British Cinemas and their Audiences

Source: J.P. Mayer, British Cinemas and their Audiences: Sociological Studies (London: Dennis Dobson, 1948), p. 123

Text: AGE: 16 SEX: F
OCCUPATION: ASSISTANT LIBRARIAN NATIONALITY: BRITISH
FATHER’S OCCUPATION: BUILDER MOTHER’s OCCUPATION: HOUSEWIFE

I first became interested in films when I left school at the age of 14 years. I gave up most of the games I was so fond of. Such as Netball and shinty. I took up a position in a small library to begin with and I have succeeded to better myself within the last month.

At first I used to like a Detective film, but I soon grew tired and uninterested in them. A musical, ‘did something to me’, and as soon as I had seen one I felt lively. That was up to my 15th year. This last year has been wonderful in my film world. I visit the cinema not less than twice every week, and I have found myself keeping a record of every Picture I’ve seen since this year 1945 began.

I like a film to laugh and cry about, such as Love Story starring Stewart Granger. The Seventh Cross with Spencer Tracy and Signe Hasso, Days of Glory with Gregory Peck. The Climax with Susanna Foster and Tur[h]an Bey, and Old Aquaintance with Bette Davis and 30 Seconds Over Tokyo with Van Johnson.

As a very little girl I used to visit the cinema with my youngest brother who is five years my senior. We used to play scenes from gangster films, until we grew tired. Even now we still take a great interest in discussing our dislikes and likes together. My friends and I used to have concerts but no one took an interest to organise us
properly.

I saw Sonjy [sic] Henie many times and each time, I used to come home, put on my roller skates, and skate until I had my hearts content. I can not say I have been frightened by any Picture, but I find the love scenes holding my attention and longing to have a boy friend after the style of Gregory Peck or Van Johnson.

I hate girls who giggle and I often find myself immitating [sic] the Haughty laughter of Bette Davis.

I once fell in love with Alan Ladd only to find that he was married and has a child and possibly children by now.

If I go out with a boy it sometimes gets on my nerves because he does not say nice things as Robert Taylor probably would. When Ive seen a Susanna Foster film I feel like singing just like her. I have often wanted to be away from home in one of the services, such as being a nurse, but I am too young.

In other words, ‘I’m just an in-between’.

When I look at my friends I often feel bored especially the girls; their favourite conversation is about their new hat or dress.

I have always wanted to have my voice trained and be a singer like Deanna Durbin or Susanna Foster.

I shall probably end up in the same old town, but I don’t want to really.

Comments: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His British Cinemas and their Audiences collates motion picture autobiographies submitted through competitions in Picturegoer magazine. This contribution comes from the section ‘Films and the Pattern of Life’. Contributors were asked to trace the history of their interest in films, the influence films had on them (including if they were ever frightened by films), what they imitated from films, if films made them more receptive to love-making, if films made them want to travel or to be dissatisfied with their way of life or neighbourhood, and if films gave them vocational ambitions.

British Cinemas and their Audiences

Source: J.P. Mayer, British Cinemas and their Audiences: Sociological Studies (London: Dennis Dobson, 1948), pp. 97-99

Text: AGE: 30 SEX: F
OCCUPATION: CLERK NATIONALITY: BRITISH
FATHER’S OCCUPATION: COMMERCIAL TRAVELLER
MOTHER’S OCCUPATION: HOUSEWIFE

