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.

I Search for Truth in Russia

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

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

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

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Diaries

Source: George Orwell (ed. Peter Davison), Diaries (New York/London: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2009), p. 150

Text: Ship gives out a cyclostyled sheet of news every day. Movies ocasionally (have not seen them yet).

In Casablanca went to the pictures, & saw films making virtually certain that the French Gov.t expects war. The first a film on the life of a soldier, following up all the different branches & with some very good shots of the inner arrangements of the Maginot line. This film had evidently been hurriedly constructed & went into much greater detail than is normal in films of this kind. The other was the Pathe news gazette, in which the announcer gave what was practically a political speech denouncing Germany. The more shots of British & French troops etc. The significant point was the attitude of the audience – utterly unenthusiastic, hardly a clap, & a few hostile comments.

Comments: George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Blair (1903-1950), British novelist and essayist. He had been convalescing in French Morocco, and was on board a ship in Casablanca dock on the morning of 30 March 1939, preparing to return to Britain, when he wrote this diary note.

Diaries and Letters 1945-1962

Source: Harold Nicolson (ed. Nigel Nicolson), Diaries and Letters 1945-1962 (London: Collins, 1968), pp. 291-292

Text: 14 December, 1955 – I went with Baba, the Douglas Fairbankses and the Walter Moncktons to the first night of Olivier’s Richard III. The Queen was there, radiant in pink and diamonds. OH, I did love the film so! they took John Gielgud by the heels and pushed him head-forward into a butt of Malvoisie; they cut off Hastings’ head on a block; they strangled the young princes; and in the end off they went to Bosworth Fields which, for film-purposes, was situated in the vicinity of Madrid with a distant line of Castilian mountains – not one little bit like Shropshire. But Olivier was superb, really superb, and in the end he is cut to pieces and thrown over the back of a packhorse and carried away a bleeding corpse quite dead. The crown is found under a bush and placed on the head of Henry Tudor. Oh my word, what a film! They off we all went to supper with Douglas Fairbanks. Twenty-one people, including the Oliviers.

Comments: Harold Nicolson (1886-1968) was a British diplomat, politician and diarist. Richard III (UK 1955) is a feature film version of Shakespeare’s play, directed by and starring Laurence Oliver as Richard. It premiered at the Leicester Square Theatre, London on 13 December 1955.

Journal 1929

Source: Arnold Bennett, Journal 1929 (London: Cassell, 1930), pp. 123-126

Text: London, September. I went by invitation to the “world-première” of an English-written and English-directed talking film, in which Gloria Swanson was the star. The film was apparently made in America. My opinion of Gloria Swanson’s gifts as an actress in silent films is very high indeed. I was bidden for nine o’clock, and at nine o’clock I arrived.

The Street in front of the theatre was crowded with sightseers, some of whom were perched on the tops of lorries used as grandstands. A broad path across the pavement was kept clear by the united efforts of policemen and theatre officials. As I passed between the stalwarts I was the subject of loud remarks from the populace. The big theatre was crowded, except in the best seats round about me, which had been reserved for guests whose names have a publicity value. Many of these empty seats were never occupied during the evening. A silent film was already in progress, and it continued in progress for an hour or so. What qualities it had to recommend itself to my attention I failed to see. However, it did at length finish. Then a gentleman came in front of the curtain and said, inter alia: “Miss Gloria Swanson is in the audience and if you will kindly remain in your seats for one minute after the conclusion of the new film, you will see her.” At these words there was a great noise from the audience — a curious kind of clapping not intended to signify approval. The talking film began. The noise increased. So much so that the film, though it could be seen, could not be heard at all. The film-operator and the audience were equally obstinate for a minute or two. The audience won. Gloria Swanson, who was seated a few rows behind me, stood up in the gangway and bowed. Useless! Half the audience could not see her. The audience grew still more restive. The noise was resentful and imperious. It seemed to say: “She belongs to us. She is ours by right. Show her.”

She left the circle, and was presently seen walking up the central aisle of the floor, well escorted. Then she came before the curtain, obviously in a highly nervous condition, and made a little speech, which was almost inaudible. As soon as she had retired, at least two-thirds of the huge audience on the floor Stood up and hurried from the theatre. They had come to see, not the film, but Gloria Swanson. Having seen her, they departed. Surely rather odd.

The film Started again, to many hundreds of empty seats. I could discover no originality whatever in the film, and no merit except the striking merit of Gloria Swanson’s performance. The story somewhat resembled that of “ East Lynne ”; but it was not as good as “East Lynne”. Crude, tawdry, grossly sentimental, encumbered with stretches of acutely tedious and undramatic dialogue, and rendered ugly by the continuous falsification of the sound of the human voice which mars all talking films, it crawled along from foreseen crisis to foreseen crisis in the most exasperating manner. Its attempts to be noble were merely distressing.

But Gloria Swanson was magnificent in it. She proved that a great star of the silent can be equally great as a star of the talking. She used extreme technical skill, and displayed throughout both real power and real distinction. She even sang. The songs were her one mistake. The film did not demand song, and her singing was amateurish. At the close she appeared once more before the curtain and made another little inaudible speech.

I left the theatre saddened by this spectacle of the waste of a first-rate artist. The space across the pavement was still being kept by policemen and commissionaires. The crowd was larger than before, but order was being maintained. Then suddenly order vanished. The two lines of stalwarts were smashed in an instant, and I was being tossed to and fro in a mass of hysterical women. Gloria Swanson had appeared in the entrance-hall. She fled back. I gave a stalwart one shilling to act as a spear-head for my party through the wild surge. He was not overpaid. In ten seconds we had reached safety. Cries! Shouts! Shrieks! Clapping! Order was restored and Gloria Swanson slipped into the film-star’s immense and luxurious automobile which was waiting for her. What an evening! What a light thrown on the mentality of the film-fan! I restrained my sympathy for Gloria Swanson. She is a queen-empress. She does what she chooses. She is a woman of experience, and she must have known what she was in for.

Comments: Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) was a British writer, best known for his novels of life in the Potteries with its ‘five towns’ that now equate with Stoke-on-Trent. The Gloria Swanson film he saw was The Trespasser (USA 1929), directed by Edmund Goulding. It was made in both silent and sound versions.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

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. 261

Text: 27th July, 1923
This morning I went to Pathé’s to see the cinematograph film which their representative made of me here a week or two ago. It was very good, especially of my poor old spaniel, Jeekie, but as the bright sunlight seemed to turn my hair snow-white, it made me look even older than I am. These cinemas, however, go so fast that it is difficult to take in details. In future generations they will form interesting records of persons of our age, that is if they are kept as Pathé people told me they were. It seems that these photographic interviews go all over the world and are very popular with the masses.

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. Pathé was as good as its word – the film ‘interview’ with Haggard at his Ditchingham home survives and can be found on its website.

Links: ‘Camera Interview’ with Henry Rider Haggard on British Pathe site

Journal des voyages de Monsieur de Monconys

Source: Journal des voyages de Monsieur de Monconys, Conseiller du Roy en ses Conseils d’Estat & Privé, & Lieutenant Criminel au Siège Presidial de Lyon (Lyon, Horace Boissat & George Remeus, 1665-66), vol. 2, pp. 17-18, diary entry for 17 May 1663. Translation in Herman Hecht (ed. Ann Hecht), Pre-Cinema History: An Encyclopaedia and Annotated Bibliography of the Moving Image Before 1896 (London: Bowker Saur, 1993), p. 19

Text: 17 May 1663. After we had eaten we went to Longuecker [Longacre] on the way back to see Mr Rives [Reeves] who makes telescopes which he sells at six Pounds Sterling each. But he had none ready and deferred us to another time as regards this matter and also to show us how a bulls-eye lantern works which has a crystal half-sphere of about three inches in diameter and which represents the objects well. The latter he puts between the light source and the crystal, using a glass-plate on which objects are painted. This plate, which is like a frame, he slides into a square box which obtrudes from the lantern and which contains the half-sphere crystal.

Toutes les allées font bordées ou de jonquilles ou de geroflées ou de lis. Aur etour apres auoir fait collation nous fufmes encore à Longuexer, chéz M Riues qui fait les Telefcopes, qu’il vend fix liures fterlin piece. Mais il n’en auoit point de prets, & il nous remit à vne autre fois tant pour cela que pour voir l’effet d’vne lanterne fourde qui a vn demi-globe tout entier de criftal , d’enuiron poulces de diametre, & qui porte bien loin la reprefentation des obiets qu’il met entre la lumiere, & ce criftal, par le moyé d’vne feüille de verre fur laquelle ces obiects font peints, laquelle lame ou feüille il fait couler comme vn chaffis dans l’eftuy quarré qui auance au dehors de la lanterne, & qui enferme le demi-globe de criftal.

