Children of the Green

Source: Doris M. Bailey, Children of the Green: A true story of childhood in Bethnal Green 1922-1937 (London: Stepney Books, 1981), pp. 48-49

Text: The Band of Hope was entirely different. Held on a Monday evening, it attracted so many children as to need two sittings. We would queue up for about three quarters of an hour, and the queue was so long by the time the doors opened, that there would be another three hundred or so waiting to get in when we came out. Some of the children came out and tagged on to the end of the queue again, so much did they enjoy it.

Yet it was a very simple meeting really. We sang cheerful hymns, flashed on a big screen, lovely hymns about drinking pure water and not yielding to temptation.

One favourite was

Give me a draught from the crystal stream,
When the burning sun is high

Not that any of us had even seen a crystal stream, but it was a nice gooey tune and we could really yell.

But the top favourite appealed to me very much, the words had so much meaning for me.

As on the path of life we tread,
We come to many a place,
Where if not careful we may fall, And sink into disgrace.

There was a really rousing chorus which we yelled at the top of our voices.

Don’t step there, don’t step there, don’t step there,
For if not careful you may fall, don’t step there.
The drinker’s path is one beset by many a hidden snare,
Oh, shun the drink shop’s fatal spell, I warn you,
Don’t stop there.

After the hymns, the lights were lowered and we had a story, illustrated by Magic Lantern slides. A deep hush settled over us as we listened to the lovely stories. Nearly always about poor children living in hovels, whose fathers drank away every penny. My Dad was a saint compared with these fathers. How we all wept, when father stole the blankets off the children’s bed to take to the pawnshop for drink money. And we sobbed audibly when mother walked the streets in the snow to get help for her sick baby, clasped to her breast for warmth, while Dad lay in a drunken stupor on the bare boarded floor. Then, the minister of vicar met up with the family, and when the dog collar went into the hovel, the sin went out. Father broke down and admitted the evil of his ways, all the family were saved, father got a job immediately; and they all lived happily ever after. This was the bit I found hard to swallow. I knew that even good men, when they lost their job, didn’t easily get another. But I supposed the minister helped them, because the last picture showed them all well dressed and smiling, sitting in a well furnished room with flowers on a vase on the table, and even the sick baby had taken a miraculous turn for the better and was now a chubby darling sitting on father’s knee.

Then the lights went up and we sang another hymn and made for the door, taking a ticket and signing the pledge, week after week. “I promise to abstain from all intoxicating drinks as beverages.”

Comments: Doris M. Bailey (1916-?), daughter of a french polisher, was born in Bethnal Green in London’s East End and lived there until the late 1930s. This sequence describes events from the 1920s. The Band of Hope, founded in 1855, was a British religious organisation dedicated to teaching children of the evils of drink. It organised regular meetings in churches and halls, which were widespread and popular throughout the Victorian and Edwardian periods.

Posted in 1920s, Memoirs, United Kingdom | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Cinema-Goer’s Autobiography

Source: Extracts from Italo Calvino (trans. Tim Parks), ‘A Cinema-Goer’s Autobiography’, in The Road to San Giovanni (London: Jonathan Cape, 1993), pp. 37-41, 43-45

Text: There were years when I went to the cinema almost every day and maybe even twice a day, and those were the days between ’36 and the war, the years of my adolescence. It was a time when the cinema became the world for me. A different world from the one around me, but my feeling was that only what I saw on the screen possessed the properties required of a world, the fullness, the necessity, the coherence, while away from the screen were only heterogeneous elements lumped together at random, the materials of a life, mine, which seemed to me utterly formless.

The cinema as evasion, it’s been said so many times, with the intention of writing the medium off – and certainly evasion was what I got out of the cinema in those years, it satisfied a need for disorientation, for the projection of my attention into a different space, a need which I believe corresponds to a primary function of our assuming our place in the world, an indispensable stage in any character formation. Of course there are other more profitable and personal ways of creating a different space for oneself: the cinema was the easiest and most readily available, and then it was also the one that instantaneously took me further away than any other. Every day, walking up and down the main street of my small town, I’d only have eyes for the cinemas, three that showed new films and changed programmes every Monday and Thursday, and a couple of fleapits with older or trashier films that changed three times a week. I would already know in advance what films were showing in all five theatres, but my eye would be looking for the posters they put up to announce the next film, because that was where the surprise was, the promise, the anticipation that would keep me excited through the days to come.

I would go to the cinema in the afternoon, slipping out of the house on the sly, or with the excuse that I was going to study with some friend or other, since during the school term my parents allowed me very little freedom. The proof of my passion was my determination to get into the theatre as soon as it opened, at two. Seeing the first showing had a number of advantages: the half-empty theatre, apparently entirely reserved for me, which meant I could lie back in the middle of the third-class seats with my legs stretched out on the back of the seat in front; the hope of getting back home without anybody realizing I’d left, so as then to get permission to go out again (and maybe even see another film); and the slight daze I would be in for the rest of the afternoon, bad for studying but good for daydreaming. Then apart from these motives, none of them things one would really want to confess to, there was a more serious one: getting into the cinema when it opened meant I was sure to enjoy the rare good fortune of seeing the film from the beginning and not from some arbitrary moment near the middle or the end as usually happened when I arrived at the cinema mid-afternoon or early evening.

Of course arriving when the film had already started was to conform with what is a barbarously common habit among Italian cinemagoers, and one that still persists today. You might say that even in those early days we Italians were looking forward to the more sophisticated narrative techniques of contemporary cinema, breaking up the temporal thread of the narrative and transforming it into a puzzle to be put back piece by piece or accepted in the form of a fragmentary body. To console ourselves further, I might add that watching the beginning of the film after one had already seen the end offered additional pleasures: that of discovering not the resolution of the film’s mysteries and dramas, but their genesis; and that of a confused sense of premonition vis-à-vis the characters. Confused: in precisely the way a clairvoyant’s must be, since the reconstruction of the mangled plot was not always easy, and would be even less so if it happened to be a detective story, where the identification first of the murderer and then of the crime left an even murkier area of mystery in the middle. What’s more, there would sometimes be a bit missing between the beginning and the end, since suddenly looking at my watch I’d realize I was late and that if I didn’t want to incur my parents’ wrath I’d have to leave before the sequence I’d come in at reappeared on the screen. So that many films were left with a hole in the middle, and even today, after thirty years – what am I saying? – almost forty, when I find myself watching one of those films – on television for example – I’ll recognize the moment I walked into the cinema, the scenes I watched without understanding, and I’ll retrieve the lost pieces and complete the puzzle as if I’d left it unfinished only the day before.

[...]

