THE press blithely tells us that the Vatican (sic) has rapped British films. What are the facts?
First let us disentangle the protagonists. There are some forty National Catholic Film Officts set up under their local hierarchies in as many -different countries. These are federated under the International Catholic Film Office (O.C.I.C.) mandated with the primary function, after the classification and reviewing of current motion pictures, of "promoting good motion pictures", a directive laid upon them by Pius XI in his film encyclical Vigilanti Cura.
There is also the Pontifical Commission for Cinema. Television, and Radio, originally set up in 1949, whose function is to act as an organ of information to the Holy See on the various techniques of communication. Though its members are largely from 0.C.I.C. it does not concern itself directly with the classification of films.
Among the various National Catholic Film Offices is the Centro Cat Folic() Cinematografico, the Italian equivalent of the English Catholic Film Institute or the American Catholic Legion of Decency.
It is this Italian National Catholic Cinema Centre which, according to its normal annual custom, issued an analysis of the motion pictures which have been reviewed by its panel of critics during the course of the year, and it is this analysis which has been made the subject of an article by the film critic of the Osservatore Romano, Giacinto Ciaccio, in which he expresses his personal views on the standards of films from the various countries, taking particular exception to films from British studios.
First it is well to note that Signor Ciaccio is a layman. It is the news agencies, followed by at least one of our Catholic contemporaries, which have invested him with the priesthood, though, even if he were a priest. there is no reason to suppose that his views would merit authoritative acceptance on the international film front.
For, secondly, at least one of our secular contemporaries has implied that views expressed by the Italian Catholic Cinema Centre are binding on Catholics all over the world.
That is not so. Pius XI made it clear in Vigilanti Cura that though basic morality is, of course, the same all the world over. it is possible for people in different countries to react differently to a specific motion picture, depending on their social environment, their education or the conventions accepted in different countries, and so on.
Thus, The Servant, the British film which has come under heavy fire from our Italian colleagues, was much less severely reviewed by our friends of the American Legion of Decency, not normally noted for leniency in the case of films they regard as questionable. Our own Catholic Film Institute rate this film as suitable only for adults and to be viewed with certain reservations.
The implication of the analysis issued by the • Italian Catholic Cinema Centre that, because few British films were suitable for generill family viewing, therefore the British film industry merited rebuke is just not acceptable. Granted that films specifically made for children and family viewing are desirable. and are forthcoming, as witness the Disney and Robert Radnitz films, it is also to be granted that as a means of serious artistic and literary expression the cinema is capable of works of great technical excellence which, of their nature, are suitable only for adult consumption. That is not to say that they are depraved or necessarily of low moral tone.
It is true that there has been a downward tendency in moral values in films from all producing countries during the past five years. But British films are not noticeably more to blame in this respect than films from other countries. On the contrary, some of the most adult and technically satisfactory films during that period have been British films and some of them were given awards by the festival juries of
OftJi.sC.legitimate to view films with serious social and moral tendencies as well as films whose sole purpose is juvenile distraction. Rut a sense of moral and critical responsibility is an essential part of the mental equipment which the Catholic should take to the cinema.
There should be little danger to the intelligent Catholic so equipped.
FR. JOHN BURKE was a member of the executive coin mince or for 15 years; a member of the Poniitiral Film Commission for Inc years, and is at present chairman of the cinema sec. lion of the Catholic Film Institute.