Midweek Matinée

Source: Douglas Dunn, ‘Midweek Matinée’ in The Happier Life (London: Faber & Faber, 1972), pp. 35-36

Text:
The lunch hour ends and men go back to work,
Plumbers with long bags, whistling office boys
With soup on their ties and pee on their shoes,
Typists with a sandwich and a warm coke.

The indolent or lucky are going to the cinema.
There too go the itinerant heavy drinkers,
Who take the piss out of bus conductors
Or fall asleep in public reading rooms

Over unlikely learned periodicals.
They come in late, just after closing time
And sprawl in the cheap front seats
Dressed in the raincoats of a thousand wet nights.

Muttering with the lips of the unknown kisses.
Legendary, undeserving drunks, beggarly
And good for pity or laughter, you show
What happens to men who are not good at life,

Where happiness is demanded and lives are lived
For entertainment. I watch you sleep,
Grey humps in an empty cinema. You’re dangerous.
All wish you were no there, cramping the style.

You are very bad, you are worse than civilized,
Untouched by seriousness or possessions,
Treading the taxpayers’ roads, being found
Incapable in public places, always hungry,

Totally unlike what people should be – washed,
Happy, occupied, idle only in snatches
Of paid-for amusement or cynical truancies.
You have cut yourself off from barbers and supermarkets.

I don’t want you here on my page, pink faces
under spit and stubble, as fools or martyrs.
You are not new, you have nothing to sell.
You are walking evictions. You have no rentbooks.

You never answer telephones or give parties.
If you have a sense of humour, I want to know.
You claim the right to be miserable
And I can’t stand what you bring out into the open.

Comments: Douglas Dunn (1942 – ) is a Scottish poet. ‘Midweek Matinée’ comes from his second collection, The Happier Life, and presumably describes a Hull cinema, as he was then resident in the town.

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Sporting Notions

Source: ‘Sporting Notions’, The Referee, 12 January 1896, p. 1

Text: This week I saw in Paris a most wonderful presentation of moving, if not living, pictures worked by an electric apparatus bearing the formidable title, the cinématographe. It is a forty-horse-power similitude of the kinetoscope, with which, no doubt, most readers are familiar. Highly delighted as I was with the tableaux, they half frightened me, because, while sitting enjoying the exhibition, I could not but wonder whether Edison and his successors were not a long way on the road towards wiping out a good proportion of the reason our reporting craft may plead for existence. The American magician is already able to show you all the actions of a crowd as you sit at ease in a room. What if he and followers advance so as to bring out newspapers whose moving illustrations furnish their own descriptions? Would self and brethren be wanted to provide accounts of races – boat, horse, foot, and swimming – or details of fights, of cricket, of football, and of all the rest of what used to be, when readers might see the game played for themselves in every detail and action. I am quite aware that we still are a longish way off the time when anything of this sort could be effected at the price, or put in ship-shape so quickly as to furnish a daily supply. But those who can manage o much must hold power to carry out an awful lot more. Only a day or two ago, so it seems, the kinetoscope was an imperfect foreshadowing of what has come. Now the idea has been carried a tremendous way further. If the enterprise were worth the expense, we could have a race of any sort lifted bodily and put on view wholesale, retail, and for exportation.

Here are some of the sketches provided. On a sheet facing the spectators is cast the photograph of a factory’s entrance. Time is up for dinner hour, or to strike work for the day – I may here remark that our friends employed in such establishments set rare example of punctuality by the promptitude with which they turn out to time. On the signal being given out popped a boy or two, the quickest off the mark, and scudded off home. Then three or four girls and lads, finishing putting on their coats as they went. Quickly the workpeople hurried through the portals in batches. A man rode off on a bicycle and a pair-horse van drove from the gate at a brisk trot. The exodus was not illustrated, but made really to happen. The road was quite crowded with the hands trooping forth; a few, not in much hurry, lingered a little before separating and giving the operator with the magic lantern the cue to finish Part One. Later we were treated to the disembarkation over a river steamer’s freight, exchanging greetings with friends on shore as the boat was made fast alongside the stage, bustling up the gangway, knocking each other’s “corners” with their handbags, smoking – you sawt he clouds as they blew them – laughing, shaking hands as they were met on the quay – all to the very life. Best of all was I pleased with a sketch – no, I do not mean a sketch – with some real bathing in real sea, with real combing miniature breakers, real splashes as the men and youngsters dropped in, tumbled in, plunged in on the spring-board, playing tricks on each other, doing fancy plunges, somersaults, clever dives, clumsy half-hearted drops into the sea, and playing follow-my-leader in swimming to shore and racing to make a fresh start along the plank. Doubtless friends who know the kinetoscope will fancy the latest improved edition is not exactly a novelty. They may fancy, but let them wait till they have tried the latter before passing an opinion.

What a field this opens for speculative sporting showmen. In a way Edison is going a lot better than the inventor who proposed to extract sunbeams from cucumbers and bottle them up for use on gloomy days. The showman of the future will be able to travel with a Derby or a Leger, a Cesarewitch or a Jubilee Stakes; with the Gentlemen v. Players match, the Amateur Championships, the ‘Varsity Boatrace, or a big turn with the gloves at the National Sporting Club; to show you the spectators, principals, umpires, referees, judges, horses, jockeys, boats, water, playing fields, and all, and treat you to a day’s sport whenever you want it and wherever you please to have it. This will be a boon indeed for sportsmen unable to be present, and will, I am afraid, lower gates dreadfully, because so many who could assist at the actual competitions, if they so chose, will prefer to save expense and stay at home till the cinématographe comes to hand. When all this comes to pass what is to become of poor SPORTING NOTIONS and Co.? That is what worries your humble servant, who, of course, would grieve for the Co., but most for himself.

Comments: The Lumière Cinématographe had its commercial debut at the Salon Indien, Grande Café, 14 Boulevard des Capucines, Paris on 28 December 1895. It was, of course, an invention of the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière, not of Thomas Edison (inventor of the Kinetoscope peepshow). This report from the British week sporting newspaper The Referee, in its column ‘Sporting Notions’, is a very early account in English of the screenings which had continued at the Grande Café. The films described are La sortie des usines Lumière (1895), Le Débarquement du Congrès de photographie à Lyon (1895) and Baignade en mer (1895). The Cinématographe was first shown in Britain at the Regent Street Polytechnic, London, on 20 February 1896.

Links: Copy at British Newspaper Archive (subscription site)

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Oh Joe! I Want To Go To the Picture Show

Source: Worton David and Ralph Penso, ‘Oh Joe! I Want To Go To the Picture Show’, c.1910, sung by Harry Bluff, lyrics via http://monologues.co.uk/musichall/Songs-O/Oh-Joe-Picture-Show.htm

Text:
Mooning and spooning was Flo’s delight
So to her sweetheart she said one night
‘I wish you’d take me the pictures to see
At the bioscope show,’ but he
Said, ‘I fail to see where the fun comes in, dear.’
Then Flo with a sigh to her sweetheart drew near
And whispered these words in his ear:

‘Oh Joe, I want to go to the Picture Show
The fun you’re sure to see
If you squeeze close up to me
Oh Joe, don’t say ‘No’
For it’s sure to make you grin
And you’ll see no doubt, when the lights go out
Where the fun comes in.’

Off to the pictures Joe went that night
But the first picture gave him a fright
There on the screen was a picture of Joe
With a girl, and that girl wasn’t Flo
Flo cried, ‘You old Bluebeard! that picture explain.’
Then fainting away with excitement and strain
She murmured these words once again:

‘Oh Joe, I want to go to the Picture Show
The fun you’re sure to see
If you squeeze close up to me
Oh Joe, don’t say ‘No’
For it’s sure to make you grin
And you’ll see no doubt, when the lights go out
Where the fun comes in.’

Joe tried his best to explain away
That ‘girl in the picture’ to Flo next day
‘I’ve never flirted,’ said he, ‘On my life
For that girl, dear, was only – my wife.’
‘Your w-w-w-wife? are you married?’ Flo cried
Said he, ‘Well, I was dear, but as my wife died
I’m a widower.’ then Flo replied:

‘Oh Joe, I want to go to the Picture Show
The fun you’re sure to see
If you squeeze close up to me
Oh Joe, don’t say ‘No’
For it’s sure to make you grin
And you’ll see no doubt, when the lights go out
Where the fun comes in.’

Comments: Hubert Worton David was a prolific British writer of musical songs and monologues, some of them written by Ralph Penso. ‘Oh Joe! I Want To Go To the Picture Show’ is most closely associated with the performer Arthur Reece, but in the above recording is sung by Harry Bluff (real name Léonce Charles Bluff). My thanks to Nick Hiley for bringing this song to my attention.

Links: Lyrics at monologues.co.uk

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He Sees Wings

Source: Cathleen McCarthy (‘Jeanette’), ‘He Sees Wings’, Peterborough Examiner, 28 February 1928, p. 3

Text: He was a little boy, not more than seven years of age. He was watching along with his brother and another small lad, the picture of ‘Wings’ at the Saturday afternoon matinee at the Opera House. Half the time he was on his feet, that is, in the air scenes. The sentimental episodes left him cold. He sat quietly through them, evincing little interest. “There’s the girl” was his only comment when the lady appeared. And he clung steadfastly to the belief that David and Jack were brothers. That’s why they were such pals, in his opinion.

He knew instantly what would come later on. “Watch the girl,” he said. “She’s going to climb under the car.” She did. “Now they’ll hit the car.” They did, with one of their bombs.

The Germans were “bad guys” and the two heroes of the picture were “good guys.” They were also Canadians, instead of Americans, as the producers intended. “Watch the Canadians win,” he said, every time that the camera depicted a triumphant advance.

“There’s one of the good guys in the wee, white car,” he announced triumphantly. “He’s going to get the bad guy’s balloon. Watch him get it – oh, lady, lady!” (as the flames consumed the big gas bag). He read the sub-titles rapidly. “Weeks pass.” His brother: “What passed?” Little boy (impatiently): “Any weeks.” They all subside, to brighten up again when the planes ‘strafe’ the German trenches.

“Oh boy, look at ’em run! Look at the good guys smash the bad guys. Hurray!” (as the tanks rumble over an energetic machine gun nest). “They’re all Canadians in that tank. It goes that way because they’re all drunk inside. Look at the rest of the Canadians coming along behind the tank so they won’t get killed.”

Later: “Gee, he killed his brother. Look at him yellin’ at the good guy and he can’t hear. Gosh, he killed him. Look at the lady cryin’. That’s their mother. She liked the dead one best.” They quiet down. The killing is all finished and the “good guy” is dead. As far as they care concerned, the picture is over.

Comments: Cathleen McCarthy (1889-198?) was a Canadian journalist and film reviewer who wrote from the Ontario newspaper Peterborough Examiner under the name of Jeanette. Peterborough cinema historian Robert G. Clarke writes about this delightful record of children watching the 1927 First World War movie Wings at Peterborough’s Grand Opera House on his website www.peterboroughmoviehistory.com. I am grateful to him for providing me with a copy of the full article and his OK to reproduce it here.

Links: ‘Watching a Movie at the Grand Opera House, 1928’ (from Robert G. Clarke’s site)

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It’s a Long Way from Penny Apples

Source: Bill Cullen, It’s a Long Way from Penny Apples (Cork: Mercier Press, 2001), pp. 155-156

Text: The Rotunda Cinema had a fourpenny entrance fee for the kids. Sixpence for adults. All sitting on wooden benches. And a shilling for a plush individual cushioned swivelled seat in the back. With five plusher rows up in the balcony for two shillings each. Lovers’ Row, the balcony was called. Privacy guaranteed.

When you paid your money at the ticket box you got a two-inch square of light metal with a half-inch circular hole in the centre. The metals were stamped with the price. Four pingin, six pingin, scilling, florin. You went to the usher, who took the metal token and slid it on to a long iron poker which was notched in tens. Held a hundred tokens, the poker did, so the ushers knew how many people were in the picture house. Simple, yes. Foolproof, no.

Wide open to fiddles it was. Sure, a little chiseller’s hand could reach through the glass slit when the cashier’s attention was distracted and grab a handful. The chiseller got into the pictures plus his Da and the pals. And it went further than that. The lads in Smith and Pearson Iron Foundry made the tokens. Some for the Rotunda Cinema order. And some for themselves. But they killed the golden goose.

The usher, Patsy MeCormack, was demented. ‘The bleedin’ picture house is jammed to the rafters. Standing at the back an’ all, they are. We had nine hundred people and Maureen only sold six hundred and twenty tokens.’

The boss arrived. Mister Johnston. Big meeting in the manager’s office. New system brought in. Patsy McCormack was plonked right beside the cashier’s ticket box. When a punter bought tokens, Maureen shouted the order.

‘Two fourpenny and two sixpenny,’ she’d shout, and wait until Patsy echoed the order, as he took the tokens, before serving the next customer.

‘Two two shillings,’ she’d shout. ‘Two of the best in Lovers’ Row,’ Patsy would shout back, pointing the red-faced couple to the staircase. And so the fiddle was silenced. For a while.

Comments: William ‘Bill’ Cullen (1942- ) is an Irish businessman whose memoir of his impoverished Dublin childhood It’s a Long Way from Penny Apples was a best seller. The Rotunda Round Room in Parnell Street, originally built as part of a hospital, had shown films since the 1890s. In 1954 it was renamed the Ambassador Cinema and continued in business until 1999. Triangular or square metal tokens were employed in some cinemas for a while. The writer goes on to describe other cinema fiddles and how they were countered by pre-printed numbered tickets.

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I Search for Truth in Russia

Source: Sir Walter Citrine, I Search for Truth in Russia (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1937), pp. 238-239

Text: In the evening we went to a cinema to see the film “Three Comrades”. The seating accommodation was hard, but not really uncomfortable. The audience were patient and enjoyed themselves. The film concerned the machinations of certain directors of factories who tried to steal material from one another’s works, in order to fulfil the Plan, and the exposure of a Communist Party secretary who favoured them because of personal gifts. The heroine was a member of the Party whose capacity for invective must have been immense, judging by her volubility and facial expressions. The secretary got his deserts, the directors were discredited, and all ended unhappily. The film broke twice and took some five minutes to patch up, during which the audience stamped and clapped their hands in a manner reminiscent of the early days of the British films.

Comments: Walter Citrine (1887-1983) was a British trade unionist. He was a General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress and president of the International Federation of Trade Unions. He visited the Soviet Union on a number of occasions. This account comes from a diary entry for 11 October 1935 in the city of Kislovodsk. The film he saw was Tri Tovarishcha (USSR 1935), directed by Semyon Timoshenko.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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An American Lady in Paris

Source: Mary Mayo Crenshaw (ed.), An American Lady in Paris, 1828-1829: The Diary of Mrs. John Mayo (Boston, Houghton Mifflin company, 1927), pp. 50-51

Text: One fine morning we went to see the Diorama. This novel exhibition is intended to show correct delineations of nature and art, and differs from a panorama in that, instead of a circular view of the objects represented, you have the whole picture at once in perspective. The interior of the building resembles a small theatre and such is the effect of the various modifications of light and shade that the optical deception is complete. Four different pieces are at present exhibited: The passage of the Alps by Mount Saint Gothard. Nothing can be more picturesque and romantic, it is the most perfect representation of nature that can be conceived. You behold in the distance a part of Saint Gothard, covered with eternal snows, the blue summit of Val Briditto on the left and on the right a part of Monte Piottino. The length seems immeasurable, and now and then an eagle is seen wheeling round and round until it is lost in the clouds, which is done by some sort of machinery which we cannot discover. There is water really falling down the cataract, and you hear the noise of it and see the mist rising from it. I am convinced the reality can be no more stupendous than this representation. The next piece is a view of the interior of a cathedral at Rome, the third is a part of the ruins of the Coliseum, which Mr. Mahan (one of the gentlemen who went with us) said was perfect. He had recently returned from Italy, where he had seen it, and he was struck with the truth of the execution. The fourth and last was a beautiful exhibition of the Place of Saint Mark in the city of Venice. They were all extremely fine, but nothing in my opinion could be compared to the scene in the Alps.

Comments: Mrs. John Mayo, born Abigail De Hart (1761-1843) was the daughter of promiment US lawyer John De Hart and was married to Virginia planter John Mayo. Although her publication is given to be a ‘diary’ there are no dates and really a travel book. 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 turnable would then rotate the audience around to view a second painting. The Diorama premiered in Paris in 1822 and remained on show to 1828.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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The Value of the Cinema

Source: ‘Robin Goodfellow’, ‘The Value of the Cinema’, Cambridge Daily News, 30 August 1919, p. 4

Text: Anyone who doubts the value of the cinema in teaching history and instilling patriotism in the growing generation ought to make a point of seeing the film depicting the life story of Nelson, which was shown at the Playhouse during the early part of the week. No school lesson however interesting, could “grip” the boy or girl in the same way that this wonderful picture did the crowds of youngsters this week. It did one’s heart good to hear them cheer as one after another the outstanding events in the life of the great hero were flashed upon the screen. The schoolchildren of today are evidently taught more about the country’s naval battles than when I went to school, for a little chap sitting behind me the other evening was well up in his facts, and shouted with eagerness at the first mention of any of the engagements, little and big, in which the immortal Nelson took part. He knew his characters well, too, for Napoleon – “Old Bony”, as he irreverently termed him – came in for a full share of hisses whenever he was shown. The young folks were not quite so well acquainted with “the lady in the case” – who was Lady Hamilton? a bright looking schoolboy asked me – but that is as it should be. “Emma’s” part in the story was very cleverly and tactfully handled by the producer. I have only one fault to find with the cinema productions of to-day, and that is the shocking spelling one frequently sees in the introductory lines explaining the pictures. There was nothing wrong with this in respect with the Nelson film, but just before, following some excellent pictures of a daring flight through the Arc de Triomphe, a photo was shown of the “interprid” airman. This is not an isolated instance, by any means. I have noticed it repeatedly in different films. A little more care in this work would vastly improve matters.

Comments: ‘Robin Goodfellow’ (a pseudonym) wrote a column ‘Table Talk’ for the Cambridge Daily News, from which this account derives. The British feature film Nelson (1918) was directed by Maurice Elvey for Master-International Exclusives. The French aviator Charles Godefroy flew through the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on 7 August 1919. My thanks to Lucie Dutton for bringing this piece to my attention.

Links: Copy held at the British Newspaper Archive (subscription site)

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Red, Black, Blond and Olive

Source: Edmund Wilson, Red, Black, Blond and Olive: Studies in Four Civilizations – Zuñi, Haiti, Soviet Russia, Israel (London: W.H. Allen, 1956), pp. 72-73

Text: What draws people down to this vacuum? How do they amuse themselves here?

These vacationists look soft and vapid. You rarely see a really pretty girl, and the men do not give the impression of doing much fishing or swimming. You find them at the movies in the evening. The American ideal of luxury is in Miami carried to lengths that I have never encountered before. At my hotel, I had the annoyance of removing encasements of cellophane from the toilet-seat and the drinking tumbler. In the movie-house, the seats are the kind that swing noiselessly back and forth to let people get in and out, and their cushions melt beneath one like a featherbed. A subdued indirect lighting, like the sweet creamy liquid of an ice-cream soda, bathes a dove-gray and shrimp-pink interior, the walls of which are ornamented with large cameo-like white seashells framing naked mythological figures that seem to have been badly imitated from the bas-reliefs of Paul Manship in Rockefeller Center, and with branching white plaster exfoliations that remind one of the legs and defensive antennae of the crawfish in the Miami aquarium. The film – Oh, You Beautiful Doll – was a technicolor that covered the whole surface of a high and overpowering screen with a routine sentimental romance, trumped up to manufacture glamor from the career of an American song-writer whose songs were widely sung in my college days. They were commonplace enough then, and today they are simply sickly. These attempts on the part of Hollywood to exploit the immediate past – in which the fashions of the eighties and nineties are sometimes confused with those of the twenties – show the precipitous decline of the movies as purveyors of entertainment, since the producers, after wrecking such contemporary talent as their salaries have tempted to Hollywood, have now been obliged to fall back on the favorites, first, second or third rate, of the day before yesterday and yesterday, when it was possible for a producer or an actor, a composer or a dancer, to perfect an art of his own and create for himself a reputation. Yet this product has its steady customers: one finds oneself among them here. Comfortably padded in the muffled atmosphere that seems to smell of scented face-powder – one cannot tell whether the theater has been perfumed or the women are all using the same cosmetics – this inert and featureless drove that have been drifting through the bleached sunny streets now sit watching stereotyped characters that are made to appear impressive by being photographed in very bright colors and gigantically magnified. The three shorts that follow the first showing of the film all happen to deal with animals: a hunting number, an animated cartoon that gets some not ill-deserved laughs, and a picture about racing whippets. The commentator seems slightly embarrassed at the spectacle of the uniformed attendants who have a full-time job grooming the whippets. “You may think they work as hard as the dogs,” he propounds, with his microphone emphasis that gropes through time and space and can never drive any nails. “Well, they work a lot harder!” The truth is that so many Americans, specialized in operating machines or in transacting long-distance business, have deteriorated as animal organisms, that we now have a special pleasure in watching almost any agile animal. What the audience gets out of these animal shorts is the same thing that l have been getting out of looking out the window at the birds and contrasting them with the Miami vacationers.

Comments: Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) was an American writer and critic. This account of a film show in Miami occurs at the start of an account of a visit to Haiti in 1949. Oh, You Beautiful Doll (USA 1949) was directed by John M. Stahl and starred June Haver and Mark Stevens. It was a musical based on the life of the composer Fred Fisher.

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Gielgud’s Letters

Source: Letter from John Gielgud to Paul Anstee, 29 December 1996, reproduced in Richard Mangan (ed.), Gielgud’s Letters (London: Weicenfeld & Nicolson, 2004), pp. 336-337

Text: 29 December, New York

… Oh – The Chelsea Girls – an outrageous film by Andy Warhol – voyeurism in the Chelsea Hotel. It lasts 3½ hours, and is mostly out of focus – a double screen – everything goes on – mostly queers and lesbians, but you can’t see anything clearly, and the sound track is deliberately distorted. One can’t tear oneself away, but it is a crashing bore – yet the audience sits spellbound and packed. Really decadent and incredible that it is allowed. Two small children came in with their Dad, and I almost had a stroke – but I’m glad to say he removed them after about ten minutes. Yet the Catholic Church have banned Blow-Up, which doesn’t seem to me indecent at all.

Comments: John Gielgud (1904-2000) was a British actor and theatre director, one of the theatrical greats of the age. Chelsea Girls (1966) was an experimental film directed by Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey, filmed mostly at the Hotel Chelsea in New . It was shown on a split screen. Blowup was a 1966 British-Italian film directed by Michaelangelo Antonioni. The actor and designer Paul Anstee, recipient of the letter, was in a relationship with Gielgud for many years.

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