The Teleview

Fanciful illustration of a Teleview show, from Motion Picture Magazine, August 1923

Source: Henry Albert Phillips, ‘The New Motion Picture: No. 1 – The Teleview’, Motion Picture Magazine, August 1923, pp. 35-36, 86

Text:
The New Motion Picture

A Series of Searching Articles Showing the Constant Efforts of the Moving Picture to Re-Create Nature and Life as We Actually Experience It

I. THE TELEVIEW

By HENRY ALBERT PHILLIPS

Of the many thrills that enlivened my boyhood days, one stands out with vivid distinctness. As I recall it now, not a little of the original “kick” comes back with the recollection. I cannot help recalling with a certain amount of wistfullness the ravishing odor of candle grease and drying Christmas tree greens. For it was very early Christmas morning. And I had come down to see what Santa had brought me and stood there shivering from the cold and mingled emotions, when my eye fell on a pasteboard box about a foot long. It looked mysterious. I removed the red ribbon with trembling fingers and a rapidly beating heart. Within was excelsior — only wonderful things were wrapped in excelsior! I was further ecstatically tantalized to find the object inclosed in tissue paper. Each of these barriers heightened my imagination to a quite alarming state, and enhanced the value of the gift out of its true proportions.

The wonderful present proved to be a stereopticon. It consisted of a wooden canopy shaped to fit the brow and shade the eyes. You held it to your face and looked thru two windows of slightly magnifying glass at pictures which were set in a sliding cross-piece and regulated according to your astigmatism, or lack of it. The peculiar part of it was, that there were two pictures side by side on the picture card, one being identical with the [other]. I remember feeling that some mistake must have been made in the pictures they had sent me, likewise a sense of dreadful waste! If they had only put two different pictures on each card, I would have had twice as many! The pictures were photographs of noteworthy scenes the world over. There was the Brooklyn Bridge, I remember, with the low skyline of buildings in the background of New York of the eighties: there was a chamois standing on a mountain crag, with a breath-taking abyss beside him and other mountains in the background; and some hunters standing with their clogs in an open field, with a wood in the background. In other words, I remember, that there was always a foreground and a background in every picture, with distinct “air spaces” intervening between the two.

If for one moment, I had had any doubts of a possible commonplaceness in my stereopticon and its “views,” they immediately vanished when I looked thru the little windows and saw every object standing out both as big and as thick as life! I could actually see behind each object! By this, I mean objects did not appear as objects usually do when drawn on a flat surface, like so many facsimile shadows, but they actually had body, length, breadth and thickness and were actually separate from other objects around them. Why, you could actually feel the nearness of the near objects and calculate the distance of those far away. It was as tho each object in the picture had been cut out and stood up separately and accurately in relative distance one from the other.

This magical toy has never yet ceased to thrill and delight me. It brought ordinary scenes to life, or at least it lacked one essential which seemed too audacious for me to conjecture even — motion! Add motion to our three-dimension picture and the magic would be complete — for, bear in mind, that objects were magnified to the normal dimensions in which they would be perceived by the naked eye, known as “life-size.”

Well, this magic picture — which seemed too blasphemous for my boyish mind to consider possible — has come into being, like so many other undreamed-of wonders, in this Age of Invention in which we are living open-mouthed. The Moving Picture Stereopticon is here! They call it — possibly for the same reason that a living apartment in a more or less high building is called a “Flat” — the Teleview. That name has numbed thousands of potential patrons into a state of innocuous disinterestedness.

However, altho a name may give a thing a black eye, it cant hurt it if its character is good and sound. Call it even Teleview and the virtue of the device will survive.

It is human nature and cupidity in the crowd that makes it shrink from novelties of progress — especially if they have to dip their hands into their pockets and contribute a few cents to support the idea at a critical moment; while this same crowd, propelled by the same human nature, will flock en masse to witness some act of decadence — such as fire, murder or suicide — admission free! At the recent showing of the Teleview in one of New York’s big theaters, the public showed considerable interest over it — only when they had read the publicity stuff about it they yawned and went to bed, instead of going to see it and catering to their better faculties. Several of the passholders in the seat behind me showed that rare good taste so often exhibited by pass-holders — and all other people who get good things for nothing – by sneering audibly during the performance and, on leaving, announcing in scornful tones that the whole show was rotten.

There is probably something to be said on both sides. Restricting ourselves to the Teleview process of projection, I must acknowledge having witnessed a really marvelous exhibition. When we step aside from the invention proper and touch upon the judgment and skill of those responsible for the selection and production of “the first moving picture to be produced in three dimensions,” then I too must join those who remarked that there was surely something rotten in Teleview’s Denmark.

The picture-play was called “M-A-R-S.” From scenario to directing, and directing to acting, it was among the worst ten pictures I ever saw, and that is saying a great deal. To mention names in this instance is to call names. They have suffered enough. But the point remains, that Teleview suffered a great deal unjustifiedly. The critics went and their odoriferous opinion of the picture made them dub the whole performance as being one and the same piece of cheese. Honest, interested spectators came and had their sincere enthusiasm numbed by an hour and a half’s boredom. Outside, were thousands upon thousands of credulous people who would have been willing to go to see Teleview — and kill two movie birds with one stone as it were, by seeing this wonderful new process and a good picture at the same time — if the picture had been only as bad as the average. So their scientific end was excellent, but their artistic end was not. Because of this error — oh, so common! — in artistic judgment and execution, thousands of people may not see this wonderful new process so soon as they might otherwise have done so.

The reason for all this is simple. Teleview picture making is costly from beginning to end. A special camera is necessary, a special method in the processes between exposure and projection, and, finally, in seeing the pictures on the screen it is necessary for each individual spectator to look thru what corresponds to our former stereopticon, which consists of two little windows within which passes a revolving shutter operated by a tiny motor. Here’s the rub — both in the matter of enormous expense to the producer, and also in [that] of training the spectator to his comfort and savoir faire [to] adjust his individual apparatus and maintain the rigid poise necessary to keep his eyes on a level with the small apertures.

The Teleview method of motion picture photography, production and projection is the invention of Lawrence Hammond, assisted by William F. Cassidy, both of the class of 1919 at Cornell.

“To see the Teleview pictures on the screen it is necessary for each individual spectator to look thru what corresponds to our former stereopticon, which consists of two little win- dows within which passes a revolving shutter operated by a tiny motor”

Looking with the naked eye upon Teleview pictures projected on the screen, we find a blurred double image with a fuzzy suggestion of chromatic colors permeating it. And it is true that there really are two images on the screen; one superimposed — slightly off-center — over the other. In the projection-room you will find two projection machines operating in co-ordination and each throwing its contributive image on the screen simultaneously. Going further back, we learn that the subject-matter was originally photographed with a stereoscopic, or double-lensed, camera these lenses have been adjusted to a distance apart corresponding to the space — optically speaking — between the two human eyes.

An observation by the writer at this point might be helpful to the reader in understanding and visualizing the Teleview method at this stage of its development. Several years ago I had a serious infection of the eyes. An operation and heroic treatment effected a cure, but I suffered a collapse of the optical muscles. They refused to binoculate. I saw two images. Each eye saw separately. You can do the same thing, by deliberately forcing the eyeballs to draw themselves so as to look in two straight parallel lines. You will then see two slightly blurred images.

The ingenious feature of the method is introduced at this point. Just before the projection on the screen begins, spectators become aware that the stereoscope device, thru which they must look at the screen, has suddenly come to life! We can hear a slight whirring and feel a tiny smooth vibration within. It is the motor within each instrument. Perhaps we had noted on first examining the instrument that it contained a small, two-vaned “shutter,” which persisted in sticking in one of the windows and thus threatening to spoil our clear view of the screen. But now we note with satisfaction that the shutter has mysteriously disappeared! The fact is that it is revolving so fast that we cannot see it.

Now, this shutter co-ordinates perfectly with the projection machine and cuts off the vision of each eye alternately so that one eye sees one “frame” — as each separate picture that forms the strip of pictures is called — and the other eye sees only the following or alternate one. Because of the infinitesimal elapse of time — l/196th of a second — of the duration of each impression, they seem to be simultaneous but separate images. When they are blended in the brain they give the sensation of depth, observable in the old- fashioned stereoscope. The ordinary rate of 16 pictures to the foot is used.

The cost of equipping a theater with mechanical shutters is given by the inventors as five dollars a seat, separate shutters being necessary for each observer. The cost of producing a picture by this method is said to be about double.

The result of witnessing a Teleview moving picture is startling. In stereoscope “still” pictures we were impressed with the realism induced by the appearance of solid images with perceptible air-spaces between them. With these “real” images set in motion, the effect is astonishing. But one gets a real thrill when moving objects are set in motion coming directly toward the spectator. They actually leap from the screen! The result is uncanny. One shrinks back for an instant to avoid what must prove a disastrous impact. The illusion is perfect.

The background of the photographic picture appears to be no farther distant than the surface of the actual screen from the spectator. Any person or object in the picture that moves in any degree from the picture background toward the observer seems actually to step out of the picture and approach. Thus moving figures appear to be carrying on the action on a real stage projected toward the audience in front of a realistic back-drop.

What presumably happens is that objects approach just as close to each individual spectator as they did to the camera. The audience is really looking thru the lens of the camera, which has been made to synchronize with the universal focus and vision of all who see it thereafter. The eye of the cameraman has attended to that. Thus, if an object is moved to within six feet of the camera, it seems to have emerged from the background and approached to within the same distance of each spectator. I sat at a distance of let us say one hundred feet from the screen and yet the illusion in one or two instances was so perfect that I felt convinced that if I had put out my hand I could almost have touched the foremost objects in the picture!

And Teleview is only one of the many indications showing the marvelously rapid advance of the motion picture to spheres of perfection and efficiency at which we can only hazard a guess from day to day!

Comments: Henry Albert Phillips (1880–1951) was an American film scenarist and editor of Motion Picture Magazine. The science-fiction feature film M.A.R.S. (aka The Man from M.A.R.S.) was first exhibited in December 1922 as part of a programme of films demonstrating the ‘teleview’ invention of Laurens Hammond (also inventor of the Hammond organ). The ‘teleview’ was a glass viewer with a revolving shutter attached to the side of the cinema seat that was operated by a small motor. The special ‘teleview’ camera had two lenses, giving a blurred picture to the naked etye, but through the projection device a stereoscopic effect was produced, though the effect was restricted to a small projection space. The film was re-issued in August 1923 as Radio-Mania in non-stereoscopic form, being either entirely re-shot or possibly filmed simultaneously with a normal camera. No further ‘teleview’ films were made. Stereopticon was an American term for the magic lantern.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Straw Hats and Serge Bloomers

Source: Eileen Elias, Straw Hats and Serge Bloomers (London: W.H. Allen, 1979), p. 126

Text: I always claimed that I didn’t care for Westerns; they were or children, and I considered myself too old for such childish things. Nevertheless, when on occasion I did see them, I found myself riveted to my seat as the flying spectacle galloped by. It was as thrilling and alarming as Harold Lloyd and his window-sill hanging, only in a different way; I didn’t want to jump out of my seat, but cringe within it as the racing hoofs swept past, it seemed, only a few feet from my nose. Things came to a climax when Ben Hur arrived on the screen, better far than any Western with its famous chariot-race scene. This was a stupendous film which we all must see, Father pronounced; so off we trooped to the local cinema and sat in a trance watching the close-ups — and how close they seemed! — of whirling wheels and galloping hoofs while the organ surpassed itself in a frenzy. We came out with our heads spinning, and all that night I lay in bed, my dreams full of the thunder of chariots and the tug of leather harness just about to give way as the rival competitors passed and re-passed each other on the course. Ben Hur broke all records in the West End, and toured all the local cinemas while whole
families went to watch it again and again. The art of the cinema, it seemed, could reach no further: Ben Hur had said it all.

Comments: Eileen Elias was an author of books on child management and memoirs of her Lewisham upbringing. This passage part of a detailed and atmospheric chapter on cinemagoing in London in the 1920s in her books Straw Hats and Serge Bloomers. Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (USA 1925), directed by Fred Niblo and starring Ramon Novarro, was based on the novel by Lew Wallace. It was one of the most expensive but also one of highest-grossing films of its era.

Delight

Source: J.B. Priestley, Delight (London: William Heinneman, 1949), pp. 36-38

Text: One afternoon, nearly twenty years ago, some long-forgotten business took me to Golders Green, and when I had finished and was walking towards the Tube station there came a sudden drenching downpour. I had no raincoat, so I hurried into a cinema, more for shelter than amusement. It was a large solemn cinema, almost empty, and I felt as quiet and remote in there as if I were sitting at the bottom of the sea. The news reel came and went. There were the usual fancy tricks with the lights. The feature film noisily arrived I stared idly at the reception desk of an hotel in Florida. A fantastic character entered, and, without speaking a word, took the letters from the rack and casually tore them up, drank the ink, and began to eat the telephone. I sat up, lost in winder and joy. The film was The Cocoanuts, and with it the Marx Brothers had entered my life. And this was the perfect way to discover these glorious clowns, unexpectedly in the middle of a wet afternoon in Golders Green. Since then – besides making their acquaintance and actually watching them on the job – I have followed the from cinema to cinema. I like them best when they are given the largest carte blanche – as in the sublime Duck Soup – but even when they are clamped to some miserable plot, have to give place to some preposterous tenor and his simpering girl, I do not desert them but sit there, waiting for such delight as they can offer me. My family – thank heaven – share this rapture, and we often exchange memories, mere shadows and echoes, of our favourite antics at the dinner table. Friends who refuse to enjoy these inspired zanies are regarded with suspicion. I have never understood why some London cinema does not show the Marx Brothers year in and year out. We appear to be living, as so many well-informed persons have observed, in a gigantic madhouse, but there are a few compensations even here, and one of them is that we have the Marx Brothers with us. Their clowning is a comment on our situation. Chico is the eternal, sulky but wistful peasant, sceptical but not without hope. Groucho is urban America, the office executive, the speculator, the publicity agent, the salesman, raised to a height at which the folly of such men blazes like a beacon. Harpo is modern man with the lid off, a symbolic figure of the masculine unconscious. Together they have worked out comic routines that may be regarded one day as a saga of satire, Rabelais caught on celluloid. But even if they should be soon forgotten, some of us will remember how they dissolved with laughter, during those evenings in the ‘thirties when the fuses were already spluttering round our feet. Karl Marx showed how the dispossessed would finally take possession. But I think the Brothers Marx do it better.

Comments: John Boynton Priestley (1894-1984) was a British novelist and playwright, known for Time and the Conways, An Inspector Calls and The Good Companions. His 1949 book Delight is a collection of short essays on some of the pleasures of life. The Cocoanuts (USA 1929) was an early sound feature film, based on the Broadway stage production written by George S. Kaufman. The film also featured the fourth, non-comedic, Marx brother, Zeppo.

New Chapter in Wireless History

Source: ‘A Wireless Correspondent’, ‘New Chapter in Wireless History’, Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 1 October 1929, p. 5

Text: NEW CHAPTER IN WIRELESS HISTORY.

Television Demonstrated.

SEEING AND HEARING AT THE SAME TIME.

[By a Wireless Correspondent].

The first public broadcast of television took place yesterday, the transmission being sent out from the 2LO aerial in Oxford Street.

I was one of the few who were able to listen in and “look in” at the same time. We were gathered in a room the headquarters of the Baird Television Development Company in Long Acre, London. There was installed a Baird television receiver, and while we heard the speech and music issuing from a loud speaker which formed part of the apparatus, looking into a glass screen on the front of the cabinet we were able to sec the devised faces of the speakers and the artists, among whom were Sir Ambrose Fleming, tho distinguished scientist and inventor of the wireless valve; Professor E.N. de C. Andrade, another well-known scientist; Mr. Sydney Howard, the comedian; and Miss Lulu Stanley. The studio was connected by land line to Savoy Hill, and tho televised faces were passed on to the Oxford Street transmitter, where they were broadcast in the ordinary way.

Two wave lengths are necessary, however, for television listeners to hear and see the broadcasts simultaneously, and at present the B.B.C. only have one wave length available. Hence any listeners who were in possession of Baird television receivers yesterday were able only to hear and see alternately. It is hoped that when the twin-wave length transmitter is in operation, simultaneous transmission will tako place enabling listeners to see and hear at the same time. We were able to this yesterday because there was a special line connecting tho receiver to tho studio, so that while the B.B.C. were broadcasting the televised face of the speaker, his words came through the loud speaker. The televised image was “picked up” by means of an ordinary aerial on the roof of the building.

Features Recognised.

At the outset, a letter was read from Mr. William Graham, President of the Board of Trade, who stated that he looked this new applied science to encourage and provide a new industry not only for Britain and the British Empire, but for the whole world. “This new industry,” he added, “will provide employment for a large number our people, and will prove the prestige of British creative energy.” In an introductory speech, Sir Ambrose Fleming, who is the president of the Television Society, remarked that television would contribute to the pleasure of countless persons. After Sir Ambrose came Professor Andrade and then Mr. Sydney Howard, whose features were easily recognisable. We could see clearly the movement of his lips as he spoke and his varying expressions as he moved about in front of thee televisor. “This is Television Monday.” he said, “and I am the vision,” and we could see him smiling he said it. “Really I not know why people should have my ‘mug’ inflicted on them,” he added. Next came Miss King, who is member of the Baird staff, and Miss Lulu Stanley, both of whom sang before the televisor. We heard their voices and saw their changing expressions as they sang.

Not Perfect Yet.

Sir Ambrose Fleming summed up the situation in a nutshell when he said me afterwards “At the present time, the B.B.C. have a vast music-hall for the blind in which people can hear but see nothing. What Mr. Baird has done is to provide them with opera glasses or spectacles in which the audience can see well as hear.” It is obvious, of course, that much progress will have to be made before the same degree of perfection reached with television is now attained with ordinary speech broadcasts, but yesterday’s demonstration showed that much has already been done, the televised faces of to-day being marked improvement on the image the early television experiments. Mr. Baird told me that he was perfectly satisfied with the broadcast, and he was particularly glad that he had now been afforded opportunity making a public broadcast. “Men’s faces broadcast better than women’s,” he remarked. “Some men’s faces come out better than others because their features are more marked.” He added that they do not propose that there should any television on a large scale until a satisfactory television service can be provided. At present, very few television sets are in existence.

Comments: The Baird Televisor was first demonstrated to an invited audience in 1926. The BBC began experimental broadcasts using inventor John Logie Baird’s system on 30 September 1929 (a Monday), at 11:00am, in Long Acre, London.

Links: Copy at British Newspaper Archive (subscription site)

The Private Diaries of Sir Henry Rider Haggard

Source: D.S. Higgins (ed.), The Private Diaries of Sir Henry Rider Haggard 1914-1925 (London: Cassell, 1980), p. 219

Text: 20th April, 1921. I have spent the last two days in seeing (privately) the Italian made film of Beatrice. It has good points (especially those of the heroine’s eyes!), but for an author the experience as usual is somewhat heart-breaking. Why in the name of goodness, for instance, when a poverty-stricken Welsh clergyman is described in the book as living in a vicarage of the meanest sort, almost a cottage indeed, should he be represented as inhabiting a costly palace from the upkeep of which an archbishop would blench? Or why should the hero, Geoffrey, a man getting on for forty with a powerful legal stamp of face, be impersonated by an oily-haired young person of about 22? Only a film producer can answer these questions. Meanwhile the critic comes along and descants learnedly on the unsuitability of novels for film purposes. The novels are right enough; it is their ignorant careless adaptors who are to blame.

Comments: Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1925) was a British novelist, who had a strong interest in cinema following the film adaptations of his popular novels such as She and The Lost World. The Italian film Il colchico e la rosa (1921) was adapted from Haggard’s novel Beatrice (its English language release titles were Little Sister and The Stronger Passion). It was directed by the Irishman Herbert Brenon for Caesar Film and the Herbert Brenon Film Corporation and starred Marie Doro and Sandro Salvini.

Mornings in Mexico

Source: D.H. Lawrence, Mornings in Mexico (London: Martin Secker, 1927), pp. 98-100

Text: The audience in the theatre is a little democracy of the ideal consciousness. They all sit there, gods of the ideal mind, and survey with laughter or tears the realm of actuality.

Which is very soothing and satisfying so long as you believe that the ideal mind is the actual arbiter.

So long as you instinctively feel that there is some supreme, universal Ideal Consciousness swaying all destiny.

When you begin to have misgivings, you sit rather uneasily on your plush seat.

Nobody really believes that destiny is an accident. The very fact that day keeps on following night, and summer winter, establishes the belief in universal law, and from this to a belief in some great hidden mind in the universe is an inevitable step for us.

A few people, the so-called advanced, have grown uneasy in their bones about the Universal Mind. But the mass are absolutely convinced. And every member of the mass is absolutely convinced that he is part and parcel of this Universal Mind. Hence his joy at the theatre. His even greater joy at the cinematograph.

In the moving pictures he has detached himself even further from the solid stuff of earth. There, the people are truly shadows: the shadow-pictures are thinkings of his mind. They live in the rapid and kaleidoscopic realm of the abstract. And the individual watching the shadow-spectacle sits a very god, in an orgy of abstraction, actually dissolved into delighted, watchful spirit. And if his best girl sits beside him, she vibrates in the same ether, and triumphs in the same orgy of abstraction. No wonder this passion of dramatic abstraction becomes a lust.

That is our idea of entertainment.

Comments: The British novelist and short story writer David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930) makes numerous references to the cinema in his writings, usually from a hostile point of view but clearly based on knowledge of cinemagoing. The essays were written during his time in Mexico, but the picturegoing described in this essay – which goes on to analyse the Pueblo Indian concept of entertainment – seems to relate to moving pictures anywhere, not Mexico as such.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Lawless Roads

Source: Graham Greene, The Lawless Roads: A Mexican Journey (London: Longmans & Co., 1939), p. 77

Text: I went my first night to Fritz Lang’s Liliom, a naïve and rather moving film of heartlessness on earth and repentance in heaven. The audience were more interesting than the film; they accepted the sentiment just as any European audience would have done, but when the two messengers from God – dressed in sinister seedy clerical black – appeared beside the body and lifted Liliom’s soul between them into the sky, legs trailing like stuffed dolls through the firmament, they hooted and cat-called. Many got up and went out: they were not going to have anything to do with heaven or hell; only later, when that they found out that heaven was to be treated with whimsicality and a touch of farce, did they settle down into their seats. When I came out the streets were dark, and the air at seven thousand feet felt cold and thin and lifeless.

Comments: Graham Greene (1904-1991) was a British novelist, many of whose works were filmed and who was a notable film critic in the 1930s. The Lawless Roads is an account of his visit to Mexico in 1938. Liliom (USA 1934) was based on the play by Ferenc Molnár about a fairground barker who commits suicide after taking part in a robbery. He is sent to Purgatory and then returned to earth to perform one good deed.

How to Enjoy the Movies

Source: Anon., ‘How to Enjoy the Movies’, Peterborough Examiner, Oct. 12, 1921, p.14

Text: You think you will drop in to the “movies” for a few minutes, and if happens to be the [theatre where] they have those luxurious wicker chairs, you choose a handy one, right near the aisle, and settle back. There is a nasty rain outside, but in here it is nice and warm and comfortable.

Presently a party of young people come in and settle directly behind you. They appear to be a great many of them. They make a loud noise and spend some time selecting seats. After two or three bumps, you sit forward until they are all settled. A cautious look around reveals that there are only four, two of each sex. One of the girls is powdering her nose and the other seems to be looking for something on the floor. She wriggles around, finally locates it, and settles down. Then they begin in earnest. The girls read the titles aloud and make remarks about them in half-whisper. They giggle about every little while and tell all they know about the actors in various pictures. It is a good deal. The vaudeville arrives, and they recognise one of the performers as an old acquaintance who visited the town some years ago. They know a good deal about his private life and tell each other. The young man directly behind you appears to have some difficulty with his knees. Every once in so often he changes their position and makes you get it in the back. He makes no excuse however. You look around. There are no other aisle seats vacant, so you resolve to endure to the bitter end. The young fellow at the farther end is very silent. The girls decide that he has gone to sleep and start to “kid” him. Their voices are louder now, and they giggle at every remark. Suddenly something descends upon your head. You have been contemplating the picture, and it is rather a shock. You are surprised. No excuse is made. Then whispering ensues. Then the young man directly behind proffers some information about the dancer, but is contradicted immediately by the girl next him who says she knows all about that young lady. He subsides into a morose silence, and gives you another vicious jab in the rear with his replaced knee. You shift your chair a little. The girls think they want some place to rest their feet, so turn to two vacant chairs around and in doing so knock your elbow. No excuse is made. They arrange their two pairs of feet on the cushioned chairs, and another era of whispering, giggling, fussing, conversation starts in. The comedy provides some situations which give them a chance to snicker. They do so. The young man re-adjusts his feet once more, and nearly capsizes your chair. No excuse is made. You move a couple of feet, and quiet down a bit. Then the girl says she wants to go and sit beside “Jack,” who is at the farther end, and the other one won’t let her. A slight scuffle ensues. The young men say nothing. You can hear him just behind re-arranging his feet once more, but this time you are out of range, so it doesn’t matter. The feature unrolls its romantic story, and the girls whisper and giggle some more. They are talking about another girl now, and enjoying themselves immensely. Finally the hero embraces the heroine, the young man changes his position for the last time, and you all go home.

Comments: This article appears in a Canadian newspaper, but may originate from another source. My thanks to Robert Clarke for bringing this piece to my attention.

Mr. Wells Reviews a Current Film

Source: H.G. Wells, ‘Mr. Wells Reviews a Current Film: He Takes Issue With This German Conception of What The City of One Hundred Years Hence Will Be Like’, New York Times, 17 April 1927, p. 4

Text: I have recently seen the silliest film.

I do not believe it would be possible to make one sillier.

And as this film sets out to display the way the world is going, I think The Way the World is Going may very well concern itself with this film.

It is called Metropolis, it comes from the great Ufa studios in Germany, and the public is given to understand that it has been produced at enormous cost.

It gives in one eddying concentration almost every possible foolishness, cliché, platitude, and muddlement about mechanical progress and progress in general served up with a sauce of sentimentality that is all its own.

It is a German film and there have been some amazingly good German films, before they began to cultivate bad work under cover of a protective quota. And this film has been adapted to the Anglo-Saxon taste, and quite possibly it has suffered in the process, but even when every allowance has been made for that, there remains enough to convince the intelligent observer that most of its silliness must be fundamental.

Possibly I dislike this soupy whirlpool none the less because I find decaying fragments of my own juvenile work of thirty years ago, The Sleeper Awakes, floating about in it.

Capek’s Robots have been lifted without apology, and that soulless mechanical monster of Mary Shelley’s, who has fathered so many German inventions, breeds once more in this confusion.

Originality there is none. Independent thought, none.

Where nobody has imagined for them the authors have simply fallen back on contemporary things.

The aeroplanes that wander about above the great city show no advance on contemporary types, though all that stuff could have been livened up immensely with a few helicopters and vertical or unexpected movements.

The motor cars are 1926 models or earlier. I do not think there is a single new idea, a single instance of artistic creation or even intelligent anticipation, from first to last in the whole pretentious stew; I may have missed some point of novelty, but I doubt it; and this, though it must bore the intelligent man in the audience, makes the film all the more convenient as a gauge of the circle of ideas, the mentality, from which it has proceeded.

The word Metropolis, says the advertisement in English, ‘is in itself symbolic of greatness’- which only shows us how wise it is to consult a dictionary before making assertions about the meaning of words.

Probably it was the adapter who made that shot. The German ‘Neubabelsburg’ was better, and could have been rendered ‘New Babel’. It is a city, we are told, of ‘about one hundred years hence.’ It is represented as being enormously high; and all the air and happiness are above and the workers live, as the servile toilers in the blue uniform in The Sleeper Awakes lived, down, down, down below.

Now far away in the dear old 1897 it may have been excusable to symbolize social relations in this way, but that was thirty years ago, and a lot of thinking and some experience intervene.

That vertical city of the future we know now is, to put it mildly, highly improbable. Even in New York and Chicago, where the pressure on the central sites is exceptionally great, it is only the central office and entertainment region that soars and excavates. And the same centripetal pressure that leads to the utmost exploitation of site values at the centre leads also to the driving out of industrialism and labour from the population center to cheaper areas, and of residential life to more open and airy surroundings. That was all discussed and written about before 1900. Somewhere about 1930 the geniuses of Ufa studios will come up to a book of Anticipations which was written more than a quarter of a century ago. The British census returns of 1901 proved clearly that city populations were becoming centrifugal, and that every increase in horizontal traffic facilities produced a further distribution. This vertical social stratification is stale old stuff. So far from being ‘a hundred years hence,’ Metropolis, in its forms and shapes, is already, as a possibility, a third of a century out of date.

But its form is the least part of its staleness. This great city is supposed to be evoked by a single dominating personality. The English version calls him John Masterman, so that there may be no mistake about his quality. Very unwisely he has called his son Eric, instead of sticking to good hard John, and so relaxed the strain. He works with an inventor, one Rotwang, and they make machines. There are a certain number of other people, and the ‘sons of the rich’ are seen disporting themselves, with underclad ladies in a sort of joy conservatory, rather like the ‘winter garden’ of an enterprising 1890 hotel during an orgy. The rest of the population is in a state of abject slavery, working in ‘shifts’ of ten hours in some mysteriously divided twenty-four hours, and with no money to spend or property or freedom. The machines make wealth. How, is not stated. We are shown rows of motor cars all exactly alike; but the workers cannot own these, and no ‘sons of the rich’ would. Even the middle classes nowadays want a car with personality. Probably Masterman makes these cars in endless series to amuse himself.

One is asked to believe that these machines are engaged quite furiously in the mass production of nothing that is ever used, and that Masterman grows richer and richer in the process. This is the essential nonsense of it all. Unless the mass of the population has the spending power there is no possibility of wealth in a mechanical civilization. A vast, penniless slave population may be necessary for wealth where there are no mass production machines, but it is preposterous with mass production machines. You find such a real proletariat in China still; it existed in the great cities of the ancient world; but you do not find it in America, which has gone furtherest in the direction of mechanical industry, and there is no grain of reason in supposing it will exist in the future. Masterman’s watchword is ‘Efficiency,’ and you are given to understand it is a very dreadful word, and the contrivers of this idiotic spectacle are so hopelessly ignorant of all the work that has been done upon industrial efficiency that they represent him as working his machine-minders to the point of exhaustion, so that they faint and machines explode and people are scalded to death. You get machine-minders in torment turning levers in response to signals – work that could be done far more effectively by automata. Much stress is laid on the fact that the workers are spiritless, hopeless drudges, working reluctantly and mechanically. But a mechanical civilization has no use for mere drudges; the more efficient its machinery the less need there is for the quasi-mechanical minder. It is the inefficient factory that needs slaves; the ill-organized mine that kills men. The hopeless drudge stage of human labour lies behind us. With a sort of malignant stupidity this film contradicts these facts.

The current tendency of economic life is to oust the mere drudge altogether, to replace much highly skilled manual work by exquisite machinery in skilled hands, and to increase the relative proportion of semi-skilled, moderately versatile and fairly comfortable workers. It may indeed create temporary masses of unemployed, and in The Sleeper Awakes there was a mass of unemployed people under the hatches. That was written in 1897, when the possibility of restraining the growth of large masses of population had scarcely dawned on the world. It was reasonable then to anticipate an embarrassing underworld of under-productive people. We did not know what to do with the abyss. But there is no excuse for that today. And what this film anticipates is not unemployment, but drudge employment, which is precisely what is passing away. Its fabricators have not even realized that the machine ousts the drudge.

‘Efficiency’ means large-scale productions, machinery as fully developed as possible, and high wages. The British Government delegation sent to study success in America has reported unanimously to that effect. The increasingly efficient industrialism of America has so little need of drudges that it has set up the severest barriers against the flooding of the United States by drudge immigration. ‘Ufa’ knows nothing of such facts.

A young woman appears from nowhere in particular to ‘help’ these drudges; she impinges upon Masterman’s son Eric, and they go to the ‘Catacombs,’ which, in spite of the gas mains, steam mains, cables, and drainage, have somehow contrived to get over from Rome, skeletons and all, and burrow under this city of Metropolis. She conducts a sort of Christian worship in these unaccountable caverns, and the drudges love and trust her. With a nice sense of fitness she lights herself about the Catacombs with a torch instead of the electric lamps that are now so common.

That reversion to torches is quite typical of the spirit of this show. Torches are Christian, we are asked to suppose; torches are human. Torches have hearts. But electric hand-lamps are wicked, mechanical, heartless things. The bad, bad inventor uses quite a big one. Mary’s services are unsectarian, rather like afternoon Sunday-school, and in her special catacomb she has not so much an altar as a kind of umbrella-stand full of crosses. The leading idea of her religion seems to be a disapproval of machinery and efficiency. She enforces the great moral lesson that the bolder and stouter human effort becomes, the more spiteful Heaven grows, by reciting the story of Babel. The story of Babel, as we know, is a lesson against ‘Pride.’ It teaches the human soul to grovel. It inculcates the duty of incompetence. The Tower of Babel was built, it seems, by bald-headed men. I said there was no original touch in the film, but this last seems to be a real invention. You see the bald-headed men building Babel. Myriads of them. Why they are bald is inexplicable. It is not even meant to be funny, and it isn’t funny; it is just another touch of silliness. The workers in Metropolis are not to rebel or do anything for themselves, she teaches, because they may rely on the vindictiveness of Heaven.

But Rotwang, the inventor, is making a Robot, apparently without any license from Capek, the original patentee. It is to look and work like a human being, but it is to have no ‘soul.’ It is to be a substitute for drudge labour. Masterman very properly suggests that it should never have a soul, and for the life of me I cannot see why it should. The whole aim of mechanical civilization is to eliminate the drudge and the drudge soul. But this is evidently regarded as very dreadful and impressive by the producers, who are all on the side of soul and love and suchlike. I am surprised they do not pine for souls in the alarm clocks and runabouts. Masterman, still unwilling to leave bad alone, persuades Rotwang to make this Robot in the likeness of Mary, so that it may raise an insurrection among the workers to destroy the machines by which they live, and so learn that it is necessary to work. Rather intricate that, but Masterman, you understand, is a rare devil of a man. Full of pride and efficiency and modernity – all those horrid things.

Then comes the crowning absurdity of the film, the conversion of the Robot into the likeness of Mary. Rotwang, you must understand, occupies a small old house, embedded in the modern city, richly adorned with pentagrams and other reminders of the antiquated German romances out of which its owner has been taken. A quaint smell of Mephistopheles is perceptible for a time. So even at Ufa, Germany can still be dear old magic-loving Germany. Perhaps Germans will never get right away from the Brocken. Walpurgis Night is the name-day of the German poetic imagination, and the national fantasy capers insecurely for ever with a broomstick between its legs. By some no doubt abominable means Rotwang has squeezed a vast and well-equipped modern laboratory into this little house. It is ever so much bigger than the house, but no doubt he has fallen back on Einstein and other modern bedevilments. Mary has to be trapped, put into a machine like a translucent cocktail shaker, and undergo all sorts of pyrotechnic treatment in order that her likeness may be transferred to the Robot. The possibility of Rotwang just simply making a Robot like her, evidently never entered the gifted producer’s head. The Robot is enveloped in wavering haloes, the premises seem to be struck by lightning repeatedly, the contents of a number of flasks and carboys are violently agitated, there are minor explosions and discharges. Rotwang conducts the operations with a manifest lack of assurance, and finally, to his evident relief, the likeness is taken and things calm down. The false Mary then winks darkly at the audience and sails off to raise the workers. And so forth and so on. There is some rather good swishing about in water, after the best film traditions, some violent and unconvincing machine-breaking and rioting and wreckage, and then, rather confusedly, one gathers that Masterman has learnt a lesson, and that workers and employers are now to be reconciled by ‘Love.’

Never for a moment does one believe any of this foolish story; for a moment is there anything amusing or convincing in its dreary series of strained events. It is immensely and strangely dull. It is not even to be laughed at. There is not one good-looking nor sympathetic nor funny personality in the cast; there is, indeed, no scope at all for looking well or acting like a rational creature amid these mindless, imitative absurdities. The film’s air of having something grave and wonderful to say is transparent pretence. It has nothing to do with any social or moral issue before the world or with any that can ever conceivably arise. It is bunkum and poor and thin even as bunkum. I am astonished at the toleration shown it by quite a number of film critics on both sides of the Atlantic. And it costs, says the London Times, six million marks! How they spent all that upon it I cannot imagine. Most of the effects could have been got with models at no great expense.

The pity of it is that this unimaginative, incoherent, sentimentalizing, and make-believe film, wastes some very fine possibilities. My belief in German enterprise has had a shock. I am dismayed by the intellectual laziness it betrays. I thought Germans even at the worst could toil. I thought they had resolved to be industriously modern. It is profoundly interesting to speculate upon the present trend of mechanical inventions and of the reactions of invention upon labour conditions. Instead of plagiarizing from a book thirty years old and resuscitating the banal moralizing of the early Victorian period, it would have been almost as easy, no more costly, and far more interesting to have taken some pains to gather the opinions of a few bright young research students and ambitious, modernizing architects and engineers about the trend of modern invention, and develop these artistically. Any technical school would have been delighted to supply sketches and suggestions for the aviation and transport of A.D. 2027. There are now masses of literature upon the organization of labour for efficiency that could have been boiled down at a very small cost. The question of the development of industrial control, the relation of industrial to political direction, the way all that is going, is of the liveliest current interest. Apparently the people at Ufa did not know of these things and did not want to know about them. They were too dense to see how these things could have been brought into touch with the life of today and made interesting to the man in the street. After the worst traditions of the cinema world, monstrously self-satisfied and self-sufficient, convinced of the power of loud advertisement to put things over with the public, and with no fear of searching criticism in their minds, no consciousness of thought and knowledge beyond their ken, they set to work in their huge studio to produce furlong after furlong of this ignorant, old-fashioned balderdash, and ruin the market for any better film along these lines.

Six million marks! The waste of it!

The theatre when I visited it was crowded. All but the highest-priced seats were full, and the gaps in these filled up reluctantly but completely before the great film began. I suppose every one had come to see what the city of a hundred years hence would be like. I suppose there are multitudes of people to be ‘drawn’ by promising to show them what the city of a hundred years hence will be like. It was, I thought, an unresponsive audience, and I heard no comments. I could not tell from their bearing whether they believed that Metropolis was really a possible forecast or no. I do not know whether they thought that the film was hopelessly silly or the future of mankind hopelessly silly. But it must have been one thing or the other.

Comments: Herbert George Wells (1866-1946) was a British novelist, short story writer, historian and social commentator. He is best known for this works of science fiction, of which When the Sleeper Wakes (1898) is close in theme to Metropolis (Germany 1926), so thoughts of plagiarism may have coloured his attack on Fritz Lang’s film. He presumably saw the film in London. The Way the World is Going was a non-fiction work published by Wells in 1928.

Links: Copy at New York Times archives (subscription site)
Transcription at The Time Machine

The Film Finds Its Tongue

Don Juan at the Warner Theatre, via Wikipedia

Source: Fitzhugh Green, The Film Finds Its Tongue (New York: G.P. Putnam, 1929), pp. 11-14

Text: Slowly the theatre filled. Every seat was sold, and occupied. It was a curious, speculative audience, there on unfamiliar grounds, uncertain what it was about to see, or how it should be received. It was prepared more to see a scientific marvel than to be entertained.

The four men were prepared—for anything.

Eight-thirty arrived. The lights dimmed; babble of voices hushed. A white beam shot overhead and splashed upon the screen; the beam from the movie projector. But it fell first on the draped curtains on the stage, revealing a subtitle. The curtains parted on a conventional cinema screen. The title gave way, familiarly, to a photograph … a man … Will H. Hays. He advanced to the foreground and there was a little sound. It penetrated through people’s minds that they had “heard” him clear his throat.

Then, suddenly, the picture began to speak!

The audience hung on its every word, half expecting something to happen … the machinery would break down. In the first trials of every machine there is a good chance that it will break. One lacks confidence in it.

The phenomenon was like watching a man flying without wings. It was uncanny. The shadow of Will H. Hays was true to life. His lips moved and sound came forth. His was a short speech; when it was done and he stood there, people found themselves clapping, unconsciously. As if he heard them, he bowed. He seemed to be present, and yet he did not seem to be present. No wonder a scientist next day called it: “The nearest thing to a resurrection!”

As the picture disappeared a buzz of talk ran through the theatre. Then silence again as the second number appeared: the Philharmonic Orchestra playing the “Tannhauser” overture. Sweet music reached out from the huge invisible horn behind the screen and wrought its spell upon the listeners. It was familiar music, marvellously played. It swept on through the cadences of the overture; the quiet, half-religious opening, the seductive melody of the Venusberg, the crashing finale … and during it the photographs, leaping from one section of the orchestra to another, focusing on busy musicians bent over their instruments.

As the movie image of Henry Hadley turned to his auditors after the last note he “faced” a theatre full of people applauding spontaneously—yet he wasn’t there!

The ice had been broken: the talking picture had now an audience for the first time in three decades.

Throughout the rest of the first half of the program the audience sat breathlessly drinking the novelty in. It found that it liked film that talked. It found it possible to judge such a film; it liked some of the numbers better than others. It found itself fascinated by the intimacy with which the artist was revealed; found itself watching Elman’s fingering, Martinelli’s tone formation; found itself brought closer to those artists than ever before; even found itself, presently, gaining an illusion that the artists themselves were present!

When the lights went up for intermission the audience cheered, then gave way to a concentrated buzz of excitement. History was being made and they were there to see the event, was the way every one felt.

The second half was a conventional screen drama—also with the new talking-picture attachment. But before its stirring plot was done the little group of men who waited received their verdict. The uncontrollable enthusiasm of the audience gave it:

You win!

Comments: Fitzhugh Green was author of a booklet that documents the development of the sound film by the American studio Warner Bros. The event he documents here is the public debut of the Vitaphone talkie film process (film accompanied by synchronised sound disc) on 6 August 1926 at the Warner Theatre, New York. Eight short films shown on the evening followed by the feature film Don Juan (1926), which had a synchronised music score and sound effects but no spoken dialogue. The short films shown were Hon. Will H. Hays, President of the Motion Picture Producers & Distributors of America, Inc., Who Will Address You (the only ‘talkie’ of the evening), Overture “Tannhauser” featuring conductor Henry Hadley and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, violinist Mischa Elman playing “Humoresque” by Antonín Dvorák and “Gavotte” by François-Joseph Gossec, His Pastimes featuring novelty guitarist Roy Smeck, Beethoven’s The Kreutzer Sonata played by Harold Bauer and Efrem Zimbalist, a selection of Russian songs and dances entitled An Evening on the Don, singer Anna Case and Spanish dancers in La Fiesta, and opera singer Giovanni Martinelli singing Vesti La Giubba (the hit of the evening). The four men were the four Warner brothers.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust