The Moving Picture Show

Source: Howard D. King, ‘The Moving Picture Show’, The Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. LIII no. 7, 14 August 1909, pp. 519-520

Text: The development of the cheap moving picture and musical theaters as factors in the health of the community seems to have escaped the notice of the medical press. To-day every village and hamlet in the United States boasts a moving picture show. In the large cities of the north and cast it is not unusual for a hundred and often more to be in operation. In Europe they are outnumbered only by the public houses and cabarets. As is well known, the great majority of these theaters exist where the population is greatly congested, as in tenement districts and laboring settlements. The reason for this is obvious. It is the patronage of the poorer classes which makes the moving picture industry a paying proposition. These cheap theaters are usually located in old rookeries or poorly paying commercial sites, as abandoned shops of small tradesmen, etc. In the construction or building alteration of these places for their special needs the one object in view is to obtain a maximum seating capacity in as small a space as possible. No attention whatever is paid to ventilation and not the slightest heed given to the simplest sanitary details. The health or comfort of the patron is a secondary consideration. Municipal regulation is limited to fire prevention and safety exits – and this only after several serious catastrophes.

The performances are continuous, and thus an ever-moving stream of humanity, constantly passing in and out, stirs up dust and dirt that verily reeks with tubercle bacilli. The programs in these resorts have been considerably lengthened owing to the keenness of competition. The result is that an audience is confined within these ill-ventilated and poorly sanitated amusement resorts often for more than an hour and a half, breathing in air which has become befouled and disease-laden through lack of sufficient air capacity. The superabundance of carbon dioxid and organic matter in the air gives rise to sick stomach, headache and a drowsy feeling. The small fee of admission is responsible for a class of patronage which is entirely oblivious of the simplest health precautions. Spitting on the floor is a common practice and is allowed to go unnoticed. Signs calling attention to the dangers of the vicious habit of indiscriminate expectoration are rare. The use of the electric fan in certain of these resorts, while refreshing to the overheated patron, also serves to dry up the sputum with greater dispatch, thus increasing its disease productiveness. Cleaning the premises is impossible during the hours of operation, which gives some idea of the amount of filth that accumulates.

Robust and vigorous individuals employed as singers and musicians, appearing as often as twelve and thirteen times a day in these crowded resorts, soon undergo a remarkable change of health. Poor ventilation produces not only discomfort and loss of energy, but greater susceptibility to disease, especially tuberculosis. Many of the singers are raw amateurs and know nothing of the care and preservation of the voice, and in many instances a voice capable of greater things is lost to the public through exposure to such unfavorable conditions. Laryngeal troubles are a frequent source of annoyance to this class of people through excessive vocal effort and constant confinement. I have treated many of the singers employed by the cheap moving picture shows and found the majority of them to be of a decided phthisical tendency. The film operator who is confined cubby-hole at an exceedingly high temperature falls an easy prey to tuberculosis. Constant attendance at the scene of employment, coupled with the irregularity of meals and uncertain hours, is responsible for the fact that many of the male artists become alcoholics. Taken all in all, the cheap provincial picture theater artist has no easy task and sooner or later another victim is enrolled under the banner of the white plague.

The general practitioner is often consulted by a patient complaining of headache and burning eyes which run water as soon as they come in contact with strong light. After a thorough examination, including urinalysis, the patient is referred to an ophthalmologist in order that a refractive error may be corrected and the patient relieved of the heartache and the visual irritation. In a great number of cases the ophthalmologist will report that there is no error of refraction and that he is unable to account for the headache and the running burning eyes. An inquiry into the habits of the patient will elicit the information that he is a devotee of the moving picture show. The constant gazing on a rapidly moving and scintillating film with every mental faculty alert to maintain the connection of the story is sufficient to produce an eyestrain of great severity and thus cause headache and burning eves. The only remedy is rest and cessation from this form of amusement. After a few weeks vision becomes normal or nearly so and no ill results are experienced unless the patient resumes his former habits. In many cases the eye trouble assumes a severity that calls for long and persistent treatment on the part of the ophthalmologist.

Moving picture shows in tenement districts and labor settlements should exhibit pictures that tend to elevate the mind and improve the moral condition of their audiences. Pictures portraying scandal, illicit amours and criminal cupidity very often have a debasing effect on a mind that is already morally warped through environment and surroundings, thereby bringing to the surface a latent criminality. If the moving picture shows are to remain, radical changes must be made.

Rigid inspection by the health authorities is absolutely necessary. Proper ventilation by means of exhaust air fans, airifiers and other ventilating appliances and numerous apertures with sufficient air intake must be provided. The number of cubic feet of air necessary for health should be determined by the seating capacity. The flooring should be oiled, not carpeted or covered with dust-gathering material. Plush-covered and velvet-covered seats should also be prohibited for obvious reasons. Suspension of the performance at the end of every five hours, when the orchestra or seating hall should undergo a thorough cleaning, is of urgent necessity. The cleaning could be accomplished within forty-five minutes by the aid of the vacuum cleaner and should be followed by a draught of pure air throughout the place, it possible. At the termination of the day’s performance the whole resort should be given the proper sanitary attention. Signs should be conspicuously posted as to the evils of spitting.

CONCLUSIONS

That a great deal of eye trouble is due to moving picture shows cannot be denied. The singers, musicians and film operators of these resorts fall an easy prey to tuberculosis through excessive vocal efforts, constant confinement, irregular habits and long hours. As a disseminator of tuberculosis the moving picture theater ranks high and it will become necessary to enact special health laws to remedy the evil.

Comments: Dr Howard D. King practiced in New Orleans. Early motion picture venues were regularly criticised for their poor hygiene, and the films condemned as the cause of eye-strain. It was common practice at this time for singers to perform in American nickelodeons, along with illustrative slides, in between reel changes.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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Views of a Viewer

Source: Jean Bartlett, ‘Views of a Viewer’, The Radio Times, 4 June 1937, p. 3

Text: Perhaps other televiewers may be interested to read a brief account of the reactions of one household and its friends to the first six months of television. We ought to say, first of all, that we ourselves were enthusiastic amateurs in the old days of thirty-line television, and so were very excited at the prospect of seeing a larger, steadier, and brighter picture and were duly thrilled by the inaugural programme last November. Our modest criticisms of that and all subsequent programmes are made, we hope, with the realisation that television is still experimental. Not so, some of our friends who, having seen it once, sometimes inquire sympathetically, as if it were an invalid member of our family, how it is getting on, and then fade away to the cinema. But the loss is theirs.

The most important element of the television picture is, obviously, movement. The artists may be shatteringly beautiful, the lighting perfect, the scenery just right, but without movement it completely fails. We often say that if producers remembered this fact during every second of their preparations and rehearsals, every type of programme that has so far been televised would be successful and every failure could have been a hit. Programmes in our television vernacular, are either alive or dead. So many, among the alive, have been so good that it is almost impossible to select the best, or even the best type.

Talks are by unanimous vote the weakest point. (The Zoo talks are, of course, unique and all too short). They must be quite the most difficult programmes to present, and the difficulties have so far seemed insuperable. There seems to be no good reason why every broadcast programme should be translated into television. Why struggle with the impossible?

The subject of a talk may be profoundly interesting, but close-ups studies of the speaker’s face add nothing to it. With one exception – Sir Kingsley Wood – no speaker has appeared to enjoy television from the transmitting end.

Perhaps we are unduly prejudiced against pottery and masks, but there was surely a whole year’s supply provided in a few weeks recently. One talk on pottery was so dead that we blushed in the darkness, having invited some critical friends to their first experience of television. And then suddenly the screen came to life, and we looked at a potter working at his wheel, and talking as he made, spoilt, and remade a bowl. Such things are real television, and only when a talk can be illustrated throughout its length by dynamic pictures can it justifiably be televised. The appearance of the speaker at the beginning, and again, perhaps, at the close of his talk, is all that the average viewer wants of him.

We nearly always have a full house when ballet is included in the programme, and this is not just because we move in a circle of ballet fans, but because, in spite of the smallness of the figures compared with close-ups, good dancers can convey a wonderful sense of space, and make dance one of the most satisfying television subjects. The movements of the camera inevitably tend to destroy the dancers’ movements a little, but this effect is less noticeable when the scenery follows horizontal rather than vertical lines. The scenery is sometimes too elaborate for a picture in which everything is black and white, as, for instance, in the current television production of Casse-Noisette by the Vic-Wells ballet.

