Hugging the Shore

Source: John Updike, Hugging the Shore: Essays and Criticism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), p. 843

Text: I went to the movies pretty intensely from about 1938, when I was six years old, to 1954, when I graduated from college. My moviegoing has fallen off since, as my willing suspension of disbelief becomes more and more grudging. Of the many movies I did see in my youth, however, I received an ultimate impression – a moral ideal, we may say – of debonair grace, whether it was Fred Astaire gliding in white tie and tails across a stage of lovelies, or Errol Flynn leading a band of merry men through Sherwood Forest with that little half-smile beneath his mustache, or George Sanders drawling a riposte in his role as the Saint. In my own clumsy way I have tried all my life to be similarly debonair. Also I got an impression of a world where everything works out for the best and even small flaws in character are punished with a hideous rigor. And also, of course, of sex, symbolized by beautiful round-armed women taking baths in champagne or being threatened, in Roman or Biblical contexts, by murder or conversion. When one reads, nowadays, of how much actual sex was being pursued and accomplished by the makers of those movies, their delicately honed symbolizations seem almost hypocrisy – but the message got through, to us adolescents out there, and the eroticization of America is (in large part) a cinematic achievement. The Eros is still there, but I do miss in contemporary movies the debonairness, the what Hemingway called grace under pressure, a certain masculine economy and understatement in the design of those films, now all gone to scatter and rumpus in the fight with television for the lowest denominator.

Comments: John Updike (1932-2009) was an American novelist and critic. This untitled memoir of his cinemagoing was written in August 1979 in reply to a query from George Christy, editor of The Hollywood Reporter Annual, who wanted to know “how Hollywood has influenced you, your work, your artistic vision”.

Posted in 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1970s, Film journals, USA | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sociology of Film

Source: J.P. Mayer, Sociology of Film: Studies and Documents (London: Faber and Faber, 1946), pp. 236-237

Text: 53. Miss …

You asked do films ever influence your life. Well I think that they do especially technicoloured films. I have always wanted to write an article on films and here at last is my chance. I am a great film fan and they certainly influence me. In fact I do not know what would have happened if films had never been invented — I have never been in love yet but I wish I had the chance of playing the role of wife to such stars as Allan Ladd Van Johnson Denis Morgan or Gene Kelly, neither have I been divorced yet, but if it is as nice as it appears on the screen in such films as Escape to Happiness or Old Acquantience (Acquaintance) Great Mans Lady or In This Our Life, O.K., I do not think I should have put (as nice) in describing divorce as it appears on the screen, but it is so thrilling and exciting.

Next on the list is manners. Well I wish above all things to possess such charming manners as Phyllis Thaxter as she appeared in I think her only film ever released Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. But I also like such mannerisms as Vivien Leigh, in Gone with the Wind or Irene Dunne’s such understanding manners in White Cliffs of Dover.

And lastly Fashion. Well nowadays give any girl the chance to wear any of the mordern [sic] clothes that you see on the films nowadays. For instance in Home in Indiana June Haver wore some beautiful clothes especially a Red coat and hat trimmed with Lambs wool and in Pin Up Girl Betty Grable wore a nice cream lace dresse (dress) and a smart white suite (suit), of course you imagine yourself in them so much more if the film is in technicolor (technicolour).

Now to question of films appearing in your dreams. Well they do in mine allright[.] In Doctor Wassell I dreamt I was fighting alongside of Gary Cooper and I imagined that I was a nurse like Claudette Colbert in So Proudly We Hail, and in Stage Door Canteen I was a Hostess. These are just a few and it may seem silly but I do not think you enjoy a film if you are not living with it.

Age 18. Sex. Female. Nationality English. Profession, Cashier.
Profession of Parents. Engineer. Mother none.

Comments: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His Sociology of Film draws on a large amount of evidence gathered through questionnaires and submissions received through invitations published in Picturegoer magazine. The above response comes from the section ‘The Adult and the Cinema’. People were asked to answer two questions: Have films ever influenced you with regard to personal decisions or behaviour? and Have films ever appeared in your dreams? Escape to Happiness is an alternative title for Intermezzo (USA 1939). The corrections in round brackets are in the original text (Technicolor is, of course, the correct spelling). All of the films mentioned were American.

Posted in 1940s, Reports and studies, United Kingdom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, esq., R.A.

Source: Letter from John Constable to Bishop John Fisher, 30 September 1823, in C.R. Leslie, Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, esq., R.A., composed chiefly of his letters (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1845, 2nd ed.), pp. 115-116

Text: September 30th. My Dear Fisher … I was at the private view of the Diorama; it is in part a transparency; the spectator is in a dark chamber, and it is very pleasing, and has great illusion. It is without the pale of the art, because its object is deception. The art pleases by reminding, not by deceiving. The place was filled with foreigners, and I seemed to be in a cage of magpies.

Comments: John Constable (1776-1837) was an English landscape painter. He enjoyed a long friendship with John Fisher, Bishop of Salisbury. The passage above comes from a letter written by Constable to Fisher. The Diorama was a visual spectacle presented in an elaborate theatre, able to accommodate around 350 people. The audience would viewed a large-scale landscape painting on a screen 70ftx45ft whose appearance would alter through the manipulation of lighting and scenic effects. A turntable would then rotate the audience around to view a second painting. The Diorama premiered in Paris in 1822, and opened in London at Regent’s Park on 29 September 1823 in a venue designed by Augustus Pugin (father of the architect of the same name). Constable therefore attended its London premiere.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Posted in 1820s, Letters, United Kingdom | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Doing My Bit for Ireland

Source: Margaret Skinnider, Doing My Bit for Ireland (New York, The Century Co., 1917), pp. 202-204

Text: At a moving-picture performance of “The Great Betrayal,” I was surprised at the spirit of daring in the audience. The story was about one of those abortive nationalist revolts in Italy which preceded the revolution that made Italy free. The plot was parallel in so many respects to the Easter Week rising in Ireland that crowds flocked every day to see it. In the final picture, when the heroic leaders were shot in cold blood, men in the audience called out bitterly:

‘That’s right, Colthurst! Keep it up!”

Colthurst was the man who shot Sheehy Skeffington without trial on the second day of the rising. He had been promoted for his deeds of wanton cruelty, and only the fact that a royal commission was demanded by Skeffington’s widow and her friends, made it necessary to adjudge him insane as excuse for his behavior, when that behavior was finally brought to light.

It was on the occasion of my visit to the moving-pictures that I was annoyed by the knowledge that a detective was following me. His only disguise was to don Irish tweeds such as “Irish Irelanders” wear to stimulate home industry. He had been following me about Dublin ever since my arrival for my August visit. To this day I don’t know why he did not arrest me, nor what he was waiting for me to do. But I decided now to give him the slip. In Glasgow I have had much practice jumping on cars going at full speed. The Dublin cars are much slower, so as a car passed me in the middle of the block, I suddenly leaped aboard, leaving my British friend standing agape with astonishment on the sidewalk. Doubtless he felt the time had come for me to carry out whatever plot I had up my sleeve, and that he had been defeated in his purpose of looking on. I never saw him again.

Comments: Margaret Skinnider (1892-1971) was a Scottish revolutionary who fought as a sniper for the Irish republicans during the Easter Rising, being the only woman wounded during the action. The Great Betrayal was the British release title for the Italian four-reel feature film Romanticismo (Italy 1915), a drama of Italian partisans fighting the Austrians in the 19th century, directed by Carlo Campogalliani and starring Tullio Carminati and Helena Makowska. Skinnider dates her cinema visit to August 1916. She left Dublin for the United States, to avoid internment, publishing her autobiography there.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Posted in 1910s, Ireland, Memoirs | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Old Glory

Source: Jonathan Raban, Old Glory: An American Voyage (London: Collins, 1981), pp. 94-95

Text: I tried the wardrobe, a handsome reproduction piece of pine colonial. The drawers, when I pulled at them, turned out to be doors, and opened on an enormous colour television. I found my weather report. Nothing does so much justice to the gargantuan scale of American life as its national weather maps. In Europe, one is allowed to see the weather only as scraps and fragments: a cake-slice of a depression here; a banded triangle of a ridge of high pressure there. In the United States I was enthralled by the epic sweep of whole weather systems as they rolled across the country from the Pacific to the Atlantic, or coasted down from the Arctic Circle, or swirled up from Mexico and Cuba. The weathermen tapped their maps with sticks. Without betraying the slightest flicker of wonder or concern, they announced that people were being frozen to death in Butte, roasted in Flagstaff and blown off their feet in Tallahassee. Each day they rattled off every conceivable variety of climactic extremity in a blasé drawl. I’d never seen so much weather at once, and was deeply impressed. I shivered vicariously for the Montanans, sweated for the Texans and ran for shelter with the Floridans.

Comments: Jonathan Raban (1942 – ) is a British travel writer and novelists. Old Glory records a journey he takes down the Mississippi River, including this visit to a Minneapolis hotel.

Posted in 1980s, Travel writing, USA | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918

Source: Extract from interview with Mrs Winifred Sturgeon, C707/363/1-6, Thompson, P. and Lummis, T., Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918, 1870-1973 [computer file]. 7th Edition. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], May 2009. SN: 2000, http://dx.doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-2000-1

Text: A. And then – a great thing in the church was the conversazione, it was a shilling and the ladies – the ladies all at the tables and there was a great – they – they brought their teapots and things. This was a – the conversazione, it was a great thing, I’d go just once.

Q. Did they have any entertainment at that or did you just go for a cup of tea?

A. Yes – oh – there would be singing and that and speechifying at the conversazione. And the Sunday school then, the party – Sunday school party was a cinematograph – a cinema – a magic lantern. It wasnae – a magic lantern, did you ever see a magic lantern? Aye well, it was a magic lantern. And – they would have a set of slides and then they had some comic slides that we knew, we’d see it there every time that they – would see this – this comic, and it was a card thing and they – they could manipulate it that the – the – a chinaman that was dancing or doing something. And you went – and – your – when you came out you got a parkin and an orange and an apple. That – that was your entertainment. That was the entertainment you got for the Sunday school party.

Q. Was that at Christmas?

A. Round about – round about the Christmastirne. But that was all the entertainment you got.

Comments: Mrs Winifred Sturgeon was born in 1885 in Dumfries, the eldest child of a master slater. She is describing what childhood entertainments there were in the 1890s. She was one of 444 people interviewed by Paul Thompson and his team as part of a study of the Edwardian era which resulted in Thompson’s book The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975).

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

Vaudeville and Motion Picture Shows

Source: William Trufant Foster (with the aid of sixty investigators), Vaudeville and Motion Picture Shows: A study of theaters in Portland, Oregon (Portland, Or.: Reed College, 1914), pp. 52-53

Text: “Picture 1 ‘A Seaside Samaritan.’ Robbers are reformed immediately by kind treatment. Picture of simple and happy home life. Kindness shown to strangers. Wrong-doers are converted too suddenly to be convincing. The right triumphs. Harmless but not helpful.

“Picture 2 ‘Rory O. The Bogs.’ Melodrama. Impossible to follow the story. Effect apparently harmless.” (1)

“Picture 1 ‘The Cross in the Cacti.’ Melodrama. Without moral value. Worst wrong-doer was killed but no evidence that the one who escaped deserv[e]d better treatment. Purely adventure. Comparativ[e]ly harmless.

“Picture 2 ‘Curing the Doctor.’ Melodrama. Harmful morally. Improper ethical standards. Low ideals of love.

“Picture 3 Farce. Cheap, vulgar in parts, probably harmless.

“Picture 4 ‘The Hounded Bride.’ Morbid, unmoral. Would have caused nightmare to me as a child.” (1)

“Picture 1 Saloon scene, drinking.

“Picture 2 Altho not elevating, still not bad.

“Picture 3 Ridiculous in a vulgar way. Without moral value.

“Picture 4 Morbid.” (1)

“I saw nothing morally wrong with any of the pictures. However, I question scenes showing brutality between a father and a mother, also extended death scenes.

“‘Betty’s Nightmare.’ show[e]d the unsatisfactory results of patent medicines and sensational novels. It perhaps dasht a little cold water on some embryo Mary Garden but it left the final impression that there is no place like home.

“Picture 2 Good, the right-doer prospers. Effect somewhat inspiring.” (2)

“Picture 1 Tragedy. Seducer shot. Moral value good. The wrong-doer was punisht.

“Picture 2 Portrays act of stealing. Might instigate theft.

“Picture 3 Farce. Portrays unwholesome scenes. Effect bad.

“Picture 4 Tragedy depicting dual life of a man.

“Singing disgustingly vulgar, coarse and exceedingly flat.” (3)

“The film has no educational value. The villians [sic] are worsted but not in such a manner as to teach the triumph of virtue. For blowing up a bridge to wreck a train, for throwing the hero into the ocean to drown and casting the heroine down an old well to perish they suffer merely a few blows at the hands of the rightfully angry hero.

“The children were intensely interested in the hero and heroine overcoming the obstacles placed in their way by the villains. The film appeal[e]d to their imagination and love of adventure in a harmless way.” (3)

“Picture 1 ‘The Intruder.’ Melodrama. Moral value good if any. True love scenes.

“Picture 2 Farce. Harmless for adults, bad for small boys. It suggests dangerous pranks.

“Picture 3 ‘Cue and Miss-Cue.’ Farce. Man lies to his wife. Much drinking at billiards and at the bar, vulgar hotel scene, unwholesome picture of family life.

“Picture 4 ‘The Female of the Species.’ Melodrama, Moral effect bad. No person worthy of admiration with the possible exception of the gypsy. Shooting and acts of violence. Man unfaithful to both women. The adventure appeals to children but much of it has a demoralizing effect on them.

“Vaudeville stunt of Reuben who told vulgar jokes and sang silly songs.” (3)

“Picture 1 ‘The Return of Helen Redmond.’ Moral value good, possibly, for a melodrama.

“Picture 2 ‘Wild Man from Borneo.’ Apparently not harmful.

“Picture 3 ‘What the Burglar Got.’ Husband lies to wife. His trickiness is made to appear laudable. Effect demoralizing. The cartoons were ill-disguised defences of the use of whiskey and tobacco.” (4)

“Picture 1 ‘A Rattle Snake.’ A disgusting scene of a Mexican harboring the snake and placing it in a bed to be occupied by a child. Other acts of a violent nature.

“Picture 2 Shows beer wagons and violence to persons. No act of immoral nature and very little to appeal to the intellectual. No censorship stated.’ (5)

“There was positiv[e]ly nothing of an educational nature and the finer qualities of chivalry, kindness and love were not shown to advantage. Je[a]lousy, intrigue and violence were generously portray[e]d in three out of four pictures. Only one picture was passed by the National Board. That such subjects should be thus used is most unfortunate. The effect must be morbid ideas and depression.” (6)

“Picture 1 ‘Indian Massacre.’ Shooting and daring riding. About as uplifting as the usual dime novel.

“Picture 2 Villain drinks whiskey. Commits robbery. Meets violent de[a]th. Of poor moral value for children.

“Picture 3 Pleasant fore[ig]n pictures.

“Picture 4 A so-called comedy on the ‘Mannish Old Maid.’ Not a wholesome plot. Promiscuous kissing and other acts not clean.” (7)

“Picture 1. ‘The Adventure of the Alarm Clock.’ Moral value bad. General effect bad. Passed by National Board.

“Picture 2 ‘Desperate Chance.’ Tragedy. Kindness, true love, faithfulness, violence, hanging scene, murder, drunkenness, neglect. Moral value bad until the end. Passed by National Board.

“Picture 3 ‘Iron and Steel.’ Kindness, brutality, fist encounters, de[a]th scene, cowards, cheating, true love, trechery, disobedience, revenge. Bad more than off-sets the good.” (8)

“Picture 1. ‘Too Much Love.’ Immoral. Virtue made source of mirth. General effect bad.” (9)

Comments: William Trufant Foster (1879-1950) was an American educationalist and economist, president of Reed College, Oregon, which published this report into vaudeville and motion picture shows in Portland, aiming to determine their influence upon children. It was conducted with the co-operation of local theatre managers and involved sixty investigators. The report states that fifty-one theatres showing motion pictures were investigated (the number in brackets refer to one of the cinemas). It includes blank versions of the investigators’ forms and a list of all their names. The text above comes from an appendix giving individual comments from the reports received. The films seen include A Seaside Samaritan (USA 1913), Rory o’ the Bogs (USA 1913), The Cross in the Cacti (USA 1914), Curing the Doctor (USA 1913), Betty’s Nightmare (USA 1912), Cue and Mis-cue (USA 1913), The Female of the Species (USA 1912), The Return of Helen Redmond (USA 1914), The Wild Man from Borneo (USA 1914), What the Burglar Got (USA 1914), The Rattlesnake (USA 1913), The Indian Massacre (USA 1912) and The Adventure of the Alarm Clock (USA 1914). The apparent absence of non-American film is noteworthy. The references to singing are to vaudeville acts that were sometimes part of early cinema shows.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Posted in 1910s, Reports and studies, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mornings in Mexico

Source: D.H. Lawrence, Mornings in Mexico (London: Martin Secker, 1927), pp. 98-100

Text: The audience in the theatre is a little democracy of the ideal consciousness. They all sit there, gods of the ideal mind, and survey with laughter or tears the realm of actuality.

Which is very soothing and satisfying so long as you believe that the ideal mind is the actual arbiter.

So long as you instinctively feel that there is some supreme, universal Ideal Consciousness swaying all destiny.

When you begin to have misgivings, you sit rather uneasily on your plush seat.

Nobody really believes that destiny is an accident. The very fact that day keeps on following night, and summer winter, establishes the belief in universal law, and from this to a belief in some great hidden mind in the universe is an inevitable step for us.

A few people, the so-called advanced, have grown uneasy in their bones about the Universal Mind. But the mass are absolutely convinced. And every member of the mass is absolutely convinced that he is part and parcel of this Universal Mind. Hence his joy at the theatre. His even greater joy at the cinematograph.

In the moving pictures he has detached himself even further from the solid stuff of earth. There, the people are truly shadows: the shadow-pictures are thinkings of his mind. They live in the rapid and kaleidoscopic realm of the abstract. And the individual watching the shadow-spectacle sits a very god, in an orgy of abstraction, actually dissolved into delighted, watchful spirit. And if his best girl sits beside him, she vibrates in the same ether, and triumphs in the same orgy of abstraction. No wonder this passion of dramatic abstraction becomes a lust.

That is our idea of entertainment.

Comments: The British novelist and short story writer David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930) makes numerous references to the cinema in his writings, usually from a hostile point of view but clearly based on knowledge of cinemagoing. The essays were written during his time in Mexico, but the picturegoing described in this essay – which goes on to analyse the Pueblo Indian concept of entertainment – seems to relate to moving pictures anywhere, not Mexico as such.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Posted in 1920s, Mexico, Travel writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Lawless Roads

Source: Graham Greene, The Lawless Roads: A Mexican Journey (London: Longmans & Co., 1939), p. 77

Text: I went my first night to Fritz Lang’s Liliom, a naïve and rather moving film of heartlessness on earth and repentance in heaven. The audience were more interesting than the film; they accepted the sentiment just as any European audience would have done, but when the two messengers from God – dressed in sinister seedy clerical black – appeared beside the body and lifted Liliom’s soul between them into the sky, legs trailing like stuffed dolls through the firmament, they hooted and cat-called. Many got up and went out: they were not going to have anything to do with heaven or hell; only later, when that they found out that heaven was to be treated with whimsicality and a touch of farce, did they settle down into their seats. When I came out the streets were dark, and the air at seven thousand feet felt cold and thin and lifeless.

Comments: Graham Greene (1904-1991) was a British novelist, many of whose works were filmed and who was a notable film critic in the 1930s. The Lawless Roads is an account of his visit to Mexico in 1938. Liliom (USA 1934) was based on the play by Ferenc Molnár about a fairground barker who commits suicide after taking part in a robbery. He is sent to Purgatory and then returned to earth to perform one good deed.

Posted in 1920s, Mexico, Travel writing | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Spell of China

Source: Archie Bell, The Spell of China (Boston: Page Co., 1917), pp. 102-104

Text: Charlie Chaplin has “invaded” the Orient and he is winning friends for the “American drama,” where acting and singing companies have failed to do so. They told me of an American comic opera company that visited Shanghai some time ago. My informant declared that the troupe gave creditable performances, but the Chinese ears were tortured by the singing. At first the audience calmly endured it, thinking that the agony would soon be over. Then they looked at one another absent-mindedly, and, finally, before the evening was over, most of the men had folded their coat sleeves over their mouths, so their laughter would not be audible. But they all have heard about the popularity of Chaplin in America, and for once in their lives Orient agrees with Occident. Chaplin is a great entertainer! The Chinese enjoy him, because his antics coincide exactly with their ideas of what comedy should be; and think he is the funniest man who ever lived. It is amusing to attend a theater in China where a Chaplin exhibition is in progress. When I first saw him in the country it was in a rather imposing theatre and “Our Best People” were said to be in attendance. The first glance at them, however, was rather shocking. Here was “full dress” with a vengeance; “full dress” that quite put into the shade any similar effort at undress in the Metropolitan horseshow in New York. Many Chinese were stripped to the waist and wore either a pair of bathing trunks—the idea was borrowed from America—or the long, baggy Chinese trousers that are tied around the ankles with ribbons. As I looked out over the audience from the back of the house, the bathing trunks, trousers and ribbons were invisible. What I saw was an ocean of bare backs and shoulders. I took a seat among this strangely costumed multitude, and finally recovered sufficiently to note that a Charlie Chaplin comedy was being shown. Bang! Something came down and hit him on the head. Zipp! He tripped his toe and fell headlong. The audience laughed as I had never seen Chinese laugh. There were few ladies present, because it is not yet considered quite the “proper” thing for a Chinese matron or her daughters to attend a cinema exhibition, but I carefully observed the perspiring gentlemen close to me. They seemed to be having the time of their lives, sometimes laughing so violently that it seemed to pain them, doubtless because it pained them to realize that they were so far forgetting themselves. Whenever “Our Charlie” took a particularly heavy fall, or whenever something fell on his head, apparently causing him great suffering, the Chinese closed their eyes, sat back on their benches and laughed facially and inwardly. It was a typical July night and it was very warm. The perspiration flowed down their backs in streams as they literally undulated with glee.

Comments: Archie Bell was an American travel writer. The racially questionable piece goes on to argue that “no better exhibition could be devised for the entertainment of the Chinese audience. He is supposed to have a ‘heart,’ but the Chinaman derives much satisfaction when he sees another man suffering, particularly if there is a remote possibility that he deserves it.”

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Posted in 1910s, China, Travel writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment