Trapped in “Black Russia”

Source: Ruth Pierce, Trapped in “Black Russia”: Letters June-November 1915 (Boston/New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1918) pp. 118-119

Text: Yes, we go from café to cinematograph and try and keep warm.

I’ve never liked moving pictures before. Here they are presented differently than in America. Some of the plays I’ve seen have the naïveté and simplicity of a confession. Others interpret abnormal, psychopathic characters whose feelings and thoughts are expressed by the actors with a fine and vivid realism. There is the exultation of life, and the despair, the aggression and apathy, the frivolity and the revolt. The action is taken slowly. There are no stars. You look at the screen as though you were looking at life itself. And the films don’t always have happy endings, because life isn’t always kind. It often seems senseless and cruel and crushes men’s spirits. I wish we could have these films in America instead of the jig-saw puzzles I’ve seen.

Comments: Mrs Ruth Pierce was an American living in Russia in 1915, but little else seems to be known about her. Her book is ostensibly a set letters written to her parents while she and her husband tried to get out of war-torn Russia. At the time of the cinema trip described here she was living in Kiev (then part of the Russian Empire). Russian films of the period were indeed distinguished by their psychopathic elements and tendency towards unhappy endings.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Letters

Source: James Joyce, extract from letter to Stanislaus Joyce, 1 ?March 1907, reproduced in Letters (ed. Richard Ellman) (New York: Viking, 1966), vol. 2, p. 217

Text: It is months since I have written a line and even reading tires me. The interest I took in socialism and the rest has left me. I have gradually slid down until I have ceased to take any interest in any subject. I look at God and his theatre through the eyes of my fellow-clerks so that nothing surprises, moves or excites me or disgusts me. Nothing of my former mind seems to have remained except a heightened emotiveness which satisfies itself in the sixty-miles-an-hour pathos of some cinematograph or before some crude Italian gazette-picture.

Comments: James Joyce (1882-1941) was an Irish novelist and briefly (December 1909-January 1910) a cinema manager. In March 1907, years before his first book was published, he was working in a bank in Rome, a low period of his life. Joyce was an occasional cinemagoer from the 1900s through to the 1920s, even when his eyesight became very poor.

Letters

Source: James Joyce, extract from letter to Stanislaus Joyce, 1 ?March 1907, reproduced in Letters (ed. Richard Ellman) (New York: Viking, 1966), vol. 2, p. 217

Text: It is months since I have written a line and even reading tires me. The interest I took in socialism and the rest has left me. I have gradually slid down until I have ceased to take any interest in any subject. I look at God and his theatre through the eyes of my fellow-clerks so that nothing surprises, moves or excites me or disgusts me. Nothing of my former mind seems to have remained except a heightened emotiveness which satisfies itself in the sixty-miles-an-hour pathos of some cinematograph or before some crude Italian gazette-picture.

Comments: James Joyce (1882-1941) was an Irish novelist and briefly (December 1909-January 1910) a cinema manager. In March 1907, years before his first book was published, he was working in a bank in Rome, a low period of his life. Joyce was an occasional cinemagoer from the 1900s through to the 1920s, even when his eyesight became very poor.

Louis Olivier to Louis Lumière

Source: Louis Olivier, in Jacques Rittaud-Hutinet (ed.), Letters: Auguste and Louis Lumière (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), translation by Pierre Hodgson, pp. 21-22

Text: Paris, 13 July 1895

Dear Sir,

I am writing to thank you once more for the enchanting evening you gave me and my friend last night. Wherever I was yesterday and again this morning, people said what a brilliant session it was, and how enthusiastic the audience was, as you know from the extent of the applause. We were delighted to discover these marvels, never before seen in Paris. I am sure that they will spread throughout the country.

I am most grateful to you for having given my guests a preview of this fine show which is an important landmark in the story of the photographic sciences. Allow me to compliment you, you and your brother, on the magnificent results you have obtained and to express the pleasure which I ex[p]erienced on viewing them.

Further, I enclose all the letters I received in response to my invitations, filed according to whether they are acceptances or not. Several people who said they would come did not and others who did not reply, did come. The entire Bouvier dinner came as a gang. All in all, about one hundred and fifty people probably passed through the rooms where the projection was held on Thursday night. A pleasure for everyone.

Yours etc.

Louis Olivier

Comment: The Cinématographe Lumière was shown to the Revue Générale des Sciences Pure et Appliquées in Paris on 11 July 1895. The films exhibited were La Voltige, Un Incendie, Les Forgerons, Place des Cordeliers, Répas de Bébé and Pêche aux Poissons Rouges. This was its fifth showing to private audiences. Other private shows followed before the first commercial screening on 28 December 1895.

