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|The film's distribution in theaters increased dramtically in two years.
"It seemed very dramatic then. News had been handled in a very pedestrian way. I think one of the great achievements of Luce was that he hit upon a way of making news exciting and dramatic. So did March of Time radio and March of Time cinema. Nowadays, that dramatizing would be self-defeating because people are more sophisticated. They see actuality, they see the thing happen. You know, you see Oswald killed on camera. No one's going to believe a re-enactment. The camera's ubiquitous."
—Associate Producer Arthur Tourtellot1
Newsreels regularly played in American theaters from 1911-19672, but as early as the 19th century, news films, or "actualities"—short scenes of everyday people and events,3 were available in some form to the public. The first news footage of war was captured during the Spanish-American War of 1898. However, news films declined in popularity with the rise of dramatic cinema, as by 1914 theaters nationwide numbered an estimated 14,000.4 News films had long been more popular in Europe,5 and the first newsreel maker was Frenchman Charles Pathe, although he was reportedly inspired by an American-based interpreter, Leon Franconi.6 Pathe's first American-produced newsreels (Pathe's Weekly) appeared in theaters in August 1911.7 More silent newsreels followed: The Vitagraph Monthly of Current Events, The Gaumont Animated Weekly, Kinograms, the Hearst-Selig News Pictorial, (Hearst later joined with Vitagraph), and later, the Universal Animated Weekly and Fox News, the first American newsreel affiliated with a wire news service—United Press8, later to become a contributor to the March of Time radio show.9
"For every genuine news film photographed under difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions, an equal amount of energy was spent by the same producers to fake outstanding news events of the day. Generally such fake news fell into one of four categories:
1. Theatrically staged re-creations of famous events, based roughly upon the original but not intended or likely to fool audiences.
2. Realistically staged re-creations of famous events, based upon reliable information and duplicating insofar as possible the location, participants, and circumstances of the original. These films were generally designed to deceive audiences.
3. Rough re-creatrions of famous events, made without attempting to duplicate known particulars of the events. These films were also generally designed to deceive audiences.
4. Outright manufacture of unverifiable activities alleged to have been associated with famous events—always intended to deceive audiences."17
Newsreels were released serially, twice a week, to more than 15,000 theaters.10 By the time a film version of The March of Time was released, five major newsreels existed and were seen weekly by at least 40 million people in America, 200 million worldwide. Newsreel historian Raymond Fielding writes, "Both in the United States and Europe, newsreels were compromised from the beginning by fakery, re-creation, manipulation, and staging."11 Unlike The March of Time, newsreels were reluctant to touch controversial subjects, and "in the end, [they] proved a witless form and an embarrassment to the journalistic family in which it claimed membership." March of Time, however, as one reviewer put it, "thrives on controversial items."12
According to Fielding, Roy Larsen, leader of the March of Time radio show, considered making a film series as early as 1931, but didn't act until meeting future MOT film head Louis de Rochemont, a veteran newsreel cameraman and producer.12 De Rochemont planned to integrate newsreel footage with new film made through re-enactments. De Rochemont secured rights to buy footage from Fox Movietone's archives, giving the filmmakers access to stock footage until they could build up their own.13 MOT also established a European office in Paris headed by De Rochemont's brother, Richard. MOT grew from 432 theaters in its start in 1935 to over 11,000 by April 1937 (MOT adbook). The show courted controversy with humorous exposes on Huey Long and serious segments on the deepening crisis in Europe. As Fielding notes, "American film producers and exhibitors hesitated to show Adolf Hitler's face on theater screen during the 1930's for fear of upsetting audiences. The March of Time flouted this taboo regularly."14 MOT also created feature films, including the 1940 The Ramparts We Watch, which sought to define the burgeoning World War II in terms of the last World War-Americans had to fight to preserve their values.
The earliest MOT segments lasted anywhere from 3 to 7 minutes, with about three segments per issue, but by 1939 one segment dominated each issue at about 17 to 20 minutes. More than the radio show, MOT films concentrated heavily on international news, but was also interested in American politics, the arts, crime, public safety and social issues (such as safe driving, sharecropping, cancer), and the Depression (in particular its effects on businesses). In 1937 MOT's film division eanred a special award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for "its significance to motion pictures and for having revolutionized one of the most important branches in the industry-the newsreel." It was the fifth such award in the Academy's history (MOT adbook).
|This logo appeared in the first introduction to the film.
MOT reached its height during those prewar years, as newsreels after Pearl Harbor were dominated by war coverage. America's entry into the war cut off MOT's access to civilian-filmed foreign footage.15 Dramatic reenactments were also reduced and more stock footage was employed. "Gradually, imperceptibly, the series was becoming a slick, illustrated lecture-what Roy Larsen referred to years later as a 'mere documentary.'"16 The show stopped production in fall 1951, having by then faltered in quality and uniqueness, and was replaced mainly by TV news. Producer Dick de Rochemont, who had replaced his brother when he left, noted, "'We failed to convince the exhibitor that he should pay for March of Time at least as much for the "B" second feature if he ran double-bill. Television provided the exhibitor with the weapon for his coup de grace. He said, "Why should we pay for what people are seeing at home for free?" This was not strictly true, but it was plausible, and it killed off the newsreels and The March of Time eventually.'"17
Time's magazine empire was considered conservative, and within the company's bureacracy The March of Time films and staff were thought of as moderately left-wing. There were a "substantial number of liberal and leftist film makers on the payroll. [But de Rochemont ] himself could not by the wildest stretch of the imagination have been considered part of any left-wing persuasion. And yet, the films that he created were consistently liberal, progressive, and militantly antifascist at a time when it took courage to attack 'prematurely' the totalitarian adventures then under way in Germany, Italy, Spain, and Japan."18
What March of Time argued and how it made its points is key to understanding its ideology. The show's creators appear fundamentally concerned with civil liberties—freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to associate. De Rochemont may or may not have been liberal in the political sense, but because they relate so closely to their livelihood, almost any journalist or filmmaker would likely hold these values dear. March of Time repeatedly showed that these were values that Germany, Japan, and Italy all assiduously attacked or undermined.
While March of Time wouldn't necessarily attack racism, and was in fact a purveyor of it at times when it came to African-Americans or the Japanese, it recognized that racism taken to the extremes that Germany took it was untenable in a "democratic" society. It may have been easier for March of Time staff to express horror at Germany's treatment of Jews because Jews were largely accepted in America by comparison.
MAKING OF THE FILM
- "Nobody Wants to Go Back to the Ethiopia Front, Newsreels Dilemma"
This article reveals that the March of Time was concerned over the expense of maintaining a film crew in Ethiopia during the conflict there. The article describes the difficulties of filming from the Ethiopian point of view when the natives believe all whites are Italians.
- The Boston Globe. 2 February 1935
This early review of the film series notes that is "impossible to tell whether the different scenes were taken at the time of the event or posed later by "March of Time" cameramen.
- "Pictorial Journalism." The New York Times. 2 February 1935
"Whatever its name, the new reel is an interesting and well-made supplement to the news reel, standing in about the same relation to it as the weekly, interpretive news magazine bears to the daily newspaper."
- "Aviation Story of New Type is Cheered at Fox/'March of Time' Scores; Heart Drama at Earle; Other Programs." The Washington Post. 3 February 1935
"Here is a reel that doles out history in complete tabloid doses, rounded, informative, and authentic. It is not a newsreel, but a digest of world of events as entertaining as it is novel and educational."
- Variety. 1935
Hitler makes his debut in only the second issue of March of Time, where the "shadow suggestion study of the Reichsfuehrer indicates the burden of the world's opprobrium weighting him down."
- Variety. 24 April 1935
This issue "for the first time attains the full promise of the new type of screen journalism, which the editor-producers of this magazine newsreel have adopted as a merchandising slogan. For No. 3 of the monthly releases goes further in its promise of moulding popular opinion in the treatment of its four subjects." This review seemingly sets up what today we would call dichotomies: it's journalism, but there's merchandising involved; it's journalism, but it tries to mold popular opinion. The reviewer remarks: "the impersonal offscreen description is punchily pithy, but none the less not without its editorial influence in just the right degrees when it suits the 'Time' editorial-production staff's purposes, such as in the Kingfish hooeyisms."
- Variety. 5 June 1935
March of Time practices a "nifty brand of showmanship." The reviewer suspects the story on Russia is so favorable because of Russian censorship. "Even the American Communists who are attacking 'March of Time' as bourgeosie, in choice of subject and treatment thereof, could scarcely charge that Russia failed to receive ample recognition of its accomplishments and a generous neglect of its failures at the hands of Time's editors.
- Variety. 21 August 1935
This reviewer notes that the segments are "projected with dual eye to audience interest, entertainment values and a neo-academic visualization"—suggesting March of Time's dual roles as educator and infotainer.
- Variety. 18 September 1935
The review focuses on an episode containing a piece on the Italian-Ethiopian crisis, and doesn't deny there's a message: "Message of the Time reel, after pointing to America's neutrality legislation, is emphasized by the fact that 3,000 miles of water separates us from foreign trouble, and that America is for peace."
- Variety. 23 October 1935: 13.
This issue is "possibly the best to date." The reviewer praises the slowed-down pace, which shows "maturer showmanship." Jews are fleeing (23,000 from Germany) to Palestine, a new Jewish settlement. "Shots of Hitler on the soapbox and of mobs of Nazis making raids on Jewish homes, shops, offices, stores, highly drmatic and, of course, controversial. Time thrives on controversial items. Nazi elements may yelp at the unflattering picturization. It tends to show the Nazi brown shirts as a bunch of naughty boys with a fixation on fraternity hazing tactics." At once the scenes are considered controversial, but on the other hand this reviewer undermines their seriousness, without noting that several such scenes were staged.
- Variety. 18 December 1935
"Undoubtedly some of the scenes have been duplicated previously, but they are superbly blended with the dialog background."
- Variety. 22 January 1936
"The Time staff needs only to continue applying its expert sense of news values to maintain the pace."
- The Washington Post. 22 January 1938
"'Inside Nazi Germany in 1938' is certainly a film that should be seen....It tells a sad and frightening and almost—to most of us in this country—inconceivable story."
(the ban was only "rumored.")
- The Washington Post. 29 January 1938: X8
"Inside Nazi Germany" "enlightens the audience upon the tremendous propaganda being machined by Hitler."
- The Wall Street Journal. 14 April 1938
Hitler takes Austria according to his plan in "Mein Kampf"
—"this episode ends with the question of what is to come next. For, the film reminds us, both Russia and France were also listed as objectives in the Hitler book."
- "Vital Events On Screen at Trans-Lux." The Washington Post. 3 October 1938
The article describes the March of Time's take on Czechoslovakia, "depicting the allegedly real reason Hitler wants that country."
- The Washington Post. 29 October 1938
"Must be seen to be believed....the unique March of Time camera takes us on a tense, revealing trip into the very core of France's subterranean fort on the German front."
- "Keith's Offers a Three-Star Screen Bill/Holiday Fare Excels/'Time' Fare Applauded/'Ferdinand' Scores." The Washington Post. 25 November 1938
"German and Japanese invasion of South American trade markets is explained, with a clear delineation of the challenging difficulties which beset this country's desire to establish good relations with her southern neighbors."
- "RKO Keith's Has Three-Ply Christmas Bill." The Washington Post. 24 December 1938
This review covers "Refugees—Today and Tomorrow," as well as a few other movies. While conflict in Spain and China has created scores of refugees, Germany is "writing the blackest chapter of all, with her intolerance and persecution..."
- "Screen News Here and in Hollywood." The New York Times. 17 January 1941
This preview describes "Uncle Sam—the Nonbelligerent,"
and the fight between isolationists and non-isolationists portrayed in the film, as well as German and British war scenes.
- "If Moscow Strikes." The New York Times. 30 April 1952
This review of a March of Time near the end of its life reveals the malaise reviewers detected in the latest issues of the newsreel.
1 Fielding, Raymond. The March of Time, 1935-1951. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. 296.
2 Fielding, Raymond. The American Newsreel. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1972. 3.
3 Fielding, The American Newsreel, 4.
4 Fielding, The American Newsreel, 65.
5 Fielding, The American Newsreel, 66.
6 Fielding, The American Newsreel, 69.
7 Fielding, The American Newsreel, 70.
8 Fielding, The American Newsreel, Chapter 6.
"March of Time's Daily Schedule." Billboard. 27 August 1935.
9 Fielding, The American Newsreel, 3.
10 Fielding, The American Newsreel, 5.
11 "March of Time." Variety. 23 October 1935: 13.
12 Fielding, The March of Time, 1935-1951. 22.
13 Fielding, The March of Time, 1935-1951. 22.
14 Fielding, The March of Time, 1935-1951. 189.
15 Fielding, The March of Time, 1935-1951. 277.
16 Fielding, The March of Time, 1935-1951. 278.
17 Fielding, The March of Time, 1935-1951. 301.
18 Fielding, The March of Time, 1935-1951. 35.