The Nickel Theater

Source: James Oppenheim, ‘The Nickel Theater’ in Monday Morning and other poems (New York: Sturgis & Walton, 1909), pp. 66-68

Text:
O Shakespeare come and sit with us!
Here are such theater-glories
As you, O million-peopled Soul, had loved! For
you told stories
The crowds could see — yea, though the poems
swept over their brains blind.
So much were women and men your words you
spoke to all mankind.

It’s a thick black room and a rough rude crowd —
the real strong human stuff —
A screen’s before, a beam of light rules through
the air — enough!
Lo, on that beam of light there darts vast hills
and men and women.
The screen becomes a stage; here’s life, blood-red
with the living human!

In but ten minutes how we sweep the Earth, un-
baring life.
Here in Algiers and there in Rome — a Paris street
— the strife
Of cowboys swinging lariat ropes — the plains, the
peaks, the sea —
Life cramped in one room or loosed out to all
eternity!

Lo, now, behold the dead salt desert, the trail-lost
man and wife,
A child clutched to her breast ! They toil through
sand, they cry for life.
They stagger on from hill to hill — now far, now
near — their cry
Breaks through our hearts, their fight is ours, we
love them as they die!

Yea, in ten minutes we drink Life, quintessenced
and compact.
Earth is our cup, we drain it dry; yea, in ten min-
utes act
The lives of alien people strange; the Earth grows
small; we see
The humanness of all souls human: all these are
such as we!

O at day’s end, and after toil that dragged the
heart In the street,
What utter glory to forget, to feel again the beat
Of the warming heart with light and life and love’s
unearthly gleam,
Till Dreams become our Living World, and all
the World’s a Dream!

Now we have lived the pain of others, now we
have drunk their joy!
It gives us new heroic grip upon our day’s employ!
O Shakespeare, here Earth’s dimmest brain can
draw strength from great stories!
The millions grasp their heritage of Art, the
theater-glories!

Comments: James Oppenheim (1882-1932) was an American poet, novelist, writer on psychology and editor of the literary magazine The Seven Arts.

Links: Copy of Monday Morning and other poems at Hathi Trust

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The Proceedings of the Old Bailey

Source: Luba Milstein, evidence given at trial, 10 May 1911, from Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 20 September 2014), April 1911, trial of DUBOF, Zurka (24, painter) PETERS, Jacob (24, tailor’s presser) ROSEN, John (26, hairdresser) VASSILEVA, Nina (23, cigarette maker) (t19110425-75).

Text: In December I was living at 59, Grove Street. On the 13th, I think, Dubof’ slept there in the front room with Peter the Painter. He was then drunk. On December 16 Dubof, Rosen, and Hoffman came to the house. Dubof had with him Exhibit 55. Tocmakoff, Fritz, and Peter the Painter were there. In the afternoon they were playing chess and music. I had to go out with some washing; I told Fritz I could not carry it; he asked Dubof to assist me, and Dubof and I went to the laundry together. I had to wait at the laundry, and Dubof left me there. When I got back to No. 59 Dubof was there; I cannot remember what time he left. Later that night Trassjonsky and I went to see some living pictures. On returning she and I were staying in the back room; Fritz and Trassjonsky lived there together. About midnight I heard two people coming upstairs. On my going to the front room door and knocking Fritz told me I must not come in. A little later the men left and I went with Trassjonsky into the front room and there saw the body of Gardstein lying on the bed. I heard a conversation between Fritz and Trassjonsky. Fritz told her that Morountzeff was wounded and asked her to put cold water to his side. Shortly afterwards I went to Hoffman’s room in Lindley Street. Fritz and Federof and Peters were there. I heard Fritz say that he carried Gardstein like a baby; also that he wanted to leave him near Commercial Road, but he started screaming. I saw a revolver in Federof’s hand; I had seen no other revolvers that night.

Comments: Luba Milstein (1892-1973) was a Russian Jew and mistress of Fritz Svaars, one of the group of Latvian revolutionaries known as the ‘Houndsditch murderers’ who killed two policemen at Houndsditch in London’s East End following a raid on a jeweller’s shop on 16 December 1910. One of the gang, George Gardstein, died the following day. They were were pursued by the police to what became known at the Siege of Sidney Street (3 January 1911), in which Svaars died. This testimony comes from the subsequent Old Bailey trial of some of those associated with the group. Sara Trassjonsky was another member.

Links: Transcript at The Proceedings of the Old Bailey

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The Murder of Othello

Source: H.F. Hoffman, ‘The Murder of Othello’, Moving Picture World, 22 July 1911, p. 110

Text: It may be wrong for a writer in one department to go browsing around in the pasture of another. Mr. Richardson is supposed to be conducting the projection department of this paper, and no doubt I am violating all professional ethics when I deliberately steal some of his thunder. I have noticed that sometimes operators have criticised him because he goes to a show and then writes a “knock” about the operator.

If Mr. R. were not so capable of taking care of himself I might feel sorry for him and be inclined to help him out, but as it is I know he would not thank me for such a foolish proceeding on my part. However, there is no law that I can find against the giving of moral support, and therefore whatever I may write about the operator will come under the head of Moral Support.

Many of you exhibitors make use of a little slide that reads: “If you like our show tell others; if not, tell us.” Then when someone tells you your show is awfully bad you call it a “knock” and mumble something about deadheads being the biggest kickers, etc. That is, some of you do, but the majority of you take the criticism in the spirit in which it is given. The politicians say, “Let the tariff be reformed, but only by its friends,” and we say, “Let the moving picture be reformed, but only by its friends.”

Someone has got to do the kicking; that is a certainty, and we feel to a large extent the burden falls upon us who have the welfare of moving pictures at heart. We wish that everything about them were perfect, so we would not have to criticise. We believe we will live to see the day when they will be as nearly perfect as possible, but we also realize that nothing was ever improved by trying to gloss over the faults. One of the best ways to learn things is to learn by making mistakes. Teddy Roosevelt says that the only way to make a people correct their faults is to keep reminding them of those faults. In other words, “Ding it into em.”

There has been considerable written in the past in these pages about bad projection, etc., and the chances are that there will be and ought to be considerably more, just so long as there are exhibitors who stand for films to be run without titles or with the words reading backwards, or a dozen other stupid sins of comission or omission that are to be seen daily almost anywhere. The only way to remedy the fault is to keep on dinging about it.

Your little slide that says “If you like our show tell others; if not, tell us,” is all very pretty on the screen, but it doesn’t amount to much. If you are an exhibitor you know very well that none of your patrons comes to you and tells you your show is “rotten.” In the first place, they wouldn’t want to hurt your feelings, and secondly, they won’t take a chance on you swelling up and asking what people will want next for a nickel. If you are an exhibitor you also know that the public is fickle. You know that they simply reverse your little slide. When your show is good they tell you, and when it is bad they tell others. They like to flatter you, perhaps in the hope of getting on the free list some day. Your faults they relate to your competitor up the street because they may think he likes to hear it and may possibly grant them the freedom of his house, or something else. I don’t know why they do it, but they do.

The opinions of lay critics are not very safe guides, as I have found out once or twice to my sorrow. The public judges by results only. With them a picture is either good or bad, but they could not tell exactly why. Their criticism is not analytical. They do not know good projection from bad, except in the most superficial way. When the operating is bad you never hear them say, “What poor projection they have here.” No; you are more apt to hear them say “I like the pictures, but they hurt my eyes.” When the projection is good they forget about the technical end and lose themselves in the picture itself. Why? Because things are as they ought to be; they expect good projection when they come. They have a right to expect it.

[...]

Now then, having brushed away opposition from all sources, let us proceed with the Murder of Othello. He was murdered by an operator last Friday night. They took him out of his tin armour and placed him on the operating table in the operating room. They made a diagnosis, gave him an anasthetic [sic], then put him through a sausage machine and when the poor fellow came out of the other end he was mangled beyond recognition.

I had been talking just before with the manager. He said, “Yes, I take the Moving Picture World. A manager should not be without it because it is so full of valuable advice. Have you noticed our solid brick operating room?” I then took notice. The place was an airdome seating at least 1,500, with loads of room to spare. Behind the rear seats was a promenade fifty feet wide, and there at the end of the middle aisle stood the solid brick oven on four legs. It covered an area about six feet square or 36 square feet. He could have built a two-story residence there without interfering with anyone’s view, and yet he who took the World for its helpful hints had constructed this 6×6 oven and called it an operating room. Oh, Brother Richardson, you will have to use bigger type.

The Othello picture began with the usual chorus — “What’s the name of this?” “I wonder what this is.” “Mamma, who’s that man?” “Did you get the name?” “I beg pardon, sir, did you notice the title of this?” “I wish I knew what this is all about.” “What is it?” “I don’t know, looks like something from the Bible.” “What did it say?” “Excuse me, was there any name to this?” “No, I didn’t see any,” etc. Now in the name of just plain common sense, I am going to ask why this thing is done, day after day, in so many places. Is it possible that a man can have the nerve to call himself a manager or an operator, and still show such indifference to the one thing of all that brings the people to the place — the picture?

I would like to have a photograph of the mind of such a man to see by what mental process he concludes that the audience knows what it is looking at. After the first offense, if that party were in my employ, he would last about as long as a June frost. All this talk about reels coming from the exchange without titles is a lazy man’s excuse. Cover glass is cheap and title slides can be written in half a minute. Fancy lettering is not necessary and takes up too much time. There is nothing in a temporary slide that looks any better than good plain handwriting, especially if the slide is tinted and the principal words are properly capitalized and underscored. Try it and you will find it better than most of these horrible hand-printed affairs.

The big laugh in Othello came with the first scene when the title and sub-titles came through reading backwards. It was the same laugh you hear when a song slide gets in upside down. But the fun didn’t end there. Instead of clipping his film at once and reversing the upper reel, the operator let the whole thing go through the way it was. We are all aware that Othello is not the easiest subject in the world to follow, even under the best of circumstances. The title and all the sub-titles are extremely necessary, even to those who know it, and a good lecture should go with it for those who do not. Imagine the audience then, for the most part in utter ignorance of what they were looking at. The light was vile. The patrons had their choice of two things to look at. On the sheet the spectacle of a white woman smearing her love upon a colored man, or in the operating room, the operator who had attracted their attention.

It seems that in his dilemma he had hit upon the idea of hiding his mistake by speeding up his machine when the sub-titles appeared, so as to get them over with quickly. But the racket of it only made matters worse by drawing their attention to him. All thought of how the audience was enjoying the picture was far from his mind, but they were enjoying it just the same. They quickly saw that he was trying to pull the wool over their eyes so they began to watch for the sub-titles. When these appeared mid he put on the high speed the audience would howl with delight. He was greeted with mock applause, laughter, cat calls and other noises. Nobodv felt bad when Othello breathed his last. The program was short on comedy anyhow, and this filled the bill very nicelv. On my part, for a long time to come, I will remember the murder of Othello.

Comments: The film of Othello was probably the Film d’Arte Italian production Otello (Italy 1909), which was released in the USA in April 1910. Mr Richardson is F. H. Richardson, who wrote a technical advice column for Moving Picture World. H.F. Hoffman was a film lecturer and occasional writer for the journal.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

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In the South Seas

Source: Robert Louis Stevenson, In the South Seas: Being an Account of Experiences and Observations in the Marquesas, Paumotus and Gilbert Islands in the Course of Two Cruises on the Yacht ‘Casco’ (1886) and the Schooner ‘Equator’ (1889) (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1896), pp. 277-279

Text: Saturday, July 27. – We had announced a performance of the magic lantern to-night in church; and this brought the king to visit us. In honor of the Black Douglas (I suppose) his usual two guardsmen were now increased to four; and the squad made an outlandish figure as they straggled after him, in straw hats, kilts and jackets. Three carried their arms reversed, the butts over their shoulders, the muzzles menacing the king’s plumb back; the fourth had passed his weapon behind his neck, and held it there with arms extended like a backboard. The visit was extraordinarily long. The king, no longer galvanized with gin, said and did nothing. He sat collapsed in a chair and let a cigar go out. It was hot, it was sleepy, it was cruel dull; there was no resource but to spy in the countenance of Tebureimoa for some remaining trait of Mr. Corpse the butcher. His hawk nose, crudely depressed and flattened at the point, did truly seem to us to smell of midnight murder. When he took his leave, Maka bade me observe him going down the stair (or rather ladder) from the verandah. ‘Old man,’ said Maka. ‘Yes,’ said I, ‘and yet I supposed not old man.’ ‘Young man,’ returned Maka, ‘perhaps fo’ty.’ And I have heard since he is most likely younger.

While the magic lantern was showing, I skulked without in the dark. The voice of Maka, excitedly explaining the Scripture slides, seemed to fill not the church only, but the neighborhood. All else was silent. Presently a distant sound of singing arose and approached; and a procession drew near along the road, the hot clean smell of the men and women striking in my face delightfully. At the corner, arrested by the voice of Maka and the lightening and darkening of the church, they paused. They had no mind to go nearer, that was plain. They were Makin people, I believe, probably staunch heathens, contemners of the missionary and his works. Of a sudden, however, a man broke from their company, took to his heels, and fled into the church; next moment three had followed him; the next it was a covey of near upon a score, all pelting for their lives. So the little band of heathen paused irresolute at the corner, and melted before the attractions of a magic lantern, like a glacier in spring. The more staunch vainly taunted the deserters; three fled in a guilty silence, but still fled; and when at length the leader found the wit or authority to get his troop in motion and revive the singing, it was with much diminished forces that they passed musically on up the dark road.

Meanwhile inside the luminous pictures brightened and faded. I stood for some while unobserved in the rear of the spectators, when I could hear just in front of me a pair of lovers following the show with interest, the male playing the part of interpreter (like Adam) mingling caresses with his lecture. The wild animals, a tiger in particular, and that old school-treat favourite, the sleeper and the mouse, were hailed with joy; but the chief marvel and delight was in the gospel series. Maka, in the opinion of his aggrieved wife, did not properly rise to the occasion. ‘What is the matter with the man? Why can’t he talk?’, she cried. The matter with the man, I think, was the greatness of the opportunity; he reeled under his good fortune; and whether he did ill or well, the exposure of these pious ‘phantoms’ did as a matter of fact silence in all that part of the island the voice of the scoffer. ‘Why then,’ the word went round. ‘why then, the Bible is true!’

And on our return afterwards we were told the impression was lively, and those who had seen might be heard telling those who had not, ‘O yes, it is all true; these things all happened, we have seen the pictures.’ The argument is not so childish as it seems; for I doubt if these islanders are acquainted with any other mode of representation but photography; so that the picture of an even (on the old melodrama principle that ‘the camera cannot lie, Joseph,’) would appear strong proof of its occurrence. The fact amused us the more because our slides were some of them ludicrously silly, and one (Christ before Pilate) was received with shouts of merriment, in which even Maka was constrained to join.

Comments: Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) was a Scottish novelist and travel writer. In the South Seas is a posthumously-published accounts of two cruises through the Pacific Ocean visiting the Hawaiian islands, the Gilbert Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand and the Samoan Islands. This passage relates to his second cruise and his visit to the Gilbert Islands in 1889. My grateful thanks to Artemis Willis for bringing this text to my attention.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

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The Journals of Sydney Race

Source: Ann Featherstone (ed.), The Journals of Sydney Race 1892-1900: A Provincial View of Popular Entertainment (London: The Society for Theatre Research, 2007), pp. 85-86

Text: 1898, October 6th, 7th, 8th
Goose Fair

I have not the patience to describe the Fair fully, but these were the shows:

Bostocks menagerie
Wall’s ghost (opposite Market Street)
Lawrence’s Cinematograph (facing Spaldings)
Wadbrooke’s Cinematographe (commencing the avenue from Binghams to Lambs)
Day’s Menagerie
? Cinematographe
Wallace the Untameable Lion
A second sight woman
Coxswain Terry’s Crocodiles
Randall Williams’s Cinematograph (looking down Wheeler’s Gate)
Count Orloff, the transparent man
The bear-faced woman
A child-dwarf
Ayme’s Mechanical Exhibition
Radford and Chappell’s Marionettes (late Ghost)
Buckley’s Performing dogs etc.
A swimming exhibition
Prof Burnett’s Military Exhibition
(opp Wombwell’s) Baby incubator and midgets

I am not sure this is a correct list as I cannot find the particulars I took down at the Fair, if indeed I did take any. But it is substantially correct.

I saw the child-dwarf. She was a poor little thing, the size of a baby a few weeks old, but said to have been born three years ago. She sat in a little chair and was lifted up by her mother for us to see her; but it was a poor exhibition and the child was not ‘all there.’

I went in most of the cinematograph shows and saw some really good pictures. Most of them showed a bull-fight – views of the actual thing – and very savage did the bull show himself. We did not see the actual death, but we saw several poor horses knocked down and dragged out of the arena lifeless. Randall Williams had a capital picture taken at Lords on Dr Grace’s Jubilee Day, taken as the two elevens were making a ceremonial parade of the ground. The Doctor came first and raised his hat most affably, as he got up to us. Walking with him was Arthur Shrewsbury whom it was quite easy to recognise, and the great Gunn came a little way behind, and also W. Nixon, the Notts Captain.

Walls showed two coloured pictures – the first I have seen – and also a view of the Gladstone funeral procession. This last was a very good picture. The Commons came first, marching four abreast, then there was a little interval and the Lord Chancellor wobbled across preceded by his mace bearer. After him came the Archbishop of York, walking alone, some of the temporal peers in fours, a group of bishops, and another set of peers. Last came the mourners, before whom walked the Bishop of London and then the body. The pall bearers who walked beside the hearse were quite recognisable – of Lord Salisbury we had a particularly good view and the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York we could see at the end. Among the mourners were some little boys who hardly seemed to comprehend the ceremony and at the rear walked the Revd. Gladstone by himself. Any faces one knew were easily picked out. Sir Mathew White Ridley and other Front bench men who headed the Commons I quickly recognised.

Another capital picture shown here was taken in front of a train as it dashed through the country. The hedges, the signal posts and telephone wires all went quickly by and the bridge which we could see ahead grew larger and larger as we approached until we had passed under it. Then we rushed by a station and could see the people walking up and down its platform and rapidly drew near a tunnel ahead. We saw the train entering it, then the sheet went black as we were [pages missing]

Comments: Sydney Race (1875-1960) was the working-class son of a cotton mill engineer and worked as an insurance clerk in Nottingham. His private journal documents the different kinds of entertainment he witnessed in Nottingham. The above is part of his account of visiting the Nottingham Goose Fair in October 1898. Dr Grace is the cricketer W.G. Grace and the film described is W.G. Grace Celebrates at Lord’s on His 50th Birthday (1898), made by the Prestwich Manufacturing Company. William Gunn and John Dixon were both Nottinghamshire players. The jubilee procession took place on 18 July 1898. The funeral of former prime minister William Gladstone took place 28 May 1898 and was filmed by several companies. Lord Salisbury was the serving prime minister. The ‘coloured pictures’ would have been hand-painted. Films taken from the front of moving trains were a common attraction in early film shows, often being given the name ‘phantom rides’.

Posted in 1890s, Diaries, United Kingdom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do take me to see the Pictures again

Source: ‘Do take me to the Pictures again’, ‘I always enjoy the Pictures’ and ‘Oh! you naughty boy’, three postcards (not sent), numbers RPH 4270/2, 4270/4, 4279/6, 1910s, from the Nicholas Hiley collection

pictures

enjoy

naughty

Comments: Three from a series of postcards showing the romantic possibilities of a visit to the cinema. Park benches were not to be found in cinemas, as a rule. Postcards with photographed performers rather than cartoons were common at this period.

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I’ve been spoilt this week …

Source: Extract from Lily Middleton, ‘I’ve been spoilt this week …’, Graduate Life! blog, http://lilymiddleton.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/ive-been-spoilt-this-week.html, 28 February 2014

Text: Last night I headed to the Curzon Cinema in Chelsea to see the National Theatre’s live streaming of War Horse. I’ve wanted to see War Horse for a long time, however looking to go recently the tickets are not cheap. So when I spotted that it was being streamed to the cinema, for a much more do-able price, I was in buying my tickets immediately. I’ve seen a Jamie Cullum gig streamed to a cinema before, which was weird at first but then you get used to it. This was much the same, at first you’re very conscious you’re watching a theatre through a screen, however once the enchanting and heart-wrenching story of War Horse begins I was completely immersed. The play is truly incredible; it’s amazing how quickly you forget you’re watching a puppet and feel affection for Joey. I especially liked how they don’t ever hide the fact that the horses are puppets, the costumes of the puppeteers aren’t particularly hiding them although do match the colours of the horse. With hardly any set, it really is a treat for the power of the imagination, whatever your age. I was transported to a variety of locations from scenic Devon to the horror of the trenches through simple props and lighting – and of course the power of the story itself taking you to these locations.

The story is powerful and heart wrenching. Billy raises Joey from a foal and they build a powerful bond, which we see is unbreakable. Joey is sold to the Army and the two are split, this play tells the story of the two characters individual war experiences and the ending is so emotional I’m welling up just thinking about it. It is a beautiful story and left my Mum and I in tears. As if the performance itself wasn’t special enough, at the end Joey himself entered the cinema! Everyone burst into excited applause; it was a privilege to be there and meet Joey. I think it may be the closest I’ve ever been to a horse! Everyone was commenting on how real he seemed, and as he walked around the cinema amongst a sea of camera phones and people trying to stroke him, he just showed how extraordinary a creation he is.

NT Live is a great idea, bringing live theatre to cinemas. However I didn’t like the interval feature, it was behind the scenes videos, showing behind the scenes footage and interviews. This would be great to see at the end of the show, or a few days later. But seeing this in the middle of the show slightly broke the magic that had been cast over the cinema, particularly as the clips showed parts of the play we had not yet even seen!

Comments: Lily Middleton is a British marketing & PR assistant, theatre reviewer and musician. War Horse, the National Theatre’s 2007 stage production of Michael Morpurgo’s novel of the First World War, was broadcast to cinemas in the NT Live series from the New London Theatre on 27 February 2014. The remainder of the blog post covers an actual stage production, The Lion King. My thanks to Lily Middleton for permission to reproduce this extract.

Links: NT Live web page for War Horse

Posted in 2010s, United Kingdom, Web texts | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Whose Laetie are You?

Source: Extracts from Rrekgetsi Chimeloane, Whose Laetie are You? My Sowetan Boyhood (Capetown: Kwela Books, 2001), pp. 31-34

Text: The day I saw my first Bruce Lee movie – Enter the Dragon – I understood why all the boys were running around with two bits of stick loosely bound together at one end by a chain. Kung fu hit the township in a big way and almost all the boys around my age were shrieking and screeching out like Bruce Lee: now me included.

[...]

I especially admired the boys who were going for karate and kung fu lessons all over the township. Every time I asked where I could go and sign up for classes, the other boys would look at me and say, “You think karate is for sissies like you? You wouldn’t even last a minute there.” There were boys who walked all the way to the Moravian Hall in Zone Five, about half an hour’s walk through different zones and territories, for lessons, and I wished I was among them. Then I would never again be afraid of any threats or obstacles.

But in the end I stayed with the movies and admired the art of acting. The two genres that had the most impact on me, not surprisingly, were martial arts and cowboys and Indians films. With the martial arts movies, not forgetting the special effects of actors performing the impossible, of great significance to me was the idea of seeing someone fighting bare-handed and defeating a bunch of people armed with a multitude of weapons. To me this was the answer to all the bullies who constantly threatened to beat me up with one weapon or another. The Hong Kong cinema presented me, in my mind anyway, with the possibility of turning myself from victim into victor. It showed me that you did not have to be big and strong to defeat your enemies, you just had to be quick and smart. Movies like Lady Whirlwind, with Angela Mao kicking all the bad guys from one end of the screen to the other, showed me that it did not even matter whether you were a boy or a girl.

[...]

Naturally enough, as young boys we all started adopting role models from the big screen. However, when one talks of the big screen, people should not think that we had a conventional cinema. It was a township school hall a makeshift movie house that existed on weekends only. What Bra Hohle did was to cover the windows with black plastic and throw a white sheet over the blackboard. That was our movie house, and since we had no other in the vicinity, that was fine with us.

Our first and foremost role model was Bruce Lee. As little boys we went crazy over Bruce Lee. What was strange, though, was that we could never remember even one of the names of the characters he played, To us, he was always simply known as Bruce Lee. Most of the other leading actors in the martial arts movies we gave names as we saw fit. We were around Sub B and Standard One and unable to remember or even properly pronounce their names, so we gave them names that seemed to suit their particular styles.

Take John Liu, for instance – due to his powerful kicking style, we called him Mr Ma-Kick. For some reason he was the only one ever afforded the respect of being called “Mr”. I knew for a face, because of the relatives we had living in the area, that in the Mabopane/Garankuwa district, north of Pretoria, he was called Chappies, after the bubble gum. Don’t ask me why. But to the kids in those areas the name somehow must have made sense.

Those we never gave names to were identified by their association with other actors and characters from the movies. It went something like, “He is the guy who was a friend of the starring who starred in the movie Eighteen Bronze Men.” By “staring” we meant the leading actor.

[...]

Another thing: we could not read the English subtitles at that age and were, anyway, not fast enough to follow the dialogue, but afterwards we could tell you exactly what the movie was about and what each character had said to each other.

What amazed me most, still amazes me as I look back, was how a movie you had missed was related back to you with intricacy, flair and style by those who had seen it. You would be told exactly who said what to whom and would get a full demonstration of the action. A second-hand film narration went something like this:

“After the starring fought with the other man … the one who was the villain in that other bioscope I told you about …”

“Which bioscope was that?”

“The one I told you about last time, man … about that man whose dark green punch sounded like a gun from the cowboy bioscope.”

“Is it the same one who rode on a reed on top of the water and always said ‘Buddha bless you’ in the other movie we saw, when they showed us a double feature and the film burnt halfway, and we had to come back the next day and watched that other movie about Shaolin?”

“Yes, but this time he did not have that green fist. In this bioscope he could crush your skull with his bare hands …”

“Yes, I remember that one …”

You really had to know your stuff about martial arts movies to follow a narration like that, or perhaps you just had to be as young, naïve and easily excited as we were about action movies and the big screen.

Comments: Rrekgetsi Chimeloane (born 1964) is a South African writer and novelist, whose memoirs describes his childhood in the South African township of Soweto under apartheid rule. ‘Laetie’ means little brother. ‘Bioscope’ is the South African term for cinema. The films mentioned are Enter the Dragon (Hong Kong 1973), Lady Whirlwind (aka Deep Thrust) (Hong Kong 1972) and The 18 Bronzemen (Hong Kong 1978).

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Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Female, 22, white, college senior’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), pp. 180-181

Text: The pictures of the South that were in my mind were those given by Harriet B. Stowe. D.W. Griffith’s production, “The Birth of a Nation” made me see the Negro of the South as he was and not as the Northerners have always portrayed him. I believe that many people were influenced as I was to realize what the Negroes thought freedom meant. It is only when a Negro demands the marriage of the abolitionist’s daughter, who is white, that he, the father, can realize what all his agitation has meant. This picture did not make me an advocate of slavery as it existed but it made me see things from a Southerner’s point of view.

Comments: American sociologist Herbert Blumer’s Movies and Conduct presents twelve studies of the influence of motion pictures upon the young, made by the Committee on Educational Research of the Payne Fund, at the request of the National Committee for the Study of Social Values in Motion Pictures. The study solicited autobiographical essays, mostly from undergraduate students of the University of Chicago, and presented extracts from this evidence in the text. This extract comes from the section ‘Scheme of Life’ under the paragraph heading ‘Difference in Interpretation’. This film referred to is The Birth of a Nation (USA 1915).

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

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We Love Glenda So Much

Source: Extract from Julio Cortázar (trans. Gregory Rabassa), ‘We Love Glenda So Much’, in Hopscotch / Blow-up and other stories / We Love Glenda So Much and other tales (New York/London/Toronto: Everyman’s Library, 2014), p. 805 (orig. pub. Queremos tanto a Glenda y otro realtos, 1980)

Text: In those days it was hard to know. You go to the movies or the theater and live your night without thinking about the people who have already gone through the same ceremony, choosing the place and the time, getting dressed and telephoning and row eleven or five, the darkness and the music, territory that belongs to nobody and to everybody there where everybody is nobody, the men or women in their seats, maybe a word of apology for arriving late, a murmured comments that someone picks up or ignores, almost always silence, looks pouring onto the stage or screen, fleeing from what’s beside them, from what’s on this side.

Comments: Julio Cortázar (1914-1984) was an Argentinian novelist and short story writer, best known for his experimental novel Hopscotch, and in film circles for his story ‘Blow-up’ which inspired Antonioni’s eponymous 1966 film. His short story ‘We Love Glenda So Much’, from which the above is the opening words, is about a group of (probably) Argentinian cinemagoers and their obsession with the actress Glenda Garson (loosely based on Glenda Jackson). In his book In Broad Daylight: Movies and Spectators After the Cinema (2012), Gabriele Pedullà says

This passage from We Love Glenda So Much offers an excellent starting point for reflecting on the condition of the spectator during the projection of a film, not least because of the novelist’s skill in sketching the dark cube experience through a catalog of such heterogeneous details. Sight, hearing, touch … A hypothetical list of the elements characterizing cinematic viewing would not be much more extensive than the one we find in the brilliant opening of Cortázar’s story.

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