Leaving the Movie Theater

Source: Extract from Roland Barthes (trans. Richard Howard), ‘Leaving the Movie Theater’, in The Rustle of Language (New York: Hill and Wang, 1986), pp. 345-346

Text: There is something to confess: your speaker likes to leave a movie theater. Back out on the more or less empty brightly lit sidewalk (it is invariably at night, and during the week, that he goes), and heading uncertainly for some café or other, he walks in silence (he doesn’t like discussing the film he’s just seen), a little dazed, wrapped up in himself, feeling the cold – he’s sleepy, that’s what he’s thinking, his body has become something sopitive, soft, limp, and he feels a little disjointed, even (for a moral organization, relief comes only from this quarter) irresponsible. In other words, obviously, he’s coming out of hypnosis. And hypnosis (an old psychoanalytic device – one that psychoanalysis these days seems to treat quite condescendingly) means only one thing to him; the most venerable of powers: healing. And he thinks of music: isn’t there such a thing as hypnotic music? The castrato Farinelli, whose messa di voce was “as incredible for its duration as for its emission,” relieved the morbid melancholy of Philip V by singing him the same aria every night for fourteen years.

This is often how he leaves a movie theater. How does he go in? Except for the – increasingly frequent – case of a specific cultural quest (a selected, sought for, desired film, object of a veritable preliminary alert), he goes to movies as a response to idleness, leisure, free time. It’s as if, even before he went into the theater, the classic conditions of hypnosis were in force: vacancy, want of occupation, lethargy; it’s not in front of the film and because of the film that he dreams off – it’s without knowing it, even before he becomes a spectator. There is a “cinema situation,” and this situation is pre-hypnotic. According to a true metonymy, the darkness of the theater is prefigured by the “twilight reverie” (a prerequisite for hypnosis, according to Breuer-Freud) which precedes it and leads him from street to street, from poster to poster, finally burying himself in a dim, anonymous, indifferent cube where that festival of affects known as a film will be presented.

What does the “darkness” of cinema mean? (Whenever I hear the word cinema, I can’t help thinking hall, rather than film.) Not only is the dark the very substance of reverie (in the pre-hypnoid meaning of the term); it is also the “color” of a diffused eroticism; by its human condensation, by its absence of worldliness (contrary to the cultural appearance that has to be put in at any “legitimate theater”), by the relaxation of postures (how many members of the cinema audience slide down into their seats as if into a bed, coats or feet thrown over the row in front!), the movie house (ordinary model) is a site of availability (even more than cruising), the inoccupation of bodies, which best defines modern eroticism – not that of advertising or strip-tease, but that of the big city. It is in this urban dark that the body’s freedom is generated; this invisible work of possible affects emerges from a veritable cinematographic cocoon; the movie spectator could easily appropriate the silkworm’s motto: Inclusum labor illustrat; it is because I am enclosed that I work and glow with all my desire.

In this darkness of the cinema (anonymous, populated, numerous – oh, the boredom, the frustration, of so-called private showings!) lies the very fascination of the film (any film). Think of the contrary experience: on television, where films are also shown, no fascination; here darkness is erased, anonymity repressed; space is familiar, articulated (by furniture, known objects), tamed: the eroticism – no, to put it better, to get across the particular kind of lightness, of unfulfillment we mean: the eroticization of the place is foreclosed: television doomed us to the Family, whose household instrument it has become – what the hearth used to be, flanked by its communal kettle …

Comments: Roland Barthes (1915-1980) was a French literary theorist and semiotician. This text, of which the first part is reproduced here, comes from a posthumously-published collection of essays written between 1967 and 1980.

A Cinema in the Harbour

Source: Extract from Joseph Roth (trans. Michael Hofmann), ‘A Cinema in the Harbour’, in Report from a Parisian Paradise: Essays from France 1925-1939 (New York: W.W. Norton, 2004), pp. 64-66 . Originally published in German in Frankfurter Zeitung, 4 November 1925

Text: The cinema faces the ships. From out at sea a man who has long lived without the pleasures of terra firma can take out his binoculars and make out the large, colourful posters. The cinema goes by the modest name “Cosmos.” Today, it is showing the film called Red Wolves.

