer observes two men spray-painting a car body in an enclosed area. The viewer is told that these men are wearing the latest safety equipment – a cotton cap, cotton masks and a pair of overalls!
The film then utilizes an animated map to detail the destinations of all the finished cars. The map then reverses to show the influx of raw materials from across Canada to Windsor. The second half of the film details this influx. The film depicts all aspects of this flow of materials, from the delivery of iron ore from the Maritimes, to wheat from the prairies (for the hungry workers) and felt (rags) from the cities. The narrator throughout this sequence stresses the importance to all Canadians of this “all Canadian” company.
Ford capitalized on the release of Song the Map Sings by planning a special opening night gala at a Windsor theatre, complete with searchlights, limousines, long dresses and tails. The film’s stirring images and editing, combined with its well scripted narration and a rousing score, excited the audience and left them with a positive feeling about Ford and Canada. Even when viewed today, the viewer is left with the notion that the purchase of a Ford car will lead Canada to economic prosperity.
In the fall of 1938, Sparling directed the first dramatized documentary which used his “rhapsodic technique”. The Kinsmen, was a four reel film which was produced for the Canadian Wheat Board.
The technique was used in several sequences but was most effective in documenting the period of time between when wheat is sown and harvest time. Sparling documents this passage of time by repeating three common elements; prairie farmers gazing at the sky, farmers listening to the radio weather reports and images of the slowly maturing wheat. To the gentle sound of the waving wheat, whispered voices are heard saying, “no frost”, “enough rain” and “no hail”. During this time, the background score has grown from a few strings to a crescendo of strings and woodwinds, with trumpets underscoring the worried farmers’ faces. These techniques would be considered a little bombastic by film-makers today, however, they were ingenious and well received at the time.
The Kinsmen and Song the Map Sings were produced in late 1938 and early 1939. However, with Canada’s entry into the Second World War, commercial production at ASN turned to films sponsored by corporations eager to show their contribution to the war effort and to encourage Canadians. Many employees of ASN enlisted in the war effort and some joined the Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit (CAFPU). Sparling took leave from ASN in 1942 and became the director of the CAFPU.163 The Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit was active in the Second World War, documenting the activities of the Canadian and British forces. This work often placed CAFPU personnel on the leading edge of the battle. The material gathered was then edited into newsreels, by Sparling in London, and released to the troops and to Canada. In total, 106 Canadian Army Newsreels were produced and footage was supplied for a variety of other uses. In addition, a large proportion of the battle footage seen today of World War Two in Europe was collected by this unit. The National Film Board was not allowed overseas by Army commanders, and the American’s late entry into the war also delayed their coverage. Captured German footage was also processed through the CAFPU. Additional films produced by the CAFPU were Wood For War, You Can’t Kill A City, Victory in the Netherlands, The Fifth Christmas, and The Antwerp Story, The last two films were directed by Sparling. During Sparling’s absence, the production department at ASN did not close down, but produced several films in conjunction with the NFB.
When Sparling returned from the war in 1946, he went back to work at ASN, anxious to revive the production department. However, the time of rebuilding after the Second World War was marked by financial restrictions and reforms. Canadian corporations did not have the resources to contract the production of as many films as they had before the war.
The Mapleville Story (1946),164 Of technical interest; this film is believed to be the first Canadian film which made use of moving rear-screen projection, see G. Graham, Canadian Film Technology 1896-1986 (Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1989). was the last of the dramatized commercials which ASN produced. This three reel film was sponsored by the Canadian Banking Association, although this does not appear anywhere on the film. Instead, the head credit reads, “Produced by Canadian Film Features”, a fictitious company. Sparling recalls that the bankers felt that the public would not accept the content of the film if they knew it had been sponsored by the banks. The resulting film has some charming moments; however, the purpose was to reassure Canadians about their banking system in a time of economic adversity. Post-war economic reconstruction, the film extolled, could be best achieved by the traditional values of hard work and thrift. The small town of Mapleville (Anytown, Canada) is seen to benefit from the actions of its hard- working citizens (no members of a minority group are depicted) and the benevolent bank manager. The Mapleville Story differs in both style and tone from Sparling’s previous work, exhibiting a less bombastic style. However, the underlying message and values remain unchanged, despite the tremendous social changes occurring in Canada.
Associated Screen News and the production of the Canadian Cameo series is occasionally held up as an example of what private industry is capable of producing. In truth, realizing the involvement of the CPR in the development of Canada (and vice-versa) this is not possible. Although Associated Screen News was on paper a private company, ASN was in no way capable of presenting an independent vision of Canada. ASN presented in all of its productions, sponsored or Canadian Cameo, the vision of Canada held by those who administered Canada’s largest corporation. It is also possible, therefore, to ascribe ASN’s lack of ability to change its vision, to the similar difficulty faced by the CPR. When Edward Beatty, Chairman and President of the CPR, ran the Company as if it were a private empire; however, with his death at an early age in 1943, the CPR was left without a strong vision. Even though the loss of Beatty was a shock to the CPR, the inertia in this giant corporation allowed it to continue daily operations; however, within a decade the effect of Beatty’s death would be felt at Associated Screen News.
The Demise of Associated Screen News
Edward Beatty, President & Chairman of the CPR, in addition to have personally supported the formation of Associated Screen News, relished his position as Chairman of ASN’s board. Beatty was the last in a line of railroad tycoons who single-handedly controlled the CPR. However, following his death in 1943, those aspects of the CPR’s holdings which were considered to be Beatty’s personal indulgences, such as ASN, came under scrutiny.
Beatty was succeeded as Chairman by D.C. Coleman, who was sixty-four when he was unexpectedly promoted to this position. Coleman set aside his planned retirement in order to lead the CPR and therefore, did not have the same long-term vision of the CPR that Beatty and his predecessors had possessed. Coleman’s primary concern was simply managing the CPR until a proper successor could be groomed.
In 1944, in the midst of this period of change, an offer to purchase ASN was made by N.L. Nathenson. The sale of ASN was briefly considered but was rejected primarily because the majority of the CPR’s energies were focused on the war in Europe.165 The resources of the CPR were actively committed to the Second World War. The Atlantic Bomber Ferry was originally a CPR administered program, for which Beatty received his Knighthood. In addition, several CP Steamships were converted into cargo and troop ships and many of the CPR heavy metal working shops were converted to weapons and munitions production. Coleman was uncertain what to do with a movie production company; however, he was reluctant to sell ASN while it was returning a profit to the CPR. The favourable financial position of ASN was due in large measure to the corporate leadership of Ben Norrish.
The aggressiveness of Norrish, matched with the capital resources of the CPR and favourable tariff laws, created a prosperous combination at ASN. Norrish worked closely with the American studios, whose lucrative printing contracts were the lifeblood of ASN. Despite the close economic ties, Norrish was always wary of the influence which the American studios exerted.166 Norrish’s decision for ASN to remain in Montreal is seen as wanting to keep some distance between ASN and the U.S. distribution companies, who were primarily located in Toronto. Norrish, who could not be described as a creative film-maker was however, a patriotic Canadian. Therefore, when Norrish made statements such as, Canada “had no more use for a large moving picture studio, than Hollywood had for a pulp-mill”.167 Canadian Moving Picture Digest, November 17, 1920, p.9. he was not disparaging Canadian talent, but rather these comments reflected Norrish’s insight into the control which Hollywood exercised over the Canadian marketplace.168 It is interesting to compare the backgrounds of Norrish and Grierson. Both men strongly believed in film as a powerful medium of communication, while scorning the production of fictional features. Norrish and Grierson were also both Presbyterian, which might have influenced their perception of the use of the film medium.
Norrish realized the limitations which Canadian production companies faced; however, in acknowledging these restrictions, Norrish sought to expand ASN wherever American influence was weakest. Norrish aggressively expanded ASN into other film-related businesses. For example, in1935, Norrish was approached by C.F. Notman, whose father had established, in Montreal, one of the first photographic studios in Canada.169 The majority of these still photographs were transferred to McGill University and form the Notman Photographic Archive. In acquiring the Notman company, ASN obtained a valuable library of photographic negatives dating back to Notman’s establishment in 1856.
In 1941, Norrish again expanded ASN by forming the Benograph Company. This division of ASN was a distributer for both motion picture equipment170 ASN had been the exclusive distributor of Bell & Howell products in Canada since 1931. and motion pictures. Benograph distributed a wide range of educational films for use in both public and trade schools throughout the country. In addition, land adjoining the ASN laboratory had been purchased to accommodate the future expansion of the Benograph division into the area of manufacturing Bell & Howell motion picture equipment.171 Although Bell & Howell has slipped in its prominence today, they were the largest supplier of motion picture equipment at the time. The significance of manufacturing Bell & Howell equipment at this point in time should not be under-rated. In addition to manufacturing, the Benograph division also designed new products, one example being the Benoreel, a take-up reel with an unique device for ease of threading. If these innovations were to have continued with the establishment of a full scale manufacturing facility, the Benograph plant may have been much more than just a “branch plant” facility. One needs only to look at the number of motion picture technical innovations which have been developed by Canadians. For further information see, Gerald G. Graham, Canadian Film Technology. 1896-1986 (Toronto:Associated University Presses, 1989).
