Silent Life and Silent Language

Source: Kate M. Farlow, Silent life and silent language, or, The inner life of a mute in an institution for the deaf and dumb (Dayton, Ohio: Christian Publishing House, 1883), pp. 108-109

Text: As time went on it was decided that the pupils ought to be enlivened by an entertainment of some sort. Accordingly arrangements were made, and one Saturday evening all the inmates were summoned to the chapel, where they found a great white sheet stretched across the platform. An instrument somewhat resembling a photographer’s camera was placed in front. After all had taken seats the lights were extinguished, and the pupils found themselves involved in darkness. Some who had never witnessed a magic-lantern exhibition were at a loss to know what all this meant. They supposed the lights must have been put out by accident. Presently there appeared in the center of the great white sheet an oval spot of brilliant light while all the rest of the room was still in darkness. By some invisible movement that little spot of light grew larger and larger until it was about twelve feet in circumference. A moment later there appeared in that oval space a beautiful picture. It was a circle of variegated colors, which, by some hidden movement, was made to revolve, thus presenting a novel as well as beautiful appearance. After that was shown a representation of our earth, with ships moving over a part of its surface and gradually disappearing from view at one point to re-appear again at another. An astronomical scene was represented, showing the moon and stars in motion. Scene followed scene in quick succession. A dog was seen, first barking at a cow, then tossed upward, apparently by the horns of the cow. There was an exhibition of a woman with a very long tongue. A prickly-pear was represented, which very unexpectedly opened, disclosing to view a man and a woman with scowling countenances. A rose was also shown, and from amid its scarlet petals emerged a dainty little fairy. A man was seen asleep, and a mouse, stealing from some hidden nook, made its way into his open mouth, a cat springing at it just as it disappeared down his throat. There were pictures of famous edifices and grand natural scenery; also, scenes illustrative of Bible stories. Finally, there appeared the picture of a queer looking little man. He held in his hand a paper roll. By some mysterious, unseen movement that was unrolled, and on it was displayed the expression, “Good-night”.

The gas-jets were again lighted, and the entertainment was at an end. It had been much enjoyed, as was evident from the happy expression on many faces as the pupils filed out of the chapel, and from the fact that it at once became the general theme of conversation.

Comments: Kate Farlow was an American writer on deaf issues who was a deaf-mute herself. The aim of her boom was to inform general reader and to overturn prejudices about deaf people. It covers all aspects of the activities of one American institution for the ‘deaf and dumb’ (the specific institution is not identified in the text).

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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The Cinema Gains a Powerful Ally

Source: Northerner II, ‘This World of Ours: The Cinema Gains a Powerful Ally’, The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Mercury, 3 June 1953, p. 4

Text: I attended a revolution yesterday. I saw the triumph of large-screen television in the cinema. With about 2,000 other guests of J. Arthur Rank, I had been invited to the Odeon Theatre, Leeds, to watch the BBC’s television transmission of the Coronation – and we saw it on the largest screen in the country. The results were so good and the audience were so impressed that, as the show went on, the conviction grew that the magic box of the cinema had acquired a wonderful new trick. Television is certainly going to play an increasingly important part in bringing cinema audiences to the scenes of great events while they are actually taking place.

Yesterday’s show convinced Alderman H.M.G. McKay, Deputy Lord Mayor of Leeds, that the civic duties which had prevented him from going to London for the Coronation were a blessing in disguise. “I came into the theatre a disappointed man,” he said in a speech of thanks to the Odeon management. “My wife and I had been allocated tickets for seats on the Coronation procession route, but the Lord Mayor of Leeds’s Secretary is a hard-hearted man. He told me I could not got to London.

“The Lord Mayor and the Lady Mayoress are at the Abbey by Royal invitation – but I think we in this theatre are seeing a great deal more of the Abbey ceremony than they will see. It will give me great pleasure to tell the Lord Mayor all about it when he comes back to Leeds.”

Close-up of the Queen

The Odeon audience, who included old-age pensioners, nurses and representatives of many organisations in the city, shared Alderman MacKay’s enthusiasm. They applauded the Queen when she first appeared in the Royal Coach as it left Buckingham Palace. Their applause grew louder when a close-up shot made it appear as if she was smiling not at the cheering crowds who lined the streets but directly at us in the cinema.

They clapped Viscount Montgomery as he entered the Abbey in the procession. They clapped and cheered Sir Winston Churchill, who was wearing his most indomitable look. They gave a thunderous reception to the Duke of Edinburgh. But when the Queen entered, looking tense and serious, the cinema was hushed in sympathy with her for the ordeal that lay ahead.

For me the most moving part of the service was the singing of that noble hymn, “All people that on earth do dwell.” Some of the cinema audience softly joined in, and I am sure many more would have done so had the worlds of the hymn been flashed on the screen. I suggest that the BBC should adopt this practice on future occasions when people are asked to take part in the singing.

I can think of no other way in which the televising of the Coronation could have been improved. I thought the BBC carried out their extremely difficult task splendidly.

Comments: The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953 was broadcast live on BBC television, and played a major factor in popularising television in the United Kingdom. The live broadcast was also shown in some cinemas, holiday camps and other areas where large screens could be erected. Television in cinemas or theatres was not a new thing, however, having been first demonstrated by John Logie Baird at the Coliseum in London in 1930.

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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. 75-77

Text: Besides taking me to Woolworths, she [her aunt Rose] sometimes took me to the pictures, and what a thrill that was. I had only been with the penny rush before that. The penny rush was held on a Saturday afternoon in a cinema just off Roman Road, and it was just what its name implied. My cousins made it a regular Saturday treat, and Eva often went along with them, but none of them liked taking me. As we hurried along, clutching our orange or bag of peanuts, they would talk between them of Norma and Richard Talmadge and lots of other stars, but all I did was to pray like mad that no one would kill anyone or fire any guns.

When the doors opened we all rushed in, and for some reason that I could never fathom at the time, they all made for the seats near the back and only the late comers sat in the front rows. As soon as the film started, the piano would start to play, the pianist dressed in a long black skirt with a white fancy thing on her head a bit like a Lyons nippy.

As soon as things got going, the piano would play loud banging music and I’d grip my hands on the seat and shut my eyes tight. Just in case anyone fell down dead. When a car came towards me on the screen, I was dead scared in case it came right out and ran me over, and when the cowboys and horses galloped in my direction, I would shoot under the seat and stay there.

If however the picture was sad, I would burst into tears and have to be taken outside in disgrace for making a noise. Mum and Dad once took us to see Charlie Chaplin in ‘The Gold Rush’ as a very special treat, but I broke my heart over the poor little man having to stew his boots for food.

“Oh, please, please,” I cried, “please can’t anyone give him some food?” So, all in all, no one was very keen on taking me to the pictures. But when I grew a bit older and learnt to control my emotions, nothing delighted me more than being taken to the pictures by aunt Rose. Even the cinema she frequented as different, it didn’t smell of smoke and oranges and sweat; there was a smartly dressed young lady who walked around spraying something into the air, and it smelt more like the perfume department of a big store.

The pictures we saw were nicer too: we never saw cowboys and Indians there, but there were ladies and gentlemen kissing each other and holding hands and getting married and riding in lovely carriages. Or else they were dying gently in big beautiful beds, even better than aunt Kate’s. “Kiss me Charles, and be good to baby,” would flash on the screen, and the audience in aunt’s type of cinema would read quietly, and just sob gently, if it was very sad. I would keep putting out my tongue to catch the tears as they rolled down my cheek, lest aunt should see me crying and not take me again. The piano played soft haunting music that made you want to keep on swallowing hard, and when you eventually came out into the bright sunshine, you could pretend you had something in your eye and keep on wiping it.

But aunt had developed a sudden cold too, and had to keep on sniffing, so we’d sniff and wipe our way home, where the two dogs would give us a boisterous welcome and aunt would make tea, talking all the time about what she’d have done, had she been the heroine. “She was too soft with him, don’t you think, Dol,” she would call from the kitchen and, thrilled to be talked to as an equal, I would discuss with her the merits of the film. At the penny rush, everyone read the captions out loud.

“Oh leave me sir,” we would all call out, as the maiden struggled with the villain. Oh, we had incentives to become fast readers in those days. Perhaps today’s children would become better readers if the T.V. went back to the old silent days for its stories and children had to use their brain to read, instead of being spoon fed with all their entertainment.

It was not until the era of the ‘talkie’ that people like aunt Kate and Janet went to the pictures and I’ll never forget when Mum and auntie Liz persuaded aunt Kate to go and see her very first film, ‘The Singing Fool.’

Everyone was singing ‘Climb upon my knee, Sonny boy,’ and aunt Kate set off in joyful expectancy. What a scene they had with her when she came home! She cried and cried all night, and half the next day too, standing at the corner and wiping her eyes on her apron, the tears making rivulets sown her powdered face.

“Oh my Gawd, it was lovely. I haven’t slept all night for thinking about it.”

‘When aunt Kate went to the pictures’ became a talking point all through the family for weeks after that.

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. Norma and Richard Talmadge were not related. The films referred to are The Gold Rush (USA 1925) and The Singing Fool (USA 1928).

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The Crowd

Source: Extract from Louis Delluc, ‘The Crowd’ (originally ‘La Foule’, Paris-Midi, 24 August 1918, p. 2), reproduced and translated in Richard Abel (ed.), French Film Theory and Criticism: a History/Anthology, 1907-1939 – Volume I: 1907-1929 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988), p. 161

Text: Another audience. At the Saturday evening screening of the only cinema palace of the town, the Tout-Aurillac, a first-run and second-run house. Convalescents, billeted soldiers, respectable families, respectable young girls, the smoke from pipes, the ritornellos of an untuned piano, all in a deep, dark, cold cinema with Le Courrier de Washington on the marquee.

They also screened La Lumière qui s’éteint, an English film previewed in Paris last winter. Despite its almost unanimous lack of culture, the audience was deeply moved by the inner adventures of Maisie, Dick, and Torp. And you know what became of the great Kipling’s work on film. An ordinary anecdote, badly decorated and photographed, with a sad, heavy actor playing Dick – when will we see Douglas Fairbanks in the part? – a fop as Torp, a fool as Maisie, and unbelievable Arab battles, let’s be blunt, a cardboard Sudanese Khartoum. There is a film to do over again.

Why was this rough peasant audience affected in front of this artless and unauthorized gaucherie? Will it understand even more when the same drama becomes a quite beautiful film?

Comments: Louis Delluc (1890-1924) was a French film director and pioneering film critic, writing on diverse aspects of film culture for French newspapers from 1917 onwards. Le Courrier de Washington was the French title for the American serial The Perils of Pauline (1914). La Lumière qui s’éteint is presumably The Light That Failed (1916), an American rather than an English film, directed by Edward José and starring Robert Edeson as Dick, Claude Fleming as Torp and Lillian Tucker as Maisie. Aurillac is in the Auvergne region of south-central France.

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An Entertaining Life

Source: Harry Secombe, An Entertaining Life (London: Robson Books, 2001), pp. 37-38

Text: Another influence on me was the local cinema, which went through various transformations in my boyhood. At first it was called the Pictorium, or the ‘Pic’, and then it was refurbished and became the Scala, a name we kids could never pronounce properly. It was a dream factory for the neighbourhood and stood at the confluence of two roads, Foxhole and Morris Lane, a very steep hill which led to the council estate. We would come roaring down the lane on a Saturday afternoon, Ronnie Jones and I, to join the queue for the ‘twopenny rush’. The first task was to buy sweets to take in with us from the little sweet shop at the bottom of Morris Lane. There we were faced with an agonizing choice. A sherbert dab? A lucky packet? (This usually contained fibrous twigs of raw licorice and tiger nuts.) Or a pennorth of unshelled peanuts? I usually plumped for a bullseye, which would at least last most of the main feature, although there were would not be the satisfaction of watching it change colour when the lights went out.

Inside the cinema the smell of wet knickers, orange peel and carbolic flowed over us like a warm, sticky bath and the ravaged plush seats held all sorts of perils – old chewing gum underneath, and the odd stain from a previous tenant’s over-excitement. The din before the lights went out was indescribable, and sometimes the manager in his boiled shirt and dickie bow would come out in front of the curtains and threaten us with mass explusion if we didn’t calm down. This normally did the trick, and the curtains would eventually jerk back and the projectors would clatter into life, and a collective sigh would go up as the titles appeared on the screen.

Cowboy films and African jungle epics were may favourites when I was very small, and then I progressed to a fondness for ‘Andy Hardy’ and gangster films. When the exit doors were flung open – always before the end of the serial, so that the screen became blank – I would emerge from the cinema as James Cagney or Mickey Rooney. All the way back up the hill I’d be reliving the film, firing imaginary bullets at unheeding old ladies behind their lace curtains in Morris Lane, or swinging precariously from the lower limb of the dead tree at the end of Grenfell Park Road. My parents never knew who would come home from the pictures on a Saturday afternoon.

Sometimes at the evening performance children were allowed in with an adult, because in those days there were no ‘X’ rated films. Mam and Dad rarely went to the ‘Pic’: Dad because he;d have to leave half-way through the performance with an attack of hyperventilation, and Mam because she preferred going to the Plaza on a Wednesday afternoon with her friend, Mrs Beynon, who live[d] opposite us in Pen-ys-acoed Avenue.

However, there was one person who was always good-natured enough to take other people’s children with her on these occasions. Her name was Mrs Bayless, and she lived a couple of doors up from our house at the top of St Leger Crescent. She came from the Midlands and had about six children of her own. Thus, when we all trooped up the step behind her, she would demand one ticket for herself and sometimes as many as twelve half-price tickets would spew out of the machine in the booth for the rest of us. The manager, unable to do anything about it, would tear the stubs in half with controlled fury and pass us through into the cinema. In the evenings it was a completely different place from the scene of the ‘twopenny rush’ – discreet organ music would be playing and an overpowering perfumed disinfectant concealed the unspeakable odours of the matinée.

Comments: Harry Secombe (1921-2001) was a Welsh singer, actor and comedian, best known for being one of the Goon Show radio comedy team. His childhood was spent in Swansea, Wales. The Andy Hardy series of MGM feature films starred Mickey Rooney.

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Rum, Bum and Concertina

Source: George Melly, Rum, Bum and Concertina (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1977), p. 41

Text: In the newspaers and on the newsreel in the cinema where I went to see James Cagney in The Roaring Twenties, they showed us for the first time the appalling images of Belsen: the stumbling living skeletons with their bald heads and huge empty eyes, the bulldozers scooping up the mounds of dead. As far as I can remember, they hardly affected me, seeming no more real than the briefly illuminated bug-a-boos in the Skegness ghost train. How could I weep over a poem and remain indifferent to this proof of what humanity is capable of? I am unable to answer. In this respect the nineteen-year-old self that I am trying to recreate or understand is a total and repellent stranger. What did he feel as the camera explored the gas-chambers and the ovens? I can;t remember. I’d like to think it was too horrible to grasp, but fear that it may be simply because I can;t face up to my own self-centred lack of imagination. I wrote home praising The Roaring Twenties.

Comments: George Melly (1926-2007) was a British jazz singer, critic and humorist. He joined the Royal Navy after the Second World War, and was stationed at Skegness in Lincolnshire at the time of this incident in his memoir. Newsreels of the liberation of Belsen were shown in British cinemas from 30 April 1945.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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