The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Source: Gil Scott-Heron, ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, from Small Talk at 125th and Lenox (1970), lyrics via http://www.songlyrics.com/heron-gil/the-revolution-will-not-be-televised-lyrics/, adapted to match original version

Text:
You will not be able to stay home brother
you will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out
you will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip
skip out for beer during commercials
Because the revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be televised
the revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
in four parts without commercial interruptions
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Mindale Rivers to eat
hog moss confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary
The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Wood and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs
The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner
The revolution will not be televised brother
There will be no pictures of you and Willie Mays
pushing that cart down the block on the dead run
or trying to slide that color TV into a stolen ambulance
NBC will not be able to predict the winner at 8:32
or the reports from 29 districts
The revolution will not be televised

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem a rail with a brand new process
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkins strolling through Watts in a red, black and
green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
for just the right occasion
Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so goddamned relevant and
women will not care if Dick finally screwed
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day
The revolution will not be televised

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Keys nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Engelbert Humperdinck
The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be right back after a message
about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people
You will not have to worry about a germ in your
bedroom, the tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl
The revolution will not go better with Coke
The revolution will not fight germs that can cause bad breath
The revolution WILL put you in the driver’s seat
The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
not be televised
The revolution will be no re-run brothers
The revolution will be live

Comments: Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011) was an American poet and soul singer, and a noted influence on rap music. ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ was a phrase regularly used by the Black Power movement of the 1906s, before Scott-Heron produced this poem and song for his first album. The original version (given above) is a poem recited over a conga and bongo beat; the 1971 version released as the B-side of a single has a fuller musical accompaniment and small changes to the lyric. The lyric refers to a number of American television series, including The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, Search for Tomorrow, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres.

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Working North from Patagonia

Source: Harry A. Franck, Working North from Patagonia; being the narrative of a journey, earned on the way, through southern and eastern South America (New York: The Century Co., 1921), pp. 261-266

Text: The “Companhia Brazileira” advertized extensively, and the Kinetophone was well patronized from the start. Brazilians take readily to novelties, especially if they can be made the fashion, and our audiences of the second day included both priests and “women of the life,” which is a sure sign of popular success in Brazil. As our doubled entrance fee of two milreis was high for those times of depression, also perhaps because the “Cinema Pathé” was considered a gathering place of the élite, we entertained only the well dressed, or, perhaps I should say, the overdressed. They were blasé, artificial audiences, never under any circumstances applauding or giving any sign of approval; they always gave me the impression of saying, “Oh, rather interesting, you know, as a novelty, but I could do much better myself if I cared to take the time from my love-making and risk soiling my spats and my long, slender, do-nothing fingers.” But as they continued to bring us as our share of the receipts more than a conto of reis a day, it was evident that they found the performance pleasing.

[...]

The motion-picture having come after all the business part of Rio was built, there was no room to erect “movie palaces” which have elsewhere followed in the train of Edison’s most prostituted invention. All the cinemas along the Avenida Central are former shops, without much space except in depth, and as the temperature quickly rises when such a place is crowded, the screen often consists of a curtain across what used to be the wide-open shop door, so that one on the sidewalk may peep in and see the audience and even the orchestra, though he can see nothing of the projected pictures within an inch of his nose. Alongside the “movie” house proper another ex-shop of similar size is generally used as a waiting-room. Here are luxurious upholstered seats, much better than those facing the screen, and some such extraordinary attraction as a “feminine orchestra specially contracted in Europe.” For the waiting-room is of great importance in Rio. It takes the place in a way of a central plaza and promenade where the two sexes can come and admire one another, and it is often thronged immediately after the closing of the door to the theater proper, by people who know quite well they must sit there a full hour before the “section” ends. In fact, young fops sometimes come in and remain an hour or two ogling the feminine charms in the waiting-room and then go out again without so much as having glanced at the show inside. In contrast, many cinemas have “second-class” entrances, without waiting-room and with seats uncomfortably near the screen, where the sockless and collarless are admitted at reduced prices.