In 1944, ASN further expanded their activities in the field of still photography172 Since its formation, ASN had been responsible for the processing of both still and motion pictures for CPR and Hotel guests, but had not been involved in the sale of still photographic equipment. with the purchase of Dunne & Rundle Ltd. of Vancouver on the death of Mr. Dunne. Norrish described the purchase of this company as “a Pacific Coast outlet for Associated’s broadening activities.”173 CPR Corporate Archives, Associated Screen News of Canada Collection. Memo from B. Norrish to D.C. Coleman, no date . Copy in author’s possession.
In addition to this Pacific coast outlet, ASN opened a sales office in Toronto. The function of this office, lead by Bill Singleton, was to promote the sale of industrial films. One of the largest of these projects was a contract to document the construction of Toronto’s new subway system.
After the war, ASN invested in the “new” format of sixteen millimetre motion pictures. Although considered as an “amateur” medium by some film-makers (including Sparling) the smaller, light weight cameras were first used at ASN to produce films for the CPR.174 The smaller cameras were ideal for the CPR cameramen who often worked in difficult, outdoor locations, such as from horseback. The less obtrusive cameras were also much better for recording Canadian Pacific passengers or guests enjoying the facilities, producing less of a “staged” appearance in the travelogue films. With the lifting of war-time restrictions sixteen millimetre projectors became common place in every school and library across Canada. ASN was quick to exploit this opportunity, not only producing training films, but was also, the largest distributor of technical training and education films in Canada.175 Associated Screen News of Canada, A Teachers Guide to the Use of Motion Pictures in the Classroom (Montreal, no date ).
In addition to the sixteen millimetre films, ASN also produced thirty-five millimetre filmstrips on almost every conceivable subject. Chances are that the filmstrips which every Canadian school child of the fifties and sixties endured were produced by ASN.
With the growing affluence in Canada, many individuals purchased sixteen millimetre cameras for home use. Many of the “home-movies” produced during the fifties and sixties were of this gauge. With the growth in sales projectors for home use, ASN quickly capitalized upon the market by releasing films, not only in the thirty-five millimetre theatrical format, but also in sixteen millimetre for sale to individuals. Segments of popular feature films of the time were released on sixteen millimetre for home viewing176 Similar to the sale of pre-recorded video cassettes today. (the entire films being too expensive for the average person to purchase). Canadian Cameos were very popular when made available to the home market. Their short length and low cost were ideal for the living room theatres. Difficulties with theatrical distribution made the home market a vital source of revenue for the continuation of the Canadian Cameo series.177 CPR Archives, ASN Collection, G.Sparling, Short Way to Canadian Entertainment. Internal ASN memo.
When Sparling returned to ASN in 1947 after his war service, he returned with plans for the heightened importance of the Canadian Cameo series. Production of the Canadian Cameo series had stopped, for all intents and purposes, during Sparling’s absence.
With much fanfare and promotion, regular production of the Canadian Cameo series resumed with Headlines of 1948.
Beginning with Headlines of 1948, the Canadian Cameo series released a new episode every six weeks. In addition, several of the Canadian Cameo episodes were sold for distribution in the United States.178 Borderline Cases, rights sold to Universal Pictures; Spring Comes to Niagara & Sitzmarks the Spot, rights sold to Warner Brothers; Beauty and the Blade, rights sold to Fox. In most cases when ASN sold the rights to a Canadian Cameo, it was exclusive of Canada. In the case of Beauty and the Blade, all rights were sold to Fox, who eliminated all references to ASN and the Canadian Cameo series, releasing it instead as a Fox Short.
Despite the stringent economic controls of post-war Canada, ASN was relatively well situated financially. The laboratory division of ASN was one of the few light industries of the time which generated foreign currency, through the processing of American features. In 1945, ASN processed over 50,000 worth of features for the British, Rank Organization.179 CPR Archives, ASM Collection, B. Norrish, memo to D.C. Coleman, no date. Copy in author’s possession. This was in addition to almost 300,000.00 worth of work which was performed for American studios.180Ibid. In 1946, Norrish predicted that ASN would process over 500,000.00 worth of material for American studios.181Ibid.
After considering ASN’s favourable position, Sparling decided that this was the opportune time to further the development of film production in Canada. Sparling felt that at ASN was assembled a team of directors, technicians and writers which could provide the basis for a Canadian venture into feature production. ASN provided the talent and the CPR provided the financial stability. Sparling stated:
"The old apathy to things Canadian is dying out. A thing doesn't have to be imported to be good. Canadian talent, Canadian techniques, Canadian viewpoints are receiving even greater recognition and appreciation." 182 Sparling, The Short Way to Canadian Entertainment.
It may be assumed that Sparling had at least the cautious support of the CPR in his vision for ASN since in 1947 another offer was made for ASN. The offer was made by Paul Nathenson, N.L. Nathenson’s son. The offer was entertained by the CPR, but was eventually rejected on similar grounds as the first; namely that ASN continued to return a large enough profit to the CPR such that Nathenson’s offer was not sufficiently (financially) worthwhile.
However, in spite of his optimism, Sparling realized that while there may be an interest in Canadian viewpoints, there remained certain difficulties which remained to be overcome:
"But it is obvious that no matter how well received a Canadian short may be, it cannot earn its production costs through Canadian theatres alone."183 Sparling, The Short Way to Canadian Entertainment.
Therefore, while some of ASN’s markets increased, traditional markets such as newsreel production decreased. There were several reasons for this decline in one of the mainstays of ASN’s revenue generation. The most often quoted reason was the decline in newsreels in general; however, newsreels remained popular in theatres until the early sixties. Therefore, the situation might be more accurately described as a decline in the number of newsreel producers as the major American studios attempted to solidify their control over all aspects of film production. The major American producers were anxious to extend their control over world-wide production and exhibition which had begun in the 1920’s.
Film Production and the Canadian Cooperation Project
Canada, like most nations after the Second World War, was anxious to control the haemorrhaging flow of currency to the United States. The tremendous outflow of theatre revenues, $20 million in 1947.184 Canada, House of Commons, Debates. February 20, 1948, p.1506. was identified as an area of financial concern. For the first time, legislation was seriously being considered which would rectify this situation. It is not important that this legislation was being proposed for economic reasons, it had the potential to benefit Canadian film producers by removing their primary financial obstacle — distribution. Without the flood of American features, Canadian exhibitors would require additional films to fill their screens. The net effect being to create a market for independent Canadian film producers. In addition, tight currency restrictions would force the Americans to invest a significant portion of the profits garnered from exhibition in Canada, back in Canada. Many Canadian were hopeful this would mean a boom in Canadian production.185 In addition to Sparling, another person who was hopeful was Ross McLean, who succeeded John Grierson as the film Commissioner of the NFB. The currency crisis was in McLean’s eyes an opportunity to challenge the American’s control of the Canadian motion picture market-place. McLean, like Sparling, believed that Canadian could begin producing short films and then seek additional capital to venture into feature production. In a later interview he stated;”Grierson and I considered it a natural development to move from documentaries into more interpretive films”.
However, when American interests became aware of C.D. Howe’s intentions, they moved quickly to stop the proposed legislation. The Americans convinced Howe not to proceed on his intended plan and proposed instead what has become known as the Canadian Co-operation Project. Under the Canadian Co-operation Project, not only was the threat of further barriers to American film producers eliminated, current barriers (specifically on the importation of motion picture equipment) were to be no longer enforced (although they still technically existed). The result of this relaxation was that American newsreel cameramen were free to enter and exit Canada as they pleased. This eliminated the need to purchase Canadian footage from ASN. Norrish complained bitterly to C.D. Howe;186 C.D. Howe was the Minister of Revenue and one of the architects of the Canadian Co-operation Project. however, no relief or re-enforcement of the existing laws was forth coming.
ASN’s financial base was created from the protectionist measures of tariffs. The relaxation of these tariffs meant that the CPR’s commitment to ASN quickly faded as the company became a financial liability rather than an asset. Therefore the Federal government’s promotion of relaxed tariff laws and the Canadian Cooperation Project may be seen as having ultimately contributed to the demise of ASN.
N.L. Nathanson, Odeon and Associated Screen News
Volumes could (and should) be written on N.L. Nathanson. Some of his earlier exploits in the formation of Famous Players Canada Corporation are briefly detailed earlier in Chapter 2 of this paper. In 1929, Zukor fired Nathanson from the Board of Famous Players because Mathanson had been negotiating with Fox to set up a rival chain. When Fox went bankrupt, Nathanson was left temporarily stranded. However in 1932 Paramount experienced financial difficulty and entered into receivership. This situation allowed Nathanson to re-join the board of Famous Players Canada Corporation. In response to Nathanson rejoining the board, all of the other board members promptly resigned in protest. Nathanson then appointed a new board, who in turn, named Nathenson President once again.
Now once again President of Famous Players Canadian Corporation (1933-1939), Nathanson began acquiring theatres which were in competition with Famous Players. Nathanson purchased these theatres under the name of an agent, Oscar Hanson. Nathanson’s scheme was discovered and he was forced to sell these acquisitions to Famous Players. In 1940, B. Balaban, who succeeded Zukor as president of Paramount, sent J.J. Fitzgibbon to Canada to replace Nathanson as head of the Canadian subsidiary.
After his final expulsion from Famous Players, Nathanson joined with his brother Henry Nathanson and a small exhibition chain owner, N.A. Taylor, to form Odeon Theatres on April 18, 1941.187 Odeon Theatres (Canada) Limited, Odeon’s 25 Eventful years in Canada: A Special Supplement Saluting a Leading Theatre Company, April 13, 1966, p.13. One of the primary sources of supply of motion pictures was the Rank Organization in Britain. The Rank Organization invested in the Odeon corporation.188 The Rank investment in Odeon would eventually total fifty percent of the voting shares (acquired from Paul Nathenson). The Rank organization maintained this investment in Canada until 1979, when Odeon was re-organized by Garth Drabinsky. The Rank Organization, was a vertically integrated film production company in Britain, controlling production distribution and exhibition. Rank was anxious to expand after the war in the same manner as the American studios. Rank saw Canada as the first step in a Commonwealth-wide chain able to compete with the American majors. It is important to note that Rank never intended for film production in Canada, simply exhibition. In addition, the Rank Organization also manufactured Bell & Howell motion picture equipment under licence from the American parent.
As stated earlier, Morrish had tried to diversify ASN by manufacturing Bell & Howell motion picture equipment. However, before Norrish could develop manufacturing capabilities at Benograph, Nathanson signed an agreement with the Rank interests to import and distribute Bell & Howell motion picture products in Canada. This move angered Norrish who had the exclusive importation and distribution agreement with Bell & Howell. Bell & Howell (U.S.) claimed that the U.K. subsidiary was independently owned and operated from the U.S. parent, and under British law was allowed to export to Canada.
Why Bell & Howell chose to deal with ASN in this manner is not fully understood. Possibly,Bell & Howell was unhappy with the volume of goods which were being sold in Canada through Benograph. This is unlikely, however, as war-time restrictions all but eliminated the sale to the general public of motion picture equipment. Furthermore, Norrish was a personal friend of J. McNabb, the current president of Bell & Howell, a relationship which stemmed from 1916 and Norrish’s employment with the Water Powers Branch. ASN was meeting their obligations to Bell & Howell, which required ASN to purchase a minimum of thirty-five thousand dollars worth of equipment annually. This agreement was originally signed in 1931, and continued automatically each year if the quota was met, which it was, and far exceeded following the end of the war.
The U.S. parent certainly could have stopped the Nathanson\U.K. agreement but chose not to possibly because Canada was a small market compared to the larger European market, which was reached through the British subsidiary. The net result of these actions was that Benograph would not build a manufacturing facility. Tariffs on photographic equipment were quite high if they entered from the U.S., sufficiently high to economically justify their production in Canada. British products, however, were assessed at a different rate of duty, which reduced the profit margin necessary to establish a manufacturing facility.
These factors combined to create a difficult situation for ASN. Unfortunately, in addition, Norrish’s age was beginning to show, and without the active support from the CPR189 After the death of Beatty the CPR floundered for approximately ten years. As a result of this turmoil, the CPR was occupied trying to keep the railway division of their operations together. In addition, massive renovations were needed to the CPR track and rolling stock, over six hundred million dollars was spent in these two areas between 1950-53(Trade papers at the time estimated that this amount was not enough and that the CPR would need to spend further millions). Therefore, the CPR had little time for what were considered peripheral interests such as wood, oil and ASN. This difficult period in CPR history is detailed in David Cruise & Alison Griffiths, Lords of the Line. (Markham: Viking, 1988). (having lost Douglas, Gibbons and Beatty) or from the Federal Government, ASN floundered. Strong leadership was needed at this time of change, but none was forthcoming.
The Advent of Television and Associated Screen News
In 1952, Alex McKie, an ASN staff member, wrote a report which he gave to Sparling and Norrish, documenting the opportunities for ASN in producing films for television. Norrish refused to consider the option of television until it had developed further in Canada. McKie, frustrated with the lack of response, left ASN shortly afterwards and joined the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto. The only work for television which ASN undertook at this time were thirty second commercials, which they produced for Lowney’s (ice cream, candy bars). Sparling states that he was not enthusiastic about producing for television at that time because the broadcasts were live. Sparling felt that ASN had neither the facilities nor the expertise to produce television under live conditions. Sparling’s first choice was to continue making film productions, despite the difficulties faced in distribution and the decreased demand for sponsored films.
In March 1953, Norrish retired as the President of ASN and William (Bill) J. Singleton was made the president of ASN.190 It is a matter of debate whether Singleton was not suited to the task of being president or whether the CPR simply placed him in the role of the president to give the CPR time to negotiate with a buyer for ASN. It is known that Norrish would not have agreed to a sale of ASN to Nathenson interests under any condition. Therefore his departure was necessary for the sale to progress. Singleton had been employed in various positions with ASN since 1926.
When Singleton assumed the role of President this left a large vacancy in the sales department. Singleton had been for many years the driving force behind ASN’s sales, but now that he was occupied with the President’s office, he was no longer able to devote the time needed to promote ASN’s productions. Singleton’s replacement, Norman Hull, was now the only salesman employed with ASN. Sales of the Canadian Cameo series and the production of sponsored films fell to their lowest point since the formation of ASN. Few new projects were undertaken and without an inflow of capital production facilities were not able to be properly maintained. Necessary new equipment was not obtained, and much of the existing equipment was in need of replacement. Many of the staff members left for employment with the National Film Board. The last episode of Sparling’s Canadian Cameo series, Spotlight No. 6, was released in November, 1953.191 Spotlight No. 6 was the last episode of the Canadian Cameo series to be released while Sparling was with ASN. After Sparling’s departure in 1954, ASN released The Beloved Fish. This film was begun with the original Canadian Cameo staff, including Sparling, and was “ninety-five per cent complete”, according to Sparling, when he left ASN to join the NFB.
The situation for the CPR was little better than it was for ASN. The CPR was facing its highest debt since 1941, the highest fixed charges since 1948 and the lowest return on investment since 1922. The CPR felt they could no longer afford their own production company. Buck Crump(1904- ), the new Chairman and President of the CPR, had risen to his position since starting as a fireman. Crump was determined to return the CPR to the transportation business.
In January 1954, the CPR sold their share in ASN to a group lead by Paul L. Nathanson. In April of that year, Maxwell Cummings was elected President and George Beeston Vice-president of the newly re- organized Associated Screen News. Cummings was also president of the University Tower Corporation, Sherbrooke Apartments Ltd., and Suburban Enterprises Inc. These companies controlled a number of apartment buildings and shopping centres inMontreal. It was revealed in his appointment that Cummings was a partner with Nathanson in the acquisition of the CPR shares in ASN. in a series of actions foreshadowing the corporate raiders of the eighties, the first priority of the new owners was to break up ASN, selling off Benograph and the valuable land holdings which ASN controlled. ASN owned several acres of prime industrial land where it had been Morrish’s intention to build a film equipment manufacturing facility. The new owners had no such intention and only wanted to recoup as much as possible of the purchase price as soon as possible. The profits from these sales were not returned to ASN, but rather were paid in dividends to the share-holders. The two principal shareholders of ASN were Nathanson and Cummings.
This was Cummings’ first “active association with the motion picture and television industries,192 “Film Firm Elects New Officers Here”, The Gazette, Montreal, April 23, 1954. although he was also the president of the Northern Film Exchange. The new management of ASN predicted growth for ASN by producing television dramas in light of the declining market for short film production.
Murray Briskin was hired by Cummings as his executive assistant and charged with the role of developing a television series for ASN. Briskin had previously been employed in New York City with the Music Corporation of America (MCA). When Briskin came to Montreal, he maintained strong ties with MCA, to whom the new owners of ASN wished to sell the completed television series.
Briskin quickly set about developing a television series. Since none of the staff writers at ASN had any experience in writing for television, MCA arranged for one of their staff writers who lived in Vermont to commute to Montreal. The American writer developed the story of a young man who was an apprentice store manager for the Hudson’s Bay Company – possibly the only Canadian firm which would be recognized by the intended American audience. The series was to be called McLean of Hudson’s Bay. The Hudson’s Bay Company was very interested and involved in the production, sending an advisor to work with ASN.
Sparling had remained the executive in charge of production at ASN under the new owners; however, when filming began on McLean of Hudson’s Bay the MCA executives in New York sent one of their own directors to be in charge of production of the pilot, thereby reducing Sparling’s role.
It was not long before the un-named American director raised the ire of both Sparling and the Hudson’s Bay advisor with his stereotyped view of Canada. For example, the pilot was to be situated on the west coast of Canada. Sparling arranged for Ross Beasley, an ASN cameraman located in Vancouver, to film coastal scenes. Beasley shot the required footage and sent it to Montreal for processing. This footage had been intended for use on rear-projection screens in the studio. Upon viewing this footage, which Sparling called excellent, the American director determined it didn’t really look like the west coast, and commissioned a painted backdrop.
To fill the role of the lead character, John McLean, MCA sent an unknown, American actor (Frank Mathias) from New York, since the MCA executives were of the opinion “Canadians couldn’t act”193 NAC, MISA, Sparling interview, recorded November 9, 1979. However, Canadian actors were apparently good enough to fill the lesser role of the Indian chief. This role was given to a black actor who lived in Montreal (Perhaps since the series was filmed in black and white, the director didn’t expect anyone to be able to tell the difference). The plot of the pilot concerned a young white girl (seven or eight years of age) who was kidnapped by the Indians and rescued by McLean. Sparling and the Hudson’s Bay advisor complained bitterly over the direction of the story and the misrepresentation of factual information; however, these complaints fell on deaf ears. The only suggestions the director accepted were those made by the MCA executives in New York, who received weekly rushes. McLean of Hudson’s Bay was destined for failure.
ASN spent approximately forty thousand dollars in 1955-56 to produce the pilot episode of McLean of Hudson’s Bay. This un-televised pilot was the last production undertaken at Associated Screen Studios. All other production work had stopped at ASN with the exception of theatrical trailer announcements (For example, “Coming Next Week” or “Enjoy Hot Popcorn!”).
It is a common misconception that the final nail in ASN’s coffin was the coming of television; however, this is not entirely true. McLean is proof of the fact that the new executives at ASN were willing to make a modest investment in television production, the difficulty lay with how they choose to invest rather than with the investment itself. The timing in Canada was certainly opportune for the production of Canadian television. The newly formed television branch of the C.B.C. was in desperate need of programming, which was only partially fulfilled by their own studios and those of the National Film Board. The new owners of ASN were not interested in the smaller Canadian market, they preferred to produce a fast return on the larger, American audience and hence the involvement of MCA. The difficulty being of course that Sparling and the other members of ASN were not in tune to the American tastes. In spite of all of its shortcomings, McLean of Hudson’s Bay was likely no worse than other contemporary television production.
Nathenson and Briskin were interested in turning a quick profit from ASN, they were not interested in the long term potential of ASN and they were certainly not willing (or able) to write of any short-term losses as the CPR had on occasion previously. Therefore, McLean was the one and only chance given to ASN to produce a successful television drama. If the capital from the sale of ASN’s property in Montreal had been used to invest in the purchase of equipment and in preparing the company to produce television productions, it may have been the chance to create dramatic work. The forty thousand dollars which were spent were only a small portion of the money which the owners received from the sale of the property. The real failure of the new owners was their attitude that it must be an American-style production to be successful. This new attitude of ASN’s management was a direct reversal of everything which Sparling and Norrish had been building since ASN’s formation.
The final blow to ASN came in July 1957, when what remained of the production and art departments were permanently closed. Despite these closures, Murray Briskin, in an interview with Canadian Film Weekly, assured readers that ASN would continue to produce films by engaging talent “on a freelance basis”.194 “ASN Art, Prod’n Staffs Dropped”, Canadian Film Weekly. July 31, 1957.p.1. It is difficult to ascertain whether or not the company had any serious plans to follow this course of action or whether they simply wanted to recoup their losses on the failed McLean pilot.
Gordon Sparling, and several other directors and writers, decided to leave ASN at this time. Sparling joined the National Film Board, where he worked as a director until his retirement in 1966.
In November, Canadian Film Weekly reported negotiations concerning the sale of ASN to Du-Art Laboratories of New York. The sale of ASN to Du-Art was completed in January, 1958. Upon completion of the sale, Du-Art changed the name to Associated Screen Industries. No new production was undertaken as it was Du-Art’s intention to operate ASI simply as a laboratory. The dubbing of American features into French provided the only employment of the sound studios.
In 1967, Du-Art sold ASI to Bellevue-Humphries a Canadian consortium which during the late sixties intended to establish laboratories in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Further expansion plans were made; however, the expected boom in Canadian film did not materialize and Humphries sold the Montreal laboratory to Pathe.
Bellevue-Pathe continued to operate the laboratory and was the Canadian distributor for small American studios, for example Walt Disney Studios.195 Bellevue-Pathe, as the distribution division of Astral Communications remained the Canadian distributor for Walt Disney Productions until 1985/6 when Disney formed their own distribution company in Canada. This action was in contravention of Investment Canada guidelines; however, Disney lobbied the Federal Cabinet and the Prime Ministers Office, taking full advantage of the on-going Free Trade negotiations. A full exploration of this subject would go beyond the limits of this paper; however, the eventually establishment of this American distributor illustrates the lack of Canadian government commitment to its own policies when motion pictures are involved. In the late seventies Astral Films, a Canadian company involved in both still and motion pictures, merged with Bellevue-Pathe changing the name to Astral-Bellevue- Pathe. Most recently the name has been changed to Astral Communications.
A Short Way to Canadian Entertainment?
Daily, Canadians hear assurances that “cultural industries” are not negotiable. Yet in reality, their is already very little that is left to open up to Free-trade. The few restrictions which remain primarily concern the percentage of Canadian content on television broadcasting.
Harold Greenberg,196 Harold Greenberg was the producer of Canada’s highest grossing film, Porky’s (1982). Chairman of Astral Communications is also a member of the Canadian Culture\Communications Industries Committee. This lobby group was originally formed during the original Free-trade negotiations and has been recently revived as rumours circulate concerning the possible re-opening the 1988 Free-trade agreement to include Mexico.
First Choice,197 First Choice is a Pay Television channel in eastern Canada. a division of Astral Communications, regularly reports to the CRTC that it can not afford to meet the quota of Canadian films, which were a condition of its licence. Therefore, it is ironic that First Choice, who in a concession to the CRTC, sponsors each year the “Great Canadian Shorts Contest”. The stated purpose of the contest is to “stimulate Canadian film-makers”. How long will we continue to hold onto false ideals and failed methods?
Gordon Sparling once suggested that there was a “Short way to Canadian entertainment”. Sparling attempted through the production of the Canadian Cameo series to draw together a body of technical knowledge, crafts-people and facilities which he hoped would become the nucleus of studio, capable of competing with the American studios for Canadian screens. Time and events; however, have proven that there is no “short way” to Canadian film. In a more recent interview Sparling stated,
"Success in Canadian movie making will depend, as it does in any other industry, on sound business principles. When a producing group comes into being which will place experienced people in jobs that demand experience; which is willing and able to pay for 'production values'; which will study its market before its production; and above all, which will remember that while it is nice to speak of the "Movie game", it is really the movie business: we will surely find that motion pictures can be made here just as successfully as anywhere else in the world. Those principles are, I believe, true today. One giant helping hand is the new CFDC.198 Author's note: Sparling is referring to the Canadian Film Development Corporation, a Federal Government initiative designed to encourage the production of Canadian film. The CFDC is the predecessor of Telefilm. The other (and even more vital) has yet to come. It must be some just form of access to exhibition profits at home and abroad.(emphasis added)."199 Ibid, p.31.
Without unhindered access to distribution, there cannot be any “just access to exhibition profits”. Without the access to exhibition profits, it is obvious that any production company could not survive financially. Therefore, regardless of the amount of money which is invested by federal agencies (for example Telefilm Canada) in the production of “Canadian films”, it is highly unlikely that there would be sufficient financial returns to create a self-sufficient structure. Telefilm, realising the fact that without distribution there is little chance of financial success, has modified its criteria to included a guaranteed distribution before the agency releases any funds to the film-maker. This process, rather than encouraging production of film, creates additional difficulty for the independent film-maker and does not acknowledge the existing problems concerning film distribution in Canada.
In recent years two Ministers of Communication, Francis Fox (Liberal) and Flora MacDonald (Conservative) have attempted to break the American strangle-hold on film distribution in Canada. In announcing her proposed new film policy/ MacDonald stated,
"no fewer than seven Ministers since World War II have attempted, in the best Canadian tradition, to reach a negotiated agreement which would assure a Canadian presence on Canadian screens. None have succeeded."200 Department of Communications, "Notes for Remarks by the Honourable Flora MacDonald, M.P. for Kingston and the Islands, Minister of Communications on New Measures concerning Film Importation in Canada," Toronto, February 13, 1987, p.5.
MacDonald also failed.
The Federal government’s view of film (first represented by people such as Sir George Foster and F.C.T. O’Hara) has been as a means of commercial communication and later of employment. The Canadian Government has tended to view film (either produced by the government or by other Canadians, as simply a means to an end. Films stimulated either immigration or investment; however, they did not have any value in and of themselves. This view is best expressed by Sir George Foster when he stated,
"Our purpose is to give to the outside world a picture of our productive capacity, our natural resources, and so on: and we make the film story interesting by weaving in bits of scenery expressive of our natural scenic resources. This serves a double purpose. It stimulates trade; it excites curiosity as to our natural resources; but it also does a good deal of the best work for our Immigration Department."201 Canada, House of Commons, Debates. Sir George Foster, April 1, 1921, p.1467.
Current day film-making in Canada is interpreted as the provision of trained crews and laboratory services for other peoples films. The number of films produced in Canada each year vary in inverse proportion to the exchange rate of our dollar.
Programs for film and video certification are designed more to ensure that “local talent” is used. A labour policy to stimulate the employment of Canadians in an industry. Canadian Film policy is akin to programs which provide employment in the petroleum industry. It is not now, nor ever has been, the intent of Canadian film policies to create an artistic or even a Canadian point of view in film.
The successful production of short films by such organizations as Associated Screen News of Canada provide a chance to express opinions not because Canadians are not sufficiently talented or skilled to produce longer films, rather because it is all we as Canadians allow other Canadians to produce.
"Canada's main contribution was not in the feature field but more in the informational and documentary field mainly because of necessity; they were cheaper and allowed more experimentation for less money."202 Gordon Sparling in "Conversations with Gordon Sparling", Motion. Jan\Feb 1973, p.30.
The proficient production of short films will never lead to the production of longer films, the film industry is not based on a model of organic growth, rather on capital investment and return. The emergence of short film as a national cinema is not a natural occurrence, it is a stunted expression of national cinema by a country that practices self-amputation. It appears that throughout our history, Canadians have not been able (or is it willing?) to change the political\economic factors which would allow for the unhindered growth of an independent film industry.
© Greg Eamon All rights reserved – Reproduced here with permission of the author, 2022