The Teleview

Fanciful illustration of a Teleview show, from Motion Picture Magazine, August 1923

Source: Henry Albert Phillips, ‘The New Motion Picture: No. 1 – The Teleview’, Motion Picture Magazine, August 1923, pp. 35-36, 86

Text:
The New Motion Picture

A Series of Searching Articles Showing the Constant Efforts of the Moving Picture to Re-Create Nature and Life as We Actually Experience It

I. THE TELEVIEW

By HENRY ALBERT PHILLIPS

Of the many thrills that enlivened my boyhood days, one stands out with vivid distinctness. As I recall it now, not a little of the original “kick” comes back with the recollection. I cannot help recalling with a certain amount of wistfullness the ravishing odor of candle grease and drying Christmas tree greens. For it was very early Christmas morning. And I had come down to see what Santa had brought me and stood there shivering from the cold and mingled emotions, when my eye fell on a pasteboard box about a foot long. It looked mysterious. I removed the red ribbon with trembling fingers and a rapidly beating heart. Within was excelsior — only wonderful things were wrapped in excelsior! I was further ecstatically tantalized to find the object inclosed in tissue paper. Each of these barriers heightened my imagination to a quite alarming state, and enhanced the value of the gift out of its true proportions.

The wonderful present proved to be a stereopticon. It consisted of a wooden canopy shaped to fit the brow and shade the eyes. You held it to your face and looked thru two windows of slightly magnifying glass at pictures which were set in a sliding cross-piece and regulated according to your astigmatism, or lack of it. The peculiar part of it was, that there were two pictures side by side on the picture card, one being identical with the [other]. I remember feeling that some mistake must have been made in the pictures they had sent me, likewise a sense of dreadful waste! If they had only put two different pictures on each card, I would have had twice as many! The pictures were photographs of noteworthy scenes the world over. There was the Brooklyn Bridge, I remember, with the low skyline of buildings in the background of New York of the eighties: there was a chamois standing on a mountain crag, with a breath-taking abyss beside him and other mountains in the background; and some hunters standing with their clogs in an open field, with a wood in the background. In other words, I remember, that there was always a foreground and a background in every picture, with distinct “air spaces” intervening between the two.

If for one moment, I had had any doubts of a possible commonplaceness in my stereopticon and its “views,” they immediately vanished when I looked thru the little windows and saw every object standing out both as big and as thick as life! I could actually see behind each object! By this, I mean objects did not appear as objects usually do when drawn on a flat surface, like so many facsimile shadows, but they actually had body, length, breadth and thickness and were actually separate from other objects around them. Why, you could actually feel the nearness of the near objects and calculate the distance of those far away. It was as tho each object in the picture had been cut out and stood up separately and accurately in relative distance one from the other.

This magical toy has never yet ceased to thrill and delight me. It brought ordinary scenes to life, or at least it lacked one essential which seemed too audacious for me to conjecture even — motion! Add motion to our three-dimension picture and the magic would be complete — for, bear in mind, that objects were magnified to the normal dimensions in which they would be perceived by the naked eye, known as “life-size.”

Well, this magic picture — which seemed too blasphemous for my boyish mind to consider possible — has come into being, like so many other undreamed-of wonders, in this Age of Invention in which we are living open-mouthed. The Moving Picture Stereopticon is here! They call it — possibly for the same reason that a living apartment in a more or less high building is called a “Flat” — the Teleview. That name has numbed thousands of potential patrons into a state of innocuous disinterestedness.

However, altho a name may give a thing a black eye, it cant hurt it if its character is good and sound. Call it even Teleview and the virtue of the device will survive.

It is human nature and cupidity in the crowd that makes it shrink from novelties of progress — especially if they have to dip their hands into their pockets and contribute a few cents to support the idea at a critical moment; while this same crowd, propelled by the same human nature, will flock en masse to witness some act of decadence — such as fire, murder or suicide — admission free! At the recent showing of the Teleview in one of New York’s big theaters, the public showed considerable interest over it — only when they had read the publicity stuff about it they yawned and went to bed, instead of going to see it and catering to their better faculties. Several of the passholders in the seat behind me showed that rare good taste so often exhibited by pass-holders — and all other people who get good things for nothing – by sneering audibly during the performance and, on leaving, announcing in scornful tones that the whole show was rotten.

