Keith's Union Square

Source: Anon., ‘”Keith’s Union Square,” The New York Dramatic Mirror, 11 July 1896, p. 17

Text: Lumière’s Cinématographe created a decided sensation here last week. It was fully described in last week’s Mirror, and it is only necessary to add that the audiences were very enthusiastic over the new discovery. The depot picture with its stirring arrival of an express train, and the charge of the French hussars were wildly applauded and each of the pictures came in for its share of approval. A new picture was shown which represented the noonhour at the factory of the Messrs. Lumière in Lyons, France. As the whistle blew, the factory doors were thrown open and men, women and children came trooping out. Several of the employees had bicycles, which they mounted outside the gate, and rode off. A carryall, which the Lumières keep to transport those who live at a distance from the factory, came dashing out in the most natural manner imaginable. A lecturer was employed to explain the pictures as they were shown, but he was hardly necessary, as the views speak for themselves, eloquently.

Comments: The Lumière Cinématographe made its American debut at Keith’s Union Square Theater, New York City, on 29 June 1896. The films shown include La sortie des usines Lumière and L’arrivé d’un train. The charge of the French hussars could be one of several films of the Seventh Cuirassiers filmed by the Lumières.

The Age of the Eyes

Source: Karel Čapek (trans. Šárka Tobrmanová-Kühnová), ‘The Age of the Eyes’, The People’s Paper [Lidové noviny], 22 February 1925, reproduced in Believe in People: The Essential Karel Čapek (London: Faber and Faber, 2010), pp. 18-20

Text: You may have noticed that conspicuously few old people go to the cinema. Even if you take into account that older people are as a rule more frugal and more comfortable, and all in all, less profligate than the rest of us, it’s not a sufficient explanation for why so few of them indulge in the depraved invention of luminous pictures. The older generation expresses open disgust for this modern spectacle. They mutter something like, ‘Don’t bother us with such tosh,’ and open yesterday’s paper or a fifty-year-old novel instead. Meanwhile, the said fifty-year-old novel is being enacted on the screen of a picture palace round the corner, and the rest of us, who are breathlessly watching its flying action, can’t understand that an old man has the patience to read such ancient trash. The average film is, in the vast majority of cases, much closer to Walter Scott than to, say, Vít Nezval, and resembles George Sand more closely than George Bernard Shaw. The average film doesn’t pick up on modern literature, but on old literature. As a matter of fact, it’s the direct successor of old novelistic fiction. The younger generation doesn’t realise that in the cinema they give themselves up to the lush imaginative world of their distant fathers. The older generation doesn’t have an inkling that the shadowy pictures they are so contemptuous of are bone of their bones, or rather I should say the shadow of their bones. Which is of course a typical, unbridgeable rift between the generations.

It seems to me, then, that the older generation doesn’t reject film because it’s too modern, or too silly, but for more profound reasons: because it’s too fast and isn’t rendered in words. I am of the opinion that older people would take pleasure in going to the cinema if texts instead of pictures were projected on the screen. In the beginning of their world is the word, not an optical event. A picture in itself, a picture without language, doesn’t mean anything; it must get words to acquire reality. An old man sees just shadows, shadows, shadows on the screen, bolting, and unreal. If they waited for a moment, he could find a term for them and describe them in words. But alas, they’ve gone, and new shadows are fluttering there in a mute hurry of events. The word lasts, the word can be remembered, the word is solid and firm. But movement doesn’t last long enough to be interpolated into what exists and what is valid; it’s just a change, a transition, and not a decent, reliable, enduring being. An old man watches the running film as if dreams were being shot before him; if he read in a book about a lissom damsel walking like a doe, he’d believe it, but when he sees a lissom damsel on the screen, walking like a doe, he doesn’t recognise this poetic moment because it’s not written there with binding words. It doesn’t say anything, it’s just phoney and monkey business. And the old man leaves the cinema as if he hadn’t seen anything. Don’t bother me with such tosh, he says.

A kind of re-education of people has really taken place here. A person sitting in the cinema must have found a shorter connection between the eye and the brain without the medium of words; in a technical sense, he may even have found a direct connection between the eye and the brain. The older generation probably lacks this direct connection, this leaping of a spark from the retina straight to the cerebral centres. They are more of a reading, conceptual type, while today’s man is becoming a visual type. My late Granny had to read out loud to properly understand what she was reading, for her the word was still an auditory, not a visual, image. In bygone times most readers must have perceived reading through the ear. Later on a more trained reader dropped this aural digression and understood directly by means of verbal signs. In film even the word has turned out to be a digression; we are learning to understand without words. I don’t want to decide if it is progress for the time being it’s a fact.

