Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918

Source: Extract from interview with Olive Simmonds, C707/335/1-2, 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, http://dx.doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-2000-1

Text: Q: Did you ever go to the cinema?

A. They weren’t there. No. No. The – when we were – children at school we used to get little tickets given at the gates, to take home – and – if you – had that ticket and it came on Saturday afternoon you could go in for a penny. It was the beginnings of pictures. But mother flatly refused. She’d known cases where there’d been a fire and lots of little children had been – burnt and – or killed, every – you cannot go. Not there, So – there was absolutely nothing up to my being – thirteen of that kind at all. But aft – because of the risks and the dangers.

Comments: Olive Simmonds (1890-?) was born in Silsden, West Yorkshire, her family moving to Addingham, then Long Lee, before they moved to a drapery shop in Beechcliffe, nearly Keighley, just before she was thirteen. Any public entertainments would have been in Keighley. She was 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).

Untold Stories

Source: Alan Bennett, Untold Stories (London: Faber and Faber, 2005), pp. 170-171

Text: I had no notion as a child that going to the pictures was a kind of education, or that I was absorbing a twice-weekly lesson in morality. The first film I remember being thought of as ‘improving’ was Henry V, which, during our brief sojourn at Guildford, was playing permanently at Studio I at the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street. I saw it, though, with my primary school at the local Odeon in Guildford, and that it was meant to be educational did not stop it being, for me, magical, particularly the transformation from the confines and painted scenery to the realities of the siege and battlefield in France. The reverse process had the same effect so that the final cut back to the Globe and the actors lining up for their call still gives me a thrill.

Seeing films one also saw – always saw – the newsreels, though only one remains in my memory. It would have been some time in 1945 and it was at the Playhouse, a cinema down Guildford High Street. Before the newsreel began there was an announcement that scenes in it were unsuitable for children and that they should be taken out. None were; having already waited long enough in the queue nobody was prepared to give up their hard-won seat. It was, of course, the discovery of Belsen with the living corpses, the mass graves and the line-up of sullen guards. There were cries of horror in the cinema, though my recollection is that Mam and Dad were much more upset than my brother and me. Still, Belsen was not a name one ever forgot and became a place of horror long before Auschwitz.

The moral instruction to be had at the cinema was seldom as shocking as this: just a slow absorption of assumptions not so much about life as about lives, all of them far removed from one’s own. There were cowboys’ lives, for instance, where the dilemmas could be quite complex and moralities might compete: small-town morality v. the morality of the gunfighter with the latter more perilous and demanding of heroism, High Noon perhaps its ultimate representation. There was the lesson of standing up to the bully, a tale told in lots of guises: in westerns, obviously, but also in historical films – Fire Over England, A Tale of Two Cities and The Young Mr Pitt all told the same story of gallant little England squaring up to the might of France or Spain, for which, of course, read Germany.

Then there were the unofficial heroes: dedicated doctors, single-minded schoolteachers, or saints convinced of their vision (I am thinking particularly of The Song of Bernadette, a film that had me utterly terrified). Always in such films it was the official wisdom v. the lone voice and one knew five minutes into the film what the hero or heroine (star anyway) was going to be up against. I suppose one of the reasons Casablanca and Citizen Kane stand out above the rest is that their morality was less straightforward. William Empson, I think, never wrote about film but there are many the plot of which this describes:

The web of European civilization seems to have been strung between the ideas of Christianity and those of a half-secret rival, centring perhaps (if you made it a system) round honour: one that stresses pride rather than humility, self-realisation rather than self-denial, caste rather than either the communion of saints or the individual soul.

It was a dilemma I was familiar with because it was always cropping up at the Picturedrome.

Comments: Alan Bennett (born 1934) is a British playwright, screenwriter, essayist and actor. Untold Stories is a collection of essays and memoir, including the section entitled ‘Untold Stories’ from which this selection comes. The films mentioned are Henry V (UK 1944), High Noon (USA 1952), Fire over England (UK 1937), A Tale of Two Cities (UK 1958 or USA 1935 – there was no film of Dickens’ novel made during the Second World War), The Young Mr Pitt (UK 1942), The Song of Bernadette (USA 1943), Casablanca (USA 1942) and Citizen Kane (USA 1941). Newsreels of Belsen were shown in British cinemas from 30 April 1945.

The Diaries of William Lyon Mackenzie King

Source: Diaries of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, MG26-J13, Library and Archives Canada, entry for 22 January 1900

Text: Monday, 22 January 1900

Tonight Frank Lay came here to dinner & took me to a performance at Egyptian Hall. It was one of the best variety shows I have ever seen, good conjuring, splendid cinematograph views, with scenes from Africa, of Seaforth Highlanders on train, [two words illegible] armoured train, Kruger etc. The “box” trick is the most wonderful trick I have ever seen, people put into a box & disappear, & one box put into another with persons inside & he appears outside of both. After performance took Lay to Colonial Club where we had tea [?].

Comments: William Lyon Mackenzie King (1874-1950) was three times Prime Minister of Canada. His handwritten diaries have been transcribed by Library and Archives Canada. The Egyptian Hall was an exhibition hall in Piccadilly, London, at this period specialising in magic shows. The films mentioned depicted scenes from the Anglo-Boer War. Mackenzie was in London studying at the London School of Economics.

Links: Diaries of William Lyon Mackenzie King

Stone walls do not

Source: Samuel Roth, Stone walls do not: the chronicle of a captivity (New York: William Faro, 1930), volume 2, pp. 297-298

Text: To-night we had the second entertainment of the season, a cinema show in the dining-room. Last week it was a picture called Telling the World. It featured a young gentleman named William Haines and a young woman named Anita Page, and it was enjoyed hugely because almost all of the love scenes were clowned by the clever Mr. Haines, and not too much was shown of the pudgy Miss Page. Last night’s entertainment, Forbidden Hours, did not fare so well. It pictured that Italian-American gentleman Ramon Navarro levelling a battery of celluloid charms at the quaintly attractive Rene Adoree, and even had the picture had some merit of pictorial honesty or beauty (which it didn’t) it could not have been liked by the thousand womenless men who watched it.

After a few passages the picture was lost on me entirely. When I see Mr. Novarro in a naval or military uniform I cannot help remembering his sleek-haired contemporary in South Prison who tortured that old “obso” to within a few hours of his pitiful end. And to keep myself from generalizing on the whole race of Navarro, I was even willing to deprive myself (who was to remain womanless for sixteen more days) of the pleasure of losing myself in the comforting admiration of the features of Miss Adoree. So, instead of continuing to watch the picture I observed the reactions of the men (some of whom had been years without women, and with many womenless years before them) to the violent passages in the conduct of the story.

It may be due chiefly to the fact that the plot was so unplausible [sic], but the audience disapproved of almost everything it saw. I do not think, however, that the men’s cynical looks and remarks arose from the demerits of the picture alone. Without consciously meaning to do so, they were resenting being reminded of the chief humiliation of being in confinement: the enforced separation from the feminine world. I do not think it is possible to visit a man with a greater humiliation, unless one were to castrate him.

Comments: Samuel Roth (1893-1974) was an American publisher, known for championing (and pirating) progressive authors such as James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence, who was imprisoned in 1929 for distributing pornography. Stone walls do not is an account of his imprisonment. The films mentioned are Telling the World (USA 1928) and Forbidden Hours (USA 1928). The ‘obsco’ refers to a prisoner under observation who had been taunted before his death by an Italian-American inmate.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

It took nine tailors

Source: Adolphe Menjou and M.M. Musselman, It took nine tailors (New York/Toronto: Whittlesey House, 1948), pp. 16-17

Text: Perhaps the years have added glamour and magnitude to my recollection of the Casino, for I still think of it as a Taj Mahal among restaurants. I have dined in some of the finest eating places in the world, but in my memory none ever compared with Father’s coup de maître. It must have been quite a place at that, for today my mother’s face still lights up when it is mentioned, and many other old Clevelanders recall its cuisine, its wine cellar, and its multiplex grandeur with that heart-felt nostalgia commonly reserved for such turn-of-the-century frivolities as bock beer, bicycles built for two, and the bird on Nellie’s hat.

The Casino was located at 325-327 Superior Street in downtown Cleveland. It was really several cafés in one. On the main floor was a bar and grill for gentlemen only. On the second floor was a subdued ladies’ café, which did not mean that it was for ladies only, but that it was for gentlemen escorting ladies. On the third floor was a more sumptuous dining room where a gypsy orchestra played sentimental music from an overhanging balcony. The top floor was given over to Cleveland’s first roof garden, which was open from eight until midnight. It was more like today’s night clubs with one exception, as my mother points out — the music, the entertainment, and the dancing were as refined as you could want in your own home.

Shortly after the Casino opened Father became one of the first motion-picture exhibitors in Cleveland. He rented a projector and some films from New York to show his roof-garden customers this interesting novelty that, up to that time, most of them had only read about in the newspapers.

On the night when the first pictures were shown at the garden, Mother allowed Henry and me to view this amazing new phenomenon — pictures that moved. We gaped in amazement at our first view of Niagara Falls in action; we fell in love with a beautiful creature who performed a “skirt dance”; and when the Empire State Express appeared on the screen and thundered straight at us, we almost jumped out of our skins.

The audience merely applauded politely at these sights; but when Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders rode onto the scene, fresh from the Battle of San Juan Hill, they were greeted by a spontaneous ovation.

In the ten or fifteen minutes it took to unreel the series of short subjects that made up the bill that night, I became an inveterate movie fan. And I am still one of Hollywood’s best customers. Some movie actors like to brag that they never even go to see their own pictures. Perhaps I’m naive, but I like the movies; I even stay for the second feature.

The day after the movies had been shown at the Casino Father reported to Mother and Grand’mère that the customers had been highly entertained by the novelty of the night before, but that they had all agreed that moving pictures were just a passing fad — like automobiles.

Comments: Adolphe Menjou (1890-1963) was an American film actor of French ancestry. His films included A Woman of Paris (1923), The Front Page (1931) and A Star is Born (1937). His father was a restauranteur, whose Casino venue opened in Cleveland around 1898. The films Menjou recalls appear to have been Biograph productions, and include Empire State Express (1896) and probably Roosevelt Rough Riders (1898). The Battle of San Juan Hill was part of the Spanish-American War and was fought on 1 July 1898. The Biograph film showed Teddy Roosevelt’s military unit galloping towards the camera, filmed before the battle.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The attitude of high school students toward motion pictures

Source: Clarence Arthur Perry, The attitude of high school students toward motion pictures (New York: National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, 1923), pp. 41-44

Text: Slapstick or vulgar:
I do not like the vulgar comedies that are sometimes shown.
It is most disgusting to watch these people throw things at each other and act silly.
I do not like comedies in which the principal characters spend a great deal of time bombarding each other with cakes, pies, etc.
I dislike many of the so-called comedies which are humorous only to the feeble-minded.
I like comedies when they are really funny, but the ones where they fight and throw pies in people’s faces are absolutely silly.
I dislike those comedies in which they rush you all about most of the time.
I don’t like foolish, silly comedies that are meant to make you laugh at any cost, even resorting to certain vulgar experiences and actions.

Not true to life:
Pictures that do not happen in every-day life I do not like.
I don’t like pictures where the hero is always having hair-breadth escapes and never gets hurt.
I don’t like comedies where a man runs over a bank and has a sensational fall and comes out alive.
Pictures showing impossible feats do not appeal to me.
I don’t like pictures in which the worthy but poor young man, against impossible conditions, wins the hand of the young millionairess.
I don’t like pictures with real slush and unnatural plots, involving divorce, suicide and all sorts of utterly impossible stunts.
I don’t like a picture in which a small man attacks about a half dozen men larger than himself and throws them off of houses and bluffs.
I don’t like the dime novel brand of thriller where the hero is always in great danger at the end of each episode.
Those stories in which the hero comes out without a scratch and gets the girl he wants are the bunk.
I don’t like pictures that seem unreal in everyday life; for example, a blind man gets back his eyesight, a thing that hardly happens every day.
I dislike pictures where the hero can do nothing wrong, and the villain is so mean he can do nothing good.

Mushy or over-sentimental:
I don’t like stories where they are always hugging and kissing during the whole show.
Of course everyone enjoys a love story once in a while, but there is too much hugging and kissing usually in the shows.
I don’t like those mushy pictures where the fellow falls over himself for the girl.
I don’t like silly love stories which don’t build up character.
I don’t like love stories with a lot of fuss.
I don’t like slushy pictures with too much display of affection.
I loathe and detest that sentimental wishy-washy stuff.

Artistically bad:
The kind of picture I do not like is the kind whose plot is old and has been told and retold and each time is but the warmed-over edition of the previous story.
I do not like these long-drawn-out senseless pictures that can be told in half an hour instead of two and a half hours.
I don’t like pictures that are made to give one thrill after another; the facts are too easily comprehended and thus spoil what good there might be in the picture.
I don’t like pictures which are padded.
I don’t like pictures where there is no plot, or no main idea to them.
I don’t like pictures without a plot, for instance, “Neptune’s Bride.”
I don’t like pictures where the whole plot consists of a girl who dances before a cheap audience.
I don’t care for the average “clever” picture that has no plot, background, purpose or scarcely any other of the essential qualities of a good film.
Pictures such as “Back Pay” should not be released; they are not interesting, educating or entertaining and only wreck the reputation of a good theatre. Many pictures like those are given harmless names and passed off on the public, while such as “Male and Female” as directed by Cecil de Mille drive crowds away from a good show by a suggestive name.

Immoral:
I don’t like a picture that shows the vamps and such like.
I don’t like pictures that are vile and that you have to be ashamed of.
I do not like pictures that are so personal that they are embarrassing for a boy and girl to go together to see.
I absolutely despise the over-emotional love story and bedroom scenes because to sit and watch them is embarrassing besides demoralizing.
I do not like pictures like the “Affairs of Anatol” that deal with such demoralizing types of people supposedly in society.
I don’t like stories with bedroom and harem scenes.
I dislike pictures where there are vulgar displays made by women, and pictures on questionable topics.
I do not like a play where the actors are not dressed properly, for instance, “Foolish Wives.”
I do not think it necessary for some actresses to wear so little clothing as they do.
I do not like those stories in which the words or actions can be taken in an immoral way as well as the way in which probably they were meant.
I don’t like stories with sex as their only excuse for being.

Murder and shooting:
I don’t like pictures where everybody gets shot.
I don’t like pictures with very much murdering.
I don’t like pictures having murdering or killing scenes in them.
I have no taste for the picture in which so many of the players get killed.
I don’t like pictures which involve murders and are taken down in Chinatown.
I don’t like murder stories that get you too excited to sleep or to concentrate on anything but the picture you have just seen.
I greatly dislike horrible picturizations which include numerous murders and terrifying incidents.

Brutality:
I do not like pictures of the villainous kind where the heroine is mistreated.
I do not like stories of hideous crimes.
I don’t like pictures that show prison life, or anything of hardship or cruelty.

Comments: Clarence Arthur Perry (1872-1944) was an American sociologist and town planner. His study The attitude of high school students toward motion pictures (1923) is based on a questionnaire circulated by the National Committee for Better Films, working with the National Board of Review. The questionnaire was sent to 600 high schools across America in May 1922 and received 44,000 responses. The questions included filmgoing habits, favourite actors, picture preferences and dislikes, attitudes towards educational films, and whether and films served as a stimulus to reading. The report is filled with interesting and useful data. The responses quoted here are a selection of those given in answer to the question “Mention any kinds of picture you do not like”. The films referred to are Neptune’s Bride (USA 1920 d. Leslie T. Peacocke), Back Pay (USA 1922 d. Frank Borzage), Male and Female (USA 1919 d. Cecil B DeMille), The Affairs of Anatol (USA 1921 d. Cecil B. DeMille), and Foolish Wives (USA 1922 d. Erich Von Stroheim).

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Female, 20, white, college sophomore’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), p. 136

Text: The first film plot which ever made an impression on me was “Reaching for the Moon,” which starred Douglas Fairbanks. This film had the usual exciting Douglas Fairbanks episodes, but it ended with the disclosure that they had all been a dream. Hitherto I had watched movies with an absorbing interest and entered unreservedly into the life portrayed, but after that I began to think about the reality of them, and began to question their validity. At first I was afraid that it all might be a dream again, and then I just began to think about the true life relationships. I began to compare the movies with life as I knew it. I began to be skeptical about many phases of movies. For the first time I realized that the effects presented were gained by technique and not by actual daring. I became curious about, and interested in, the methods by which various scenes were produced and I found out about “doubles” and artificial scenery and queer photography.

As a result of the impersonal attitude I began to have toward the movies, I felt sorry for the men who had to play the villain’s part, while before I had sincerely hated them. My ambition to be a motion-picture actress was chilled considerably when I discovered that the action was not filmed consecutively. One of the charms of that profession, as I had formerly conceived it, was the living of those exciting and lovely stories which always turned out so well if one were the hero or the heroine. Having to separate the scenes would spoil it all.

Comments: American sociologist Herbert Blumer’s Movies and Conduct presents twelve studies of the influence of motion pictures upon the young, made by the Committee on Educational Research of the Payne Fund, at the request of the National Committee for the Study of Social Values in Motion Pictures. The study solicited autobiographical essays, mostly from undergraduate students of the University of Chicago, and presented extracts from this evidence in the text. This extract comes from the section ‘Emotional Detachment’. This film referred to is Reaching for the Moon (USA 1917), not the later Douglas Fairbanks film of the same title from 1930 (which is not a remake).

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Movie-going as Resistant Community

Source: Verónica Feliu, ‘Movie-going as Resistant Community [Chile]’, in Arthur Knight, Clara Pafort-Overduin, and Deb Verhoeven (eds.), ‘Senses of Cinema-Going: Brief Reports on Going to the Movies Around the World’, Senses of Cinema, issue 68, March 2011, http://sensesofcinema.com/2011/feature-articles/senses-of-cinema-going-brief-reports-on-going-to-the-movies-around-the-world

Text: Going to the movies in Chile in the 1980’s was a fundamental experience in my life, one that has certainly shaped not only my perspective on cinema, but also my aesthetic sensibility by and large. During that time in Chile all aspects of life, including every cultural expression, were molded by a military regime that had already lasted a decade. Nothing functioned outside the scope set by a permeating system of thought, order, and raison d’être. Conversations, movements, even clothes and hair styles were reflections of a time in which cultural identity was constantly harassed, questioned, prohibited, distorted, detained.

I was young and part of a generation that was avid and hopeful, yet hopelessly realistic – we had seen too much, we demanded the impossible.

The impossible turned out to be more than we expected, and definitely more than we can imagine retrospectively. In Santiago, the capital, we had five art theaters: Cine Arte Normandie, Teatro de la Universidad Católica, El Biógrafo, plus the theaters of two international cultural centers, the Goethe Institute and the Chilean-French Cultural Institute. These cinemas were created in the 80’s and they powerfully counterbalanced the absence of cultural production originated by the state. They were also vanguard endeavors whose contribution to the cultural scene could compete with that of the most advanced democratic societies in the world. The most memorable movies of my young adulthood will be forever linked to these theaters.

Being at one of these alternative cinemas was a whole event in itself. Except for Cine Arte Normandie, which was located in a big old building, they were all small theaters situated in bohemian neighbourhoods and did little to advertise themselves. They displayed classical or rare posters from acclaimed or avant-garde productions, some of which were for sale. There was no popcorn smell, nor sodas to buy. People would bring candies or ice cream bonbons bought elsewhere. There was always smoking before and after the movie. By far, the best part was the gathering of people at the end when everybody exchanged comments about the film. Moviegoers shared a sense of satisfaction that was triggered by the thought-provoking movie, and were thrilled to be surrounded by others they felt a strong connection to. It was this sense of belonging, of sharing a worldview with others, of living for some minutes in a space without enemies or threat, that made going to these theaters so special and remarkable. Even if the movie was disappointing or too obscure, the act was complete by just recognizing some faces and glimpsing others who would most likely be at the next demonstration in the main Plaza.

But there was something else that has remained with me after all these years. It was the subtle and yet firm conviction that movie-going was not really about fun. At least not what fun means nowadays. There was certainly a sense of cult, of something you share only with people you feel intellectually close to. But there was also the aesthetics of the small space, elitist if you want, secluded, almost prohibited, that made it so exhilarating. We knew we were doing something that was only partially permitted by the authorities, regarded as some sort of a safety valve for our political desires to change the system. In a way, we knew we were observed. That double sense of being part of something and feeling renegades at the same time transformed this into a unique act, almost a performance.

After dictatorship ended in 1990 and Chile was incorporated into global markets, most movie theaters became part of the big multi-cinema chains in which little room is left for the individuals to feel their own breath, let alone to reflect upon what the movie has left in their minds. However, wonderfully enough, all the 80’s art theaters not only remain, but have become essential to a new generation of moviegoers. These youngsters no longer fear that culture could be something that puts their lives at risk, but they nonetheless have inherited the sense of complicity and excitement that a small theater and a somewhat complicated movie with an open-ended resolution gives to the restless mind.

Comments: Verónica Feliu is a professor in the Foreign Languages Department at City College of San Francisco. Her recollections of cinema-going in Chile in the 1980s were originally published in a special issue of the online film journal Senses of Cinema. I am grateful for her permission to reproduce the piece here.

Links: Senses of Cinema-Going: Brief Reports on Going to the Movies Around the World