There is probably something to be said on both sides. Restricting ourselves to the Teleview process of projection, I must acknowledge having witnessed a really marvelous exhibition. When we step aside from the invention proper and touch upon the judgment and skill of those responsible for the selection and production of “the first moving picture to be produced in three dimensions,” then I too must join those who remarked that there was surely something rotten in Teleview’s Denmark.

The picture-play was called “M-A-R-S.” From scenario to directing, and directing to acting, it was among the worst ten pictures I ever saw, and that is saying a great deal. To mention names in this instance is to call names. They have suffered enough. But the point remains, that Teleview suffered a great deal unjustifiedly. The critics went and their odoriferous opinion of the picture made them dub the whole performance as being one and the same piece of cheese. Honest, interested spectators came and had their sincere enthusiasm numbed by an hour and a half’s boredom. Outside, were thousands upon thousands of credulous people who would have been willing to go to see Teleview — and kill two movie birds with one stone as it were, by seeing this wonderful new process and a good picture at the same time — if the picture had been only as bad as the average. So their scientific end was excellent, but their artistic end was not. Because of this error — oh, so common! — in artistic judgment and execution, thousands of people may not see this wonderful new process so soon as they might otherwise have done so.

The reason for all this is simple. Teleview picture making is costly from beginning to end. A special camera is necessary, a special method in the processes between exposure and projection, and, finally, in seeing the pictures on the screen it is necessary for each individual spectator to look thru what corresponds to our former stereopticon, which consists of two little windows within which passes a revolving shutter operated by a tiny motor. Here’s the rub — both in the matter of enormous expense to the producer, and also in [that] of training the spectator to his comfort and savoir faire [to] adjust his individual apparatus and maintain the rigid poise necessary to keep his eyes on a level with the small apertures.

The Teleview method of motion picture photography, production and projection is the invention of Lawrence Hammond, assisted by William F. Cassidy, both of the class of 1919 at Cornell.

“To see the Teleview pictures on the screen it is necessary for each individual spectator to look thru what corresponds to our former stereopticon, which consists of two little win- dows within which passes a revolving shutter operated by a tiny motor”

Looking with the naked eye upon Teleview pictures projected on the screen, we find a blurred double image with a fuzzy suggestion of chromatic colors permeating it. And it is true that there really are two images on the screen; one superimposed — slightly off-center — over the other. In the projection-room you will find two projection machines operating in co-ordination and each throwing its contributive image on the screen simultaneously. Going further back, we learn that the subject-matter was originally photographed with a stereoscopic, or double-lensed, camera these lenses have been adjusted to a distance apart corresponding to the space — optically speaking — between the two human eyes.

An observation by the writer at this point might be helpful to the reader in understanding and visualizing the Teleview method at this stage of its development. Several years ago I had a serious infection of the eyes. An operation and heroic treatment effected a cure, but I suffered a collapse of the optical muscles. They refused to binoculate. I saw two images. Each eye saw separately. You can do the same thing, by deliberately forcing the eyeballs to draw themselves so as to look in two straight parallel lines. You will then see two slightly blurred images.

The ingenious feature of the method is introduced at this point. Just before the projection on the screen begins, spectators become aware that the stereoscope device, thru which they must look at the screen, has suddenly come to life! We can hear a slight whirring and feel a tiny smooth vibration within. It is the motor within each instrument. Perhaps we had noted on first examining the instrument that it contained a small, two-vaned “shutter,” which persisted in sticking in one of the windows and thus threatening to spoil our clear view of the screen. But now we note with satisfaction that the shutter has mysteriously disappeared! The fact is that it is revolving so fast that we cannot see it.

Now, this shutter co-ordinates perfectly with the projection machine and cuts off the vision of each eye alternately so that one eye sees one “frame” — as each separate picture that forms the strip of pictures is called — and the other eye sees only the following or alternate one. Because of the infinitesimal elapse of time — l/196th of a second — of the duration of each impression, they seem to be simultaneous but separate images. When they are blended in the brain they give the sensation of depth, observable in the old- fashioned stereoscope. The ordinary rate of 16 pictures to the foot is used.

The cost of equipping a theater with mechanical shutters is given by the inventors as five dollars a seat, separate shutters being necessary for each observer. The cost of producing a picture by this method is said to be about double.

The result of witnessing a Teleview moving picture is startling. In stereoscope “still” pictures we were impressed with the realism induced by the appearance of solid images with perceptible air-spaces between them. With these “real” images set in motion, the effect is astonishing. But one gets a real thrill when moving objects are set in motion coming directly toward the spectator. They actually leap from the screen! The result is uncanny. One shrinks back for an instant to avoid what must prove a disastrous impact. The illusion is perfect.

The background of the photographic picture appears to be no farther distant than the surface of the actual screen from the spectator. Any person or object in the picture that moves in any degree from the picture background toward the observer seems actually to step out of the picture and approach. Thus moving figures appear to be carrying on the action on a real stage projected toward the audience in front of a realistic back-drop.

What presumably happens is that objects approach just as close to each individual spectator as they did to the camera. The audience is really looking thru the lens of the camera, which has been made to synchronize with the universal focus and vision of all who see it thereafter. The eye of the cameraman has attended to that. Thus, if an object is moved to within six feet of the camera, it seems to have emerged from the background and approached to within the same distance of each spectator. I sat at a distance of let us say one hundred feet from the screen and yet the illusion in one or two instances was so perfect that I felt convinced that if I had put out my hand I could almost have touched the foremost objects in the picture!

And Teleview is only one of the many indications showing the marvelously rapid advance of the motion picture to spheres of perfection and efficiency at which we can only hazard a guess from day to day!

Comments: Henry Albert Phillips (1880–1951) was an American film scenarist and editor of Motion Picture Magazine. The science-fiction feature film M.A.R.S. (aka The Man from M.A.R.S.) was first exhibited in December 1922 as part of a programme of films demonstrating the ‘teleview’ invention of Laurens Hammond (also inventor of the Hammond organ). The ‘teleview’ was a glass viewer with a revolving shutter attached to the side of the cinema seat that was operated by a small motor. The special ‘teleview’ camera had two lenses, giving a blurred picture to the naked etye, but through the projection device a stereoscopic effect was produced, though the effect was restricted to a small projection space. The film was re-issued in August 1923 as Radio-Mania in non-stereoscopic form, being either entirely re-shot or possibly filmed simultaneously with a normal camera. No further ‘teleview’ films were made. Stereopticon was an American term for the magic lantern.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Straw Hats and Serge Bloomers

Source: Eileen Elias, Straw Hats and Serge Bloomers (London: W.H. Allen, 1979), p. 126

Text: I always claimed that I didn’t care for Westerns; they were or children, and I considered myself too old for such childish things. Nevertheless, when on occasion I did see them, I found myself riveted to my seat as the flying spectacle galloped by. It was as thrilling and alarming as Harold Lloyd and his window-sill hanging, only in a different way; I didn’t want to jump out of my seat, but cringe within it as the racing hoofs swept past, it seemed, only a few feet from my nose. Things came to a climax when Ben Hur arrived on the screen, better far than any Western with its famous chariot-race scene. This was a stupendous film which we all must see, Father pronounced; so off we trooped to the local cinema and sat in a trance watching the close-ups — and how close they seemed! — of whirling wheels and galloping hoofs while the organ surpassed itself in a frenzy. We came out with our heads spinning, and all that night I lay in bed, my dreams full of the thunder of chariots and the tug of leather harness just about to give way as the rival competitors passed and re-passed each other on the course. Ben Hur broke all records in the West End, and toured all the local cinemas while whole
families went to watch it again and again. The art of the cinema, it seemed, could reach no further: Ben Hur had said it all.

Comments: Eileen Elias was an author of books on child management and memoirs of her Lewisham upbringing. This passage part of a detailed and atmospheric chapter on cinemagoing in London in the 1920s in her books Straw Hats and Serge Bloomers. Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (USA 1925), directed by Fred Niblo and starring Ramon Novarro, was based on the novel by Lew Wallace. It was one of the most expensive but also one of highest-grossing films of its era.