Comments: Balthasar de Monconys (1611–1665) was a French traveller, diplomat and diarist. He travelled to Portugal, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands (where he met Vermeer), the Near East and England. On a visit to London he saw a magic lantern demonstrated at the shop of the optician Richard Reeves (also referred to in Samuel Pepys’ 19 August 1666 diary entry about seeing a magic lantern demonstrated). This is the first known reference to the magic lantern in Britain.

Links: Copy in French at Hathi Trust

Queen Victoria's Journals

Source: Queen Victoria’s journal entry for 28 June 1854

Text: We went after breakfast with the 4 Children & Ladies & Gentlemen to see Albert Smith’s “Ascent of Mont Blanc”, a panorama, which he describes, interspersed with anecdotes & wit of the most amusing kind, delivered with the most surprising volubility. The last song was inimitable. The views were extremely pretty & the room fitted up charmingly as a Châlet. The Performance took place at the Egyptian Hall.

Comments: Queen Victoria (1819-1901) records seeing panoramas several times in her journals. Albert Richard Smith (1816-1860) was a British entertainer, novelist and mountaineer. In 1851 he successfully ascended Mont Blanc, and a show devised and presented by Smith the following year about the expedition, at London’s Egyptian Hall, became one of the most renowned and popular entertainments of its time. The show, entitled Mr Albert Smith’s Ascent of Mont Blanc, opened on 15 March 1852. Smith’s talk of his adventures was illustrated by moving panoramas, painted by William Beverley, which moved horizontally for the section covering Smith journey to the Alps, and vertically for the ascent. The show ran for seven seasons six years, with each new season changing elements of of the presentation. The Swiss chalet was added to the staging for the second season.

Links: Queen Victoria’s Journals

Diary of Frances Stevenson

Diary of Frances Stevenson, 4 August 1916, Parliamentary Archives, FLS/4

Source: Frances Stevenson, diary entry for 4 August 1916, Parliamentary Archives, FLS/4

Text: Friday, 4 August 1916

We went on Wednesday night to a private view of the “Somme Films” i.e. the pictures taken during the recent fighting. To say that one enjoyed them would be untrue; but I am glad I went. I am glad I have seen the sort of thing our men have to go through, even to the sortie from the trench, and the falling in the barbed wire. There were picture too of the battlefield after the fight, & of our gallant men lying all crumpled up & helpless. There were pictures of men mortally wounded being carried out of the communication trenches, with the look of agony o their faces. It reminded me of what Paul’s last hours were: I have often tried to imagine to myself what he went through, but now I know: and I shall never forget. It was like going through a tragedy. I felt something of what the Greeks must have felt when they went in their crowds to witness those grand old plays – to be purged in their minds through pity and terror.

Comments: Frances Stevenson (1888-1972), later Frances Lloyd George, Countess Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, was at this time private secretary to the Secretary of State for War David Lloyd George, and his mistress. They married in 1943. Lloyd George, who is “D” in the full diary entry, became prime minister in December 1916. The film they saw The Battle of the Somme, a documentary feature made by the British Topical Committee for War Films, which had a huge impact on audiences when it was released commercially in August 1916. My thanks to Carol O’Sullivan for having alerted me to the diary’s entry publication online.

Links: Copy at the Parliamentary Archives

Diaries and Letters 1930-39

Source: Harold Nicolson (ed. Nigel Nicolson), Diaries and Letters 1930-39 (London: Collins, 1971), p. 390

Text: 4th February, 1939
V. and I go round to the Beales where there is a Television Set lent by the local radio-merchant. We see a Mickey Mouse, a play, and a Gaumont British film. I had always been told that the television could not be received above 25 miles from Alexandra Palace. But the reception was every bit as good as at Selfridge’s. Compared with a film, it is a bleary, flickering, dim, unfocused, interruptible thing, the size of a quarto sheet of paper as this on which I am typing. But as an invention it is tremendous and may alter the whole basis of democracy.

Comments: Harold Nicolson (1886-1968) was a British diplomat, politician and diarist. V is his wife, the poet Vita Sackville-West. The Beales were tenant farmers of their farm at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent. The Nicolsons acquired their own television set later in February 1939. The Mickey Mouse film was Pied Piper; the play was a one-act piece (repeated live from January 31st) entitled A Marriage Has Been Arranged, written by Alfred Sutro and starring Margaretta Scott. There were no BBC television news programmes at this date: instead it showed Gaumont British News and British Movietone News newsreels. BBC programmes were broadcast via a transmitter at Alexandra Palace in north London. Demonstrations of television had featured at Selfridge’s department store in London.

Links: Radio Times listing for 4 February 1939, from the Genome database