It does not require long contact with them to discover that Latin films are best for Latins, for both audience and actors have a mutual language of gestures and facial expressions. The lack of this makes American films seem slow, labored, and stupid, not only to Latins, but to the American who has been living for some time among them. It is a strange paradox that the most doing people on the earth are the slowest in telling a story in pantomime or on the screen. What a French or an Italian actress will convey in full, sharply and clearly, by a shrug of her shoulders or a flip of her hand, the most advertised American “movie star” will get across much more crudely and indistinctly only by spending two or three minutes of pantomimic labor, assisted by two or three long “titles.” The war quickly forced the “Companhia Brazileira,” as it did most of its rivals, to use American films; but neither impresarios nor their clients had anything but harsh words for the “awkward stupidity” and the pretended Puritanic point of view of those makeshift programs — with one exception, Brazilian audiences would sit up all night watching our “wild west” films in which there was rough riding. Curious little differences in customs and point of view come to light in watching an American film through South American eyes. For instance, there is probably not a motion-picture director in the United States who knows that to permit a supposedly refined character in a film to lick a postage stamp is to destroy all illusion in a Latin-American audience. Down there not even the lowest of the educated class ever dreams of sealing or stamping a letter in that fashion. An American film depicting the misadventures of a “dude” or “sissy”, was entirely lost upon the Brazilian audiences, because to them the hero was exactly their idea of what a man should be, and they plainly rated him the most “cultured” American they had ever met. Bit by bit one discovers scores of such slight and insignificant differences, which sum up to great differences and become another stone in that stout barrier between the Latin and the Anglo-Saxon divisions of the western hemisphere.

[...]

Sunday is the big theater or “movie” day in Brazil, for then the families of the “four hundred” turn out in full force. On our seventh day they were standing knee-deep in the waiting-room most of the afternoon and early evening. The congestion increased that part of my duties which had to do with auditing, for the head of a family often paused to shake hands effusively with the door-keeper, after which the entire family poured boldly in, and it became my business to find out whether there had been anything concealed in the effusive hand, and if not, why the box-office had been so cavalierly slighted.

One afternoon the Senhor Presidente da Republica came to honor the fourth performance of the day with his patronage, and to give us the official blessing without which we had been forced to open. A corps of policemen was sent first to hang about the door for nearly two hours — giving passers-by the impression that the place had been “pinched.” There followed a throng of generals, admirals, and unadmirables in full uniform, who waited in line for “His Excellency.” The president came at length in an open carriage, his girl wife beside him, two haughty personalities in gold lace opposite them, and a company of lancers on horseback trotting along the Avenida beside them. The waiting line fawned upon the leathery-skinned chief of state, bowed over the hand of his wife, then the whole throng surrounded the loving pair and, pushing the humble door-keeper scornfully aside, swarmed into the cinema without a suggestion of offering to pay the entrance fee. Luckily the doors were not high enough to admit the lancers, who trotted away with the red of their uniforms gleaming in the afternoon sunshine. It was my first experience with the official “deadheads” of Brazil, but by no means my last.

We quickly found, too, that the official gathering was bad for business. Surely any American theater holding 510 persons would fill up when the President of the Republic and his suite were gracing it with their presence! Yet here there was only a scattering of paying audience as long as the “deadheads” remained, which, thanks perhaps to a film showing them in the recent Independence Day parade, was until they had heard the entire program once and the Kinetophone twice. The president, it seemed, was hated not only for his political iniquities, but the élite looked down upon him for marrying a girl little more than one-fourth his own age and letting her make the national presidency the background for her social climbing; and to enter the theater while the president and his retainers were there was to risk losing both one’s political and social standing as a high class Brazilian.

Comments: Harry Alverson Franck (1881-1962) was an American travel writer, whose journeys took him China, Latin America, Europe and the USSR. For the journey through South America described in this book Franck served as an agent for the Edison Kinetophone, a film projection system synchronised with musical discs, and there are many descriptions of the operation of the Kinetophone and its mixed reception across the continent in Franck’s characteristically sardonic style. Although the publication date of the book is 1921, the trip must have occurred around 1913-14. The president of the Brazilian republic referred to is Hermes da Fonseca.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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A Ragged Schooling

Source: Robert Roberts, A Ragged Schooling (Fontana, 1978; orig. pub. Manchester University Press, 1976), pp. 59-60

Text: Mr Higham, we also heard, had played piano in hotels, and opulent picture palaces now opened in the city, but ‘bad luck’ had reduced him latterly to performing at our local fleapit. There, we learned, in the course of the evening, he was plagued by a problem of hygiene unknown in bourgeois entertainment circles – our ‘Kinema’ floor had, he complained, to be swilled out and disinfected every morning. And no wonder! Owner-managers of slum cinemas, out for every penny they could get, crushed their youngest patrons so tightly along the cheap benches that no child dared get up for fear of losing his seat. In our establishment, even before the lights went out, retaining position could be difficult. Theoretically, no standing was allowed. The chucker-out would bring in a small paying customer to an already packed bench, push his posterior against the end occupant and make room for the newcomer; but this sent pressure running along the row, and another child slid off the other end. Once in the dark, no one dreamed of going to the lavatory. Through need or mischief children relieved themselves where they sat, and often the lower reaches ran awash. Down slope, before the silver screen, Mr Higham, we understood, battled on at his music, feet upon the pedals, powerless, despite threats, as King Canute. But already he seemed to have grown tolerant, looking upon the phenomenon as a mere occupational hazard. Indeed, at a later date, he referred to it airily as the ‘Falls of Lodore,’ which shows one can get used to almost anything.

Comments: Robert Roberts (1905-1979) became an English teacher following a Salford childhood, where his parents ran a corner-shop. His book The Classic Slum is a classic combination of autobiography and historical account of the lives of the Edwardian poor. A Ragged Schooling is a further autobiographical account of his childhood. The city referred to is Manchester. In a footnote to the above section, he writes “Strangers to the town were puzzled when invite to patronise a local picture house referred to by all as the ‘By Joe’ – our native rendering of ‘Bijou’, a name chosen for high inappropriateness on every count.”

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Dynamite in the Middle East

Source: Khalil Totah, Dynamite in the Middle-East (New York: Philosophical Library, 1955), pp. 146-147

Text: Before leaving the Syrian capital, I must relate the tale of American influence. The film of Hamlet was advertised and as I had been unable to see it in the United States, I asked myself in what better place could it be seen than in Damascus. I invited Miss Jane Hockett, whose parents I know in Whittier, to go with me. She is in the United States service as a librarian in the Information Center. People at the Semiramis Hotel advised against my going to that theatre because they thought it was cheap, noisy and dirty. I warned Miss Hockett about the probable undesirability of the place, but she was a good sport. The hall was down in a kind of cellar and full to overflowing. There were no reserved seats and one had to take his chance. I came to the theatre early and requested one of the ushers to save me a couple of seats as I was bringing a lady. He held the seats. The hall was crowded with a noisy lot of adults and children. How a film like Hamlet should attract so many “kids” was rather astonishing. Of course the film was in English, but on the side there was an Arabic translation. People were eating peanuts, pumpkin seeds and roasted peas. At the intermission Coca-Cola, lemonade and ice cream were hawked by boys in the aisles. The seats were crude and hard, but it was a unique experience to see Hamlet in Damascus. The crowds and goings on which are so unlike an American movie theatre were indeed worth the admission of fifteen cents.

Not far from my hotel was another ramshackle cinema house. The performance started at 9 p.m. There was bedlam at the door! It seemed as if half of the ragged bootblacks, porters and errand boys were there. There were hardly any women to be seen. The place looked more like a market place or an oriental street scene than a cinema house. Everything was being hawked. Boys were yelling at the top of their voices and selling everything — chewing gum, cakes, cigarettes and chocolates. People felt at home, shouted, yelled, visited, laughed and enjoyed themselves to the full. It was more like a circus or a baseball game in America. There was no reserve, no hushed tones, no restraint. The boys and young men just “let her go.” But when the curtain was up and those Hollywood beauties appeared in their underwear, you should have heard the exclamations of the crowd’s delight. “Ya salam! Ya Allah!” No wonder there was such a mob at the door and several performances. As to the admission fee, it was in two classes. First class on the balcony was 12¢. Second class for the riffraff was 8¢.

In the balcony, and therefore first class, was a rotund, corpulent gentleman. He took his seat and then ordered an usher to bring him a nargileh (a hubble bubble). While feasting his eyes on the Hollywood girls, he drew on his nargileh, the long pipe attached to a large bottle almost full of water. On top was a sort of tobacco called tunback, which was placed on some burning coals. The smoke passed through the water, through the pipe and to the mouth. This gentleman was relaxation itself. The bottle gurgled and laughed, he drew and drew and hugely enjoyed a rare smoke. What would Americans give to see that scene in an American movie house on Main Street? “Ya Allah! Ya salam!”

Comments: Khalil Totah (1886-1955) was a Palestinian author, lecturer and educationalist, who wrote books on Palestinian history and political development. He became an American citizen in 1946. The book from which this this extract comes was his final work, posthumously published, giving a view of Middle Eastern affairs for an American audience. The film he saw was Hamlet (UK 1948), directed and starring by Laurence Olivier.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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A Holiday in Burma

Source: C.M. Leicester, A Holiday in Burma, with a chapter on a visit to Calcutta (Exeter: A. Wheaton and Company, 1928), pp. 44-49

Text: After dinner there is time for an entertainment of some sort, as the hours kept in Rangoon are not early. An opportunity offers of seeing a Burmese film by Burmese actors, and the party is attracted to this in preference to any more usual entertainment.

There are several picture houses in Rangoon. Some display posters familiar in London and give inside the comfort of plush upholstery. There is also an Indian cinema house where may be seen perhaps a presentment of Hindu folk lore. The Burman has his own favourite resort, his own film favourites whose deeds of valour and daring are recorded vividly on the hoardings. The film appears to have caught the imagination of the Burman, and he has recently embarked on the production of native films. After some experience of partial failure due to the difficulty of lighting, the strong sunlight being insufficient to show up details and to do justice to the jewels which are worn in the legendary tales of kings and princes, it was decided that there must be a visit to America to study methods of production and lighting. Recently films have been produced which have done great credit to the Burmese producers.

The building of the Burmese cinema is neither beautiful or very comfortable, and ten rupees has secured the luxury of a ‘box,’ a sort of loose box with concrete walls and wooden sides, containing half-a-dozen seats. There is some unaccountable delay in starting the show, and the orchestra fills in the time playing on the native instruments what are evidently popular airs, for the audience breaks in and sings the refrains. At last a start is made, and the local news is shewn in pictures with descriptions in Burmese, and, as a finale to this prelude, there appears the cause of the delay — a slide, unearthed from some dim recess, with ‘Welcome’ in colour and
garlands: a friendly greeting to the intruding West.

Then follows the film, a record of the adventures of a very popular hero who appears to combine in his attractive person all the daring of a Jack Sheppard and a Dick Turpin with the adventurous spirit of the desperado who has for the past year successfully eluded justice for wild deeds committed in the Thazi district. Dressed in his native lungyi and gaung baung, and complete with pistol and mask, he pursues his exciting career and accomplishes a series of desperate flights and escapes; capturing a horse and riding bareback; dropping from a roof into a waiting motor car; tearing with open throttle along country roads whilst from the back he peppers his pursuers with shots from his revolver. Breathless, exciting adventure in accordance with the accepted tradition of another hemisphere, but with the scenes laid in less familiar settings.

The orchestra faithfully records the emotions aroused in the audience, who from time to time break into the music with song. To unaccustomed ears it appears impossible that there can be any definite scheme in the sounds produced by the instruments, and one experiences an involuntary tribute to the intelligence of these people, who evidently are more sensitive to cadences than we are ourselves.

The sub-titles, in Burmese characters, stretch across the screen like chains, their meaning elusive and intriguing.

The pictures must unfold their own story. The youth is evidently the pampered son of a family of high respectability. His parents, in Western dress, are seated in padded comfort, in a room replete with ‘occasional’ tables, lace covers and anti-macassars. The father is reading a newspaper and the mother is toying with a piece of embroidery, when the news comes of their son’s escapades. Shocked and distressed, there is much talk but no action. They seem hampered by their unaccustomed garments and the chairs. It would seem more natural for them to be squatting on the floor in their native costume.

Then follow more hair-breadth adventures and escapes and the introduction of the love interest. There are meetings in a garden with a charming little lady with flower-decked hair. Passionate appeals are made and tender glances are exchanged — and that is all there is to a love scene in Burma. It would certainly fail to ‘grip’ a Western audience, for the lover does not approach his lady nearer than a couple of yards — so etiquette decrees. There is a parting and the lady is sad. The lover leaves her, to continue his thrills in another reel.

By this time it is after ten o’clock, and half-time. Already the young man has committed crime enough to hang him many times over. He seems certainly to be heading for disaster. It is impossible that so gallant a figure should end ignominiously on the scaffold, and it would appear to be equally impossible that the authorities can be hoodwinked into allowing him to escape his due and settle down into domesticity with his waiting lady love. A solution is difficult. But endurance is at an end, and with the full knowledge that the next reel will produce the thrill of the hero placing his enemy on the rails in front of an on-coming train, the box is vacated and escape effected into the night air.

Outside are lined up the cars of the Burmese merchants, their drivers asleep, awaiting the end of the performance, which will be about midnight.

Comments: Burma (now Myanmar) was a British colony in the 1920s. Fiction film production began in the country in 1920. It is unclear whether the news referred to was a newsreel or news relayed through slides. I have not been able to find any information on C.M. Leicester, except that he was British and probably came from Devon. His visit to Burma and India took place over 1926-27.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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One Day in the Life of Television

Source: Nicola Irvine, quoted in Sean Day-Lewis (ed.), One Day in the Life of Television (London: British Film Institute, 1989), p. 213

Text: The television is on in the living-room and the cassette player is playing in the adjacent kitchen. One of my favourite programmes is on at 5.15 pm. and I try my best to concentrate on Blockbusters, amidst the barrage of questions, people arguing, and shouting at someone to shut the door. I live with four, sometimes five, other students (or ex-students) and the cooking and talking causes quite a racket. Then the telephone starts ringing

I love watching Blockbusters because getting the questions correct is due to a skill acquired from watching the programme repeatedly and not from a vast general knowledge. The ‘easiness’ and ‘hardness’ of questions goes in patterns and depends on the rhythm of the game, and also how badly a contestant is losing. For instance, you know that the answer to ‘K’, a picture card in a pack of playing cards, is ‘knave’ and not ‘king’. This will give the slower contestants a chance to win a point because the quicker competitor will immediately guess ‘king’.

As with most of my experience of watching game shows (which I do rarely) I shout insults at the television, regarding the contestants. The schoolchildren on the programme are invariably those types who are considered ‘characters’ or what a school report would describe as ‘outgoing’. On television they appear obnoxious and embarrassingly precocious, as emphasized by their cuddly mascots. I am further aggravated when Bob asks them questions about themselves, especially when they say they want to go into advertising. When I was at school, people wanted to be teachers and nurses and footballers, but now everyone wants to awaken to a Maxwell House 7 a.m. shoot and be a media person …

Comments: One Day in the Life of Television was a project organised by the British Film Institute which documented one day’s television broadcasting in the UK (1 November 1988) with impressions specially recorded by hundreds of television professionals and ordinary viewers. Nicola Irvine was a student in Birmingham. Blockbusters (originally broadcast 1983) was a long-running British TV quiz show, based on an American original, and hosted by Bob Holness.

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Almost Persuaded

Source: Dorothy Richardson, ‘Continuous Performance: Almost Persuaded’, Close Up vol. IV no. 6, June 1929, pp. 31-37

Text: Never having experienced a Talkie, having sustained — in merely imagining a film breaking into speech, wrecking its medium, its perfection of direct communication — a shock comparable to that we should receive if our favourite Botticelli began throwing stones, we spent, far from films, a winter whose severity was the bitterer for our woeful apprehensions.

Every reading of a daily brought bad moments: cowardly avoidance of suspicious columns, alternating with shuddering sallies in search of facts.

March arrived heralding spring and with it the news that Mr. Wells had at last come forward not only to hail the film as the art-form of the future, but also to name this child with his happy aptitude for epithet.

In remarking that it is only at long last that Mr. Wells comes forward we do not attempt to suggest the impossible: Wellsian dilatoriness. Wells was amongst the first film-fans, Chaplin-fans. One of the first to see some of the possibilities and it would hardly be fair to label his predictions, though coming at a time when so many possibilities are already realised, prophecies after the event.

Our delight of course was born of the name chosen by Mr. Wells for the art of cinematography: Music-drama. And so great is our faith in Wells’ perceptiveness, in regard to anything he may scrutinise leisurely and at first hand, that we immediately cried, “Ah-ha. What price Talkies now?” and hugged more closely than ever our prejudice in favour of musical accompaniment, whether “Home, Sweet Home” on a cottage piano or cunningly adapted orchestral effects. For, if music be there, the screen must be more or less silent. Unless indeed the stars break into song … Wagnerian films … Film imitating opera side by side with film imitating theatre. These for the vulgar, pot-luck-taking continuous performance public of which we are a member, and beyond them FILMS, developing and developing and developing?

In the March issue of Close Up, we again met Mr. Wells, this time quoted as telling us with what extraordinary reluctance, if at all, we had been brought to admit the film’s power of excelling the written word. Here it would seem that in deciding formally to sponsor the film — and good, for the prospects of the English film proper, was the day upon which he decided so to do — he deems it best to tell the world more than it can actually believe in the interest of making it believe that it believes something. For it is hardly possible to suppose that Wells sees in the arrival of the film the departure of literature.

Certain kinds of writing, the directly tendencious, the propagandist and much of the educational it may in the end supplant to the extent of compelling the theorist, the reformer and the teacher to produce their wares in a form suitable for translation into film. Meanwhile the film to date has created more readers than it has destroyed, if indeed it has destroyed any, and is more likely, as it progresses, to achieve for all the arts renaissance rather than death. In literature alone it is creating a new form. For just as the stage play created a public for the written play and many are the unplayable plays that are eminently readable and quite numerous those who in any case would rather read a play than see it acted — so will the practice of film-seeing create a public for the film literature of which, if we except the miniature scenarios from time to time appearing in periodicals, Mr. Wells’ own book is characteristically enough, the first example.

But our delight in the hailing of the film as the art-form of the future, not this time by the bold editors of Close Up who so hailed it two years ago when they were voices crying in the wilderness of a filmless England, but by a prophet whose least word is broadcast over the planet — in so far as it was founded upon the development of the generous pronunciamento into specification of a form for that art that appeared to exclude Talkies — was short-lived. A moment’s reflection told us that even Mr. Wells cannot stampede humanity by suggestion. The multitudes agog for novelty at any price will demand Talkies because they are new.

So we returned to the scanning of Close Up, and in a moment we were devoutly attentive. Here was Mr. Herring breathlessly falling over himself in exposition of Pudovkin’s idea of the use of sound on the film. And when Mr. Herring grows breathless it is time to hold one’s breath and listen hard to what he has to say. We listen for several pages to his eager voice vividly interpreting, and return to a world that will never be quite the same again. (It never is, of course, from one moment to another.) For we have heard the crashing of a barrier against which modern art has flung itself in vain. The barrier Antheil drilled holes in when he “composed” mechanisms, (Did not one of his works require sixteen pianos and a screen?) and Dos Passos splintered when he described a group of straight-faced elderly relatives arrived in mourning garb at a house of death for funeral and reading of Will, gravely jazzing through the hall, and other American writers have severely shaken by their unashamed metaphoricality, and all those novelists have fist-punched who in pursuit of their particular aims produced texts retrospectively labelled cinematographic.

Is not Wells’ dirge then justified? (Did not he too, time and again, cry out within his text upon the limitations of the printed page?) Has not literature, for so long prophesying unawares the fully developed film, had its day?

No. The film is a social art, a show, something for collective seeing, and even in the day that finds us all owning projectors and rolls of film from the local circulating filmery it still will be so, a small ceremonial prepared for a group, all of whom must adjust their sensibilities at a given moment and at the film’s pace. Reading, all but reading aloud, is a solitary art — is this why it has been called the unpunished vice, and ought we to scrap these pages and swear only that we hope Wells may be right about the alleged competitor? — and the film can no more replace it than the Mass can replace private devotions. What film, to take a simple, current example, could supplant Im Westen Nichts Neues (recently translated, All Quiet on the Western Front) whose poetry both forces and enables the years of day-to-day unforgettable experience lived through in six or seven hours of reading. A stereoscopic film, complete with sound imagery might enormously enhance and deepen typical episodes and, by generalising the application of the whole, shock whatever onlooker — for a moment — into horrified recognition. But for that onlooker there would not be the intimate sense of having shared an irrevocable personal experience that is the gift of Remarque’s quiet book.

The film is skyey apparition, white searchlight, The book remains the intimate, domestic friend, the golden lamp at the elbow.

“Think,” pursues Mr. Herring, “of sound-imagery in Pudovkin’s terms, and thank yourself you are alive.” We do, thank you, Mr. Herring. We think, wishing the while that the whole of your expose could be broadcast daily for weeks, printed and circulated with every Talkie programme, of angry man and lion’s roar preceding, of fire-engine bells announcing devastating lady and all the subtleties made possible by the composing of sound, the direction of sound-imagery, director using sound like a musical score. Unifying sound and spectacle.

So we could mark time more than happily through Herr Meisel’s certainties as to the marriage he is arranging between film and music and give full rein to our glee over his inclusion of the tinkling cottage piano which once we heard do some excellent sound-imagery in single notes for a Chaplin grotesque.

The sound-film then, and music drama, and, moreover, the stereoscopically three-dimensional ….

For these we are almost persuaded we would abandon our silent screen. In spite of the risks. For the risks, like the difficulties and the triumphs, will be enormous. Between success unprecedented and failure more disastrous than the failure of the worst soundless film there will be less than a hairsbreadth.

Yet we hesitate. Even while hailing expression not only free from certain of the cramping difficulties of dramatic and literary art, but able to convert these difficulties into so many glorious opportunities. Hallelujah. Amen.

Why do we hestitate [sic]? Is it that the interference between seer and seen is to be too complete? The expressionism, the information, the informatory hint altogether too much of it? The onlooker too overwhelmingly conducted? It is said that the audiences of Russian films have to be held down in their seats. Excitement, collective. This is of the theatre. Would a single soul seeing his film in silence and alone have so to be held down? Here, in living sample is all the answer we need to any question as to the future of literature and, some would say, denying that wild eye and torn hair are ever the signs of the presence of great art, a question set to the film. But such perhaps forget that so far in the world’s history the birth of an art has not been a public affair, though the inhabitants of Cimabue’s native town beholding the first painted picture, did carry him in triumph through the streets.

If, beside the film grown solid and sounding the silent magic lantern show persists as we are told it will … But will it, for example pay? Is it not already old-fashioned?

We are reminded of a lady who remarked on hearing that Paderewski had played “The Bee’s Wedding”, “That old thing? Why Winnie could play that when she was eight!”

Alas, alas, alas.

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. The H.G. Wells book to which she refers is The King Who Was a King (1929), a novel set in the form of a film script. Robert Herring was one of the contributors to Close Up. George Antheil composed music for avant garde films, including Ballet Mécanique (which did originally call for sixteen player pianos, and more). The American John Dos Passos included cinematographic references and techniques in his novels. Edmund Meisel was an Austrian composer who supplied score for a number of classic silent films, including Battleship Potemkin. Erich Maria Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front would be successfully filmed as a sound feature in America the following year, without any need for stereoscopy.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

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Ricky

Source: Ricky Tomlinson, Ricky (London: Time Warner Books, 2003), pp. 23-24

Text: My other escape was the cinema where it cost only a couple coppers to go to a Saturday matinee at the Everton Picture Palace. As well as the main feature there were normally a couple of shorts and a Pathé Newsreel about the aftermath of the war. The Germans were booed and the British Tommies were cheered.

As the light from the projector shone on to the screen we threw bits of orange peel into the air, which looked like falling stars as they fell through the light. The usher – a war veteran – would hobble down the aisle, saying, ‘Oh aye, who’s throwing that bloody peel? Yer out on your ear if I catch you.’

Liverpool seemed to be full of fellas like that – a legion of injured heroes who became doormen, ushers and lift attendants, or worked the market stalls.

From the moment the credits rolled and the landscape flashed up showing wide open plains, I groaned, ‘Bloody hell, not another Western.’ I hated cowboy films, but my mates loved them. They came out afterwards ‘shooting’ people with their fingers and smacking their arses as they ‘rode’ home.

Sometimes I’d sneak around the corner and see a romance or a comedy, but I couldn’t tell anyone. As with my writing, the lads wouldn’t have understood.

That’s how I discovered the Old Mother Riley films. Arthur Lucan and his wife Kitty McShane were the biggest box-office stars of their day. Lucan would dress up in a frock and play Old Mother Riley, a gossipy Irish washerwoman, while Kitty played the headstrong daughter. I laughed until tears ran down my cheeks.

Inspired by these films, I convinced a mate of mine, Davey Steee, that we should put on a show for the neighbourhood kids and charge them a penny at the door. I walked the streets banging on a metal drum to publicise the show, while Davey hung a sack for the curtain in the loft over his garage. The audience were literally packed to the rafters as I donned one of Mam’s frocks and did my own version of Old Mother Riley.

This was my first experience of acting – unless you count trying to con my little brothers into doing chores for me. From memory it wasn’t a bravura performance, but none of the kids asked for their money back. Most of them were included in the show, which proved a clever ploy. I’ve been improvising ever since.

At the Lytton cinema on Everton Road you could see a movie for empty jam jars, which had a deposit on them. One of us would get a ticket and go inside, where he opened the back door for the rest of us. We couldn’t all sneak in at once – it would have been too obvious – so each of us had to wait until someone in the cinema went to the toilet. Then we ambled back into the auditorium, without arising suspicion. The ushers must have known, but they never kicked off.

Comments: Ricky Tomlinson (1939 – ) is a British actor and political activist, best known for the television series The Royle Family. His childhood was spent in Liverpool. There were fifteen Old Mother Riley films made between 1937 and 1952.

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Tinker’s Mufti

Source: Basil Peacock, Tinker’s Mufti: Memoirs of a Part-Time Soldier (London: Seeley, 1974)

Text: The first entertainment I recall, for which one had to pay, was a panorama display in the town hall. It was mainly educational and consisted of a series of enormous canvases depicting scenes from Switzerland and Italy passing across a stage from one roller to another. The scenes were brilliantly coloured and lit, and a man gave a running commentary as they passed across. Towards the end of the performance, he announced that for the first time in Newcastle actual moving pictures would be shown on a screen. I remember that the actors in them looked foreign and appeared to be moving in heavy rainstorms. A few years later, moving pictures were shown in our church hall for the benefit of children in the Band of Hope. I remember seeing the first epic film, The Great Train Robbery, and being terrified when the steam engine seemed to be coming off the screen and into the audience.

Comments: Basil Peacock (1898-1991) was a dentist, a soldier, and a radio broadcaster, whose childhood was spent in Newcastle. There is more than a suggestion of mixed memories here. It is unlikely (if not impossible) that a panorama exhibition was combined with motion pictures, which were first shown on a screen in Newcastle two years before Peacock was born. The 1903 dramatic film The Great Train Robbery does not feature a scene in which the train comes at the audience (an effect more commonly ascribed to the 1896 Lumière film L’Arrivée d’un train).

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Laughter in Leningrad

Source: Dorothea Eltenton, Laughter in Leningrad: An English Family in Russia 1933-1938 (privately printed, 1998), pp. 141-142

Text: Lil and l had planned to go and see Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times which was showing in town, and as Sasha was still with us I suggested he come too. He was delighted. The film was having a terrific success (Shura, who, by the way, very much reminded us of Chaplin, had seen it in Moscow six times), but we were there early and got good seats.

It was wonderful to see Chaplin again, Chaplin better than ever but with those same touches of human vulgarity which he is unable to resist in every film. Lil and I were helpless with laughter, our sides were aching and still we went on. But at times I noticed that we were the only ones in the audience laughing, and sometimes even someone would look round as though we were laughing when we shouldn’t. Sasha was very solemn, not all the way through, for the whole audience thoroughly enjoyed the film and roared with laughter, but there were lots of places were Lil and I laughed and they didn’t.

I was out of breath when it was over. We stood up. Sasha’s face was sad. He sighed.

‘A tragic picture,’ he said slowly.

‘You mustn’t take it so seriously,’ I said.

You mustn’t take it so lightly,’ he replied. ‘It’s far too real to take lightly. You see so clearly the tragedy of the “little fellow” being kicked around.’ He sighed again, ‘A tragic picture.’

But Lil and I couldn’t help laughing all the way home as we recalled the funniest bits. The feeding machine in the factory, the conveyor belt.

‘And yet it is tragic, Lil,’ I said.

‘I know it is.’

Comments: Dorothea Eltenton (1904-2001) was born Ada Dorothea Hamilton in Manchester and lived in the Soviet Union with her physicist husband George Eltenton 1933-1938. They subsequently moved to San Francisco where she worked for the American Russian Institute for Cultural Relations with the Soviet Union. Both came under suspicion from the FBI for communist sympathies. Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (USA 1936) is a comic picture of the plight of a little man in an industrialised world.

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