Ancient Mysteries Described

Source: William Hone, Ancient Mysteries Described, Especially the English Miracle Plays, Founded on Apocryphal New Testament Story, Extant Among the Unpublished Manuscripts in the British Museum etc. (London: William Hone, 1823), pp. 230-231

Text: The English puppet-show was formerly called a motion. Shakspeare [sic] mentions the performance of Mysteries by puppets; his Autolycus frequented wakes, fairs, and bear-baitings, and ‘compassed a motion of the Prodigal Son’ On a Twelfth night, in 1818, a man, making the usual Christmas cry, of ‘Gallantee show,’ was called in to exhibit his performances for the amusement of my young folks and their companions. Most unexpectedly, he ‘compassed a motion of the Prodigal Son‘ by dancing his transparencies between the magnifying glass and candle of a magic lanthorn, the coloured figures greatly enlarged, were reflected on a sheet spread against the wall of a darkened room. The prodigal son was represented carousing with his companions at the Swan Inn, at Stratford; while the landlady in the bar, on every fresh call, was seen to score double. There was also Noah’s Ark, with ‘Pull Devil, Pull Baker,’ or the just judgment upon a baker who sold bread short of weight, and was carried to hell in his own basket. The reader will bear in mind, that this was not a motion in the dramatic sense of the word, but a puppet-like exhibition of a Mystery, with discrepancies of the same character as those which peculiarized the Mysteries of five centuries ago. The Gallantee-showman narrated with astonishing gravity the incidents of every fresh scene, while his companion in the room played country-dances and other tunes on the street organ, during the whole of the performance. The manager informed me that his show had been the same during many years, and, in truth, it was unvariable; for his entire property consisted of but this one set of glasses, and his magic lanthorn. I failed in an endeavour to make him comprehend that its propriety could be doubted of: it was the first time that he had heard of the possibility of objection to an entertainment which his audiences witnessed every night with uncommon and unbounded applause. Expressing a hope that I would command his company at a future time, he put his card into my hand, inscribed, ‘The Royal Gallantee Show, provided by Jos. Leverge, 7, Ely Court, Holborn Hill:’ the very spot whereon the last theatrical representation of a Mystery, the play of Christ’s Passion, is recorded to have been witnessed in England.

Comments: William Hone (1780-1842) was a British satirist, bookseller and campaigner against censorship. A Galantee show was one provided by a travelling entertainer of the first half of the nineteenth century, whose entertainments could include magic lanterns, puppets, shadows shows etc. Autolycus is a character in William Shakespeare’s play The Winter’s Tale. Hone’s book Ancient Mysteries Described traces the history of the English miracle and mystery plays, and here finds traces of their survival in the magic lantern show performed for a child audience.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Ten Days That Shook the World

Source: John Reed, Ten Days That Shook the World (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1919), pp. 59-60

Text: The city was nervous, starting at every sharp sound. But still no sign from the Bolsheviki; the soldiers stayed in the barracks, the workmen in the factories … We went to a moving picture show near the Kazan Cathedral – a bloody Italian film of passion and intrigue. Down front were some soldiers and sailors, staring at the screen in childlike wonder, totally unable to comprehend why there should be so much violent running about, and so much homicide …

Comments: John Reed (1887-1920) was an American journalist and socialist whose first-hand account of the Russian Revolution of October 1917 in Ten Days That Shook the World is one of the most vivid and closely-observed accounts of the epoch-making events. It served at the inspiration for Sergei Eisenstein’s film October (USSR 1928) and John Reed’s story was told in the film Reds (USA 1981) with Reed played by Warren Beatty. The city referred to here is Petrograd, now St Petersburg. The period is just before the fall of the Russian Provisional Government and the takeover by the Bolsheviks.

The Story of the "9th King's" in France

Source: Enos Herbert Glynne Roberts, The Story of the “9th King’s” in France (Liverpool: The Northern Publishing Co., 1922), p. 56

Text: On the 9th there was a big attack by the British. The 16th Division attacked on the right in front of Delville Wood, and the 1st Division on the left, and consequently the Battalion was in the very centre of the fight. The garrisons of the strong points being cut off as they were, did not receive news of the attack. Suddenly in the afternoon after a comparatively quiet morning the artillery on both sides became very active, both the British and German artillery developing intense barrages. To the men in the strong points this presaged an enemy attack, and the order was given to be ready to fire the moment the enemy should come into view. The members of these small garrisons knew there would be no hope for them, as they would soon have been surrounded and annihilated, and most probably all of them bayoneted. Fortunately the attack was by the British and these eventualities did not arise. The Battalion was relieved during the next two days and went into reserve at Buire-sur-Ancre. After a few days here it moved to a bivouac area at E. 15 a., outside Dernancourt. Though this was some considerable distance behind the front line the enemy forced the Battalion to evacuate this area by firing at it with a long-ranged gun. In the evening there was a cinema show in the open, at which were shown pictures of the Somme Battle. It was very strange to see the soldiers keenly interested in the pictures of what shell fire was like when there were actual shells falling about half a mile away, and they had been shelled out of their camp that very afternoon. The British Army had made a successful attack on the 15th September, and on the 17th the Battalion went into line again at Flers, where two miserable days were spent in an incessant downpour of rain and very heavy shell fire. On relief it came back to the transport lines at Pommier Redoubt.

Comments: Enos Herbert Glynne Roberts was a captain with the King’s (Liverpool Regiment) Territorial Force, and his book documents the regiment’s experiences during the First World War. The date of the passage is 9 September 1916. The Battle of the Somme took place 1 July to 18 November 1916. The documentary film The Battle of the Somme, made by the British Topical Committee for War Films, was first shown in British cinemas on 21 August 1916, so it is presumably this film that the troops saw while they were still taking part in the conflict.

Links: Copy at Project Gutenberg

The Story of the “9th King’s” in France

Source: Enos Herbert Glynne Roberts, The Story of the “9th King’s” in France (Liverpool: The Northern Publishing Co., 1922), p. 56

Text: On the 9th there was a big attack by the British. The 16th Division attacked on the right in front of Delville Wood, and the 1st Division on the left, and consequently the Battalion was in the very centre of the fight. The garrisons of the strong points being cut off as they were, did not receive news of the attack. Suddenly in the afternoon after a comparatively quiet morning the artillery on both sides became very active, both the British and German artillery developing intense barrages. To the men in the strong points this presaged an enemy attack, and the order was given to be ready to fire the moment the enemy should come into view. The members of these small garrisons knew there would be no hope for them, as they would soon have been surrounded and annihilated, and most probably all of them bayoneted. Fortunately the attack was by the British and these eventualities did not arise. The Battalion was relieved during the next two days and went into reserve at Buire-sur-Ancre. After a few days here it moved to a bivouac area at E. 15 a., outside Dernancourt. Though this was some considerable distance behind the front line the enemy forced the Battalion to evacuate this area by firing at it with a long-ranged gun. In the evening there was a cinema show in the open, at which were shown pictures of the Somme Battle. It was very strange to see the soldiers keenly interested in the pictures of what shell fire was like when there were actual shells falling about half a mile away, and they had been shelled out of their camp that very afternoon. The British Army had made a successful attack on the 15th September, and on the 17th the Battalion went into line again at Flers, where two miserable days were spent in an incessant downpour of rain and very heavy shell fire. On relief it came back to the transport lines at Pommier Redoubt.

Comments: Enos Herbert Glynne Roberts was a captain with the King’s (Liverpool Regiment) Territorial Force, and his book documents the regiment’s experiences during the First World War. The date of the passage is 9 September 1916. The Battle of the Somme took place 1 July to 18 November 1916. The documentary film The Battle of the Somme, made by the British Topical Committee for War Films, was first shown in British cinemas on 21 August 1916, so it is presumably this film that the troops saw while they were still taking part in the conflict.

Links: Copy at Project Gutenberg

’Twixt Aldgate Pump and Poplar

Source: H.M. [Harold Murray], ’Twixt Aldgate Pump and Poplar: The Story of Fifty Years’ Adventure in East London (London: The Epworth Press, 1935), pp. 102-110

Text: It is an unforgettable experience to enter the Stepney Hall when in the semi-darkness you hear those astonishing children shrieking with laughter at some comic antics on the screen or, as a contrast, find them holding their breath as some hero or heroine is seen in a perilous position. When there is a chase after the villain – what a chorus goes up! Time after time, with indescribable feelings, I have sat among those children and marvelled at their discipline, their good behaviour; most of all at their high spirits, their capacity for seeing the funny side of everything. Only one or two workers are there, quietly walking to and fro in the dark, occasionally asking for a little less noise, never having any trouble. For a short space the little ones are lifted out of the drab life of the mean streets into all sorts of romantic exciting worlds. Then when the satisfying show is over, out they troop, in good order, to the unromantic, everyday life of the slum.

Comments: Harold Murray was a clergyman. His book is a history of the East End Mission, a mission run by the Methodist Church located in Commercial Road, Whitechapel, London. This passage describes the films shows put on for children by the Reverend F.W. Chudleigh at Stepney Hall in the 1920s/early 30s. Chudleigh had been organising film shows for children since 1909.

’Twixt Aldgate Pump and Poplar

Source: H.M. [Harold Murray], ’Twixt Aldgate Pump and Poplar: The Story of Fifty Years’ Adventure in East London (London: The Epworth Press, 1935), pp. 102-110

Text: It is an unforgettable experience to enter the Stepney Hall when in the semi-darkness you hear those astonishing children shrieking with laughter at some comic antics on the screen or, as a contrast, find them holding their breath as some hero or heroine is seen in a perilous position. When there is a chase after the villain – what a chorus goes up! Time after time, with indescribable feelings, I have sat among those children and marvelled at their discipline, their good behaviour; most of all at their high spirits, their capacity for seeing the funny side of everything. Only one or two workers are there, quietly walking to and fro in the dark, occasionally asking for a little less noise, never having any trouble. For a short space the little ones are lifted out of the drab life of the mean streets into all sorts of romantic exciting worlds. Then when the satisfying show is over, out they troop, in good order, to the unromantic, everyday life of the slum.

Comments: Harold Murray was a clergyman. His book is a history of the East End Mission, a mission run by the Methodist Church located in Commercial Road, Whitechapel, London. This passage describes the films shows put on for children by the Reverend F.W. Chudleigh at Stepney Hall in the 1920s/early 30s. Chudleigh had been organising film shows for children since 1909.

The Movies in the Age of Innocence

Source: Edward Wagenknecht, The Movies in the Age of Innocence (New York: Limelight Editions, 1997 [orig. 1962]), pp. 12-13

Text: I saw my first motion picture, somewhere along about 1905 0r 1906, in a little barn-like theater at “The Chutes,” a small amusement park, at Kedzie Avenue and Van Buren Street, Chicago, where the West Side carbarns now stand. It was all about the adventures of the devil and a beautiful girl whom he had lured to his picturesque domains. From its general resemblance to the French Pathé films which I was soon to see at my first neighborhood theater, I judge it to have been of French manufacture. The devil was a prominent character in many of these early films. He was essentially the Faust operatic devil – with horns and a very realistic tail – and he usually appeared and disappeared in a puff of smoke, which, to us who were new to the movies, was in itself a very wonderful photographic effect. Indeed I have often said that the devil was the first movie star and that if we had known some of the things that the future had in store for us, we might have appreciated him more than we did.

Hell, it appeared in this old French film, was a very beautiful place, full of couches and bowers and drapes and hangings. Indeed it might be described as a kind of Frenchified version of the notion Bernard Shaw was almost contemporaneously presenting in Man and Superman. I remember very well that I, who had been taught to fear hell, and was doing my best – intermittently at least – to keep out of it, at once began to wonder if it was not possible that the place might have been maligned. I can personally testify, therefore, that the very first time I approached the movies, they proved themselves the insidiously corrupting influence which their critics have always declared them to be.

Comment: Edward Wagenknecht (1900-2004) was an American literary critic.

A History of the Development of Japanese Cinema

Source: Yamamoto Kajirō, quoted in Tanaka Jun’ichirō, Nihon eiga hattatsu shi [A History of the Development of Japanese Cinema] (Tokyo: Chūō kōronsha, 1975-1976), p. 282, reproduced in Joanne Bernardi, Writing in Light: The Silent Scenario and the Japanese Pure Film Movement (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2001), pp. 80-81

Text: It was around the time I entered the preparatory course at Keiō University … One spring afternoon, after skipping my last class, I took my habitual stroll through the Ginza … I thought about having a cup of coffee at the Café Paulista and was leisurely walking Milta slops when I saw a young man passing out handbills. They were made of cheap pink paper (probably the most inferior type) about the size of a postcard, but the printed message caught my ete: “The first film [eiga] made in Japan!” This catchphrase announced the opening of The Glory of Life, the first production of the Film Art Association and [the director and actors] were all active in the vanguard of the shingeki theatre movement … Ah, film! Just seeing that word made my heart race. A film had been made in Japan for the first time. Although there had been moving pictures [katsudō shashin] of shinpa melodramas and trick [ninjutsu] pictures there were as yet no films. But now, Japan had given birth to the long-awaited “film” that was just like that of America …

I immediately headed for the theater. This film, the greatest epoch-making event in the history of Japanese cinema, was opening in a small moving picture hall (movie theater) called the Toyotama theater … About two hundred people could fit in the narrow seats, but less than 10 percent of the spaces were taken by patrons scattered here and there.

It was the first Japanese film I had ever seen! Japanese titles of a modern design … close-ups and moving camera work, the actors’ faces untouched by elaborate stage makeup, the plain, unaffected presence of a real woman [“female flesh”]. and the slightly awkward yet straightforward and sincere acting. This was a genuine film. I cried like a baby in the darkness.

Yet somehow something was missing. The film was rooted in literature, and the acting lapsed into mannerisms from the stage. A true film would not be so crude. Surely film has a more pure, invulnerable, isolated beauty. I was impressed, but at the same time I burned with frustration and anger.

Comment: Yamamoto Kajirō (1902-1974) was a Japanese film director. He is recalling a screening of Kaeriyama Norimasa’s Sei no kagayaki [The Glory of Life] (Japan 1918-1919), one of the exemplars of the Pure Film Movement in Japan which called for a more cinematic style of Japanese filmmaking, as opposed to the heavily theatre-influenced Japanese films to that date. It is possible that Yamamoto may be remembering the screening of another Kaeriyama film, Miyama no otome [The Girl in the Mountain], also produced in 1918 but released in 1919. Keiō University is in Tokyo. Ellipses and words in brackets are from Joanne Bernardi’s book.

Silent Magic

Source: Ivan Butler, Silent Magic: Rediscovering the Silent Film Era (London: Columbus Books, 1987), p. 15

Text: I saw my first film in 1915 – from the wrong side of the screen. It was at a private show at a school and my mother had brought me in, aged all of six, by a door at the back of the room. We were probably there for only a few minutes before someone discovered us and found us seats in the proper place. I have no memory of the programme apart from that brief glimpse, through wooden struts holding the makeshift screen in place, of what appeared to be a lot of pumpkins careering down a hill to the accompaniment of raucous laughter of (to me) enormous boys almost drowning a well-thumped piano. It must have been a very primitive production, probably a comedy short made some years previously, but in those pre-television days it was miraculous to a child that a picture could move at all – and I was hooked.

Comment: Ivan Butler (1909-1998), after a career as an actor, went on to become a notable writer on the art and history of cinema. His Silent Magic is a particularly evocative memoir of the silent films he could remember when in his eighties.

The Romance of the Movies

Source: Leslie Wood, The Romance of the Movies (London: William Heinemann, 1937), pp. 69-72

Text: Showmen were convinced that despite public apathy there was nothing wrong with the show. What they had to contend with was ignorance. The public was simply unaware of the nature of the entertainment offered. The term ‘Animated Pictures’ did not hold sufficient allure. Several of the hardier spirits persevered, and the ‘barker’, borrowed from the fairground and circus, became an integral part of the early picture shows. His duties were to extol the wonders of the show, attract attention by whacking the billboards with a penny swagger cane and explain the nature of the entertainment as best he could. His descendants are, of course, the immaculate commissionaires who strut before the super-cinemas of to-day.

Then – stroke of genius! – some unknown showman coined the phrase ‘Electric Theatre’ to describe the show. The draughty shops and railway arches which housed these shows were of course in no sense ‘theatres’, but the word indicated the theatrical nature of the entertainment. Neither had electricity much bearing on the subject, but ‘Electric Theatre’ was curiosity-arousing and that was what the movies badly needed.

Before the century was out the converted shop had become the home of the despised flickers. The projector was usually placed in the window and pointed to the far end of the shop, on the end wall of which a sheet was stretched, the window itself being pasted up with bills advertising the show. The seating arrangements consisted of any odd chairs or forms the proprietor could lay hands on, or, when these were not available, up-ended boxes did duty as seats. There was no pay-box, a dingy curtain being the only barrier between the pavement and the auditorium. There were no fixed times for the performances; only when, by the ‘barker’s’ endeavours, the show was full would the films be shown. The admission charge was anything from a penny to threepence, according to the quality of the show or the wealth and gullibility of the neighbourhood. There was no differentiation between front and back seats. Before the programme began, a man would go round with an empty tin or cigar-box and collect the money, and if the collector were not the actual proprietor of the show, a good number of pennies usually found their way into his pockets instead of the box. It was not unusual to hear the proprietor admonishing: “didn’t ’ear the chink of that one going into the box, Albert!” Whereat Albert would look suitably aggrieved and take care to give the collecting-box a rattle next time he concealed a penny in his palm.

I remember one such show at Hackney that was housed in an unusually long shop. The projector was quite unable to ‘throw’ the pictures the whole length of the premises, so the astute proprietor suspended the sheet half-way down the hall. By constantly spraying the latter with oil, it was rendered sufficiently transparent to enable persons sitting behind it, as well as in front, to see the picture. For the front half of the auditorium a penny was charged, and for the rear a halfpenny, this reduction being in the nature of compensation for seeing the pictures reversed! Imagine, then, a hall in which the audience was divided in halves, each facing the other and with only a thin sheet intervening, and those in the rear portion unable to read the reversed explanatory matter shown on the screen. When the hero wrote a note to the heroine, those seated behind the sheet were unable to read it and set up a clamour for those on the opposite side to tell them what it was about, whereupon all those seated in front would chant with one voice: “Dear Agnes, meet me at the railroad depot at three – Jack”.

This was all very well up to a point, but when the action on the screen became particularly exciting, the audience sitting in front could not be bothered to help out their less wealthy neighbours at the other end. Consequently the ‘halfpenny patrons’ would give vent to their annoyance by uncomplimentary remarks, booing, stamping, and other signs of displeasure. Finally an emissary would crawl stealthily over the line of demarcation to take a peep at the screen from the ‘right’ side and report, until such time as he was discovered by the proprietor and chivvied back into the halfpenny fold.

This humble hall must surely have been the birthplace of the obnoxious practice of reading sub-titles aloud.

Comment: Leslie Wood wrote a number of anecdotal film histories including Romance of the Movies (1927) and Miracle of the Movies (1947).