I started film-going at the early age of eight and adored Bebe Daniels from then, until now; custard pies, Keystone Police, and most of all, the Western films of silent days! I went always with my Grandmother, and, although we could afford the better seats, always had on account of her sight, to sit well to the front among the whistling stamping orange-eating patrons a thing which has made me dislike and despise the smelly poor for all time. I adored the noisy out of tune piano, and always tried to emulate the noisy thumping that passed as musical accompaniment, never having patience to practice scales and my ‘show-piece’ Mignosiette(?) as I should have done so to this day I only play by ear. I fell in love with Ken Maynard a dark rather saturnine man who rode a beautiful white horse, and collected everything I could find printed about him, begged his show posters, and treasured every picture I found of him anywhere. At twelve I wondered what sort of films they were that I was never allowed to see, and played truant from school one afternoon with another small and curious-minded friend to see my first ‘sex’ film. It was of the trials and temptations of a rather blowsy continental actress, and puzzled us for weeks, setting us wondering about things we had never before bothered about. Did men kiss women like that, and did babies come unwanted, from such episodes and behaviour? So my curiosity aroused, from Ken Maynard at eight I sneaked off at twelve now unescorted to see all the extravagant and unreal epics of sex and high living I could find. Did it do me any harm? Yes – I’m afraid so. Children should never be allowed to see at such an early age, the ugly side of life and I have only myself to blame. When I am asked to ‘take me in lady, its an “A” film’ my refusal is always firm. Now boys seemed tame who couldn’t hug and kiss like the exaggerated figures on the screen, and being silent films, I always imagined the dialogue to be more fiery than any the censor would pass. The Hunchback of Notre Dame frightened me to death and to this day I hate the shudder that passes through me at the sight of an ugly or deformed person. Frankenstein kept me awake at night and gave me nerves. The fresh notes Al Jolson sang filled me with wonder, and with these musicals the morbid faded from my film-going entertainment, both horror and sex. There wasn’t time to think about exotic love-making or blood-drinking vampires when you could hear clever people singing see dancing more wonderful than you ever imagined, and above all listen to all these wonderful people talking! Yes, talkies and above all musicals, cleared the air for me! Films with a story were now clever and interesting, and what if I did try to look like Joan Crawford – I tried to look like Norma Shearer too – so it all balanced itself out. Anyway I was often better dressed than before (I am now in my teens), and my hair looked more cared for and more attractively arranged. Films definitely did make me more receptive to love-making and I expected it to be a more experienced job than I would have done had I not seen on the films how love should be made! Leslie Howard made love kindly, Clark Gable was tough and a go-getter, Gary Grant gay but rather dangerous, Ronald Colman ministerial, Errol Flynn impossibly venturesome and Bob Montgomery the ideal gentleman etc. etc. etc. I looked for all these qualities in my friends and measured them up by it. Once I fell in love desperately with a man who was the absolute double of Gary Grant. He wanted me to elope and although everyone warned me against him – I nearly did so – blinded with the glamour of his likeness to the screen star. Luckily my father found out a week before they arrested him as an embezzler so that was that! Films where the heroine is poor but beautiful, have come by wealth and adventure by choosing the primrose path in life have always in a submerged urge sort of way tempted and fascinated me. The situation has never risen in my life – but the outlook on it is there. I have always had great ambition – fed by films – to be a journalist. I don’t suppose that it is much like its prototype in N. York or the idea we get of it on the screen, but how I’d love to find out. I’ve wanted to travel, yes, but not so much the world as to cross America from N. York to the Pacific Coast, in one of those stream-lined buses, seeing the towns and villages en route and meeting the people who live in them. I’d like to see Honolulu too, even though they tell me most of the natives have tuberculosis. This all reads as if films have made me very pro-American, and I’m afraid that is so. I am not dissatisfied with home life or environment, one meets the same class of people in every station of life, in any country. Suburban life here is dull, but so would it be in New England, as in London or New York one would find a more mixed and bohemian crowd. By saying that I mean I have no urge to roam, through film-going, and to travel the world is, more or less, the ambition of everyone who uses the brains they were endowed with. British films have never in all my life, made the slightest impression on me. They are dull, ugly and uninspired – generally a stage success filmed because it was that or a poorly produced musical. There are very few real British film stars, and those stars of the stage who grace the screen at intervals are too old to photograph well, poor dears. The inanities of George Formby leave me cold, the American sense of humour I adore. I once studied Christian Science because Mary Pickford believed in it, I truly believe in the survival of souls, since I saw Topper takes a trip. Bing Crosby singing ‘Holy Night’ gives me more religious uplift than all the dull sermons of our snobbish Vicar, and I’d rather hear Jimmy Durante’s croak than Barbara Mullens silly little squeaking whisper. The greatest thing that has come out of my film-going was the ability it gave me to understand and see the viewpoint of the men from America who came here to fight with us. It also gave me an earlier understanding of the facts of life than I would have had, and made me dissatisfied and impatient with the inferior in entertainment. Not – at thirty – I choose my film going carefully, never just ‘go to the pictures’ and whether it is Carmen Miranda or Bette Davis, Micky Rooney or Humphrey Bogart, Walter Disney or Shakespeare. I am a discriminating picturegoer. From custard pies to Orson Welles is a long way, but it has been a happy and worthwhile journey.

Comments: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His British Cinemas and their Audiences collates motion picture autobiographies submitted through competitions in Picturegoer magazine. This contribution comes from the section ‘Films and the Pattern of Life’. Contributors were asked to trace the history of their interest in films, the influence films had on them (including if they were ever frightened by films), what they imitated from films, if films made them more receptive to love-making, if films made them want to travel or to be dissatisfied with their way of life or neighbourhood, and if films gave them vocational ambitions. Topper Takes a Trip (USA 1938) is a comedy about a ghost.

Silent Life and Silent Language

Source: Kate M. Farlow, Silent life and silent language, or, The inner life of a mute in an institution for the deaf and dumb (Dayton, Ohio: Christian Publishing House, 1883), pp. 108-109

Text: As time went on it was decided that the pupils ought to be enlivened by an entertainment of some sort. Accordingly arrangements were made, and one Saturday evening all the inmates were summoned to the chapel, where they found a great white sheet stretched across the platform. An instrument somewhat resembling a photographer’s camera was placed in front. After all had taken seats the lights were extinguished, and the pupils found themselves involved in darkness. Some who had never witnessed a magic-lantern exhibition were at a loss to know what all this meant. They supposed the lights must have been put out by accident. Presently there appeared in the center of the great white sheet an oval spot of brilliant light while all the rest of the room was still in darkness. By some invisible movement that little spot of light grew larger and larger until it was about twelve feet in circumference. A moment later there appeared in that oval space a beautiful picture. It was a circle of variegated colors, which, by some hidden movement, was made to revolve, thus presenting a novel as well as beautiful appearance. After that was shown a representation of our earth, with ships moving over a part of its surface and gradually disappearing from view at one point to re-appear again at another. An astronomical scene was represented, showing the moon and stars in motion. Scene followed scene in quick succession. A dog was seen, first barking at a cow, then tossed upward, apparently by the horns of the cow. There was an exhibition of a woman with a very long tongue. A prickly-pear was represented, which very unexpectedly opened, disclosing to view a man and a woman with scowling countenances. A rose was also shown, and from amid its scarlet petals emerged a dainty little fairy. A man was seen asleep, and a mouse, stealing from some hidden nook, made its way into his open mouth, a cat springing at it just as it disappeared down his throat. There were pictures of famous edifices and grand natural scenery; also, scenes illustrative of Bible stories. Finally, there appeared the picture of a queer looking little man. He held in his hand a paper roll. By some mysterious, unseen movement that was unrolled, and on it was displayed the expression, “Good-night”.

The gas-jets were again lighted, and the entertainment was at an end. It had been much enjoyed, as was evident from the happy expression on many faces as the pupils filed out of the chapel, and from the fact that it at once became the general theme of conversation.

Comments: Kate Farlow was an American writer on deaf issues who was a deaf-mute herself. The aim of her boom was to inform general reader and to overturn prejudices about deaf people. It covers all aspects of the activities of one American institution for the ‘deaf and dumb’ (the specific institution is not identified in the text).

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

British Cinemas and their Audiences

Source: J.P. Mayer, British Cinemas and their Audiences: Sociological Studies (London: Dennis Dobson, 1948), p. 36

Text: AGE: 12 SEX: M

I am righting the Answers out of your help needed again.

I first became interested in films when I was five. I am now 12 years of age. I first became interested in films was at school, I heard some boys talking, about a film about cowboys. And then my favourit film became cowboys, Gangsters, my favourit film stars were Buck Jones, James Cagney, Marea Montez, Songa Henei, I was then eight. I then became interested in murder, Tarzans, I was now ten, untill I was eight I went with my Mother and father
twice a week. I was often playing at Cowboys and Soldiers. I was never frightened by a film and I do not find it hard to control my emotions aroused by films I imatated a American Slang from films with the ‘Dead End Kids’ in I never fell in love with my film idol and films never made me any better at love making. I sometimes thought I would like to travell and work on a ranch, they never made me dissatisfied with my way of life or my neighbourhood. Although I marvelled at the things they had that we had not got it never made me want to be a soldier etc. only some times to live on ranch in the wilds of Canada. Dear Sir I hope I have done it Good enough to win at least 10s. 6d. as I am saving up to by a bike.

Comments: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His British Cinemas and their Audiences collates motion picture autobiographies submitted through competitions in Picturegoer magazine. This contribution comes from the section ‘Films and the Pattern of Life’. Contributors were asked to trace the history of their interest in films, the influence films had on them (including if they were ever frightened by films), what they imitated from films, if films made them more receptive to love-making, if films made them want to travel or to be dissatisfied with their way of life or neighbourhood, and if films gave them vocational ambitions. The above response is reproduced as published. Two misspelt stars are Maria Montez and Sonja Henie. ‘The Dead Kids’ were a group of American boy actors who first appeared on film in Dead End (USA 1937).

British Cinemas and their Audiences

Source: J.P. Mayer, British Cinemas and their Audiences: Sociological Studies (London: Dennis Dobson, 1948), pp. 60 -61

Text: AGE: 37 SEX: F. OCCUPATION: Housewife NATIONALITY: British

Films have been my hobby for years, I’m now 37.

The first film I can remember clearly was one of which the comedian Pimple made as a Scotch Soldier leading others, I know it was very funny to me at the time. We used to pay a 1d. Saturday afternoons and as we came out we were given a bag of sweets.

Then a few years after, I can remember Jack Mulhall in light comedian roles in which he was perfect, I still catch glances of him in small parts now at the movies. Then I was in the flapper age when Rudolph Valintino [sic] was the hero, and when his picture was on The Shiek [sic]. I know we girls had to stand to get in and we were saying ‘Isn’t he marvellous’, ‘I wish I was Agnes Ayers’ [sic]. I bought every photo I could possibly get of him, and my bedroom was surrounded with him, so you see there were pin-up-boys in those times too.

Even now when I see old pictures of him in your magazine I still get a little romantic feeling, silly isn’t it how a picture does effect [sic] you of anyone.

His picture The Four Horsemen was one of his greatest, but when I went to see that, it was dark when I came out and being young, I was terrified all the way home. ‘The Horsemen* were following me all the way. I ran as hard as I could. I think the silent pictures effected [sic] people more than the talkies, as I think hearing them talk makes it less creepy. I know ‘Lon Chaneys’ always upset me.

Sometimes I wish they would show one of the old silent ones occasionly as I’m sure the children of today don’t realize the wonder of the film worlds [sic] progress through the years, I still go very often to the pictures in fact I’d like to go more often. I like to go on my own and get carried away by the acting especially when it is an actor you have a little warm spot for, for I’m sure youngsters aren’t the only ones who go because they like the ways and actions and little mannerisms of their favourite actors.

I like Ralph Bellamy because he reminds me of someone years ago.

Comments: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His British Cinemas and their Audiences collates motion picture autobiographies submitted through competitions in Picturegoer magazine. This contribution comes from the section ‘Films and the Pattern of Life’. Contributors were asked to trace the history of their interest in films, the influence films had on them (including if they were ever frightened by films), what they imitated from films, if films made them more receptive to love-making, if films made them want to travel or to be dissatisfied with their way of life or neighbourhood, and if films gave them vocational ambitions. The Sheik (USA 1921) starred Agnes Ayres and Rudolph Valentino, who also starred in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (USA 1921). ‘Pimple’ was a character played by British comedian Fred Evans. The film referred to is probably Pimple in the Kilties (UK 1915)

Homestead

Source: Margaret Frances Byington, Homestead: The Households of a Mill Town [The Pittsburgh Survey vol. 4] (New York: Charities Publication Committee, 1910), pp. 110-112

Text: Practically the only public amusements in Homestead, during my stay there, were the
nickelodeons and skating rinks. Six of the former, all but one on Eighth Avenue, sent out their penetrating music all the evening and most of the afternoon. There was one ten-cent vaudeville house, but the others charge five cents for a show consisting of songs, moving pictures, etc., which lasts fifteen minutes or so.