When, on the other hand, I went into the cinema at four o’clock or five, what hit me on coming out was the sense of time having passed, the contrast between two different temporal dimensions, inside and outside the film. I had gone in in broad daylight and came out to find it dark, the lamp-lit streets prolonging the black-and-white of the screen. The darkness softened the contrast between the two worlds a little, and sharpened it a little too, because it drew attention to the passing of those two hours that I hadn’t really lived, swallowed up as I was in a suspension of time, or in the duration of an imaginary life, or in a leap backwards to centuries before. Especially exciting was finding that the days had got shorter or longer: the sense of the passing seasons (always bland in the temperate clime we lived in) caught up with me as I came out of the cinema. When it rained in the film, I would listen hard to hear whether it had started raining outside too, whether I had been surprised by a downpour, having left home without an umbrella: it was the only moment when, while still immersed in that other world, I remembered the world outside; and it made me anxious. Even today, rain in film triggers the same reaction, a sense of anxiety.

If it wasn’t time for dinner yet, I’d join my friends trooping up and down the pavements of the main street. I’d go back past the cinema I’d just come out of and hear lines of dialogue echoing out of the projection room onto the street, and rather than the indentification [sic] I’d felt earlier, hearing them now would instill a feeling of unreality, because by now I was firmly in the outside world, and a feeling akin to nostalgia too, as one one who turns back at a frontier.

I’m thinking of one cinema in particular, the oldest one in the town and connected with my earliest memories of the days of silent films, a cinema that had preserved from those days (and did so right up until a few years ago) both its liberty-style street sign decorated with medals and the structure of the theatre itself, a long hall sloping downwards flanked by a corridor with columns. The projectionist’s room had a small window that opened onto the main street and would blare out the absurd voices of the film, metallically distorted by the technology of the period, and all the more absurd thank to the affectations of the Italian dubbing which bore no relation to any language ever spoken, past or future. And yet the very falseness of those voices must have possessed a communicative power all its own, like the sirens’ song, and every time I passed that little window I would sense the call of that other world that was the world.

The side doors of the theatre opened onto an alleyway; in the intervals the usher with the braiding on her jacket would open the red velvet curtains so that the colour of the air outside appeared discreetly at the threshold, and the passersby and the people sitting in the cinema would look at each other a little uneasily, as though facing an intrusion equally inconvenient to both. The interval between the first and second reel in particular (another strange custom practised only in Italy and inexplicably current even today) would come as a reminder that I was still in this town, on this day at this time: and depending on how I felt, my satisfaction at knowing that in just a moment I’d be plunging back into the China Sea or the San Francisco Earthquake would grow; or alternatively I would be oppressed by this warning not to forget that I was still here, not to lose myself in far-off lands.

Comments: Italo Calvino (1923-1985) was an Italian journalist and novelist, author of If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller and Invisible Cities. He was born in Havana, Cuba, but his childhood years were spent in Sam Remo, Liguria, on Italy’s north-western coast. The above extracts are from a long piece on his memories of cinemagoing, included in a posthumously-published volume of autobiographical essays.

Posted in 1930s, Italy, Memoirs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magic Hour

Source: Jack Cardiff, Magic Hour (London: Faber and Faber, 1996), pp. 237-238

Text: One day soon afterwards I asked Michael Todd what news he had about the smells. I knew there was a man in Switzerland, Professor Hans Laube, who was working on the various smells outlined in the script and I asked Michael if he had received any samples yet. I was shocked when Michael answered that he hadn’t seen anything yet. I suggested that Laube should send some samples to us – of the sea, tobacco, apricots, etc. – as soon as possible. I took out a bottle labelled ‘apricots’ and inhaled excitedly. It smelled of cheap eau-de-Cologne. Every sample smelled the same: a third rate perfume, nothing at all like they were supposed to smell.

Michael and I were horrified. Michael telephoned Professor Laube who assured him that everything would be perfectly alright on the night of our big test in Chicago in two months’ time. All we could do was trust the professor and pray.

Our big night duly took place in Chicago. The cinema had a thousand seats and most of the audience were trade people. On the back of each seat a tiny pipe was fitted with a spray to project smells to the viewer seated behind. The pipes ran under the floor where an enormous dispensing machine had been installed acting as a ‘smell brain,’ having stored every aroma to be projected during the film. In addition to the eight tracks on our 70mm film, there was an extra track carrying the smell signal. As the film travelled through the projector an electric signal triggered a mechanism which projected a small quantity of aroma-laden air on-cue to every seat in the audience.

Well, the magnificent machinery worked wonderfully. The only trouble was, the smells that were projected towards the eager nostrils were exactly like cheap eau-de-Cologne…

The film was released in New York where the critics all had wrinkled noses and acerbic tongues.

Then came a bathetic coup de grâce. In a nearby cinema, a few days before the New York opening, an enterprising gent showed an awful ‘B’ film and installed incense in the air conditioning, triumphantly advertising his film as ‘the first smellie’.

Comments: Jack Cardiff (1914-2009) was a British cinematographer and director. Magic Hour is his autobiography. The feature film Scent of Mystery (USA 1960), whose test screening is described here, was the first and last film to be produced in Smell-o-Vision. It was directed by Cardiff, and starred Denholm Elliott, Beverly Bentley and Peter Lorre. It opened in February 1960 in specially rigged-up theatres in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Technical problems with the smells, combined with poor reviews, condemned the film, which was subsequently re-issued in Cinerama, without the smells, as Holiday in Spain. Smell-o-Vision involved a belt holding a sequence of perfume containers which connected to a motorised reel, synchronised through a system of markers to the projector. The smells would be released when their cue came on the film, and were emitted through pipes under the seats of the audience.

Posted in 1960s, Memoirs, USA | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Modern Gladiators

Source: Véra Tsaritsyn [Lady Colin Campbell], ‘A Woman’s Walks. No. CXXXVIII. Modern Gladiators’, The World, 20 October 1897 pp. 26-27

Text: In spite of all that the humanitarians may say or the Peace Society may preach, the love of fighting will endure to the end of time to give savour to life and to prevent the human race from becoming plethorically inclined to “turn the other cheek to the smiter.” Humility may be praised as a Christian virtue; but it is not of any practical use to either private individuals or nations. Therefore anything that counteracts the doctrine of the Peace Society and helps to retain and foster the fighting spirit in the Anglo-Saxon race is to be approved; and it is with satisfaction that I note the number of people who are crowding into the theatre of the Aquarium to see the cinematograph version of the great fight between Corbett and Fitzsimmons, which took place last March in Carson City, Nevada.

