Picture

Source: Lillian Ross, Picture (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962), pp. 151-153 [orig. pub. as five New Yorker magazine articles in 1952 and in book form the same year]

Text: I went in and sat down in the rear. When The Red Badge of Courage flashed on the screen, there was a gasp from the audience and a scattering of applause. As the showing went along, some of the preview-goers laughed at the right times, and some laughed at the wrong times, and some did not laugh at all. When John Dierkes, in the part of the Tall Soldier, and Royal Dano, in the part of the Tattered Man, played their death scenes, which had been much admired before, some people laughed and some murmured in horror. The audience at the private showing had been deeply and unanimously moved by the death scenes. There was no unanimity in the audience now. Several elderly ladies walked out. Now and then, there were irrelevant calls from the balcony; one masculine voice, obviously in the process of changing, called out, ‘Hooray for Red Skelton!’ Two or three babies cried. Men posted at the exits counted all departures. I could not see where Huston and Reinhardt were sitting. Across the aisle from me I could see L.B. Mayer, white-haired and bespectacled, sitting with his arms folded, looking fiercl blank-faced. Several M-G-M people nearby were watching him instead of the movie. During a particularly violent battle scene, Mayer turned to a lady sitting on his right and said, ‘That’s Huston for you.’ There was a slight stir in his vicinity, but Mayer said nothing more.

In the lobby, the Picwood manager, assisted by several M-G-M men, stood ready to hand out what are known as preview cards – questionnaires for the audience to fill out. The first question was: ‘How would you rate this picture?’ Five alternatives were offered: ‘Outstanding’, ‘Excellent’, ‘Very good’, ‘Good’ and ‘Fair’. Other questions were: ‘Whom did you like best in the picture?’ ‘Which scenes did you like the most?’ ‘Which scenes, if any, did you dislike?’ ‘Would you recommend this picture to your friends?’ Below the questions there was this additional request:

We don’t need to know your name, but we would like to know the following facts about you:

(A) Male.
Female.

(B) Please check your age group:
Between 12 and 17.
Between 18 and 30.
Between 31 and 45.
Over 45.

When the showing ended, the preview-goers milled about in the lobby, filling out the cards under the resentful surveillance of the men who had made the movie. Mayer walked out of the theatre and stood at the kerb out front, looking as though he would like to have somebody talk to him. Reinhardt and Huston went into the manager’s office, and sat down to await the verdict. Johnny Green, Margaret Booth, Bronislau Kaper, and Albert Band alternately watched the people filling out cards and Mayer. Most of the other executives had already departed. Benny Thau joined Mayer at the kerb. Mayer got into his town-and-county Chrysler, and his chauffeur drove him off. Benny Thau got into a black limousine and his chauffeur drive him off. Band went into the manager’s office. Huston and Reinhardt sat looking glumly at each other.

‘Did Mayer talk to anybody?’ Reinhardt asked.

Band reported that Mayer had talked to Benny Thau.

The manager came in and handed Reinhardt and Huston a batch of preview cards he had collected from the audience. Reinhardt read through them rapidly. Huston read some of the comments aloud. ‘”This would be a wonderful picture on television,”‘ he read. ‘”With all the money in Hollywood, why can’t you make some good pictures?”‘

‘Fair. Fair. Good. Fair,’ Band read. ‘Here’s one with Fair crossed out and Stinks substituted.’

‘Here’s an Excellent,’ Huston said.

‘No Outstandings yet,’ said Reinhardt. He was perspiring, and he looked grim. ‘Here’s a Lousy,’ he said.

‘The audience hated the picture,’ Band said.

Comments: Lillian Ross (1918-2017) was an American journalist, attached to The New Yorker from 1945 onwards. She wrote a series of articles from The New Yorker on the production of the MGM feature film The Red Badge of Courage (USA 1951), directed by John Huston, which were turned into her classic book Picture. The film’s first preview, described here, was held at Picwood in Los Angeles, a cinema regularly used for testing audience reactions prior to a film’s release. Ross’s book documents other preview screenings that followed after re-edits in response to audience comment. People mentioned include MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer, producer Gottfried Reinhardt, MGM vice-president Benny Thau, and screenwriter Albert Band. The film flopped on release, but Huston swiftly followed it with one of his greatest successes, The African Queen. Lillian Ross died on 20 September 2017, aged 99.

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A Japanese Cinema

Source: ‘A Japanese Cinema’, New Zealand Herald, 25 March 1933, supplement p. 10

Text: A JAPANESE CINEMA

ENTHUSIASM OF AUDIENCE

NO KISSES IN FILMS

An interesting description of a visit to a Japanese cinema theatre is given by an English traveller in a recent issue of “Film Weekly.” Flaming banners and photographs of Japanese film stars denoted that this was the place I sought (he wrote). I paid my money and entered, my progress to the seat being accompanied by deep bows from the daintily clad and elaborately coiffured usherettes. Next came a coy little lady bearing an ash tray and matches and a cushion for my greater comfort. By my side were two giggling little dolls, who every now and again cast surreptitious and demure glances in my direction.

The programme was nearing the end of the “comic,” in which two Oriental prototypes of Laurel and Hardy were competing for the affections of a lovely geisha. The audience literally screamed with merriment as, while they were indulging in mirthful altercation, another competitor stole her away under their very noses.

Let no one talk to me of inscrutable, unsmiling Japanese. They form the most responsive and vocal audiences in the world. If they are amused they laugh – and they are easily amused – and their laugh is not just a refined gurgle, but, a whole-hearted roar. If they are thrilled, an audible shiver runs through the audience.

A newsreel with a Japanese commentary showed the exploits of the representatives of the Land of the Rising Sun in the Olympic Games. This was greeted with extraordinary enthusiasm. The whole aim of Japanese pictures seems to be the glorification of Japan and things Japanese. Never was there a country so intensely nationalistic.

The feature picture was the synchronised version of Ben-Hur, from which, as the kiss in Japan is looked upon as a most disgusting affair, most of the love scenes had been eliminated. Ben-Hur’s caresses were left to the imagination. Every time the lovers showed signs of offending the Japanese moral code by coming to gags, the referee, in the form of a quick fade-out, would order them to break away, whilst the two coy maidens on my left would cover their faces with opened fingers and give a shocked “chi-chi.”

I soon tired of transatlantic Romans, and wandered forth into the gaily bannered streets in search of more film fare. I entered a second “shinema” for the modest sum of 10sen, about 1 1⁄2d. All the seats being full, I stood at the back and watched a thrilling drama of the Shanghai conflict.

Japan is passing through a period of intense chauvinism, and it is perhaps natural that such a proud and self-reliant nation should mirror its military prowess upon the screen. An elocutionist who commented on the story was much in evidence, in spite of lengthy Japanese captions. The story, if indeed it can be dignified by that name, was of the slightest. The main theme was the heroism of the soldiers of Nippon.

We then went back to the days of shoguns and samurai in an historical drama. Our worthy elocutionist had obviously exhausted himself in his previous effort, and the complicated story slowly unfolded itself to a rapidly dwindling audience. With no English captions to guide me, the picture was almost totally incomprehensible, but I gathered that it dealt with the adventures of a lovely “Broken Blossom,” whose heart still retained its snow-white purity in spite of her sinister environment, a theme very dear to the Japanese mind. Her handsome lover, sword in hand, after encountering incredible opposition, effects her escape, but dies in her arms. Then the story goes off at another angle with an entirely different set of characters.

Comments: This account of a visit to two Japanese cinemas was originally published in the British journal Film Weekly. The 1925 American film Ben-Hur was re-issued in an abbreviated form with synchronised music in 1931. My thanks to Carol O’Sullivan for suggesting the article.

Links: Copy at Papers Past

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Roving Through Southern China

Source: Harry A. Franck, Roving Through Southern China (New York: Century, 1925), p. 555

Text: Now even the cages of the animals had been cleaned up; the lotus-lake was open to pleasure navigation; a good commercial museum was functioning, and there were several tea-houses and places of entertainment, including an outdoor moving-picture house – of which most of the stock naturally did not belong to the governor’s enemies. Not the least interesting of my experiences in Chengtu was a Saturday evening at the new open-air movies. I went with my host, and therefore with the governor and most of his family, for one of the duties of foreign advisers to a Chinese military potentate of the interior is to translate the titles of the execrable American films that sometimes get that far up country. While the wildest of our melodramas flashed its lurid prevarications in the faces of the incredulous, yet often over-credulous, Chinese throngs, the thought came to me that perhaps they were judging it by the incredible things which their tuli was even then accomplishing in the ancient city. Fortunately we were there, for if we had not been able to assure the governor that life in America is not always what a film no doubt forbidden even in its native land purported it to be, he might have been forced in self-defense to renounce his allegiance to foreigners and their ways.

Comments: Harry Alverson Franck (1881-1962) was an American travel writer, whose journeys took him China, Latin America, Europe and the USSR. His Roving Through Southern China was a follow-up to this 1923 travel book Wandering in Northern China (1923). Chengdu (romanticised then as Chengtu) is a city in Sichuan province. A tuli is described by Franck as being a highly self-exalted Chinese personage.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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The German Spy

Source: Anon. [Thomas Lediard?], The German Spy: or, Familiar letters from a gentleman on his travels thro’ Germany, to his friend in England (London: T. Cooper, 1738), pp. 312-318

Text: Letter XXXIV. Hamburg.

SIR,

I was just going to make my Observations on some other Pieces of Painting in my Friend’s Hall, when he told me, we might take another Opportunity for that; but for the present, he would shew me, for the Amusement of an Hour or two, the wonderful Operation of a curious Laterna Magica, the Invention of a very great Artist, and an extraordinary Improvement of that pretty Machine we generally call by that Name. He led me to his Attick Story, into a Gallery over his Library, which I found was set a-part, and prepar’d for that Purpose. It was entirely darkned, excepting two Candles on one Side, near which two Elbow-Chairs were placed, in which we were no sooner seated, than the Candles went out, as if it were of themselves. Immediately, upon a Signal given, a Curtain, at the End of the Gallery, was drawn up, and discover’d the most beautiful Firmament I had ever seen. On one Side, the Sky appear’d diversified with that Variety of beautiful Colors, which we see at the Setting of the Sun, after a fine Day; and, soon after, the Moon, rising in a clear Horizon, and the Stars appearing, bright and twinkling, as on a frosty Night, discover’d new Beauties on the other Side. I had not diverted myself with this beautiful Prospect above two Minutes, before there suddenly appear’d, on the Middle of the Stage, a fine transparent Globe, partly green, and partly blue, which, being in continual Motion round its own Axis, I soon discover’d was design’d to represent the Planet we live on. I observ’d round the Globe a motly colour’d transparent Æther, in which I perceiv’d seven Figures hovering, near the Surface of the Earth, so small, that, with the naked Eye, I could not make any Distinction between them: But upon making Use of a Perspective I had in my Pocket, I perceived that one, which seemed superior to all the rest, was the Figure I had frequently seen painted to represent the Goddess of Riches. I was preparing to take a more exact View of the Figures, with the Help of my Glass, when my Friend told me, I need not give myself that Trouble, I should soon see them distinct and separate.

He, thereupon, gave a Signal, and the Curtain fell; but it soon rose again, and discover’d the Goddess of Riches alone, as big as Life. One Part of the Stage represented a noble Palace, and the other a beautiful Garden, with pleasant Walks, fine Statues and Fountains. The Goddess herself sat in the Middle of the Garden, on a triumphal Char, cover’d with Purple, richly embroider’d. She was clad in a Vestment of Cloth of Gold, with a Mantle of Silver Moor, embellish’d with precious Stones. In one Hand, she held a rich Jewel, and a costly String of Pearls, and in the other, a large Bag of Gold Coin. Round about her were several open Chests of Money, and great Heaps of Gold and Silver Plate. The Horses of her Char, which were led by a Figure representing Subtlety, were adorn’d with Trappings, cover’d over with Masks, which seem’d to be so many Tokens of Deceit, Usury in the Figure of a Moor, having Bags of Mony in both Hands; Lust, almost naked; Treachery, with two Faces, and Fire in both Hands, were her Retinue; and in the Char sat forwards a little Person, in costly Apparel, but of a bold arrogant Aspect.

While I was viewing this little Figure more narrowly, the Scene chang’d, and discover’d the same Figure, as large as Life. She held a Looking-glass in her Hand, was adorn’d with Peacocks Feathers, and a Mantle embroider’d with Pearls and Rubies; which, together with her haughty Looks and Carriage, plainly discover’d her to be Image of Pride. The Stage represented a noble Square, in which were several Obelisks, triumphal Arches, Pyramids, and the like costly Vanities. The Goddess herself was seated on a Char, in the Form of a Throne, the Canopy of which was supported by a Golden Peacock. One of the Horses, which drew this Char, was decked with Trappings full of Eyes, as an Emblem of Curiosity, and the other was a lively Representation of Stubborness. They were led by the Figure of Scorn, and follow’d by three others, which to me seem’d to be the Images of Slander, Self-Conceit, and Disobedience.

I had hardly taken a distinct View of these Things, before there was again a sudden Change of the Scene; and, instead of those Beauties which had before offer’d to my View, appear’d a melancholy and disagreable Prospect. I discover’d a Figure, sitting in a despicable Carriage on a Chair which seem’d to be compos’d of Snakes, Salamanders, and Adders, interwoven into that Form, and this Person I plainly perceiv’d to be the Figure of Envy. In her Hand she held a bloody Heart, in which were visibly the Prints of her venomous Teeth. The Stage represented nothing but Ruins and Desolation, and the very Air seem’d to be tempestuous, and fill’d with black, heavy Clouds. The Furniture of her Horses were covered with Tongues, probably, to represent Detraction, and they were drove, by Revengeful Spite with a Scourge of Serpents, and Discontent with a Rod of Thorns. On each Side of this miserable Vehicle, march’d Restlessness, with a Larom on his Head, and Sedition with a Pair of Bellows in his Hand.

This melancholy Scene was soon succeeded by another as terrifying. Here the principal Figure represented War, seated in his Chariot, branding: a naked Scymiter in his right Hand, and a burning Torch in his Left, in a wild, discompos’d Posture. At his Feet lay Muskets, Pistols, Battle-Axes, Balls and Bombs, and behind him was raised a Pile of Cannons, Mortars, Colors, Standards and Pikes. The whole Stage seem’d to be cover’d with dead Carcasses and, at a Distance, I discover’d a City in Flames. The Horses of his Chariot were lead by Rage, whose Head had the Appearance of a fiery Coal, and in his Hand he held a burning Link, almost consumed. Contention, with the Head of a Dog, Blasphemy, with the Tongue of a Serpent; Famine, gnawing a Bone, and Cruelty, loaded with Instruments of Torture, march’d on each Side of the Chariot, as the Attendants of War.

While my Thoughts were busied in reflecting on this Scene of Misery, it, on a sudden, disappeared, and the furious God of War was followed, at the very Heels, by the miserable Figure of a Woman, almost naked, which, I soon found, represented Poverty. She was seated on a paultry Cart, on which I could discover nothing but broken earthen Ware, some Pieces of mouldy Bread, and other the like Signs of Penury and Want. The whole Prospect, round about her, was waste and desolate, and discover’d only a few thatch’d Cottages, which seem’d to be the poor Remains of a general Ravage. This miserable Carriage mov’d very slowly, being drawn by two Animals, that had hardly the Appearance of Horses; but represented, in a more lively Manner, Debility and Sickness. Care, almost stiff and motionless, supplied the Place of a Driver; and Patience, bearing an Anvil, with a Heart upon it, which seem’d to be torn with Hooks of Iron, together with Servitude in Chains, were the wretched Companions of this doleful Figure.

This melancholy Scene was no sooner at an End, than a more agreable one appear’d, in which I discover’d a Woman of a staid, serene Countenance, sitting on a very low but decent Vehicle, which moved but just above the Surface of the Earth. In one Hand, she held a broken Heart, and, in the other, a Shepherd’s Crook. Every Circumstance gave me to understand, that this Figure could be no other than that of Humility; especially as she was accompanied by Faith, Hope and Charity, the latter having a Child at her Breast, and leading two more by the Hand. This humble Vehicle was drawn by Meekness and Sobriety, led by Timorousness. The Landscape, as I have before observ’d, was more agreable, than that of the preceeding Scene; but with what Satisfaction did I see it, in an Instant, changed into one of the most beautiful and noble Views, I had ever seen; upon the Appearance of a lovely Nymph, seated in a costly Char, which, as well as her Person, was embellish’d with every Thing that could please the Eye and the Imagination. I concluded, without any Hesitation, that this pleasing Figure must be the Goddess of Peace, and with that amiable Denomination it was my Friend distinguished her. Concord and Public Good, guided by Love, drove the Char; and Truth, Justice, Diligence and Liberty accompanied it. At the Goddess’s Feet lay all Manner of Mathematical, Mechanical and Musical Instruments, together with a Cornucopia; and looking more narrowly, I observed, in the Char with her, the little Figure, which, at the Beginning, I had discovered, with the Help of my Glass, to be the Goddess of Riches. I was just going to make some Reflections, on these Things, when, upon a Signal given, the Curtain drop’d, the Candles burn’d again, of their own Accord, and my Friend ask’d me, how I liked this Representation of the Instability and Vicissitude of the Transactions of this World, which were in a continual Rotation, and succeeded each other, much in the same Manner, as I had observed in this little Theater. I told him I could not enough admire, as well the Invention as the Execution of it; but this I would venture to affirm, that, the excellent Moral, which was hidden under it, far exceeded either. I added that there wanted nothing more to make it an inimitable Copy, but the Invention of a perpetuum Mobile, to keep that Rotation in a continued Revolution; which I did not doubt, but he, or some one or other of his learned Correspondents, would, soon or late, bring to bear. As I express’d a Satisfaction in what I had seen, my Friend gave me a Paper with about a Dozen German Verses upon it, in which he told me I should find the Content of the whole briefly express’d, and would serve me as a Memorandum of these Representations. I did not look upon them then; but upon perusing them, after I was retir’d to my Chamber, they put me in Mind of some homely, but expressive Lines, which I have seen at the Top of some of our Sheet-Almanacks, and, if my Memory does not fail me, are as follows;

War begets Poverty,
Poverty Peace:
Peace maketh Riches flow,
(Fate ne’er does cease!)
Riches produces Pride,
Pride is War‘s Ground;
War begets Poverty, &c.
The World goes round.
Omnium Rerum Vicissitudo.

As it is a double Satisfaction to me, to see any Thing curious, that seems to have had its Rise from our Country, I could not but please myself with the Imagination, that my Friend’s Verses, as well as the Invention of his Laterna Magica were originally taken from these Lines of one of our Philomaths: Tho’ I must confess he has beautifully augmented the Genealogy, with two very proper Characters; Envy and Humility; and not improperly made some Alteration in the Order: For, according to my Friend, Riches begets Pride; Pride, Envy; Envy, War; War, Poverty; Poverty, Humility; (tho’ this is not always the Case, because Pride is often the Daughter of Poverty, tho’ illegitimate) Humility begets Peace; and Peace; with the Assistance of Arts and Sciences, Liberty and Trade, begets Riches again. However, all these Changes are not capable of making any Alteration in the Esteem with which I profess to be, &c.

Comments: Thomas Lediard (1685–1743) was a British historian, diplomat and surveyor. He edited and introduced a collection of letters from a traveller in Germany to a friend, entitled The German Spy, and is possibly – though not for certain – the author of the letters. Its eyewitness account of a magic lantern show is the most extensive such report known to survive from the eighteenth century. My grateful thanks to Deac Rossell for bringing the text to my attention, and for supplying an accurate transcription (with some modernisation for clarity’s sake) and background information.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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Don’t Look at the Camera

Source: Harry Watt, Don’t Look at the Camera (London: Elek Books, 1974), pp. 29-30

Text: So many of my highbrow associates think they can ‘meet the working man’. Malcolm Muggeridge, for instance, my revered and close friend. He hasn’t a hope. There’s that ghastly accent to start with. (I wonder if I would have talked like him if I’d gone to Cambridge, as my father suggested?) And he’s incapable of meandering on with the platitudes, repetitions and sudden flashes of colour in ordinary man’s speech. Without an innocuous Scots accent, a knowledge of football, boxing, cricket and horse racing, plus a few dirty stories mostly involving the bosses, and a capacity to swear, without repeating myself, for about two minutes, I could never have found the material to write the documentary films I did, both in peace and war. I imagine that Malcolm, master of words that he is, has not got these gifts. I once went with him to see The Bridge Over The River Kwai [sic] in a suburban cinema in Sydney, Australia. It was not one of my happier evenings. To start with, Malcolm can never speak sotto voce. He declaims, wherever he is. And that exaggerated ‘Pommy’ voice, echoing out over the Bijou Cinema, Cronulla, nearly started a riot. When William Holden, the co-star, disappeared, apparently killed, Malcolm said – as usual, at the top of his voice – ‘Thank God that dreary Yank has gone. I found him intolerable!’ I explained, very sotto voce, that Holden had been paid a million dollars for the picture, and as it was only a third of the way through, he was bound to reappear. When he did, Malcolm boomed ‘How clever you are, Harry, I can never understand the economic intricacies of your dreadful industry. So we have to put up with the awful shit to the end.’ At that, an enormous Rugby League forward, sitting behind us, got up and said ‘Listen, you Pommy poof, one more word out of you, and I’ll sink ya.’ Malcolm, of course, was not in the least discountenanced, and merely said, ‘My dear chap, I was only making what I thought was a perfectly valid criticism of a rather second-rate piece of cinema.’ The gorilla sat down, baffled. But I imagine Malcolm would have had great difficulty in achieving an intimacy with that Aussie.

Comments: Harry Watt (1906-1987) was a British documentary and feature film director, renowned for his contribution to such films as Night Mail, London Can Take It!, Target for Tonight and The Overlanders (one of a number of films he made in Australia). Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990) was a celebrated British journalist and social commentator, known for his early advocacy of left-wing views only to turn to strong conservatism in his latter years. He had a notably accentuated upper class English voice.

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Sociology of Film

Source: J.P. Mayer, Sociology of Film: Studies and Documents (London: Faber and Faber, 1946), pp. 181-183

Text: Being a regular reader of Picturegoer I have decided to enter your contest not in the hope of winning a prize but in the hope you can or know of someone who can help me to realise one or two of my ambitions. I have enclosed a photo of myself in the hope it will be returned.

First I will give particulars of my parents and myself. I am 28 years, height 5 ft. 9 1⁄2 in., weight roughly 10 stone, Religion Roman Catholic, Strict T.T., Grey eyes, Auburn hair, Brownish complexion. Slim build, health moderate teeth bad. Not extra strong, could nearly be classed as a weakling. Plain appearances. Quiet disposition, very refined, Politeness a speciality. I could honestly say I speak International English; as we in the province of ….. have always had the reputation of speaking better English than the English themselves.

Profession. Unemployed. Shop Assistant, Grocery and Provision and light Hardware trade. I have done some light farm work too, I have never attended a dance and have no talent in the line of music. I have the gift of the gab as it were I like reading. Pictures, I have played Golf, Croquet, cards, some tennis, the profession of my late parents, Mother, a domestic servant, Father, Grocery, horse van driver.

Ambition No. 1. To get to Hollywood and to get small parts in films even insignificant ones. I would be happy even if I had to draw the dole some of the time.

Film Remarks. The film entitled 100 Men and a Girl starring Deanna Durbin seen by me about 7 yrs. ago have being the result of my second ambition I fell in love with Deanna Durbin and my love has grown for her every day. It is not just calflove or a passing infatuation but its the real thing. I follow all her films and one film of hers seen recently made me sad: Three Smart Girls Grow Up. I felt rotten over the trend of the picture and would much prefer to have sacrificed Jackie Coopers love affair. The entire crowd were disgusted with the finish, I am happy now D.D. is free from Vaughan Paul and it is my ambition and hope that one day I will be able to get to Hollywood and make my love known to her and I hope even though I am only an Irish peasant without financial or other mean to make the grandest star in Hollywood my wife, its all I live for and I would be ever grateful if you would send her my photo and letter. I wish her to know of my two ambitions as perhaps she could influence her Company to give me small parts, also I wish to tell her if ever we are married it will not be one for the divorce court to wreck, but one of happiness. One of honour and we will never double cross our promise to our Creator but will keep our vow until Death do us part. Glamour is not everything but peace, happiness and the love of God. Mutual respect for each other. Moral Religious and Political aspect, so give my love letter and photo to Deanna, I am a sentimentalist and cried sincerely when I seen Men of Boys Town also San Francisco I eat the American style with my knife and not fork, also films no one in particular have been responsible for my present refined manner. I have adopted the manners of the stars. Films and reading have been responsible for a lot of my Education.

2) Films have never appeared in my dreams.

I don’t expect to win a prize but I do hope you will send my letter and photo to Deanna Durbin you can send all this letter and I will be very grateful to you, tell Deanna it is not necessary to marry another star or person of position, love comes to the humblest.

P.S. Nationality of my parents and I is Irish.

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 comes from the section ‘The Adult and the Cinema’, for which responses were sought via Picturegoer in February 1945 to two questions: Have films ever influenced you with regard to personal decisions or behaviour? and Have films ever appeared in your dreams?

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Keith’s Union Square

Source: Anon., ‘”Keith’s Union Square,” The New York Dramatic Mirror, 11 July 1896, p. 17

Text: Lumière’s Cinématographe created a decided sensation here last week. It was fully described in last week’s Mirror, and it is only necessary to add that the audiences were very enthusiastic over the new discovery. The depot picture with its stirring arrival of an express train, and the charge of the French hussars were wildly applauded and each of the pictures came in for its share of approval. A new picture was shown which represented the noonhour at the factory of the Messrs. Lumière in Lyons, France. As the whistle blew, the factory doors were thrown open and men, women and children came trooping out. Several of the employees had bicycles, which they mounted outside the gate, and rode off. A carryall, which the Lumières keep to transport those who live at a distance from the factory, came dashing out in the most natural manner imaginable. A lecturer was employed to explain the pictures as they were shown, but he was hardly necessary, as the views speak for themselves, eloquently.

Comments: The Lumière Cinématographe made its American debut at Keith’s Union Square Theater, New York City, on 29 June 1896. The films shown include La sortie des usines Lumière and L’arrivé d’un train. The charge of the French hussars could be one of several films of the Seventh Cuirassiers filmed by the Lumières.

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The Crippled Tree

Source: Han Suyin, The Crippled Tree (London: Jonathan Cape, 1965), pp. 377-379

Text: The cinema was called in Chinese the True Light Cinema. It had a brown gooey façade, and at that time it looked enormous; it had suffered, forty years later when Rosalie returned to stare at it (renamed the People’s Theatre, and with a grey sticky façade), the shrink that all revisited childhood monuments suffer. The True Light Cinema showed chiefly American pictures in the 1920s, because there were no Chinese film companies. The films were all galloping horses, villains, and usually a buxom girl, with long fair hair, who was constantly getting herself tied to railtracks and rescued in the nick of time from a rapidly enlarging locomotive belching smoke that blackened the screen and dimmed the cinema too. An orchestra of White Russians in the pit made appropriate music with drum beats for revolver shots. The King of Kings, and City Lights with Charlie Chaplin (which Mama did not think funny), Rosalie would remember for many years; also a film, The Birth of a Nation, which showed hooded horsemen clad in white sheets riding down ugly black men, and the same fair-haired, buxom girl, throwing herself down some rocks because a black man was running after her and smiling. It was at this film that the incident occurred.

Someone in the audience (while it was dark and musically solemn because house was heing burnt with the white-clad horsemen ranged round watching) got up and started to shout. There was immediately a commotion, lights were switched on, policemen appeared from the four corners of the hall where they were always posted, and the young man who had shouted was dragged away, the usual sticks plying upon him quick and fast while he strove to cover his bleeding face with his hands. And it reminded Rosalie of Charlie Chaplin, though this young man was Chinese and had the scarf round his neck which indicated he was a university student.

While the young man was being dragged out, Mama turned to Rosalie. who was not sitting in the same row as Mama and Tiza and Papa, but alone behind, because there had been only three seats in the row. The young boy who occupied the seat next to Tiza had left it to run to the aisle, as many others did, to get closer to the young student, whom the policemen were dragging away. ‘Quick, now,’ said Mama, ‘sit here with us.’

Rosalie obeyed. She sat next to Tiza, in the seat left vacant by the boy.

But the boy now returned, and said: ‘This is my seat.’

Mama indicated the seat in the row behind, which Rosalie had left. ‘You can sit there.’

The young boy began to shout: ‘This is my seat, my seat.’

And all the people in the cinema now crowded round them, round Mama, Papa, Rosalie and Tiza.

Then another young man with a scarf began to shout, and the young boy suddenly raised his fist and screamed: ‘Down with all white devils from over the sea,’ and there was noise like a train approaching quickly, and it was the whole cinema, together making this noise. They stamped, clapped, whistled, and suddenly they were all shouting, in time: ‘Down with the colonialists, down with the imperialists,’ and singing.

The policemen reappeared, and again they began to use their sticks, but they were too few, and they crowded round Mama and the girls and got them out of the cinema, and Papa stayed behind. Then he too came out, and he was so pale, Rosalie had never seen him that colour before.

Comments: Han Suyin (1917-2012) was a Chinese Eurasian physician, novelist, memoirist and historian, best-known for her novel A Many-Splendoured Thing. She was born Rosalie Matilda Kuanghu Chou to a Chinese father and Belgian mother. Her book The Crippled Tree, a combination of history and memoir covering 1885-1928, documents the great challenges their family faced during a period of political turmoil in China. In this passage, recording an incident in a Peking cinema, she refers to herself in the third person (Rosalie). The anecdote continues with a bitter row over race between the two parents. There was a small amount of Chinese film production in the 1920s, particularly towards the latter end of the decade, but it is not clear when the incident described took place. A screening of The Birth of a Nation (1915) in China in the 1920s feels unlikely, but the scenes she recalls are part of the film.

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Boys in Zinc

Source: ‘A captain, artillery officer’, quoted in Svetlana Alexievich (trans. Andrew Bromfield), Boys in Zinc (Penguin Books, 2017 [orig. pub. Цинковые мальчики, 1989]), pp. 106-107

Text: Sacks of human meat in the morgue – it comes as a shock! Six months later we’re watching a movie and tracer shells start hitting the screen. We carry on watching the movie. We’re playing volley-ball and shelling starts. We look to see where the shells are coming from, and carry on playing … They used to bring us films about war, about Lenin or about an unfaithful wife: he went away, and now she’s with someone else. But everyone wanted comedies. They never brought us any comedies. I could have picked up my automatic and emptied it into the screen. The screen was three or four sheets sewn together under the open sky and the audience sat on the sand.

Comments: Svetlana Alexievich (1948 – ) is a Belarusian non-fiction writer and journalist, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015. Her books are developed out of eyewitness statements of events in recent Russian/Soviet history. Boys in Zinc documents the experience of Soviet soldiers and their families during the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union 1979-1989.

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Haunted Hoxton

The Pepper’s Ghost illusion at the Polytechnic, 1863, (the same year as the Britannia Theatre play), from Illustrated London News

Source: Edmund Yates, ‘Haunted Hoxton’, All the Year Round, 27 June 1863, vol. 9 no. 218, pp. 420-424

Text: At last my guilty wishes are fulfilled! At last I am enabled to look back into the past, and think that one great object of my life has been realised, for I have seen a GHOST! Shade of (ah! by the way, I forget the name of the shade, and I’ve left the document which could inform me in my overcoat-pocket! never mind!) sacred shade, who appeared simultaneously to me and to some hundreds of entranced people, thou hast, so far as I am concerned, set the vexed question of apparitions at rest for ever. My interest in the ghost subject has been intense. I have read every story bearing upon it, and worked myself up to a delightful pitch of agonised excitement. Alone, and in the dead of night, do I peruse the precious volumes: the mere fact of the scene being laid in “an old castle in the Black Forest,” gives me a pleasing sensation of terror; when the student seated alone in the tapestried room finds “the lights begin to burn with a blue and spectral hue,” I shake; when there “reverberates through the long passages a dismal clanking of chains,” I shiver; finally, when “the door bursts open with a tremendous crash,” and there enters “a tall figure clothed in white, with one clot of gore immediately below its heart,” I am in a state of transcendent bliss, and only long to have been in the student’s place. Some years ago I thought I had a chance of realising my hopes. I read a book called, I think, The Nightgown of Nature, the author of which announced that he—or she— was thoroughly well acquainted with several houses where spectres appeared nightly with unexampled punctuality—houses “within a convenient distance from London, and accessible by rail,” as house-agents say—and I wrote to him—or her— for the address of one of these houses, stating that I intended to pass a night there. He—or she—replied that though his—or her—statement was thoroughly correct, he—or she— must decline giving the address of any particular house, as such a course would be detrimental to the value of the property, and might render him—or her— liable to an action at law on the part of the landlord. So I was disappointed.

I heard, however, the other day, that a real ghost, real as to its unreality, its impalpability, its visionary nothingness, was to be seen in a remote and unknown region called Hoxton, I had previously heard that the same, or a similar spectre, haunted Regent-street, but I laughed at the notion. Regent-street! with the French boot-shop, and the ice-making man, and the Indian pickle depôt opposite! A ghost in juxtaposition to electrical machines, a diver who raps his helmet with halfpence, and the awful insects in the drop of water! But Hoxton—there was something ghostly in the very name, and the place itself was as unfamiliar to me as Tierra del Fuego. Nobody to whom I spoke knew anything about it; they “had heard the name;” it was “somewhere out north,” they thought. Ah! in an instant my fancy sketches the spot. A quaint old suburb, where the railway has not yet penetrated, where sleepy cows chew the cud of peace in quiet meadows, where ploughmen whistle o’er the lea (whatever that may happen to mean), where huge elms yet stand waving their giant limbs before square red brick mansions. One of these mansions for years untenanted, roofless, dismantled, a murder was committed in it years ago: an old man with silver hair, a spendthrift nephew, a box of gold, a carving knife, a well in garden where weapon is discovered years afterwards, a wailing cry at twelve P.M., a tottering figure wringing its hands—yes, that must be it, or something very like it! I determined to go to Hoxton that night.

There was no railway—so far I was right—and I went to my destination in a cab. After a little time I found we were striking out of the great thoroughfares of commerce into narrow by-lanes, where a more pastoral style of living prevailed, where fried fish of a leathery appearance lay in tangled heaps on the slabs of windowless fish- shops, where jocund butchers, seemingly on the best terms with their customers, kept up a perpetual chorus of “Buy, buy!” and slapped the meat before them with a carving knife and a gusto that together seemed to give quite an appetite to the hesitating purchaser. We passed several graveyards deep set in the midst of houses—dank, frouzy, rank, run-to-seed places, where Pelions of “Sacred to the memory” were heaped upon Ossas of “Here lieth the remains,” and out of which the lank sapless grass trembled through the railings and nodded feebly at the passers-by. Good places for ghosts these! City ghosts of misers and confidential clerks, and trustees who committed suicide just before the young gentleman whom they had had in trust came of age, and would have infallibly found out all about their iniquities. I peered out of the cab in quest of any chance apparition, but saw none, and was very much astonished when the driver, to whom I had given particular instructions, pulled up before a brilliantly lighted doorway, round which several cadgers were disporting themselves. These youths received me with great delight, and one said, “You come along with me, sir! I’ll take you to the hout and houtest old spectre in the neighbr’ood. This way, sir!” He led the way along a lighted passage, between rough brick walls, until we arrived at a barrier, where—after a muttered conversation between my guide and the janitor—a shilling was demanded of me, after paying which I was provided with a card talisman and left to find my way alone. Down a broad passage on one side of which was a recess where sandwiches lay piled like deals in a timber-yard, where oranges were rolled up in pyramidal heaps of three feet high, and where there was so much ginger-beer that its simultaneous explosion must infallibly have blown the roof off the building, down a flight of asphalted stairs, at the bottom of which a fierce man wrung my card talisman from me and turned me into a large loose box, the door of which he shut behind me. A loose box with a couple of chairs in it, a looking-glass, a flap table—a loose box open on one side, looking through which opening I see hundreds of people ranged in tiers above each other. Turning to see what they are all intent on, I see a stage—I’m tricked! I’m done! the loose box is a private box, and I’m in a theatre.

Left to myself, what could I do but look at the stage, and, doing that, how could I fail to be intensely interested? I speedily made myself acquainted with the legend being there theatrically developed, and, beyond that the colour was, perhaps, a little heightened, I did not find it more or less preposterously unlike anything that could, by any remote possibility, ever have occurred than is usual in dramatic legends. The scene of action being laid at the present time, I found the principal character represented to be a BARONET (he had a name, but he was invariably spoken of by everybody, either with yells of hatred or shoulder-shrugs of irony, as “the Baronet”), and certainly he was the most objectionable old gentleman I have ever seen. The mere fact of his walking about, in the present day, in a long claret coloured coat, a low crowned hat with a buckle in the front, and boots which, being apparently made of sticking- plaster, had tassels like bell-pulls, was in itself irritating; but his moral conduct was horrible. He seemed to have an insane desire for the possession of his neighbours’ property, not felonious in his intentions, but imbued with a buying mania, and rabidly ferocious when said neighbours refused to sell. First among his coveted possessions stood the house and garden of a clergyman’s widow (no mistake about her widowhood! the deepest black, and such a cap, all through the piece!), who obstinately refused to part with an inch of her ground. Baronet smiles blandly, and informs us that he will “have recourse to stratyjum.” Widow has two daughters, one very deep-voiced and glum, the other with her hair parted on one side (which, theatrically, always means good nature), and funny. Funny daughter is beloved by Baronet’s son—unpleasant youth in cords, top-boots, and a white hat, made up after Tom King the highwayman, vide Turpin’s Ride to York; or, The Death of Black Bess (Marks, Seven Dials), passim. Baronet proposes that son should get clergyman’s daughter to steal lease of premises, promising to set son up in life, and allow him to marry object of affections. Son agrees, works upon daughter’s vanity; daughter, who is vague in Debrett, is overcome by notion of being called the Right Honourable Mrs.——, a title which, as the wife of a baronet’s son, she is clearly entitled to—steals the lease, hands it to son, who hands it to Baronet, who, having got it, nobly repudiates not merely the whole transaction, but son into the bargain: tells him he is not son, but merely strange child left in his care, and comes down and winks at audience, who howl at him with rage.

That was the most wonderful thing throughout the evening, the contest between the audience and the Baronet. Whenever the Baronet made a successful move (and Vice had it all its own way for nearly a couple of hours), the audience howled and raved against him, called “Yah!” whistled, shrieked, and hooted, and the Baronet advanced to the footlights and grinned across them, as though he should say, “I’m still all right in spite of you!” When a villain who, for a sum of money advanced by the Baronet, had murdered an old man, and was afterwards seized with remorse, stole the lease from the Baronet’s pocket, the multitude in the theatre cheered vociferously; but the Baronet, after proving that the purloined parchment was only a copy, and not the original document, which he still retained, calmly walked down to the front of the stage, and literally winked at the people, tapping his breast, where the lease was, in derision, and goading the audience to the extremity of frenzy.

There were several pleasant episodes in which the Baronet was the mainspring: hiding fifty-pound notes in the glum sister’s bundle, accusing her of robbery, and having her locked up in his house, whence she was rescued by the murdering villain who had previously (out of remorse) set the house on fire; but at length the widow, who a minute before had been remarkably lively, and had “given it” to the Baronet with great vehemence and cap-shaking, suddenly declared her intention of dying, and though a young gentleman with a sugarloaf hat and a coat with a little cape to it, like the pictures of Robespierre, announced himself as a lawyer, who would defend her and hers against anything and everybody, she forthwith carried out her intention, sat down on a chair, and died, out of hand. There was a faint pretext of sending for the doctor, but there was an evident fear on the part of most lest that practitioner should really restore the patient, and thus burk the great effect of the piece, so the idea was overruled, and the Baronet, advancing to the footlights, rubbed his hands in derision at the audience, and the audience, cognisant of the fact that the decease of the widow was necessary to the subsequent appearance of her ghost, merely answered with a subdued “Yah!” At this point my former conductor opened the box-door and beckoned me out. “Come in front,” he said; “it’s ghost time!” The words thrilled to my very soul, I followed him in silence, and took my place in the boxes, close by a lady whose time was principally occupied in giving natural sustenance to her infant, and an older female, apparently the child’s grandmother, who was a victim to a disease which I believe is popularly known as the “rickets,” and which impelled her at three-minute intervals to shudder throughout her frame, to rock herself to and fro, to stuff the carved and hooked black bone handle of an umbrella, that looked like a tied-up lettuce, into her mouth, and to grind out from between her teeth, clenched round the umbrella-handle, “Oh, deary deary me!” On my other side were a youth and maiden, so devoted to each other that they never perceived my entrance into the box, and I had not merely to shout, but to shove, before I could effect a passage, when there was such a disentanglement of waists from arms, and interlaced hot hands, and lifting of heads from shoulders, that I felt uncomfortable and apologetic, whereas the real offenders speedily fell back into their old position, and evidently regarded me as a Byronic creature, to whom life was a blank.

The ghost did not appear at once. Though the widow had slipped into a very stiff position in her chair, and everybody around her had said either “Ha!” or “The fatal moment!” or “Alas!” or “All is over!” as their several tastes led them, it was thought necessary to make the fact of her death yet more clear, so upon the front parlour, where the sad occurrence took place, fell a vast body of clouds of the densest kind, out of which, to slow music, there came two or three ethereal persons with wings, which wagged in a suspicious manner, bearing the widow’s body “aloft,” as Mr. Dibdin has it with reference to Tom Bowling, and thereby copying in the most direct and unequivocal manner (but not more directly and unequivocally than I have seen it in theatres of grand repute, where critics babbled of the manager’s transcendent stage- direction) Herr Lessing’s picture of Leonore. To meet these, emerged, in midair from either side of the stage, other ethereal persons, also with wings, whose intended serenity of expression was greatly marred by the obstinacy of the machinery, which propelled them in severe jerks, at every one of which the set smile on their faces faded into a mingled expression of acute bodily pain and awful terror lest they should fall down: while, on a string like larks, or a rope like onions, there swayed to and fro across the proscenium, a dozen of the stoutest and most unimaginative naked Cupids that ever got loose from a valentine, or were made by a property- man.

As the act-drop fell upon this scene, which in itself represented something not to be met with in everyday life, some distrust was expressed in my neighbourhood lest there should be nothing more ghostly than we had just witnessed, but the old lady with the umbrella set us to rights by recovering suddenly from a severe attack of rickets, and exclaiming, “Them ghosts! Oh no, sir! In the next act we shall see her, and which the music will play up for us to give attention.” So accordingly, when the fiddles wailed, and the trombone and clarionet prostrated themselves figuratively in the dust, I looked with all my eyes, and saw the curtain rise upon the Baronet’s apartment, which was the most singularly constructed room I ever beheld. The portion of the floor nearest to us was perfectly flat, as is the case with most floors, but after about three feet of flatness there rose in its centre, and stretching from side to side, a long, sloping, green mound, in military language a “glacis,” up which the Baronet had to walk when he wanted to proceed towards the back of the apartment, where all the chairs, tables, and furniture generally had withdrawn themselves, and up which he himself climbed, as though M. Vauban had taken the place of Mr. Cubitt, and as though outworks and entrenchments were as common in London drawing-rooms as lounging-chairs and grand pianos.

On the top of this entrenchment stood, on either side, two thick dumpy pillars, supporting a heavy piece of masonry, which joined them together at the top, and which looked like a portion of the ruins of the Temple of the Sun at Baalbek seen through the wrong end of the opera-glass: or, to use an illustration nearer home, like the front of the catacombs of Kensal- green or Highgate cemeteries. Between these pillars was a hazy vista into which the Baronet walked, and seating himself on a stool in the corner, so as to be quite out of the way, commenced informing us (without any apparent necessity for the statement) of his disbelief in all supernatural appearances, and of his thorough contempt for Death—ha! ha! The second of the two vocal double-knocks given by him in ha! ha! had scarcely been given, when there appeared in the middle of the empty space behind the pillars a stereoscopic skeleton exactly like that which dances in the Fantoccini—so like, that one looked for the string which guides that puppet’s movements (and which, of course, in the present instance, was not to be seen), and expected him momentarily to fall to pieces and re-unite in a comic manner. At this sight the Baronet appeared a little staggered; he said, “Ha! do I then behold thee?” and retreated several paces on his heels, but recovering himself, exclaimed, “‘Tis a dream, an ill-yousion!” and advanced towards the skeleton, which disappeared, to return immediately armed with a dart, or harpoon, with which it made several well-intentioned but harmless thrusts at the Baronet, who appeared immensely flabbergasted by the harpoon, and begged piteously to be spared. Either the skeleton was moved by the appeal or he had work somewhere else, for he disappeared again, and no sooner was he gone than the Baronet so plucked up that he declared he defied Death altogether, and was beginning to be offensively joyous, when in the place where the skeleton had been, appeared the ghost of the widow in her shroud! No mistake about it now! There she was, a little foreshortened, a little out of the perpendicular, leaning forward as though accustomed to a cramped and confined space, and not daring to stand upright! For the Baronet this was, to use a vulgar metaphor, a “corker.” He rubbed his head, but there was nothing there; he tried a taunt, but the ghost answered him with deep-voiced briskness; he rushed towards her, and rushed right through her! Finally, he picked up from the table, where, as we know, they always lay in libraries, a long sword, with which he aimed a very unskilful blow at his visitant. The sword passed through the ghost, who was apparently tickled, for it exclaimed, “Ha! ha!” and disapeared, and the Baronet fell exhausted in the very spot where the ghost had been! Up went the lights, down went the curtain, and the audience gave one great gasp of relief, and pretended they hadn’t been frightened—which they had!

Unquestionably! undoubtedly! The skeleton had been a failure; ribalds in the pit had mocked at him—had given tremulous cries of feigned terror—shouted “O-oh! m—y!” and pretended to bury their heads in their jacket-collars; boys in the gallery had called upon him to dance, and had invited their friends to “look at his crinoline;” the arm of the youth in front of me tightened round the waist of the maiden with evident conveyance of the idea that that alone could them part; and the old lady with the umbrella had considered him a “mangy lot.” But the ghost was a very different matter; when it appeared, not a sound in the pit, not a whisper in the gallery; all open-mouthed, eager, tremulous excitement! The old grandmother clasped the umbrella like a divining-rod, and muttered a hoarse “Deary—dea—ry me!” the mother let the infant fall flat and flaccid on her lap, the youth’s arm unbent, and the maiden, rising stiffly three inches from her seat, said, “Go’as!” and remained rigid. Only one sound floated on the air, and that was emitted by a French gentleman, with more buttons on his waistcoat than I ever saw on a similar amount of cloth (how on earth did a foreigner penetrate to Hoxton?), who clutched his curly-brimmed hat between his fat fists and hissed out, “A—h! Superbe!” It was his testimony and it is mine!

Comments: Edmund Hodgson Yates (1831-1894) was a British journalist and author. He was a good friend of Charles Dickens, to whose journal All the Year Round he was a regular contributor. Yates reports on a production of the play The Widow and the Orphans; or, Faith, Hope and Charity, by C.H. Hazelwood, which featured at the Britannia Theatre, Hoxton, London as a means to showcase the invention of ‘The Ghost’ or ‘Pepper’s Ghost’. This was an optical illusion invented by Henry Dircks and exploited professionally by John Henry Pepper – in which, by means of projected light and a hidden inclined sheet of glass, the reflection of a ghost-like figure could be made to materialise on a stage. It first featured in a stage production of Dickens’s novella The Haunted Man at the Royal Polytechnic on 24 December 1862. In The Widow and Orphans the ghost was played by Mary Henderson.

Links: Dickens Journals Online

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