Set against a background of imperialism, this study uses a comparative approach to investigate government policies toward, and interventions in, the motion picture industry prior to 1942 in three former British territories — Hong Kong, Singapore (Straits Settlements) and New Zealand. This study is broadly situated within new cinema history and is based on government and industry documents preserved in archives spanning several countries. Drawing upon political economy and media policy to inform the underlying narrative and analysis, the focus is explicitly on the development of the political and regulatory system governing the motion picture history in each polity. These developments defined the operational context and boundaries of the motion picture industry as a commercial and cultural institution, ultimately shaping the audience experience in each locality. The underlying political narrative in each locality is different. In Hong Kong, there was the lost opportunity of utilising local-language production to meet Imperial quota goals. Singapore presents the story of censorship and early attempts at multi-culturalism through social control. New Zealand events reveal a government attempting to use the motion picture industry for social control and to maintain a thoroughly British identity. What links the three cases together is the local governments’ struggle to balance satisfying the requirements of the Imperial government in London, and meeting the demands of both local audiences and of theatre owners dependent on Hollywood product. Each of these cases show the role which governments played in shaping the viewing experience for audiences, through explicit regulation such as censorship and cinema operating hours, and more hidden areas such as fire regulations, as well as the production and distribution of certain forms of motion picture. The study concludes that three broad policy imperatives explain the actions of governments in the motion picture industry: safety, both moral and physical; social control and development; and economic factors. The focus on the social-cultural context of the audience experience of cinema inherent in new cinema history is seen to provide an important dimension missing from political economy and its focus on structure and agency.
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Thesis advisor: Murray, Catherine
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