It certainly was an admirable idea to have got up this historic encounter for the sake of the pictures to be obtained of it. It is given to comparatively few to see a real prize-fight; but these pictures put the P.R. “on tap,” as it were, for everybody. It is the real thing: the movements of the men, the surging of the crowd, the attentive ministrations of the backers and seconds, are all faithful represented; only it is so bowdlerised by the absence of colour and noise that the most super-sensitive person, male or female, can witness every details of the fight without a qualm. Evidently the fair sex appreciate such an opportunity, for there are plenty of those tilted “coster-girl’”hats adorned with ostrich feathers that would delight the heart of a “donah,” which are fashion’s decree for the moment, to be seen in the theatre. An elderly and ample lady comes in alone and occupies the next stall to us, with an air that fills us with the certainty that she knows all about the P.R. With a similar appearance of superior knowledge Mrs. Fitzsimmons must have watched the fray on the great occasion. The five-shilling “pit” (which are the lowest-priced seats for this peep-show) is soon filled up; the half-guinea stalls are not long behindhand; and the only part of the auditorium which remains partially empty is the back row of the stalls, which, for some mysterious reason, is thought to offer such exceptional advantages that the seats are priced at a guinea. The seats being exactly the same as the half-guinea abominations in clinging red velvet, and the point of view being precisely similar to that of the front row of the pit (which is only divided off by a rope), we ponder over the gullible snobbishness of the world, while a well-meaning but maddening lady bangs out “The Washington Post” out of an unwilling and suffering piano in the corner. We have nearly arrived at the point of adding our shrieks of exasperation to those of the tortured instrument when the show begins and the “Washington Post” is mercifully silenced.

We are first gratified with a little slice of statistics; the two miles of films on six reels, containing one hundred and sixty-five thousand pictures; the prize of 7000l. which went to the victor; the names of the referee, the timekeeper, and various other details, to which the audience listens with ill-concealed patience, being evidently of the opinion it would be best to “cut the cackle and come to the horses.” That consummation is at hand; the first picture is thrown upon the sheet, and, having wobbled about a little to find the centre of the canvas, settles down into an admirably distinct view of the platform, with the two champions wrapped in long ulsters, each surrounded by his backers. In the centre, below the platform, is the official timekeeper, Mr. Muldoon, who, with his back turned to us, keeps an unflinching watch on the chronometer in his hand. Beside him is Fitzsimmons’s trainer, with a face of the most brutal Irish type, who waves his white hat to the Cornishman ten seconds before the end of each round as a warning of the time he has in hand. The two combatants are pacing up and down, each at his side of the ring, with the nervous restlessness of wild animals. Presently they throw off their ulsters and appear in the simple garb of bathing drawers and shoes, to which are added the light boxing-gloves that only weigh five ounces the pair, and which, so far from being a mitigation of the blows, enable the men to hit very much harder, as they do not bark their knuckles. Both men are certainly splendid specimens of humanity. Corbett is by far the most attractive; good-looking, tall, beautifully proportioned, as light as a cat in his movements, and with a cheery smile which must have been a joy to his innumerable backers. Fitzsimmons is far more of the gorilla type than Corbett; he has the extraordinary breadth of shoulder, depth of chest, and abnormal length of arm which characterise the gorilla; and with this immense structural development of body, he is far lighter in build as regards his legs than his adversary. His face is of the regular pugilistic type, with indeterminate features that no amount of banging about could alter or make much impression upon; and his bald head makes him look a very great deal older than the boyish Corbett, though there is only the difference of four years between them. No; Fitzsimmons is certainly not as attractive as Corbett; but he awakens my warm approval and interest when he refuses to shake hands with the antagonist who sedulously defamed him and branded him as a coward before the fight came off. When one knows that each man came on to that platform with the pious intention of disabling, if not killing, his adversary in the shortest possible time, that there was bitter enmity of long standing between them which nothing but such a duel could assuage, the farce of a friendly hand-shake between them could only be regarded as sentimental “bunkum” to please the gallery; and I respect Fitzsimmons for refusing to be a party to such a thing.

Then the fight begins; and as it progresses one becomes more and more impressed by the curious silence which is so unnatural to such a scene of activity. The blows given and received lose half their significance, and the excitement of the crowd can only be guessed by the spasmodic movement of a line of spectators at the back of the stand perched like large black crows upon a rail against the sky above the sea of faces below. Corbett, active a s a cat, leads his opponent about the ring, Fitzsimmons seeming almost lethargic for the first six or seven rounds. Corbett follows his usual tactics of trying to tire out his opponent, and he lands many a blow on Fitzsimmons’ face, who takes them stoically and is evidently watching his opportunity for getting in one of those crushing pole-axe blows with which he had already killed two men, Jack Dempsey and Con Riordan, in previous fights. My ignorance of the rules of the rules of the P.R. is fairly complete, but I do no hesitate to say that the fight is very considerably spoiled by the constant “clinching” and wrestling of the two men. Boxing is one thing, wrestling is another; and these continual corps-à-corps are as great a mistake in a pugilistic encounter as they are in a fencing assault. They are worse, in fact, because in fencing the adversaries do not seek to take advantage of each other on separating from a corps-à-corps; whereas in the “break-aways” between Corbett and Fitzsimmons both men do their best to get in a blow if they possibly can. Corbett gains “first blood” in the fifth round, and unquestionably is quicker with his fists as well as more active on his legs than his opponent. In the sixth round there is so much actual wrestling that we are told that even the spectators expressed their disapproval. In this round Fitzsimmons drops on one knee under a blow, and the referee counts the fatal seconds, then of which mean victory to Corbett if Fitzsimmons is not on his legs before they run out; but it looks as if the Cornishman had made this feint to get his wind, for at the eighth second he rises as fresh as ever, though by now he is certainly somewhat the worse for wear, even with the bowdlerised rendering of the cinematograph and its aversion to details.