The Red Wolves are a band of robbers in the Abruzzi. They have kidnapped the beautiful Margot and hidden her in a high tower miles from anywhere. Ah, but what is miles from anywhere, how high is high? A brave young man by the name of Cesare joins the Red Wolves, but only for appearances: What he really wants is to free Margot.

You probably imagine joining a band of robbers is a simple matter? Let me tell you! It’s incredibly difficult.You need to take a battery of tests, in wrestling, in knife fighting, and in arm wrestling. This series of tests takes up most of the film. Cesare comes through them and gains the applause not only of the Red Wolves but of the audience here, who dream of being robbers in the Abruzzi.

The film about the Red Wolves is screened eight times a day, from ten in the morning until midnight. Cesare passes his tests eight times a day, and eight times the audience gets enraptured, a third of them spending the entire day in the cinema. This one-third are women and children. By day it’s cooler in the dark cinema than it is in their own cramped apartments and in the even more cramped streets. So the women go there to cool off. Children get in for nothing. Every adult visitor brings at least four children with her. She pays for one seat and occupies five.

In the evening the men, dockworkers in the harbour, come along. They eat, they wash, and they go to the cinema. They watched and cheered Cesare’s deeds yesterday and the day before yesterday. But it’s not possible to see enough of such heroism, if you are nothing more than a dockworker – with the dream in your heart of being a robber in the Abruzzi.

Even more romantic than a harbour is the robbers’ cave in the Abruzzi. The day labourer who is today a fisherman, tomorrow gets taken on as a seaman, and the day after finds himself in a distant port watching the film about the Red Wolves finds his life insufficiently romantic.

I like to imagine the robbers in the Abruzzi going to the cinema to see a film about the sea dogs of Marseilles. The robbers in the mountain envy the men of the port. The robber treats his calling as a humdrum job, and dreams of something romantic and exotic elsewhere. It is these reciprocal yearnings that make the film industry tick.

And yet the men in the harbour have roughly the same traits as the men of the mountains. The dockers stab with Corsican knives; they are passionate arm wrestlers with their friends, a stage wrestling matches with their colleagues. They are pleased to see that these same recreations are also popular in the Abruzzi. While still sitting in the cinema, they pull out their knives, and, not taking their eyes off the screen, give their neighbour a playful little stab.

The neighbour, who doesn’t stand for this sort of nonsense, challenges his friend to step up in front of the screen and make like Cesare.

So in the cinema, you don’t just see the deeds of men of the Abruzzi but also those of the men of Marseilles.

Meanwhile the pianist keeps banging out La Fille du Régiment. No wonder the viewers are getting restive. They want a different tune. The pianist gets up, walks out, and the film continues without music.

A little later I see a large, angry-looking man. He’s not putting up with the piano-player’s rudeness. One knows what it means when a very large, very broad man, with a broad red belt slung around his hips, with about one inch of forehead and with hands like iron shovels, won’t stand for the impertinence of a tiny piano player in evening dress and umbrella.

Five minutes later the pianist is wriggling in the iron grip of the irate cinemagoer, the lights go on, and everyone laughs. The giant waves to the crowd with his left hand, plunks the pianist down in front of his instrument, and decrees the tune desired by the majority.

And the film carries on. …

Comments: Joseph Roth (1894-1939) was an Austrian journalist and novelist, best known for his novel Radetzky March. I have not been able to identify any film of this period called ‘The Red Wolves’ (or a translation of this) or which features a robber band called by that name.

D.V.

Source: Diana Vreeland (ed. George Plimpton and Christopher Hemphill), D.V. (New York: Harper Collins, 2011, orig. 1984), pp. 48-50

Text: One night in Paris, after I was married, a friend and I went to a little theatre above Montmartre to see a German movie called L’Atlantide, with a wonderful actress in it called Brigitte Helm, who played the Queen of the Lost Continent. It was the middle of July. It was hot. The only seats in the theatre were the third balcony, under the rafters, where it was even hotter. There were four seats in a row, and we took two.

We sat there, the movie started … and I became totally intoxicated by it. I was mesmerized! I have no idea if I actually saw the movie I thought I was seeing, but I was absorbed by these three lost Foreign Legion soldiers with their camels, their woes … they’re so tired, they’re delirious with dehydration … And then you see the fata morgana. That means if you desire a woman, you see a woman, if you desire water, you see water – everything you dream, you see. But you never reach it. It’s all an illusion.

Then … a sign of an oasis! There’s a palm … and more palms. Then they’re in the oasis, where they see Brigitte Helm, this divine-looking woman seated on a throne – surrounded by cheetahs! The cheetahs bask in the sun. She fixes her eyes on the soldiers. One of them approaches her. She gives him a glass of champagne and he drinks it. Then she takes the glass from him, breaks it, cuts his throat with it…

And et cetera.

This goes on and on, I hadn’t moved an inch. At some point I moved my hand … to here … where it stayed for the rest of the movie. I was spellbound because the mood was so sustained. I was simply sucked in, seduced by this thing of the desert, seduced by the Queen of the Lost Continent, the wickedest woman who ever lived … and her cheetahs! The essence of movie-ism.

Then … the lights went on, and I felt a slight movement under my hand. I looked down — and it was a cheetah! And beside the cheetah was Josephine Baker!

“Oh,” I said, “you’ve brought your cheetah to see the cheetahs!”

“Yes,” she said, “that’s exactly what I did.”

She was alone with the cheetah on a lead. She was so beautifully dressed. She was wearing a marvelous little short black skirt and a little Vionnet shirt — no sleeves, no back, no front, just crossed bars on the bias. Don’t forget how hot it was, and of course the great thing was to get out of the theatre we were in. The cheetah, naturally, took the lead, and Josephine, with those long black legs, was dragged down three flights of stairs as fast as she could go, and that’s fast.

Out in the street there was an enormous white-and-silver Rolls-Royce waiting for her. The driver opened the door; she let go of the lead; the cheetah whooped, took one leap into the back of the Rolls, with Josephine right behind; the door closed … and they were off!

Ah! What a gesture! I’ve never seen anything like it. It was speed at its best, and style. Style was a great thing in those days.

Comments: Diana Vreeland (1903-1989) was a fashion writer who worked for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, where she was editor-in-chief. Josephine Baker was an African-American dancer who gained great fame in France. Her pet cheetah’s name was Chiquita. L’Atlantide (Germany/France 1932) was directed by G.W. Pabst. My thanks to Artemis Willis from bringing this unique passage to my attention.

The World of Yesterday

Source: Stefan Zweig (trans. Anthea Bell), The World of Yesterday (London: Pushkin Press, 1992 – orig. pub. 1942), pp. 232-234

Text: In the Spring of 1914 I had left Paris, with a woman friend, to spend a few days in Touraine, where we were going to see the grave of Leonardo da Vinci. We had walked along the banks of the Loire in mild, sunny weather, and were pleasantly weary by evening. So we decided to go to the cinema in the rather sleepy town of Tours, where I had already paid my respects to the house in which Balzac was born.

It was a small suburban cinema, not at all like our modern picture palaces made of chromium and shining glass. Only a hall perfunctorily adapted for the purpose, and full of labourers, soldiers, market women, a crowd of ordinary people enjoying a gossip and blowing clouds of Scaferlati and Caporal tobacco smoke into the air, in definace of a No Smoking sign. First on the screen came a newsreel – ‘News From All Over the World’. A boat race in England; the people talked and laughed. Then a French military parade, and again the audience took little notice. But the third item was entitled: ‘Kaiser Wilhelm Visits Emperor Franz Joseph in Vienna’. Suddenly I saw on the screen the familiar platform of the Westbahnhof in Vienna, an ugly railway station building, along with a few policemen waiting for the train to come in. Then a signal was given, and old Emperor Franz Joseph walked past the guard of honour to welcome his guest. As the old Emperor appeared on the screen, stooping slightly and not entirely steady on his feet as he passed the line of men, the audience in Tours smiled kindly at the old gentleman with his white side whiskers. Then there was a picture of the train coming in, the first, the second and the third class carriages. The door of the saloon car was opened, and out stepped Wilhelm II, the ends of his moustache bristling, wearing the uniform of an Austrian general.

At the moment when Kaiser Wilhelm appeared in the picture a storm of whistling and stamping broke out entirely spontaneously in the dark hall. Everyone was shouting and whistling, men, women and children all jeering as if they had been personally insulted. For a second the kindly people of Tours, who knew nothing of the world beyond what was in their newspapers, were out of their minds. I was horrified, deeply horrified. For I felt how far the poisoning of minds must have gone, after years and years of hate propaganda, if even here in a small provincial city the guileless citizens and soldiers had been roused to fury against the Kaiser and Germany – such fury that even a brief glimpse on the screen could provoke such an outburst. It was only a second, a single second. All was forgotten once other pictures were shown. The audience laughed heartily at the comedy that now followed, slapping their knees loudly with delight. Only a second, yes, but it showed me how easy it could be to whip up bad feeling on both sides at a moment of serious crisis, in spite of all attempts to restore understanding, in spite of our own efforts.