The part these shows play in the life of the community is really surprising. Not only were no other theatrical performances given in Homestead, but even those in Pittsburgh, because of the time and expense involved in getting there, were often out of the reach of workingmen and their families. The writer, when living in Homestead, found few things in Pittsburgh worth the long trolley ride, forty-five minutes each way. Many people, therefore, find in the nickelodeons their only relaxation. Men on their way home from work stop for a few minutes to see something of life outside the alternation of mill and home; the shopper rests while she enjoys the music, poor though it be, and the children are always begging for five cents to go to the nickelodeon. In the evening the family often go together for a little treat. On a Saturday afternoon visit to a nickelodeon, which advertised that it admitted two children on one ticket, I was surprised to find a large proportion of men in the audience. In many ways this form of amusement is desirable. What it ordinarily offers does not educate but does give pleasure. While occasionally serious subjects are represented, as for example pictures of the life of Christ given in Easter week, the performance usually consists of song and dance and moving pictures, all of a mediocre type. Still, for five cents the nickelodeon offers fifteen minutes’ relaxation, and a glimpse of other sides of life, making the same appeal, after all, that theatre and novel do. As the nickelodeon seems to have met a real need in the mill towns, one must wish that it might offer them a better quality of entertainment. Many who go because they can afford nothing expensive would appreciate something better, even at a slightly higher price.

Comments: Margaret Frances Byington (1877-1952) was an American social investigator. Homestead was part of the 1907-08 Pittsburgh Survey into social conditions, sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation. Homestead is in Allegheny County, Pennyslvania, and is famed for the Homestead Strike of 1892.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

British Cinemas and their Audiences

Source: J.P. Mayer, British Cinemas and their Audiences: Sociological Studies (London: Dennis Dobson, 1948), pp. 112-113

Text: AGE: 21 SEX: M
OCCUPATION: CLERK
NATIONALITY: BRITISH
FATHER’S OCCUPATION: BACON CURER

I shall always remember my first important visit to the cinema. The Local Gaumont was being opened by the Mayor and many other important townsfolk yet out of that impressive ceremony way back at the beginning of the thirties, the only part that stands out vividly to me today was the film. It was a musical starring Jack Buchanan and entitled Goodnight Vienna.

Why this particular incident should have aroused my first profound interest in the cinema remains a mystery, yet I am convinced that before that date, the thought of ‘Going to the flicks’ never meant much to me.

I was of course quite young at the time about 10 years of age. For some years, I simply doted on musicals and the thought of seeing another Astaire-Rogers extravaganza provided plenty of excitement for little me. I found myself wanting to tapdance, although I was careful not to disclose any of these ambitions to my parents. Sometimes I wonder whether ‘careful’ was the word. The back-yard shows my pals and I used to put on were always received with wild enthusiasm. I might add that as the price for admission consisted of 3 ‘conkers’ or (when such things were out of season) perhaps a pen-nibs, audiences did jolly well under the circumstances.

My enthusiasm for musicals continued for quite a while until I reached the age when more serious aspects of films began to make themselves felt. It all started with my seeing Bette Davies in Dark Victory. Never shall I forget her terrific performance in this film. It stands out as one of the most enthralling episodes in my movie experience. That really started the ball rolling and from that day to this I have been an ardent dramatic fan. In fact, I am hoping to study drama upon my demobilisation. I love great acting, for the emotional benefit I myself get out of it is greatly satisfying. That is why I am such an admirer of Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Muni.

As for films influencing my daily life, until I discovered that drama was my ideal, I must admit that my life was not unduly affected. I enjoyed helping to stage our so-called concerts with my neighbours and that was all. Today however, it is a different story. I discover that if I should miss a dramatic film that I had been bent on seeing, nothing would stop me until I cought [sic] up with it at last.

Films have made me want to visit the U.S.A. in rather an unusual way. By reading rather a lot of authentic literature on that country I have realised now hopelessly incompetent a large precentage [sic] of films have been in portraying life in the U.S.A. I have come to believe in the books I have read and the fact that they do not tie up with what I have seen on the screen, has made me even more eager to go there and see for myself. I am referring to modern life in the States of course.

Since my joining the Forces in 1942 , 1 have also become interested in the technical side of films not with the interest of a technician but artistically. I can now appreciate photography and lighting and I realise that the cinema is most definitely an art. That is why I uphold Orson Well’s [sic] work and get annoyed when such masterpieces as Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons get snuffed at by the general public.

To-day I am an ardent film fan making sure I read all the reviews of the films as they reach the West End. I even keep a record of the date of arrival of each film and any other particulars that I think arc worth recording.

Yes, indeed my life is well wrapped in the cinema and I sincerely hope it won’t be long before I can have a go at entering the industry myself. I shall always be grateful to Miss Davis for revealing an ambition that had previously slept within me.

Comments: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His British Cinemas and their Audiences collates motion picture autobiographies submitted through competitions in Picturegoer magazine. This contribution comes from the section ‘Films and the Pattern of Life’. Contributors were asked to trace the history of their interest in films, the influence films had on them (including if they were ever frightened by films), what they imitated from films, if films made them more receptive to love-making, if films made them want to travel or to be dissatisfied with their way of life or neighbourhood, and if films gave them vocational ambitions. It is interesting to see in the book the number of respondents who praise Citizen Kane (USA 1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (USA 1942), films which were supposed to have been rejected by most audiences. The other films mentioned are Goodnight Vienna (UK 1932) and Dark Victory (USA 1939).

Comparison between Theatres and Films

Source: H.G., quoted in J.P. Mayer, Sociology of Film: Studies and Documents (London: Faber and Faber, 1946), pp. 113-114

Text: I do not know wether [sic] I am to be considered lucky that I happened to have a wireless on when the Brainstrust [sic] was discussing the subject on which I am going to endeavour to write about.

First the cinemas [sic] good points.

One is always sure of being able to hear and see what is going on. Whereas in the thatre [sic] you are not, unless one is very near the stage, a position which is not very suitable because one can see the actors and actresses make-up.

In wartime the theatre is apt to be drab and the costumes look as if they have seen better days, also in the films one does not expect colour, unless it is in Technicolour [sic] which is very pleasing to the eye in days of war.

Once I was in the pictures seeing a film in Techni-colour called Best Foot Forward with Lucille Ball it was lovely, and the warning went, it was a very heavy raid, but I was much to interested to think about it.

I do not think that the theatre could get one, so concentrated in programme, to forget about it.

Unless one is fond of comedy the theatre can be very boring, if the artists are not good. But films must be good or at least good enough to pass the critics (who allows the films fit for the public).

Plays are not too bad in theatres, but are also apt to be boring.

Last year my sister took my mother and I to see Arsenic and Old Lace. Mummy hated it, but would not tell my sister so because it may have hurt her feelings.

Mummy hated it because (a) She could not hear properly and only caught snatches of the conversation; (b) She was bored stiff, because all they seemed to do was open and shut a box by the window.

I like plays, and during the examinations I went to see The Lisbon Story it was a very spectacular show, and we had a very good seat, which makes all the difference.

In the cinemas it is warm and not so draughty as theatres.

In the theatre one is seeing the thing actually being done, and every thing is more or less real, where as in the cinema, one is seeing something that has been practised to perfection, and if one is seeing what I term a THRILLER! one knows that if somebody in the picture has been killed he or she is not really dead.

So … on the whole I think pictures are better, most of them come from Hollywood and America has all the best stars and I do not think the english [sic] film star has a chance.

In the pictures the story has been picked out and the unnecessary parts cut and the best parts brought out, and in my opinion the films are infinately [sic] better than the theatre and if not in your opinion, better, they are very good entertainment, and I don’t know what a lot of us would do without them.

Comments: 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 ‘Children and Adolescents and the Cinema’. The contributors for this section came from a school in Hampstead, with the children being described by Mayer as female, mostly middle class, on average not older than twelve-and-a-half.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Female, 22, white, college senior’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), pp. 180-181

Text: The pictures of the South that were in my mind were those given by Harriet B. Stowe. D.W. Griffith’s production, “The Birth of a Nation” made me see the Negro of the South as he was and not as the Northerners have always portrayed him. I believe that many people were influenced as I was to realize what the Negroes thought freedom meant. It is only when a Negro demands the marriage of the abolitionist’s daughter, who is white, that he, the father, can realize what all his agitation has meant. This picture did not make me an advocate of slavery as it existed but it made me see things from a Southerner’s point of view.

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 ‘Scheme of Life’ under the paragraph heading ‘Difference in Interpretation’. This film referred to is The Birth of a Nation (USA 1915).