Between the rounds the men are petted and ministered to by their backers. Corbett is surrounded by a cloud of admirers; one rubs his legs, no doubt to keep the cramp out of his muscles; two others screen him from the sun by making a tent over his head with a blanket; others fan him, sponge his face, and “cosset” him generally, like a favourite sultana in a harem. At the word “Time!” he is always the first in the middle of the platform; but as the rounds go on the jaunty spring goes out of his step. The more Fitzsimmons gets knocked about, the more active he becomes; and the pace of the fight is certainly telling more on Corbett than on the Cornishman, in spite of the latter’s face being all dark and blurred from the punishment he is receiving. Both men are blowing hard when the thirteenth round arrives; but Corbett’s activity seems to return to him, and he fights quite beautifully. The cinematograph seems to share in the excitement of the audience, for it wobbles to such a degree that it is hardly possible to make out what the men are doing at times; and one’s head and eyes ache with the effort of watching the maddening jig of the pictures and trying to follow the details of the duel. Fortunately it steadies a little for the fourteenth round, which is also the last; for not many blows have been given and received when Fitzsimmons at last gets his opportunity, and a crushing blow over the heart sends the Californian on his knees. Even then he is a beautiful thing to see, as he crouches almost in the attitude of the Dying Gladiator, and struggles hard to rise before the fatal ten seconds have been counted. With his hand pressed over his heart he drags himself across the platform to the ropes, hoping to rise by their aid; but he reaches them just as the time of respite expires. The sound of the fated “Ten!” seems to galvanise Corbett out his agony of pain. He gets on his feet, and through the crowd of backers which have invaded the platform he rushes like a bull at Fitzsimmons, who, having amiably kicked his second out of the ring in the fulness of his victorious joy, is talking to his friends in one corner of the platform. As quick as lightning he is on his guard against Corbett’s blow; the second close round the latter and drag him away by sheer force of numbers. But Corbett is mad with natural rage and disappointment at having been half a second too late; again and again he breaks away from his captors and goes for his enemy. The crowd is by now nearly as made as he; it sways hither and thither over the platform with the two white figures and bare heads appearing every now and then in the midst, until finally Corbett is fairly overpowered, lifted off his feet, and carried off the platform. It is a splendid and dramatic end to an historic encounter; and one feels a thrill of sympathy for Corbett in losing his chance by half a second. Up to that fatal blow the battle was extraordinarily equal; and with such an amount of fighting power still in him, even after so terrible an experience, no one could claims for Fitzsimmons that he had fought Corbett “to a standstill.”

The two miles of pictures have taken an hour and a half to pass before our eyes; but though we leave the theatre with aching heads, we regret that so little that we determine to return as soon as we can, to witness again this combat of modern gladiators.

Comments: Lady Colin Campbell, born Gertrude Elizabeth Blood (1857-1911) was an Irish journalist, author and socialite. She wrote a regular column for The World entitled ‘A Woman’s Walks’, using the pseudonym Véra Tsaritsyn. The world heavyweight boxing championship between James Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons was held at Carson City, Nevada on 17 March 1897. The full fight was filmed by the Veriscope company using a 63mm-wide film format and was widely exhibited, the full film being 11,000 feet in length and lasting around an hour-and-a-half. It was shown at the Royal Aquarium theatre in Westminster, London from September 1897. The exhibition of the film was controversial, given the illegal or semi-illegal status of boxing in many territories. As the writer records, a notable feature of the film’s exhibition was the number of women who came to see it. Fitzsimmons had been accused of the manslaughter of boxer Con Riordan, his sparring partner, in 1894, but was acquitted. He also severely defeated Jack ‘Nonpareil’ Dempsey, but the latter died of tuberculosis in 1895 and not through a Fitzsimmons blow. ‘P.R.’ stands for ‘prize ring’.

Posted in 1890s, Journals, United Kingdom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My London Film Education

Source: Julien Allen, ‘My London Film Education’, Reverse Shot, 12 December 2014, http://reverseshot.org/features/1971/escape_london

Text: Ostensibly studying law in London from 1990 to 1992, I was in fact, despite myself, studying cinema — but strictly as a naïve autodidact. I kept up with Dilys Powell’s last pieces in the Times and followed Derek Malcolm (The Guardian) and Nigel Andrew (FT), yet my textbooks of choice weren’t those of Pauline Kael or Andrew Sarris but a fat Halliwell’s Guide and Time Out listings. Arrogantly — and wrongly — I doubted I could learn from the page something I couldn’t learn better from the screen. I shunned Sight & Sound because I didn’t trust it; it felt to me like uppity English critics “playing cinema.” For my freshman and sophomore years of film education, London was a vital, liberating platform, but I spent the following two years studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, whose infrastructure was, by comparison, simply awe-inspiring. Paris was a city whose Latin Quarter theaters alone (Action Écoles, Grand Action, Action Gitanes, Champo, Épée de Bois, Reflet Medicis, Pantheon, Studio Galande) had repertory programmes which obliterated London’s entirely, replete with massive retrospectives — all Chaplin, all Welles, all Renoir, all Fellini, all Ozu talkies — relentless, heaving listings, subsidized festivals of film cropping up all year round (e.g. Arabic film, children’s film, slapstick, German expressionist, etc.) and even on one Sunday morning, twenty Tex Avery shorts in 16mm. Emboldened by the known pedigree of French film writing, I also started reading criticism properly in Paris: Trafic, Cahiers du cinéma, Positif, Les Inrockuptibles.

Paris was a homecoming of sorts because I had first succumbed to the idea of cinephilia at age sixteen during a school year in France when I had been struck with admiration at how seriously films were being taken, by comparison to England. By the time I got to college in London in 1990, eager to indulge this new obsession, cinema had become for me an antisocial, self-indulgent, and, above all, solitary pursuit. It was a secret I didn’t feel any urge to share. I got into films neither to fit in (no one I knew was interested) nor to make new friends (the idea of being part of a “film community” would have been insufferable to me then, even had there been one) nor to stand out from the crowd (being a film buff isn’t crazy to civilians, just dull). I wasn’t even particularly keen to talk to people about films, I was just interested in consuming them: greedily and without restraint. Going to the pictures whenever I wanted, without having to ask permission, was freedom. It was also an addiction to something that both felt good and — unlike most addictions — healthy. Going two or three times a day instead of going to lectures or getting drunk in the student union bar seemed not at all abnormal.

In this respect, it was my good fortune to arrive in London just in time. The eighties had bitten down hard, and the repertory scene was on a gurney, approaching the operating table. TV channels had started showing films all year round, VHS rental shops had opened in petrol stations, and more than eighty percent of theaters in Britain had shut down or converted to bingo halls during the preceding decade. I arrived in the capital during a hiatus (which was later to be filled by DVD and the multiplex). In the early nineties, London’s remaining rep cinemas were slashing prices and recycling their stock in the hope of staving off the inevitable. The market followed: an impoverished student with a bus pass, like me, could englut himself.

You can get a sense of the strangeness of early 90s filmgoing in London from one particular experience I had after a long Friday-night journey on public transport. I don’t remember (and cannot find) the name of the venue —an unprepossessing shack below a railway bridge in Acton, no trace of which now remains—but I promise you it existed. I vividly recall three things from my only trip there: first, you could buy beer in the foyer and take it into the screening; second, the image on the screen was from an old 80s LCD projector (an angry walkout-inducing observation today, a shoulder-shrugging reality then); third, I was completely alone in the theater for the entire duration of a double bill of Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart. Acton, a West London district straddling the boroughs of Ealing and Hammersmith, had once housed Britain’s largest cinema, the Globe, as well as the equally impressive Dominion — opened by Gracie Fields in 1938. Add to this the Crown in Mill Hill Place, the popular King Street Odeon, and the identity-disorder-suffering Cinematograph in Horn Lane (latterly the Kinema, the Carlton and the Rex), and Acton had been a beacon of London cinephilia right up until the 1960s. In 1990 you could watch a David Lynch double bill alone, on the world’s largest television (the only cinema now in Acton is the nine-screen Vue multiplex).

Further cut-price viewing opportunities were legion. At Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, a modern glass-and-concrete arts center (which also premiered Théâtre de Complicité plays), you could see two films for two pounds (about $3.50 at the time). That’s The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, in comfortable seats, for the price of a slice of pizza. The double bills were always obvious and alluring: Manhattan and Broadway Danny Rose; Claire’s Knee and Pauline at the Beach; Seven Samurai and Rashomon; Raging Bull and The King of Comedy; The Draughtsman’s Contract and A Zed and Two Noughts; Salesman and Gimme Shelter. Occasionally they’d go out on a limb and do two films by different directors, but the main drivers for me were delivery and value, not articulate programming. For two pounds fifty (just over $4), they did us a Nosferatu with a live piano accompaniment from a young local composer. You could see six films in a day if you hadn’t anywhere else to be (I hadn’t). The prints here were almost universally shocking: scratched and faded, all dancing pubes along the bottom and entire lines of dialogue cut, or rudely interrupted. Every time you went, you were reminded how cheap it was and consequently, how lucky you were. (I am certain that this whole experience is what disqualifies me from any deep-seated interest or meaningful contribution to the 35mm vs. DCP debate: the building blocks of my cinephilia were 35mm, but maculate in the extreme, such that the quality of the image became something of an irrelevance, as the power of the great filmmakers’ storytelling burned through. My preference would be to prioritize whatever format people can ultimately most afford to watch.)

The Everyman in Hampstead was more old-school, with a turn-of-the-century room, intermissions, and a posh café. Here was the scene of at least one lost Sunday: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and Once Upon a Time in the West, two films with a combined duration (IMDb confirms) just shy of 200 hours. The Phoenix in Finchley (memorable double: Odd Man Out and The Third Man) and the Rio in Dalston Kingsland (Thief and Manhunter) felt like Alamo-style strongholds in a cultural desert (i.e. North London, which to a South London–based student was only designed to house people who had chosen the well-trodden path of slowly dying of boredom). I mention all these venues first for the simple reason that—in one form or another—they survived. They remain, just as they were 20 years ago, vital repositories of revivalist and art-house cinema: affordable, energetic, devoted. As I write, Riverside Studios is about to close its doors for a major redevelopment.

Less fortunate was the notorious countercultural fleapit, the Scala in Kings Cross, a mythically grimy room with an insalubrious past (the seats could have provided a handy training aid for the Environment Agency). They programmed Pasolini, Warhol double bills, occasional erotica, and, fatally, Stanley Kubrick’s banned A Clockwork Orange one too many times. Warner Brothers’ ensuing lawsuit bankrupted the cinema, and the site now stands as a concert hall, doubling as a ballroom for corporate events — thereby catering to a clientele that would never have gone near the place in the dirty days. The Lumière in St Martins Lane (less a rep cinema than a straight art house) was probably my own favorite place to see a film, even if it was costly and, unlike the Riverside, only showed one at a time. It was a vast, antiseptically clean but actually quite gorgeous modern cinema associated with art-house VHS distributor Artificial Eye (its plush seats were even in the teal green of their logo) that programmed principally modern French cinema, and it was, perhaps most importantly, nearly empty whenever I went. As rents went through the roof it became laughably unviable and closed, to be replaced in the late 90s by a swanky, brutalist hotel.

The older, more established, and unthreatened central London bastions of art house were the grand behemoth of the Curzon Mayfair in Curzon Street (one of the first cinemas to show foreign-language films of any description in the UK), its sister in Shaftesbury Avenue (now the Curzon Soho), and the Renoir (now the Curzon Renoir … you can see a pattern emerging) in the old literary quarter of Bloomsbury, north of Russell Square. These guys knew their onions, seemed somehow connected to continental cinephilia, and certainly programmed more Far Eastern cinema than anywhere else (even if that meant strictly Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige, no Hou, Yang, or Imamura). The Renoir memorably showed Kieslowski’s Decalogue over five consecutive days. I visited these cinemas infrequently as they were extremely pricey, with Soho charging as much as £8 (around $14) for a ticket for a new release (no student concessions). The Curzon Group — a corporate success story — has now cornered the market in London art-house cinema projection since scooping up the Richmond Roundhouse (where I was once persuaded to see the Depardieu Cyrano de Bergerac with a glass of champagne for the exorbitant price of a fiver, or nine bucks), the Chelsea Cinema, and opening the Curzon Victoria this year. These venues are reverent, knowledgeable, and energetic, but remain very high end, expensive (£17.50 a ticket now — about $27 at today’s rates), and commoditized—like they have caught a new trendy wave of foreign filmgoing amongst wealthy Londoners—and the Curzon brand has all but said goodbye to any repertory ambitions its “assets” once had.

Two cozy, cheapy destinations for new releases were the Ritzy in Brixton, South London, closest to where I was living (and they did flapjacks, carrot cake, and delicious coffee) and what probably remains the most vibrant venue in London today, the Prince Charles, off Leicester Square. The Prince Charles adopted a radical approach to staving off almost certain liquidation in 1991 by hitting on the instant theater-filling idea of showing mainstream hits you might have missed the year before such as — in my day — Robocop or Field of Dreams, before becoming a venue for interactive events such as sing-along The Wizard of Oz and fancy dress Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings. It has since evolved into something of a role model for independent picture houses: cheap, tatty, simple, confident, unpretentious, packed with listings and big on retrospectives. It harbors a continuing fixation on cult cinema and interactive programmes (Tommy Wiseau recently attended a packed “The Room quote-along”), but has also done full Wes Anderson and Coen Brothers retrospectives. A recent Ghibli Studios triple bill was a more than good enough reason for an Allen family trip into town.

By contrast, purely through childish jealousy, I used to loathe the National Film Theatre — now the BFI — because to me it just represented money (which I didn’t have). Films were a pauper’s pursuit and to my mind, people with money and not much else joined and attended the NFT and watched films they had no business watching, after talking relentless, nauseating crap about them in the queues. I went once to see Frenzy with an introduction by Barry Foster, fantasized in line about the scene with Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall, and didn’t return for ten years. When I did, my wife and I were “shushed” for laughing too loud at His Girl Friday, so I didn’t go back for another five. The ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) felt more like the real deal back then, but was unfortunately even more elitist, expensive, and inaccessible. Both institutions are alive and kicking today, unquestionably doing great things for film in the UK, but they still retain that aura which would have kept impoverished beginners like me well away. I go to the BFI more now and feel closer to it, but I remain confused as to what it really represents. I’ll still never forgive them for starting Barry Lyndon before they’d let in half the patrons, who’d been patiently queueing outside. A recent screening of L’argent in NFT2 was introduced by a very prominent British critic who didn’t know the film, didn’t appear to care for it very much and — most inexcusably — offered no valuable insight whatsoever. Who did he think his audience was—and was he right to underestimate them? There are only so many experiences of this kind one can have before questioning just how many of them were off-days.

If we judge a religion by its places of worship, temples such as Bell Lighthouse in Toronto, Museum of the Moving Image and BAMCinematek in New York, and the Cinémathèque in Paris feel like confident expressions of — and testaments to — an ingrained culture. It will be a long time before London grows a coherent, identifiable film following that it can relate to as a city. The rents are too high and the public appetite for subsidy too low for its theaters to begin to take up the challenge. But as London — we are told — has become the world’s premier tourist destination, its cultural outlook, which for so long placed film in a corner, is gradually adapting to a more global movement of cinephilia. Social media has transformed the discussion: we see the signs of a genuine film community in Britain now, largely active online and being led by the regions, with notable festivals—Edinburgh, Leeds, Bradford, Cambridge, Sheffield docs, Bristol silents — gaining vital word of mouth from year to year and pop-up screenings such as Secret Cinema, Joanna Hogg’s A Nos Amours, the new ArtHouse in Crouch End, and the devoted Badlands Collective (who recently screened The Long Day Closes with a riotous guest appearance by Terence Davies, and are currently keeping Godard’s Goodbye to Language 3D alive on British screens). The improving stature of the London Film Festival (which though based at BFI, uses screens all over the City to showcase its venues) testifies not to a renewal — there was not much to renew — but to the gestation of a tangible, organically proud, and democratically accessible film culture. The time will soon come to revive the revival houses.

Comments: Julien Allen is an attorney and film writer. The unprepossessing shack below a railway bridge in Acton was the Acton Screen (which I remember well). A Clockwork Orange was not banned as such, but was withdrawn from British screens by the director and Warner Bros from 1972 to 1999. My grateful thanks to the editors of Reverse Shot for permission to reproduce this article.

Links: Available at Reverse Shot

Posted in 1980s, 1990s, United Kingdom, Web texts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Kinema

Source: [Filson Young], ‘Kinema’, The Living Age, vol. 272 (1912), pp. 565-567 (originally published in The Saturday Review, 27 January 1912, pp. 108-109)

Text: This is one of the words there is no escaping from. Distorted, misspelled, mispronounced, debased by unholy conjunctions and alliances, it has nevertheless, in the sacred phrase of banality, “come to stay”; and, with the gramophone and the piano-player, to share the doubtful distinction of being one of the wonders of this age. The kinematograph has worked itself into the life of the people in a way that I, for my part, never suspected until I took up an important-looking book the other day and found that it was entirely devoted to the study of the rise, progress, philosophy and anatomy of the kinematograph. Thus the thing even has its literature. And I feel bound in honesty to say that this book is an extremely honest and competent piece of work, in which is modestly and clearly set forth a complete history of this very remarkable business, with abundant photographs and diagrams for the mechanically-minded, and containing certain statistics which I venture to think would stagger most readers. The work appears in Mr. Heinemann’s “Conquests of Science Series”; and the title itself suggests some curious reflections. Are we really conquering science or is science conquering us? That marvellous monster of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which in its infancy we led as one might lead a lion cub by a ribbon, which we played with and made into a parlor toy: what has it become, and what is it becoming? There is something a little grim about this title “Conquests of Science” appearing on a large book devoted to the kinematograph.

Being always behind the times in such matters, it was only the other day that I went for the first time into a Kinema Palace, as I believe those very white and very gold buildings that diversify the squalor of the humbler thoroughfares are called. I had often been allured by their façades, but from some confusion of mind by which I associated them with those dismal halls where the entertainment consists of peering into an endless number of little metal machines, I had never ventured inside. And when at last I did succumb I was not a little surprised. I did not know that London habitually amused itself between the afternoon hours of twelve and six; but here was a crowd of people pouring into what looked like an ordinary theatre. They were not the idle rich nor yet the wealthy poor; they were people of the lower middle classes, who looked as if they ought to have been at work, but were here disbursing sums varying from a shilling to five shillings with great readiness. The prices themselves were a surprise; I had thought of threepence or sixpence as a reasonable price to pay for an hour’s vision of flickering pictures with motes dancing over them, and a headache; but I think my stall cost five shillings. And there, at the high noon of the London day, in the midst of perhaps the busiest human activity in the world, some hundreds of us sat waiting in a darkened, plush-upholstered hall, like mourners at a funeral waiting for the corpse.

Presently a harmonium, violin, and a piano began some whining and twittering attempt at an overture, and the pictures appeared. We all know them; even I, who am no patron of Kinema palaces, am familiar with them in the larger world of the music-hall. There was the Durbar, a dancing succession of troops marching at about fifteen miles an hour, of well-known figures walking up to you, looming nearer and nearer, and then apparently cut off in the prime of life and blotted out as though they had never been; the industrial pictures of money being coined at the Mint — tons of bullion poured out before one’s eyes while someone behind the screen jingled sixpenny worth of halfpence in a tin tray; some wonderful things and some stupid things; and then, finally, the plunge into real, thick, treacley sentiment, the middle-aged man brooding by the fireside (such a fireside!) and looking at the face of his sweetheart in an old album (such an album!), and seeing visions of himself and his sweetheart as children, as young man and maiden, as bride and bridegroom (such a bride and bridegroom!); and, finally, the disturbance of the gentleman’s meditation by the arrival in the room of his wife, who, when she turns her face to the audience, is seen to be identical with the heroine of the old fool’s meditations. This the audience liked; and I saw a stout woman, who might have been a publican’s wife, wiping away an undoubted tear.

They did not give me for my five shillings what I really longed for — one of those breathlessly rapid dramas in which babies are thrown at people in the street, motor-cars fly asunder before your eyes, and long trains of people, headed by a policeman and a nursemaid, and receiving constant accretions in the shape of chimney-sweeps, clergymen, bricklayers, and school children, pursue one another apparently in the full light of day across thoroughfares which are unmistakably recognizable as the Champs Elysées and the Avenue du Trocadéro. It is an unending pleasure to see men running at thirty-five miles an hour and clashing into each other at a corner and exploding in a cloud of smoke. One feels at such moments that life is really a busier and braver thing than the dull crawl of one’s own experience.

But there is another side to the picture. Men have toiled and used splendid brains in order that these things should be; one cannot help asking oneself how far they are worth while. All over the world there are great theatres with stages far larger and more modern than Covent Garden or the Paris Opera, equipped with every kind of scenic effect, on which dramas are dally performed to no other spectator than the little crystal lens in front of an unrolling film; sometimes as many as two thousand people at a time are employed in a drama on one of these great stages. Is this to be the theatre of the future? We have almost abolished thinking from our theatres; are we also to abolish hearing, and seeing in any except one dimension? There is another, perhaps the greatest, evil of the kinematograph craze, the evil which it shares with the pianola-player and the gramophone. It is that these things really narrow the life and experience of men. They bring life to one’s door; and it will soon be possible for people to have all the adventurous experience they want within a radius of half a mile of their own house. No journeys need be taken; you pay sixpence and sit in a chair that is mechanically rocked like a railway carriage, and look out upon the moving scenery of the Andes, the Alps, or the Rockies. You need not go through the toil and discipline of learning the technique of music; turn a handle, and all that Beethoven and Mozart and Chopin groaned in travail with, wept tears of blood for, or laughed and sang out to the world, is at your command. You need not go and hear a great oration; the very voice will issue for you from your brass-throated gramophone on the morrow. All of which is bad, and means loss of life in the fullest and most serious sense. It is not the conquest of science, but the abuse of science.

But there is no question about there being a real use for the kinematograph. To such perfection has it been brought that it can record the movement of an insect or a bird’s wing, or the flight and penetration of a projectile. Films have been made so delicate that they will take a picture in an exposure of 1-42,000th of a second; the mechanism has been so perfected that streams of consecutive pictures can be taken at the rate of 5000 per second, the measurement and control of this being entrusted to a tuning-fork — so far beyond our mere mechanical abilities do such figures take us.

And as an historical record also the kinematograph has its legitimate use. Sometimes — very rarely — looking upon that illuminated square, one has for the moment a sense of real illusion, of looking through a glass and seeing the sea breaking on some tropical shore, or the figures of men moving and smiling in a distant land. Think if we could once see in the same way King John crossing to the little Thames island to give Englishmen their freedom, or Anne Boleyn driving through the streets of Westminster to her wedding, or Cromwell speaking in the House of Commons, or King Charles I, making his farewell on the scaffold! It would not be so much on the central figures that we should pore as upon the crowds and the people in the street, seeing actually before our eyes what men and women looked like, how they moved about, what clothes they wore, what manners they had in those dim, far-off days. Five hundred years hence the English people will in this way be able to see scenes of our life in England; we shall not be so isolated from them; they will know us really as we are, and along with the figures and faces of the great will be preserved and made familiar to our descendants of the twenty-fifth century some otherwise utterly unimportant people, who pushed to the front of crowds and took the trouble to see public shows. And perhaps the most familiar figures of our day to the people of coming days will be the figures of policemen. Thus you see even the kinematograph will not really tell the truth; for there is no such thing as mechanical truth or mechanical record of truth. And that is the crowning fault of mechanism when it takes the place of human effort and labor.

Comments: Filson Young (1876–1938) was a British journalist and essayist. The Living Age was an American magazine which reproduced selections from English and American magazines and newspapers. The article was originally published in British magazine The Saturday Review. The book on film the writer refers to is Frederick A. Talbot, Moving Pictures: How They are Made and Worked (London: Heinemann, 1912). Typical cinema prices of the time were between threepence and sixpence, and the suggestion of a five shilling seat sounds like an exaggeration. The ‘Durbar’ refers to newsfilms of the Delhi Durbar celebrations of 1911. Many trick and chase films of the period were indeed filmed in Paris, by the Pathé and Gaumont firms.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Posted in 1910s, Journals, United Kingdom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

British Cinemas and their Audiences

Source: J.P. Mayer, British Cinemas and their Audiences: Sociological Studies (London: Dennis Dobson, 1948), p. 36

Text: AGE: 12 SEX: M

I am righting the Answers out of your help needed again.

I first became interested in films when I was five. I am now 12 years of age. I first became interested in films was at school, I heard some boys talking, about a film about cowboys. And then my favourit film became cowboys, Gangsters, my favourit film stars were Buck Jones, James Cagney, Marea Montez, Songa Henei, I was then eight. I then became interested in murder, Tarzans, I was now ten, untill I was eight I went with my Mother and father
twice a week. I was often playing at Cowboys and Soldiers. I was never frightened by a film and I do not find it hard to control my emotions aroused by films I imatated a American Slang from films with the ‘Dead End Kids’ in I never fell in love with my film idol and films never made me any better at love making. I sometimes thought I would like to travell and work on a ranch, they never made me dissatisfied with my way of life or my neighbourhood. Although I marvelled at the things they had that we had not got it never made me want to be a soldier etc. only some times to live on ranch in the wilds of Canada. Dear Sir I hope I have done it Good enough to win at least 10s. 6d. as I am saving up to by a bike.

Comments: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His British Cinemas and their Audiences collates motion picture autobiographies submitted through competitions in Picturegoer magazine. This contribution comes from the section ‘Films and the Pattern of Life’. Contributors were asked to trace the history of their interest in films, the influence films had on them (including if they were ever frightened by films), what they imitated from films, if films made them more receptive to love-making, if films made them want to travel or to be dissatisfied with their way of life or neighbourhood, and if films gave them vocational ambitions. The above response is reproduced as published. Two misspelt stars are Maria Montez and Sonja Henie. ‘The Dead Kids’ were a group of American boy actors who first appeared on film in Dead End (USA 1937).

Posted in 1940s, Reports and studies, United Kingdom | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Sketches of India

Source: [Moyle Sherer], Sketches of India: written by an officer for fire-side travellers at-home (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1821), pp. 76-78

Text: As I walked in the bazaar, I came upon a crowd, one minute attentively silent, the next merrily talkative. I pushed among them, and found an exhibition of the magic-lantern kind: in light, colouring, and motion, it was exceedingly well managed. The representations were combats between natives and English; now groupes [sic] of horsemen, now of foot; now a single combat. The showman explained every scene, with many coarse jokes which I could not understand, but which took vastly with the crowd. The British were always beaten, especially in the horse-encounters, and their figures and dress were much caricatured. Had I been known, I should perhaps have been insulted, but with my hat over my eyes, and a handkerchief held generally to my face, I was probably taken for a half-cast [sic] Christian. Fruits, sweetmeats, sherbet, arrack, and toddy, were selling every where. In many places were large shallow pits filled with fires, round which circles of Moors brandishing their naked swords, danced a sort of war-dance in honour of the victorious Ali; singing and shouting at every pause “Ali, Ali!” Occasionally too, one or other of them leaped into and through the fire with looks and gestures half frantic. Walking on, you will see at the corner of one street tumblers, at another dancing-girls; here singers and music, there a story-teller with a party squatted round him. In short, everything wore a festive pleasure-seeking air; and, in spite of the difference of climate, religion, laws, and education, we find the materials in which the heart of man seeks the coarse gratifications suited to it in its natural state, are pretty much the same all over the world.

Comments: Joseph Moyle Sherer (1789–1869) was a British soldier, novelist and travel writer. He was stationed with his regiment in Madras from 1818-1823 and his sketches of India, published in 1821, went through several editions. The scene depicted took place near the British military station at Gooty in Andhra Pradesh.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Posted in 1820s, India, Travel writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Increasing Congregation

Source: Dorothy Richardson, ‘Continuous Performance VI: The Increasing Congregation’, Close Up vol. I no. 6, December 1927, pp. 61-65

Text: It is the London season. Not a day must be lost nor any conspicuous event. And the cinema, having been first a nine months wonder and then, almost to date, a perennial perplexity, matter for public repudiation mitigated by private and, with fair good fortune, securely invisible patronage, is now part of our lives, ranks, as a topic, alongside the theatre and there are Films that must be seen. We go. No longer in secret and in taxis and alone, but openly in parties in the car. We emerge, glitter for a moment in the brilliant light of the new flamboyant foyer, and disappear for the evening into the queer faintly indecent gloom. Such illumination as there will be, moments of the familiar sense of the visible audience, of purposefully being somewhere, is but hail and farewell leaving our party again isolated amidst unknown invisible humanity. Anyone may be there. Anyone is there and everyone, and not segregated in a tier-quenched background nor packed away up under the roof. During the brief interval we behold not massed splendours bordered by a row of newspaper men, but everyone, filling the larger space, oddly ahead of us.

“What about a Movie? That one at the Excelsior sounds quite good.” Suggestions made off-hand. A Theatre is a rarity, to be selected with care, anticipated, experienced, discussed at great length, long remembered. But a film more or less is neither here nor there. May be good may be surprisingly good in the way of this strange new goodness provided for hours of relaxation and that nobody seems quite sure what to think of. It will at least be an evening’s entertainment, a welcome change from talk, reading, bridge, wireless, gramophone. And the trip down town revives the unfailing bright sense of going out, lifts off the burden and heat of the day and if the rest of the evening is a failure it is not an elaborately arranged and expensive failure.

There’s pictures going on all over London always making something to do whenever you want to go out specially those big new ones with orchestras. Splendid. It’s the next best thing to a dance and sure to be good you can get a nice meal at a restaurant and decide while you’re there and if the one you choose is full up there’s another round the corner nothing to fix up and worry about. And it’s all so nice nothing poky and those fine great entrance halls everything smart and just right and waiting there for friends you feel in society like anybody else if your hat’s all right and your things and my word the ready-mades are so cheap nowadays you need never go shabby and the commissionnaires and all those smart people about makes you feel smart. It’s as good an evening as you can have and time for a nice bit of supper afterwards.

It is Monday. Thursday. The pence for the pictures are in the jar beside the saucer of coppers for the slot metre. But folded behind the jar are unpaid bills. In the jar are threepence and six halfpence … “Me and ‘Erb tonight, then we’ll have to manage for Dad and Alf Thurdsay and then no more for a bit. … Whatever did we used to do when there was no pictures? Best we could I s’pose, and must again.”

“Never swore I wouldn’t go again this week. Never said swelp me. Might be doin’ worse. Its me own money anyway.”

“Goin’ on now. This minute. Pickshers goin’ on now. Thou shalt not ste… Goin’ on and me ‘ere. It won’t be, if I pay it back. …”

And so here we all are. All over London, all over England, all over the world. Together in this strange hospice risen overnight, rough and provisional but guerdon none the less of a world in the making. Never before was such all-embracing hospitality save in an ever-open church where kneels madame hastened in to make her duties between a visit to her dressmaker and an assignation, where the dustman’s wife bustles in with infants and market-basket.

Universal hospitality. See that starveling, lean with loathing, feeding his unknown desperate longings upon selected books, giving his approval to tortoiseshell cats. He creeps in here. Braving the herd he creeps in. His scorn for the film is not more inspiring than the fact of his presence.

And that pleasant intellectual, grown a little weary of the things of the mind, his stock-in-trade. He comes not for ideas, but to cease in his mild circling, to use the cinema as a stupifier, forty winks for his cherished intelligence. He will go away refreshed to write his next article.

Happy youth, happy childhood, weary women of all classes for whom at home there is no resting-place. Sensitives creep in here to sit clothed in merciful darkness. See those elders in whose ears sound always the approaching footsteps of death. Here, now and again, they are free from the sense of moments ticked off. See the beatitude of the stone-deaf. And that charming girl lost, despairing in the midst of her first quarrel who would no more go to an entertainment alone than she would disrobe herself in the street. But this refuge near her lodgings opens its twilit spaces and makes itself her weepery.

Refuge, trysting-place, village pump, stimulant, shelter from rain and cold at less than the price of an evening’s light and fire, drunkenness at less than the price of a drink. Instruction. Peeps behind scenes. Sermons. Homethrusts for hims and for hers, impartially.

School, salon, brothel, bethel, newspaper, art science, religion, philosophy, commerce, sport, adventure; flashes of beauty of all sorts. The only anything and everything. And here we all are, as never before. What will it do with us?

Comments: Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957) was a British modernist novelist. Through 1927-1933 she wrote a column, ‘Continuous Performance’ for the film art journal Close Up. The column concentrates on film audiences rather than the films themselves.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Posted in 1920s, Film journals, United Kingdom | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One Day in the Life of Television

Source: Nicola Johnson, quoted in Sean Day-Lewis (ed.), One Day in the Life of Television (London: British Film Institute, 1989), p. 194

Text: I switch the television on when I want and I turn the television off when I want. Sometimes if me and my sister are fighting over which side we want to watch my Mam turns it off … By television I have learnt how very dangerous fireworks are. I have also learnt a few answers for some questions what I never could have known. I also learnt how to make things like cakes and pies by watching cookery programmes.

Without television I would never have thought that someone could kill another person, or that there could be a ferry disaster or a car crash that could happen to a close friend or even me. If there was no television I suppose I would be pretty bored but I suppose I could find something to do like draw or listen to the radio …

Comments: One Day in the Life of Television was a project organised by the British Film Institute which documented one day’s television broadcasting in the UK (1 November 1988) with impressions specially recorded by hundreds of television professionals and ordinary viewers. Nicola Johnson was a 12-year-old schoolgirl from Wallsend, Tyne and Wear.

Posted in 1980s, Television books, United Kingdom | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment