The Secret City

Source: Hugh Walpole, The Secret City (London: Macmillan, 1919), pp. 61-64

Text: We had arrived. The cinema door blazed with light, and around it was gathered a group of soldiers and women and children, peering in at a soldiers’ band, which, placed on benches in a corner of the room, played away for its very life. Outside, around the door were large bills announcing “The Woman without a Soul, Drama in four parts,” and there were fine pictures of women falling over precipices, men shot in bedrooms, and parties in which all the guests shrank back in extreme horror from the heroine. We went inside and were overwhelmed by the band, so that we could not hear one another speak. The floor was covered with sunflower seeds, and there was a strong smell of soldiers’ boots and bad cigarettes and urine. We bought tickets from an old Jewess behind the pigeon-hole and then, pushing the curtain aside, stumbled into darkness. Here the smell was different, being, quite simply that of human flesh not very carefully washed. Although, as we stumbled to some seats at the back, we could feel that we were alone, it had the impression that multitudes of people pressed in upon us, and when the lights did go up we found that the little hall was indeed packed to its extremest limit.

No one could have denied that it was a cheerful scene. Soldiers, sailors, peasants, women, and children crowded together upon the narrow benches. There was a great consumption of sunflower seeds, and the narrow passage down the middle of the room was littered with fragments. Two stout and elaborate policemen leaned against the wall surveying the public with a friendly if superior air. There was a tremendous amount of noise. Mingled with the strains of the band beyond the curtain were cries and calls and loud roars of laughter. The soldiers embraced the girls, and the children, their fingers in their mouths, wandered from bench to bench, and a mangy dog begged wherever he thought that he saw a kindly face. All the faces were kindly – kindly, ignorant, and astoundingly young. As I felt that youth I felt also separation; I and my like could emphasise as we pleased the goodness, docility, mysticism even of these people, but we were walking in a country of darkness. I caught a laugh, the glance of some women, the voice of a young soldier – I felt behind us, watching us, the thick heavy figure of Rasputin. I smelt the eastern scent of the sunflower seeds, I looked back and glanced at the impenetrable superiority of the two policemen, and I laughed at myself for the knowledge that I thought I had, for the security upon which I thought that I rested, for the familiarity with which I had fancied I could approach my neighbours… I was not wise, I was not secure, I had no claim to familiarity…

The lights were down and we were shown pictures of Paris. Because the cinema was a little one and the prices small the films were faded and torn, so that the Opera and the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre and the Seine danced and wriggled and broke before our eyes. They looked strange enough to us and only accented our isolation and the odd semi-civilisation in which we were living. There were comments all around the room in exactly the spirit of children before a conjurer at a party… The smell grew steadily stronger and stronger… my head swam a little and I seemed to see Rasputin, swelling in his black robe, catching us all into its folds, sweeping us up into the starlight sky. We were under the flare of the light again. I caught Bohun’s happy eyes; he was talking eagerly to Vera Michailovna, not removing his eyes from her face. She had conquered him; I fancied as I looked at her that her thoughts were elsewhere.

There followed a Vaudeville entertainment. A woman and a man in peasants’ dress came and laughed raucously, without meaning, their eyes narrowly searching the depths of the house, then they stamped their feet and whirled around, struck one another, laughed again, and vanished.

The applause was half-hearted. Then there was a trainer of dogs, a black-eyed Tartar with four very miserable little fox-terriers, who shivered and trembled and jumped reluctantly through hoops. The audience liked this, and cried and shouted and threw paper pellets at the dogs. A stout perspiring Jew in a shabby evening suit came forward and begged for decorum. Then there appeared a stout little man in a top hat who wished to recite verses of, I gathered, a violent indecency. I was uncomfortable about Vera Michailovna, but I need not have been. The indecency was of no importance to her, and she was interested in the human tragedy of the performer. Tragedy it was. The man was hungry and dirty and not far from tears. He forgot his verses and glanced nervously into the wings as though he expected to be beaten publicly by the perspiring Jew.

He stammered; his mouth wobbled; he covered it with a dirty hand. He could not continue.

The audience was sympathetic. They listened in encouraging silence; then they clapped; then they shouted friendly words to him. You could feel throughout the room an intense desire that he should succeed. He responded a little to the encouragement, but could not remember his verses. He struggled, struggled, did a hurried little breakdown dance, bowed and vanished into the wings, to be beaten, I have no doubt, by the Jewish gentleman. We watched a little of the “Drama of the Woman without a Soul,” but the sense of being in a large vat filled with boiling human flesh into whose depths we were pressed ever more and more deeply was at last too much for us, and we stumbled our way into the open air. The black shadow of the barge, the jagged outline of the huddled buildings against the sky, the black tower at the end of the canal, all these swam in the crystal air.

Comment: Hugh Walpole (1884-1941) was a prolific British novelist, best known for Rogue Herries and its follow-up novels. He spent much of the First World War in Russia, working for for the Red Cross and then as head of the Anglo-Russian Propaganda Bureau, based in Petrograd. His novel The Secret City draws on these experiences. Ekateringofsky canal is in Petrograd/St Petersburg. Though there were British and American films made in 1915 called The Woman Without a Soul the film described is probably Walpole’s invention. Ellipses are in the original text.

Links: Copy on the Internet Archive

The Secret City

Source: Hugh Walpole, The Secret City (London: Macmillan, 1919), pp. 61-64

Text: We had arrived. The cinema door blazed with light, and around it was gathered a group of soldiers and women and children, peering in at a soldiers’ band, which, placed on benches in a corner of the room, played away for its very life. Outside, around the door were large bills announcing “The Woman without a Soul, Drama in four parts,” and there were fine pictures of women falling over precipices, men shot in bedrooms, and parties in which all the guests shrank back in extreme horror from the heroine. We went inside and were overwhelmed by the band, so that we could not hear one another speak. The floor was covered with sunflower seeds, and there was a strong smell of soldiers’ boots and bad cigarettes and urine. We bought tickets from an old Jewess behind the pigeon-hole and then, pushing the curtain aside, stumbled into darkness. Here the smell was different, being, quite simply that of human flesh not very carefully washed. Although, as we stumbled to some seats at the back, we could feel that we were alone, it had the impression that multitudes of people pressed in upon us, and when the lights did go up we found that the little hall was indeed packed to its extremest limit.

