Father and I

Source: Kazuo Koizumi, Father and I; memories of Lafcadio Hearn (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1935, pp. 51-52

Text: Here is something quite different. It was once when father went to see a movie. One evening Lieutenant Fujisaki came saying that he was going to Kanda Kinkikan to see the moving pictures and couldn’t Kazuo go. That day not only I, but father and mother joined him. We were all seated on the right-hand side upstairs. The performance started with a phonograph which had a megaphone attachment. This was rolled to the centre of the stage and Japanese records were put on. After this was a sword dance by boys between twelve and thirteen, and at last, the long anticipated pictures came on. The first was of swimming and diving from high stands. The next picture was the one that we wanted to see — the English Transvaal War picture, but it turned out to be a very repulsive and tasteless coloured picture. The colour spoilt the faces and hands of the actors — made them look dark, and their clothes and hats of dark red, blue, or green seemed raised. When the mine (which was purple) was about to explode, the smoke effect looked like cheap painted papers pasted on. Lieutenant Fujisaki said the military march and camp appeared natural, but the picture of the combat and explosion was a trick which could be distinctly seen. The last picture was one of the President of the United States coming to San Francisco. This was colourless and natural, but the film was very poor and old, the spots marred the picture, and we seemed to be looking through hard rain or snow, and very indistinctly the people and vehicles passed before us with such
speed that it quite surprised us. They no sooner appeared from the left than they vanished as quickly to the right. Father, although he put his glass to his eye and tried to take them in, could not get any good idea of them. We all took away very strange impressions.

Comments: Kazuo Koizumi (1893-1965) was the son of Patrick Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) and his Japanese wife Koizumi Setsu. Hearn was an Irish-Greek journalist and travel writer best known for his books on Japan, where he lived from 1890, taking on Japanese nationality with the name Koizumi Yakumo. The Transvaal War means the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, with these films probably being dramatised versions of events from the conflict. The film show probably took place in 1900. The colour films on show would have been hand-painted.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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Just William

Source: Richmal Crompton, extract from Just William (London: George Newnes, 1922), pp. 13-17

Text: It all began with William’s aunt, who was in a good temper that morning, and gave him a shilling for posting a letter for her and carrying her parcels from the grocer’s.

“Buy some sweets or go to the Pictures,” she said carelessly, as she gave it to him.

William walked slowly down the road, gazing thoughtfully at the coin. After deep calculations, based on the fact that a shilling is the equivalent of two sixpences, he came to the conclusion that both luxuries could be indulged in.

In the matter of sweets, William frankly upheld the superiority of quantity over quality. Moreover, he knew every sweet shop within a two miles radius of his home whose proprietor added an extra sweet after the scale had descended, and he patronised these shops exclusively. With solemn face and eager eye, he always watched the process of weighing, and “stingy” shops were known and banned by him.

He wandered now to his favourite confectioner and stood outside the window for five minutes, torn between the rival attractions of Gooseberry Eyes and Marble Balls. Both were sold at 4 ounces for 2d. William never purchased more expensive luxuries. At last his frowning brow relaxed and he entered the shop.

“Sixpennoth of Gooseberry Eyes,” he said, with a slightly self-conscious air. The extent of his purchases rarely exceeded a penny.

“Hello!” said the shopkeeper, in amused surprise.

“Gotter bit of money this mornin’,” explained William carelessly, with the air of a Rothschild.

He watched the weighing of the emerald green dainties with silent intensity, saw with satisfaction the extra one added after the scale had fallen, received the precious paper bag, and, putting two sweets into his mouth, walked out of the shop.

Sucking slowly, he walked down the road towards the Picture Palace. William was not in the habit of frequenting Picture Palaces. He had only been there once before in his life.

It was a thrilling programme. First came the story of desperate crooks who, on coming out of any building, glanced cautiously up and down the street in huddled, crouching attitudes, then crept ostentatiously on their way in a manner guaranteed to attract attention and suspicion at any place and time. The plot was involved. They were pursued by police, they leapt on to a moving train and then, for no accountable reason, leapt from that on to a moving motor-car and from that they plunged into a moving river. It was thrilling and William thrilled. Sitting quite motionless, he watched, with wide, fascinated eyes, though his jaws never ceased their rotatory movement and every now and then his hand would go mechanically to the paper bag on his knees and convey a Gooseberry Eye to his mouth.

The next play was a simple country love-story, in which figured a simple country maiden wooed by the squire, who was marked out as the villain by his moustachios.

After many adventures the simple country maiden was won by a simple country son of the soil in picturesque rustic attire, whose emotions were faithfully portrayed by gestures that must have required much gymnastic skill; the villain was finally shown languishing in a prison cell, still indulging in frequent eye-brow play.

Next came another love-story — this time of a noble-hearted couple, consumed with mutual passion and kept apart not only by a series of misunderstandings possible only in a picture play, but also by maidenly pride and reserve on the part of the heroine and manly pride and reserve on the part of the hero that forced them to hide their ardour beneath a cold and haughty exterior. The heroine’s brother moved through the story like a good fairy, tender and protective towards his orphan sister and ultimately explained to each the burning passion of the other.

It was moving and touching and William was moved and touched.

The next was a comedy. It began by a solitary workman engaged upon the re-painting of a door and ended with a miscellaneous crowd of people, all covered with paint, falling downstairs on top of one another. It was amusing. William was riotously and loudly amused.

Lastly came the pathetic story of a drunkard’s downward path. He began as a wild young man in evening clothes drinking intoxicants and playing cards, he ended as a wild old man in rags still drinking intoxicants and playing cards. He had a small child with a pious and superior expression, who spent her time weeping over him and exhorting him to a better life, till, in a moment of justifiable exasperation, he threw a beer bottle at her head. He then bedewed her bed in Hospital with penitent tears, tore out his hair, flung up his arms towards Heaven, beat his waistcoat, and clasped her to his breast, so that it was not to be wondered at that, after all that excitement, the child had a relapse and with the words “Good-bye, Father. Do not think of what you have done. I forgive you,” passed peacefully away.

William drew a deep breath at the end, and still sucking, arose with the throng and passed out.

Once outside, he glanced cautiously around and slunk down the road in the direction of his home. Then he doubled suddenly and ran down a back street to put his imaginary pursuers off his track. He took a pencil from his pocket and, levelling it at the empty air, fired twice. Two of his pursuers fell dead, the rest came on with redoubled vigour. There was no time to be lost. Running for dear life, he dashed down the next street, leaving in his wake an elderly gentleman nursing his toe and cursing volubly. As he neared his gate, William again drew the pencil from his pocket and, still looking back down the road, and firing as he went, he rushed into his own gateway …

Comments: Richmal Crompton (1880-1969) was a British writer, best known for her series of Just William books, featuring the 11-year-old schoolboy William Brown. The first volume, Just William, from which the above extract comes (the opening to chapter one, ‘William Goes to the Pictures’) was published in 1922. The description of a picture palace show reads more like a pre-war programme of short films than a standard 1922 film show. The story continues with William applying the lessons he has learned from seeing the films to real life, with chaotic results. My thanks to Adam Ganz for suggesting this entry.

Links: Copy at Project Gutenberg

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The Magic Mountain

Source: Thomas Mann (trans. John E. Woods), extract from The Magic Mountain (London: Everyman’s Library, 2005 [orig. pub. Der Zauberberg, 1924]), pp. 376-378

Text: They even took Karen Karstedt to the Bioscope Theatre in Platz one afternoon, because that was something she truly enjoyed. Being used only to the purest air, they fell ill at ease in the bad air that weighed heavily in their lungs and clouded their minds in a murky fog, while up ahead on the screen life flickered before their smarting eyes – all sorts of life, chopped up in hurried, diverting scraps that leapt into fidgety action, lingered, and twitched out of sight in alarm, to the accompaniment of trivial music, which offered present rhythms to match vanishing phantoms from the past and which despite limited means ran the gamut of solemnity, pomposity, passion, savagery, and cooing sensuality. They watched as a rousing tale of love and murder in the court of an Oriental potentate unrolled silently before them; scene after opulent scene sped past, full of naked bodies, despotic lust, and abject servility blind in its zeal, full of cruelty, prurience, and fatal desire – and then suddenly the filmed slowed to linger revealingly on the muscular arm of an executioner. In short, it had been produced with a sympathetic understanding of its international audience and catered to that civilization’s secret wishes. Settembrini, as a man who formed opinions, would surely have denounced this exhibition as a denigration of humanity, and with honest, classical irony would have castigated the misuse of technology that made such cynical presentations possible – or so Hans Castorp thought, and whispered as much to his cousin. Frau Stöhr, however, who happened to be sitting not all that far from the trio, had apparently abandoned herself to the film; her red, uneducated face was contorted with pleasure.

But, then, it was much the same with all the faces they could see. When the last flickering frame of one reel had twitched out of sight, and the audience’s field of dreams stood before them like an empty blackboard, there was not even the possibility of applause. There was no one there to clap for, to thank, no artistic achievement to reward with a curtain call. The actors who had been cast in the play they had just seen had long since been scattered to the winds; they had watched only phantoms, whose deeds had been reduced to a million photographs brought into focus for the briefest of moments so that, as often as one liked, they could then be given back to the element of time as a series of blinking flashes. Once the illusion was over, there was something repulsive about the crowd’s nerveless silence. Hands lay impotent before the void. People rubbed their eyes, stared straight ahead, felt embarrassed by the brightness and demanded the return of the dark, so that they could again watch things, whose time has passed, tricked out with music and transplanted into new time.

The despot was dispatched with a knife, his mouth opened for a bellow that no one heard. They now saw pictures from all over the world: the top-hatted president of the French republic reviewing a long cordon, then sitting in his landau to reply to a welcoming speech; the viceroy of India at the wedding of a rajah; the German crown prince on a barracks drill field in Potsdam. They observed the life and customs of an aboriginal village in New Mecklenburg, a cock fight in Borneo, naked savages blowing on nose flutes, the capture of wild elephants, a ceremony at the Siamese royal court, a street of brothels in Japan with geishas sitting caged behind wooden lattices. They watched Samoyeds bundled in furs driving sleds pulled by reindeer across the snowy wastes of northern Asia, Russian pilgrims praying at Hebron, a Persian criminal being bastinadoed. They were present at each event – space was negated, time turned back, “then and there” transformed by music into a skittering, phantasmagoric, “here and now.” A young Moroccan woman dressed in striped silk and harnessed with chains, bangles, and rings, her swelling breasts half-bared, was suddenly brought nearer until she was life-size. Her nostrils were flared wide, her eyes full of animal life, her features vivacious; she laughed, showing her white teeth, held up one hand – the nails seemed lighter than her skin – to shield her eyes, and waved at the audience with the other. People stared in bewilderment and the face of this charming specter, who seemed to see them and yet did not, who was not at all affected by their gaze, and whose laughter and waves were not meant for the present, but belonged to the then and there of home – it would have been pointless to respond. And so, as noted, their delight was mixed with a sense of helplessness. Then the phantom vanished. A bright void filled the screen, the word Finis was project on it, this cycle of entertainments was over, and the people left the theater in silence as a new audience pushed its way in, eager to enjoy another roll of the reels.

Comments: Thomas Mann (1875-1955) was a German novelist and short story writer, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929. The Magic Mountain mostly takes place in in a Swiss sanatorium in Davos in the years just before the First World War, and serves as an ironic and cryptic analysis of European society. The visit to the Bioscope is one of the rare scenes in the novel to take place outside the sanatorium. Though the thoughts on the nature of time and the viewing experience are profound, the picture painted of a diverse programme is improbable in its extent and its dubious details (no public film show would have featured travel films of the bastinado or Japanese brothels, for example).

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Marsena

Source: Harold Frederic, extract from ‘Marsena’, in In the Sixties (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1897 [orig. pub. in ‘Marsena’ and Other Stories of the Wartime, 1894]), pp. 196-199

Text: … On the second and final evening, after the oyster supper, the Philharmonics played and a choir of girls sang patriotic songs. Then the gas was turned down and the stereopticon show began.

As the last concerted achievement of the firm of Pulford & Shull, this magic-lantern performance is still remembered. The idea of it, of course, was Julia’s. She suggested it to Marsena, and he gladly volunteered to make any number of positive plates from appropriate pictures and portraits for the purpose. Then she pressed Newton Shull into the service to get a stereopticon on hire, to rig up the platform and canvas for it, and finally to consent to quit his post among the Philharmonics when the music ceased, and to go off up into the gallery to work the slides. He also, during Marsena’s absence one day, made a slide on his own account.

Mr. Shull had not taken very kindly to the idea when Miss Julia first broached it to him.

“No, I don’t know as I ever worked a stereopticon,” he said, striving to look with cold placidity into the winsome and beaming smile with which she confronted him one day out in the reception-room. She had never smiled at him before or pretended even to know his name. “I guess you’d better hire a man up from Tecumseh to bring the machine and run it himself.”

“But you can do it so much better, my dear Mr. Shull!” she urged. “You do everything so much better! Mr. Pulford often says that he never knew such a handy man in all his life. It seems that there is literally nothing that you can’t do — except — perhaps — refuse a lady a great personal favor.”

Miss Julia put this last so delicately, and with such a pretty little arch nod of the head and turn of the eyes, that Newton Shull surrendered at discretion. He promised everything on the spot, and he kept his word. In fact, he more than kept it.

The great evening came, as I have said, and when the lights were turned down to extinction’s verge those who were nearest the front could distinguish the vacant chair which Mr. Shull had been occupying, with his bass viol leaning against it. They whispered from one to another that he had gone up in the gallery to work this new-fangled contrivance. Then came a flashing broad disk of light on the screen above the judges’ bench, a spreading sibilant murmur of interest, and the show began.

It was an oddly limited collection of pictures — mainly thin and feeble copies of newspaper engravings, photographic portraits, and ideal heads from the magazines. Winfield Scott followed in the wake of Kossuth, and Garibaldi led the way for John C. Fremont and Lola Montez. There was applause for the long, homely, familiar face of Lincoln, and a derisive snicker for the likeness of Jeff Davis turned upside down. Then came local heroes from the district round about — Gen. Boyce, Col. Mclntyre, and young Adjt. Heron, who had died so bravely at Ball’s Bluff — mixed with some landscapes and statuary, and a comic caricature or two. The rapt assemblage murmured its recognitions, sighed its deeper emotions, chuckled over the funny plates — deeming it all a most delightful entertainment. From time to time there were long hitches, marked by a curious spluttering noise above, and the abortive flashes of meaningless light on the screen, and the explanation was passed about in undertones that Mr. Shull was having difficulties with the machine.

It was after the longest of these delays that, all at once, an extremely vivid picture was jerked suddenly upon the canvas, and, after a few preliminary twitches, settled in place to stare us out of countenance. There was no room for mistake. It was the portrait of Miss Julia Parmalee standing proudly erect in statuesque posture, with one hand resting on the back of a chair, and seated in this chair was Lieut. Dwight Ransom, smiling amiably. There was a moment’s deadly hush, while we gazed at this unlooked-for apparition. It seemed, upon examination, as if there was a certain irony in the Lieutenant’s grin. Some one in the darkness emitted an abrupt snort of amusement, and a general titter arose, hung in the air for an awkward instant, and then was drowned by a generous burst of applause. While the people were still clapping their hands the picture was withdrawn from the screen, and we heard Newton Shull call down from his perch in the gallery:

“You kin turn up the lights now. They ain’t no more to this.”

In another minute we were sitting once again in the broad glare of the gaslight, blinking confusedly at one another, and with a dazed consciousness that something rather embarrassing had happened. The boldest of us began to steal glances across to where Miss Parmalee and Marsena sat, just in front of the steps to the bench …

Comments: Harold Frederic (1856-1898) was an American journalist and novelist. ‘Marsena’ is a short story set during the 1860s period in America, following the Civil War. Magic lanterns were commonly referred to as stereopticons in America.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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Babycham Night

Source: Philip Norman, Babycham Night (London: Macmillan, 2003), pp. 148-149

Text: To help the little invalid through these long daytime hours, my mother rented a television, a Ferguson model with a seventeen-inch screen and twin frontal knobs set in a strip of gold mesh. But it was an inconstant companion. The solitary black-and-white BBC channel usually did not begin service until mid-afternoon and there were frequent shutdowns, or ‘interludes’, when they killed time with film sequences of a clay pot being thrown on a wheel, or a punt-prow gliding somnambulistically through plantations of river reeds. Unless you lived within a couple of miles of the BBC’s London transmitter, reception tended to be poor; on the Isle of Wight, it was atrocious. At regular intervals, the picture would collapse sideways into horizontal black and grey stripes, or flick downwards in individual squares like frames of film. The only person we knew who could put it right was a taxi-driver from the Esplanade rank named Mr Stiles. We’d have to wait for hours, or even days, until Mr Stiles had time to drop by, in his peaked chauffeur’s cap, and twiddle knobs until the picture stabilized again.

With the television’s arrival, I ceased to be totally bedridden and became capable of the few brave steps from my parents’ bedroom into the adjacent sitting-room, where I would lie on the big brocade Chesterfield sofa, covered with a rug. In the curtain-drawn twilight considered necessary for TV-viewing in those days, I watched all of what little was on – Test cricket, Russian ballet, the afternoon adventures of puppets like Andy Pandy, Mr Turnip and Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men. I knew every note of the long drawn-out overture played as a sound track to the test card before transmission began. Beside me in the darkness watched Mrs Kennie, knitting-needles ever in play. ‘Verra gude,’ was her invariable judgement on everything.

Comments: Philip Norman (born 1943) is a British novelist, biographer and journalist. He was brought up in Ryde, on the Isle of Wight. Babycham Night is an account of his 1950s childhood. This passage dates from the early 1950s. Andy Pandy was first broadcast in 1950; Mr Turnip was a character in Whirligig (first broadcast 1950); Bill and Ben were the lead characters in The Flower Pot Men, first broadcast 1952. Norman’s ‘illness’ was feigned.

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Seeing at a Distance

Source: Extracts from ‘Seeing at a Distance’, opening chapter of G.V. Dowding (ed.), Book of Practical Television (London: The Amalgamated Press, 1935), pp. 9-16

Text: So far relatively few people have witnessed the modern television under domestic conditions. No doubt the generally accepted ideas is that it is pretty crude and is little more than a tiny, dim flickering picture which is tiring to the eyes and doesn’t show much more than shimmering spots and splotches. Probably many will decide to wait for “improvements,” believing that everything must at its very beginning be only a ghostly precursor of better things to come. [...]

The new television is transmitted with a “pictures per second” standard higher than the modern films. Therefore, its smoothness of action or picture movement, to use familiar if not quite technically correct words, is very good. The technical difficulties are greater than in the films, but by means of ingenious systems of interlaced scanning and so on, results fully comparable are obtainable. The definition, too, is largely a function of the transmission and not of reception. And it is “high definition” as all will know. That terms means what it says. The details of the pictures is comparable to the detail given by a good newspaper illustration, that is, on all but the poorest receiving apparatus.

Brightness and Size. The brightness and size of pictures is a purely reception limitation. On first rate gear black and white pictures bright enough to show clearly in a lighted room are possible on a screen twelve by nine inches, and even larger. Lower down the scale screens of but four or five inches or so square are met with and illumination making it desirable for the pictures to be witnessed in a dark room for comfortable “looking”.

Nevertheless, the mistake should not be made of discounting entirely these smaller and dimmer pictures. It should be remembered that they are “talkies” and not silent pictures. There is a great difference between these, a difference that is psychological of course, but none the less real. It has been said that television can provide nothing more than a talking cabinet photograph. But size is not an all-important factor in the creation of illusion, though naturally it plays some part, and when it is controllable within wide limits as in a cinema, it is an art-quality that is employed generously. The question may well be asked that if a small television picture must inevitably militate against the creation of perfect illusion, why shouldn’t a giant close-up on a cinema screen also do that?

Cinema Comparisons. In the course of any celluloid drama the glamorous features of one or more of the stars are reproduced in such dimensions that they practically fill the screen. But the audience is not at once aware of anything particularly incongruous in having the talking image of a giant face, perhaps forty feet in diameter, thrust before it, with cavernous mouth opening to reveal teeth truly as large as tombstones, and false eyelashes as big as cricket stumps waving with exaggerated emotion.

The fact is that the human imagination is immensely adaptable, and in those few words you have the answer to what many find to be an extremely perplexing problem, that is, if they ever think about this matter of film picture sizes at all; we would hazard the guess that very few do. There is a widespread belief that the bigger you make a picture the better it becomes. Certainly you will see more of the detail of a gnat’s geography if you place him underneath a microscope, but the same reasoning does not apply to film pictures.

You can test this simply enough for yourself. Study a good postcard of your favourite film star, or any clear photo for that matter, and then when you go to the cinema the next time carefully examine one of the huge close-ups which are flashed on the screen. The relative magnification will be something equal to that applied by a fairly high-powered microscope, but you won’t see much, if any, exaggeration of detail. It is a good job too, otherwise the huge screen image would reveal such things as the sweat glands of the skin and other pathological details, which would in truth destroy many illusions!

Television Definition a Fixed Quality. If the cinema projector could be moved nearer and nearer to the screen the while you too moved closer in order to accommodate yourself to the smaller picture that resulted, you would find that the diminishing size was followed by an apparent increase in the sharpness of its definition, though you wouldn’t see any more detail. This is a vital fact to note and the cause of it is that this definition of television is fixed in the transmission. No amount of juggling with screen sizes, etc., at the receiving end can add to the definition of the pictures.

