Harriet Martineau's Autobiography

Source: Harriet Martineau (ed. Maria Weston Chapman), Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography vol. 1 (Boston: James R. Osgood, 1877), pp. 11-12

Text: Of all my many fancies, perhaps none was so terrible as a dream that I had at four years old. The impression is as fresh as possible now; but I cannot at all understand what the fright was about. I know nothing more strange than this power of re-entering, as it were, into the narrow mind of an infant, so as to compare it with that of maturity ; and therefore it may be worth while to record that piece of precious nonsense, — my dream at four years old. I imagine I was learning my letters then from cards, where each letter had its picture, — as a stag for S. I dreamed that we children were taking our walk with our nursemaid out of St. Austin’s Gate (the nearest bit of country to our house.) Out of the public-house there came a stag, with prodigious antlers. Passing the pump, it crossed the road to us, and made a polite bow, with its head on one side, and with a scrape of one foot, after which it pointed with its foot to the public-house, and spoke to me, inviting me in. The maid declined, and turned to go home. Then came the terrible part. By the time we were at our own door it was dusk, and we went up the steps in the dark; but in the kitchen it was bright sunshine. My mother was standing at the dresser, breaking sugar; and she lifted me up, and set me in the sun, and gave me a bit of sugar.

Such was the dream which froze me with horror! Who shall say why? But my panics were really unaccountable. They were a matter of pure sensation, without any intellectual justification whatever, even of the wildest kind. A magic-lantern was exhibited to us on Christmas-day, and once or twice in the year besides. I used to see it cleaned by daylight, and to handle all its parts, — understanding its whole structure; yet, such was my terror of the white circle on the wall, and of the moving slides, that, to speak the plain truth, the first apparition always brought on bowel-complaint; and, at the age of thirteen, when I was pretending to take care of little children during the exhibition, I could never look at it without having the back of a chair to grasp, or hurting myself, to carry off the intolerable sensation.

Comments: Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) was a British essayist and sociologist, who enjoyed a considerable reputation as a social analyst in her lifetime. Her posthumously published autobiography goes into great detail about her childhood memories and their significance. Her childhood was spent in Norwich.

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Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography

Source: Harriet Martineau (ed. Maria Weston Chapman), Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography vol. 1 (Boston: James R. Osgood, 1877), pp. 11-12

Text: Of all my many fancies, perhaps none was so terrible as a dream that I had at four years old. The impression is as fresh as possible now; but I cannot at all understand what the fright was about. I know nothing more strange than this power of re-entering, as it were, into the narrow mind of an infant, so as to compare it with that of maturity ; and therefore it may be worth while to record that piece of precious nonsense, — my dream at four years old. I imagine I was learning my letters then from cards, where each letter had its picture, — as a stag for S. I dreamed that we children were taking our walk with our nursemaid out of St. Austin’s Gate (the nearest bit of country to our house.) Out of the public-house there came a stag, with prodigious antlers. Passing the pump, it crossed the road to us, and made a polite bow, with its head on one side, and with a scrape of one foot, after which it pointed with its foot to the public-house, and spoke to me, inviting me in. The maid declined, and turned to go home. Then came the terrible part. By the time we were at our own door it was dusk, and we went up the steps in the dark; but in the kitchen it was bright sunshine. My mother was standing at the dresser, breaking sugar; and she lifted me up, and set me in the sun, and gave me a bit of sugar.

Such was the dream which froze me with horror! Who shall say why? But my panics were really unaccountable. They were a matter of pure sensation, without any intellectual justification whatever, even of the wildest kind. A magic-lantern was exhibited to us on Christmas-day, and once or twice in the year besides. I used to see it cleaned by daylight, and to handle all its parts, — understanding its whole structure; yet, such was my terror of the white circle on the wall, and of the moving slides, that, to speak the plain truth, the first apparition always brought on bowel-complaint; and, at the age of thirteen, when I was pretending to take care of little children during the exhibition, I could never look at it without having the back of a chair to grasp, or hurting myself, to carry off the intolerable sensation.

Comments: Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) was a British essayist and sociologist, who enjoyed a considerable reputation as a social analyst in her lifetime. Her posthumously published autobiography goes into great detail about her childhood memories and their significance. Her childhood was spent in Norwich.

Links: Copy on Internet Archive

Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa

Source: David Livingstone, Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa. Including a sketch of sixteen years’ residence in the interior of Africa, and a journey from the Cape of Good Hope to Loanda on the west coast; thence across the continent, down the river Zambesi, to the eastern ocean (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1898), pp. 322-323

Text: Shinte was most anxious to see the pictures of the magic lantern; but fever had so weakening an effect, and I had such violent action of the heart, with buzzing in the ears, that I could not go for several days; when I did go for the purpose, he had his principal men and the same crowd of court beauties near him as at the reception. The first picture exhibited was Abraham about to slaughter his son Isaac; it was shown as large as life, and the uplifted knife was in the act of striking the lad; the Balonda men remarked that the picture was much more like a god than the things of wood or clay they worshiped. I explained that this man was the first of a race to whom God had given the Bible we now held, and that among his children our Savior appeared. The ladies listened with silent awe; but, when I moved the slide, the uplifted dagger moving toward them, they thought it was to be sheathed in their bodies instead of Isaac’s. “Mother! mother!” all shouted at once, and off they rushed helter-skelter, tumbling pell-mell over each other, and over the little idol-huts and tobacco-bushes: we could not get one of them back again. Shinte, however, sat bravely through the whole, and afterward examined the instrument with interest. An explanation was always added after each time of showing its powers, so that no one should imagine there was aught supernatural in it; and had Mr. Murray, who kindly brought it from England, seen its popularity among both Makololo and Balonda, he would have been gratified with the direction his generosity then took. It was the only mode of instruction I was ever pressed to repeat. The people came long distances for the express purpose of seeing the objects and hearing the explanations.

Comments: David Livingstone (1813-1873) was a Scottish missionary and explorer of Africa. Livingstone took a magic lantern with him on his transcontinental journey across Africa, 1852-56. On his return to Britain he became famous following the publication of his Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa. This account records a magic lantern show late January 1854 in the upper Zambezi area. Shinte was chief of the Balonda people. This entry has been classified under Zambia, but in 1854 there was no country with national borders.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive (American edition)

Unreliable Memoirs

Source: Clive James, Unreliable Memoirs (London: Jonathan Cape, 1980), pp. 43-47

Text: Every Saturday afternoon at the pictures there was a feature film, sixteen cartoons and an episode each from four different serials. The programme just went on and on like Bayreuth. The Margaret Street children would join up with the Irene Street children and the combined mass would add themselves unto the Sunbeam Avenue children and the aggregate would join the swarm from all the other areas all moving north along Rocky Point Road towards Rockdale, where the Odeon stood. In summer the concrete paths were hot. The asphalt footpaths were even hotter: bubbles of tar formed, to be squashed flat by our leathery bare feet. Running around on macadamised playgrounds throughout the spring, by summer we had feet that could tread on a drawing pin and hardly feel it.

When you got to the Odeon the first thing you did was stock up with lollies. Lollies was the word for what the English call sweets and the Americans call candy. Some of the more privileged children had upwards of five shillings each to dispose of, but in fact two bob was enough to buy you as much as you could eat. Everyone, without exception, bought at least one Hoadley’s Violet Crumble Bar. It was a slab of dense, dry honeycomb coated with chocolate. So frangible was the honey comb that it would shatter when bitten, scattering bright yellow shrapnel. It was like trying to eat a Ming vase. The honeycomb would go soft only after a day’s exposure to direct sunlight. The chocolate surrounding it, however, would liquefy after only ten minutes in a dark cinema.

[…]

Everyone either ate steadily or raced up and down the aisles to and from the toilet, or all three. The uproar was continuous, like Niagara. Meanwhile the programme was unreeling in front of us. The feature film was usually a Tarzan, a Western, or the kind of Eastern Western in which George Macready played the grand vizier. At an even earlier stage I had been to the pictures with my mother and been continuously frightened without understanding what was going on – the mere use of music to reinforce tension, for example, was enough to drive me under the seat for the rest of the evening. At a later stage I accompanied my mother to every change of evening double bill both at Ramsgate and Rockdale – a total of four films a week, every week for at least a decade. But nothing before or since had the impact of those feature films at the Rockdale Saturday matinees.

In those days Johnny Weissmuller was making his difficult transfer from Tarzan to Jungle Jim. As Tarzan he got fatter and fatter until finally he was too fat to be plausible, whereupon he was obliged to put on a safari suit and become Jungle Jim. I was glad to to learn subsequently that as Jungle Jim he had a piece of the action and was at last able to bank some money. At the time, his transmogrification looked to me like an unmitigated tragedy. His old Tarzan movies were screened again and again. Many times I dived with Tarz off Brooklyn Bridge during the climactic scene of Tarzan’s New York Adventure. In my mind I duplicated the back somersaults executed by Johnny’s double as he swung from vine to vine on his way to rescue the endangered Jane and Boy from the invading ivory hunters. In one of the Tarzan movies there is a terrible sequence where one lot of natives gives another lot an extremely thin time by arranging pairs of tree trunks so that they will fly apart and pull the victim to pieces. This scene stayed with me as a paradigm of evil. No doubt if I saw the same film today I would find the sequence as crudely done as everything else ever filmed on Poverty Row. But at the time it seemed a vision of cruelty too horrible even to think about.

I can remember having strong ideas about which cartoons were funny and which were not. Mr Magoo and Gerald McBoing-Boing, with their stylised backgrounds and elliptical animation, had not yet arrived on the scene. Cartoons were still in that hyper-realist phase which turns out in retrospect to have been their golden age. The standards of animation set by Walt Disney and MGM cost a lot of time, effort and money, but as so often happens the art reached it height at the moment of maximum resistance from the medium. Knowing nothing of these theoretical matters, I simply consumed the product. I knew straight away that the Tom and Jerry cartoons were the best. In fact I even knew straight away that some Tom and Jerry cartoons were better than others. There was an early period when Tom’s features were puffy and he ran with a lope, motion being indicated by the streaks that animators call speed lines. In the later period Tom’s features had an acute precision and his every move was made fully actual, with no stylisation at all. Meanwhile Jerry slimmed down and acquired more expressiveness. The two periods were clearly separated in my mind, where they were dubbed ‘old drawings’ and ‘new drawings’. I remember being able to tell which category a given Tom and Jerry cartoon fell into from seeing the first few frames. Eventually I could tell just from the logo. I remember clearly the feeling of disappointment if it was going to be old drawings and the feeling of elation if it was going to be new drawings.

But the serials were what caught my imagination most, especially the ones in which the hero was masked. It didn’t occur to me until much later that the producers, among whom Sam Katzman was the doyen, kept the heroes masked so that the leading actors could not ask for more money. At the time it just seemed logical to me that a hero should wear a masked. It didn’t have to be as elaborate as Batman’s mask. I admired Batman, despite the worrying wrinkles in the arms and legs of his costume, which attained a satisfactory tautness only in the region of his stomach. But Robin’s mask was easier to copy. So was the Black Commando’s. My favourite serials were those in which masked men went out at night and melted mysteriously into the urban landscape. Science fiction serials were less appealing at that stage, while white hunter epics like The Lost City of the Jungle merely seemed endless. I saw all fourteen episodes of The Lost City of the Jungle except the last. It would have made no difference if I had only seen the last episode and missed the thirteen leading up to it. The same things happened every week. Either two parties of white hunters in solar topees searched for each other in one part of the jungle, or else the same two parties of white hunters in solar topees sought to avoid each other in another part of the jungle. Meanwhile tribesmen from the Lost City either captured representatives of both parties and took them to the High Priestess for sacrifice, or else ran after them when they escaped. Sometimes white hunters escaping ran into other white hunters being captured, and were either recaptured or helped the others escape. It was obvious even to my unschooled eyes that there was only about half an acre of jungle, all of it composed of papier mâché. By the end of each episode it was beaten flat. The screen would do a spiral wipe around an image of the enthroned High Priestess, clad in a variety of tea-towels and gesturing obdurately with a collection of prop sceptres while one of the good white hunters – you could tell a good one from a bad one by the fact that a bad one always sported a very narrow moustache – was lowered upside down into a pit of limp scorpions.

Comments: Clive James (born 1939) is an Australian broadcaster, critic, poet and essayist. These extracts from his first volume of memoirs cover the period of the late 1940s. The films mentioned include Tarzan’s New York Adventure (USA 1942), Batman (1943, 15 episodes), The Secret Code (USA 1942, 15 episodes, featuring ‘The Black Commando’) and The Lost City of the Jungle (USA 1946, 13 episodes). There were numerous Jungle Jim films from 1948 onwards. Rockdale is a suburb of Sydney.

Sociology of Film

Source: J.P. Mayer, Sociology of Film: Studies and Documents (London: Faber and Faber, 1946), pp. 205-208

Text: 22. Mr. …

An ardent filmgoer since the early days of Cinema I can recall no instance of a film encouraging me to make any important personal decision. I was, however, inspired during adolescence by the antics of the late Douglas Fairbanks, snr. I tried to imitate his personal mannerisms and emulate his athletic prowess in the mistaken belief that I could, so achieve an extra strength and self reliance — (at the time I suffered from exaggerated feelings of inferiority).

Since those days, I have never consciously desired to imitate anything admired in others, on the screen.

Whereas my early cinegoing was largely a matter of ‘escapism’, to-day choice has supplanted habit. What concerns me now is enjoyment through interest, not escape through fantasy. I now seek interest through appraisement and analysis. The appreciation of good acting, imaginative lighting, interestingly authentic decor and wardrobe, evocative ‘cutting’, the expressive use of sound and dialogue — in short, seeing films ‘whole’ motivates my present day picturegoing. It is the content and manipulation of a film that now interests me and not merely that a film can provide a temporary escape from a reality which is, in nine cases out of ten, largely self-created.

Having grown up with the Cinema my understanding and appreciation of it has matured just as the Cinema has, in many ways, itself matured. It was during the pre-talkie period of the so-called ‘Golden Era’ of German and Swedish production, that I first became aware of the real possibilities inherent in the film as an art, and a mental and cultural stimulus. The notorious Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, for instance, excited my imagination because, for me it opened up new vistas of a fascinating and undreamed of significance.

‘Caligari’ is said to have changed the whole outlook of cinema, and I believe that it did.

I will admit that my first impressions here were largely bound up with childhood wonder and excitation experienced through Grimm’s fairy tales. I think ‘Caligari’ re-created for me those perhaps rather unhealthy delights, connected somehow with fear, i.e. the fascination of weirdness, dark forests, witches, hobgoblins, magic, sinister castles, and, in fact, the frighteningly suggestive in general.

And yet it was through such films as Caligari, Waxworks, The Student of Prague, The Golem, Nosferatu (Dracula), etc., etc. that I was subsequently to acquire a more objective understanding of what artistic and constructive film entertainment could mean. They gave me my first insight into the true potentialities of Cinema.

To-day, I visit films less often, and when rare and culturally valuable ones such as Citizen Kane, Earth, The Grapes of Wrath, etc. do become available I try to see them as often as possible before they disappear — possibly for ever.

In answer to your question regarding fashions and manners, it is obvious, and especially with regard to women, how greatly the screen has influenced and encouraged consciousness of and interest in personal appearance and behaviour. Women have learned the value of attractive clothing and make-up in the development of poise and self confidence, or at least a sense of it, for I notice that people influenced by such things frequently fail to adopt them with any real degree of success.

Misapplication, resulting in artificiality rather than attractiveness seems all too often the inevitable result. Finger nails and hair ‘do’s’ are not necessarily indicative of character or self reliance, or even of good taste.

Personally, I cannot say that I have been influenced in any way here. I believe that real poise and self confidence result from an objective rather than a subjective attitude to life. I would far rather be my natural self (at least as far as I am capable of being), than a second rate edition of some movie idol I admired, or might happen, faintly to resemble.

Love and divorce do not apply to me. For one thing I have never really been in love, and for another I do not believe that the screen exercises so much influence with morals as seems generally to be supposed.

So now to dreams. I believe that few people dream about the films they see, but I can recall (though of necessity, only partially) dream experiences the content of which included the Cinema in one form or another, although I have never dreamed of any particular film. When I have dreamed about Cinema, the building itself seems always to have been included. Sometimes it has been curved in shape, (which is when I have been inside), and sometimes square, and rather aggressively strong looking, (and then I have been outside). Recognising, in my limited understanding of Freudian psychology, that ‘shape’ has significance in dreams, I draw, or imagine I draw, the obvious conclusion here. I have also dreamt of meeting ‘stars’ personally, and having them regard my criticisms of their work and of Cinema in general as something to marvel at.

I certainly do feel that the Cinema can and does exercise considerable, and probably far reaching influence on individual psychology, and mainly in the sense that many filmgoers tend unconsciously to identify themselves with pictured characters and emotional situations. More briefly, many of us see ourselves in the movies we like.

I think, for example that it is possible to read into films the things we would really like to do and be. But are the things we enjoy really projections of the hidden truths about us? I cannot arrive at a decision about this.

I do think about it, but I really do not know. I would very much like to determine just why I believe my initial reactions to say Caligari, or Warning Shadows, or perhaps The Street or The Last Laugh, would not be repeated were I able to see them again to-day.

I might still enjoy them as museum pieces, and in a nostalgic sort of way, but would, somehow be unable to ‘recapture the first fine careless rapture’. This overlong letter must now end.

I hope you will gather at least something from it that is worthwhile to you. I expect there are many things I have failed to remember, and probably from your own point of view the most important ones of all, but, on the spur of the moment, it is the best I can do in the time at my disposal. I have tried to be truthful about it, but how often can one be satisfied that one has succeeded in being really truthful? As a psychologist, you will probably arrive at a much truer solution to this problem than I myself am at all capable of achieving.

Age — 44. Sex — Male. Nationality — British. Profession — Shopkeeper — (now in costing office of war factory).
Profession of Father — Builder. Mother — originally a court dressmaker.

Comments: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His Sociology of Film draws on a large amount of evidence gathered through questionnaires and submissions received through invitations published in Picturegoer magazine. The above response comes from the section ‘The Adult and the Cinema’. People were asked to answer two questions: Have films ever influenced you with regard to personal decisions or behaviour? and Have films ever appeared in your dreams? The films referred to here are Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (Germany 1920), Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (Waxworks) (Germany 1924), Der Student von Prag (Germany 1926), Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (Germany 1920), Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Germany 1922), Citizen Kane (USA 1941), Zemlya (Earth) (USSR 1930), The Grapes of Wrath (USA 1940), Schatten (Warning Shadows) (Germany 1923), Die Straße (Germany 1923) and Der letzte Mann (The Last Laugh) (Germany 1924).

Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Female, 19, white, college junior’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), p. 145

Text: But I shall positively say that Warner Oland, the oriental-looking villain of the screen, was responsible for my mortal dread of Chinamen. Whenever I saw one I would run as fast as my little legs would carry me and palpitating with fear would cling close to my reassuring mother. He, Warner Oland, was always wicked in his role of the canny, cunning, heartless mandarin who pursued Pearl White through so many serials. I carried over this impression to all Asiatics, so that they all seemed to conceal murderous intent behind their bland features, their humble attitude merely a disguise until the time was ripe to seize you and kill you, or, worse yet, to make you a slave. I never passed by our Chinese laundry without increasing my speed, glancing apprehensively through the window to detect him at some foul deed, expecting every moment one of his supposed white slave girls to come dashing out of the door. If I heard some undue disturbance at night outside, I was certain that “Mark Woo” was at his usual work of torturing his victims. I have not been able to this day to erase that apprehensive feeling whenever I see a Chinese person, so deep and strong were those early impressions.

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 chapter ‘Schemes of Life’, section ‘Stereotyped Views’. The Swedish-American actor Warner Oland frequently played oriental characters, including Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan. Serials in which he appeared with Pearl White were The Romance of Elaine (1915), The Fatal Ring (1917) and The Lightning Raider (1919).

Links: Copy on Internet Archive

Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Female, 19, white, college junior’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), p. 145

Text: But I shall positively say that Warner Oland, the oriental-looking villain of the screen, was responsible for my mortal dread of Chinamen. Whenever I saw one I would run as fast as my little legs would carry me and palpitating with fear would cling close to my reassuring mother. He, Warner Oland, was always wicked in his role of the canny, cunning, heartless mandarin who pursued Pearl White through so many serials. I carried over this impression to all Asiatics, so that they all seemed to conceal murderous intent behind their bland features, their humble attitude merely a disguise until the time was ripe to seize you and kill you, or, worse yet, to make you a slave. I never passed by our Chinese laundry without increasing my speed, glancing apprehensively through the window to detect him at some foul deed, expecting every moment one of his supposed white slave girls to come dashing out of the door. If I heard some undue disturbance at night outside, I was certain that “Mark Woo” was at his usual work of torturing his victims. I have not been able to this day to erase that apprehensive feeling whenever I see a Chinese person, so deep and strong were those early impressions.

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 chapter ‘Schemes of Life’, section ‘Stereotyped Views’. The Swedish-American actor Warner Oland frequently played oriental characters, including Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan. Serials in which he appeared with Pearl White were The Romance of Elaine (1915), The Fatal Ring (1917) and The Lightning Raider (1919).

Links: Copy on Internet Archive

Sociology of Film

Source: J.P. Mayer, Sociology of Film: Studies and Documents (London: Faber and Faber, 1946), pp. 117-118

Text: 7. Y.L.

I go to the films about once every fortnight, and I only go to it if it is worth while. I can’t bear sob-stuff. Another sort of film I loathe are jazz and swing films. For instance, I went to a news theatre about a month ago, and one of the short films showed a band, and one of the singers was so funny, that everyone was absolutely roaring with laughter. I laughed so much that I was nearly crying. A man in front of me choked from laughing, and he had to go out of the theatre.

As I have said before, I don’t like love and sob-stuff. It not only amuses me, but it also bores me stiff. When two people kiss each other and keep like it for about ten minutes, I think I have reason to be bored.

Once I went to the pictures on a Saturday afternoon, and there were two women behind me. One of them was telling the other one all about the film, and also keeping a running commentary going. It got to the pitch when I felt as if I wanted to tear her hair off. My mother, who had come with me got in such a temper that she had to tell the woman to be quiet (in I am afraid a rather rude way). I am interested in historical films, and also murders. I am afraid to say that I am very bloodthirsty. Murder films affect some people, so that they have nightmares. That has only happened to me once. I had been to see a film about a detective. While a man who was a dealer in gold, was sitting with his back to a window in his house, a pair of hands came through the open window, clutched him round the neck, and finally strangled him. The man let out the most awful shriek, which went right through me. That night I dreamt I saw someone sitting in front of the window, and a pair of hands came up behind him. I rushed up and clutched the hands. The man who had tried to strangle the other man chased me all through the woods and goodness knows what, and when he caught me up, and was just about to strangle me, I woke up. You could not imagine how very relieved I was, at that particular moment to wake up. I was very surprised with myself, as I had never had a real nightmare before. As you have gathered from this essay, I like historical and detective films, but not love.

Comments: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His Sociology of Film draws on a large amount of evidence gathered through questionnaires and submissions received through invitations published in Picturegoer magazine. The above response comes from the section ‘Children and Adolescents in the Cinema’ which reproduces essays obtained from a school in Hampstead, the contributors being “on the average not older than 12½ … their parents are probably mostly members of the middle class”. They were invited to write about the films that they liked.

Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918

Source: Excerpt from interview with Mrs Hannah Myers, C707/401/1-2, 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: A: But this is how I used to work it, I used to say – you help me – and then I’ll take you out for the afternoon. But any – used to queue up for hours. But it wasn’t a continuous performance. There were certain houses. You see. Until –

Q: What kind of films would they have?

A: Oh – cowboy pictures, and – they used to have serials. And you know – we – he used – if he used to go on a Sunday – to the fair, pictures for a penny, and we used to see Pearl White, and she’d be hanging to the – to the roof of a train by her teeth. And another train’s coming through, we’re all cringing, and then it would come up on the sheet, next week – you see, you see the continuation next week. And we were all – tensed up you know. And – Harold Lloyd.

Q: What day of the week would that be?

A: Well it – any day you could go, for a penny. And over this fair for a penny … You know Mile End Station? At the back of Mile End station was known as the fairground. During the winter there was all sideshows, but – Mr Forest had this – first of all he used to go under a tent. They used to call it the flea pit. Used to be a ha’penny. But when he had it built it was a penny. See, and you used to go in, and you used to get a card. And – it was a lucky number. If you had a lucky number on it – you either won boots or a sack of coal – or – you know, some – articles of clothing. See, the – what this man used to buy for prizes. And it used to be chock-block full. And used to sit on forms. And although it was chock-block full they’d still say, come on, shift up there, shift up there, we were all huddled together and when we used to get these serial pictures you know – and the hair raising stuff that they used to do – we’d all cringe and cringe and cringe, and the kids – and – and people at the back used to say, look behind, look behind, he’s behind the door, he’s behind – of course it used to be silent pictures. Look behind the door. And then it used to come up, continuation next week. And we’d say – aaaah. Will you come next week, will you come next week? Yes, if we can save our farthings. We used to get a farthing a day – for spending …

… What about cinemas when you were at school? I didn’t go often, I did go once with my mother and father and I was terrified. It was the earthquake. The San Francisco Earthquake and I was glad to come out. I was terrified. I remember that.

Comment: Hannah Myers was born 1900 in London E3, seventeenth child of 18, parents Jewish. Her father was street trader selling fruit, then opened his own shop. She considered that they were middle class. She was interviewed on 28 July 1972, 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).

Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Female, 19, white, college sophomore’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), pp. 75-76

Text: My very earliest recollection of a movie is vague in a way and yet one part is very vivid. I do not even know where I saw my first movie, but it was in some very small theater in Englewood. I do not know who the heroine was, but I do remember that at the most dramatic part she was bound, laid on a pile of sticks and burned. At this point, I became hysterical and had to be taken from the theater. I never knew if the unfortunate girl was rescued or burned to death, but I never forgot the smoke and flames curling around her slender body. This little episode characterizes to a great extent my reactions to my early movies. I never could be convinced that the actors were not really suffering the horrible tortures depicted in many films and my sympathy knew no bounds.

Comment: 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. Most of the evidence relates to picturegoing in the 1920s. The interview above comes from the chapter ‘Emotional Possession: Fear and Terror’.

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