Source: Marion P. Bartlett, ‘Dream Pictures and Real’, The Motion Picture Story Magazine, March 1912, p. 58
I sat by the fireside dreaming of days of long ago,
And pictures seemed to form in the midst of the embers’ glow;
But faded e’er I could catch them, the coals to ashes died,
E’en as my hopes had perished and the heart within me sighed.
I left the dying firelight and the lonely, cheerless room,
And wandered down the avenue, seeking to lift, the gloom;
When I heard the sound of music, saw countless lights agleam,
And, suiting an idle fancy, I entered as in a dream.
I entered into darkness, but sudden, before my eyes,
On a curtain of white came pictures, and I stared in mute surprise;
Pictures that moved! In wonderment I quite forgot my pain;
Pictures that lived! And with them I lived my youth again.
The North, the South, the East, the West were all at my command;
The whole world came before me, at touch of an unseen hand.
Ah! the pictures by the fireside may fade and die away,
But those on the magic canvas live anew for me every day.
Comments: This poem appears in an American journal that reproduced film stories for fans. I have not been able to find out more about its author. The anthology Red Velvet Seat: Women’s Writing on the First Fifty Years of Cinema (2006 ed. Antonia Lant with Ingrid Periz) credits the poem to Hattie M. Loble, but it is merely cited at the end of an article by Loble, entitled ‘A Western Woman’s Opinion of Pictures’, in Moving Picture World, June 1912 p. 820.
Source:Journal des voyages de Monsieur de Monconys, Conseiller du Roy en ses Conseils d’Estat & Privé, & Lieutenant Criminel au Siège Presidial de Lyon (Lyon, Horace Boissat & George Remeus, 1665-66), vol. 2, pp. 17-18, diary entry for 17 May 1663. Translation in Herman Hecht (ed. Ann Hecht), Pre-Cinema History: An Encyclopaedia and Annotated Bibliography of the Moving Image Before 1896 (London: Bowker Saur, 1993), p. 19
Text:17 May 1663. After we had eaten we went to Longuecker [Longacre] on the way back to see Mr Rives [Reeves] who makes telescopes which he sells at six Pounds Sterling each. But he had none ready and deferred us to another time as regards this matter and also to show us how a bulls-eye lantern works which has a crystal half-sphere of about three inches in diameter and which represents the objects well. The latter he puts between the light source and the crystal, using a glass-plate on which objects are painted. This plate, which is like a frame, he slides into a square box which obtrudes from the lantern and which contains the half-sphere crystal.
Toutes les allées font bordées ou de jonquilles ou de geroflées ou de lis. Aur etour apres auoir fait collation nous fufmes encore à Longuexer, chéz M Riues qui fait les Telefcopes, qu’il vend fix liures fterlin piece. Mais il n’en auoit point de prets, & il nous remit à vne autre fois tant pour cela que pour voir l’effet d’vne lanterne fourde qui a vn demi-globe tout entier de criftal , d’enuiron poulces de diametre, & qui porte bien loin la reprefentation des obiets qu’il met entre la lumiere, & ce criftal, par le moyé d’vne feüille de verre fur laquelle ces obiects font peints, laquelle lame ou feüille il fait couler comme vn chaffis dans l’eftuy quarré qui auance au dehors de la lanterne, & qui enferme le demi-globe de criftal.
Comments: Balthasar de Monconys (1611–1665) was a French traveller, diplomat and diarist. He travelled to Portugal, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands (where he met Vermeer), the Near East and England. On a visit to London he saw a magic lantern demonstrated at the shop of the optician Richard Reeves (also referred to in Samuel Pepys’ 19 August 1666 diary entry about seeing a magic lantern demonstrated). This is the first known reference to the magic lantern in Britain.
Source: Frank O’Hara, ‘An Image of Leda’, from Selected Poems (New York: Borzoi, 2008), p. 15 [orig. pub. 1950]
The cinema is cruel
like a miracle. We
sit in the darkened
room asking nothing
of the empty white
space but that it remain pure. And
suddenly despite us
it blackens. Not by
the hand that holds
the pen. There is
no message. We our-
selves appear naked
on the river bank
the machine wings
nearer. We scream
chatter prance and
wash our hair! Is
it our prayer or
wish that this
occur? Oh what is
this light that
holds us fast? Our
limbs quicken even
to disgrace under
this white eye as
if there were real
pleasure in loving
a shadow and caress-
ing a disguise!