It has also been said that while the compass of the ear is limited to a mere handful of different notes ranging from an organ’s bass rumble to the squeak of a piccolo or violin top note, the compass of the eye can never be extended to its limits except by the broad open spaces of nature. And that any attempt to satisfy the eye with small pictures on a screen is bound to fail leaving the owner of that eye fully conscious all the time that he is in fact merely looking at a small picture. This may be right up to a point, and it depends upon the imaginative pliability of the looker as to how much he will be able to immerse himself in the subject of the picture and forget the vehicle which brings it before his eyes.

If it were possible for any of us to become subjective lookers, cinematography would have had a short life limited to its novelty appeal. When this is remembered no conflict with the purely scientific optical laws [...] need be suspected. We are concerned here with rather more abstract things – imagination for example. But the reality of the part imagination plays in the cinematographic art is considerable and is easily illustrated.

A “Silly Symphony” Example. It is common knowledge that the Mickey Mouse cartoons are nothing but clever drawings (about fifteen thousand of theme to each episode) and yet such is the power of the of the human imagination that Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Donald the Duck and others of the ingenious Walt Disney creations have assumed almost human qualities in the minds of a large number of films fans. Some of the Silly Symphonies have been so successful in the creation of illusion that tears of emotion have been extracted from the eyes of audiences in sympathy with the plight of cartooned grasshoppers and other such fantasies. Cartooned grasshoppers, mark you, with no parallel in reality, grotesque sketches of grasshoppers as big as horses or as “small” as mice. Any screen personality or object is liable to shrink or expand at any moment and yet the audience remains quite enthralled. No jarring note of artificiality seems to be struck if the practised producer of a film decides to dodge about with his dimensions. On the contrary, with so much of it having been done, if a film presenting all of its actors and actresses at a fixed distance from the camera’s eyes were shown, then no doubt the audience would consider that something was wrong!

uncomfortably _close

The comparatively small television screen is, therefore, not in itself any insuperable limitation to the creation of illusion. It can only show talking human beings of doll-like size but the looker will not find himself feeling any sense of incongruity so long as the subject is of good entertainment value. If this were not the case then it could be as equally argued that the receiving television screen should prove a better medium for Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies than the full size cinema screen, for his delightful insect and animal absurdities would for the most part appear in sizes nearer to the dimensions of the things cartooned. [...]

angle_of_view

Easy looking. Would you get easy looking if you television screen were as big as the side of the room? Decidedly not. You would be “too close to the picture.” You would feel the urge to get back farther and farther back so that you did not have to wave your head about from side to side and up and down continuously in order to be able to comprehend the whole of the picture and all that was taking part in it. These points are illustrated in Fig. I and Fig. Ia.

A screen of six by eight inches can provide “easy looking” for as many people as would normally be present in a normal household to see what was coming over in the way of television. Going back again to the cinema we can now appreciate the reason why those gigantic close-ups do not strike a note of incongruity so long as the film drama has been scientifically produced. [...] It is very difficult to define hard and fast limits, but we would hazard the opinion that at a distance of ten feet, and most of us cannot get much farther away than that in the room in which we listen and look-in at home, there is no advantage in having a screen larger than, say, four feet square and that a screen appreciably bigger might in fact militate against easy looking. With smaller screens you can go closer, but, on the other hand anything smaller than the six by eight inches may certainly cramp the illusion, for the detail of the pictures will crowd together and lose apparent clarity and you will become conscious that it is a small reproduction. [...]

Perfect Home Entertainment. No, you do not need to stretch your imagination in order to derive entertainment from the modern television. Our case for it may or may not sound convincing to those who have not yet enjoyed an hour or two of looking. Those who have done so will agree that one of the better Silly Symphonies or a good straightforward talkie or an entertaining variety act is every bit as absorbing on the television screen as it is in a music hall or movie theatre. Perhaps rather more so, because there are quieter conditions. No deafening roars of laughter, drowning parts of the dialogue, no coughing from all angles, no kicking at the back of the seat, but plenty of room to stretch your legs from a comfortable chair and a position relative to the screen which can be chosen to a nicety. In short, television in the home is the ideal and perfect medium of entertainment, and it remains in the hands of the B.B.C. to see that the substance is worthy of the medium! …

Comments: The essay is unsigned but is presumably by the book’s editor G.V. Dowding. In 1935 the BBC was producing regular demonstration broadcasts (to an audience of a few thousand) using the Baird’s 30-line electromechanical system, broadcasts which continued until 11 September 1935. This essay however refers to higher definition broadcasts, which were first seen by the public when the BBC launched a regular service on 2 November 1936, alternating between a Baird mechanical system with 240 lines and an EMI electronic system with 405 lines. The latter was found to be far superior and was the only system used after February 1937. Early accounts of television often refers to ‘lookers’; the term ‘viewers’ was only adopted later.

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Continuous Performance

Source: ‘Continuous Performance’, Close Up vol. I no. 1, July 1927, pp. 34-37

Text: …. So I gave up going to the theatre. Yet I had seen one or two who possessed themselves upon the stage and much good acting, especially of character parts; but I have never been on my knees to character acting. The one or two I saw – again and again, enduring for their sakes those others, many of them clever, all keyed up for their parts, all too high-pitched, taking their cues too soon. It was not that the pain of seeing them lose all our opportunities — their own and with them ours who were the audience — outweighed the joy of recreation at the hands of those others, makers and givers of life, but rather that on the whole the sense of guilt, of wasted performance for players and audience alike was too heavy to be borne. Waste and loss that could, it seemed to me, with ever so little control of the convulsionaries, be turned to gain.

Lured back by a series of German plays zestfully performed by a small and starless group, I found at once my persuasion confirmed that the English, whose very phlegm and composure is the other side of their self-consciousness and excitability, do not make actors. Watching for foreigners I saw a few French plays, saw Bernhardt and was more than ever ashamed of the remembered doings of the English castes.

Not even the most wooden of those selected to surround and show up the French star could produce anything to equal the sense of shame and loss that at that time overshadowed for me all I saw on the English stage that was not musical comedy with its bright colour for the soul and its gay music for the blood. The dignity of the French art and the simplicity of the German restored my early unapprehensive enthusiasm for the theatre, even for the pillared enclosure, the draped boxes, the audience waiting in the dim light to take their part in the great game. I went to no more English plays. And for a long time there were no foreign ones to see. But photo-plays had begun, small palaces were defacing even the suburbs. My experience with the English stage inhibited my curiosity. The palaces were repulsive. Their being brought me an uneasiness that grew lively when at last I found myself within one of those whose plaster frontages and garish placards broke a row of shops in a strident, north London street. It was a Monday and therefore a new picture. But it was also washing day, and yet the scattered audience was composed almost entirely of mothers. Their children, apart from the infants accompanying them, were at school and their husbands were at work. It was a new audience, born within the last few months. Tired women, their faces sheened with toil, and small children, penned in semi-darkness and foul air on a sunny afternoon. There was almost no talk. Many of the women sat alone, figures of weariness at rest. Watching these I took comfort. At last the world of entertainment had provided for a few pence, tea thrown in, a sanctuary’ for mothers, an escape from the everlasting qui vive into eternity on a Monday afternoon.

The first scene was a tide, frothing in over the small beach of a sandy cove, and for some time we were allowed to watch the coming and going of those foamy waves, to the sound of a slow waltz, without the disturbance of incident. Presently from the fisherman’s hut emerged the fisherman’s daughter, moss-haired. The rest of the scenes, all of which sparked continually, I have forgotten. But I do not forget the balm of that tide, and that simple music, nor the shining eyes and rested faces of those women. After many years during which I saw many films, I went, to oblige a friend, once more to a theatre. It was to a drawing-room play, and the harsh bright
light, revealing the audience, the over-emphasis of everything, the over-driven voices and movements of all but the few, seemed to me worse than ever. I realised that the source of the haunting guilt and loss was for me, that the players, in acting at instead of with the audience, were destroying the inner relationship between audience and players. Something of this kind, some essential failure to compel the co-operation of the creative consciousness of the audience.

Such co-operation cannot take place unless the audience is first stilled to forgetfulness of itself as an audience. This takes power. Not force or emphasis or noise, mental or physical. And the film, as intimate as thought, so long as it is free from the introduction of the alien element of sound, gives this co-operation its best chance. The accompanying music is not an alien sound. It assists the plunge into life that just any film can give, so much more fully than just any play, where the onlooker is perforce under the tyranny of the circumstances of the play without the chances of escape provided so lavishly by the moving scene. The music is not an alien sound if it be as continuous as the performance and blending with it. That is why, though a good orchestra can heighten and deepen effects, a piano played by one able to improvise connective tissue for his varying themes is preferable to most orchestral accompaniments. Music is essential. Without it the film is a moving photograph and the audience mere onlookers. Without music there is neither light nor colour, and the test of this is that one remembers musically accompanied films in colour and those unaccompanied by music as colourless.

The cinema may become all that its well-wishers desire. So far, its short career of some twenty years is a tale of splendid achievement. Its creative power is incalculable, and its service to the theatre is nothing less than the preparation of vast, new audiences for the time when plays shall be accessible at possible rates in every square mile of the town. How many people, including the repentent writer, has it already restored to the playhouse?

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. This was the first essay in the series.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

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

At the Movies

Source: Harold B. Allen and Joseph Upper, At the Movies: A Farcical Novelty in One Scene (New York: Samuel French, 1921)

Text:
CAST
The Man in the Aisle Seat.
Mr. Griggs, who has seen the picture before.
Mrs. Griggs.
Clarice, a devotee of the pictures.
Nell, her cousin from up-state.

SETTING
Any back drop or plain curtain will serve as a set, as the action takes place in the subdued light, as in a motion picture theatre. A row of common chairs will serve as the seats, but if a row of regular theatre chairs can be procured, the realism will be heightened. The light, while subdued, should be sufficient to reveal the features of the several actors. The music of the piano, or piano and drums, is off stage, and should be at all times incidental to the dialogue.

CHARACTERS
The Man in the Aisle Seat, a middle-aged person, ordinarily well dressed. He is essentially a suburban type, as is evidenced by his shopping bag and numerous bundles. As this character is developed through pantomime almost entirely, the details of the type must be worked up through the ingenuity of the actor to a great measure.

Mr. Griggs, a typical, well-dressed, prosperous, middle-class business man, who is bored throughout the entire performance and who takes only a listless interest in the development of the plot of the motion picture story.

Mrs. Griggs, of the same general class represented by her husband. She should be dressed either in a suit, or in a house dress, adapted for informal evening wear, and should wear a hat and rubbers and gloves. Her attitude through the action is in direct contrast to her husband, as she maintains a lively interest throughout.

Clarice, a typical boarding school girl, about i8 years of age, very well dressed and stylishly in a street suit, hat, furs, etc.

Nell, a small-town type, neatly dressed, but not so stylishly as her cousin Clarice. Her costume should be slightly out of style to contrast to her more elegant cousin.

“At the Movies”

Scene: A row of chairs in any motion picture theatre.

The action of the piece takes place in a row of chairs in a motion picture “palace” during the presentation of a five-reel picture, “The Rose of Romany.” Any plain drop will serve as the back drop for the shallow stage required, as the action takes place in a subdued light as in a theatre. A row of five theatre chairs are required. The music, which accompanies the conversation, paralleling the course of the picture, should follow the story, but should at all times be secondary to the dialogue, it being introduced merely to heighten the realism of the scene.

The row of chairs is empty when the action starts. A man, carrying a net shopping bag, filled with bulky parcels, and with his arms filled with other bundles, enters at the right, and takes the aisle seat at the right, placing his shopping bag under the seat and holding the other bundles in his lap. He wipes his face with his handkerchief, sighs with relief, and settles down to an hour and a half of enjoyment, when Mr. and Mrs. Griggs, a typical middle-aged couple, enter. He pilots her to the row of seats.

Mrs. Griggs. It’s so dark in here … I can’t see a thing.
Mr. Griggs. Here you are. This is all right.
Mrs. Griggs. (Indicating back of row) Here?
Mr. Griggs. (Pushing her forward) No. Here.
Mrs. Griggs. I can’t see a thing. (She puts her hand on the head of the man in the aisle seat) Oh, I beg your pardon. It’s terribly dark.
Mr. Griggs. Right in here. That’s it. (He hands her past the man, who has to pick up his shopping hag, lift it out into the aisle, and then step out himself, clinging all the while to the other bundles. When Mr. and Mrs. Griggs have passed in, he moves back, and settles himself again)
Mrs. Griggs. Oh, George, there are two seats, just a little way ahead. (Indicating seats ahead) Don’t you think … ?
Mr. Griggs. No, no, this is all right.
Mrs. Griggs. I know, but … Oh, do let’s take those two.
Mr. Griggs. (Rising) Oh, all right.

(The man on the aisle is compelled to rise once more, and move his excess baggage and himself out into the aisle. Mr. and Mrs. Griggs start forward to take possession of the other two seats.)

Mrs. Griggs. (Stopping short with an exclamation of disappointment) Oh, isn’t that horrid. That young couple has taken them. (To Mr. Griggs. who has pointed out some other seats) No, I won’t go any further forward. We’ll just stay where we were.
Mr. Griggs. But, my dear … (He looks helplessly from her to the man in the aisle seat. The latter is used to it, however, and once more moves himself and his many bundles to allow them to pass in) I’m sorry. Sir, I’m sure.
The Man. ‘S all right.
Mrs. Griggs. Yes, we’re awfully sorry to have to trouble you. (She takes the third seat from the aisle, as Mr. Griggs takes the second) Is there anybody behind us? I suppose I’ll have to take off my hat. (She does so grudgingly, and arranges her hair)

(Enter Clarice and Nellie. Clarice is a boarding school girl, and Nellie is her small town cousin, each about 18 years.)

Clarice. In here, Nell, there’s two. That’s just about right, not too far front or anything. (To the man) Excuse us, please.

(Again the weary occupant of the aisle seat is compelled to move, together with his property. The girls pass in.)

Mrs. Griggs. (Who has to stand) Oh, dear. Clarice. (Sweetly to Mr. Griggs) Thank you. All right, Nell. (They take the fourth and fifth seats, Clarice the fourth and Nell the fifth from the aisle) We’re just in good time. The feature hasn’t started yet. I wonder what they’re showing? Oh, they’re the announcements for next week — Special Added Attraction. Fatty Arbuckle in “Heavier Than Thou.” Oh, I’ll bet he’ll be funny in that. “Heavier Than Thou” instead of “Holier Than Thou,” don’t you see, Nell? “Elsie Ferguson in Repenting at Leisure.” Oh, she’s wonderful, Nell. I just love her. You know she made a great success in the legitimate before she went into the pictures. There was a long article about her in the Weekly Flicker last week. She’s married, you know. There was a picture of her with her husband. I’ve seen her on the stage, too. The whole class at school went one afternoon to see her play “Portia” … you know, in the “Merchant of Venice.” It was a special performance. Benefit, I think. Oh, “Pauline Frederick in La Tosca, Wednesday and Thursday.” Oh, she ought to be good in that. It’s French, you know, and it means … I can’t think just now what Tosca does mean. The something-or-other.

Mrs. Griggs. (Reading) “Grace Geary in the Rose of Romany in Five Parts.” It just seems as if I had seen this before. It was the Rose of Something, but it couldn’t have been this, for Grace Geary wasn’t in it.
Clarice. Oh, “Grace Geary in the Rose of Romany.” I’m so glad you’re going to see her, Nell. She is simply wonderful in emotional roles. I saw her last Saturday with Kensington Dreadnaught in “Ashes of Fate.” She was wonderful. She is going to do serials next year for Pathe. I’m just crazy to see her in them.
Nell. “The Rose of Romany, the Pride of the Gypsies, Grace Geary.” Oh, I know I am going to like it. She’s got such a wonderful face. (Confidentially) Is that her real hair, Clarice?
Clarice. Yes, isn’t it lovely? I just love the way she wears it.
Mr. Griggs. I have seen this thing before.
Mrs. Griggs. You have, dear. Where?
Mr. Griggs. Oh, one day last week. After lunch. Had a customer on my hands and had to do something.
Mrs. Griggs. Is it good, George?
Mr. Griggs. Oh, pretty fair. I don’t especially care for her.
Mrs. Griggs. Oh, I think she is a dear little actress. (Reading) “Lord Edgemont, Earl of Bellefair, the Last of An Old Family, Wallis Fairfield.”
Clarice. Wallis Fairfield. Oh, I’m so glad he’s back again.
Nell. (Innocently) Where’s he been?
Clarice. Why, didn’t you know he was almost killed when his automobile ran off a cliff?
Nell. I think I saw that in a picture at the Wonderland Theatre at home. In the “Tiger’s Claw,” wasn’t it?
Clarice. Heavens, no. Wally Fairfield doesn’t play in serials like that. It was on his honeymoon.
Nell. He’s married, then.
Mrs. Griggs. “The Honorable George Dorsay, a friend of the Earl’s, Thomas Hannibal.” Oh, George, doesn’t he look something like your Uncle Horace Griggs? Don’t you think so? Of course, your uncle is an older man. He doesn’t look so young himself, though, does he?
Mr. Griggs. You can’t tell anything about it in the pictures.
Mrs. Griggs. (Weakening) But I think he does. The eyes …
Clarice. (Reading) “Led by the Hand of Fate, Lord Edgemont, the Master of Bellefair, and his Friend, the Honorable George Dorsay, ride through the Wooded Paths of the Earl’s Estate.”
Nell. Isn’t that lovely, Clarice? Where do you suppose that’s taken? In England?
Clarice. No, in Jersey probably.
Nell. You mean in New Jersey State?
Mrs. Griggs. They ride well, don’t they, George? And such pretty horses! Bays, aren’t they? That’s what they call brown horses, isn’t it?
Mr. Griggs. Yes, yes.
Mrs. Griggs. (Reading) “Fate in the Guise of a Gypsy Girl Crosses Their Paths,”
Nell. Oh, she’s going to tell their fortunes. (Pause) I don’t believe she’s telling anything good,
though, do you, Clarice?
Mrs. Griggs. (Reading) “The Gypsy Foresees Dorsay’s Death.” Oh, this starts out awfully sad.
Mr. Griggs. You’ll see she was right. It’s his heart.
Mrs. Griggs. Well, he doesn’t look a bit strong. Your Uncle Horace’s heart was affected, too. My, this man does look like him, George.
Clarice. (Reading) “In Edgemont’s Palm the Gypsy Reads Coming Happiness.”
Nell. He doesn’t look as if he believed her, Clarice. Of course, she really doesn’t know.
Clarice. Oh, but they do. We had our fortunes told at school last Hallowe’en by a real palmist, and she told one of the girls that she would be married before the term was over, and you know she would have been if her people hadn’t found out, and made her wait until she had finished school.

(The man on the aisle loses consciousness and rests his head on Mr. Griggs’ shoulder. Mr. Griggs seeks to rid himself of the burden by pushing the sleeping man back into his chair, but in doing so he distracts Mrs. Griggs’ attention from the screen.)

Mrs. Griggs. What’s the matter, George?
Mr. Griggs. The man on the aisle.
Mrs. Griggs. (In a stage whisper) Has he been drinking?
Nell. Oh, what beautiful horses. They’re going hunting.
Clarice. (Reading) “Edgemont promises Dorsay that He will be a Father to the Latter’s Only Son, Should Misfortune Overtake Dorsay.” You see, Nell, he’s afraid that the gypsy told the truth about misfortune overtaking him. You know.
Nell. You mean when the gypsy told his fortune?

(There is a lull of a moment. The piano plays a hunting song, and the drummer imitates the hoofs of horses.)

Mrs. Griggs. (Jumping) Oh, oh, oh, I hope he isn’t killed.
Mr. Griggs. Sh-h-h-h. You’ll wake up our friend here.
Nell. Oh, Claire, do you suppose that is what the gypsy meant?
Clarice. Didn’t I tell you she knew? (Reading) “The Gypsy’s Grim Prophecy is Fulfilled.”

(Slow funeral music follows.)

Nell. I like the music here, don’t you? It’s what they call a dead march, isn’t it?
Mrs. Griggs. (Reading) “The Party Seeks the Aid of the Gypsies.”
Nell. Isn’t that the same gypsy that told the fortunes?
Clarice. No, that’s Grace Geary.
Mrs. Griggs. Lovely large eyes, hasn’t she, George ?
Mr. Griggs. What’s that?
Mrs. Griggs. I say she has lovely large eyes, hasn’t she?
Mr. Griggs. Yes-s.
Clarice. (Reading) “In the Daughter of the Gypsy Chieftain Edgemont Discovers for the First Time the Meaning of Love.”
Nell. But, she’s a gypsy …
Clarice. Oh. Donald Dundeen is playing the gypsy chief. He is so virile and everything.
Nell. Isn’t he, though? I think I’ve seen him, too — in something.

Clarice. He always plays such strong characters. I love his face. It’s so manly. (Reading) “Under the Pretext of Asking Rose to Dance for His House Guests the Earl Invited the Gypsy Maid to Bellefair Manor.”

(Dance music follows, to which everyone unconsciously beats time. The man on the aisle wakes and watches the picture with great interest.)

Mrs. Griggs. She dances well, doesn’t she, dear? Very pretty and graceful.
Mr. Griggs. Yeah.
Mrs. Griggs. (Reading) “The Earl Seeks the Seclusion of the Garden to Tell Rose of His Great Love.”
Nell. (Raving) I love this.

(The three women sit wrapt in the ecstasy of a love scene. The man on the aisle goes to sleep again. The music is soft and ingratiating.)

Clarice. (Breaking the silence) “The Marriage of the Earl to the Gypsy Maid at the Parish Church Provides Gossip Aplenty for the Villagers.”
Nell. They’re going to the church now, aren’t they ? In the family carriage. I don’t think he looks very happy, though, do you?
Mrs. Griggs. This is a very pretty picture, George, but I don’t think the marriage will be a happy one. Those kind never are.
Mr. Griggs. It isn’t, you’ll see.
Mrs. Griggs. (Satisfied) I knew it wouldn’t be.
Nell. Oh, he’s giving her some beads.
Clarice. Pearls, you mean. Aren’t they lovely, though? I love pearls.
Nell. Oh, yes, Mrs. Graham at home has got a lovely string of real pearls.
Clarice. (Reading) “The Earl Bestows On His Young Bride the Edgemont Pearls, the Heritage of Generations.”

(The piano plays the “Rosary,” and everyone is impressed by the timeliness of the music.)

Nell. “The Rosary.” We’ve got that on the Victrola at home.
Mrs. Griggs. (Reading) “In the Months That Follow One After Another, Rose Learns That the Earl is Tiring of Her Charms.” That’s just what I said, isn’t it, George, it wouldn’t be happy!
Nell, Oh, who’s that, Clarice?
Clarice. That’s the gardener. Just a minor role. You see he is trying to sympathize with her now that the Earl …
Nell. She looks so sad, doesn’t she? Even when the gardener brings her roses.
Mrs. Griggs. There’s a lot to this picture, George ; don’t you think so ? It shows that riches don’t bring happiness after all. (She sighs)
Nell. Oh, what lovely dresses.
Mrs. Griggs. (Reading) “Another Hunting Season Rolls Around and London Society is Again the Guest of Bellefair Manor.” I don’t see his wife — Rose — anywhere. Has she left him or anything?
Mr. Griggs. You’ll see in a minute.
Mrs. Griggs. Oh, there she is in her boudoir. (Reading) “Goaded to Despair By the Snubs of the House Guests, Who Cannot Forget That She is a Gypsy, Rose Refuses to Play the Role of Hostess at Dinner On the Eve of the Hunt.” Well, you can’t really blame her, can you? Right in her own house, too.
Nell. She doesn’t seem very happy, does she? But I do like that dress.
Clarice. No, you see … (Reading) “The Earl, After Upbraiding Her for Her Attitude Toward the Guests, Leaves Her in Displeasure.”
Mrs. Griggs. He’s a perfect brute, isn’t he? (Reading) “Lady Edgemont is Indisposed, and Begs to Be Excused.” What a lie!
Nell. I don’t see what he said that for, though, she isn’t …
Clarice. Don’t you see, he couldn’t very well come right out and say that she refused to come to dinner, because she was angry at the way they had treated her.
Nell. She’s going to write a note. What a pretty writing desk!
Clarice. Oh, did I tell you that father has promised to get me a writing desk for my room for a graduation present. Isn’t that lovely, Nell?
Nell. Yes. Oh, look.
Mrs. Griggs. (Reading) “Good-bye, forever. You will be happier when I am gone.”
Nell. (Simultaneously with Mrs. Griggs) “Good-bye, forever. You will be happier when I am gone. I hope you may forget and forgive. We will never meet again. Rose.”
Mrs. Griggs. (Continues reading) “I hope you will forget and forgive. We will never meet again. Rose.”

(Tosti’s “Good-bye” is played. There is a pause.)

Nell. She is taking her last look. What’s she going back for? Oh. the pearls.
Mr. Griggs. (Shrugging his shoulders) You never catch a woman forgetting her jewelry.
Mrs. Griggs. Oh, of course, he’ll come back when the bird is flown.
Nell. The note is right in plain sight. D’you suppose he sees it?
Clarice. Of course. See, he’s picking it up now. (Reading) “Good-bye, forever. You will be happier when I am gone. I hope you may forget and forgive.”
Mrs. Griggs. Serves him right.
Nell. She’d be sorry now if she could see him.
Clarice. What a wonderful actor, I think. So restrained.
Mrs. Griggs. This is very much like a picture I saw this afternoon. Only in that the wife didn’t leave her husband, but she was tempted to. It was Constance Conner, and she is so emotional. The husband in that is a broker or a banker, on Wall Street, you know, and he neglected his wife for business. It was a splendid picture, George, very clean and moral. I know you would have enjoyed it, George.
Mr. Griggs. Probably.
Clarice. (Reading) “The Passing of Remorseful Years.”
Mrs. Griggs. Well, I should think they would be remorseful.
Clarice. (Continues reading) “The Earl’s Sole Consolation for the Loss of His Wife is the Guardianship of His Late Friend’s Son.”
Nell. Oh, Clarice, isn’t he handsome?
Clarice. Perfectly stunning, I think. That’s Austin Hobbs. The Flicker says he is a potential star.
Nell. The gardener is the same one who was there before his wife left, isn’t he?
Mrs. Griggs. Why, that young man must be the son of the one who was killed out hunting, you know, In the first part of the picture. He does look like his father — something — don’t you think so, George?
Clarice. (Reading) “There Are Two Men Waiting to See You, Sir. Gypsies, I Should Say, Sir.”
Nell. Oh, do you suppose, Clarice …
Mrs. Griggs. Likely as not, George, these gypsies are of the same tribe as the Earl’s wife.
Mr. Griggs. Of course, they are, but they don’t know anything about him. You see they just want to camp on his land, on the manor, or whatever you call it.
Mrs. Griggs. Oh, I see. (Reading) “In the Absence of the Earl, Edgar Dorsey Allows the Gypsies the Privilege of Camping on the Estate.” But where is the Earl all this time?
Mr. Griggs. Oh, he’s away somewhere, I suppose.
Clarice. (Reading) “Lola, the Daughter of the Tribe, Grace Geary.”
Nell. But I don’t understand. I thought Grace Geary was the wife.
Clarice. She was; but she is playing a dual part.
Nell. Dual?
Clarice. Yes, you see she plays both the mother and the daughter. Lola is the daughter of Rose and the Earl.
Nell. Oh, I see. She must be a wonderful actress to do that. Oh, she’s going to tell his fortune now.
Mrs. Griggs. It don’t seem as if these gypsies do anything but tell fortunes.
Mr. Griggs. She doubles pretty well.
Mrs. Grigg. (Perplexed for the moment)
Doubles? Oh, you mean she plays both parts well. Yes, I think she is just fine.
Clarice. (Reading) “Under the Witchery of the October Moon Edgar Falls a Prey to the Charms of the Gypsy Girl.”
Mrs. Griggs. I suppose this is all going on without the Earl knowing anything about it.
Mr. Griggs. He’ll hear all about it. You’ll see.
Mrs. Griggs. Does it end happily, George?
Mr. Griggs. Sure, they all do.

(In the scene that follows the three women watch with greatest interest the love scene on the screen. Nell grasps her hands tightly together and sighs deeply. Mr. Griggs picks his teeth, and the man on the aisle watches the picture pathetically.)

Mrs. Griggs. (Breaking the silence by reading) “To-morrow I Will Ask the Earl for His Consent to Our Union. If He Should Refuse, I Will Leave All for You.” I can just about expect what the Earl will say.
Mr. Griggs. He comes through all right when he finds out who she is.
Nell. Oh, there’s the Earl now. He certainly does look stern. If I was Edgar, I wouldn’t want to ask him.
Clarice. (Reading) “Consent to Your Union With a Gypsy. Never!”
Nell. Where’s he going? The Earl, I mean.
Clarice. You’ll see if he isn’t going to order the gypsies off the estate. There, see. (She reads) “The Earl Goes to the Gypsy Camp to Order Their Departure From the Manor.”
Nell. Oh, see now. My, he is mad.
Mrs. Griggs. And he meets his own daughter there probably. There, I told you. See how he drops his cane the moment he sees her.
Clarice. You see, he recognizes Lola as his daughter. (Reading) “In the Eves of Lola, the Wandering Gypsy Girl, the Earl Sees the Eyes of Rose. His Girl Wife.”

Mrs. Griggs. (Moved to tears) This is a lovely picture; very touching.
Nell. There’s Edgar. Oh, he’s going to consent to it.
Clarice. Why, of course. Isn’t she his own daughter?
Nell. I think it is lovely the way it came out.
Clarice. (Reading) “Once Again the Villagers Flock to Their Doors to See the Carriage of the Earl Drive to the Parish Church, Bearing a Lovely Bride.”
Mrs. Griggs, It’s a lovely ending, too. I wonder if I wore rubbers, George; do you remember?
Mr. Griggs. You always do.
Mrs. Griggs. I thought I did. Oh, here they are. (She fishes them out from under the seat in triumph just in time to read) “In the Twilight of Life the Earl Sees in the Lives of Lola and Edgar the Happiness of Which He Dreamed.” (Pause) “The End.”
Clarice. Aw, “Rice Culture in Japan.” Let’s go. (She rises hastily)
Nell. Don’t you want to see it? (She gets up reluctantly)
Clarice. No, come on.

(They go out, compelling Mrs. Griggs, who is putting on her rubbers, to rise, and the man on the aisle to move out laboriously. When the man is just settled, Mrs. Griggs speaks.)

Mrs. Griggs. Probably this is an educational picture, George. Let’s not stay.
Mr. Griggs. All right.

(She puts on her hat, and he takes his from under the seat, and again the man on the aisle is obliged to surrender his seat, and allow them to pass. He moves back, and settles himself to become engrossed in the intricacies of rice culture, when the curtain falls.)

Comments: This is one of several comic sketches from this period written for amateur dramatic performance which mock the habits of movie audiences, in particular talking while the film is going on. Other examples are Minnie at the Movies and Maisie at the Movies. Fatty Arbuckle, Elsie Ferguson and Pauline Frederick were genuine film performers. The film titles are imaginary, but Pauline Frederick did appear in a film version of Tosca (in 1918),

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Posted in 1920s, Drama, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Horror Films

Source: Excerpt from interview with Tom Affleck, ‘Horror Films’, ref, 92-16-1 (1992), quoted in Annette Kuhn, An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory (London/New York: I.B. Tauris, 2002), p. 70

Text: The picture that sticks in my mind, The Werewolf of London, the most horrific one I ever remember. Coming out of the picture house I went to my Granny’s to meet my mother and after tea we made our way home. It was now dark and arriving there, having got the light on, my mother told me to pull the blind while she got a shovel of coal for the fire. As I went to the window there was a tap on it from outside and with the inside light on I could not see out. I only heard the tap and flew through to the scullery shouting that the werewolf was after me. Later I found out that the train had come in and one of the people passing was my cousin who tapped on the window.

Resulting from this incident, about eleven at the time, I tok a nervous condition, continually blinking my eyes but a doctor diagnosed nothing seriously wrong …

I finally laid the werewolf to rest when I saw that old picture on television some years ago, although it brought back painful memories.

Comments: An Everyday Magic is a study of the significance of memories of British cinemagoing in the 1930s, which makes extensive use interview material with picturegoers from the time. Werewolf of London is an American film from 1935, starring Henry Hull and Warner Oland.

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Brave New World

Source: Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (London: Vintage, 2007 [orig. pub. 1932]), pp. 174-175

Text: The Park Lane Hospital for the Dying was a sixty-story tower of primrose tiles. As the Savage stepped out of his taxicopter a convoy of gaily-coloured aerial hearses rose whirring from the roof and darted away across the Park, westwards, bound for the Slough Crematorium. At the lift gates the presiding porter gave him the information he required, and he dropped down to Ward 81 (a Galloping Senility ward, the porter explained) on the seventeenth floor.

It was a large room bright with sunshine and yellow paint, and containing twenty beds, all occupied. Linda was dying in company – in company and with all the modern conveniences. The air was continuously alive with gay synthetic melodies. At the foot of every bed, confronting its moribund occupant, was a television box. Television was left on, a running tap, from morning till night. Every quarter of an hour the prevailing perfume of the room was automatically changed. “We try,” explained the nurse, who had taken charge of the Savage at the door, “we try to create a thoroughly pleasant atmosphere here – something between a first-class hotel and a feely-palace, if you take my meaning.”

“Where is she?” asked the Savage, ignoring these polite explanations.

The nurse was offended. “You are in a hurry,” she said. “Is there any hope?” he asked.

“You mean, of her not dying?” (He nodded.) “No, of course there isn’t. When somebody’s sent here, there’s no …” Startled by the expression of distress on his pale face, she suddenly broke off. “Why, whatever is the matter?” she asked. She was not accustomed to this kind of thing in visitors. (Not that there were many visitors anyhow: or any reason why there should be many visitors.) “You’re not feeling ill, are you?”

He shook his head. “She’s my mother,” he said in a scarcely audible voice.

The nurse glanced at him with startled, horrified eyes; then quickly looked away. From throat to temple she was all one hot blush.

“Take me to her,” said the Savage, making an effort to speak in an ordinary tone.

Still blushing, she led the way down the ward. Faces still fresh and unwithered (for senility galloped so hard that it had no time to age the cheeks – only the heart and brain) turned as they passed. Their progress was followed by the blank, incurious eyes of second infancy. The Savage shuddered as he looked.

Linda was lying in the last of the long row of beds, next to the wall. Propped up on pillows, she was watching the Semi-finals of the South American Riemann-Surface Tennis Championship, which were being played in silent and diminished reproduction on the screen of the television box at the foot of the bed. Hither and thither across their square of illuminated glass the little figures noiselessly darted, like fish in an aquarium – the silent but agitated inhabitants of another world.

Linda looked on, vaguely and uncomprehendingly smiling. Her pale, bloated face wore an expression of imbecile happiness. Every now and then her eyelids closed, and for a few seconds she seemed to be dozing. Then with a little start she would wake up again – wake up to the aquarium antics of the Tennis Champions, to the Super-Vox-Wurlitzeriana rendering of “Hug me till you drug me, honey,” to the warm draught of verbena that came blowing through the ventilator above her head-would wake to these things, or rather to a dream of which these things, transformed and embellished by the soma in her blood, were the marvellous constituents, and smile once more her broken and discoloured smile of infantile contentment.

Comments: Aldous Huxley (1893-1964) was a British novelist. His 1932 dystopian novel Brave New World is set in AD 2540 and depicts a genetically-engineered society, stratified by caste, where everyone is designed to accept their destiny and live in a state of synthetic happiness. The novel is in part a satire on American life, and mocks the ‘talkies’ as ‘feelies’ and provides an archetypal view of television (then in its experimental phase and barely known to the general public) as a mindless entertainment that anaesthetises minds. The Savage lives outside the city (London) in a reservation but is introduced to this new world. Linda is his mother.

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