Wartime Letters from Italy

Source: Charles Truitt, Wartime Letters from Italy (New York: The Sherwood Press, 1915), pp. 75-76

Text: I saw at a cinematograph the other evening a series of films showing the construction of the Panama Canal. It was a revelation even to me, who as an American am accustomed to seeing machines that in five minutes will do what a hundred men could not do in an hour. The Italian audience sat absolutely quiet, and when five hundred Italians sit in silence it means they are confronted by something that seems to them supernatural. I myself quite understood why the girl in front of me should shrink as out of the air there came a huge bird of steel that swooped down upon a hillside, opened its jaws, took a three thousand ton bite, swooped lower still, almost into the faces of us who sat in the front rows, and disgorged that mass of earth and gravel.

Judging from the films, apparently men at Panama counted for nothing more than intelligences that pressed a button here or a lever there to bring from its lair some monster of steel that carried small mountains from one place to another, wrenched mighty trees from the earth with one twist of their riveted tentacles or lifted bridges and trestles as if they were toys of tin.

The preceding films of love, hate and vendetta had brought forth tears, curses and hisses from the audience, but before these colossi of iron and steel with which the wonderful Americani win peaceful battles the impressionable Italians sat stupefied.

Comment: The US construction of the Panama Canal took place over 1904-1914.

Links:
Copy at Hathi Trust Digital Library

Bernard Shaw on Cinema

Source: Letter from George Bernard Shaw to Mrs Patrick Campbell, 19 August 1912, reproduced in Bernard F. Dukore, Bernard Shaw on Cinema (Carbondale/Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997), pp. 5-6

Text: Do you ever study the cinema? I, who go to an ordinary theatre with effort and reluctance, cannot keep away from the cinema. The actor I know best is Max Linder, though I never heard his voice nor saw his actual body in my life. But the difficulty is that though good looks and grace are supremely important in the cinema, most of the films are still made from pictures of second, third and fourth rate actresses, whose delighted willingness and energy, far from making up for their commonness, make it harder to bear. There is one woman whom I should shoot if her photograph were vulnerable. At Strassburg, however, I saw a drama which had evidently been played by a first rate Danish (or otherwise Scandanavian) company, with a really attractive leading lady, very sympathetic and expressive, without classical features but with sympathetic good looks, like Kate Rorke in the best days of her youth. Here I saw a femme fatale who was a fine figure of a woman, but so hard that she wouldnt [sic] have been fatal to anything in my house except a black beetle if her foot happened upon it. Also a belle mère who was a little more fascinating – so much so, indeed, that the audience applauded loudly when her husband, on looking out of the window and seeing her squeezing lemon juice into the medicine of her stepdaughter (to whom acid was fatal) seized a gun and shot her sans phrase. It is something to have people care whether you are shot or not. But she was only £15 a week at the very outside. Now all these Dramas are dramas of Bella Donna in one version or another. Twice I have seen a version called The Judgment of Solomon, which would have pleased me better if the had mother hadnt [sic] been absurdly like Florence in her most maddeningly goodnatured aspect. Besides, the baby, in spite of all the efforts of the performers to stifle it half the time and hide its cavernous mouth the other half, was evidently howling all through; so that Solomon would have been jusitified in having it cut in two merely to stop the noise.

Now I ask myself why should those mediocre ladies be preserved to all posterity whilst nothing of you but a few portraits which cannot produce your living charm. Nobody who has not seen you move – seen you ‘live and move and have your being’ – has the faintest idea of your fascination. I could make prettier photographs of women who, in action, are grimacing kangaroos. It would well be worth Pathé’s while to pay you £5000 for a film, even if you do make it a condition (which I should by no means advise you to do) that it was not to be exhibited in London. Think of that immortality – of beauty imperishable! Suppose you learnt that Mrs Siddons had had the opportunity of doing this, and hadnt [sic] done it through some snobbish scruple or other, wouldnt [sic] you swear at such little-minded folly? Think of being a beautiful old lady with white hair, able at last to enter a room full of men without seeing them all coming on guard at once with the Almroth Wright terror of sex slavery in their souls, and yet able to see yourself at the height of your vigor and militant beauty! You say you want a job; why not this job, since Lubin is away and THE job must wait for him or some other Adonis capable of standing beside you without being ridiculous.

Your G.B.S.

Comment: The Irish playright Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) corresponded regularly with the London stage actress Mrs Patrick Campbell (1865-1940), who was the first Eliza Doolittle in Shaw’s Pygmalion. Despite his pleas, she never appeared before motion picture cameras. The Scandanavian film actress to whom Shaw refers could be Asta Nielsen, though such was her fame that one would expect Shaw to have known her name, and she bears little resemblance to the young Kate Rorke, another London stage actress. Florence is Florence Farr, another stage actress. Sarah Siddons was a celebrated eighteenth century actress.