The Value of the Cinema

Source: ‘Robin Goodfellow’, ‘The Value of the Cinema’, Cambridge Daily News, 30 August 1919, p. 4

Text: Anyone who doubts the value of the cinema in teaching history and instilling patriotism in the growing generation ought to make a point of seeing the film depicting the life story of Nelson, which was shown at the Playhouse during the early part of the week. No school lesson however interesting, could “grip” the boy or girl in the same way that this wonderful picture did the crowds of youngsters this week. It did one’s heart good to hear them cheer as one after another the outstanding events in the life of the great hero were flashed upon the screen. The schoolchildren of today are evidently taught more about the country’s naval battles than when I went to school, for a little chap sitting behind me the other evening was well up in his facts, and shouted with eagerness at the first mention of any of the engagements, little and big, in which the immortal Nelson took part. He knew his characters well, too, for Napoleon – “Old Bony”, as he irreverently termed him – came in for a full share of hisses whenever he was shown. The young folks were not quite so well acquainted with “the lady in the case” – who was Lady Hamilton? a bright looking schoolboy asked me – but that is as it should be. “Emma’s” part in the story was very cleverly and tactfully handled by the producer. I have only one fault to find with the cinema productions of to-day, and that is the shocking spelling one frequently sees in the introductory lines explaining the pictures. There was nothing wrong with this in respect with the Nelson film, but just before, following some excellent pictures of a daring flight through the Arc de Triomphe, a photo was shown of the “interprid” airman. This is not an isolated instance, by any means. I have noticed it repeatedly in different films. A little more care in this work would vastly improve matters.

Comments: ‘Robin Goodfellow’ (a pseudonym) wrote a column ‘Table Talk’ for the Cambridge Daily News, from which this account derives. The British feature film Nelson (1918) was directed by Maurice Elvey for Master-International Exclusives. The French aviator Charles Godefroy flew through the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on 7 August 1919. My thanks to Lucie Dutton for bringing this piece to my attention.

Links: Copy held at the British Newspaper Archive (subscription site)

Red, Black, Blond and Olive

Source: Edmund Wilson, Red, Black, Blond and Olive: Studies in Four Civilizations – Zuñi, Haiti, Soviet Russia, Israel (London: W.H. Allen, 1956), pp. 72-73

Text: What draws people down to this vacuum? How do they amuse themselves here?

These vacationists look soft and vapid. You rarely see a really pretty girl, and the men do not give the impression of doing much fishing or swimming. You find them at the movies in the evening. The American ideal of luxury is in Miami carried to lengths that I have never encountered before. At my hotel, I had the annoyance of removing encasements of cellophane from the toilet-seat and the drinking tumbler. In the movie-house, the seats are the kind that swing noiselessly back and forth to let people get in and out, and their cushions melt beneath one like a featherbed. A subdued indirect lighting, like the sweet creamy liquid of an ice-cream soda, bathes a dove-gray and shrimp-pink interior, the walls of which are ornamented with large cameo-like white seashells framing naked mythological figures that seem to have been badly imitated from the bas-reliefs of Paul Manship in Rockefeller Center, and with branching white plaster exfoliations that remind one of the legs and defensive antennae of the crawfish in the Miami aquarium. The film – Oh, You Beautiful Doll – was a technicolor that covered the whole surface of a high and overpowering screen with a routine sentimental romance, trumped up to manufacture glamor from the career of an American song-writer whose songs were widely sung in my college days. They were commonplace enough then, and today they are simply sickly. These attempts on the part of Hollywood to exploit the immediate past – in which the fashions of the eighties and nineties are sometimes confused with those of the twenties – show the precipitous decline of the movies as purveyors of entertainment, since the producers, after wrecking such contemporary talent as their salaries have tempted to Hollywood, have now been obliged to fall back on the favorites, first, second or third rate, of the day before yesterday and yesterday, when it was possible for a producer or an actor, a composer or a dancer, to perfect an art of his own and create for himself a reputation. Yet this product has its steady customers: one finds oneself among them here. Comfortably padded in the muffled atmosphere that seems to smell of scented face-powder – one cannot tell whether the theater has been perfumed or the women are all using the same cosmetics – this inert and featureless drove that have been drifting through the bleached sunny streets now sit watching stereotyped characters that are made to appear impressive by being photographed in very bright colors and gigantically magnified. The three shorts that follow the first showing of the film all happen to deal with animals: a hunting number, an animated cartoon that gets some not ill-deserved laughs, and a picture about racing whippets. The commentator seems slightly embarrassed at the spectacle of the uniformed attendants who have a full-time job grooming the whippets. “You may think they work as hard as the dogs,” he propounds, with his microphone emphasis that gropes through time and space and can never drive any nails. “Well, they work a lot harder!” The truth is that so many Americans, specialized in operating machines or in transacting long-distance business, have deteriorated as animal organisms, that we now have a special pleasure in watching almost any agile animal. What the audience gets out of these animal shorts is the same thing that l have been getting out of looking out the window at the birds and contrasting them with the Miami vacationers.

Comments: Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) was an American writer and critic. This account of a film show in Miami occurs at the start of an account of a visit to Haiti in 1949. Oh, You Beautiful Doll (USA 1949) was directed by John M. Stahl and starred June Haver and Mark Stevens. It was a musical based on the life of the composer Fred Fisher.

Gielgud’s Letters

Source: Letter from John Gielgud to Paul Anstee, 29 December 1996, reproduced in Richard Mangan (ed.), Gielgud’s Letters (London: Weicenfeld & Nicolson, 2004), pp. 336-337

Text: 29 December, New York

… Oh – The Chelsea Girls – an outrageous film by Andy Warhol – voyeurism in the Chelsea Hotel. It lasts 3½ hours, and is mostly out of focus – a double screen – everything goes on – mostly queers and lesbians, but you can’t see anything clearly, and the sound track is deliberately distorted. One can’t tear oneself away, but it is a crashing bore – yet the audience sits spellbound and packed. Really decadent and incredible that it is allowed. Two small children came in with their Dad, and I almost had a stroke – but I’m glad to say he removed them after about ten minutes. Yet the Catholic Church have banned Blow-Up, which doesn’t seem to me indecent at all.

Comments: John Gielgud (1904-2000) was a British actor and theatre director, one of the theatrical greats of the age. Chelsea Girls (1966) was an experimental film directed by Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey, filmed mostly at the Hotel Chelsea in New . It was shown on a split screen. Blowup was a 1966 British-Italian film directed by Michaelangelo Antonioni. The actor and designer Paul Anstee, recipient of the letter, was in a relationship with Gielgud for many years.

Brownsville Girl

Source: Bob Dylan and Sam Shepard, ‘Brownsville Girl’, from Knocked Out Loaded (1986), lyrics vis http://bobdylan.com/songs/brownsville-girl

Text: Well, there was this movie I seen one time
About a man riding ’cross the desert and it starred Gregory Peck
He was shot down by a hungry kid trying to make a name for himself
The townspeople wanted to crush that kid down and string him up by the neck

Well, the marshal, now he beat that kid to a bloody pulp
As the dying gunfighter lay in the sun and gasped for his last breath
“Turn him loose, let him go, let him say he outdrew me fair and square
I want him to feel what it’s like to every moment face his death”

Well, I keep seeing this stuff and it just comes a-rolling in
And you know it blows right through me like a ball and chain
You know I can’t believe we’ve lived so long and are still so far apart
The memory of you keeps callin’ after me like a rollin’ train

I can still see the day that you came to me on the painted desert
In your busted down Ford and your platform heels
I could never figure out why you chose that particular place to meet
Ah, but you were right. It was perfect as I got in behind the wheel

Well, we drove that car all night into San Anton’
And we slept near the Alamo, your skin was so tender and soft
Way down in Mexico you went out to find a doctor and you never came back
I would have gone on after you but I didn’t feel like letting my head get blown off

Well, we’re drivin’ this car and the sun is comin’ up over the Rockies
Now I know she ain’t you but she’s here and she’s got that dark rhythm in her soul
But I’m too over the edge and I ain’t in the mood anymore to remember the times
when I was your only man
And she don’t want to remind me. She knows this car would go out of control

Brownsville girl with your Brownsville curls
Teeth like pearls shining like the moon above
Brownsville girl, show me all around the world
Brownsville girl, you’re my honey love

Well, we crossed the panhandle and then we headed towards Amarillo
We pulled up where Henry Porter used to live. He owned a wreckin’ lot outside of town about a mile
Ruby was in the backyard hanging clothes, she had her red hair tied back. She saw us come rolling up in a trail of dust
She said, “Henry ain’t here but you can come on in, he’ll be back in a little while”

Then she told us how times were tough and about how she was thinkin’ of
bummin’ a ride back to from where she started
But ya know, she changed the subject every time money came up
She said, “Welcome to the land of the living dead”
You could tell she was so broken hearted
She said, “Even the swap meets around here are getting pretty corrupt”

“How far are y’all going?” Ruby asked us with a sigh
“We’re going all the way ’til the wheels fall off and burn
’Til the sun peels the paint and the seat covers fade and the water moccasin dies”
Ruby just smiled and said, “Ah, you know some babies never learn”

Something about that movie though, well I just can’t get it out of my head
But I can’t remember why I was in it or what part I was supposed to play
All I remember about it was Gregory Peck and the way people moved
And a lot of them seemed to be lookin’ my way

Brownsville girl with your Brownsville curls,
Teeth like pearls shining like the moon above
Brownsville girl, show me all around the world
Brownsville girl, you’re my honey love

Well, they were looking for somebody with a pompadour
I was crossin’ the street when shots rang out
I didn’t know whether to duck or to run, so I ran
“We got him cornered in the churchyard,” I heard somebody shout

Well, you saw my picture in the Corpus Christi Tribune. Underneath it,
it said, “A man with no alibi”
You went out on a limb to testify for me, you said I was with you
Then when I saw you break down in front of the judge and cry real tears
It was the best acting I saw anybody do

Now I’ve always been the kind of person that doesn’t like to trespass
but sometimes you just find yourself over the line
Oh if there’s an original thought out there, I could use it right now
You know, I feel pretty good, but that ain’t sayin’ much. I could feel a whole lot better
If you were just here by my side to show me how

Well, I’m standin’ in line in the rain to see a movie starring Gregory Peck
Yeah, but you know it’s not the one that I had in mind
He’s got a new one out now, I don’t even know what it’s about
But I’ll see him in anything so I’ll stand in line

Brownsville girl with your Brownsville curls
Teeth like pearls shining like the moon above
Brownsville girl, show me all around the world
Brownsville girl, you’re my honey love

You know, it’s funny how things never turn out the way you had ’em planned
The only thing we knew for sure about Henry Porter is that his name wasn’t Henry Porter
And you know there was somethin’ about you baby that I liked that was always too good for this world
Just like you always said there was somethin’ about me you liked
that I left behind in the French Quarter

Strange how people who suffer together have stronger connections than people who are most content
I don’t have any regrets, they can talk about me plenty when I’m gone
You always said people don’t do what they believe in, they just do what’s most convenient, then they repent
And I always said, “Hang on to me, baby, and let’s hope that the roof stays on”

There was a movie I seen one time, I think I sat through it twice
I don’t remember who I was or where I was bound
All I remember about it was it starred Gregory Peck, he wore a gun
and he was shot in the back
Seems like a long time ago, long before the stars were torn down

Brownsville girl with your Brownsville curls
Teeth like pearls shining like the moon above
Brownsville girl, show me all around the world
Brownsville girl, you’re my honey love

Comments: Bob Dylan (1941 – ) is an American singer and artist, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. His song ‘Brownsville Girl’ was co-written with the American playwright Sam Shepard (1943-2017). The Gregory Peck film to which the song refers appears not to be any one specific title, though The Gunfighter (1950) is probably the strongest influence.