But surely film threatens literature to a considerable extent, not because it wants to replace it, but because it develops another kind of people – a visual instead of a reading type. The reading sort is patient; it takes its time to penetrate the circumstances, to bask in the descriptive passages and follow the conversation from start to finish. The visual type will not be so patient; it wants to seize the situation in a single glance, to comprehend the story without letting it last, and immediately see something new. But perhaps one day people will run from that stampede of pictures back to the book, to take a breather, or rather, they’ll have the radio narrate fairy tales and novels nice and slowly for them; they’ll listen with closed eyes, letting themselves be lulled by the word, which will re-assume its original destiny – to be spoken language. Maybe who knows? – maybe the book will die out, maybe it will become a curious cultural heritage like inscribed Babylonian bricks. But art will not die out.

Comments: Karel Čapek (1890-1938) was a Czech novelist, essayist and playwright, best known for his science fiction works including the play R.U.R. which introduced the concept of the robot. He was no enthusiast for the cinema, but liked the audiences. Vít Nezval was Vítězslav Nezval, a Czech avant garde poet.

"Gerald Cock Presents" – Review of Television Programmes

Source: Kenneth Baily, ‘”Gerald Cock Presents” – Review of Television Programmes’, The Era, 14 October 1936, p. 1

Text: Experimental programmes from the Television Station made by the B.B.C. during the past week have cast some illuminating light on things to come when the television service starts properly on November 2.

As watched on a Baird televisor in my own home, the programmes have, more than anything else, proved that real entertainment value is derived from television only when television technique is scrupulously adhered to and when subjects exclusively suited to the new medium are chosen.

This may sound obvious, but, in its planning and in these experiments, the B.B.C. is already drawing on other spheres of entertainment for television material. I believe that a few more weeks’ experience will show that television is an indifferent foster-mother for the conventional arts, and that it must conceive its own dream-children.

The unsuccessful programmes have been those where stage pieces and films, it seemed, just placed before the television cameras and transmitted. The first of “The Two Bouquets,” for instance, was not a success, and when “The Picture Page,” a pure television production, was shown later, that stage excerpt, in comparison, assumed the unmistakable guise of failure.

And films are made on too grand a scale to fit in to a screen 2 inches by 9 in the corner of the parlour. The sound track heard in proportion in a cinema, is too pronounced and obvious in comparison with the little picture by the fireside.

Half an hour of Henry Hall and the BBC Dance Orchestra proved without much doubt that Henry’s gentle and smiling personality is going to be a television attraction. Dan Donovan made an outstanding television début too. Dance band vocalists, hugging the mike in permanent close-up, will tend to bore viewers; but Dan’s mannerisms, and just the way he sings his numbers, are full of that which is going to be at a premium for television soloists – personality.

On the other hand, a fervent lady admirer of George Elrick – as he is heard – was disappointed by his television appearance.

Because of its personalities, Henry Hall’s band should avert the difficulties facing most televising bands – the viewer’s easy assumption that all bands look the same, and lack movement and “picture points”.

In a different way Younkman’s band, which I also saw, succeeded by filling the picture with agility and plenty of “gipsy” abandon.

Leonard Henry knew what he was about when he took his dummy gas mask to the television studio. Even his patter will need visual additions in television, and the mask gave them to it.

The real achievement to date, however, was “The Picture Page.” Its success came of its having been devised and produced exclusively for television. It would be impossible anywhere else – even in film – and that is as it should be with all material for televising.

Its very beginning was a hit, scored by specialised ingenuity. A boy bugler from off the Warspite was seen blowing a fanfare as he stood before a Union Jack, filling the whole screen; then he dissolved into the title of the programme in the form of a magazine page. Credit titles followed as the pages were turned.

Then came the only mistake. As link between the items in the programme, Joan Miller sits as a telephone operator before a switch board, plugging-in viewers to the items they are supposed to be calling for.

Instead of leaving the “pages” for a direct shot of Miss Miller, another “page” was turned, bringing into view a full-page photograph of her at the switchboard.

The direct shot followed this, and Miss Miller was supposed to be in the identical pose of her photograph. The effect was disjointed, and betrayed quite obviously which was photograph and which Miss Miller in the flesh.

Among the personalities seen were Fight-Lieutenant Swain, altitude record breaker of the RAF; Prince Ras Monolulu (I Gotta Horse); Mrs. Flora Drummond, suffragette leader; a Siamese cat; and Diana Sheridan, the photographer’s model.

“The Picture Page” is really “In Town To-Night” gone visible: but, though it inherits from its sound sister the successful basic idea, as it was devised for televising it was literally an eye-opener for this viewer, who, expecting but experimental programmes, was amazed when such a polished production bewitched his screen.

Comments: Kenneth Baily was a radio journalist, editor in the 1950s of the Television Annual and author of an early history of the medium, Here’s Television (1950). His brother Leslie was a well-known radio producer. The BBC Television Service launched officially on 2 November 1936, but was preceded by test broadcasts, with the first broadcast of the magazine programme Picture Page taking place on 8 October 1936. The Two Bouquets was an operetta by Eleanor and Herbert Farjeon. Gerald Cock was the BBC’s first Director of Television. Picturegoing normally does not reproduce reviews, but because of the domestic details, the description of what may have been an afternoon’s (?) programming, and the very early use of the word ‘viewer’ in a television context, an exception has been made.

Is it right to let us see men dying?

The Battle of the Somme (1916)

Source: James Douglas, extracts from article in The Star, 25 September 1916, p. 2, quoted in Nicholas Reeves, Official British Film Propaganda During the First World War (London: Croom Helm, 1986), pp. 244-245

Text: Is it right to let us see men dying? Yes. Is it a sacrilege? No. If our spirit be purged of curiosity and purified with awe the sight is hallowed. There is no sacrilege if we are fit for the seeing. And I think the seeing ennobled and exalted us. There was a religious reverence in the silence closing over the sobs … I say it is regenerative and resurrective for us to see war stripped bare. Heaven knows that we need the supreme katharsis, the ultimate cleansing. We grow indifferent too quickly … These are dreadful sights but their dreadfulness is as wholesome as Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’. It shakes the kaleidoscope of war into human reality. Now I know why soldiers are nobler than civilians in their tenderness and their chivalry and their charity … I say that these pictures are good for us.

Comments: James Douglas (1867-1940) was a British journalist, editor of The Star newspaper from 1908 to 1920. The above is an extract from a longer commentary on The Battle of the Somme (UK 1916), a documentary produced by the British Topical Committee for War Films, which was seen by millions in the UK and beyond, bringing home to many something of the reality of war. A scene in which British soldiers appeared to go ‘over the top’, some of them falling dead, illustrated above (and now known to have been simulated), had a particularly powerful effect on audiences and is probably the sequence Douglas refers to.

Twenty Minutes from Before the War

Source: Extracts from Joseph Roth (trans. Michael Hofmann), ‘Twenty Minutes from Before the War’, in The White Cities: Reports from France 1925-1939 (London: Granta, 2004), pp. 175, 177-178. Originally published in German in Frankfurter Zeitung, 11 June 1926

Text: In a Parisian cinema they are showing old newsreel footage – infinitely past, because sundered by us from the war – of such dusty novelties as the fashions, dances, the five o’clock teas, of an era that waltzed straight out of its pathetic whimsicality into a bloody horror; an epoch so deceitful that it didn’t even experience the truth of its own demise. It was already dead by the time it died. Its children were living ghosts, having been molded from papier-mâché in, oh, let’s say, pergolas.

These old films, changed every time there’s a change of program, appear under the heading “Twenty Minutes from Before the War.” It’s because of them that the cinema is sold out every day, and sometimes full to bursting. The sons all want to go, to laugh at their fathers. The great family album of the past is opened up before their eyes. It is made up of graves that elicit not shudders of horror but irresistible mirth. The effect of the pictures is like that of twenty top hats at a funeral: The hats are so ridiculous that they rather take the edge of the coffin. The result is a rather peculiar sort of dread that touches not the soul but the funny bone.

[…]

These are the sort of shocking displays we now put ourselves through, we, the children of the present day, we, who have gotten over Darwin and Ibsen, give ourselves over to the exotic woman with the “pleureuse” veil, the suffragette, the parade uniform, the umbrella, the large man with the goatee, , the train, and the towering hairdo made of pigtails and spikes; we, who go to Negro revues and watch naked girls, we toughened and bred in drum fire, scornful of beautiful lies, we devotees, as we would have it, of the ugly truth.

We sit in front of the whole deceitful misery of our fathers, who appear to have invented the cinema purely to show us themselves in their full absurdity, and we laugh, we laugh. We have prizefights and sports fans, America and endurance runners, girls drilled by preachers, a whole internationale of Sunday windbreakers. But we don’t have bodies instead of breasts, feather boas instead of necks, curtains instead of legs, and top hats in place of mourning! Where the goose-step is still practised, we know it’s dead; really, at the worst, the parades of our times are to celebrate living memorials (not dead ones). We know that once we had the “pleureuse,” the steel helmet was only a matter of time, that there’s a straight path from the modest veil to the gas mask, and from the pergola to the trench. And those unarmed reservists who plowed the fields of honor and sowed us there with their pathetic blessings – that deceitful eve of the war is something that makes us laugh our heads off every evening, for twenty minutes, and no longer.

Comments: Joseph Roth (1894-1939) was an Austrian journalist and novelist, best known for his novel Radetzky March. The full article describes the various newsreel scenes shown: military parades, Parisian crowds, an instructor illustrating the latest dance craze, the latest creations from a fashion house, and pre-war fiction films.

Magic Lantern Kinetoscope

Illustration accompanying New York Sun article on the debut of the Panoptikon

Source: ‘Magic Lantern Kinetoscope’, The Sun [New York], 22 April 1895, p. 2

Text: MAGIC LANTERN KINETOSCOPE

Edison Says Latham’s Device is Old and Promises to Beat It

An exhibition of what Edison considers a Kinetoscope so arranged as to throw pictures, enlarged, upon a screen was given yesterday afternoon at 35 Frankfort street by Woodville Latham. He calls his arrangement the Pantoptikon. The illustration gives a very good idea of what it looks like. The continuous film of photographic pictures with slots cut in the edges to catch the teeth of a sprocket that keep it from slipping is reeled in front of the electric light of a sort of magic lantern and so the pictures are thrown successively on the screen with sufficient rapidity to produce the well-known kinetoscope or zoetrope effect of animated pictures.

The pictures shown yesterday portrayed the antics of some boys at play in a park. They wrestled, jumped, fought and tumbled over one another. Near where the boys were romping a man sat reading a paper and smoking a pipe. Even the puffs of smoke could be plainly seen, as could also the man’s movements when he took a handkerchief from his pocket. The whole picture on the screen yesterday was about the size of a standard window sash but the size is a matter of expense and adjustment. Mr. Latham’s camera will take forty pictures a second and it can be set up anywhere in the street or on the top of a house.

Mr. Latham says that he will try to obtain a patent on his apparatus which thus enables the exhibitor to show kinetoscope effects to a large audience at one time.

A Sun reporter saw Mr Edison last evening and described the Latham machine to him. Hearing the description, Mr. Edison said:

“That is the kinetoscope. This strip of film with the pictures, which you have here, is made exactly as the film I use. The holes in it are for the spokes of the sprocket, which I devised.

“The throwing of the pictures on a screen was the very first thing I did with the kinetoscope. I didn’t think much of that, because the pictures were crude and there seemed to me to be no commercial value in that feature of the machine.

“In two or three months, however, we will have the kinetophone perfected, and then we will show you screen pictures. The figures will be life size and the sound of the voice can be heard as the movements of the figures are seen.

“If Mr Latham can produce life-size pictures now as we will do with the kinetophone that’s a different matter.

“When Latham says he can set up his kinetograph anywhere and take the pictures for his machine, he means that he has simply a portable kinetograph.

“We have had one of those for six months. The reasons that our pictures all had to be taken here at first was that our kinetograph was unwieldy.

“If they exhibit this machine, improve on what I have done, and call it a kinetoscope, that’s all right. I will be glad of whatever improvements Mr. Latham may make.

“If they carry the machine around the country, calling it by some other name, that’s a fraud, and I shall prosecute whoever does it. I’ve applied for patents long ago.”

Comments: Major Woodville Latham and his sons Grey and Otway exhibited the first public demonstration of motion pictures projected on a screen in the United States on 21 April 1895. Their machine, billed as the Panoptikon, took place at their company offices at 35 Frankfort Street, New York. The film they exhibited had been taken on the roof of the shop (not in a park as this account states), with Woodville Latham portraying the man with a newspaper and pipe. Thomas Edison’s chief engineer on his own motion picture work with the Kinetoscope peepshow, William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson, had been secretly aiding the Lathams. Edison was only able achieve film projection on 23 April 1896, with his Vitascope projector (devised by Thomas Armat and Charles Jenkins). The Lathams began commercial exhibition of what was renamed the Eidoloscope on 20 May 1895, but the projection quality was poor and it was not a success.

Links: Copy at Chronicling America

Mr. Albert Smith’s ‘Ascent of Mont Blanc’

Albert Smith lecturing at the Egyptian Hall, London: ‘The Ascent of Mont Blanc’, Illustrated London News, 25 December 1852, p. 565

Source: Anon., ‘Mr Albert Smith’s “Ascent of Mont Blanc”‘, Illustrated London News, 10 April 1852, p. 291

Text: Mr. Smith’s Lecture at the Egyptian Hall, on his now celebrated ascent of Mont Blanc, with Mr. Beverley’s magnificent illustrations, increases daily and nightly in attraction. They are to be classed among the few things that turn out better than expected, and are thus more highly valued on acquaintance than before. We this week give another of Mr. Beverley’s pictures. It takes the story of the adventurous tourists further in advance, and presents them on the Grands Mulets rocks by sunset. We have to imagine the travellers safely passed over the dangerous crevice in the Glacier du Tacconay, by means of the ladder, and then scrambling up the steep ice-cliff, tied together, and pulled up by a cord one after the other, until, braving much peril, they attained a desirable station. Here they came to the scene of our Illustration—two or three conical rocks which rise from island peaks from the snow and ice at the head of the Glacier des Bossons, and which, were they loftier, would probably be termed aiguilles. They are chosen for a halting-place, not less from their convenient station on the route than from their situation out of the way of the avalanches. The scene and the sunset are powerfully delineated and painted in the following fine piece of description:—

The Grand Mulets

Below us, and rising against our position, was the mighty field of the glacier—a huge prairie, if I may term it so, of snow and ice, with vast irregular undulations, which gradually merged into an apparently smooth unbroken tract, as their distance increased. Towering in front of us, several thousand feet higher, and two or three miles away, yet still having the strange appearance of proximity that I have before alluded to, was the hugs Dône du Goûté—the mighty cupola usually mistaken by the valley travellers for the summit of Mont Blanc. Up the glacier, on my left, was an enormous and ascending valley of ice, which might have been a couple of miles across; and in its course were two or three steep banks of snow, hundreds of feet in height, giant steps by which the level landing-place of the Grand Plateau was to be reached.

The sun at length went down behind the Aiguille du Goûté, and then, for two hours, a scene of such wild and wondrous beauty—of such inconceivable and unearthly splendour—burst upon me, that, spell-bound and almost trembling with the emotion its magnificence called forth—with every sense, and feeling, and thought absorbed by its brilliancy, I saw far more than the realisation of the most gorgeous visions that opium or hasheish could evoke, accomplished. At first, everything about us—above, around, below—the sky, the mountain and the lower peaks—appeared one uniform creation of burnished gold, so brightly dazzling, that, now our veils were removed, the eye could scarcely bear the splendour. As the twilight gradually crept over the lower world, the glow became still more vivid; and presently, as the blue mists rose in the valleys, the tops of the higher mountains looked like islands rising from a filmy ocean—an archipelago of gold. By degrees this metallic lustre was softened into tints—first orange, and then bright, transparent crimson, along the horizon, rising through the different hues, with prismatic regularity, until, immediately above us, the sky was a deep pure blue, merging towards the east into glowing violet. The snow took its colour from these changes; and every portion on which the light tell was soon tinged with pale carmine, of a shade similar to that which snow at times assumes, from some imperfectly explained cause, at high elevations—such, indeed, as I had seen, in early summer, upon the Furka and Faulhorn. These beautiful hues grew brighter as the twilight below increased in depth ; and it now came marching up the valley of the glaciers until it reached our resting-place. Higher and higher still, it drove the lovely glory of the sunlight before it, until at last the vast Dône du Goûté and the summit itself stood out, icelike and grim, in the cold evening air, although the horizon still gleamed with a belt of rosy light.

Although this superb spectacle had faded away, the scene was still even more than striking. The fire which the guides had made, and which was now burning and crackling on a ledge of rock a little below us, threw its flickering light, with admirable effect, upon our band. The men had collected round the blaze, and were making some chocolate, as they sang patois ballads and choruses: they were all evidently as completely at home as they would have been in their own chalets. We had arranged ourselves as conveniently as we could so as not to inconvenience one another, and had still nothing more than an ordinary wrapper over us: there had been no attempt to build the tent with batons and canvas as I had read in some of the Mont Blanc narratives— the starry heaven was our only roofing. F. and P. were already fast asleep. W. was still awake, and I was too excited even to close my eyes in the attempt to get a little repose. We talked for awhile, and then he also was silent.

The stars had come out, and, looking over the plateau, I soon saw the moonlight lying cold and silvery on the summit, stealing slowly down the very track by which the sunset glories had passed upward and away. But it came too tardily that I knew it would be hours before we derived any actual benefit from the light. One after another the guides fell asleep, until only three or four remained round the embers of the fire, thoughtfully smoking their pipes. And then silence, impressive beyond expression, reigned over our isolated world. Often and often, from Chamouni, I had looked up at evening towards the darkening position of the Grands Mulets, and thought almost with shuddering, how awful it must be for men to pass the night in such a remote, eternal, and frozen wilderness, And now I was lying there—in the very heart of its ice-bound and appalling solitude. In such close communion with nature in her grandest aspect, with no trace of the actual living world beyond the were speck that our little party formed, the mind was carried far away from its ordinary trains of thought—a solemn emotion of mingled awe and delight, and yet self-perception of abject nothingness, alone rose above every other feeling. A vast untrodden region of cold, and silence, and death, stretched out, far and away from us, on every side; but above, heaven, with its countless, watchful eyes, was over all!

We may safely leave the picture and this glowing description to commend themselves to the intelligent reader. Both, in their way, are right excellent works of art, and Mr. Smith rises in our estimation as an author, for having delivered himself so nobly on a theme requiring and tasking the higher faculties for its due treatment. He has indeed written eloquently on the sublime.

Comments: Albert Richard Smith (1816-1860) was a British entertainer, novelist and mountaineer. In 1851 he successfully ascended Mont Blanc, and a show devised and presented by Smith the following year about the expedition, at London’s Egyptian Hall, became one of the most renowned and popular entertainments of its time. The show, entitled Mr Albert Smith’s Ascent of Mont Blanc, opened on 15 March 1852. Smith’s talk of his adventures was illustrated by moving panoramas, painted by William Beverley, which moved horizontally for the section covering Smith journey to the Alps, and vertically for the ascent. The show ran for seven seasons six years, with each new season changing elements of of the presentation. The text describes the first season of the show; the illustration at the top of this entry depicts the first season, though it was published at the time of the second season (when a Swiss chalet was added to the staging, framing the panorama). The image within the text shows the Grand Mulets and was originally published with the article (on the following page), referred to in the opening paragraph.

The Diorama

Plan and exterior of the Diorama in Park Square, Regent’s Park, from Pugin and Britton, Illustrations of the Public Buildings of London vol. 1 (second edition, 1838)

Source: ‘The Diorama’, The Morning Post, 29 September 1823, p. 3

Text: The Exhibition under the above name, which we announced to the public a few days ago, was on Saturday submitted to private inspection, previous to it being thrown open to the public this day. The immense building which has been erected for the purpose, is situated in the Regent’s Park, directly opposite the eastern side of Portland Crescent, and close to the Riding School. its magnitude may be judged of from the fact that the mere walls were raised at an expense of 8000l. The interior is also fitted up in a most costly and tasteful style. The saloon, from which the exhibition is viewed, is circular, and splendidly hung with crimson cloth, while the ceiling is formed by a transparency of elegant device, representing medallion heads of the greatest masters in painting. the accommodations for the public are in a style befitting the superior arrangements and construction of the whole.

With regard to the exhibition itself, we think it better for two reasons, to abstain from any attempt at explaining the means by which its effect is produced. In the first place it might be prejudicial to the amazing interest with which every person must be struck who sees it; and secondly, the perfect novelty of the thing, and the extraordinary power by which it operates, almost makes us despair of giving an intelligible or a credible account of the little which a first visit has enabled us to ascertain. All we shall do, therefore, will be to describe the effect which a visitor beholds on entering the saloon. he sees before him a magnificent landscape, out into which nothing seems to prevent his walking but the benches occupied by lovely forms, whom his politeness will not permit him to disturb. this is the Valley of Sarnen, in Switzerland, perhaps the most enchanting specimen of all that is beautiful in natural scenery, that can be found even in that romantic country. In the foreground he will see a little rivulet rising and bubbling down its tiny precipice with all the animation of nature. Close behind it he sees a house, which wears the very air of invitation and hospitality. Then spreads out an expanse of country, decorated with every variety of rural charms. in its ample bosom rests a soft blue lake, and the distance is filled by mountains rearing their snow-crowned heads, and shining in all the diademic splendour which is conferred upon them by the sun’s rays. Suddenly, however, the beholder finds the brightness of the scene giving way to the approach of gloom. The hills lose their brightness, and the transparent blue of the tranquil lake is defaced by the reflection of the darkening clouds. A threatened storm passes off with all its fury to one of the mountaintops, and the beauty of nature is again vindicated by the restoration of her smiles and gladness. Having exhausted his admiration upon this magical delusion, he perceives that he, and all his fellow gazers, if they amount to three hundred, are receding from the view; and in a few seconds he finds himself looking up the nave of Trinity Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral. Here his wonder will be taxed to a still higher point; and he must hold fast of the impossibility with all his might, or he will conclude that some of the things which he sees before him are real and not imitative. We, of course, need not add, that the whole is pictorial illusion. It is altogether an exhibition unprecedented in its magnitude, and, in our opinion, far surpassing every thing of its kind in beauty. The Paintings rank high as works of art, independent of the astonishing interest they receive from this stupendous machine. We have been informed that above 12,000l. have been expended on the establishment previous to its opening. The price of admission appears at first sight to be high; but without considering the enormous expense to which we have alluded, we are sure that no one will think the money too much, after he has paid it. in short, the Diorama is an exhibition which every body must see.

Comments: The Diorama was the invention of Louis Daguerre, later one of the inventors of photography. The diorama was a visual spectacle presented in an elaborate theatre, able to accommodate around 350 people. The audience would viewed a large-scale landscape painting on a screen 70ftx45ft whose appearance would alter through the manipulation of lighting and scenic effects. A turntable would then rotate the audience around to view a second painting. The Diorama premiered in Paris in 1822, and opened in London at Regent’s Park on 29 September 1823 in a venue designed by Augustus Pugin (father of the architect of the same name). Daguerre himself was one of the artists who produced the paintings. The Diorama was a considerable popular success, and was followed by a number of imitator attractions. It was opened from 10am until dusk. The show lasted around 15 minutes. The prices of admission were 3 shillings (for seats in boxes), 2 shillings (standing in the ampitheatre), children aged under 12 half-price.

Links:
The Morning Post (British Newspaper Archive, subscription site)
R. Derek Wood, The Diorama in Great Britain in the 1820s (1993)

The Cinema in the Arena

Source: Extract from Joseph Roth (trans. Michael Hofmann), ‘The Cinema in the Arena’, in Report from a Parisian Paradise: Essays from France 1925-1939 (New York: W.W. Norton, 2004), pp. 38-40. Originally published in German in Frankfurter Zeitung, 12 September 1925

Text: The arena of Nîmes holds celebrated bullfights some afternoons, but in the evenings it houses a cinema, which is a rather more cultured thing than a bullfight. Currently. it is playing The Ten Commandments, that great American film that has already been shown in Germany. In the evening I take myself to the arena.

You have to hope it will stay dry, and in Nîmes the chances of that are good. It rains very rarely here, and never for long. The stones cool off in the evening. A couple of arc lamps light up half the arena. The other half is left in shade. The ghostly white forms of the huge crumbling blocks of stone loom up out of it. They have already been through so much, these stones. In the Middle Ages, two hundred families lived in the walls of the arena and built a church (in one of the spacious arches). In wartime the arena became a fortress. It survived the changing epochs, and time and again was emblematic of its era. Now, in 1925, it is no longer a church but a cinema, admittedly a cinema showing The Ten Commandments. At a time when these commandments are not much obeyed, that’s already saying something.

In the middle of the arena there’s the screen, like a white board in a classroom. In the archway opposite, the projector is purring away. The orchestra sits in front of the screen. The members of the audience (for fifty centimes) are free to wander about on the upper and lower stone seats. Some, who prefer to be cool and lofty, stand on the top edge of the wall, black against the blue sky. It’s a most marvelous cinema, cool, clean, without any danger of fire, and much more magnificent than a cinema has any need to be. If any Americans happen by, then surely by next year they’ll have put up a big concrete bowl, the largest in the world, with velvet trim, water closets, and glass roof.

Before the show the children play catch behind the screen, and hide-and-seek, and grandmother’s footsteps. All the children of Nîmes – and the people here have many children – go to the cinema. The mothers don’t forget to bring their infants. The youngest visitors are admitted free, though admittedly they don’t see anything but lie on their backs under the night sky, with open mouths as though to swallow the stars.

It seems almost feasible. Hereabouts the night sky is very open-handed with shooting stars. They fall not in an are, as they do in the North, but sideways, as if the heavens were rotating. There are several kinds of shooting stars. While the sentimental, ocean-diluted Bible is being shown on screen, the best thing to do is watch the shooting stars. Some are large, red, and lumpy. They slowly wipe across the sky, as though they were strolling, and leave a thin, bloody trail. Others again are small, swift, and silver. They fly like bullets. Others glow like little running suns and brighten the horizon considerably for quite some time.

Sometimes it’s as though the heavens opened and showed us a glimpse of red-gold lining. Then the split quickly closes, and the majesty is once more hidden for good.

From time to time a large, shooting star falls quite close. Then it’s like a silver rain. Each one vanishes in the same direction. Then the apparent quiet is restored to the deep blue, that everlasting fixity of the stars, of which we still manage to feel that they move, even if we didn’t know it.

There they are again, the old familiar constellations that remind everyone of childhood, because it was only as a child that one gazed at them so raptly. They are everywhere. There you are, so remote from your childhood, and yet you meet it again. That’s how small the world is.

And if you think some of it is foreign, you’re mistaken. Everywhere is home. The Great Bear is a little nearer, that’s all.

It was a good idea to put on a film in the old Roman arena. In such a cinema you come to comforting conclusions, as long as you look at the sky, rather than the screen.

Comments: Joseph Roth (1894-1939) was an Austrian journalist and novelist, best known for his novel Radetzky March. The Arena of Nîmes is a Roman amphitheatre built around AD 70 and is used today for public events, including concerts. The film mentioned is The Ten Commandments (USA 1923), directed by Cecil B. DeMille.

The Cinema Gains a Powerful Ally

Source: Northerner II, ‘This World of Ours: The Cinema Gains a Powerful Ally’, The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Mercury, 3 June 1953, p. 4

Text: I attended a revolution yesterday. I saw the triumph of large-screen television in the cinema. With about 2,000 other guests of J. Arthur Rank, I had been invited to the Odeon Theatre, Leeds, to watch the BBC’s television transmission of the Coronation – and we saw it on the largest screen in the country. The results were so good and the audience were so impressed that, as the show went on, the conviction grew that the magic box of the cinema had acquired a wonderful new trick. Television is certainly going to play an increasingly important part in bringing cinema audiences to the scenes of great events while they are actually taking place.

Yesterday’s show convinced Alderman H.M.G. McKay, Deputy Lord Mayor of Leeds, that the civic duties which had prevented him from going to London for the Coronation were a blessing in disguise. “I came into the theatre a disappointed man,” he said in a speech of thanks to the Odeon management. “My wife and I had been allocated tickets for seats on the Coronation procession route, but the Lord Mayor of Leeds’s Secretary is a hard-hearted man. He told me I could not got to London.

“The Lord Mayor and the Lady Mayoress are at the Abbey by Royal invitation – but I think we in this theatre are seeing a great deal more of the Abbey ceremony than they will see. It will give me great pleasure to tell the Lord Mayor all about it when he comes back to Leeds.”

Close-up of the Queen

The Odeon audience, who included old-age pensioners, nurses and representatives of many organisations in the city, shared Alderman MacKay’s enthusiasm. They applauded the Queen when she first appeared in the Royal Coach as it left Buckingham Palace. Their applause grew louder when a close-up shot made it appear as if she was smiling not at the cheering crowds who lined the streets but directly at us in the cinema.

They clapped Viscount Montgomery as he entered the Abbey in the procession. They clapped and cheered Sir Winston Churchill, who was wearing his most indomitable look. They gave a thunderous reception to the Duke of Edinburgh. But when the Queen entered, looking tense and serious, the cinema was hushed in sympathy with her for the ordeal that lay ahead.

For me the most moving part of the service was the singing of that noble hymn, “All people that on earth do dwell.” Some of the cinema audience softly joined in, and I am sure many more would have done so had the worlds of the hymn been flashed on the screen. I suggest that the BBC should adopt this practice on future occasions when people are asked to take part in the singing.

I can think of no other way in which the televising of the Coronation could have been improved. I thought the BBC carried out their extremely difficult task splendidly.

Comments: The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953 was broadcast live on BBC television, and played a major factor in popularising television in the United Kingdom. The live broadcast was also shown in some cinemas, holiday camps and other areas where large screens could be erected. Television in cinemas or theatres was not a new thing, however, having been first demonstrated by John Logie Baird at the Coliseum in London in 1930.