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Newsreels

Source: Extract from Len England, Mass-Observation File Report 215: Newsreels (June), 19 June 1940, reproduced from http://bufvc.ac.uk/wp-content/media/2009/06/mo_report_215.pdf. Original file report held at Mass-Observation Archive, University of Sussex

Text: Mention was made in the last report of the horrifying effect that some newsreel sequences had upon members of the audience. This effect is becoming more obvious. An observer in Streatham heard one elderly working-class woman say ‘Gertie and I cried all through the newsreel. Those poor boys out there in all that. The pictures were terrible’. In a Watford cinema another observer heard one girl say to her friend ‘I don’t think they should show you this, do you?’ at shots of air raid havoc. In the Picturegoer (15.6.40) a letter was published as follows:

There has been much criticism in the past on newsreels showing us the horrors of modern warfare in China, Spain, etc., and although we felt strongly about these presentations they did not strike near enough to make us protest publicly. But the war newsreel of to-day is horrifying us. This week we went to our local cinema to see ADVENTURE IN DIAMONDS and SPATS TO SPURS, a light programme calculated to make us forget what might be happening ‘over there’. But did we enjoy our programme? No, because we viewed it through a haze of tears and the horrible quickening of nerves as we saw our boys moving up to the Belgian front.

As the war continues in all its fury, are we to be subjected to further horror, are we to watch our husbands bombarded, are we to see the shattered limbs of our brothers lying on the battlefield, the anguished bodies of our sons carried in on stretchers? No, unless the film distributors realise that we cannot sit in a luxury cinema watching these ghastly things, unless they relegate the war newsreel to its proper place, the New[s] Theatre, we will stay outside the cinema for the duration. This is our resolve and there are thousands of mothers and wives who feel the same.

A further letter commented on the same thing:

Some of the recent newsreels have been in very bad taste; an outstanding example being the showing of dead bodies lying outside a bombed Belgian hospital. Cannot the censor prevent the issue of these pictures which can only bring pain and suffering to those loved ones on active service. After all, we go to the cinema to be carried away from our troubles.

The main response to these shots continues to be a very high degree of comment and signs of horror at the most unpleasant shots. There is no indication in this that the shots are popular but they still constitute the bulk of newsreels and are accompanied by such remarks as ‘There are other sights too grim to show you’. To shots other than of air raids the response is increasing. In the British Movietone News, 13.6.40, an item called ‘The Italian Assassin’ began with close-ups of Mussolini. Obs watched this reel twice and on each occasion there was an immediate and widespread outburst of hisses, boos, catcalls and laughs. Obs has never seen this on any other occasion though twice at least the newsreels have contained shots of Hitler himself. The outcry lasted for nearly a minute on each occasion.

Response to political and military figures has increased; Reynaud, Weygand and Gort have been clapped every time they have appeared though none of the three have been applauded at all before the last two weeks. There has been very prolonged applause for Churchill every time, and at a West End theatre where response is usually very low a man called out ‘Well done’ when the Prime Minister appeared and clapping followed.

The royal family, however, receive less applause than before. The British Movietone reel mentioned above was observed with two very highly responsive audiences; the last item was a fairly long sequence of the King presenting medals at Buckingham Palace; the Queen was watching from the balcony. At the first showing of this the King was applauded for 2 seconds — Reynaud had received 5 seconds applause a minute before — at the second showing there was no clapping at all. On each occasion the shots of the Queen were greeted in dead silence.

The most important newsreel item in the last few weeks has been the Dunkirk evacuation; shots of this were obtained by cameramen on the spot, and by others lining the train route from the coast home. They could not, however, be released immediately and there was an opportunity by skilful cutting to exploit the dramatic possibilities of the situation. Paramount and Movietone in the main let the shots speak for themselves and did not give them much commentary; GB produced a patriotic commentary which will be mentioned further; and Pathe blended the shots into a sequence that gained a higher response of applause than anything else yet noted by an observer. The sequence began with soldiers marching into Dunkirk; then came a word of congratulation to the Navy and the Air Force for their assistance, this being illustrated with stock shots; the actual embarkation; then compliments to the French army, to the nurses and other women helpers, to the wounded, finally shots of the landing, the train journey, and a few words from the troops. The whole item lasted about four minutes; for nearly a quarter of that time, that is, a full minute, there was applause. Hitherto the loudest applause had been 10 seconds for the survivors of the Altmark.

Comments: Mass-Observation carried out a series of studies in 1930s and 1940s into how people in the UK lived, through a mixture of observation, diaries and invited comments. Cinema-going was included among its social surveys, and during 1939-1945 it paid particular attention to newsreels. Data from the original observers’ reports were collated into File Reports, and all of the film File Reports were compiled by Len England. This particular report is on audience reaction to newsreels in June 1940. The newsreels referred to are British Movietone News, Pathe Gazette, Gaumont-British News and British Paramount News.

Links: Copy of full file report at News on Screen