The entire evening was spoilt for me. I couldn’t sleep. If it had happened in Paris, it would have made me just as uneasy, but it would not have shaken me so much. However, seeing how far hatred had eaten into the kindly, simple people here in the depths of the provinces made me shudder.

Comments: Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) was an Austrian novelist and journalist. He committed suicide the day after he completed his memoir The World of Yesterday (originally published in German in Stockholm as Die Welt von Gestern). Kaiser Wilhelm II arrived in Vienna on 26 March 1914.

Bioscoop

Source: Louis Couperus, ‘Bioscoop’, Haagsche Post, 2 December 1916, English translation by Ivo Blom in ‘North and South: two early texts about cinema-going by Louis Couperus’, Film History vol. 20, issue 2 (2008), pp. 127-132

Text: The contrast between North and South manifests itself in many different ways. At the Bioscoop, too. First of all, in the South the Bioscoop is called Cinematografo in Italy or Cine in Spain. Well, this difference is negligible. But in both southern countries the difference is great as compared with cinema in Germany and the Netherlands. As soon as we go North, the cinema becomes something of a theater, becomes pretentiously heavy. You are received by employees in braided frocks, your coat and stick are taken from you, you are allocated a certain, fixed seat, you are not allowed to stand up, you notice everyone around you in the shimmering darkness in their seats for hours, there is an intermission … Nothing of all this in Italy or Spain. Not only is the cinematografo or the cine much cheaper than the bioscoop, but the whole interior is more light-hearted, comfortable, accommodating. The illuminated foyer which you can see from the street is inviting, with a salon orchestra (albeit not very attractive to me personally), and a reading table. To enter when it rains, when I don’t want to go to a bar, when I have paraded around enough, when I am tired, bored … I pay 30 centimes and whenever I want to look rich, 50 centimes. I cannot go above that, unless for a world famous film such as Quo Vadis? Even for 50 centimes – both in Italy and Spain – my seat is too chic, so terribly chic, that I prefer to pay 30 centimes … Around me are casual, very decent people, so decent that if I want to see the less decent, I need to descend into places where I pay only 20 or 15 or 10 centimes. I see the same films, but … one week later. But everywhere the experience is light and capricious, an ephemeral joy, while in the North cinema has shut itself inside an impenetrable shell. Really, when I walk into a cinema I want to do it in a light-hearted and casual way. I’ll stand up for a quarter of an hour if necessary, just to see Max Linder or a scene of the war, and then leave again. Dear heavens, you really notice when you are in the North, as soon as you are away from Italy: in Munich or … The Hague. There is no question of standing up; everything is so solemn and heavy, that your first casual impulse to see a film is immediately crushed. In Italy I saw the whole war in Tripoli screened before me, surrounded by a decent officer-with-family audience, without reserving seats and always for 30 centimes each day. Here, I am hesitant to go and see The Battle of the Somme because I don’t want to reserve a seat. I want to keep my coat on, even keep my wet umbrella with me; I’d rather stand than sit; in particular I don’t want to turn my cinema joy into a solemn visit; rather I desire an unpretentious, casual ‘walking in’, a passing pleasure, which should not last more than twenty minutes at the most.

Oh North and South, not even in the bioscoop and cinematograph do you have anything in common.

But now the analysis. Why is it so different in the North and the South? Because of the heavy soul of the Northerners? Of course, but also because ‘street life’ does not exist in the North and because in the South ‘walking into a cinema’ is a part of everyday life. Just as in the North it is not allowed in a lunchroom bar to toss off a little glass of vermouth standing up, so it is not normal to consider the cinema as a short halt in your flanerie, as a shelter from the rain, as a short, oh, so short, distraction from the melancholy which can so affect the flaneur when he is lonely, wandering among the busy crowd. And so he longs for Max Linder or Charles Prince; yes, even some lively pictures of actuality, whose photographic ugliness, teasing and screeching, scratch the silently suffering soul of the purposeless street wanderer when the winter twilight hour nears, when the shopping lights and street lanterns are starting to flame and the pain of wistfulness hurts him, without really knowing why …

It is then that you lose yourself – not in a bar where the electric light shines mercilessly – and where you need to drink something; it is then that you lose yourself, in the South, in the cinematograph, where you can watch pictures as if still on your mother’s lap.

Comments: Louis Couperus (1863-1923) was a Dutch novelist and poet and is considered one of the leading figures in Dutch literature. He wrote about films in his regular ‘Bioscoop’ column for the Dutch newspaper Haagsche Post. The films referred to are Quo Vadis? (Italy 1913) and The Battle of the Somme (UK 1916). Max Linder and Charles Prince were French film comedians, the latter known on-screen as Rigadin. Bioscoop is the Dutch word for a cinema building, taken from the English word Bioscope. My thanks to Ivo Blom for his permission to reproduce his translation, and to Deac Rossell for alerting me to the Film History article. Ellipses are as given in the Film History translation.

The little Madeleine

Source: Mrs Robert Henrey, The little Madeleine: the autobiography of a young French girl (New York: Dutton, 1953), pp. 199-200, 204-205

Text: Mme Maurer, grateful and generous, found a charming way to say thank you. Immediately after lunch on my half-holiday she, my mother, and I would go to the cinema in the Avenue de Clichy, where the programme included a film in several episodes, with Pearl White, and a Max Linder comedy. The programme started at two, and as soon as I heard the bell announcing the approach of the great moment my excitement was immense. Pathé Journal began with a flickering news-reel. Weary soldiers in long files marched down the lines. Lloyd George and Clemenceau danced across the screen with unbelievable speed. King George V and his good-looking son, the Prince of Wales, shook hands with soldiers and climbed over trenches and barbed wire. The cinema seemed to soak all these famous men and incidents with an oblique and incessant rain.

My mother found in these visits to the cinema her first moments of genuine pleasure. We would discuss what we had seen, thinking all the week about the next episode. A little later the great Gaumont Palace was opened in the Place Clichy. Then it was a different matter. The most famous cabaret singers in Paris were engaged to appear in the intervals, and the auditorium, full of soldiers and officers of every nation, made our hearts beat with patriotism.

[…]

When my father was on a night shift my mother, Marguerite Rosier (we had now forgiven her for running away from the man with the knife), and I went to a cheap cinema in the Boulevard National, arriving half an hour before the performance started, to be sure of having the best seats.

Our cinema smelt of garlic and peppermint drops. Palm-trees stood on either side of the stage, their branches casting uneven shadows on the white screen like giant spiders. Excitedly we waited. In spite of our love for Pearl White we had not quite cured ourselves of thinking of the cinema in terms of the age-old theatre, and we had gone instinctively to the front of the stalls where, after a while, we would see appear from behind a curtain a little hunchback woman with a big white head surmounted by a number of diamanté spangled combs. She would slip her rheumatic knees under an upright piano and begin a Strauss waltz. The apache boys from the fortifications who were here in large numbers whistled the accompaniment, while putting an arm round the shoulder of a girl, getting into position to unbutton the blouse and fondle her breasts. These were the girls who worked for them as prostitutes on the outer zone, drawing men with alluring gestures, like Circes, near to the wall where the apache lay in waiting with his knife. All the boys wore their caps and sometimes their red scarves. A few moments later came a small dark man holding a violin case tightly under his arm, and as he made his way towards the hunchback his journey was followed by loud whistles and exclamations of ‘Hurry up, maestro! You’re late, brother! Let’s go and sleep with his wife while he scratches a tune on his fiddle!’ The fiddler, pale and without any sign of fluster, removed a black hat, placing it carefully on the edge of a chair, folded his overcoat, took up the hat which he would then place on top of the folded overcoat, and delicately brush the dandruff from his narrow shoulders. At last he opened the case, holding the violin under an arm whilst he put a handkerchief under his chin. The audience invariably cried out: ‘The little old man is going to weep!’ Then dolefully: ‘Don’t worry, daddy, you’ll see her again, your girl friend!’ Now at last, with a sign of his bow to the hunchback, he would begin to play. The lights would go out. The screen flickered.

By the time the big film started this chaffing audience was settling down to the charms of Mary Pickford with her blonde curls. The love-story was getting the better of these boys and girls from the fortifications who, for all their naughtiness, were just sentimental children. At this magnificent moment, after all the fatigues of the long day, after school, after queueing, after playing in the street, exhausted, I fell fast asleep on my mother’s shoulder! This happened every time we went to the cinema. Before setting out in the evening I would say: ‘If I go to sleep you will wake me up, won’t you, mother?’ She promised. Indeed she did wake me, but after rubbing the sand out of my eyes and trying to unravel the plot, I fell asleep again, and my mother, transported to a land of make-believe, was far too interested in the romance to keep on pinching my arm. I would sulk on the way home, and childishly threaten to tell my father where we had been. My mother answered patiently: ‘To-morrow I will describe the whole episode to you while you are sewing, and next time you really must try to keep awake!’

Comments: Madeleine Henrey (1906-2004), who mostly published as Mrs Robert Henrey, was a French author of popular memoirs. Her son, Bobby Henrey, played the child lead in the film The Fallen Idol (UK 1948). The Gaumont Palace, located at Place Clichy, Paris, opened in December 1907, ahead of Henrey’s First World War period memories. It was the largest cinema in Europe, seating over 6,000.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Heart of a Soldier

Source: Lauchlan MacLean Watt, The Heart of a Soldier (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1918), pp. 78-79

Text: There are constant opportunities for the artist amongst our men, if only the artist were there to catch the play of firelight on rugged faces, and the shapes and postures of comely manhood. One night we had a cinematograph show in a farm courtyard, which was packed with our fellows. The scene was unforgettable. Some heavy clouds hung overhead, but there were wide blue star-strewn spaces, where the sickle of the new moon hung dimly, like a thing of dream. The bare, gaunt skeleton rafters of the broken roofs of the barns and outhouses stood out black against the sky. And as the pictures flickered across the screen, the hushed attention of the men was most infectious. Sometimes it was a scene of some of the places only too familiar to them — a ruined village, a shell-torn road, or a group of officers at the door of a broken-down house, to be greeted with a deep silence, or the swift intake of breath which speaks of poignant remembrance, or a hearty cheer as this or that favourite personality appeared. Then there were ships, the sea-lions of Britannia; followed by laughter-provoking reproductions of Bairnsfather’s inimitable cartoons. The next time these men were crowded together under the strain of deep emotion, they were themselves passing through an episode of imperial and international picture-making and map-changing, up where the guns were drumming the prelude of another act in the tragedy of war. For it was just a few days later that the laughing crowd in that moonlit courtyard went up the line again.

Comments: Lauchlan MacLean Watt (1867-1957) was a Scottish author and cleric, who served as a chaplain with the Gordon Highlanders in the 7th Division during the First World War. The film based on the cartoons of Bruce Bairnsfather is The Better ‘Ole; or, The Romance of Old Bill (UK 1918 d. George Pearson). Bairnsfather was best-known for his soldier character Old Bill, with his famous advice to a soldier grumbling about his lot: “Well, if you knows of a better ‘ole, go to it”. The film shown described took place in France.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Story of the “9th King’s” in France

Source: Enos Herbert Glynne Roberts, The Story of the “9th King’s” in France (Liverpool: The Northern Publishing Co., 1922), p. 56

Text: On the 9th there was a big attack by the British. The 16th Division attacked on the right in front of Delville Wood, and the 1st Division on the left, and consequently the Battalion was in the very centre of the fight. The garrisons of the strong points being cut off as they were, did not receive news of the attack. Suddenly in the afternoon after a comparatively quiet morning the artillery on both sides became very active, both the British and German artillery developing intense barrages. To the men in the strong points this presaged an enemy attack, and the order was given to be ready to fire the moment the enemy should come into view. The members of these small garrisons knew there would be no hope for them, as they would soon have been surrounded and annihilated, and most probably all of them bayoneted. Fortunately the attack was by the British and these eventualities did not arise. The Battalion was relieved during the next two days and went into reserve at Buire-sur-Ancre. After a few days here it moved to a bivouac area at E. 15 a., outside Dernancourt. Though this was some considerable distance behind the front line the enemy forced the Battalion to evacuate this area by firing at it with a long-ranged gun. In the evening there was a cinema show in the open, at which were shown pictures of the Somme Battle. It was very strange to see the soldiers keenly interested in the pictures of what shell fire was like when there were actual shells falling about half a mile away, and they had been shelled out of their camp that very afternoon. The British Army had made a successful attack on the 15th September, and on the 17th the Battalion went into line again at Flers, where two miserable days were spent in an incessant downpour of rain and very heavy shell fire. On relief it came back to the transport lines at Pommier Redoubt.

Comments: Enos Herbert Glynne Roberts was a captain with the King’s (Liverpool Regiment) Territorial Force, and his book documents the regiment’s experiences during the First World War. The date of the passage is 9 September 1916. The Battle of the Somme took place 1 July to 18 November 1916. The documentary film The Battle of the Somme, made by the British Topical Committee for War Films, was first shown in British cinemas on 21 August 1916, so it is presumably this film that the troops saw while they were still taking part in the conflict.

Links: Copy at Project Gutenberg

The Story of the "9th King's" in France

Source: Enos Herbert Glynne Roberts, The Story of the “9th King’s” in France (Liverpool: The Northern Publishing Co., 1922), p. 56

Text: On the 9th there was a big attack by the British. The 16th Division attacked on the right in front of Delville Wood, and the 1st Division on the left, and consequently the Battalion was in the very centre of the fight. The garrisons of the strong points being cut off as they were, did not receive news of the attack. Suddenly in the afternoon after a comparatively quiet morning the artillery on both sides became very active, both the British and German artillery developing intense barrages. To the men in the strong points this presaged an enemy attack, and the order was given to be ready to fire the moment the enemy should come into view. The members of these small garrisons knew there would be no hope for them, as they would soon have been surrounded and annihilated, and most probably all of them bayoneted. Fortunately the attack was by the British and these eventualities did not arise. The Battalion was relieved during the next two days and went into reserve at Buire-sur-Ancre. After a few days here it moved to a bivouac area at E. 15 a., outside Dernancourt. Though this was some considerable distance behind the front line the enemy forced the Battalion to evacuate this area by firing at it with a long-ranged gun. In the evening there was a cinema show in the open, at which were shown pictures of the Somme Battle. It was very strange to see the soldiers keenly interested in the pictures of what shell fire was like when there were actual shells falling about half a mile away, and they had been shelled out of their camp that very afternoon. The British Army had made a successful attack on the 15th September, and on the 17th the Battalion went into line again at Flers, where two miserable days were spent in an incessant downpour of rain and very heavy shell fire. On relief it came back to the transport lines at Pommier Redoubt.

Comments: Enos Herbert Glynne Roberts was a captain with the King’s (Liverpool Regiment) Territorial Force, and his book documents the regiment’s experiences during the First World War. The date of the passage is 9 September 1916. The Battle of the Somme took place 1 July to 18 November 1916. The documentary film The Battle of the Somme, made by the British Topical Committee for War Films, was first shown in British cinemas on 21 August 1916, so it is presumably this film that the troops saw while they were still taking part in the conflict.

Links: Copy at Project Gutenberg

Kinomatograph in Paris

Source: Max Brod, extracts from ‘Kinomatograph in Paris’, Der Merker vol. 3 no. 1 (February 1912): pp. 95-98, reproduced in part in Hanns Zischler, Kafka Goes to the Movies (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2003), pp. 47-51, translation by Susan H. Gillespie

Text: On the very evening that we had set aside as a night off, after so many nocturnal exertions, for a modest meal in the four walls of our hotel and early to bed, we chanced upon a doorway on the boulevard, decked out with little electric light bulbs and a not exactly energetic barker, whose cap, however, bore a title that attracted us more magically than all his words could have. Omnia Pathé … So here we are stood at the source of so many of our enjoyments, once more at the center of a business whose rays shone so powerfully over the whole world that one would almost rather not believe in the existence of a center – a feeling, by the way, that was typical for our Parisian mood; for powerful central firms, (like Pneu Michelin, Douçet, Roger Gallet, Clement Bayard, etc.) besiege the heart of the newcomer with surprising force. We again dispensed with the night off (damned city!) and went in.

It is hard for one darkened hall to differentiate itself from other darkened halls. But for us, who are always firmly set on finding in everything Parisian something special and better than anyplace else, we are soon struck by the spaciousness – no, that’s not it yet – then, that people are disappearing through a dark doorway in the background and a cool draft seems to regulate this continuous movement of the audience – no, that’s how it is at home, too, uninterrupted showings, an entrance and an exit door – but now we feel we are on firmer ground. This freedom of people to be able to position themselves anywhere there is room, even in the aisle between the rows of benches, even on the ramp next to the apparatus, is something decidedly republican, any police force other than the Parisian police would not approve of it. Equally republican, we must admit, is the freedom of the many columns in the hall to be allowed to disturb the audience’s view in whatever way they please …

A girl in the uniform of a soldier in an operetta, on the cap, this time, the ambiguous inscription “Omnia,” accompanies us to our seats, sells us an (according to good Parisian custom, inexact) program. And already we are under the spell of the blindingly white, trembling screen in front of us. We nudge each other. “Say, the show is better here than at home.” Naturally, after all, in Paris everything has to be better.

[Brod describes some of the film programme, including travel films]

We saw, indeed we saw a great deal – by analogy to the Comédie, which puts eight acts on stage almost without intermission. We saw the doctor visit the poor sick child and turn around melodramatically several times in the doorway, with a distinctly pitying expression. We saw the mercifulness of some English king or other, hand-colored, sandwiched between some theatrical armor and a ruin (which had been created from a burned-out suburban cottage), enjoying life.

[…]

At the end , after the usual revolver shots, chases, fisticuffs, came the news. Naturally she was not absent – the one you now see on all the advertisements, candy boxes, and postcards in Paris: Mona Lisa. The picture opened with the presentation of M. Croumolle (everyone knows that it means “Homolle,” and no one protests against the perfidious way they are going after the gray-haired Delphi scholar). Croumolle is lying in bed, his stocking cap pulled down over his ears, and is startled out of sleep by a telegram: “Mona Lisa Stolen.” Croumolle – the Delphi scholar, if you please, but I am not protesting, I was laughing so hard – dresses himself with clownlike agility, now he puts both feet into one leg of his pants; now one foot into two socks. In the end, he runs into the street with his suspenders trailing, all the bystanders turn around to look at him, even those who are far in the background and evidently not in the pay of Pathé … It is a longing that ever since the emergence of the cinema lives on in me with the force of my early childhood wishes – I would like just once, by chance, to turn a street corner where such a staged cinematographic scene is taking place. What wouldn’t it be possible to improvise there! And in any case, what a sight! But to continue. The story is set in the hall of the Louvre, everything excellently imitated, the paintings and, in the middle, the three nails on which the Mona Lisa is hung. Horror; summoning of a comical detective; a shoe button of Croumolle’s as red herring; the detective as shoeshine boy; chase through the cafés of Paris; passers-by forced to have their shoes shined; arrest of the unfortunate Croumolle, for the button that was found at the scene naturally matches his shoe buttons. And now the final gag – while everyone is running through the hall at the Louvre and acting sensational, the thief sneaks in, the Mona Lisa under his arm, hangs her back where she belongs, and takes Velázquez’s Princess instead. No one notices him. Suddenly someone sees the Mona Lisa; general astonishment, and a note in one corner of the rediscovered painting that says, “Pardon me, I am nearsighted. I actually wanted to have the painting next to it.” … Croumolle, poor man, is released.

[…]

Then, in addition, the Journal Pathé. And so that everything quite resembles a newspaper, the title page and “Year III” are solemnly projected beforehand. We see demonstrations against inflation in France, which look like they have been arranged by Pathé; everyone is grinning in the direction of the audience. …

Comments: Max Brod (1884-1968) was a Czech author, best known as the friend and literary executor of Franz Kafka. His essay ‘Kinomatograph in Paris’ describes a visit to the Omnia Pathé cinema in Paris made by Brod and Kafka on 10 September 1911. The Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre on 21 August 1911. The Pathé film company rapidly issued Nick Winter et le vol de la Joconde (Nick Winter and the Theft of the Mona Lisa) the following month, as a title in its ‘Nick Winter’ detective series. Théophile Homolle (parodied in the film as Croumolle) was the director of the Louvre. Brod and Kafka had visited the Louvre the day before to witness the scene of the crime. The painting was recovered in 1913. The Omnia Pathé luxury cinema was the first cinema in the Pathé circuit to be in opened in Paris, in 1906.

Links: Copy of full original article (in German) at Hathi Trust