The Diaries of Franz Kafka

Source: Max Brod (ed.), The Diaries of Franz Kafka, 1910-1923 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964), p. 238

Text: 20 November 1913

Was at the movies. Wept. Lolotte. The good pastor. The little bicycle. The reconciliation of the parents. Boundless entertainment. Before that a sad film, Catastrophe at the Dock, after the amusing Alone at Last. Am completely empty and meaningless, the electric tram passing by has more living meaning.

Comment: Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was an occasional cinemagoer in the early 1910s. His fleeting references to film, combined with fuller accounts by his friend Max Brod, have been collated and analysed in Hanns Zischler, Kafka Goes to the Movies (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2003). Zischler identifies the films to which Kafka refers as being L’Enfant de Paris [i.e. Lolotte] (France 1913), Katastrofen I Dokken (Denmark 1913) and Endlich allein, oder Isidors Hochzeitsreise (Germany 1913). Kafka lived in Prague, then part of Austria-Hungary.

Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918

Source: Excerpt from interview with Frank Henry Scott, C707/225/1-2, Thompson, P. and Lummis, T., Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918, 1870-1973 [computer file]. 7th Edition. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], May 2009. SN: 2000,

Text: A: And we had – we had a – a little circus place. Oh yes, they had circus there.

Q: Were these permanent or did they come every so often?

A: No, it was there permanent. Manley’s circus, oh yes.

Q: What sort of things did they have there?

A: Oh they had – equestrian riding you know, a couple of clowns, a bit of acrobating and – perhaps a little sketch they’d put on. Yes. And they’d had – what they called penny gas [gaff], they had little side shows you know. Shadow pantomimes and – well fat ladies and the biggest rats you know, a coypu that’s what they were, oh, rat about that size, they were coypus, I know what they are now but we didn’t at the time. The bearded ladies you know, tattooed – tattooed ladies, tattooed man. A penny to go in you know and – that was the first time I’d seen – moving pictures. Paid a penny to go in, you – and I can remember that picture even now. I don’t suppose I was about seven or eight. And that was a – they would play cards, it was a French picture. There’s two blokes playing cards on the side of the kerb, van came by with the tailboard down. They got up with their cards and playing cards on the tailboard of this van, ’til it went round the corner, that was the finish of it.

Q: That was more or less the whole film?

A: Well that was – yes, about five or ten minutes I suppose. Then perhaps they’d put on a – a short comic one on, drunken sailors or something like that you know. That was – when I went home and told – father and mother I’d seen moving pictures they wouldn’t believe me. I said, well you go up and have a look. Up Falcon Road, that’s where it is, in the – swing yard. Oh they got a big fair going as well. Another one on Lavender Hill. Swings and roundabouts there and they were more or less permanent …

Q: … How about cinemas, did you or your wife go to cinemas before the First World War very much?

A: Oh yes. Yes, we always went once a week. Well it was only about threepence to go in at that time.

Comment: Frank Henry Scott was born in Hoxton, London in 1884, so his recollection that he was seven or eight when he saw films in a circus is incorrect. He married in 1904. He was interviewed on 4 March 1971, one of 444 people interviewed by Paul Thompson and his team as part of a study of the Edwardian era which resulted in Thompson’s book The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975).

The Island

Source: Henry Turner, in The Island: The life and death of an East London community 1870-1970 (London: Centerprise, 1979), p. 19

Text: I can recollect my mother being up at past midnight making a pair of trousers for one of us kids … Goodness knows what time she got up in the morning, I suppose the same time as we did, 6 a.m. And she was on the go till midnight. She died when she was 69, absolutely worn out. I can never recollect her going to the pictures, or the “Empire” or anything like that. Never.

Comment: Henry Turner was born in 1902 and lived in ‘The Island’, Hackney, London. He wrote an account of his working class childhood for the Hackney Borough Archives, from which this extract is taken.

Sociology of Film

Source: J.P. Mayer, Sociology of Film: Studies and Documents (London: Faber and Faber, 1946), pp. 219-221

Text: Miss…

In regard to your request for information as regards the average film audience I am writing the following examples of how some films have influenced my conduct, hoping they may be of some use to you.

1. Until five years ago I took an average interest in music, but never listened to it seriously. I liked the effect of incidental music in films. While seeing The Great Lie I was entranced by the music, but I thought, ‘Oh its [sic] incidental music. It was beautiful, but I shall never hear it again, because incidental music is very rarely published.’

Later I discovered that the music in the film was actually Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor. Because of the effect made on me by the beauty of this music, I gradually came to take an interest in symphonic and classical music in general. Nowadays one of my regular joys is listening to the symphony concerts featured by the B.B.C. on Sundays. I don’t think many of the highly emotional films would have nearly so much effect without incidental music, but I suppose there are hundreds of people who disagree with me on this point. Sometimes I try to memorise the incidental music in films and write a rough sketch of it for piano. It seems such a waste of beautiful music, that you hear it in a film and then it is so quickly forgotten. Such films as All This and Heaven Too, Marie Walewska, Juarez, Lady Hamilton, and Elizabeth and Essex, have made me read a good deal about the characters represented in films.

People and events in the past come vividly to mind on seeing the films and reading the books, and give me immense pleasure.

I always go to see films on my own. After seeing a really good dramatic film I like to go off on my own for a walk, and think the various scenes over. I don;t like to come in contact with people. They seem to intrude on my enjoyment of bringing to mind the excellent acting I had just seen.

Films such as Dark Victory, Now Voyager and Watch on the Rhine, among many others, affected me in this way, and later I wrote out the dialogue as near as I could remember it. And now if I wish to relive the scenes in any of the films, all I have to do is read over my writing.

The greatest wish of my life is to meet Bette Davis. It was on seeing her in The Sisters in 1939 that made me take an interest in films.

In my estimation, acting such as hers is beyond all praise, but if I could ever meet her, and try to tell her even a little about how much her acting means to me, I should be the happiest person in the world.

The fashions in films have no effect on me, because they are usually specially concocted for use in the studios, and are for everyday use, quite unsuitable. Hairstyles need constant professional attention if they are anything like the elaborate affairs featured by stars in some films.

2. I have never dreamed about films, but I have dreamed about individual personalities in films.

Age – 18 years. Sex – Female. Nationality – British (Scotch). Profession – Cashier. Profession of Mother – Housewife. Father is dead.

Comment: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His Sociology of Film draws on a large amount of evidence gathered through questionnaires and submissions received through invitations published in Picturegoer magazine. The above response comes from the section ‘The Adult and the Cinema’, for which responses were sought via Picturegoer in February 1945 to two questions: Have films ever influenced you with regard to personal decisions or behaviour? and Have films ever appeared in your dreams? The films mentioned are The Great Lie (USA 1941), Conquest (aka Marie Walewska) (USA 1937), Juarez (USA 1939), That Hamilton Woman (aka Lady Hamilton) (USA 1941), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (USA 1939), Dark Victory (USA 1939), Now Voyager (USA 1942), Watch on the Rhine (USA 1943) and The Sisters (USA 1938).