Handling the Visitor

Source: ‘Handling the Visitor’, Moving Picture World, 9 October 1909, pp. 482-483

Text: The first impressions are the most durable. When we enter a moving picture house the impression formed on our minds at the threshold of the theater is the one that lasts. If we meet a polite and courteous usher, who shows us to our seats, we are disposed ab initio to take a favorable view of the entertainment. If there is not too much light in the auditorium but just light enough to enable us to distinguish surrounding objects and persons, then we are disposed to compliment the management upon its adroitness in striking the happy mean between darkness and light. For the proper lighting of a moving picture house is a problem of adjustment. You do not want total darkness; you do not want too much light. You want just enough to be able to see your way about without impairing the brilliancy of the picture.

Sometimes you are allowed to find your seat as best you may ; then you run the risk of treading upon a man’s corns or a lady’s dress, and then are proportionately cursed. As a rule, however, it is to the credit of moving picture theater owners that they have courteous ushers and attendants. The more vigorous these latter are in excluding undesirable visitors, the better for the reputation of the house. We have more than once had to complain of the presence of people under the influence of strong waters or who go to sleep and snore, thus disturbing the enjoyment of their fellow visitors. But moving picture theaters are rising so much in popular esteem that this sort of thing is rapidly becoming a feature of the past. Many picture theater exhibitors are vying with each other in the proper care of their audiences.

Too much attention cannot be erven to the cleanliness of the house; to its proper ventilation, and, then to the preservation of quiet and order amongst the audience. Again the sale of candies, with the noisy vocal accompaniments of the vendors is, we think, generally to be deprecated. Many high class moving picture theater exhibitors refuse to do this on the ground that the better kind of visitor is excluded by these cheap jack methods. Others again have objected to the lantern slide advertisements of candies which are put on the screen. Personallv we object to this sort of thing, as we think it tends to lower the dignity of a moving picture theater.

The eternal feminine hat is always a source of much irritation to mere man. It is difficult to see how the admonition to the fair creatures to remove their hats can be dispensed with, for in this regard the average woman is quite a savage person. It is a matter of pure indifference to her as to how much inconvenience the person sitting behind her may be put to by the wearing of her hat. She bought it to wear; to be looked at; to be admired and envied on all and any occasion, and if she has to remove it “hell hath no fury like a woman” deprived of her pet hat.

We have sat behind rows of these things in a church, as well as in a moving picture theater, and our profanity has been too deep for vocal expression. Clergymen anathematize them; caricaturists make fun of them; men curse and criticise them. So what are we to do, except suggest that wherever possible before a woman enters a moving picture theater she must be made to understand that she must remove her hat. He will be a brave moving picture exhibitor who always successfully does this.

On general principles, therefore, we put it that the less advertising matter there is thrown on the screen, the less an audience is made to feel that the object of a moving picture theater exhibitor in getting them into his house is to extract something more than the admission money from them, the more likely that house will find public favor and continuous support. It is annoying, to say the least of it, to an average person of refinement to have a considerable part of his time taken up in reading announcement slides about ladies’ hats, candies and the like. What we are insisting upon is the exclusion as far as possible of the mere huckstering element of a moving picture entertainment, and the making for everything possible in the way of orderliness, neatness, good sanitation, plenty of light, but not too much of it, courtesy on the part of the ushers and in short the general atmosphere of comfort, if not luxury, which the public at large always looks for in a place of entertainment and pleasure. There is one little convenience which we think the public would always appreciate, and we are surprised that it is not taken up, namely the circulation amongst the audience of synopses of the stories of the films shown. Of course, these things could not be read in a dark house, but there is no reason why even in a continuous performance there should not be brief intermissions when the programme, if such we may call it, could be read by the audience. Some moving picture houses we know supply programmes, but none that we are aware of print anything about the stories of the films. This is a point we commend to the enterprising moving picture exhibitor. Anything which makes for the comfort of an audience is bound to result in a continuous patronage and the building of the family support which is one of the surest roads to success in conducting places of public entertainment.

Comment: This article in chapter four in a Moving Picture World series, ‘The Modern Moving Picture Theatre’.

Links: Available from the Internet Archive

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