No one could have denied that it was a cheerful scene. Soldiers, sailors, peasants, women, and children crowded together upon the narrow benches. There was a great consumption of sunflower seeds, and the narrow passage down the middle of the room was littered with fragments. Two stout and elaborate policemen leaned against the wall surveying the public with a friendly if superior air. There was a tremendous amount of noise. Mingled with the strains of the band beyond the curtain were cries and calls and loud roars of laughter. The soldiers embraced the girls, and the children, their fingers in their mouths, wandered from bench to bench, and a mangy dog begged wherever he thought that he saw a kindly face. All the faces were kindly – kindly, ignorant, and astoundingly young. As I felt that youth I felt also separation; I and my like could emphasise as we pleased the goodness, docility, mysticism even of these people, but we were walking in a country of darkness. I caught a laugh, the glance of some women, the voice of a young soldier – I felt behind us, watching us, the thick heavy figure of Rasputin. I smelt the eastern scent of the sunflower seeds, I looked back and glanced at the impenetrable superiority of the two policemen, and I laughed at myself for the knowledge that I thought I had, for the security upon which I thought that I rested, for the familiarity with which I had fancied I could approach my neighbours… I was not wise, I was not secure, I had no claim to familiarity…

The lights were down and we were shown pictures of Paris. Because the cinema was a little one and the prices small the films were faded and torn, so that the Opera and the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre and the Seine danced and wriggled and broke before our eyes. They looked strange enough to us and only accented our isolation and the odd semi-civilisation in which we were living. There were comments all around the room in exactly the spirit of children before a conjurer at a party… The smell grew steadily stronger and stronger… my head swam a little and I seemed to see Rasputin, swelling in his black robe, catching us all into its folds, sweeping us up into the starlight sky. We were under the flare of the light again. I caught Bohun’s happy eyes; he was talking eagerly to Vera Michailovna, not removing his eyes from her face. She had conquered him; I fancied as I looked at her that her thoughts were elsewhere.

There followed a Vaudeville entertainment. A woman and a man in peasants’ dress came and laughed raucously, without meaning, their eyes narrowly searching the depths of the house, then they stamped their feet and whirled around, struck one another, laughed again, and vanished.

The applause was half-hearted. Then there was a trainer of dogs, a black-eyed Tartar with four very miserable little fox-terriers, who shivered and trembled and jumped reluctantly through hoops. The audience liked this, and cried and shouted and threw paper pellets at the dogs. A stout perspiring Jew in a shabby evening suit came forward and begged for decorum. Then there appeared a stout little man in a top hat who wished to recite verses of, I gathered, a violent indecency. I was uncomfortable about Vera Michailovna, but I need not have been. The indecency was of no importance to her, and she was interested in the human tragedy of the performer. Tragedy it was. The man was hungry and dirty and not far from tears. He forgot his verses and glanced nervously into the wings as though he expected to be beaten publicly by the perspiring Jew.

He stammered; his mouth wobbled; he covered it with a dirty hand. He could not continue.

The audience was sympathetic. They listened in encouraging silence; then they clapped; then they shouted friendly words to him. You could feel throughout the room an intense desire that he should succeed. He responded a little to the encouragement, but could not remember his verses. He struggled, struggled, did a hurried little breakdown dance, bowed and vanished into the wings, to be beaten, I have no doubt, by the Jewish gentleman. We watched a little of the “Drama of the Woman without a Soul,” but the sense of being in a large vat filled with boiling human flesh into whose depths we were pressed ever more and more deeply was at last too much for us, and we stumbled our way into the open air. The black shadow of the barge, the jagged outline of the huddled buildings against the sky, the black tower at the end of the canal, all these swam in the crystal air.

Comment: Hugh Walpole (1884-1941) was a prolific British novelist, best known for Rogue Herries and its follow-up novels. He spent much of the First World War in Russia, working for for the Red Cross and then as head of the Anglo-Russian Propaganda Bureau, based in Petrograd. His novel The Secret City draws on these experiences. Ekateringofsky canal is in Petrograd/St Petersburg. Though there were British and American films made in 1915 called The Woman Without a Soul the film described is probably Walpole’s invention. Ellipses are in the original text.

Links: Copy on the Internet Archive

The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets

Source: Jane Addams, The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (New York: Macmillan, 1909), pp. 75-88

Text: To the preoccupied adult who is prone to use the city street as a mere passageway from one hurried duty to another, nothing is more touching than his encounter with a group of children and young people who are emerging from a theater with the magic of the play still thick upon them. They look up and down the familiar street scarcely recognizing it and quite unable to determine the direction of home. From a tangle of “make believe” they gravely scrutinize the real world which they are so reluctant to reënter, reminding one of the absorbed gaze of a child who is groping his way back from fairy-land whither the story has completely transported him.

“Going to the show” for thousands of young people in every industrial city is the only possible road to the realms of mystery and romance; the theater is the only place where they can satisfy that craving for a conception of life higher than that which the actual world offers them. In a very real sense the drama and the drama alone performs for them the office of art as is clearly revealed in their blundering demand stated in many forms for “a play unlike life.” The theater becomes to them a “veritable house of dreams” infinitely more real than the noisy streets and the crowded factories.

This first simple demand upon the theater for romance is closely allied to one more complex which might be described as a search for solace and distraction in those moments of first awakening from the glamour of a youth’s interpretation of life to the sterner realities which are thrust upon his consciousness. These perceptions which inevitably “close around” and imprison the spirit of youth are perhaps never so grim as in the case of the wage-earning child. We can all recall our own moments of revolt against life’s actualities, our reluctance to admit that all life was to be as unheroic and uneventful as that which we saw about us, it was too unbearable that “this was all there was” and we tried every possible avenue of escape. As we made an effort to believe, in spite of what we saw, that life was noble and harmonious, as we stubbornly clung to poesy in contradiction to the testimony of our senses, so we see thousands of young people thronging the theaters bent in their turn upon the same quest. The drama provides a transition between the romantic conceptions which they vainly struggle to keep intact and life’s cruelties and trivialities which they refuse to admit. A child whose imagination has been cultivated is able to do this for himself through reading and reverie, but for the overworked city youth of meager education, perhaps nothing but the theater is able to perform this important office.

The theater also has a strange power to forecast life for the youth. Each boy comes from our ancestral past not “in entire forgetfulness,” and quite as he unconsciously uses ancient war-cries in his street play, so he longs to reproduce and to see set before him the valors and vengeances of a society embodying a much more primitive state of morality than that in which he finds himself. Mr. Patten has pointed out that the elemental action which the stage presents, the old emotions of love and jealousy, of revenge and daring take the thoughts of the spectator back into deep and well worn channels in which his mind runs with a sense of rest afforded by nothing else. The cheap drama brings cause and effect, will power and action, once more into relation and gives a man the thrilling conviction that he may yet be master of his fate. The youth of course, quite unconscious of this psychology, views the deeds of the hero simply as a forecast of his own future and it is this fascinating view of his own career which draws the boy to “shows” of all sorts. They can scarcely be too improbable for him, portraying, as they do, his belief in his own prowess. A series of slides which has lately been very popular in the five-cent theaters of Chicago, portrayed five masked men breaking into a humble dwelling, killing the father of the family and carrying away the family treasure. The golden-haired son of the house, aged seven, vows eternal vengeance on the spot, and follows one villain after another to his doom. The execution of each is shown in lurid detail, and the last slide of the series depicts the hero, aged ten, kneeling upon his father’s grave counting on the fingers of one hand the number of men that he has killed, and thanking God that he has been permitted to be an instrument of vengeance.

In another series of slides, a poor woman is wearily bending over some sewing, a baby is crying in the cradle, and two little boys of nine and ten are asking for food. In despair the mother sends them out into the street to beg, but instead they steal a revolver from a pawn shop and with it kill a Chinese laundry-man, robbing him of $200. They rush home with the treasure which is found by the mother in the baby’s cradle, whereupon she and her sons fall upon their knees and send up a prayer of thankfulness for this timely and heaven-sent assistance.

Is it not astounding that a city allows thousands of its youth to fill their impressionable minds with these absurdities which certainly will become the foundation for their working moral codes and the data from which they will judge the proprieties of life?

It is as if a child, starved at home, should be forced to go out and search for food, selecting, quite naturally, not that which is nourishing but that which is exciting and appealing to his outward sense, often in his ignorance and foolishness blundering into substances which are filthy and poisonous.

Out of my twenty years’ experience at Hull-House I can recall all sorts of pilferings, petty larcenies, and even burglaries, due to that never ceasing effort on the part of boys to procure theater tickets. I can also recall indirect efforts towards the same end which are most pitiful. I remember the remorse of a young girl of fifteen who was brought into the Juvenile Court after a night spent weeping in the cellar of her home because she had stolen a mass of artificial flowers with which to trim a hat. She stated that she had taken the flowers because she was afraid of losing the attention of a young man whom she had heard say that “a girl has to be dressy if she expects to be seen.” This young man was the only one who had ever taken her to the theater and if he failed her, she was sure that she would never go again, and she sobbed out incoherently that she “couldn’t live at all without it.” Apparently the blankness and grayness of life itself had been broken for her only by the portrayal of a different world.

One boy whom I had known from babyhood began to take money from his mother from the time he was seven years old, and after he was ten she regularly gave him money for the play Saturday evening. However, the Saturday performance, “starting him off like,” he always went twice again on Sunday, procuring the money in all sorts of illicit ways. Practically all of his earnings after he was fourteen were spent in this way to satisfy the insatiable desire to know of the great adventures of the wide world which the more fortunate boy takes out in reading Homer and Stevenson.

In talking with his mother, I was reminded of my experience one Sunday afternoon in Russia when the employees of a large factory were seated in an open-air theater, watching with breathless interest the presentation of folk stories. I was told that troupes of actors went from one manufacturing establishment to another presenting the simple elements of history and literature to the illiterate employees. This tendency to slake the thirst for adventure by viewing the drama is, of course, but a blind and primitive effort in the direction of culture, for “he who makes himself its vessel and bearer thereby acquires a freedom from the blindness and soul poverty of daily existence.”

It is partly in response to this need that more sophisticated young people often go to the theater, hoping to find a clue to life’s perplexities. Many times the bewildered hero reminds one of Emerson’s description of Margaret Fuller, “I don’t know where I am going, follow me”; nevertheless, the stage is dealing with the moral themes in which the public is most interested.

And while many young people go to the theater if only to see represented, and to hear discussed, the themes which seem to them so tragically important, there is no doubt that what they hear there, flimsy and poor as it often is, easily becomes their actual moral guide. In moments of moral crisis they turn to the sayings of the hero who found himself in a similar plight. The sayings may not be profound, but at least they are applicable to conduct. In the last few years scores of plays have been put upon the stage whose titles might be easily translated into proper headings for sociological lectures or sermons, without including the plays of Ibsen, Shaw and Hauptmann, which deal so directly with moral issues that the moralists themselves wince under their teachings and declare them brutal. But it is this very brutality which the over-refined and complicated city dwellers often crave. Moral teaching has become so intricate, creeds so metaphysical, that in a state of absolute reaction they demand definite instruction for daily living. Their whole-hearted acceptance of the teaching corroborates the statement recently made by an English playwright that “The theater is literally making the minds of our urban populations to-day. It is a huge factory of sentiment, of character, of points of honor, of conceptions of conduct, of everything that finally determines the destiny of a nation. The theater is not only a place of amusement, it is a place of culture, a place where people learn how to think, act, and feel.” Seldom, however, do we associate the theater with our plans for civic righteousness, although it has become so important a factor in city life.

One Sunday evening last winter an investigation was made of four hundred and sixty six theaters in the city of Chicago, and it was discovered that in the majority of them the leading theme was revenge; the lover following his rival; the outraged husband seeking his wife’s paramour; or the wiping out by death of a blot on a hitherto unstained honor. It was estimated that one sixth of the entire population of the city had attended the theaters on that day. At that same moment the churches throughout the city were preaching the gospel of good will. Is not this a striking commentary upon the contradictory influences to which the city youth is constantly subjected?

This discrepancy between the church and the stage is at times apparently recognized by the five-cent theater itself, and a blundering attempt is made to suffuse the songs and moving pictures with piety. Nothing could more absurdly demonstrate this attempt than a song, illustrated by pictures, describing the adventures of a young man who follows a pretty girl through street after street in the hope of “snatching a kiss from her ruby lips.” The young man is overjoyed when a sudden wind storm drives the girl to shelter under an archway, and he is about to succeed in his ttempt when the good Lord, “ever watchful over innocence,” makes the same wind “blow a cloud of dust into the eyes of the rubberneck,” and “his foul purpose is foiled.” This attempt at piety is also shown in a series of films depicting Bible stories and the Passion Play at Oberammergau, forecasting the time when the moving film will be viewed as a mere mechanical device for the use of the church, the school and the library, as well as for the theater.

At present, however, most improbable tales hold the attention of the youth of the city night after night, and feed his starved imagination as nothing else succeeds in doing. In addition to these fascinations, the five-cent theater is also fast becoming the general social center and club house in many crowded neighborhoods. It is easy of access from the street the entire family of parents and children can attend for a comparatively small sum of money and the performance lasts for at least an hour; and, in some of the humbler theaters, the spectators are not disturbed for a second hour.

The room which contains the mimic stage is small and cozy, and less formal than the regular theater, and there is much more gossip and social life as if the foyer and pit were mingled. The very darkness of the room, necessary for an exhibition of the films, is an added attraction to many young people, for whom the space is filled with the glamour of love making.

Hundreds of young people attend these five-cent theaters every evening in the week, including Sunday, and what is seen and heard there becomes the sole topic of conversation, forming the ground pattern of their social life. That mutual understanding which in another social circle is provided by books, travel and all the arts, is here compressed into the topics suggested by the play.

The young people attend the five-cent theaters in groups, with something of the “gang” instinct, boasting of the films and stunts in “our theater.” They find a certain advantage in attending one theater regularly, for the habitués are often invited to come upon the stage on “amateur nights,” which occur at least once a week in all the theaters. This is, of course, a most exciting experience. If the “stunt” does not meet with the approval of the audience, the performer is greeted with jeers and a long hook pulls him off the stage; if, on the other hand, he succeeds in pleasing the audience, he may be paid for his performance and later register with a booking agency, the address of which is supplied by the obliging manager, and thus he fancies that a lucrative and exciting career is opening before him. Almost every night at six o’clock a long line of children may be seen waiting at the entrance of these booking agencies, of which there are fifteen that are well known in Chicago.

Thus, the only art which is constantly placed before the eyes of “the temperamental youth” is a debased form of dramatic art, and a vulgar type of music, for the success of a song in these theaters depends not so much upon its musical rendition as upon the vulgarity of its appeal. In a song which held the stage of a cheap theater in Chicago for weeks, the young singer was helped out by a bit of mirror from which she threw a flash of light into the faces of successive boys whom she selected from the audience as she sang the refrain, “You are my Affinity.” Many popular songs relate the vulgar experiences of a city man wandering from amusement park to bathing beach in search of flirtations. It may be that these “stunts” and recitals of city adventure contain the nucleus of coming poesy and romance, as the songs and recitals of the early minstrels sprang directly from the life of the people, but all the more does the effort need help and direction, both in the development of its technique and the material of its themes.

Comment: Jane Addams (1860-1935) was an American social worker and social reformer. Her The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets argues that the city is determinental to children’s lives and calls for greater opportunities for play and recreation programmes. In her chapter ‘The House of Dreams’ (of which the above is the first half) moving pictures, which she combines with cheap theatre shows and lantern presentations, are seen as one of the anti-play elements of the city.

Links: Copy on the Internet Archive

The Lost Girl

Source: D.H. Lawrence, The Lost Girl (London: Martin Secker, 1920), pp. 128-132

Text: The Endeavour was successful – yes, it was successful. But not overwhelmingly so. On wet nights Woodhouse did not care to trail down to Lumley. And then Lumley was one of those depressed, negative spots on the face of the earth which have no pull at all. In that region of sharp hills with fine hill-brows, and shallow, rather dreary canal-valleys, it was the places on the hill-brows, like Woodhouse and Hathersedge and Rapton which flourished, while the dreary places down along the canals existed only for work-places, not for life and pleasure. It was just like James to have planted his endeavour down in the stagnant dust and rust of potteries and foundries, where no illusion could bloom.

He had dreamed of crowded houses every night, and of raised prices. But there was no probability of his being able to raise his prices. He had to figure lower than the Woodhouse Empire. He was second-rate from the start. His hope now lay in the tramway which was being built from Knarborough away through the country – a black country indeed – through Woodhouse and Lumley and Hathersedge, to Rapton. When once this tramway-system was working, he would have a supply of youths and lasses always on tap, as it were. So he spread his rainbow wings towards the future, and began to say:

“When we’ve got the trams, I shall buy a new machine and finer lenses, and I shall extend my premises.”

Mr. May did not talk business to Alvina. He was terribly secretive with respect to business. But he said to her once, in the early year following their opening:

“Well, how do you think we’re doing, Miss Houghton?”

“We’re not doing any better than we did at first, I think,” she said.

“No,” he answered. “No! That’s true. That’s perfectly true. But why? They seem to like the programs.”

“I think they do,” said Alvina. “I think they like them when they’re there. But isn’t it funny, they don’t seem to want to come to them. I know they always talk as if we were second-rate. And they only come because they can’t get to the Empire, or up to Hathersedge. We’re a stop-gap. I know we are.”

Mr. May looked down in the mouth. He cocked his blue eyes at her, miserable and frightened. Failure began to frighten him abjectly.

“Why do you think that is?” he said.

“I don’t believe they like the turns,” she said.

“But look how they applaud them! Look how pleased they are!”

“I know. I know they like them once they’re there, and they see them. But they don’t come again. They crowd the Empire – and the Empire is only pictures now; and it’s much cheaper to run.”

He watched her dismally.

“I can’t believe they want nothing but pictures. I can’t believe they want everything in the flat,” he said, coaxing and miserable. He himself was not interested in the film. His interest was still the human interest in living performers and their living feats. “Why,” he continued, “they are ever so much more excited after a good turn, than after any film.”

“I know they are,” said Alvina. “But I don’t believe they want to be excited in that way.”

“In what way?” asked Mr. May plaintively.

“By the things which the artistes do. I believe they’re jealous.”

“Oh nonsense!” exploded Mr. May, starting as if he had been shot. Then he laid his hand on her arm. “But forgive my rudeness! I don’t mean it, of cauce! But do you mean to say that these collier louts and factory girls are jealous of the things the artistes do, because they could never do them themselves?”

“I’m sure they are,” said Alvina.

“But I can’t believe it,” said Mr. May, pouting up his mouth and smiling at her as if she were a whimsical child. “What a low opinion you have of human nature!”

“Have I?” laughed Alvina. “I’ve never reckoned it up. But I’m sure that these common people here are jealous if anybody does anything or has anything they can’t have themselves.”

“I can’t believe it,” protested Mr. May. “Could they be so silly! And then why aren’t they jealous of the extraordinary things which are done on the film?”

“Because they don’t see the flesh-and-blood people. I’m sure that’s it. The film is only pictures, like pictures in the Daily Mirror. And pictures don’t have any feelings apart from their own feelings. I mean the feelings of the people who watch them. Pictures don’t have any life except in the people who watch them. And that’s why they like them. Because they make them feel that they are everything.”

“The pictures make the colliers and lasses feel that they themselves are everything? But how? They identify themselves with the heroes and heroines on the screen?”

“Yes – they take it all to themselves – and there isn’t anything except themselves. I know it’s like that. It’s because they can spread themselves over a film, and they can’t over a living performer. They’re up against the performer himself. And they hate it.”

Mr. May watched her long and dismally.

“I can’t believe people are like that! – sane people!” he said. “Why, to me the whole joy is in the living personality, the curious personality of the artiste. That’s what I enjoy so much.”

“I know. But that’s where you’re different from them.”

“But am I?”

“Yes. You’re not as up to the mark as they are.”

“Not up to the mark? What do you mean? Do you mean they are more intelligent?”

“No, but they’re more modern. You like things which aren’t yourself. But they don’t. They hate to admire anything that they can’t take to themselves. They hate anything that isn’t themselves. And that’s why they like pictures. It’s all themselves to them, all the time.”

He still puzzled.

“You know I don’t follow you,” he said, a little mocking, as if she were making a fool of herself.

“Because you don’t know them. You don’t know the common people. You don’t know how conceited they are.”

He watched her a long time.

“And you think we ought to cut out the variety, and give nothing but pictures, like the Empire?” he said.

“I believe it takes best,” she said.

“And costs less,” he answered. “But then! It’s so dull. Oh my word, it’s so dull. I don’t think I could bear it.”

“And our pictures aren’t good enough,” she said. “We should have to get a new machine, and pay for the expensive films. Our pictures do shake, and our films are rather ragged.”

“But then, surely they’re good enough!” he said.

That was how matters stood. The Endeavour paid its way, and made just a margin of profit – no more. Spring went on to summer, and then there was a very shadowy margin of profit. But James was not at all daunted. He was waiting now for the trams, and building up hopes since he could not build in bricks and mortar.

The navvies were busy in troops along the Knarborough Road, and down Lumley Hill. Alvina became quite used to them. As she went down the hill soon after six o’clock in the evening, she met them trooping home. And some of them she liked. There was an outlawed look about them as they swung along the pavement – some of them; and there was a certain lurking set of the head which rather frightened her because it fascinated her. There was one tall young fellow with a red face and fair hair, who looked as if he had fronted the seas and the arctic sun. He looked at her. They knew each other quite well, in passing. And he would glance at perky Mr. May. Alvina tried to fathom what the young fellow’s look meant. She wondered what he thought of Mr. May.

She was surprised to hear Mr. May’s opinion of the navvy.

He’s a handsome young man, now!” exclaimed her companion one evening as the navvies passed. And all three turned round, to find all three turning round. Alvina laughed, and made eyes. At that moment she would cheerfully have gone along with the navvy. She was getting so tired of Mr. May’s quiet prance.

On the whole, Alvina enjoyed the cinema and the life it brought her. She accepted it. And she became somewhat vulgarized in her bearing. She was déclassée: she had lost her class altogether. The other daughters of respectable tradesmen avoided her now, or spoke to her only from a distance. She was supposed to be “carrying on” with Mr. May.

Comment: David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930) was a British novelist who was considerably hostile towards the cinema. The Lost Girl tells of the frustrated Alvina Houghton, whose draper father James is poor in business and tries his luck with a cinema in his Midlands town of Woodhouse. Mr May is the cinema manager and projectionist. Alvina plays the piano for the films and variety performers that feature as part of the programme. She eventually strikes up a relationship with an Italian performer, Ciccio, from a travelling show her father sets up following the cinema. Lawrence’s view of cinema entertainment probably says more about Lawrence than it does about cinema.

Links: Copy on Internet Archive (1925 edition)

A Woman's Impression of the Philippines

Source: Mary Helen Fee, A Woman’s Impression of the Philippines (Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1910), pp. 274-275

Text: Once in a while a travelling cinematograph outfit roams through the provinces, and then for a tariff of twenty-five cents Mexican we throng the little theatre night after night. I remember once a company of “barn-stormers” from Australia were stranded in Iloilo. They had a moving picture outfit, and a young lady attired in a pink costume de ballet stood plaintively at one side and sang, plaintively and very nasally, a long account of the courting of some youthful Georgia couple. The lovers embraced each other tenderly (as per view) in an interior that had a “throw” over every picture corner, table, and chair back. Some huge American soldier down in the pit said, “That’s the real thing; no doubt about it,” but whether his words had reference to the love-making or the room we could not tell.

The song went on, the lovers married and went North; but after a while the bride grew heartsick for the old home, so “We journeyed South a spell.” With this line the moving picture flung at us, head on, a great passenger locomotive and its trailing cars. To the right there were a country road, meadows, some distant hills, a stake and rider fence, and a farmhouse. The scene was homely, simple, typically American, and rustic, and it sent every drop of loyal American blood tingling. The tears rushed to my eyes, and I couldn’t forbear joining in the roar of approbation that went up from the American contingent. An Englishman who was with our party insisted that I opened my arms a yard and a half to give strength to my applause. I said I didn’t regret it. We poor expatriated wanderers had been drifting about for months with no other emotion than homesickness, but we had a lively one then. The Filipino audience at first sat amazed at the outburst; but their sympathies are quick and keen, and in an instant they realized what it meant to the exiles, and the wave of feeling swept into them too. The young lady in the pink costume grew perceptibly exalted, and in the effort to be more pathetic achieved a degree of nasal intonation which, combined with her Australian accent, made her unique.

Comment: Mary Helen Fee was an American working for the Education Department of the Philippine Islands, which at this time (1910) were under United States administration following the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902. The Australian troupe sounds not unlike the Corrick family of entertainers, who are known to have visited South East Asian locations at this time.

Links: Available on Project Gutenberg

A Woman’s Impression of the Philippines

Source: Mary Helen Fee, A Woman’s Impression of the Philippines (Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1910), pp. 274-275

Text: Once in a while a travelling cinematograph outfit roams through the provinces, and then for a tariff of twenty-five cents Mexican we throng the little theatre night after night. I remember once a company of “barn-stormers” from Australia were stranded in Iloilo. They had a moving picture outfit, and a young lady attired in a pink costume de ballet stood plaintively at one side and sang, plaintively and very nasally, a long account of the courting of some youthful Georgia couple. The lovers embraced each other tenderly (as per view) in an interior that had a “throw” over every picture corner, table, and chair back. Some huge American soldier down in the pit said, “That’s the real thing; no doubt about it,” but whether his words had reference to the love-making or the room we could not tell.

The song went on, the lovers married and went North; but after a while the bride grew heartsick for the old home, so “We journeyed South a spell.” With this line the moving picture flung at us, head on, a great passenger locomotive and its trailing cars. To the right there were a country road, meadows, some distant hills, a stake and rider fence, and a farmhouse. The scene was homely, simple, typically American, and rustic, and it sent every drop of loyal American blood tingling. The tears rushed to my eyes, and I couldn’t forbear joining in the roar of approbation that went up from the American contingent. An Englishman who was with our party insisted that I opened my arms a yard and a half to give strength to my applause. I said I didn’t regret it. We poor expatriated wanderers had been drifting about for months with no other emotion than homesickness, but we had a lively one then. The Filipino audience at first sat amazed at the outburst; but their sympathies are quick and keen, and in an instant they realized what it meant to the exiles, and the wave of feeling swept into them too. The young lady in the pink costume grew perceptibly exalted, and in the effort to be more pathetic achieved a degree of nasal intonation which, combined with her Australian accent, made her unique.

Comment: Mary Helen Fee was an American working for the Education Department of the Philippine Islands, which at this time (1910) were under United States administration following the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902. The Australian troupe sounds not unlike the Corrick family of entertainers, who are known to have visited South East Asian locations at this time.

Links: Available on Project Gutenberg

Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918

Source: Excerpt from interview with James Malone, C707/245/1-2, Thompson, P. and Lummis, T., Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918, 1870-1973 [computer file]. 7th Edition. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], May 2009. SN: 2000, http://dx.doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-2000-1

Text: Q: There weren’t so many other recreations for working men in those days were there? [meaning pubs]

A: Well the cinema was a penny, come out for a packet of sweets, and there was clubs and turns, you know, old time – what they used to call old time variety…

Q: … How did you spend Saturdays as a child?

A: Oh now I’ve got to think now. – Saturdays – oh I suppose Saturdays to me was a – oh I know, we used to go to a cinema called the Star cinema, a penny. And we used to wait – ’til the pianist came down the aisle. We used to call him curly and when he come down we all used to stand and scream, good old Curley. And I remember Saturday afternoons a penny …

Q: … Did she [mother] ever go out to enjoy herself?

A: She used to go to the cinema with my father. By the way she behaved and other women too in a cinema – they used to live with it, they used to talk to the actors. She used to say to ’em, look behind you, and – he never done it. He done it, you see, it was very good indeed. They lived with it. Well I remember my mother coming out of the cinema with my father and I was very – very young and I remember what she said to him she said, Jim – she should never have married that man, he’ll never be any good to her. Now that’s what I call – living with a picture, that is true. Yes.

Q: How often would they go to the pictures?

A: Oh once or twice a week. People used to really cry at the cinema them days, when the lights went up you look around – see ’em all tears down their eyes you see. Used to snivel.

Comment: James Malone was born in Highgate, London 1904, eldest of four. ather was carpenter and joiner, often out of work, and the family was extremely poor, frequently moving house after evictions. .Malone wrestled for Great Britain as a middle-weight in the Olympic Games of 1928 and 1932. He was interviewed on 2 and 26 March 1971, one of 444 people interviewed by Paul Thompson and his team as part of a study of the Edwardian era which resulted in Thompson’s book The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975).

A Child in the Forest

Source: Winifred Foley, A Child in the Forest (London: BBC, 1974), p. 169

Text: It wasn’t exactly the gods; it was steps that served for both purposes. Peanut shells and sweet wrappings crackled under our feet, as Blodwen found us a space to sit. The tang of orange peel fought with tobacco and the warm body odour rising from the stalls and balcony.

Between the films there were live turns, and these had just started. I was bewitched with surprise and delight; soon stolen hats, my domestic shortcomings, and even homesickness faded from my consciousness.

There was a troupe of Japanese jugglers, made exquisitely miniature and deft by the distance. Next came three trim girl dancers, tapping out their lively dancers with identical precision. I was spellbound.

Anna Rogers, the fifteen-year-old wonder girl, came next. She seemed uncannily clever. She must have been. She was only sixteen when I saw her name on a playbill in South London five years later.

‘Not bad turns this week,’ observed the sophisticated Blodwen. ‘Not bad!‘ They were magic people, so clever, so beautiful! Aladdin himself couldn’t have been more dazzled, when the Genie’s lamp transported him to the treasure cave, than I was that first night in the Olympia picture house, Shoreditch.

The film, Drums of Love, was completely lost on me. The heroine lying about on skin-covered divans, languishing for whatever it was she was missing, didn’t have my sympathy.

Comment: Winifred Foley (1914-2009) gained fame through her memoir of an impoverished childhood in the Forest of Dean, first serialised by BBC radio in 1973. The book covers time spent in London in the 1920s. Shoreditch Olympia had been a variety theatre which included films in its programme but became a full-time cinema in 1926. However, Drums of Love, directed by D.W. Griffith, was made in 1928. Possibly memories of the show and the film seen have been confused.

Some Picture Show Audiences

spectators

‘They were permitted to drink deep of oblivion of all the trouble of the world’. The illustration by Wladyslaw T. Benda (and its caption) accompanied Mary Heaton Vorse’s original article for Outlook magazine

Source: Mary Heaton Vorse, ‘Some Picture Show Audiences’, Outlook 98, 24 June 1911, pp. 441-447

Text: One rainy night in a little Tuscan town I went to a moving-picture show. It was market-day; the little hall was full of men in their great Italian cloaks. They had come in from small isolated hamlets, from tiny fortified towns perched on the tops of distant hills to which no road led, but only a salita. I remembered that there was in the evening’s entertainment a balloon race, and a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and a mad comic piece that included a rush with a baby-carriage through the boulevards of Paris; and there was a drama, ‘The Vendetta,’ which had for its background the beautiful olive terraces of Italy.

I had gone, as they had, to see pictures, but in the end I saw only them, because it seemed to me that what had happened was a latter-day miracle. By an ingenious invention all the wonderful things that happened in the diverse world outside their simple lives could come to them. They had no pictures or papers; few of them could read; and yet they sat there at home and watching the inflating of great balloons and saw them rise and soar and go away into the blue, and watched again the strange Oriental crowd walking through the holy streets of Jerusalem. It is hard to understand what a sudden widening of their horizon that meant for them. It is the door of escape, for a few cents, from the realities of life.

It is drama, and it is travel, and it is even beauty, all in one. A wonderful things it is, and to know how wonderful I suppose you must be poor and have in your life no books and no pictures and no means of travel or seeing beautiful places, and almost no amusements of any kind; perhaps your only door of escape or only means of forgetfulness more drink that is good for you. Then you will know what a moving-picture show really means, although you will probably not be able to put it into words.

We talk a good deal about the censorship of picture shows, and pass city ordinances to keep the young from being corrupted by them: and this is all very well, because a great amusement of the people ought to be kept clean and sweet; but at the same time this discussion has left a sort of feeling in the minds of people who do not need to go to the picture show that it is a doubtful sort of a place, where young girls and mean scrape undesirable acquaintances, and where the prowler lies in wait for the unwary, and where suggestive films of crime and passion are invariably displayed. But I think that this is an unjust idea, and that any one who will take the trouble to amuse himself with the picture show audiences for an afternoon or two will see why it is that the making of films has become a great industry, why it is that the picture show has driven out the vaudeville and the melodrama.

You cannot go to any one of the picture shows in New York without having a series of touching little adventures with the people who sit near you, without overhearing chance words of a naiveté and appreciation that make you bless the living picture book that has brought so much into the lives of the people who work.

Houston Street, on the East Side, of an afternoon is always more crowded than Broadway. Push=carts line the street. The faces that you see are almost all Jewish – Jews of many types; swarthy little men, most of them, looking under-sized according to the Anglo-Saxon standard. Here and there a deep-chested mother of Israel sails along, majestic in shietel and shawl. These are the toilers – garment-makers, a great many of them – people who work ‘by pants,’ as they say. A long and terrible workday they have to keep body and soul together. Their distractions are the streets, and the bargaining off the push-carts, and the show. For a continual trickle of people of people detaches itself from the crowded streets and goes into the good-sized hall; and around the entrance too, wait little boys – eager-eyed little boys – with their tickets in their hands, trying to decoy those who enter into taking them in with them as guardians, because the city ordinances do not allow a child under sixteen to go in unaccompanied by an older person.

In the half-light the faces of the audience detach themselves into little pallid ovals, and, as you will always find in the city, it is an audience largely composed of men.

Behind us sat a woman with her escort. So rapt and entranced was she with what was happening on the stage that her voice accompanied all that happened – a little unconscious and lilting obbligato. It was the voice of a person unconscious that she spoke – speaking from the depths of emotion; a low voice, but perfectly clear, and the unconsciously spoken words dropped with the sweetness of running water. She spoke in German. One would judge her to be from Austria. She herself was lovely in person and young, level-browed and clear-eyed: a beneficent and lovely woman one guessed her to be. And she had never seen Indians before; perhaps never heard of them.

The drama being enacted was the rescue from the bear pit of Yellow Wing, the lovely Indian Maiden, by Dick the Trapper; his capture by the tribe, his escape with the connivance of Yellow Wing, who goes to warn him in his log house, their siege by the Indians, and final rescue by a splendid charge of the United States cavalry; these one saw riding with splendid abandon over hill and dale, and the marriage then and there of Yellow Wing and Dick by the gallant chaplain. A guileless and sentimental dime novel, most ingeniously performed; a work of art; beautiful, too, because one had glimpses of stately forests, sunlight sifting through leaves, wild, dancing forms of Indians, the beautiful swift rushing of horses. One must have had a heart of stone not to follow the adventures of Yellow Wing and Dick the Trapper with passionate interest.

But to the woman behind it was reality at its highest. She was there in a fabled country full of painted savages. The rapidly unfolding drama was to her no make-believe arrangement ingeniously fitted together by actors and picture-makers. It had happened; it was happening for her now.

‘Oh!’ she murmured. ‘That wild and terrible people! Oh boy, take care, take care! Those wild and awful people will egt you!’ ‘Das wildes und grausames Volk,’ she called them. ‘Now – now – she comes to save her beloved!’ This as Yellow Wing hears the chief plotting an attack on Dick the Trapper, and flies fleet-foot through the forest. ‘Surely, surely, she will save her beloved!’ It was almost a prayer; in the woman’s simple mind there was no foregone conclusion of a happy ending. She saw no step ahead, since she lived in the present moment so intensely.

When Yellow Wing and Dick were besieged within and Dick’s hand was wounded –

‘The poor child! how can she bear it? To see the geliebte wounded before one’s very eyes!’

And when the cavalry thundered through the forest –

‘God give that they arrive swiftly – to be in time they must arrive swiftly!’ she exclaimed to herself.

Outside the iron city roared: before the door of the show the push-cart vendors bargained and trafficked with customers. Who is the audience remembered it? They had found the door of escape. For the moment they were in the depths of the forest following the loves of Yellow Wing and Dick. The woman’s voice, so like the voice of a spirit talking to itself, unconscious of time and place, was their voice. There they were; a strange company of aliens – Jews, almost all; haggard and battered and bearded men, young girls with their beaus, spruce and dapper youngsters beginning to make their way. In that humble playhouse one ran the gamut of the East Side. The American-born sat next to the emigrant who arrived but a week before. A strange and romantic people cast into the welter of the terrible city of New York, each of them with the overwhelming problem of battling with strange conditions and an alien civilization. And for the moment they were permitted to drink deep of oblivion of all the trouble in the world. Life holds some compensation, after all. The keener your intellectual capacity, the higher your artistic sensibilities are developed, just so much more difficult is it to find this total forgetfulness – a thing that for the spirit is a life-giving as sleep.

And all through the afternoon and evening this company of tired workers, overburdened men and women, fills the little halls scattered throughout the city and throughout the land.

There are motion-picture shows in New York that are as intensely local to the audience as to the audience of a Tuscan hill town. Down on Bleecker Street is the Church of Our Lady of Pompeii. Here women, on their way to work or to their brief marketing, drop in to say their prayers before their favourite saints in exactly the same fashion as though it were a little church in their own parish. Towards evening women with their brood of children go in: the children frolic and play subdued tag in the aisles, for church with them is an every-day affair, not a starched-up matter of Sunday only. Then, prayers finished, you may see a mother sorting out her own babies and moving on serenely to the picture show down the road – prayers first and amusement afterwards, after the good old Latin fashion.

It is on Saturday nights down here that the picture show reaches its high moment. The whole neighborhood seems to be waiting for a chance to go in. Every woman has a baby in her arms and at least two children clinging to her skirts. Indeed, so universal is this custom that a woman who goes there unaccompanied by a baby feels out of place, as if she were not properly dressed. A baby seems as much a matter-of-course adjunct to one’s toilet on Bleecker Street as a picture hat would be on Broadway.

every one seems to know everyone else. As a new woman joins the throng other women cry out to her, gayly:

‘Ah, good-evening, Concetta. How is Giuseppe’s tooth?’

‘Through at last,’ she answers. ‘And where are your twins?’

The first woman makes a gesture indicating that they are somewhere swallowed up in the crowd.

This talk all goes on in good north Italian, for the people on Bleecker Street are the Tuscan colony. There are many from Venice also, and from Milan and from Genoa. The South Italian lives on the East Side.

Then, as the crowd becomes denser, as the moment for the show approaches, they sway together, pushed on by those on the outskirts of the crowd. And yet everyone is good-tempered. It is –

‘Not so hard there, boy!’

‘Mind for the baby!’

‘Look out!’

Though indeed it doesn’t seem any place for a baby at all, and much less so for the youngsters who aren’t in their mothers’ arms but are perilously engulfed in the swaying mass of people. But the situation is saved by Latin good temper and the fact that every one is out for a holiday.

By the time one has stood in this crowd twenty minutes and talked with the women and babies, one had made friends, given an account of oneself, told how it was one happened to speak a little Italian, and where it was in Italy one had lived, for all the world as one gives an account of one’s self when travelling through Italian hamlets. One answers the questions that Italian women love to ask:

‘Are you married?’

‘Have you children?’

‘Then why aren’t they at the picture show with you?’

This audience was an amused, and an amusing audience, ready to laugh, ready to applaud. The young man next me had an ethical point of view. He was a serious, dark-haired fellow, and took his moving pictures seriously. He and his companion argued the case of the cowboy who stole because of his sick wife.

‘He shouldn’t have done it,’ he maintained.

‘His wife was dying, poveretta,’ his companion defended.

‘His wife was a nice girl,” said the serious young man. ‘You saw for yourself how nice a girl. One has but to look at her to see how good she is.’ He spoke as though of a real person he had met. ‘She would rather have died than have her husband disgrace himself.’

‘It turned out happily; through the theft she found her father again. He wasn’t even arrested.’

‘It makes no difference,’ said the serious youth; ‘he had luck, that is all. He shouldn’t have stolen. When she knows about it, it will break her heart.’

Ethics were his strong point, evidently. He had something to say again about the old man who, in the Franco-Prussian War, shot a soldier and allowed a young man to suffer the death penalty in his stead. It was true that the old man’s son had been shot and that there was no one else to care for the little grandson, and, while the critic admitted that that made a difference, he didn’t like the idea. The dramas appealed to him from a philosophical standpoint; one gathered that he and his companion might pass an evening discussing whether, when a man is a soldier, and therefore pledged to fight for his country, he has a right to give up his life to save that of an old man, even though he is the guardian of a child.

Throughout the whole show, throughout the discussion going on beside me, there was one face that I turned to again and again. It was that of an eager little girl of ten or eleven, whose lovely profile stood out in violent relief from the dingy wall. So rapt was she, so spellbound, that she couldn’t laugh, couldn’t clap her hands with the others. She was in a state of emotion beyond any outward manifestation of it.

In the Bowery you get a different kind of audience. None of your neighborhood spirit here. Even in what is called, the ‘dago show’ – that is, the show where the occasional vaudeville numbers are Italian singers — the people seem chance-met; the audience is almost entirely composed of men, only an occasional woman.

It was here that I met the moving-picture show expert, the connoisseur, for he told me that he went to a moving-picture show every night. It was the best way that he knew of spending your evenings in New York, and one gathered that he had early twenties, with a tough and honest countenance, and he spoke the dialect of the city of New York with greater richness than I have ever heard it spoken. He was ashamed of being caught by a compatriot in a ‘dago show.’

‘Say,’ he said, ‘dis is a bum joint. I don’t know how I come to toin in here. You don’t un’erstan’ what that skoit’s singin’, do you? You betcher I don’t!’

Not for worlds would he have understood a word of the inferior Italian tongue.

“I don’t never come to dago moving-picter shows,’ he hastened to assure me. ‘Say, if youse wanter see a real show, beat it down to Grand Street. Dat’s de real t’ing. Dese dago shows ain’t got no good films. You hardly ever see a travel film; w’en I goes to a show, I likes to see the woild. I’d like travelin’ if I could afford it, but I can’t; that’s why I like a good travel film. A good comic’s all right, but a good travel film or an a’rioplane race or a battle-ship review — dat’s de real t’ing ! You don’t get none here. I don’t know what made me come here,’ he repeated. He was sincerely displeased with himself at being caught with the goods by his compatriots in a place that had no class, and the only way he could defend himself was by showing his fine scorn of the inferior race.

You see what it means to them; it means Opportunity — a chance to glimpse the beautiful and strange things in the world that you haven’t in your life; the gratification of the higher side of your nature ; opportunity which, except for the big moving picture book, would be forever closed to you. You understand still more how much it means opportunity if you happen to live in a little country place where the whole town goes to every change of films and where the new films are gravely discussed. Down here it is that you find the people who agree with my friend of the Bowery — that ‘travel films is de real t’ing.’ For those people who would like to travel they make films of pilgrims going to Mecca; films of the great religious processions in the holy city of Jerusalem; of walrus fights in the far North. It has even gone so far that in Melilla there was an order for the troops to start out; they sprang to their places, trumpets blew, and the men fell into line and marched off — all for the moving-picture show. They were angry — the troops — but the people in Spain saw how their
armies acted.

In all the countries of the earth — in Sicily, and out in the desert of Arizona, and in the deep woods of America, and on the olive terraces of Italy — they are making more films, inventing new dramas with new and beautiful backgrounds, for the poor man’s theater. In his own little town, in some far-off fishing village, he can sit and see the coronation, and the burial of a king, or the great pageant of the Roman Church.

It is no wonder that it is a great business with a capitalization of millions of dollars, since it gives to the people whoneed it most laughter and drama and beauty and a chance for once to look at the strange places of the earth.

Comment: Mary Heaton Vorse (1874-1966) was a left-wing American journalist and novelist, deeply committed to issues of social justice. Bleecker Street is in Manhattan, within the Greenwich Village area.

The Nightside of Japan

asakusa

‘The Cinematograph Street in Asakusa Street’ (the caption for the photograph that accompanies the text below)

Source: Taizo Fujimoto, The Nightside of Japan (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1914), pp. 1-2

Text: The Asakusa is the centre of pleasure in Tokyo. People of every rank in the city crowd in the park day and night old and young, high and low, male and female, rich and poor. It is also a haunt of ruffians, thieves, and pickpockets when the curtain of the dark comes down over the park. All houses and shops along each street in the park are illuminated with the electric and gas lights. The most noisy and crowded part is the site of cinematograph halls. In front of a hall you see many large painted pictures, illustrating kinds of pictures to be shown in the hall, and, at its entrance, three or four men are crying to call visitors: “Come in, come in! Our pictures are newest ones, most wonderful pictures! Most lately imported from Europe! “Men of another hall cry out: “Our hall gives the photographs of a play performed by the first-class actors in Tokyo; pictures of the revenge of Forty Seven Ronine!” Tickets are sold by girls in a booking-box near the entrance of each hall; they are dressed in beautiful uniforms, their faces painted nicely, receiving guests with charming smiles. Most of the Japanese carry geta (clogs) under their feet, instead of shoes or boots, and specially so are the females. When you come into the door of a hall, tickets are to be handed to the men, who furnish you zori (a pair of straw or grass-slippers) in place of your geta, and you must not forget to receive from them a wood-card marked with numerals or some other signs the card being the cheque for your clogs. When you step on upstairs you are received by another nice girl in uniform, who guides you to a seat in the hall. Now the hall is full of people; it seems that there is no room for a newcomer, but the guide girl finds out a chair among the crowd and adjusts it to you very kindly. Pictures of cinematograph are shown one after another, each being explained by orators in frock or evening coat. Between the photograph shows performance of comic actors or jugglers is given. After the end of each picture or performance there is an entr’acte of three or five minutes, and in this interval sellers of oranges, milk, cakes, sandwiches, etc., come into the crowds, and are crying out: “Don’t you want oranges? Nice cakes! New boiled milk! etc., etc.” The show of cinematograph is closed at about 12 P.M., and all people flow out of the hall. Where will they go hence? Of course most of them go to their home, but a part of them young fellows among others runs to the Dark Streets of the park, or Yoshiwara, the licensed prostitution quarter near the park.

Comment: This passage is from a travel book on Japan, intended for Western audiences. The ‘orators in frock on evening coat’ were benshi, the narrators who habitually accompanied screenings of silent films in Japan, whether fiction or non-fiction. A number of short films were made of stories of the revenge of the forty-seven ronine (such stories are known as Chūshingura) before and in 1914.