Movies and Conduct

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

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

Comments: American sociologist Herbert Blumer’s Movies and Conduct presents twelve studies of the influence of motion pictures upon the young, made by the Committee on Educational Research of the Payne Fund, at the request of the National Committee for the Study of Social Values in Motion Pictures. The study solicited autobiographical essays, mostly from undergraduate students of the University of Chicago, and presented extracts from this evidence in the text. This extract comes from the section ‘Scheme of Life’ under the paragraph heading ‘Difference in Interpretation’. This film referred to is The Birth of a Nation (USA 1915).

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

We Love Glenda So Much

Source: Extract from Julio Cortázar (trans. Gregory Rabassa), ‘We Love Glenda So Much’, in Hopscotch / Blow-up and other stories / We Love Glenda So Much and other tales (New York/London/Toronto: Everyman’s Library, 2014), p. 805 (orig. pub. Queremos tanto a Glenda y otro realtos, 1980)

Text: In those days it was hard to know. You go to the movies or the theater and live your night without thinking about the people who have already gone through the same ceremony, choosing the place and the time, getting dressed and telephoning and row eleven or five, the darkness and the music, territory that belongs to nobody and to everybody there where everybody is nobody, the men or women in their seats, maybe a word of apology for arriving late, a murmured comments that someone picks up or ignores, almost always silence, looks pouring onto the stage or screen, fleeing from what’s beside them, from what’s on this side.

Comments: Julio Cortázar (1914-1984) was an Argentinian novelist and short story writer, best known for his experimental novel Hopscotch, and in film circles for his story ‘Blow-up’ which inspired Antonioni’s eponymous 1966 film. His short story ‘We Love Glenda So Much’, from which the above is the opening words, is about a group of (probably) Argentinian cinemagoers and their obsession with the actress Glenda Garson (loosely based on Glenda Jackson). In his book In Broad Daylight: Movies and Spectators After the Cinema (2012), Gabriele Pedullà says

This passage from We Love Glenda So Much offers an excellent starting point for reflecting on the condition of the spectator during the projection of a film, not least because of the novelist’s skill in sketching the dark cube experience through a catalog of such heterogeneous details. Sight, hearing, touch … A hypothetical list of the elements characterizing cinematic viewing would not be much more extensive than the one we find in the brilliant opening of Cortázar’s story.

Is Beaming Live Royal Shakespeare Company Performances to Cinema Audiences a Good Thing?

Source: Albert Clack, ‘Is Beaming Live Royal Shakespeare Company Performances to Cinema Audiences a Good Thing?’, Albert Clack’s Blogs,, November 2013

Text: Like many other people in Britain and other countries, I went to a cinema to watch the first live transmission of a performance of a play by William Shakespeare by the Royal Shakespeare Company at their theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The play was Richard II. I have no intention of reviewing it. This article is about the method which was used to show it to me.

Beforehand, I had reservations about this mode of seeing a play; after all, much of the point of theatre, as opposed to cinema or television, is the immediacy of being in the presence of real, live actors in the shared experience which is what theatre is all about.

Conversely, much of the point of cinema is that, by using a variety of locations, sets, camera angles, and through cinematographic artistry and skilful editing, it can produce realism, escapism, and all sorts of magic in ways theatre cannot.

My anxieties were that this hybrid – live actors on stage in front of a theatre audience being projected through the ether on to a distant screen – would prove to be neither fish nor fowl; that stage acting might look false ‘through the glass’; or that, on the contrary, the actors might feel forced to adapt their style to the presence of the cameras and thereby produce something unsuitable for the stage.

I need not have worried. Although the frisson was inevitably somewhat diminished by not being in the actual physical proximity of the likes of David Tennant, Michael Pennington and Jane Lapotaire, this was compensated by the ability of the transmission’s director to do things such as going into close-up when appropriate, tracking slowly and dramatically in towards a key area of the stage, and following a character as he or she paced up and down.

True, that took away the choice of where to look that one enjoys when in the theatre. I recall once in the National Theatre that while Oedipus was making his long, agonising speech bringing himself ever closer to the appalling truth that none of us wants him to learn, I chose to watch Jocasta’s reaction for most of the time because it was much more interesting.

For a scene or two at the beginning of the experience, it concerned me that I might not be allowed that option; then I forgot about it, which suggests that a sensitive balance was being struck between showing speaker and listener when it mattered; a more difficult task in a live transmission than in a movie, where all sorts of edits may be tried before the final cut is settled upon. Besides, the ability to use close-ups was used sparingly, and for much of the time we saw much of the stage.