Impressions of America

Source: T.C. Porter, Impressions of America (London: C. Arthur Pearson, Limited, 1899), pp. 193-194

Text: At dinner, some printed notices laid by our plates reminded us that the kinematoscope was at work in the town, showing in several separate scenes the fight between Fitz-Simmons and Corbett. Wishing to see how such exhibitions in America compared with those at home, I took a seat, perhaps rather too near the screen, and witnessed the struggle between the two athletes. The flicker was unpleasant throughout, which means that somehow or other more pictures should be thrown on the screen per second; and what is more trying to the eyes is the want of correct register in successive views, which causes the whole view on the screen to wobble up and down through a small distance, perhaps two or three inches. This often made it impossible to follow any rapid action, and I should think might be partly due to the nature of the film on which the pictures are taken. On the whole, I do not think this particular show was nearly so good as the “Biograph” entertainment in London.

One thing interested me a good deal. I noticed that a man sitting next to me viewed the pictures through two small holes, cut out in a sheet of dark-coloured paper. He told me it notably lessened the flicker. I tried the plan, and found it work, as my informant said: but it cut off too much light to my mind, so I did not use it long. Several of the scenes which happened just after the wrestling were shown. A man passing in the foreground looked up for an instant towards the audience with a tragically woe-begone expression, whilst the conductor or expositor, whichever he should be called — simply remarked, “That is Mr. So-and-so; he has just lost 70,000 dollars!” Perhaps that is not the exact sum mentioned; in any case it was large enough to provoke most unfeeling mirth on the part of the spectators.

Comments: Thomas Cunningham Porter (1860-1933) was a British physicist and Eton schoolmaster, member of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Physical Society of London. The world heavyweight boxing championship between James Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons was held at Carson City, Nevada on 17 March 1897. The full fight was filmed by the Veriscope company using a 63mm-wide film format and was widely exhibited, the full film being 11,000 feet in length and lasting around an hour-and-a-half. There was no projector called a ‘Kinematoscope’. The screening took place in Colorado.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

New Chapter in Wireless History

Source: ‘A Wireless Correspondent’, ‘New Chapter in Wireless History’, Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 1 October 1929, p. 5

Text: NEW CHAPTER IN WIRELESS HISTORY.

Television Demonstrated.

SEEING AND HEARING AT THE SAME TIME.

[By a Wireless Correspondent].

The first public broadcast of television took place yesterday, the transmission being sent out from the 2LO aerial in Oxford Street.

I was one of the few who were able to listen in and “look in” at the same time. We were gathered in a room the headquarters of the Baird Television Development Company in Long Acre, London. There was installed a Baird television receiver, and while we heard the speech and music issuing from a loud speaker which formed part of the apparatus, looking into a glass screen on the front of the cabinet we were able to sec the devised faces of the speakers and the artists, among whom were Sir Ambrose Fleming, tho distinguished scientist and inventor of the wireless valve; Professor E.N. de C. Andrade, another well-known scientist; Mr. Sydney Howard, the comedian; and Miss Lulu Stanley. The studio was connected by land line to Savoy Hill, and tho televised faces were passed on to the Oxford Street transmitter, where they were broadcast in the ordinary way.

Two wave lengths are necessary, however, for television listeners to hear and see the broadcasts simultaneously, and at present the B.B.C. only have one wave length available. Hence any listeners who were in possession of Baird television receivers yesterday were able only to hear and see alternately. It is hoped that when the twin-wave length transmitter is in operation, simultaneous transmission will tako place enabling listeners to see and hear at the same time. We were able to this yesterday because there was a special line connecting tho receiver to tho studio, so that while the B.B.C. were broadcasting the televised face of the speaker, his words came through the loud speaker. The televised image was “picked up” by means of an ordinary aerial on the roof of the building.

Features Recognised.

At the outset, a letter was read from Mr. William Graham, President of the Board of Trade, who stated that he looked this new applied science to encourage and provide a new industry not only for Britain and the British Empire, but for the whole world. “This new industry,” he added, “will provide employment for a large number our people, and will prove the prestige of British creative energy.” In an introductory speech, Sir Ambrose Fleming, who is the president of the Television Society, remarked that television would contribute to the pleasure of countless persons. After Sir Ambrose came Professor Andrade and then Mr. Sydney Howard, whose features were easily recognisable. We could see clearly the movement of his lips as he spoke and his varying expressions as he moved about in front of thee televisor. “This is Television Monday.” he said, “and I am the vision,” and we could see him smiling he said it. “Really I not know why people should have my ‘mug’ inflicted on them,” he added. Next came Miss King, who is member of the Baird staff, and Miss Lulu Stanley, both of whom sang before the televisor. We heard their voices and saw their changing expressions as they sang.

Not Perfect Yet.

Sir Ambrose Fleming summed up the situation in a nutshell when he said me afterwards “At the present time, the B.B.C. have a vast music-hall for the blind in which people can hear but see nothing. What Mr. Baird has done is to provide them with opera glasses or spectacles in which the audience can see well as hear.” It is obvious, of course, that much progress will have to be made before the same degree of perfection reached with television is now attained with ordinary speech broadcasts, but yesterday’s demonstration showed that much has already been done, the televised faces of to-day being marked improvement on the image the early television experiments. Mr. Baird told me that he was perfectly satisfied with the broadcast, and he was particularly glad that he had now been afforded opportunity making a public broadcast. “Men’s faces broadcast better than women’s,” he remarked. “Some men’s faces come out better than others because their features are more marked.” He added that they do not propose that there should any television on a large scale until a satisfactory television service can be provided. At present, very few television sets are in existence.

Comments: The Baird Televisor was first demonstrated to an invited audience in 1926. The BBC began experimental broadcasts using inventor John Logie Baird’s system on 30 September 1929 (a Monday), at 11:00am, in Long Acre, London.

Links: Copy at British Newspaper Archive (subscription site)

Light Visible and Invisible

Children at Play no. 1 (R.W. Paul, 1896)

Source: Silvanus Thompson, Light Visible and Invisible: a series of lectures delivered at the Royal institution of Great Britain, at Christmas, 1896, with additional lectures (London: Macmillan, 1912, 2nd ed. [orig. pub. 1897]), pp. 97-99

Text: Another example of effects produced by persistence of the optical impressions in the eye is afforded by an old toy, the zoetrope, or wheel of life; in which the semblance of motion is given to pictures by causing the eye to catch sight, in rapid sequence, through moving slits, of a series of designs in which each differs slightly from the one preceding. Thus if you want to make the sails of a windmill seem to go round, the successive pictures must represent the sails as having turned round a little during the brief moment that elapses between each picture being glimpsed and the next being seen. These intervals must be less than a tenth of a second, so that the successive images may blend properly, and that the movement between each picture and the next may be small. Mr. Muybridge has very cleverly applied this method to the study of the movements of animals. Anschutz’s moving pictures, illuminated by intermittent sparks, were the next improvement. And the latest triumph in this development of the subject has been reached in the animatograph, which the inventor, Mr. R. Paul, has kindly consented to exhibit.

The animatograph pictures are photographed upon a travelling ribbon of transparent celluloid; the time which elapses between each picture being taken and the next being about one-fiftieth of a second. A scene lasting half a minute will, therefore, be represented by about 1500 pictures, all succeeding one another on a long ribbon. If these pictures are then passed in their proper order through a special lantern, with mechanism that will bring each picture up to the proper place between the lenses, hold it there an instant, then snatch it away arid put the next in its place, and so forth, the photograph projected on the screen will seem to move. You see in a street scene, for example, the carts and omnibuses going along; the horses lift their feet, the wheels roll round, foot passengers and policemen walk by. Everything goes on exactly as it did in the actual street. Or you see some children toddling beside a garden seat. A big dog comes up, and the boy jumps astride of him, but falls off, and rises rubbing his bumps. Or a passenger steamer starts from Dover pier: you see her paddles revolve, the crowd on the pier wave farewells with handkerchiefs or hats, the steamer wheels round, you see the splash of foam, you note the rolling clouds of black smoke proceeding from her funnel, then she goes out of sight round the corner. The reality of the motions is so great that you feel as though you had veritably seen it all with your own eyes. And so you have. You have just as truly seen the movements of the scene as when you have listened to the phonograph you have heard the voice which once impressed the record of its vibrations. Of all the animatograph pictures those that appeal most to me are the natural scenes, such as the waves rolling up into a sea-cave and breaking on the rocks at its mouth, and dashing foam and spray far up into its interior. Nothing is wanting to complete the illusion, save the reverberating roar of the waves.

Comments: Professor Silvanus Phillips Thompson (1851-1916) was a British professor of physics and member of the Royal Society. The above passage comes from a series of lectures Thompson gave at the Royal Institution over Christmas 1896. The Animatograph was a projector produced by British engineer and film producer Robert William Paul. The films mentioned include Children at Play [no.1] (1896, frmes reproduced here from Thompson’s book) and A Sea Cave Near Lisbon (1896).

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The “Theatrograph” in Court

Source: ‘The “Theatreograph” in Court’, The Era, 18 July 1896, p. 7

Text: At the Clerkenwell County Court, on Tuesday, Robert William Paul, of 44, Hatton-garden, inventor and patentee of the “theatrograph,” and well known for his exhibitions at Olympia, Earl’s-court, and the principal music halls, was the plaintiff in an action to recover from “Wonderland, Limited,” a music hall company conducting their business in Whitechapel-road, £22 10s., three weeks’ rent of electric accumulators supplied to the defendants on hire. The defendants counterclaimed for £15 damages. Mr Gill, barrister, was for the plaintiff; and Mr Dodd, barrister, for the defendants.

The plaintiff’s case was that in April last he was engaged by the defendants, through their managing director, Mr Jonas Woolf, to give performances with his theatrograph at “Wonderland.” For these the plaintiff was to receive £20 a-week, in addition to £7 10s. a-week for supplying accumulators on lire, the defendants to provide the electric current. The plaintiff exhibited for three weeks, and was paid his salary, but had received nothing for the hire of the accumulators.

The defendants admitted their indebtedness for two weeks only. In support of their counterclaim they alleged they had bet heavily through the neglect of the plaintiff, whose performances were a complete failure. It was his duty to provide the electric current, but he had not done so, contenting himself with the use of weak batteries obtained from the defendants, and afterwards of limelight apparatus. The result was that the illusions presented by the “Theatrograph” were blurred and indistinct. The audience, it was said, used to hiss the performance, and many people had demanded and received back their money. The “Theatrograph” was the “star attraction” and, owing to its failure, the takings of “Wonderland (Limited)” fell in one week from £128 to £73, and in the next to £58.

Mr Gill (to Mr Woolf) – You say the “Theatrograph” was your star attraction, and that the losses of your music hall were due to its failure? Witness – The rest of the programme was mere padding.

Mr Gill (reading from a poster) – Do you call the Bear Lady padding – “A native of Africa, full grown, whose arms and legs are formed in exactly the same manner as the animal after which she is named?” Witness – Yes, the Bear Lady was padding.

Mr Gill – And the Fire Queens, “who have appeared before the Prince of Wales, the King and Queen of Italy, and King and Queen of Portugal, who pour molten lead into their mouths, lick red-holt pokers, and remain several minutes enveloped in flames and fire?” Witness – Yes, the Fire Queens were also padding.

Mr Gill – I am not surprised that these monstrous exaggerations damaged your business. It was not the theatrograph.

Judge Meadows White held that it was the duty of the defendants to have supplied a proper light, the absence of which had caused the failures of which they complained. He gave judgment for the plaintiff, with costs, and disallowed the counter-claim.

Comments: Wonderland was an entertainment venue in Whitechapel in London’s East End. It was best-known for hosting boxing bouts, but included other kinds of entertainment, including the Theatrograph projector of British inventor Robert Paul, whose poor reception in April (two months after its public debut) Clerkenwell County Court decided was due to poor illumination from the venue’s accumulators, at a hearing on 14 July 1896.

Links: Copy at British Newspaper Archive (subscription site)

The Night Side of Europe

Source: Karl Kingsley Kitchen, The Night Side of Europe, as seen by a Broadwayite abroad (Cleveland: The David Gibson company, 1914), pp. 161-162

Text: Damascus boasts of three theatres — all cinemas, as the “movies” are called in the Orient. I chose the Palace Theatre, near the hotel, because on its billboards it announced a troupe of dancers in addition to its photo plays. Twenty piasters (80 cents) bought a box, which was located in the balcony overlooking one of the strangest audiences in the world. The entire lower floor was filled with turbaned Arabs and befezed Syrians smoking “hobble bobbles,” as the Turkish water pipes are called in Syria. When you take your seat in a Damascus theatre, you are asked by the usher if you want a “hobble bobble,” and if so one is provided for a trifling tip.

Nearly five hundred men were puffing away downstairs, while thirty or forty smart looking Turkish officers were in the tier of boxes when I took my place. The pictures — mostly French made films — were shown without musical accompaniment, and when the lights were turned on after forty minutes of darkness a third of the audience was asleep.

Under the guidance of my dragoman I visited two cafes chantants, where the few unattached European women in Damascus make their headquarters, and where the “night life” of the officers and higher officials centers. One of the cafes — known as the American bar — proved quite gay. Its guests were being entertained by a phonograph, and I was informed that there would be muscle dancing as soon as the performers could leave the Palace Theatre.

That sent me back to the Victoria Hotel in a hurry, where I found real “night life” under my mosquito bar. But that, as Kipling says, is another story.

Comments: Karl Kingsley Kitchen (1885-1935) was an American travel writer, newspaper columnist and bon viveur. His book The Night Side of Europe documents his experiences of theatres across Europe, Russia and the Near East. In 1914, Syria was part of the Ottoman empire.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

A Pound of Paper

Source: John Baxter, A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict (London: Doubleday, 2002), pp. 103-106

Text: But then, around 1965, whatever it was that made the Sixties such a distinctive decade began to work its liberating magic on Australia. Hints of other lifestyles and different points of view drifted across our skies like UFOs. Some saw them in the literature of the Beat Generation, others in rock music, but for me the vehicle of revelation was the movies.

Most Saturdays, I’d stop book hunting around noon, buy a slab of roast pork-belly at the Chinese takeaway on Campbell Street, watch the owner hack it into slices with his cleaver, then carry it with a bottle of Coke across the road to the Capitol Cinema. There I would pay, in those pre-decimal days, 2s 6d for a ticket and search the empty circle for a seat without protruding springs to spike my backside, and where I could munch the deliciously greasy spiced meat with no risk of being rousted by some officious usher.

A few moments usually remained before the start of the first film in the day’s double bill to contemplate John Eberson’s flaking midnight-blue ceiling, and wonder how it would look with its tiny stars illuminated — a feature rusted up long before I discovered the place. Since then, the Capitol has been restored and even its stars shine once more, but in those days its greatest appeal resided in its shabbiness, offering as it did both cheapness and anonymity. One could lose oneself in the warm dark — ‘lie low,’ as Leonard Cohen said, ‘and let the hunt go by’.

But what drew me back every week was the films. Mostly black and white and Italian or French, invariably dubbed into English, cut down to a jerky ninety minutes, and further hacked by the film censor, they reflected lives utterly alien to someone who’d never eaten an olive, seen a subtitled film, spoken to a Frenchman or kissed a girl, let alone slept with one.

Occasionally, during my adolescence, a foreign film had reflected back some flashes of my own experience — a 1954 movie called The Game of Love, for instance (a title attached by British distributors to almost anything French where the heroine removed a garment more intimate than a cardigan). Two teenagers, friends since infancy, meet at the same resort every year. They’re too shy to do anything about their mutual attraction until an older woman seduces the boy. The experience frees him to see his childhood friend for the first time, but undermines their uncomplicated love. An adaptation, in short, of Colette’s Le Blé en herbe — Ripening Seed. But its world of the beach and holidays was familiar enough to hint at lessons I might put into practice, some time, with some woman, if I ever got to know any.

Anybody in Australia hoping to learn about life from the cinema faced an uphill struggle in the Sixties. Nudity, violence, horror, obscenity, blasphemy and sedition — the censors cut them all. In the film of John O’Hara’s Butterfield 8, Liz Taylor, explaining to Eddie Fisher how she came to be a ‘party girl’ — i.e., part-time prostitute — traces it back to childhood, when a boyfriend of her mother’s, whom she regarded as a sort of uncle, took her on his knee and ‘interfered with’ her. Liz goes on, ‘But the worst thing was…’ At which point the film hiccuped, the sure sign of a cut. The next shot was of Fisher, looking bemused. Only much later did we discover that Liz said, ‘But the worse thing was, I enjoyed it.’ Enjoying sex? Obviously that had to go.

Interesting as I found the occasional flashes of eroticism in foreign films, the one that got me thinking most had no sex at all. The version presented at the Capitol was known as The Bandit’s Revenge, though it was actually called Salvatore Giuliano. Set in the rocky landscape of Sicily, it was a half documentary / half drama about a young man — face never seen — who, dressed in an incongruous grey dustcoat and with a World War II machine gun over his shoulder, led his gang against … who exactly? I couldn’t make that out. It would be years before I decoded the film, but Francesco Rosi’s darting direction remade my sense of how a story is told, as did the near-operatic behaviour of the characters – the old man who walks to a hilltop, for instance, and apostrophizes his native land like a character from Greek tragedy. Above all, the ink black and lime white of Gianni di Venanzo’s photography prepared me for Antonioni and the French new wave, just as the content lured me to history, politics, and, above all, to Europe.

Comments: John Baxter (1939- ) is an Australian writer of science fiction, film criticism and memoir. The cinema to which he refers is the Capitol Theatre, Sydney. The films he mentions are Le Blé en herbe (France 1954), Butterfield 8 (1960) and Salvatore Giuliano (Italy 1954).

Industrial Town

Source: Charles Forman, Industrial Town: Self Portrait of St Helens in the 1920s (London: Paladin Books, 1979 [orig. pub. 1978]), pp. 120-121

Text: THE JOINER, BORN c. 1905

My brother and I used to get 1½d every Saturday to go to the picture palace. There was one film and lantern slides. It used to be a gymnasium. You climbed on the bars to get a better spec. There was a cinema at the top of Helena House, the Co-op building. It was 1d to go in and ½d for two ounces of toffee. We used to give one of the halfpennies to a friend. He had no money, there were too many of them, seven in the family. If we gave the two halfpennies to him, the three of us could go in. The children’s idol was a fellow called ‘Pimple’ – in the same year as Flora Finch. He was a fellow like a clown. He came on in a series each week – ‘Pimple at the North Pole’. Then there wasn’t enough film to go round all afternoon. The lantern slides used to come on – pictures of plants, flowers and birds, the drawing-room scenes. Sometimes they told a story.

Comments: Charles Forman’s Industrial Town is a collection of eye-witness accounts of life in the Lancashire town of St Helens in 1920s (and earlier, as with this account). ‘Pimple’ was a character played by British comedian Fred Evans, who plays the character in a long series of short films in the 1910s. The film referred to was Lieutenant Pimple’s Dash for the Pole (UK 1914). Flora Finch was a British comic actress popular in American films.

Leaves from a Greenland Diary

Source: Ruth Bryan Owen, Leaves from a Greenland Diary (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1935), pp. 162-164

Text: Julianehaab has been out in boats and kayaks all day, circling around the ship, and when the Danes and the principal Greenlanders and their wives came on board, for a moving picture show this evening, all the rest of Julianehaab was grinning genially through the portholes and feeling equally a part of the unprecedented festival.

I wondered what the Greenlanders, who were having their first experience with moving pictures, must have thought. Even if the first film, a drama of the covered wagon days in the West may have been a little incomprehensible to people who have never seen horses or a wagon, the antics of Mickey Mouse were well within the range of everyone’s understanding. One Eskimo nudged his wife so violently at Mickey’s vagaries that he almost pushed her off the slippery bench. Certainly Mickey Mouse never had more rapt attention or more whole-hearted appreciation!

There were Bestyrrer Ipsen and his wife and Landsfoged Svane on the front seat, of course; and there were Walsoe and Froken Sabroe, the school-teacher, and the telegraph operator and his wife and children, and the young clergyman who is heading the Julianehaab high school of 24 pupils. And there were Pavia, in his white anorak, and the Eskimo village councilmen and their wives.

After the movie show, they all came into the wardroom for coffee and cakes and music from the big electric gramophone. All of the blaze of electric lights was actually there in their harbor, close to their candles and blubber-lamps. The big searchlight of the Champlain played around over the hills, picking out here a little red painted house and there a boatload of Greenlanders who screamed with amusement as the blinding light fell upon them. All the shining brass and gleaming paint of the ship, all the leather and silver in the wardroom, all of the bit of America, for that incredible hour in their harbor, was being absorbed, along with the coffee and cakes.

Comments: Ruth Bryan Owen (1885-1954) was an American politician. In 1933 she became the first women to be appointed a US ambassador, when President Franklin Roosevelt assigned her to Denmark and Iceland. Greenland had been owned by Denmark since 1814. Owen had been a filmmaker herself, writing and directing a self-funded feature film, Once Upon a Time aka Scheherazade (1922), an ambitious undertaking for an amateur. which gained some distribution through the Society for Visual Education.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust