British Cinemas and their Audiences

Source: J.P. Mayer, British Cinemas and their Audiences: Sociological Studies (London: Dennis Dobson, 1948), pp. 112-113

Text: AGE: 21 SEX: M
OCCUPATION: CLERK
NATIONALITY: BRITISH
FATHER’S OCCUPATION: BACON CURER

I shall always remember my first important visit to the cinema. The Local Gaumont was being opened by the Mayor and many other important townsfolk yet out of that impressive ceremony way back at the beginning of the thirties, the only part that stands out vividly to me today was the film. It was a musical starring Jack Buchanan and entitled Goodnight Vienna.

Why this particular incident should have aroused my first profound interest in the cinema remains a mystery, yet I am convinced that before that date, the thought of ‘Going to the flicks’ never meant much to me.

I was of course quite young at the time about 10 years of age. For some years, I simply doted on musicals and the thought of seeing another Astaire-Rogers extravaganza provided plenty of excitement for little me. I found myself wanting to tapdance, although I was careful not to disclose any of these ambitions to my parents. Sometimes I wonder whether ‘careful’ was the word. The back-yard shows my pals and I used to put on were always received with wild enthusiasm. I might add that as the price for admission consisted of 3 ‘conkers’ or (when such things were out of season) perhaps a pen-nibs, audiences did jolly well under the circumstances.

My enthusiasm for musicals continued for quite a while until I reached the age when more serious aspects of films began to make themselves felt. It all started with my seeing Bette Davies in Dark Victory. Never shall I forget her terrific performance in this film. It stands out as one of the most enthralling episodes in my movie experience. That really started the ball rolling and from that day to this I have been an ardent dramatic fan. In fact, I am hoping to study drama upon my demobilisation. I love great acting, for the emotional benefit I myself get out of it is greatly satisfying. That is why I am such an admirer of Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Muni.

As for films influencing my daily life, until I discovered that drama was my ideal, I must admit that my life was not unduly affected. I enjoyed helping to stage our so-called concerts with my neighbours and that was all. Today however, it is a different story. I discover that if I should miss a dramatic film that I had been bent on seeing, nothing would stop me until I cought [sic] up with it at last.

Films have made me want to visit the U.S.A. in rather an unusual way. By reading rather a lot of authentic literature on that country I have realised now hopelessly incompetent a large precentage [sic] of films have been in portraying life in the U.S.A. I have come to believe in the books I have read and the fact that they do not tie up with what I have seen on the screen, has made me even more eager to go there and see for myself. I am referring to modern life in the States of course.

Since my joining the Forces in 1942 , 1 have also become interested in the technical side of films not with the interest of a technician but artistically. I can now appreciate photography and lighting and I realise that the cinema is most definitely an art. That is why I uphold Orson Well’s [sic] work and get annoyed when such masterpieces as Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons get snuffed at by the general public.

To-day I am an ardent film fan making sure I read all the reviews of the films as they reach the West End. I even keep a record of the date of arrival of each film and any other particulars that I think arc worth recording.

Yes, indeed my life is well wrapped in the cinema and I sincerely hope it won’t be long before I can have a go at entering the industry myself. I shall always be grateful to Miss Davis for revealing an ambition that had previously slept within me.

Comments: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His British Cinemas and their Audiences collates motion picture autobiographies submitted through competitions in Picturegoer magazine. This contribution comes from the section ‘Films and the Pattern of Life’. Contributors were asked to trace the history of their interest in films, the influence films had on them (including if they were ever frightened by films), what they imitated from films, if films made them more receptive to love-making, if films made them want to travel or to be dissatisfied with their way of life or neighbourhood, and if films gave them vocational ambitions. It is interesting to see in the book as a while the number of respondents who praise Citizen Kane (USA 1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (USA 1942), films were supposed to have been rejected by most audiences. The other films mentioned are Goodnight Vienna (UK 1932) and Dark Victory (USA 1939).

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You may make mistakes even at the picture palace

Source: ‘You may make mistakes even at the picture palace’, postcard, c.1910, unsent, from the Nicholas Hiley collection

mistakes

Comments: There were a number of postcards from this period which exploited the idea of the mistakes that could be made while in the dark (this is not immediately clear from the image itself, but the man embracing his male neighbour rather a female partner is meant to have occurred because of the implied darkness). This example is also typical of photographic postcards from this period which make little attempt to depict the inside of a cinema realistically.

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The “Televisor”

Source: ‘The “Televisor”: Successful Test of New Apparatus’, The Times, 28 January 1926, p. 9

Text: Members of the Royal Institution and other visitors to a laboratory in an upper room in Frith-Street, Soho, on Tuesday saw a demonstration of apparatus invented by Mr. J.L. Baird, who claims to have solved the problem of television. They were shown a transmitting machine, consisting of a large wooden revolving disc containing lenses, behind which was a revolving shutter and a light sensitive cell. It was explained that by means of the shutter and lens disc an image of articles or persons standing in front of the machine could be made to pass over the light sensitive cell at high speed. The current in the cell varies in proportion to the light falling on it, and this varying current is transmitted to a receiver where it controls a light behind an optical arrangement similar to that at the sending end. By this means a point of light is caused to traverse a ground glass screen. The light is dim at the shadows and bright at the high lights, and crosses the screen so rapidly that the whole image appears simultaneously to the eye.

For the purposes of the demonstration the head of a ventriloquist’s doll was manipulated as the image to be transmitted, though the human face was also reproduced. First on a receiver in the same room as the transmitter and then on a portable receiver in another room, the visitors were shown recognizable reception of the movements of the dummy head and of a person speaking. The image as transmitted was faint and often blurred, but substantiated a claim that through the “Televisor” as Mr. Baird has named his apparatus, it is possible to transmit and reproduce instantly the details of movement, and such things as the play of expression on the face.

It has yet to be seen to what extent further developments will carry Mr. Baird’s system towards practical use. He has overcome apparently earlier failures to construct light sensitive cells which would function at the high speed demanded, and he as is now assured of financial support in his work, he will be able to improve and elaborate his apparatus. Application has been made to the Postmaster-General for an experimental broadcasting licence and trials with the system may shortly be made from a building in St. Martin’s Lane.

Comments: John Logie Baird (1888-1946) gave the first public demonstration of a working television system before members of the Royal Institution and a single news reporter, from The Times, on 26 January 1926, in his rooms at 22 Frith Street, London. (Earlier exhibitions at Selfridge’s store in March 1925 had featured silhouettes rather than ‘true’ television with graduated tones). The 3x5cm images shown were composed of just thirty vertical lines, and were shown through a viewer pointed at the edge of a spinning disc. The BBC began experimental broadcasts using Baird’s 30-line system in 1929.

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For the Children

Source: Extracts from D.J. Enright, ‘For the Children’, in Fields of Vision: Essays on Literature, Language, and Television (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 72-76 (adapted from original essay ‘Quick Brown Fox – D.J. Enright writes in praise of Basil Brush’, Listener, 15 March 1973)

Text: [I]n the early 1970s I wrote a piece on a children’s programme for the Listener. [...] [T]elevision was new to me. After many years abroad, living in countries where either there wasn’t any television or else it had just been introduced as a prime tool in the processes of ‘human engineering’ and therefore wasn’t taken very seriously. I had returned to this country – England – where television was both firmly established and basically free.

Now that I have learned to look on television not as in the hour of thoughtless middle age, would I enjoy The Basil Brush Show as much as I did then, when the set seemed apparelled in celestial light and its buttons and its knobs were still a mystery to me?

[...]

The pun is the essence of poetry, or its microcosm. The scorn frequently professed for punning is merely a sign of the higher illiteracy, in all likelihood linked with the taste for ponderous formulations and the concomitant suspicion that punning is a sort of cheating. Punning is at or very near the heart of a television programme in which the visual is combined with the verbal in a partnership of equality, something rarely come across – a children’s programme, nominally, and truly.

The Basil Brush Show is a team effort, and credit is due to the producer, Robin Nash, to the writer (of course), George Martin, and to the cameramen. It is also due to Derek Fowlds, most graceful of feed-men, who really seems to enjoy the proceedings and behaves as if Basil’s interventions were unexpected (perhaps some of them are). thus providing a sense of spontaneity to counteract the obviously drilled and sometimes less than gripping insets or side-shows. The feeling conveyed of a continuous relationship between Basil and Mr Derek, an intimacy still open to new discoveries, must have done much towards the show’s sustained popularity. But the lion’s share of thanks must go to Ivan Owen the prime mover, or (as Basil puts it when he has let his brush down) ‘my man, who speaks for me and generally lends a hand.’ Though outwardly simple and uncomplicated, Basil is an expressive creature, intelligent, nervous, and cunning. Just as onnagata, the Japanese actors specializing in female roles in the Kabuki theatre, contrive to be more like women than women are, so Basil is more like – no, not exactly a fox – more like a living being than many living beings are.

[...]

The show follows its own conventions closely. The two principal characters are discovered in the act of welcoming a duly appreciative audience of children. Then comes a passage of chit-chat, perhaps making play with one of Basil’s many relatives (naturally there is a Herr Brush in Hamburg), or Basil scores a point or two off his colleague: Mr Derek is getting to be almost as well known as his jokes. Now and then Basil falls into a pensive mood, and from the gravity of his demeanour one would suppose him musing on the wickedness of blood sports or the transient nature of jelly babies. On one such occasion he had simply misheard a reference to Khartoum, and confided to the audience how fond he was of cartoons, Yogi Bear in especial.

A guest appearance follows, a marionette theatre (a nice touch) or a magician, the Little Angels of Korea, a school choir or a pop group. This yields to the main course: a playlet, often topical in flavour, minimal in plot and with guest help as applicable. Basil and Mr Derek set about buying a house; they get into trouble at the Customs; they rehearse Romeo and Juliet (‘It’s a bit of a drag!’ complains Basil, dressed as Juliet); or they find themselves on holiday at the North Pole instead of Nostra Palma, that sunny spot on the Med. The Christmas edition featured a party given by Mr Charles Dickens for some of his more congenial characters. Music intervenes, mercifully brief, and the show concludes with the serial reading by Mr Derek of a book, latterly The Adventures of Basil the Buccaneer. The story is skeletal and the style unembellished, but Mr Derek is helped out or hindered fruitfully by Basil, who by turns is absorbed in the tale, at cross purposes with the text, and engaged elsewhere, perhaps with his pet mouse or a bag of peanuts.

[...]

Lavatorial humour of a traditional and innocuous kind (even Freudianly relieving, maybe) crops up regularly. Mr Derek assures Basil that babies’ high chairs always have a hole in them: ‘that’s the whole idea.’ ‘I think it’s a potty idea,’ says Basil. And after some talk of Nell Gwyn, when Basil hears that Charles II spent twenty-five years on the throne, he comments, ‘All those oranges, I suppose.’ The subject of underwear attracts repeated variations: ‘Don’t get your knickers in a twist/combs in a commotion/undies in an uproar/tights in a tangle.’ The audience identify with Basil, he is one of them, just a bit bolder and more privileged, and delight to see him putting down an adult, even one so amiable as Mr Derek. For all the excursions into Frankie Howerd country, Basil is unfailingly shocked if he thinks Mr Derek has used a naughty word – ‘Unmentionables must not be mentioned- – and his extreme delicacy obliges him to spell out the title of a children’s book, ‘Winnie the … P.O.O.H.’ ‘Mrs Lighthouse’ being one of his bugbears. A riskier joke occurred when he wished he could act in the theatre and Mr Derek told him, ‘You’re no Thespian’; he replied, ‘You don’t have to be like that to be an actor, do you?’ The children laughed like mad, presumably at the expression of shock and concern written all over his body. Like other good artists, Basil Brush can give pleasure at various levels simultaneously.

This being a serious occasion, we should attend to the profounder aspects of Brush’s art and thought. I am not thinking so much of his dealings with Sir Gerald Nabarro, Lord Longford, Mr Edward Heath, traffic wardens, or the Trade Description Act (‘Half a pound of tuppenny rice!’), nor of his alertness to pressing problems like gazumping and traffic congestion (‘Oxford Street, yes. That’s where you sit in your car and watch the pedestrians whizzing past’). But disciples of Zen could meditate profitably on Basil’s koan in a letter to his cousin Cyril: ‘I am writing this letter slowly, because I know you can read very fast.’ The piece of advice about not mentioning the unmentionable should be pondered by writers, and also Basil’s answer when asked what style he paints in, traditional, primitive, surrealistic, or impressionistic. ‘Mine is more the … contemptuous style.’

[...]

He once confided that he would like to be ‘an executive … running a factory or something … about fifty quid a week’. It was pointed out that he had no experience and therefore coildn;t expect a highly paid position. The pundits might care to study his rejoinder. ‘And why not? The job’s a lot harder if you do’t know anything about it!’

‘Boom, boom!’ (bangs head against Derek) (laugh) …

Comments: Dennis Joseph Enright (1920-2002) was a British poet, novelist, essayist and academic. The puppet fox character Basil Brush first appeared on BBC television in 1962 and was given his own show in 1968, which ran until 1980. It was recorded in a theatre in front of an audience of children. A different Basil Brush Show was broadcast by the BBC 2002-2007. ‘Mrs Lighthouse’ is a reference to Mary Whitehouse, a campaigner against sex and violence on television.

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Man maced at movie theater for asking woman to turn off her phone

Source: Josh Dickey, ‘Man maced at movie theater for asking woman to turn off her phone’, Mashable, 10 November 2014, http://mashable.com/2014/11/10/man-maced-at-movie-theater-for-asking-someone-to-turn-off-their-cell-phone/

Text: A man who asked a woman to turn off her cell phone at a Monday night screening of Mr. Turner was maced in the face following an awkward confrontation, an eyewitness who was sitting nearby tells Mashable.

The American Film Institute screening of the biopic at the TCL Chinese theater in Hollywood had just gotten underway when a man near the back row asked a woman sitting in front of her to turn off her phone, whose screen was visibly glowing.

“He was saying ‘Excuse me sir, could you please turn off your screen’” over and over, the eyewitness tells Mashable (he had apparently mistaken the woman for a man). After repeating himself several times, and without a response, the man then tapped the woman on the shoulder.

The woman reacted angrily to being touched, and “flipped out” on him, the eyewitness said. “She stands up and starts cursing, saying ‘You hit me, you hit me, I’m going to call the police.” She then turned the phone’s flashlight function on and pointed it directly at the man’s face.

The awkward standoff lasted for nearly a minute, the witness said, and she continued shining the light even as people all around implored her to turn it off and sit down. As the man was calmly defending himself, she then told him she had mace and started digging in her bag.

Without hesitation, she took the cap off the bottle, pointed it directly in his face and sprayed him at point-blank range. The man and the woman sitting next to him sat for a moment in shock as she sat back down. As the couple left, the man slapped the woman on the arm and said something to her, the eyewitness said.

The movie was never stopped, and the woman continued to sit and watch for another 20 minutes or so before volunteers and security with flashlights came to escort the woman, who was not immediately identified, out of the theater. She did not put up a fight as she was leaving, the witness said.

The incident brings to mind a March incident in Florida in which a retired police officer shot and killed another man who had been texting during previews of Lone Survivor.

No one answered the phone Monday night at the TCL Chinese 6, a group of theaters adjacent to the iconic TCL Chinese that’s host to several high-profile Hollywood premieres.

Comments: TCL Chinese 6 is a group of cinema theatres next to the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles which was originally known as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

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Autobiographical Note

Source: Vernon Scannell, ‘Autobiographical Note’, Collected Poems 1950-1993 (London: Faber & Faber, 2010)

Text:
Beeston, the place near Nottingham;
We lived there for three years or so,
Each Saturday at two o’clock
We queued up for the matinee,
All the kids for streets around
With snotty noses; giant caps,
Cut down coats and heavy boots,
The natural enemies of cops
And schoolteachers. Profane and hoarse
We scrambled, yelled and fought until
The Picture Palace opened up
And then, like Hamelin children, forced
Our bony way into the Hall.
That much is easy to recall;
Also the reek of chewing-gum,
Gob-stoppers and liquorice,
But of the flickering myths themselves
Not much remains. The hero was
A milky, wide-brimmed hat, a shape
Astride the arched white stallion.
The villain’s horse and hat were black.
Disbelief did not exist
And launched virtue always won
With quicker gun and harder fist
And all of us applauded it.
Yet I remember moments when
In solitude I’d find myself
Brooding on the sooty man,
The bristling villain, who could move
Imagination in a way
The well-shaved hero never could,
And even warm the nervous heart
With something oddly close to love.

Comments: Vernon Scannell (1922-2007) was a British poet. His impoverished family lived for a time in Beeston, Nottinghamshire in the late 1920s.

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One Day in the Life of Television

Source: Josephine May, quoted in Sean Day-Lewis (ed.), One Day in the Life of Television (London: British Film Institute, 1989), pp. 133-134

Text: Madge Mitchell minces Mrs Mangel, or was it the other way round? All I know is that with 16 million others I am hooked on Neighbours. I even say ‘G’day’, and expression like ‘What a wombat’ have crept into my vocabulary … Voices floated back to me this morning in the street from two fashionably jean-clad teenagers: ‘Are they going to get engaged, Jane and Mike?’ At church on Sunday the sermon was all about neighbourliness. The priest had no trouble illustrating his theme from the serial. As a French teacher, I use it too. Exercises on the future tense are a doddle when the question is: ‘What will Mrs Mangel do next?’

Everyone watches, young and old alike. Everyone is portrayed. Nellie Mangel invited Harold to the church dance today and neither could be considered spring chooks. Young Lucy loses her mice and Helen gives Scott advice on budgeting. Daphne, expecting a baby, is not too well as she manages the coffee shop. Willingly or not, happily or not, these people are part of a community which makes up its differences and where no one is lonely …

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. Josephine May was a teacher from Henley-on-Thames. The Australian soap opera Neighbours was first broadcast in that country in 1985 on the Seven Network and in the UK on the BBC in 1986.

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Hee-Hee for Tee-Vee

molesworth

Source: Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle, ‘Hee-Hee for Tee-Vee’ in Whizz for Atomms (London: Max Parrish, 1956), reproduced in Willans and Searle, Molesworth (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1999), pp. 277-281

Text: Gosh super! we hav something to contend with which no other generation have ever had before i.e. the television cheers cheers cheers. Everybody know wot a t.v. is it is a square box with a screen. You switch on and o hapen, then just when you have given up hope and are going off to buzz conkers a great booming voice sa, ‘That’s an interesting point, postelthwaite. Wot does higginbottom feel? Higginbottom? ect. ect.’ It may be an interesting point but i could not care less and just go away agane when a ghastley face suddenly appere. It is worse than a squished tomato but it hold me in hypnotic trance and it is the same with molesworth 2, tho he always look dopey like that. We sit and watch more and more ghastley faces with out mouths open and even forget to chew the buble gum we are the slaves of the machine.

Of course all boys and gurls have to go through a time when there is no t.v. xcept at the postman’s down the road. Yore mater and pater then sa weedy things.

i will not hav one in the house.
the programmes are simply terible, my dear.
it is bad for children.
it destroy the simple pursuits of leisure.

Hem-hem if they only knew what the simple pursuits of leisure were like potting stones at vilage oiks or teaching parot rude words they would not hesitate for a moment. Anyway they get one in the end and sa ‘Children can only look for 1 hour at suitable programmes’ then they forget all about it until we are halfway through ’1984′ and molesworth 2 sa ‘if that is the best a rat can do i do not think much of it.’ ‘The rat,’ i sa, ‘is exactly like thou, o clot-faced wet.’ Then mater become aware of our presence and hury the dreamy-eyed little felows up wood hill to blanket fair, as dear nana sa.

When you setle down to it this is wot hapens in your dulce domun (lat.)

Scene: A darkened room with glowing fire. Mum, Nana, me and molesworth 2 are goggling at the screen. So are the cats, dogs, rats, , mice and various bugs about the place.

T.V. Are you a clump-press minder? (Grate cheers)
MATER: I thort he was an aero-dynamicist or a moulding-clamp turner……I really think……
ALL: Sshh

(Enter pater, third from the office.)

PATER: Are you looking at that friteful thing agane? Programmes are terible. Nothing to look at.

(With a roar and a ratle he put coal on the fire).

ALL: Sshh!

(Pater setle down. molesworth 2 aim his gat at very fat gentleman in specs. It is the same gun with which he shot mufin the mule, mcdonald hobley, a ping-pong champion, three midgets, a great-crested grebe, a persian student and lady Boyle and a budgerigar.)

MOLESWORTH 2: Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah. Got you.

ALL: Shh!

MATER: Do you not think it would be better if their heads were not three feet away from their shoulders?

(Pater go and twiddle knobs. First of all there is a snowstorm then what seems like the batle of jutland, then an electronic bombardment. Finaly a vast explosion.)

MATER: You have ruined it, clot.
NANA: Boost the contrast.
MOLESWORTH 2: Adjust the definition.
ME: Oh gosh, hurry up.

(Now picture is upside down, then leaning drunkenly, then it disappear altogether amid boos and catcalls. Finaly Nana do it.)

T.V. Are you connected with seaweed? (Huge cheer)
MATER: look at tibby the cat he canot stand Gilbert Harding…..
ALL: Sssh.
PATER: He’s a guggle-gouger…..

(And so it go on. Supper is not cooked, fires go out, kettles boil their heads off, slates fall off the roof and house burn down, but we are all still looking at a nature film in w. africa chiz in fact we have seen more monkeys since we got the t.v. than ever before xcept at st. custard’s where peason have the face of a wild baboon.)

Aktually t.v. is v. cultural for boys and improving to the mind. You learn so many things than when you go back to skool all are quite surprised.

MOLESWORTH 1: To the q. whether the hydrogen bomb should be banned i give a categorical ‘no’. unless there can be international agreement to co-exist in disarmament.
MOLESWORTH 2: That is a valid point, o weedy wet. Do you kno the population of chile?
MOLESWORTH 1: No. But everyone should look both ways before crossing the road and wot can be more dramatic than man’s fight against the locust, eh?
MOLESWORTH 2: The problem of asia is the problem of over-population and now i will pla brahms etude number 765000 in F flat….

You kno wot this mean he is going to zoom to the piano and pla fairy bells nothing can stop him …

Comments: Geoffrey Willans (1911-1958) was a British schoolmaster and comic writer and Ronald Searle (1920-2011) was a British illustrator. Together they created the comic character of Nigel Molesworth, a pupil at dilapidated boys’ school St Custard’s, whose distinctively mispelt exploits were first documented in Punch magazine (from 1939) and then in four books. ‘Hee-Hee for Tee-Vee’ is the title of a chapter in the hird book, Whizz for Atomms. Searle also created the rebellious girl’s school St Trinian’s. The BBC television production of George Orwell’s 1984 was first broadcast on 12 December 1954 and aroused much controversy for its ‘horrific’ scenes. The quiz show parodied here is What’s My Line, first broadcast by the BBC in 1951 and based on an American original. Gilbert Harding was a regular panellist on the show. Dramatic picture interference was a common experience for television audiences in the 1950s.

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Slow Motion

Source: Dorothy Richardson, ‘Continuous Performance XI: Slow Motion’, Close Up vol. II no. 6, June 1928, pp. 54-58

Text: No one who heard the hysterical laughter that greeted the first slow-motion pictures can fail to be struck by the quiet bearing of the average audience of today when confronted by these strange transformations. And were it not for a haunting suspicion of the part played by mere familiarity with the spectacle, it would be possible to claim this change of attitude as the surest direct evidence of the educative power of the film. But if familiarity alone is responsible for the change, then that dreadful laughter, coming after years of experience of what the film can do, must stand, a mocking mark of interrogation over against the articles of our faith. Yet since there is other evidence, and particularly the mass of evidence accumulated in the minds of those who have experience of the evolution of single local audiences in regard to “the pictures”, to confirm that faith, we may take courage to assume that from the first, behind the laughter, recognition was there and has grown. If now it is present, it was there from the first, for without its work there would be no second seeing. Each seeing would have been a first and the laughter would have continued.

And yet, recalling that first revelation, doubt creeps in on behalf of just this one of the many offerings of the film. Can anyone forget the revelation, the two revelations, of beauty upon the screen and the beast confronting it? Has that particular beauty conquered the beast, become a joy forever, or just passed into nothingness? Indeed it is difficult to say. For there must have been incidents. Indignant people must have hushed the gigglers. Sensitive people must have cried out in ecstatic appreciation and produced wonder that upon the next opportunity turned to attention hopeful of discovering the hidden charm.

Experience gathered in one small local cinema would hopefully suggest that the first laughter for the first slow-motion picture is partly to be credited to the nature of the movement and the manner in which it was offered. For it was a picture of runners at close quarters to each other upon the last lap of a mile race. The three figures, first shown moving at normal pace were in desperate competition, agonised heads thrown back, open mouths agasp at the last effort for supremacy; not a pleasing exhibition. It flashed away and a caption spoke: “Now see what our slow-motion camera can do”, an invitation to watch a conjuring trick, preparation for something that was to impress by its cleverness. And it is possible that if we had been shown stills of these men caught in the various attitudes born of their movement, beauty might clearly have emerged. But though it was there in the balanced movement of the athletes advancing as if though resistant air, there was also a sharp touch of the grotesque as these figures with arms arched, and rigid, air-clutching fingers, slowly, goose-steppingly lifted leaden limbs in shorts. The anxious faces, the air of infinite caution, were legitimately funny and the avalanche of laughter may be interpreted as joyous welcome for yet another revelation of the comic possibilities of the film.

The next slow-motion exhibition was of horses clearing a hedge and ditch in a steeple-chase, and throughout the majestic spectacle, from the moment the great beasts slowly rearing left the earth until again they lightly, as if weightlessly, touched it in descent, there was nothing that could even remotely appeal to the eye on the look-out for pretexts for mirth. But the laughter came, for the slowness, the anomaly. There were those no doubt who held breath in wonder and delight. But the result, regarding the audience as one person, was, as before, registration of a freakish incidental of the new entertainment.

The first slow of these early days that failed to precipitate either the avalanche of derision or the chorus of sniggers was of a man taking a high jump. And here perhaps all lesser emotions were submerged in that of stupefaction at the sheer marvel of the levitation. It was offered simply for what it was, Mr. Jones winning the high jump, without preparative suggestion. We saw Mr. Jones run and lightly leap and clear, and reach the ground in an athletic sprawl. And then again there were the high posts and the bar and the relatively small man held to earth by a pointed tee, who rose as if dreaming, slowly through the air upon which as he cleared the bar he lay sideways in repose, on his face the look of blissful concentration given in religious art to saints whose battles are won, indolently stretching one limb to slant downwards beyond the bar and bring its fellow following and the whole elastic body to move poised in the air upon the outstretched toe that sought and lightly found the earth. Perfect silence greeted this revelation of the miraculous commonplace. It won. Was bound to win. Its beauty and its wonder were imperious demands, overwhelming.

And the revelation bestowed by the ecstatic face, of the spirit withdrawn, within the body it was operating, to the point of perfect concentration, showing this business of athletic achievement as one with every kind of human achievement, with that of the thinker, the artist and the saint, is one of the most priceless offerings to date of the film considered as a vehicle for revealing to mankind that in man which is unbounded. If tomorrow every vestige of this new art were swept away save just one slow of a human body hoisting itself over a high bar; the film would not have existed in vain.

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.

Links: Copy at the Internet Archive

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All the Gaits of Horses

Source: ‘All the Gaits of Horses’, The Sun [New York], 18 November 1882, p. 1

Text: ALL THE GAITS OF HORSES

SHOWN IN MOVING PICTURES BY THE ZOOPRAXISCOPE

Motions that Artists’s Eyes Have Failed to Follow – The Exact Difference Between Ambling, Pacing, Trotting, and Galloping.

Professor Eadweard Muybridge delivered last evening, in the Turf Club Theatre, an exceedingly interesting lecture upon the attitudes of animals in motion, illustrating it by photographs made by instantaneous process and by a machine called the Zoöpraxiscope which caused animals and human beings to appear in actual motion upon the screen in a startingly lifelike manner. He explained first the ingenious apparatus by which those pictures were made – a series of twenty-four cameras each fitted with an electro-exposer that exposed the negative to the light for one five-thousandth of a second when an animal in motion before it broke a thread and made the electric connection.

The series of pictures thus produced represented every movement of any animal for the observation of which this apparatus was employed and revolutionized the old ideas of the motions of quadrupeds in their several gaits, especially of those of horses. It had been a matter of dispute whether the horse ever had three feet on the ground at one time when walking. These pictures settled that. He always has two feet on the ground and part of the time three, the two feet being alternately diagonals and laterals.

Wherever a walking horse is supported on two feet and the suspended feet are inside, the suspended feet are invariably on the same side; where he is supported on two extended feet the suspended feet inside are diagonals. If a horse drops the left hind foot on the ground the next to follow will be the left fore foot, followed by the right hind and finally by the right fore.

Egyptian, Assyrian and Roman pictures were shown to demonstrate that an erroneous idea of this motion prevailed in the earliest attempts at art. It was perpetuated in the famous statue of Marcus Aurelius, which has been the model of almost all equestrian statues to the present day, and is as conspicuous in the equestrian statues of Washington, in Boston and in Union Square as in any of the old Egyptian or Assyrian pictures. It is not possible for a horse to walk in the way there depicted. Meissonier had a correct idea of a horse’s walk when he painted his great picture of Napoleon in 1814 but the critics ridiculed it and pronounced it incorrect. Now he has the satisfaction of knowing that he was right and they were all wrong. Miss Thompson also was correct and the critics derided her for being so. Now the laugh is on the other side.

A dozen pictures were next shown illustrative of a horse ambling, a gait in which he is never altogether clear of the ground, but is supported alternately by one and two feet, the single foot being alternately a fore and a hind foot, and the two foot alternately laterals and diagonals. This was best understood when actually represented by the zoöpraxiscope and the demonstration was so perfect as to elicit great applause from the spectators.

The racking or pacing gait was next amply illustrated. In it the horse moves the lateral foot simultaneously instead of the diagonal foot as in the trot. Then the trot was shown in an exhaustive series of photographs covering every movement of a trotting horse both at a slow and a fast trot. In the latter the horse was, at one point, in his stride entirely off the ground, the right fore and hind feet quite clear and others not quite touching. In a fast trot time the horse invariably puts the heel down first, never the ball of the foot or toe.

By an ingenious arrangement of five cameras five pictures were successfully made simultaneously from different points of view, for artists’ use, of horses in the several attitudes of motion and several of these foreshortened animals, when thrown upon the screen, were astonishingly comic however true to nature they unquestionably were.

The canter was next shown in which during a portion of his stride the horse has three feet on the ground and the fourth almost touching it. Then the gallop was illustrated. A fast horse going rapidly, Mr. Muybridge said, will be in the air three times in a single stride, he believed, but this was only his conjecture arguing from the illustrations he had obtained.

The lecturer reverted again to ancient history showing the old Egyptian and Assyrian models of the running horse – models blindly followed by artists ever since – in which the animal is presented poising himself on both hind feet extended far behind with his fore feet stretched far out ahead of him together. The North American Indians had a much more correct idea of the motion of a horse as was demonstrated by their rude pictures upon a buffalo robe that Lafayette bought when in this country and took back with him to Paris.

The horse as he appears in jumping was the subject of the final series of horse pictures, and afforded some of the most surprising and brilliant effects of the zoöpraxiscope. In response to a question of an auditor as to whether the horse, in jumping, got his power from his hind legs, the lecturer replied that he undoubtedly did, that he raised the front part of his body with his fore legs and took his spring from his hind legs. In speaking of horses jumping he said that the horse of which some of these pictures were made had risen 15 feet in front of a 3 ft. 6 in. hurdle, cleared it, and alighted 11 feet beyond it. In alighting from a jump the horse always lands first on his fore feet, with them 36 or 40 inches apart.

Following these pictures were a long series of illustrations of the various gaits of oxen, a wild bull, Newfoundland dog, hound, deer, goat and hog. In speaking the motions of the ox, Mr. Muybridge criticised Rosa Bonheur sharply, pointing out that in her picture of three yokes of draught oxen laboring, she misssed the natural movements of the beasts. The goat runs like a horse and the deer like the hound, bounding rather than running. In one part of the deer’s stride its attitude was very near to that which artists have so long inaccurately made as that of the running horse.

Then there were many more instantaneous photographs of Hazaek walking, and running, and jumping; of athletes boxing, turning plain somersaults and twisting somersaults. “Hazael was very much astonished at the various attitudes in which he had unconsciously placed himself when jumping,” remarked the lecturer. “And I should think he would be,” responded a voice from among the audience in the darkness in a tone of conviction that set everybody laughing. The pictures that astonished Hazael certainly did show him in a wondrous series of twists.

Photographs of pigeons and sea gulls in flight, beautiful pictures, with the birds in an infinite variety of positions upon an exquisite background of clouds concluded the exhibition. Remarking upon them, the lecturer pointed out birds that at the moment of being photographed had their wings down below their bodies, and said that but two peoples had over pictured birds in that natural position, the Egyptians and the Japanese.

Comments: Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) was a British photographer whose developments in instantaneous sequence photography, most famously of horses galloping, led the way to motion pictures. Muybridge was able to show his photographic sequences in motion by use of his invention, the Zoöpraxiscope. This projected silhouette images based on the photographs from a rotating glass disc. In effect the result was a proto-animation derived from the original photographs. Muybridge lectured extensively with the Zoöpraxiscope in Europe and America from 1880 onwards. Jean-Ernest Louis Meissonier and Rosa Bonheur were French artists. George Hazael was a renowned British athlete who settled in America.

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