Cinema and Mass Ideology

An American in the Making
R: Carl Gregory. K: Carl Gregory. D: Harry Benham, Ethyle Cooke, Leland Benham. P: Thanhouser Film Corporation. USA 1913

From Thanhouser’s Narrative History:
An American in the Making, released on April 22nd, saw Harry Benham in the role of an immigrant from Poland. The origin of the film was told by Charles J. Hite:
About a year ago the United States Steel Corporation came to us and requested us to prepare a story in moving picture form, with the idea of circulating the same through our theatres, which would show the human side of this great company. They wanted to convey to the public in general that they had a heart; that they were interested in the education, health and safety of their employees. (…)
Whether Thanhouser’s immigrant was from Poland or from somewhere else was hard to determine by reading press clippings about the film. An article in ‘The Chicago Examiner’ suggested an entirely different national origin: ‘In the movie the young Frenchman of noble family comes to America and starts a new career in the Gary mills.’ ‘The Motion Picture World’ told its readers: “The story deals with a young Hungarian emigrant….”
The theme of success in America was not unique to Thanhouser films, and in an era in which Ellis Island served as the turnstile for countless Europeans seeking a better life in the United States, other film makers were quick to capitalize on the subject. For example, Solax’s Making an American Citizen, released on October 30, 1912, dramatized the arrival of a newly-arrived immigrant in New York City and the difficulty he had at first in adapting to life on this side of the Atlantic.”

“The film’s message is clear: the company protects those who cannot protect themselves and offers prosperity to those who follow it’s guidelines. Employers and state authorities are constantly concerned with the welfare of workers, both inside and outside the workplace. Workers, on the other hand, are childlike and dependent and show no initiative. Only through faithful obedience to external authority, rather than internally generated organizations like unions can success – shown here as a good job, pretty wife, large home, and happy family – be achieved. (…)
By the second decade of the new century, movies were entrenched as the nation’s most popular form of commercial entertainment and one of the most powerful weapons of mass ideology. Reformers, big business, and government agencies understood this and used the new medium to promote their interests.”
Steven J. Ross: Working-class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America. Princeton University Press 1998, p. 85

>>> Making an American Citizen  on this site