Comments: Frank O’Hara (1926-1966) was an American poet and art curator. He wrote several poems on the themes of film and cinemagoing. ‘An Image of Leda’ alludes to the Greek mythological tale of Leda, who was seduced by Zeus in the form of a swan.
Source: Osman Edwards, ‘Some Unpublished Letters of Lafcadio Hearn’, Transactions and Proceedings of the Japan Society, vol. 16 (1918), pp. 16-32
Text: We know how he loved to mingle unobtrusively with the joys and sorrows of his unsophisticated neighbours. He gives the following account of a visit to a Tokyo cinema:
“Here I, too, have been looking at scenes of the Boer War – shadowed by the cinematograph. The representation was managed so as to create only sympathy for the Boers: and I acknowledge that it made my heart jump several times. The Boer girls and wives were displayed as shooting and being shot. What you would have enjoyed were the little discourses in Japanese, uttered between each exhibition. They were simple and appealed to Japanese sympathy, – to the sense of patriotism, and the duty of dying to the last man, woman, and child for one’s country.
Also I saw the Paris Exhibition (1900) in the Kinematograph – and – a can-can! Before the shadows began to dance, their dancing was properly apologised for to the Japanese audience. ‘It is rather queer dancing,’ said the man, ‘but the French think that it is very fine!’ The dancers kept white veils or something before them when they kicked, – police injunction, perhaps! You can imagine how the audience felt – and how I felt with them! And I was glad when it was over.”
Comments: Patrick Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) was an Irish-Greek journalist and travel writer best known for books on Japan, where he lived from 1890, taking on Japanese nationality with the name Koizumi Yakumo. The films of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) may have been the fictions produced by the Edison company. My thanks to Dawid Glownia for bringing this reference to my attention.
Source: Karel Čapek (trans. Šárka Tobrmanová-Kühnová), ‘The Age of the Eyes’, The People’s Paper [Lidové noviny], 22 February 1925, reproduced in Believe in People: The Essential Karel Čapek (London: Faber and Faber, 2010), pp. 18-20
Text: You may have noticed that conspicuously few old people go to the cinema. Even if you take into account that older people are as a rule more frugal and more comfortable, and all in all, less profligate than the rest of us, it’s not a sufficient explanation for why so few of them indulge in the depraved invention of luminous pictures. The older generation expresses open disgust for this modern spectacle. They mutter something like, ‘Don’t bother us with such tosh,’ and open yesterday’s paper or a fifty-year-old novel instead. Meanwhile, the said fifty-year-old novel is being enacted on the screen of a picture palace round the corner, and the rest of us, who are breathlessly watching its flying action, can’t understand that an old man has the patience to read such ancient trash. The average film is, in the vast majority of cases, much closer to Walter Scott than to, say, Vít Nezval, and resembles George Sand more closely than George Bernard Shaw. The average film doesn’t pick up on modern literature, but on old literature. As a matter of fact, it’s the direct successor of old novelistic fiction. The younger generation doesn’t realise that in the cinema they give themselves up to the lush imaginative world of their distant fathers. The older generation doesn’t have an inkling that the shadowy pictures they are so contemptuous of are bone of their bones, or rather I should say the shadow of their bones. Which is of course a typical, unbridgeable rift between the generations.
It seems to me, then, that the older generation doesn’t reject film because it’s too modern, or too silly, but for more profound reasons: because it’s too fast and isn’t rendered in words. I am of the opinion that older people would take pleasure in going to the cinema if texts instead of pictures were projected on the screen. In the beginning of their world is the word, not an optical event. A picture in itself, a picture without language, doesn’t mean anything; it must get words to acquire reality. An old man sees just shadows, shadows, shadows on the screen, bolting, and unreal. If they waited for a moment, he could find a term for them and describe them in words. But alas, they’ve gone, and new shadows are fluttering there in a mute hurry of events. The word lasts, the word can be remembered, the word is solid and firm. But movement doesn’t last long enough to be interpolated into what exists and what is valid; it’s just a change, a transition, and not a decent, reliable, enduring being. An old man watches the running film as if dreams were being shot before him; if he read in a book about a lissom damsel walking like a doe, he’d believe it, but when he sees a lissom damsel on the screen, walking like a doe, he doesn’t recognise this poetic moment because it’s not written there with binding words. It doesn’t say anything, it’s just phoney and monkey business. And the old man leaves the cinema as if he hadn’t seen anything. Don’t bother me with such tosh, he says.
A kind of re-education of people has really taken place here. A person sitting in the cinema must have found a shorter connection between the eye and the brain without the medium of words; in a technical sense, he may even have found a direct connection between the eye and the brain. The older generation probably lacks this direct connection, this leaping of a spark from the retina straight to the cerebral centres. They are more of a reading, conceptual type, while today’s man is becoming a visual type. My late Granny had to read out loud to properly understand what she was reading, for her the word was still an auditory, not a visual, image. In bygone times most readers must have perceived reading through the ear. Later on a more trained reader dropped this aural digression and understood directly by means of verbal signs. In film even the word has turned out to be a digression; we are learning to understand without words. I don’t want to decide if it is progress for the time being it’s a fact.
But surely film threatens literature to a considerable extent, not because it wants to replace it, but because it develops another kind of people – a visual instead of a reading type. The reading sort is patient; it takes its time to penetrate the circumstances, to bask in the descriptive passages and follow the conversation from start to finish. The visual type will not be so patient; it wants to seize the situation in a single glance, to comprehend the story without letting it last, and immediately see something new. But perhaps one day people will run from that stampede of pictures back to the book, to take a breather, or rather, they’ll have the radio narrate fairy tales and novels nice and slowly for them; they’ll listen with closed eyes, letting themselves be lulled by the word, which will re-assume its original destiny – to be spoken language. Maybe who knows? – maybe the book will die out, maybe it will become a curious cultural heritage like inscribed Babylonian bricks. But art will not die out.
Comments: Karel Čapek (1890-1938) was a Czech novelist, essayist and playwright, best known for his science fiction works including the play R.U.R. which introduced the concept of the robot. He was no enthusiast for the cinema, but liked the audiences. Vít Nezval was Vítězslav Nezval, a Czech avant garde poet.
Source: Anon., ‘Kinoplastikon: As Seen From the Stalls’, The Bioscope, 8 May 1913, p. 391
Text: The cinematograph industry, from its very inception, has been so prolific of novelties and sensations, that we have now grown almost accustomed to living in a condition of perpetual astonishment. The biggest surprise of all, of course, was the cinematograph itself, but since then we have had colour films. speaking films, singing films – in fact, films of almost every character it is possible to imagine or desire. Celluloid has become the embryo of a new universe, which seems to contain everything that was in the old world, and a great deal besides that the old world never dreamed of.
One of the latest wonders to come forth from the inexhaustible womb of the moving picture camera is kinoplastikon, the remarkable “living, singing, talking camera pictures,” of which, as our readers will remember, an enthusiastic description was given in our issue of March 20th. by our special correspondent, Mr. John Cher, who saw them in Vienna, before they had been brought to this country. As most people know, they have now come to England, and are to be seen each night in the west-end of London, at the beautiful Scala Theatre, where we had the pleasure of making their acquaintance the other evening.
Kinoplastikon pictures are certainly very surprising when you first set eyes on them, especially when they come, as they do at the Scala, in the middle of a programme of ordinary cinematograph films. The curtain goes up, and the stage is revealed, bare, to all appearance, of everything but a conventional set. Then, suddenly, you hear the grating of a gramophone beginning to work. The orchestra strikes up in accompaniment. And, without warning, two white pierrots dance on from the wings – as naturally and as easily as though they were beings of real flesh and blood. They give a xylophone duet – their instrument apparently resting on a table which has been placed there beforehand, in full view of the audience, by a solid human attendant – and then, their performance finished, they skip off the stage to make their bows in answer to the riotous storm of applause which marks the conclusion of their “turn.” Five other pictures follow, one of them a flute solo and the other vocal performances.
The appearance of these amazing spirit creatures is curious. They resemble the figures of an ordinary cinematograph film, cut away from their original background with a pair of scissors, and set to caper and gesticulate, their vitality unimpaired, upon a wooden stage. Some of them are in black and white only; others are coloured artificially.
To offer any explanation of how Kinoplastikonis “worked” would be imprudent without investigating it more closely – and we have not yet had an opportunity of examining these “picture people,” except at a respectful distance from the auditorium. Speaking without prejudice, one would imagine that they are related, more or less nearly, to the famous ghosts of the late lamented Professor Pepper, the maker of mirror miracles. They are advertised as being presented “without a screen”; one rather fancies, however, that the screen is invisible, as, on the left-hand side of the stage, the creatures disappeared a trifle before they reached the wings. In, mid-air, also, are occasionally noticed white spots, which seemed to suggest scratches upon a black film.
Kinoplastikon produces a stereoscopic effect, because the figures in its films stand in the middle of an ordinary stage, and thus really have space before and behind them, In themselves, however, they are not stereoscopic, a fact which was observable in the last film shown, where a woman stood in front of several other people, the latter appearing unnaturally small and out of perspective, as is the case in an ordinary photograph.
It is difficult to make speculations about the future of Kinoplastikon without knowing more of its modus operandi. Even if it accomplishes nothing more than the sort of thing which may be seen at the Scala, however, it may always be safely relied upon to make a novel and effective item in a variety programme. And it certainly constitutes a remarkably fine example of the “talking picture.”
Comments: Kinoplastikon was a means of showing coloured motion pictures, with sound, in stereoscopic relief. The original system was the invention of the German film pioneer Oskar Messter, who named it ‘Alabastra’. Based on the ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ stage illusion, whereby seemingly life-like images could appear on stage via reflected projection from a mirror, Messter extended the idea to employ motion picture film, hand tinted and with musical accompaniment. An adaptation of Alabastra was exhibited in Vienna under the name Kinoplastikon, subsequently appearing in Britain in 1913 at the Scala Theatre, London. The films were produced in a studio lined with black velvet (the actors had to be dressed entirely in white) on the roof of the Scala theatre, with synchonrised sound-on-disc accompaniment using Cecil Hepworth’s Vivaphone system. The director was Walter Booth. As the reviewer suspected, a screen was used, though hidden from view.
Kinoplastikon excited much comment, with suggestions that it was the future of entertainment, but as Hepworth observes in his autobiography, Came the Dawn, “It suffered, I suspect, from the usual fate which almost always dogs the steps of any ghost-illusion. Very few people are interested in an illusion of that kind as an illusion. They may think it is clever but do not bother to wonder how it is done; they don’t even care. Unless it tells some story, or belongs to some story which cannot well be told without it. it very soon ceases to intrigue them”. Kinoplastikon was exhibited in Austria, Britain, France, Russia and the USA, but it swiftly disappeared.
Source: Queen Victoria’s journal entry for 28 June 1854
Text: We went after breakfast with the 4 Children & Ladies & Gentlemen to see Albert Smith’s “Ascent of Mont Blanc”, a panorama, which he describes, interspersed with anecdotes & wit of the most amusing kind, delivered with the most surprising volubility. The last song was inimitable. The views were extremely pretty & the room fitted up charmingly as a Châlet. The Performance took place at the Egyptian Hall.
Comments: Queen Victoria (1819-1901) records seeing panoramas several times in her journals. Albert Richard Smith (1816-1860) was a British entertainer, novelist and mountaineer. In 1851 he successfully ascended Mont Blanc, and a show devised and presented by Smith the following year about the expedition, at London’s Egyptian Hall, became one of the most renowned and popular entertainments of its time. The show, entitled Mr Albert Smith’s Ascent of Mont Blanc, opened on 15 March 1852. Smith’s talk of his adventures was illustrated by moving panoramas, painted by William Beverley, which moved horizontally for the section covering Smith journey to the Alps, and vertically for the ascent. The show ran for seven seasons six years, with each new season changing elements of of the presentation. The Swiss chalet was added to the staging for the second season.
Source: Kenneth Baily, ‘”Gerald Cock Presents” – Review of Television Programmes’, The Era, 14 October 1936, p. 1
Text: Experimental programmes from the Television Station made by the B.B.C. during the past week have cast some illuminating light on things to come when the television service starts properly on November 2.
As watched on a Baird televisor in my own home, the programmes have, more than anything else, proved that real entertainment value is derived from television only when television technique is scrupulously adhered to and when subjects exclusively suited to the new medium are chosen.
This may sound obvious, but, in its planning and in these experiments, the B.B.C. is already drawing on other spheres of entertainment for television material. I believe that a few more weeks’ experience will show that television is an indifferent foster-mother for the conventional arts, and that it must conceive its own dream-children.
The unsuccessful programmes have been those where stage pieces and films, it seemed, just placed before the television cameras and transmitted. The first of “The Two Bouquets,” for instance, was not a success, and when “The Picture Page,” a pure television production, was shown later, that stage excerpt, in comparison, assumed the unmistakable guise of failure.
And films are made on too grand a scale to fit in to a screen 2 inches by 9 in the corner of the parlour. The sound track heard in proportion in a cinema, is too pronounced and obvious in comparison with the little picture by the fireside.
Half an hour of Henry Hall and the BBC Dance Orchestra proved without much doubt that Henry’s gentle and smiling personality is going to be a television attraction. Dan Donovan made an outstanding television début too. Dance band vocalists, hugging the mike in permanent close-up, will tend to bore viewers; but Dan’s mannerisms, and just the way he sings his numbers, are full of that which is going to be at a premium for television soloists – personality.
On the other hand, a fervent lady admirer of George Elrick – as he is heard – was disappointed by his television appearance.
Because of its personalities, Henry Hall’s band should avert the difficulties facing most televising bands – the viewer’s easy assumption that all bands look the same, and lack movement and “picture points”.
In a different way Younkman’s band, which I also saw, succeeded by filling the picture with agility and plenty of “gipsy” abandon.
Leonard Henry knew what he was about when he took his dummy gas mask to the television studio. Even his patter will need visual additions in television, and the mask gave them to it.
The real achievement to date, however, was “The Picture Page.” Its success came of its having been devised and produced exclusively for television. It would be impossible anywhere else – even in film – and that is as it should be with all material for televising.
Its very beginning was a hit, scored by specialised ingenuity. A boy bugler from off the Warspite was seen blowing a fanfare as he stood before a Union Jack, filling the whole screen; then he dissolved into the title of the programme in the form of a magazine page. Credit titles followed as the pages were turned.
Then came the only mistake. As link between the items in the programme, Joan Miller sits as a telephone operator before a switch board, plugging-in viewers to the items they are supposed to be calling for.
Instead of leaving the “pages” for a direct shot of Miss Miller, another “page” was turned, bringing into view a full-page photograph of her at the switchboard.
The direct shot followed this, and Miss Miller was supposed to be in the identical pose of her photograph. The effect was disjointed, and betrayed quite obviously which was photograph and which Miss Miller in the flesh.
Among the personalities seen were Fight-Lieutenant Swain, altitude record breaker of the RAF; Prince Ras Monolulu (I Gotta Horse); Mrs. Flora Drummond, suffragette leader; a Siamese cat; and Diana Sheridan, the photographer’s model.
“The Picture Page” is really “In Town To-Night” gone visible: but, though it inherits from its sound sister the successful basic idea, as it was devised for televising it was literally an eye-opener for this viewer, who, expecting but experimental programmes, was amazed when such a polished production bewitched his screen.
Comments: Kenneth Baily was a radio journalist, editor in the 1950s of the Television Annual and author of an early history of the medium, Here’s Television (1950). His brother Leslie was a well-known radio producer. The BBC Television Service launched officially on 2 November 1936, but was preceded by test broadcasts, with the first broadcast of the magazine programme Picture Page taking place on 8 October 1936. The Two Bouquets was an operetta by Eleanor and Herbert Farjeon. Gerald Cock was the BBC’s first Director of Television. Picturegoing normally does not reproduce reviews, but because of the domestic details, the description of what may have been an afternoon’s (?) programming, and the very early use of the word ‘viewer’ in a television context, an exception has been made.
Source: Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Tsuioko [Memoirs] (1926), quoted in Dennis Washburn and Carole Cavanaugh (eds.), Word and Image in Japanese Cinema (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. xix
Text: I was probably five or six when I saw a moving picture for the first time. I went with my father, if I remember rightly, to see this marvellous novelty at the Nishuro in Okawabata. The motion pictures were not projected on a large screen as they are nowadays. The size of the image was a rather small four-by-six or so. Also, they had no real story, nor were they as complex as films are these days. I remember, among the pictures that evening, one of a man fishing. He hooked a big one then fell head over heels into the water. He wore some kind of straw hat, and behind the long fishing pole he held in his hand were reeds and willows waving in the wind. Oddly enough, though my memory may be wrong, I fancy the man looked something like Admiral Nelson.
Comments: Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) was a Japanese short story writer, whose stories helped inspire Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashōmon. He was raised in Tokyo. My thanks to Dawid Glownia from bringing this passage to my attention.
Source: Harry A. Franck, Working North from Patagonia; being the narrative of a journey, earned on the way, through southern and eastern South America (New York: The Century Co., 1921), pp. 357-358
Text: Long before the first session ended we had closed the inner doors and the lobby was threatening to overflow. For the first time in Brazil I had permitted other “special attractions” to be offered with our own; that is, in addition to the ordinary films Ruben had engaged two stray Italian females who howled through several spasms of what they and most of the audience seemed to think was music. As they had been hired before our contract was made, and their wages were nothing out of our pockets, I could only reasonably demand that the Kinetophone remain the head-liner …
Our first Sunday, in particular, was a busy day. It is the custom all over Brazil for the “excellentissimas familias” to go to the “movies” on Sunday afternoon or evening, and the habit is so fixed that they prefer to pack in to the point of drowning in their own perspiration, even at double prices, rather than see a better show on a week day. For managers naturally take advantage of this fad and offer their poorest attractions—just as Ruben withdrew his “imported artists” on this day—knowing they will fill their houses anyway. If only we could have taken Sunday with us, movable, transportable, and played on that day in every town, we would have made as great a fortune as if the World War had never cast the pall of a “brutal crisis” over Brazil.
By one in the afternoon I was at the theater door in impresario full-dress and managerial smile, greeting the considerable crowd that came to the matinee, and disrupting the plans of those who had hoped to drag five or six children by in the shadow of their skirts or trousers. Then, with scarcely time for a meat-laden Brazilian supper in our disreputable hotel across the street, I came back to the most crowded theater I had seen in months. By 7:30 we had already closed the inner doors and the elite of Bahia continued to stack up in the lobby until that, too, had overflowed long before the first session ended. We were compelled to send policemen in to eject the first audience, and when the house had been emptied and the gates opened again, it flooded full from floor to “paradise” five stories up as quickly as a lock at Panama does with water. Even then all could not crowd in, and we herded them up once more in preparation for a third session, which, though not beginning until after ten, was also packed. Nothing so warms the cockles of a manager’s heart as to watch an unbroken sea of flushed and eager faces following his entertainment. By this time I had met most of the high society of Bahia, all her white and near-white “best families,” with now and then some physically very attractive girls among them, having marched at least once past my eagle eye. That night I carried off more money than had fallen to our lot since our first days in Rio and São Paulo.
Comments: Harry Alverson Franck (1881-1962) was an American travel writer, whose journeys took him China, Latin America, Europe and the USSR. For the journey through South America described in this book Franck served as an agent for the Edison Kinetophone, a film projection system synchronised with musical discs, and there are many descriptions of the operation of the Kinetophone and its mixed reception across the continent in Franck’s characteristically sardonic style. The show described took place at São Salvador, in Bahia state. Although the publication date of the book is 1921, the trip occurred around 1913-14.