I would still prefer to be there in person. Who wouldn’t? But we can’t always be where we want to be; and many people simply cannot afford the cost of admission and travel to such performances; so if live transmissions like this can pack ’em it at one remove, it is surely a good thing in various ways.

For one thing, the economics of running theatres and theatre companies in this country are now so distorted that tickets cost too much for any but the comfortably off to attend with any frequency; however, these transmissions are cheaper to get into (although still more expensive than a film), so they may generate new audiences away from London, Stratford, and other major urban centres.

For another, the experience of attending a transmission at a cinema may encourage new audiences to move on to ‘the real thing’.

There is what I would consider a missed opportunity, at least so far, in this phenomenon. The age profile of the audience in the Stevenage Cineworld was, quite simply, pretty old.

Surely it would make sense to lure the young towards live theatre in general, and Shakespeare in particular, by offering them very cheap, or even free, admission? The future of the theatre in Britain lies not with audiences of old age pensioners such as myself, but with new generations fired by the excitement of live performance.

If tens of thousands of them had seen ‘Dr Who’ demonstrating his true acting ability – what consequences might that have had for future audience profiles at the RSC, the National, and in our struggling provincial theatres?

Comments: Albert Clack is a British actor and writer. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Shakespeare’s Richard II was streamed live to cinemas on 13 November 2013. It included David Tennant as Richard II, Oliver Ford Davies as the Duke of York, Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt and Nigel Lindsay as Bolingbroke. It was the first production in the RSC Live series of live streamed plays. My thanks to Albert Clack for permission to reproduce his article here.

Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan

Source: Lafcadio Hearn, Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (Boston/New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1894), vol. II, pp. 646-647

Text: Out of hell, we found our way to a magic-lantern show being given in a larger and even much colder structure. A Japanese magic-lantern show is nearly always interesting in more particulars than one, but perhaps especially as evidencing the native genius for adapting Western inventions to Eastern tastes. A Japanese magic-lantern show is essentially dramatic. It is a play of which the dialogue is uttered by invisible personages, the actors and the scenery being only luminous shadows. Wherefore it is peculiarly well suited to goblinries and weirdnesses of all kinds; and plays in which ghosts figure are the favourite subjects. As the hall was bitterly cold, I waited only long enough to see one performance – of which the following is an epitome:

SCENE 1. – A beautiful peasant girl and her aged mother, squatting together at home. Mother weeps violently, gesticulates agonisingly. From her frantic speech, broken by wild sobs, we learn that the girl must be sent as a victim to the Kami-Sama of some lonesome temple in the mountains. That god is a bad god. Once a year he shoots an arrow into the thatch of some farmer’s house as a sign that he wants a girl – to eat! Unless the girl be sent to him at once, he destroys the crops and the cows. Exit mother, weeping and shrieking, and pulling out her grey hair. Exit girl, with downcast head, and air of sweet resignation.

SCENE II. – Before a wayside inn; cherry-trees in blossom. Enter coolies carrying, like a palanquin, a large box, in which the girl is supposed to be. Deposit box; enter to eat; tell story to loquacious landlord. Enter noble samurai, with two swords. Asks about box. Hears the story of the coolies repeated by loquacious landlord. Exhibits fierce indignation; vows that the Kami-Sama are good – do not eat girls. Declares that so-called Kami-Sama to be a devil. Observes that devils must be killed. Orders box opened. Sends girl home. Gets into box himself, and commands coolies under pain of death to bear him right quickly to that temple.

SCENE III. – Enter coolies, approaching temple through forest at night. Coolies afraid. Drop box and run. Exeunt coolies. Box alone in the dark. Enter veiled figure, all white. Figure moans unpleasantly; utters horrid cries. Box remains impassive. Figure removes veil, showing Its face – a skull with phosphoric eyes. [Audience unanimously utter the sound ‘Aaaaaa!’] Figure displays Its hands – monstrous and apish, with claws. [Audience utter a second ‘Aaaaaa!’] Figure approaches the box, touches the box, opens the box! Up leaps noble samurai. A wrestle; drums sound the roll of battle. Noble samurai practises successfully noble art of ju-jutsu. Casts demon down, tramples upon him triumphantly, cuts off his head. Head suddenly enlarges, grows to the size of a house, tries to bite off head of samurai. Samurai slashes it with his sword. Head rolls backward, spitting fire, and vanishes. Finis. Exeunt omnes.

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. His Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan is based on his time in Matsue in the early 1890s. The opening mention of ‘hell’ refers to a puppet show he had just seen.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive