Why We Go to the Pictures

Source: ‘Why We Go to the Pictures’, Cinema News and Property Gazette, 5 March 1913, p. 23

Text: Is it because of the price? Anybody can reflect upon the quality of a product by denouncing it in terms of shillings and pence, but that is not satisfying to those who study and marvel at the constantly increasing popularity of moving pictures. Such an illuminating argument is not at all complimentary to the millions upon millions of our men, women, and children who enjoy this form of entertainment, the total sum of those attending each day in the week amounting to more than one-tenth of our entire population. The millions who go each day are largely composed of occasional patrons, and this brings the total of those who enjoy presentations on the screen up to a figure of national interest and importance.

Money does not offer much of a reason for going or staying away, except among those who wouldn’t spend threepence on mere amusement if they could, or couldn’t if they would. An unfortunate proportion of our people cannot afford to lay out a penny on recreation of that kind, and another, equally unfortunate, proportion cannot enjoy anything that is inexpensive. Between these extremes may be found the sane and sound mass constituting the brain and muscle of the country, and many of them are hopeful, if not enthusiastic, about moving pictures.

As the politicians say, “We are facing a condition, not a theory,” and whatever gives so many people bliss, contentment, or relief inside of the motion-picture exhibitions pertains to a condition so extraordinary that it defies not only rational conclusion, but intelligent investigation as well. We have been going for many years, have seen all the inside workings of studios, have met the principal producers, directors, playwrights, and actors, have been thoroughly disillusioned, have sat through screen presentations that seemed to have been created for the express purpose of destroying all the charm and variety of the new art, and we are simply more deeply interested than ever.

Perhaps our interest is that of many others — we find in the crudities what one might expect in an imperfectly developed art, one in process of evolution, and in the more finished photo-dramas we gather promise of great things to come. Notwithstanding all the pains bestowed upon production and exhibition, we are fully aware of imperfections and deficiencies, yet regard them as bound to be overcome like our present political and social errors.

We love to watch or participate in growth. If we are not building a business, or a home, or a family, or a government, or a nation, we breed animals, or raise plants, or improve ourselves. Now, here is an art which is like any other art in one respect, it cannot reach perfection except through long and continued practice. Most of us have what might be called dramatic imagination, an ability to identify ourselves with the personality, fortunes, and mishaps of people in the pictured story. We have enjoyed the stage versions for many years, but the stage is mocking us to-day with shams that are not worth our time and money. Along comes a new medium of expression, one admirably suited to the swift delineation of character and narrative, and we take it up with sympathetic interest, though it may not lend itself to all recognisable shades and modifications of the drama.

Even while this New Art was groping its way men of intelligence and imagination foresaw its tremendous possibilities, and now that it is rising like a morning sun, touching here and there bits of exquisite landscape, illumining and adorning many phases of human existence, promising to give new life and spirit to what is gradually unfolding before our eyes, we feel that we are at the dawn of a new enlightenment.

There has come into existence an impressive interpreter of human emotion as well as an attractive agent for propagating knowledge. We are in at its birth, and are watching its development as an instrument of thought. Occasionally there are brilliant presentations that flash scenes upon our minds that abide with us for our betterment. Because of these and because of those which diversify our sentiments or stimulate us with new vigour we go again and again, always hoping to get in touch with minds that help solve our problems

We are not among those who believe that the legitimate stage is in its dotage, but it is every bit as difficult to sit out a round of performances in all the theatres as to tolerate the better-class of picture shows, those exhibiting new releases to appropriate music. In the former there is an affectation that is very repulsive all along the line from producers to ushers, whereas the little places of amusement are delightfully democratic. The actors in the pictured stories make no egotistical bid for plaudits, every one engaged in the entertainment seems anxious to please, and patrons are usually given to understand that they are welcome. In the better-class of exhibitions we are made to feel thoroughly “at home.”

One weakness in legitimate production is the painful lack of modern dramatists, and this is not altogether the fault of managers and theatre-owners, though they afford slender encouragement to the coming writers of plays. This is a progressive era, and an author must not only be alive to requirements of the time, but possess a rare literary knowledge in addition to a constructive grasp, a versatile imagination, and the power of taking infinite pains. When such a playwright appears, he is apt to shatter traditions, and the producer draws into his shell of conservatism.

The motion-picture producer dares all things, and those who write his plays are not expected to flourish on disappointment. However small the returns of the photo-playwright, he is often given a chance to show what he can do, and thus grow up in the work he has undertaken. On this account it is not unreasonable to look for our future dramatists among those now engaged in writing photo-play scenarios. They are fast getting at the importance of the visual appeal, and many of them are acquiring a constructive ability of high value in case they should ever turn to the more lucrative field of action.

The audiences are being educated. The universal appreciation of what is really meritorious is being raised by moving pictures to such an extent that the business men who own or run the big theatres need not long regard art as purely experimental. That keenness of perception which has always been a national characteristic is now being applied to the art of the stage so closely that moving pictures may some day be regarded as the school alike for playwrights and

Why should we not go?

Comments: Cinema News and Property Gazette was a British film trade journal, particularly aimed at cinema managers.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive


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