When an excerpt from a current West End production is part of an evening’s programme then we always have a large, self-invited audience and a very appreciative one that would like to see this become a regularly weekly feature. Shakespeare, on the other hand, invariably falls flat, even when distinguished artists are playing the selected arts, Non-Shakespeareans are frankly bored – they cannot get the hang of the thing before it is over; and lovers of Shakespeare are irritated by brief episodes suspended in mid-air and inevitably devoid of the play’s original stagecraft, and viewed from two camera alternately at rather uninteresting angles. The charming fairy and ballet scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, however, being easy to dissociate from the rest of the play, were also delightfully easy to watch.

Cabaret and light entertainment are attracting fans of their own who are gradually forgetting the earlier weeks when every item of this type lasted six times longer than anyone could bear. The difficulty here must be, as in ordinary broadcasting and the stage, to find really good comedians and entertainers with fresh material.

One amusing little point is provided by two rather deaf neighbours of ours. At home, they sit with their ears glued to a wireless set in full blast, and never, in ordinary conversation, hear a remark at the first time of speaking. Nevertheless, when they come to see and hear a television programme they are quite content with a volume that is guaranteed not to wake the baby, and they still hear every word. The picture evidently helps their hearing, and neighbours’ wireless sets can take heart – the television age is going to be a quieter one.

I suppose the greatest thrills of of all for television enthusiasts have been those rare relays from outside the studios – the boxing match from the Alexandra Palace ring, the model aeroplane display from the Palace grounds, the archery, fire-walking, and other outside broadcasts – and, of course, as a climax to them all, the televising of the Coronation procession from Hyde Park Corner on Coronation Day, when television broke from the apron srings that tied it to the Alexandra Palace and came into its own.

Comments: Jean Bartlett was an ordinary television viewer, though at a time when there were few television viewers at all, reception in the UK being restricted to a few thousands sets mostly owned by people living in London. The BBC began a regular television service on 2 November 1936. Kingsley Wood was a Conservative MP. Scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream were broadcast on 18 February 1937 and 23 April 1937. The coronation of King George VI took place on 12 May 1937 (the broadcast showed exteriors only, not scenes inside Westminster Abbey).

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Narcissus

Source: Dorothy Richardson, ‘Continuous Performance: Narcissus’, Close Up vol. VIII no. 3, September 1931, pp. 182-185

Text: Discontent may be rooted in the contempt of one who believes mankind to be on its way to a better home and thinks, or most oddly, appears to think, that he honours that home by throwing mud at this. Or it may be just the natural mysterious sense of incompleteness haunting those for whom at times, haunting even those for whom all the time, life is satisfying beyond measure. More generally it is the state of having either lost or never fully possessed the power of focussing the habitual.

From this kind of discontent, escape by flight is impossible. Another house, another town, country, planet, will give only a moment’s respite, for each in turn, and each with more swiftness than the last, will close in and become odious while, perversely, those left behind will mock the fugitive by revealing, with an intensity that grows as it recedes further and further into the distance, the qualities that once had charmed him.

It is customary to account for this distressing experience by the part played by distance, to say that distance lends enchantment and to talk of the transforming power of memory.

But distance is enchantment. It is a perpetual focus. And escape from the obstructive, chronic discontent we are considering the state of deadness to the habitual, whether that habitual to good or bad, is possible only to those who by nature or by grace have the faculty of ceaseless withdrawal to the distance at which it may be focussed.

Some kind of relinquishment is implied: an abandonment of rights that reproduces on a very humble level the saint’s salto mortale. Something of the kind must take place before surroundings can be focussed. It may be enforced. By illness, for example. The sick man, recovering, returns from his enforced detachment to a world transformed. But his freshness of vision is for a while only, unless his experience has taught him the secret of withdrawal. Or by a disinterested observer, through whose eyes what had grown too near and too familiar to be visible is seen with a ready-made detachment that restores its lost quality.

An excellent illustration of the operation of this casual gift is afforded by the story of the man who grew weary of his house, put it up for sale and, soon after, reading in his newspaper amongst descriptions of properties on the market a detailed account of a residence whose enumerated features, attracting him more and more as he read on, presently forced upon his attention the fact that it was his own house he was contemplating, was filled with remorse and telephoned to the agent to cancel the offer.

And what has all this moralising to do with the film? Everyone knows that amongst its thousand and one potentialities the film possesses that of being a mirror for the customary and restoring its essential quality. But must we not, to-day, emerge from our small individual existences and from narcissistic contemplation thereof? Learn that we are infinitesimal parts of a vast whole? Labour and collaborate to find salvation for a world now paying the prices of various kinds of self-seeking? And, for the re-education of humanity, is any single instrument more powerful than the film that is here offered merely as a provider of private benefits?

True. But the everlasting WE who is to accomplish all this remains amidst all change and growth a single individual.

Even so, is this so obvious mirror-focus quality a point worth insisting upon in relation to an art that has now passed so far beyond photographic reproductions of the familiar and, in so far as it remains documentary, registers — if we except Dziga-Vertoff and his followers engaged in directly representing anything and everything without selective interference beyond that dictated by the enchanted eye — only “interesting” or “instructive” material?

I believe it is immensely worth making and insisting upon. I believe that mirroring the customary and restoring its essential quality is and remains the film’s utmost. Remains Borderline‘s utmost as well as that of The Policeman’s Whistle.

An early “animated picture,” a little fogged and incessantly sparking, of a locomotive in full steam making for the enchanted spectator, a wild-west film complete with well-knit story on a background that itself is an adventure, a psychological drama all situations and intensities, a film that concentrates on aesthetic beauty or on moral beauty, an abstract film that must be translated by the mind of the onlooker, a surréaliste film produced by the unconscious alone, all these, every imaginable kind of film, talkies included in their utmost nearness to or distance from stage-plays, reduces or raises, as you please, the onlooker to a varying intensity of contemplation that is, in a way that cannot be over-estimated, different from the contemplation induced by a stage-play just because, whatever the ostensible interest of the film, it is arranged and focussed at the distance exactly fitting the contemplative state.

And this not only because it is a finished reproduction that we are seeing, so that part of our mind is at ease as it can never be in the play that is as it were being made before our eyes in a single unique performance that is unlike any other single performance, and the faculty of contemplation has therefore full scope, but also because in any film of any kind those elements which in life we see only in fragments as we move amongst them, are seen in full in their own moving reality of which the spectator is the motionless, observing centre.

In this single, simple factor rests the whole power of the him: the reduction, or elevation of the observer to the condition that is essential to perfect contemplation.

In life, we contemplate a landscape from one point, or, walking through it, break it into bits. The film, by setting the landscape in motion and keeping us still, allows it to walk through us.

And what is true of the landscape is true of everything else that can be filmed.

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. Dziga Vertov was a Soviet documentary filmmaker and film theorist, known for the Kino-Pravda newsreel and his ‘Kino Eye’ concept. The original article was illustrated with stills from Vertov films. The films referred to are the experimental feature film Borderline (UK 1930), produced by the POOL group (which was also behind Close Up), and presumably Blue Bottles (which features a policeman’s whistle) (UK 1928), a comic short produced by a similar grouping of UK enthusiasts for avant garde film.

Links: Copy at the Internet Archive

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Going to the Pictures

(L-R) Thurston Hall, Edward Arnold and Thomas Mitchell
(L-R) Thurston Hall, Edward Arnold and Thomas Mitchell

Source: Alan Bennett, extract from ‘Going to the Pictures’, Untold Stories (London: Faber and Faber, 2005), pp. 466-469 (originally published, in shorter form, as ‘I know what I like, but I’m not sure about art’ in The Independent, 24 May 1995, based on a lecture given at the National Gallery on this date)

Text: Floundering through some unreadable work on art history, I’ve sometimes allowed myself the philistine thought that these intricate expositions, gestures echoing other gestures, one picture calling up another and all underpinned with classical myth … that surely contemporaries could not have had all this at their fingertips or grasp by instinct what we can only attain by painstaking study and explication, and that this is pictures being given what’s been called ‘over meaning’. What made me repent, though, was when I started to think about my childhood and going to a different kind of pictures, the cinema.

When I was a boy we went to the pictures at least twice a week, as most families did then, regardless of the merits of the film. To me Citizen Kane was more boring but otherwise no different from a film by George Formby, say, or Will Hay. And going to the pictures like this, taking what was on offer week in week out was, I can see now, a sort of education, an induction into the subtle and complicated and not always conventional moral scheme that prevailed in the world of cinema then, and which persisted with very little change until the early sixties.

I’ve been trying recently to write about some of the stock characters of films of that period and I’ll talk about two in particular in the hope that I can relate one sort of pictures to the other.

A regular figure in films of that time was a middle-aged businessman, a pillar of the community, genial, avuncular, with bright white hair, and the older ones among you will know immediately the kind of character I mean if I should you this actor. His name is Thurston Hall, and this is another actor, Edward Arnold. Their names are unimportant but they were at that time instantly recognisable. I certainly knew at the age of eight that as soon as this character or this type of character put in an appearance he was up to no good.

The character speaks:

I am not an elaborate villain, nor is my spirit particularly tormented; crime in my case is not a substitute for art. It is just that my silver hair and general benevolence, invariably supplemented by a double-breasted suit, give me the appearance of an honest man. In the movies honest men do not look like honest men and suave is just another way of saying suspect. Bad men wear good suits; honest men wear raincoats, and so untiring are they in the pursuit of evil that they sometimes forget to shave.

The converse of this character, though he is seldom in the same film, would be the man who has been respectable in himself once but who has made one big mistake in his life – a gun-fighter, say, who has killed an innocent man, a doctor who bungled an operation – and who by virtue of his misdemeanour (and the drink he takes to forget it) has put himself outside society.

Thomas Mitchell was such a doctor in John Ford’s Stagecoach, and though such lost souls are more often come across in westerns they turn turn up in the tropics too, their frequent location the back of beyond.

The character speaks:

In westerns I will generally team up with the tough wise-cracking no-nonsense lasy who runs the saloon, who in her turn, inhabits the audience’s presuppositions about her character. They know that a life spent in incessant and lucrative sexual activity has not dulled her moral perceptions one bit. They remember Jesus had a soft spot for such women, and so do they.

I am frequently a doctor, in particular a doctor who at a crucial turn of events has to be sobered up to deliver the heroine’s baby or to save a child dying of diptheria. Rusty though my skills are, I find they have not entirely deserted me and I am assisted in the operation by my friend the proprietress of the saloon. She is tough and unsqueamish and together we pull the patient through, and having performed a deft tracheotomy my success is signalled when I come downstairs and say, ‘She is sleeping now.’

He concludes:

But though I rise to the occasion as and when the plot requires it, there is never any suggestion that I am going to mend my ways in any permanent fashion. Delivering the baby, flying the plane, shooting the villain … none of this heralds a return to respectability, still less sobriety. I go on much as ever down the path to self-destruction. I know I cannot change so I do not try. A scoundrel but never a villain, I know redemption is not for me. It is this that redeems me.

Now though this analysis may seem a bit drawn out, the point I am making is that the twentieth-century audience had only to see one of these characters on the screen to know instinctively what moral luggage they were carrying, the past they had had, the future they could expect. And this was after, if one includes the silent films, not more than thirty years of going to the pictures. In the sixteenth century the audience or congregation would have been going to the pictures for 500 years at least, so how much more instinctive and instantaneous would their responses have been, how readily and unthinkingly they would have been able to decode their pictures – just as, as a not very precocious child of eight, I could decode mine.

And while it’s not yet true that the films of the thirties and forties would need decoding for a child of the present day, nevertheless that time may come; the period of settled morality and accepted beliefs which produced such films is as much over now as is the set of beliefs and assumptions that produced a painting as complicated and difficult, for us at any rate, as Bronzino’s Allegory of Venus and Cupid.

Comments: Alan Bennett (born 1934) is a British playwright, screenwriter, essayist and actor. Untold Stories is a collection of essays and memoir, including the section entitled ‘Going to the Pictures’, from which this extract comes. The essay was originally a talk given by Bennett in 1995 while he was a Trustee of the National Gallery in London. His childhood was spent in Leeds.

Links: Copy of Bennett’s original talk ‘I know what I like, but I’m not sure about art’ in The Independent

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Silent Life and Silent Language

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

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

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

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

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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The Cinema Gains a Powerful Ally

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

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

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

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

Close-up of the Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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Children of the Green

Source: Doris M. Bailey, Children of the Green: A true story of childhood in Bethnal Green 1922-1937 (London: Stepney Books, 1981), pp. 75-77

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments: Doris M. Bailey (1916-?), daughter of a french polisher, was born in Bethnal Green in London’s East End and lived there until the late 1930s. Norma and Richard Talmadge were not related. The films referred to are The Gold Rush (USA 1925) and The Singing Fool (USA 1928).

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The Crowd

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

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

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

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

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

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An Entertaining Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rum, Bum and Concertina

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

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

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

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