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).

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