Some Unpublished Letters of Lafcadio Hearn

Source: Osman Edwards, ‘Some Unpublished Letters of Lafcadio Hearn’, Transactions and Proceedings of the Japan Society, vol. 16 (1918), pp. 16-32

Text: We know how he loved to mingle unobtrusively with the joys and sorrows of his unsophisticated neighbours. He gives the following account of a visit to a Tokyo cinema:

“Here I, too, have been looking at scenes of the Boer War – shadowed by the cinematograph. The representation was managed so as to create only sympathy for the Boers: and I acknowledge that it made my heart jump several times. The Boer girls and wives were displayed as shooting and being shot. What you would have enjoyed were the little discourses in Japanese, uttered between each exhibition. They were simple and appealed to Japanese sympathy, – to the sense of patriotism, and the duty of dying to the last man, woman, and child for one’s country.

Also I saw the Paris Exhibition (1900) in the Kinematograph – and – a can-can! Before the shadows began to dance, their dancing was properly apologised for to the Japanese audience. ‘It is rather queer dancing,’ said the man, ‘but the French think that it is very fine!’ The dancers kept white veils or something before them when they kicked, – police injunction, perhaps! You can imagine how the audience felt – and how I felt with them! And I was glad when it was over.”

Comments: Patrick Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) was an Irish-Greek journalist and travel writer best known for books on Japan, where he lived from 1890, taking on Japanese nationality with the name Koizumi Yakumo. The films of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) may have been the fictions produced by the Edison company. My thanks to Dawid Glownia for bringing this reference to my attention.

Letters of James Joyce

Source: James Joyce, extract from letter to Stanislaus Joyce, 28 December 1904, reproduced in Richard Ellmann (ed.), Letters of James Joyce, vol. II (New York: Viking Press, 1966), p. 75

Text: One night I had a severe cramp in my stomach and Nora prayed ‘O my God, take away Jim’s pain.’ The other evening we went to a bioscope. There were a series of pictures about betrayed Gretchen. In the third last Lothario throws her into the river and rushes off, followed by rabble. Nora said ‘O, policeman, catch him’.

Comments: James Joyce (1882-1941) was an Irish novelist and briefly (December 1909-January 1910) a cinema manager. In 1904, while he and Nora Barnacle were living in Pola (now Pula) in what is now Croatia but was then part of Austria-Hungary, they went to a travelling film show, possibly the ‘Bioscopio elettrico’ managed by Carlo Lifka, which was located close to the Berlitz language school where Joyce taught. The reference to Gretchen and Lothario is probably generic rather than a specific film with those characters. Stanislaus Joyce was his brother.

The Life and Letters of Sir Edmund Gosse

Source: Edmund Gosse, letter to Lady Gosse, 20 September 1909, in Evan Charteris, The Life and Letters of Sir Edmund Gosse (London, W. Heinemann, 1931), p. 317

Text: My dearest,—
Here is a day of heavenly brightness at last. I do so rejoice in it for you. I should think that Beaulieu must look quite lovely. Yesterday, at 8 in the morning, before I was out of bed, Evan telegraphed to know whether I would go to the Theatre. I did not like to leave Tessa alone, but she insisted I should go, and I wanted to see Evan, who was only passing through London. He started for Russia by the Moscow express this morning. We dined at the Ritz — such a nice little dinner, cold soup, a trout, a grouse and some raspberries, nothing more — but we could not get any theatre tickets we cared about. So at 9.45 we went to the Empire music-hall, and saw a very clever and amusing ballet, Une Visite a Paris (with the famous Apache dance), and afterwards, on the bioscope, the aviation week at Rheims. You cannot think how extraordinarily interesting this last was. To see the strange aeroplanes run along, and then soar up into the sky, and wheel gracefully about like great sleepy insects — most curious! It gave me my first idea of what it is all really like.

Comments: Edmund Gosse (1848-1928) was a British author and autobiographer. The film he saw was probably Pathé’s coverage of the aviation meeting held at Rheims in France, 22-29 August 1909, which was widely for shown and which was for many people the first sight that they had had of an aeroplane.

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Tinker's Mufti

Source: Basil Peacock, Tinker’s Mufti: Memoirs of a Part-Time Soldier (London: Seeley, 1974)

Text: The first entertainment I recall, for which one had to pay, was a panorama display in the town hall. It was mainly educational and consisted of a series of enormous canvases depicting scenes from Switzerland and Italy passing across a stage from one roller to another. The scenes were brilliantly coloured and lit, and a man gave a running commentary as they passed across. Towards the end of the performance, he announced that for the first time in Newcastle actual moving pictures would be shown on a screen. I remember that the actors in them looked foreign and appeared to be moving in heavy rainstorms. A few years later, moving pictures were shown in our church hall for the benefit of children in the Band of Hope. I remember seeing the first epic film, The Great Train Robbery, and being terrified when the steam engine seemed to be coming off the screen and into the audience.

Comments: Basil Peacock (1898-1991) was a dentist, a soldier, and a radio broadcaster, whose childhood was spent in Newcastle. There is more than a suggestion of mixed memories here. It is unlikely (if not impossible) that a panorama exhibition was combined with motion pictures, which were first shown on a screen in Newcastle two years before Peacock was born. The 1903 dramatic film The Great Train Robbery does not feature a scene in which the train comes at the audience (an effect more commonly ascribed to the 1896 Lumière film L’Arrivée d’un train).

Benares, the Stronghold of Hinduism

Man swallowing rat, from National Media Museum collection

Source: C.[harles] Phillips Cape, Benares, the Stronghold of Hinduism (Boston: R.G. Badger, 1910), pp. 209-210

Text: A night or two after our arrival, a magic-lantern entertainment was given outside the tent. It can hardly be called a lantern service, as some of the slides had a secular tendency. When the well-known moving picture of the rat-swallowing sleeper appeared on the sheet, the evangelist, thinking it must have a moral, explained to the wondering audience that this was the fruit of drunkenness.

But on another night, when this same slide was shown for the amusement of the children, one of our younger preachers informed the listeners that the swallower of rats was a victim of the opium habit! All the slides were not of this nature, for we followed with ‘Probable Sons,’ ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress,’ and finished with some scenes in the life of our Lord, which seemed to impress the people deeply. We thought we had been generous enough in allowing all to come without charge or collection, and were not a little surprised by a man asking next day how much we would give him if he attended the entertainment!

Comments: Charles Phillips Cape (1874-?) was a British Christian missionary. His book on Hindusim and Benares (now Varansi) is a mixture of missionary endeavour and travel writing. The incident described took place in a village outside the city. The set of images showing a sleeping man appearing to swallow a rat was one of the most popular of all magic lantern slide sets.

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Die Illusion im kinematographischen Theater

Source: Fred Hood [Friedrich Huth], extract from ‘Die Illusion im kinematographischen Theater,’ Der Kinematograph, 17 March 1907, quoted in Gabriele Pedullà (trans. Patricia Gaborik), In Broad Daylight: Movies and Spectators After the Cinema (London/New York: Verso, 2012, originally published in Italian in 2008), p. 51

Text: When we enter into a movie house, we immediately see the screen on the wall, which is nothing other than a large cloth framed with wood or velvet. We know that on this cloth nothing can really happen, as it were; it is as if it lacks the stage to put a good number of people in the scene. We would like to fall under the illusion, but this ought not to be made so difficult for us. Entering the auditorium, for example, we expect to see a stage. It is incredible how our emotions rise when, taking our place, we find the familiar old stage and curtain; certainly, the curtain should cover only the screen, hiding its edges. But our fancy enchants us, and we imagine a complete set design with wings, dressing rooms, trapdoors, machines that put actors in flight, etc. If one does not want to construct an artificial stage, there is still another possibility for intensifying the illusion. An architectural frame can be placed on the wall to make the screen seem to emerge from a big opening. In this way we would see the events, as it were, from the balcony of a salon, from a castle loggia. This seems like an even better solution because we get something like the impression that everything is happening far away. Anyone who keeps these elements in mind will manage greatly to increase the public’s interest in movies.

Comments: Fred Hood was the pseudonym of Friedrich Huth (1866-c1935), a German secondary school teacher. He wrote several commentaries on film and cinemagoing in German journals at this period.

Memoirs

Source: Sir Almeric FitzRoy, Memoirs (New York: G.H. Doran Company, 1925), p. 105

Text: September 14th. … Unlike the practice in the Queen’s time, the whole party in the house, King and Queen included, dine together. Jimmie Webb and Lady Cecily were also there from Mar Lodge. The King and Queen entered the drawing-room where we were all assembled, and shook hands with the newcomers, and then proceeded into the dining-room together. The Queen’s manner during dinner was much more vivacious than I had been led to expect, and she wore an expression of interest that belied her deafness, though Lord Cromer told me he did not think she heard a word he said.

After dinner we were called upon to witness a cinematograph entertainment; the scenes were mostly taken from the Coronation Procession, and the gilded coach was presented to us ad nauseam; very few of the figures were recognisable, and the oscillation of the medium affected the optic nerves most unpleasantly. The display opened with a vulgar presentment of the King on a very large scale, which elicited from His Majesty the characteristic remark: “Decorations on the wrong side!”

Comments: Almeric FitzRoy (1851-1935) was Chief Clerk to the Privy Council of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. This extract from his chatty memoirs comes from a diary entry for 14 September 1902, shortly after the coronation of Edward VII. The location was Balmoral in Scotland.

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Childhood Years

Source: Junichiro Tanizaki (trans. Paul McCarthy), Childhood Years: A Memoir (London: Collins, 1990, orig. pub. 1957), pp. 137-138

Text: There were some good places like the Yurakukan, falling somewhere between a legitimate theater and a vaudeville hall. The result was that a variety of interesting and unusual entertainments were presented: it was there that I saw my first motion picture and my first Western-style marionette show. According to One Hundred Stories of the World of Meiji by the late Yamamoto Shogetsu, the first presentation of a motion picture in Tokyo was around February 1897 at the Kabukiza; and the Yurakukan must have begun showing them soon after. They were either simple records of actual events taken on the spot on trick shots, and the ends of the reel would be joined together so that the same films could be projected over and over. I can still remember a scene, endlessly repeated, of high waves rolling in on a shore somewhere, breaking, and then receding, and of a lone dog playing there, now pursuing, now being pursued by the retreating and advancing waters. There was also a scene of a long line of horses in the distance at the edge of a broad plain, looking as small as grains of millet, They came rushing straight towards the camera, growing bigger moment by moment until finally they were upon us. Suddenly they veered away into the distance, to be succeeded by another thin line on the horizon.

Then there were scenes reminiscent of the upheavals that attended the French Revolution or the persecution of the Protestants after the Reformation: aristocratic-looking women are being dragged to the place of execution, placed on a great pile of bundled faggots, and burned to death; the smoke billows forth and the women are enveloped in flames; at last the fire and smoke die down to reveal only ashes – not even the outlines of the bodies remain.

There was yet another scene in which two beautiful, almost naked women, one on either side of a devil dressed like Mephistopheles. He summons one of them and orders her to lie on a table shaped like a chopping block. He then wraps her body in a huge sheet of glistening black material like carbon paper. A sign is given, and the body of the woman in its black wrappings rises into the air. Then from the area of her feet flames appear and begin to lick at her body, moving upward and finally consuming her, paper wrappings and all.

Comments: Junichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965) was a major Japanese novelist, who also worked for a time as a scriptwiter for the Taikatsu studio in the 1920s. The films he recalls at Yurakukan are a mixture of 1890s and 1900s works: waves breaking on a shore was a common subject in some the earliest film shows; the trick films and the burning of the women would have been a few years later (possibly French Pathé productions). Film reels could not be joined end-to-end to be projected on an endless loop. The first projected motion pictures were exhibited in Tokyo in March 1897 (preceded by showings in Osaka in February).

Six Years at the Russian Court

Source: M. Eagar, Six Years at the Russian Court (New York: Charles L. Bowman, 1906), pp. 87-88

Text: Once there was a cinematograph exhibition for the children and some friends. One picture showed two little girls playing in a garden, each with a table before her covered with toys. Suddenly the bigger girl snatched a toy from the little one who, however, held on to it and refused to give it up. Foiled in her attempts, the elder seized a spoon and pounded the little one with it, who quickly relinquished the toy and began to cry. Tatiana wept to see the poor little one so ill-treated, but Olga was very quiet. After the exhibition was over she said, “I can’t think that we saw the whole of that picture.” I said I hoped the end of it was that the naughty big sister was well punished, adding that I thought we had seen quite enough as I had no wish to see anything more of such a naughty girl. Olga then said, “I am sure that the lamb belonged at first to the big sister, and she was kind and lent it to her sister; then she wanted it back, and the little sister would not give it up, so she had to beat her.”

Comments: Margaretta Eagar (1863-1936) was an Irish governess who from 1898-1904 cared for the four daughters of the Emperor and Empress of Russia: Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. The screening appears to have taken place at the Russian royal residence at Tsarskoye Selo, near St Petersburg, and dates from the early 1900s. I have not been able to identify the film.

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The Moving Picture Show

Source: Howard D. King, ‘The Moving Picture Show’, The Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. LIII no. 7, 14 August 1909, pp. 519-520

Text: The development of the cheap moving picture and musical theaters as factors in the health of the community seems to have escaped the notice of the medical press. To-day every village and hamlet in the United States boasts a moving picture show. In the large cities of the north and cast it is not unusual for a hundred and often more to be in operation. In Europe they are outnumbered only by the public houses and cabarets. As is well known, the great majority of these theaters exist where the population is greatly congested, as in tenement districts and laboring settlements. The reason for this is obvious. It is the patronage of the poorer classes which makes the moving picture industry a paying proposition. These cheap theaters are usually located in old rookeries or poorly paying commercial sites, as abandoned shops of small tradesmen, etc. In the construction or building alteration of these places for their special needs the one object in view is to obtain a maximum seating capacity in as small a space as possible. No attention whatever is paid to ventilation and not the slightest heed given to the simplest sanitary details. The health or comfort of the patron is a secondary consideration. Municipal regulation is limited to fire prevention and safety exits – and this only after several serious catastrophes.

The performances are continuous, and thus an ever-moving stream of humanity, constantly passing in and out, stirs up dust and dirt that verily reeks with tubercle bacilli. The programs in these resorts have been considerably lengthened owing to the keenness of competition. The result is that an audience is confined within these ill-ventilated and poorly sanitated amusement resorts often for more than an hour and a half, breathing in air which has become befouled and disease-laden through lack of sufficient air capacity. The superabundance of carbon dioxid and organic matter in the air gives rise to sick stomach, headache and a drowsy feeling. The small fee of admission is responsible for a class of patronage which is entirely oblivious of the simplest health precautions. Spitting on the floor is a common practice and is allowed to go unnoticed. Signs calling attention to the dangers of the vicious habit of indiscriminate expectoration are rare. The use of the electric fan in certain of these resorts, while refreshing to the overheated patron, also serves to dry up the sputum with greater dispatch, thus increasing its disease productiveness. Cleaning the premises is impossible during the hours of operation, which gives some idea of the amount of filth that accumulates.

Robust and vigorous individuals employed as singers and musicians, appearing as often as twelve and thirteen times a day in these crowded resorts, soon undergo a remarkable change of health. Poor ventilation produces not only discomfort and loss of energy, but greater susceptibility to disease, especially tuberculosis. Many of the singers are raw amateurs and know nothing of the care and preservation of the voice, and in many instances a voice capable of greater things is lost to the public through exposure to such unfavorable conditions. Laryngeal troubles are a frequent source of annoyance to this class of people through excessive vocal effort and constant confinement. I have treated many of the singers employed by the cheap moving picture shows and found the majority of them to be of a decided phthisical tendency. The film operator who is confined cubby-hole at an exceedingly high temperature falls an easy prey to tuberculosis. Constant attendance at the scene of employment, coupled with the irregularity of meals and uncertain hours, is responsible for the fact that many of the male artists become alcoholics. Taken all in all, the cheap provincial picture theater artist has no easy task and sooner or later another victim is enrolled under the banner of the white plague.

The general practitioner is often consulted by a patient complaining of headache and burning eyes which run water as soon as they come in contact with strong light. After a thorough examination, including urinalysis, the patient is referred to an ophthalmologist in order that a refractive error may be corrected and the patient relieved of the heartache and the visual irritation. In a great number of cases the ophthalmologist will report that there is no error of refraction and that he is unable to account for the headache and the running burning eyes. An inquiry into the habits of the patient will elicit the information that he is a devotee of the moving picture show. The constant gazing on a rapidly moving and scintillating film with every mental faculty alert to maintain the connection of the story is sufficient to produce an eyestrain of great severity and thus cause headache and burning eves. The only remedy is rest and cessation from this form of amusement. After a few weeks vision becomes normal or nearly so and no ill results are experienced unless the patient resumes his former habits. In many cases the eye trouble assumes a severity that calls for long and persistent treatment on the part of the ophthalmologist.

Moving picture shows in tenement districts and labor settlements should exhibit pictures that tend to elevate the mind and improve the moral condition of their audiences. Pictures portraying scandal, illicit amours and criminal cupidity very often have a debasing effect on a mind that is already morally warped through environment and surroundings, thereby bringing to the surface a latent criminality. If the moving picture shows are to remain, radical changes must be made.

Rigid inspection by the health authorities is absolutely necessary. Proper ventilation by means of exhaust air fans, airifiers and other ventilating appliances and numerous apertures with sufficient air intake must be provided. The number of cubic feet of air necessary for health should be determined by the seating capacity. The flooring should be oiled, not carpeted or covered with dust-gathering material. Plush-covered and velvet-covered seats should also be prohibited for obvious reasons. Suspension of the performance at the end of every five hours, when the orchestra or seating hall should undergo a thorough cleaning, is of urgent necessity. The cleaning could be accomplished within forty-five minutes by the aid of the vacuum cleaner and should be followed by a draught of pure air throughout the place, it possible. At the termination of the day’s performance the whole resort should be given the proper sanitary attention. Signs should be conspicuously posted as to the evils of spitting.

CONCLUSIONS

That a great deal of eye trouble is due to moving picture shows cannot be denied. The singers, musicians and film operators of these resorts fall an easy prey to tuberculosis through excessive vocal efforts, constant confinement, irregular habits and long hours. As a disseminator of tuberculosis the moving picture theater ranks high and it will become necessary to enact special health laws to remedy the evil.

Comments: Dr Howard D. King practiced in New Orleans. Early motion picture venues were regularly criticised for their poor hygiene, and the films condemned as the cause of eye-strain. It was common practice at this time for singers to perform in American nickelodeons, along with illustrative slides, in between reel changes.

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