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'The Power of the Cinema': Film in the 1920s and 1930s

Mobile cinema

The rise of "talkies" from the late 1920s onwards led to a radical shake-up of the entertainment industry. Live entertainment went into decline and variety theatres became movie palaces, where eager punters could see exactly the same entertainment as their fellows in Los Angeles, Berlin or Bombay. The belief that films could influence behaviour was seen by some as an opportunity to get their message across to a mass audience, others feared that the next generation of children would be warped by the immorality of gangster flicks and movie violence. In Britain, the dominance of Hollywood at the box office led to concerns about a loss of national identity and the "Americanisation" of British culture.

The documents identified here reflect these concerns and show the growing influence of film as both a method of communication and form of entertainment. They are all taken from the archive of the Trades Union Congress, a collection which includes over 100 files on aspects of the film industry.

More information about archives relating to the history of film and the cinema is included in our online subject guide. Try searching our online catalogue to find more documents relating to these subjects.

Report of the League of Nations Child Welfare Committee, 1928

Examination of "effects of the cinematograph on the mentality and morality of children", including concern over promiscuous behaviour in dark cinemas and the role of cinema as "one of the principal causes of crime among children".

'Amateur cine apparatus', season 1927-8

Advertisements for essential cine equipment, supplied by Westminster Photographic Exchange Ltd.

Photographs of mobile cinema, undated [1929?]

Competing 'daylight cinema vans' used by the Conservative and Labour parties to show political films across the country.

'The New Spirit in the Cinema', c1930

Promotional leaflet for a book by Huntly Carter, contrasting the humanism and morality of European and Hollywood films.

Fifth annual report of the Film Society, 1930

Outline of the work of the London Film Society, supporters of artistic, international cinema, including information about courses run by S.M. Eisenstein and Hans Richter.

Suggested amendment to the Cinematograph Films Act, 1930

Strong statement in support of the quota system to increase the number of British films shown in UK cinemas, issued by the National Association of Theatrical Employees.

Wages sheet for cinema employees, 1931

Information about all staff employed at the Palace Cinema, Gateshead - from the chocolate sellers to the bill-posterer.

'Movieland goes Roman', 1931

Text of article by Robert Wagner, condemning the cruel methods used in the production of "jungle" pictures.

Still from the 1931 "Barkies" film 'The Big Dog House'

Campaign material opposing animal cruelty in the movie industry.

Differences in popularity between British and US films, 1931

A New Zealand trade unionist's view on the relative merits of British and North American films.

Memorandum on the state of the British film industry, 1932

Federation of British Industries and Trades Union Congress joint memorandum, expressing great concern about "the menace of Americanisation by means of the film".

'The power of cinema as a cultural and propagandist force', 1935

Outline of talk by the sculptor John Skeaping, illustrated by films of the GPO Film Unit.

Circular on the question of labour cinema propaganda, 1936

Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress joint circular on the need for labour movement film production and local film societies.

Letter enquiring about the Charlie Chaplin film 'Modern Times', 1936

The political merits of the Chaplin classic, as seen by the General Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Wire Drawers and Kindred Workers.

Leaflets from Gaumont British Equipment Ltd, promoting up and coming films, 1938-9

Four publicity leaflets promoting new films available for hire for private exhibition.

Publicity material for 'Better Pictures', c1940

The Canadian-based campaign group for "clean, moral films" and their plans for a "film masterpiece".