Children of the Green

Source: Doris M. Bailey, Children of the Green: A true story of childhood in Bethnal Green 1922-1937 (London: Stepney Books, 1981), pp. 75-77

Text: Besides taking me to Woolworths, she [her aunt Rose] sometimes took me to the pictures, and what a thrill that was. I had only been with the penny rush before that. The penny rush was held on a Saturday afternoon in a cinema just off Roman Road, and it was just what its name implied. My cousins made it a regular Saturday treat, and Eva often went along with them, but none of them liked taking me. As we hurried along, clutching our orange or bag of peanuts, they would talk between them of Norma and Richard Talmadge and lots of other stars, but all I did was to pray like mad that no one would kill anyone or fire any guns.

When the doors opened we all rushed in, and for some reason that I could never fathom at the time, they all made for the seats near the back and only the late comers sat in the front rows. As soon as the film started, the piano would start to play, the pianist dressed in a long black skirt with a white fancy thing on her head a bit like a Lyons nippy.

As soon as things got going, the piano would play loud banging music and I’d grip my hands on the seat and shut my eyes tight. Just in case anyone fell down dead. When a car came towards me on the screen, I was dead scared in case it came right out and ran me over, and when the cowboys and horses galloped in my direction, I would shoot under the seat and stay there.

If however the picture was sad, I would burst into tears and have to be taken outside in disgrace for making a noise. Mum and Dad once took us to see Charlie Chaplin in ‘The Gold Rush’ as a very special treat, but I broke my heart over the poor little man having to stew his boots for food.

“Oh, please, please,” I cried, “please can’t anyone give him some food?” So, all in all, no one was very keen on taking me to the pictures. But when I grew a bit older and learnt to control my emotions, nothing delighted me more than being taken to the pictures by aunt Rose. Even the cinema she frequented as different, it didn’t smell of smoke and oranges and sweat; there was a smartly dressed young lady who walked around spraying something into the air, and it smelt more like the perfume department of a big store.

The pictures we saw were nicer too: we never saw cowboys and Indians there, but there were ladies and gentlemen kissing each other and holding hands and getting married and riding in lovely carriages. Or else they were dying gently in big beautiful beds, even better than aunt Kate’s. “Kiss me Charles, and be good to baby,” would flash on the screen, and the audience in aunt’s type of cinema would read quietly, and just sob gently, if it was very sad. I would keep putting out my tongue to catch the tears as they rolled down my cheek, lest aunt should see me crying and not take me again. The piano played soft haunting music that made you want to keep on swallowing hard, and when you eventually came out into the bright sunshine, you could pretend you had something in your eye and keep on wiping it.

But aunt had developed a sudden cold too, and had to keep on sniffing, so we’d sniff and wipe our way home, where the two dogs would give us a boisterous welcome and aunt would make tea, talking all the time about what she’d have done, had she been the heroine. “She was too soft with him, don’t you think, Dol,” she would call from the kitchen and, thrilled to be talked to as an equal, I would discuss with her the merits of the film. At the penny rush, everyone read the captions out loud.

“Oh leave me sir,” we would all call out, as the maiden struggled with the villain. Oh, we had incentives to become fast readers in those days. Perhaps today’s children would become better readers if the T.V. went back to the old silent days for its stories and children had to use their brain to read, instead of being spoon fed with all their entertainment.

It was not until the era of the ‘talkie’ that people like aunt Kate and Janet went to the pictures and I’ll never forget when Mum and auntie Liz persuaded aunt Kate to go and see her very first film, ‘The Singing Fool.’

Everyone was singing ‘Climb upon my knee, Sonny boy,’ and aunt Kate set off in joyful expectancy. What a scene they had with her when she came home! She cried and cried all night, and half the next day too, standing at the corner and wiping her eyes on her apron, the tears making rivulets sown her powdered face.

“Oh my Gawd, it was lovely. I haven’t slept all night for thinking about it.”

‘When aunt Kate went to the pictures’ became a talking point all through the family for weeks after that.

Comments: Doris M. Bailey (1916-?), daughter of a french polisher, was born in Bethnal Green in London’s East End and lived there until the late 1930s. Norma and Richard Talmadge were not related. The films referred to are The Gold Rush (USA 1925) and The Singing Fool (USA 1928).

At the Movies

Source: Harold B. Allen and Joseph Upper, At the Movies: A Farcical Novelty in One Scene (New York: Samuel French, 1921)

The Man in the Aisle Seat.
Mr. Griggs, who has seen the picture before.
Mrs. Griggs.
Clarice, a devotee of the pictures.
Nell, her cousin from up-state.

Any back drop or plain curtain will serve as a set, as the action takes place in the subdued light, as in a motion picture theatre. A row of common chairs will serve as the seats, but if a row of regular theatre chairs can be procured, the realism will be heightened. The light, while subdued, should be sufficient to reveal the features of the several actors. The music of the piano, or piano and drums, is off stage, and should be at all times incidental to the dialogue.

The Man in the Aisle Seat, a middle-aged person, ordinarily well dressed. He is essentially a suburban type, as is evidenced by his shopping bag and numerous bundles. As this character is developed through pantomime almost entirely, the details of the type must be worked up through the ingenuity of the actor to a great measure.

Mr. Griggs, a typical, well-dressed, prosperous, middle-class business man, who is bored throughout the entire performance and who takes only a listless interest in the development of the plot of the motion picture story.

Mrs. Griggs, of the same general class represented by her husband. She should be dressed either in a suit, or in a house dress, adapted for informal evening wear, and should wear a hat and rubbers and gloves. Her attitude through the action is in direct contrast to her husband, as she maintains a lively interest throughout.

Clarice, a typical boarding school girl, about i8 years of age, very well dressed and stylishly in a street suit, hat, furs, etc.

Nell, a small-town type, neatly dressed, but not so stylishly as her cousin Clarice. Her costume should be slightly out of style to contrast to her more elegant cousin.

“At the Movies”

Scene: A row of chairs in any motion picture theatre.

The action of the piece takes place in a row of chairs in a motion picture “palace” during the presentation of a five-reel picture, “The Rose of Romany.” Any plain drop will serve as the back drop for the shallow stage required, as the action takes place in a subdued light as in a theatre. A row of five theatre chairs are required. The music, which accompanies the conversation, paralleling the course of the picture, should follow the story, but should at all times be secondary to the dialogue, it being introduced merely to heighten the realism of the scene.

The row of chairs is empty when the action starts. A man, carrying a net shopping bag, filled with bulky parcels, and with his arms filled with other bundles, enters at the right, and takes the aisle seat at the right, placing his shopping bag under the seat and holding the other bundles in his lap. He wipes his face with his handkerchief, sighs with relief, and settles down to an hour and a half of enjoyment, when Mr. and Mrs. Griggs, a typical middle-aged couple, enter. He pilots her to the row of seats.

Mrs. Griggs. It’s so dark in here … I can’t see a thing.
Mr. Griggs. Here you are. This is all right.
Mrs. Griggs. (Indicating back of row) Here?
Mr. Griggs. (Pushing her forward) No. Here.
Mrs. Griggs. I can’t see a thing. (She puts her hand on the head of the man in the aisle seat) Oh, I beg your pardon. It’s terribly dark.
Mr. Griggs. Right in here. That’s it. (He hands her past the man, who has to pick up his shopping hag, lift it out into the aisle, and then step out himself, clinging all the while to the other bundles. When Mr. and Mrs. Griggs have passed in, he moves back, and settles himself again)
Mrs. Griggs. Oh, George, there are two seats, just a little way ahead. (Indicating seats ahead) Don’t you think … ?
Mr. Griggs. No, no, this is all right.
Mrs. Griggs. I know, but … Oh, do let’s take those two.
Mr. Griggs. (Rising) Oh, all right.

(The man on the aisle is compelled to rise once more, and move his excess baggage and himself out into the aisle. Mr. and Mrs. Griggs start forward to take possession of the other two seats.)

Mrs. Griggs. (Stopping short with an exclamation of disappointment) Oh, isn’t that horrid. That young couple has taken them. (To Mr. Griggs. who has pointed out some other seats) No, I won’t go any further forward. We’ll just stay where we were.
Mr. Griggs. But, my dear … (He looks helplessly from her to the man in the aisle seat. The latter is used to it, however, and once more moves himself and his many bundles to allow them to pass in) I’m sorry. Sir, I’m sure.
The Man. ‘S all right.
Mrs. Griggs. Yes, we’re awfully sorry to have to trouble you. (She takes the third seat from the aisle, as Mr. Griggs takes the second) Is there anybody behind us? I suppose I’ll have to take off my hat. (She does so grudgingly, and arranges her hair)

(Enter Clarice and Nellie. Clarice is a boarding school girl, and Nellie is her small town cousin, each about 18 years.)

Clarice. In here, Nell, there’s two. That’s just about right, not too far front or anything. (To the man) Excuse us, please.

(Again the weary occupant of the aisle seat is compelled to move, together with his property. The girls pass in.)

Mrs. Griggs. (Who has to stand) Oh, dear. Clarice. (Sweetly to Mr. Griggs) Thank you. All right, Nell. (They take the fourth and fifth seats, Clarice the fourth and Nell the fifth from the aisle) We’re just in good time. The feature hasn’t started yet. I wonder what they’re showing? Oh, they’re the announcements for next week — Special Added Attraction. Fatty Arbuckle in “Heavier Than Thou.” Oh, I’ll bet he’ll be funny in that. “Heavier Than Thou” instead of “Holier Than Thou,” don’t you see, Nell? “Elsie Ferguson in Repenting at Leisure.” Oh, she’s wonderful, Nell. I just love her. You know she made a great success in the legitimate before she went into the pictures. There was a long article about her in the Weekly Flicker last week. She’s married, you know. There was a picture of her with her husband. I’ve seen her on the stage, too. The whole class at school went one afternoon to see her play “Portia” … you know, in the “Merchant of Venice.” It was a special performance. Benefit, I think. Oh, “Pauline Frederick in La Tosca, Wednesday and Thursday.” Oh, she ought to be good in that. It’s French, you know, and it means … I can’t think just now what Tosca does mean. The something-or-other.

Mrs. Griggs. (Reading) “Grace Geary in the Rose of Romany in Five Parts.” It just seems as if I had seen this before. It was the Rose of Something, but it couldn’t have been this, for Grace Geary wasn’t in it.
Clarice. Oh, “Grace Geary in the Rose of Romany.” I’m so glad you’re going to see her, Nell. She is simply wonderful in emotional roles. I saw her last Saturday with Kensington Dreadnaught in “Ashes of Fate.” She was wonderful. She is going to do serials next year for Pathe. I’m just crazy to see her in them.
Nell. “The Rose of Romany, the Pride of the Gypsies, Grace Geary.” Oh, I know I am going to like it. She’s got such a wonderful face. (Confidentially) Is that her real hair, Clarice?
Clarice. Yes, isn’t it lovely? I just love the way she wears it.
Mr. Griggs. I have seen this thing before.
Mrs. Griggs. You have, dear. Where?
Mr. Griggs. Oh, one day last week. After lunch. Had a customer on my hands and had to do something.
Mrs. Griggs. Is it good, George?
Mr. Griggs. Oh, pretty fair. I don’t especially care for her.
Mrs. Griggs. Oh, I think she is a dear little actress. (Reading) “Lord Edgemont, Earl of Bellefair, the Last of An Old Family, Wallis Fairfield.”
Clarice. Wallis Fairfield. Oh, I’m so glad he’s back again.
Nell. (Innocently) Where’s he been?
Clarice. Why, didn’t you know he was almost killed when his automobile ran off a cliff?
Nell. I think I saw that in a picture at the Wonderland Theatre at home. In the “Tiger’s Claw,” wasn’t it?
Clarice. Heavens, no. Wally Fairfield doesn’t play in serials like that. It was on his honeymoon.
Nell. He’s married, then.
Mrs. Griggs. “The Honorable George Dorsay, a friend of the Earl’s, Thomas Hannibal.” Oh, George, doesn’t he look something like your Uncle Horace Griggs? Don’t you think so? Of course, your uncle is an older man. He doesn’t look so young himself, though, does he?
Mr. Griggs. You can’t tell anything about it in the pictures.
Mrs. Griggs. (Weakening) But I think he does. The eyes …
Clarice. (Reading) “Led by the Hand of Fate, Lord Edgemont, the Master of Bellefair, and his Friend, the Honorable George Dorsay, ride through the Wooded Paths of the Earl’s Estate.”
Nell. Isn’t that lovely, Clarice? Where do you suppose that’s taken? In England?
Clarice. No, in Jersey probably.
Nell. You mean in New Jersey State?
Mrs. Griggs. They ride well, don’t they, George? And such pretty horses! Bays, aren’t they? That’s what they call brown horses, isn’t it?
Mr. Griggs. Yes, yes.
Mrs. Griggs. (Reading) “Fate in the Guise of a Gypsy Girl Crosses Their Paths,”
Nell. Oh, she’s going to tell their fortunes. (Pause) I don’t believe she’s telling anything good,
though, do you, Clarice?
Mrs. Griggs. (Reading) “The Gypsy Foresees Dorsay’s Death.” Oh, this starts out awfully sad.
Mr. Griggs. You’ll see she was right. It’s his heart.
Mrs. Griggs. Well, he doesn’t look a bit strong. Your Uncle Horace’s heart was affected, too. My, this man does look like him, George.
Clarice. (Reading) “In Edgemont’s Palm the Gypsy Reads Coming Happiness.”
Nell. He doesn’t look as if he believed her, Clarice. Of course, she really doesn’t know.
Clarice. Oh, but they do. We had our fortunes told at school last Hallowe’en by a real palmist, and she told one of the girls that she would be married before the term was over, and you know she would have been if her people hadn’t found out, and made her wait until she had finished school.

(The man on the aisle loses consciousness and rests his head on Mr. Griggs’ shoulder. Mr. Griggs seeks to rid himself of the burden by pushing the sleeping man back into his chair, but in doing so he distracts Mrs. Griggs’ attention from the screen.)

Mrs. Griggs. What’s the matter, George?
Mr. Griggs. The man on the aisle.
Mrs. Griggs. (In a stage whisper) Has he been drinking?
Nell. Oh, what beautiful horses. They’re going hunting.
Clarice. (Reading) “Edgemont promises Dorsay that He will be a Father to the Latter’s Only Son, Should Misfortune Overtake Dorsay.” You see, Nell, he’s afraid that the gypsy told the truth about misfortune overtaking him. You know.
Nell. You mean when the gypsy told his fortune?

(There is a lull of a moment. The piano plays a hunting song, and the drummer imitates the hoofs of horses.)

Mrs. Griggs. (Jumping) Oh, oh, oh, I hope he isn’t killed.
Mr. Griggs. Sh-h-h-h. You’ll wake up our friend here.
Nell. Oh, Claire, do you suppose that is what the gypsy meant?
Clarice. Didn’t I tell you she knew? (Reading) “The Gypsy’s Grim Prophecy is Fulfilled.”

(Slow funeral music follows.)

Nell. I like the music here, don’t you? It’s what they call a dead march, isn’t it?
Mrs. Griggs. (Reading) “The Party Seeks the Aid of the Gypsies.”
Nell. Isn’t that the same gypsy that told the fortunes?
Clarice. No, that’s Grace Geary.
Mrs. Griggs. Lovely large eyes, hasn’t she, George ?
Mr. Griggs. What’s that?
Mrs. Griggs. I say she has lovely large eyes, hasn’t she?
Mr. Griggs. Yes-s.
Clarice. (Reading) “In the Daughter of the Gypsy Chieftain Edgemont Discovers for the First Time the Meaning of Love.”
Nell. But, she’s a gypsy …
Clarice. Oh. Donald Dundeen is playing the gypsy chief. He is so virile and everything.
Nell. Isn’t he, though? I think I’ve seen him, too — in something.

Clarice. He always plays such strong characters. I love his face. It’s so manly. (Reading) “Under the Pretext of Asking Rose to Dance for His House Guests the Earl Invited the Gypsy Maid to Bellefair Manor.”

(Dance music follows, to which everyone unconsciously beats time. The man on the aisle wakes and watches the picture with great interest.)

Mrs. Griggs. She dances well, doesn’t she, dear? Very pretty and graceful.
Mr. Griggs. Yeah.
Mrs. Griggs. (Reading) “The Earl Seeks the Seclusion of the Garden to Tell Rose of His Great Love.”
Nell. (Raving) I love this.

(The three women sit wrapt in the ecstasy of a love scene. The man on the aisle goes to sleep again. The music is soft and ingratiating.)

Clarice. (Breaking the silence) “The Marriage of the Earl to the Gypsy Maid at the Parish Church Provides Gossip Aplenty for the Villagers.”
Nell. They’re going to the church now, aren’t they ? In the family carriage. I don’t think he looks very happy, though, do you?
Mrs. Griggs. This is a very pretty picture, George, but I don’t think the marriage will be a happy one. Those kind never are.
Mr. Griggs. It isn’t, you’ll see.
Mrs. Griggs. (Satisfied) I knew it wouldn’t be.
Nell. Oh, he’s giving her some beads.
Clarice. Pearls, you mean. Aren’t they lovely, though? I love pearls.
Nell. Oh, yes, Mrs. Graham at home has got a lovely string of real pearls.
Clarice. (Reading) “The Earl Bestows On His Young Bride the Edgemont Pearls, the Heritage of Generations.”

(The piano plays the “Rosary,” and everyone is impressed by the timeliness of the music.)

Nell. “The Rosary.” We’ve got that on the Victrola at home.
Mrs. Griggs. (Reading) “In the Months That Follow One After Another, Rose Learns That the Earl is Tiring of Her Charms.” That’s just what I said, isn’t it, George, it wouldn’t be happy!
Nell, Oh, who’s that, Clarice?
Clarice. That’s the gardener. Just a minor role. You see he is trying to sympathize with her now that the Earl …
Nell. She looks so sad, doesn’t she? Even when the gardener brings her roses.
Mrs. Griggs. There’s a lot to this picture, George ; don’t you think so ? It shows that riches don’t bring happiness after all. (She sighs)
Nell. Oh, what lovely dresses.
Mrs. Griggs. (Reading) “Another Hunting Season Rolls Around and London Society is Again the Guest of Bellefair Manor.” I don’t see his wife — Rose — anywhere. Has she left him or anything?
Mr. Griggs. You’ll see in a minute.
Mrs. Griggs. Oh, there she is in her boudoir. (Reading) “Goaded to Despair By the Snubs of the House Guests, Who Cannot Forget That She is a Gypsy, Rose Refuses to Play the Role of Hostess at Dinner On the Eve of the Hunt.” Well, you can’t really blame her, can you? Right in her own house, too.
Nell. She doesn’t seem very happy, does she? But I do like that dress.
Clarice. No, you see … (Reading) “The Earl, After Upbraiding Her for Her Attitude Toward the Guests, Leaves Her in Displeasure.”
Mrs. Griggs. He’s a perfect brute, isn’t he? (Reading) “Lady Edgemont is Indisposed, and Begs to Be Excused.” What a lie!
Nell. I don’t see what he said that for, though, she isn’t …
Clarice. Don’t you see, he couldn’t very well come right out and say that she refused to come to dinner, because she was angry at the way they had treated her.
Nell. She’s going to write a note. What a pretty writing desk!
Clarice. Oh, did I tell you that father has promised to get me a writing desk for my room for a graduation present. Isn’t that lovely, Nell?
Nell. Yes. Oh, look.
Mrs. Griggs. (Reading) “Good-bye, forever. You will be happier when I am gone.”
Nell. (Simultaneously with Mrs. Griggs) “Good-bye, forever. You will be happier when I am gone. I hope you may forget and forgive. We will never meet again. Rose.”
Mrs. Griggs. (Continues reading) “I hope you will forget and forgive. We will never meet again. Rose.”

(Tosti’s “Good-bye” is played. There is a pause.)

Nell. She is taking her last look. What’s she going back for? Oh. the pearls.
Mr. Griggs. (Shrugging his shoulders) You never catch a woman forgetting her jewelry.
Mrs. Griggs. Oh, of course, he’ll come back when the bird is flown.
Nell. The note is right in plain sight. D’you suppose he sees it?
Clarice. Of course. See, he’s picking it up now. (Reading) “Good-bye, forever. You will be happier when I am gone. I hope you may forget and forgive.”
Mrs. Griggs. Serves him right.
Nell. She’d be sorry now if she could see him.
Clarice. What a wonderful actor, I think. So restrained.
Mrs. Griggs. This is very much like a picture I saw this afternoon. Only in that the wife didn’t leave her husband, but she was tempted to. It was Constance Conner, and she is so emotional. The husband in that is a broker or a banker, on Wall Street, you know, and he neglected his wife for business. It was a splendid picture, George, very clean and moral. I know you would have enjoyed it, George.
Mr. Griggs. Probably.
Clarice. (Reading) “The Passing of Remorseful Years.”
Mrs. Griggs. Well, I should think they would be remorseful.
Clarice. (Continues reading) “The Earl’s Sole Consolation for the Loss of His Wife is the Guardianship of His Late Friend’s Son.”
Nell. Oh, Clarice, isn’t he handsome?
Clarice. Perfectly stunning, I think. That’s Austin Hobbs. The Flicker says he is a potential star.
Nell. The gardener is the same one who was there before his wife left, isn’t he?
Mrs. Griggs. Why, that young man must be the son of the one who was killed out hunting, you know, In the first part of the picture. He does look like his father — something — don’t you think so, George?
Clarice. (Reading) “There Are Two Men Waiting to See You, Sir. Gypsies, I Should Say, Sir.”
Nell. Oh, do you suppose, Clarice …
Mrs. Griggs. Likely as not, George, these gypsies are of the same tribe as the Earl’s wife.
Mr. Griggs. Of course, they are, but they don’t know anything about him. You see they just want to camp on his land, on the manor, or whatever you call it.
Mrs. Griggs. Oh, I see. (Reading) “In the Absence of the Earl, Edgar Dorsey Allows the Gypsies the Privilege of Camping on the Estate.” But where is the Earl all this time?
Mr. Griggs. Oh, he’s away somewhere, I suppose.
Clarice. (Reading) “Lola, the Daughter of the Tribe, Grace Geary.”
Nell. But I don’t understand. I thought Grace Geary was the wife.
Clarice. She was; but she is playing a dual part.
Nell. Dual?
Clarice. Yes, you see she plays both the mother and the daughter. Lola is the daughter of Rose and the Earl.
Nell. Oh, I see. She must be a wonderful actress to do that. Oh, she’s going to tell his fortune now.
Mrs. Griggs. It don’t seem as if these gypsies do anything but tell fortunes.
Mr. Griggs. She doubles pretty well.
Mrs. Grigg. (Perplexed for the moment)
Doubles? Oh, you mean she plays both parts well. Yes, I think she is just fine.
Clarice. (Reading) “Under the Witchery of the October Moon Edgar Falls a Prey to the Charms of the Gypsy Girl.”
Mrs. Griggs. I suppose this is all going on without the Earl knowing anything about it.
Mr. Griggs. He’ll hear all about it. You’ll see.
Mrs. Griggs. Does it end happily, George?
Mr. Griggs. Sure, they all do.

(In the scene that follows the three women watch with greatest interest the love scene on the screen. Nell grasps her hands tightly together and sighs deeply. Mr. Griggs picks his teeth, and the man on the aisle watches the picture pathetically.)

Mrs. Griggs. (Breaking the silence by reading) “To-morrow I Will Ask the Earl for His Consent to Our Union. If He Should Refuse, I Will Leave All for You.” I can just about expect what the Earl will say.
Mr. Griggs. He comes through all right when he finds out who she is.
Nell. Oh, there’s the Earl now. He certainly does look stern. If I was Edgar, I wouldn’t want to ask him.
Clarice. (Reading) “Consent to Your Union With a Gypsy. Never!”
Nell. Where’s he going? The Earl, I mean.
Clarice. You’ll see if he isn’t going to order the gypsies off the estate. There, see. (She reads) “The Earl Goes to the Gypsy Camp to Order Their Departure From the Manor.”
Nell. Oh, see now. My, he is mad.
Mrs. Griggs. And he meets his own daughter there probably. There, I told you. See how he drops his cane the moment he sees her.
Clarice. You see, he recognizes Lola as his daughter. (Reading) “In the Eves of Lola, the Wandering Gypsy Girl, the Earl Sees the Eyes of Rose. His Girl Wife.”

Mrs. Griggs. (Moved to tears) This is a lovely picture; very touching.
Nell. There’s Edgar. Oh, he’s going to consent to it.
Clarice. Why, of course. Isn’t she his own daughter?
Nell. I think it is lovely the way it came out.
Clarice. (Reading) “Once Again the Villagers Flock to Their Doors to See the Carriage of the Earl Drive to the Parish Church, Bearing a Lovely Bride.”
Mrs. Griggs, It’s a lovely ending, too. I wonder if I wore rubbers, George; do you remember?
Mr. Griggs. You always do.
Mrs. Griggs. I thought I did. Oh, here they are. (She fishes them out from under the seat in triumph just in time to read) “In the Twilight of Life the Earl Sees in the Lives of Lola and Edgar the Happiness of Which He Dreamed.” (Pause) “The End.”
Clarice. Aw, “Rice Culture in Japan.” Let’s go. (She rises hastily)
Nell. Don’t you want to see it? (She gets up reluctantly)
Clarice. No, come on.

(They go out, compelling Mrs. Griggs, who is putting on her rubbers, to rise, and the man on the aisle to move out laboriously. When the man is just settled, Mrs. Griggs speaks.)

Mrs. Griggs. Probably this is an educational picture, George. Let’s not stay.
Mr. Griggs. All right.

(She puts on her hat, and he takes his from under the seat, and again the man on the aisle is obliged to surrender his seat, and allow them to pass. He moves back, and settles himself to become engrossed in the intricacies of rice culture, when the curtain falls.)

Comments: This is one of several comic sketches from this period written for amateur dramatic performance which mock the habits of movie audiences, in particular talking while the film is going on. Other examples are Minnie at the Movies and Maisie at the Movies. Fatty Arbuckle, Elsie Ferguson and Pauline Frederick were genuine film performers. The film titles are imaginary, but Pauline Frederick did appear in a film version of Tosca (in 1918),

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Slow Motion

Source: Dorothy Richardson, ‘Continuous Performance XI: Slow Motion’, Close Up vol. II no. 6, June 1928, pp. 54-58

Text: No one who heard the hysterical laughter that greeted the first slow-motion pictures can fail to be struck by the quiet bearing of the average audience of today when confronted by these strange transformations. And were it not for a haunting suspicion of the part played by mere familiarity with the spectacle, it would be possible to claim this change of attitude as the surest direct evidence of the educative power of the film. But if familiarity alone is responsible for the change, then that dreadful laughter, coming after years of experience of what the film can do, must stand, a mocking mark of interrogation over against the articles of our faith. Yet since there is other evidence, and particularly the mass of evidence accumulated in the minds of those who have experience of the evolution of single local audiences in regard to “the pictures”, to confirm that faith, we may take courage to assume that from the first, behind the laughter, recognition was there and has grown. If now it is present, it was there from the first, for without its work there would be no second seeing. Each seeing would have been a first and the laughter would have continued.

And yet, recalling that first revelation, doubt creeps in on behalf of just this one of the many offerings of the film. Can anyone forget the revelation, the two revelations, of beauty upon the screen and the beast confronting it? Has that particular beauty conquered the beast, become a joy forever, or just passed into nothingness? Indeed it is difficult to say. For there must have been incidents. Indignant people must have hushed the gigglers. Sensitive people must have cried out in ecstatic appreciation and produced wonder that upon the next opportunity turned to attention hopeful of discovering the hidden charm.

Experience gathered in one small local cinema would hopefully suggest that the first laughter for the first slow-motion picture is partly to be credited to the nature of the movement and the manner in which it was offered. For it was a picture of runners at close quarters to each other upon the last lap of a mile race. The three figures, first shown moving at normal pace were in desperate competition, agonised heads thrown back, open mouths agasp at the last effort for supremacy; not a pleasing exhibition. It flashed away and a caption spoke: “Now see what our slow-motion camera can do”, an invitation to watch a conjuring trick, preparation for something that was to impress by its cleverness. And it is possible that if we had been shown stills of these men caught in the various attitudes born of their movement, beauty might clearly have emerged. But though it was there in the balanced movement of the athletes advancing as if though resistant air, there was also a sharp touch of the grotesque as these figures with arms arched, and rigid, air-clutching fingers, slowly, goose-steppingly lifted leaden limbs in shorts. The anxious faces, the air of infinite caution, were legitimately funny and the avalanche of laughter may be interpreted as joyous welcome for yet another revelation of the comic possibilities of the film.

The next slow-motion exhibition was of horses clearing a hedge and ditch in a steeple-chase, and throughout the majestic spectacle, from the moment the great beasts slowly rearing left the earth until again they lightly, as if weightlessly, touched it in descent, there was nothing that could even remotely appeal to the eye on the look-out for pretexts for mirth. But the laughter came, for the slowness, the anomaly. There were those no doubt who held breath in wonder and delight. But the result, regarding the audience as one person, was, as before, registration of a freakish incidental of the new entertainment.

The first slow of these early days that failed to precipitate either the avalanche of derision or the chorus of sniggers was of a man taking a high jump. And here perhaps all lesser emotions were submerged in that of stupefaction at the sheer marvel of the levitation. It was offered simply for what it was, Mr. Jones winning the high jump, without preparative suggestion. We saw Mr. Jones run and lightly leap and clear, and reach the ground in an athletic sprawl. And then again there were the high posts and the bar and the relatively small man held to earth by a pointed tee, who rose as if dreaming, slowly through the air upon which as he cleared the bar he lay sideways in repose, on his face the look of blissful concentration given in religious art to saints whose battles are won, indolently stretching one limb to slant downwards beyond the bar and bring its fellow following and the whole elastic body to move poised in the air upon the outstretched toe that sought and lightly found the earth. Perfect silence greeted this revelation of the miraculous commonplace. It won. Was bound to win. Its beauty and its wonder were imperious demands, overwhelming.

And the revelation bestowed by the ecstatic face, of the spirit withdrawn, within the body it was operating, to the point of perfect concentration, showing this business of athletic achievement as one with every kind of human achievement, with that of the thinker, the artist and the saint, is one of the most priceless offerings to date of the film considered as a vehicle for revealing to mankind that in man which is unbounded. If tomorrow every vestige of this new art were swept away save just one slow of a human body hoisting itself over a high bar; the film would not have existed in vain.

Comments: Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957) was a British modernist novelist. Through 1927-1933 she wrote a column, ‘Continuous Performance’ for the film art journal Close Up. The column concentrates on film audiences rather than the films themselves.

Links: Copy at the Internet Archive

With the Picture Fans

Source: W.W. Winters, ‘With the Picture Fans’, The Nickeodeon, 1 September 1910, pp. 123-124

Text: Come on, girls, let’s go to the show. You get the tickets, Gertie. Of course, it’s Dutch treat, you know. Here’s mine.” There immediately begins an animated search among powder rags, trinkets, and sundry other articles held in a girl’s pocketbook, for the little purse with her small change. Result! “Heavens. Has everybody put all they have in? Yes? And only two dollars and sixty-nine cents. Mercy! Let’s see, one, two, three, four, five. Five of us can’t go anywhere on that. No, we went to Chase’s yesterday, so there are two of us who don’t want to go there. What? Of course, I won’t go in the gallery! Horrors ! I’m surprised at you, Clara. Oh! come on, then, and for mercy’s sake quit fighting about it here.”

Answer to the riddle. Twenty minutes later Five girls, with as many bundles, containing candy, etc., are sitting giggling in one of the city’s foremost nicolettes. Happiness!

* * *

“Do you know, Mrs. Jones, I do get too petered out shopping for any use, I do, indeed.” Mrs. Jones, looking a little done up herself, sympathizes with her. “And do you know, Mrs. Jones, it do beat all how hard it is these days to find a bargain. Oh! there goes that Mrs. Brown. ‘Pon my word, I don’t know where she gets the money she spends on her clothes. And Mr. Jones says her husband ain’t doing nothing worth talking of. Don’t tell me some women ain’t worthless. But Lord! you never can tell; there’s that dear Mrs. Smith, and you do know that her husband is acting scand’lus. What? You didn’t? Why it do beat all, but you know they say he has been running around with some little hussy that dyes her hair and — and, mercy, it’s an outrage, but I never do talk scandal, so you will have to find out — now, I wonder! Mrs. Jones, let’s take in this here show. Never been in one? Well, come on in now, I’ll pay, and I’ve got some candy that I promised Johnnie I would get him, but he’ll never know if we eat some, come on.” Exit Mrs. Jones and her talkative friend through the entrance of one of the five-cent theaters.

* * *

“Two o’clock. H-m-m-m, threequarters of an hour before I can see that man. Why didn’t I make it earlier. Great Scott, what a noise those places do make. Wonder what they’re like. H-m-m-m, 40 minutes. I reckon I’ll take a chance.” The next minute the gentleman disappears into a nicolodeon [sic], with a rather sheepish look.

When one says five-cent theater the first thought is that they are for the poorer people, those who cannot afford even to pay 50 cents for a seat in the “peanut” at one of the other theaters. But is this so? To a certain extent, yes; but only to a certain extent. No matter what time you take to visit these theaters you are sure to find among the motley throng some who are of your station almost, no matter what that station may be. You can, for instance, see plenty of Chinamen there, but whether or not — and from the immobile expression I should say not — they are enjoying it can only be a conjecture. And right here it can be said, and with praise, that one set that they appeal to is the soldier from the fort, the marine barracks, and, in fact, anywhere he comes from. This is in itself a fact that is worthy of praise, for if the soldier can secure an evening’s enjoyment by going to those places, and, at the same time, not spend more than he thinks right, they have filled a vacancy long felt in cities adjoining posts. Then, too, there are the children. They can surely find no more harmless amusement, and few less expensive. And last, but not by any means least, are the men and women who drop in for a while to be amused, or to fill up a spare moment, or even out of courtesy. This only brings us to the cleanness of the performance. It can be truly said that, as a general rule, there is nothing to offend the most fastidious. Taken as a whole, they present amusements that are good, bad, and — worse, the pictures of which the same may be said at times, but which are at least clean. This, too, is a fact worthy of praise, and more — of continuance.

* * *

How different it must seem to a man or woman who has not visited the city for, say, five years — nay, even less — to come here, and in the evening stroll down the avenues and streets. To see tall buildings outlined with lights, huge doorways filled with lighted figures, brilliant paintings, and the ever-present phonograph. But to see the outlay of lights and noise and color is to go back to the Midway at a fair; and consequently we wander past the girl at the window, depositing at the same time a coin, carelessly and as if by chance, on the counter, take up our ticket, and slip inside. It depends entirely upon where this sudden idea takes you what the inside will be like. No two are the least alike, and it must be said that they all show a certain amount of beauty. It is well to say a certain amount, for not wanting to knock them, there is nevertheless a certain incongruity about some of them in the manner in which they have mixed ideas. In other words, you can from the “trimmings” imagine it was done after any of a dozen styles of architecture. But this is a side issue. You go there to see moving pictures and vaudeville acts, and not to comment upon the wall decorations. You go there for amusement. And you can surely get it. No matter how crude the acting, or how far fetched the pictures, there is always sure to be some one who thinks they are “perfectly lovely,” and so amusement is assured. For if you cannot enjoy the performance it is pretty safe to say it is because you have been used to better acting, etc., but unless you are an absolute pessimist you cannot fail to be amused by those around you who do enjoy it.

* * *

One of the most noticeable habits of the patrons of those theaters is that of reading out loud what is flashed upon the screen. “The Capture of the Outlaws.” Ah-h-h-h-h. Everybody sits up and “takes notice.” “Love Triumphant.” Another long-drawn-out “Ah-h-h-h!” and some more notice. Then comes an act a la vaudeville. Somebody in the exurberance of their spirits yells “Get the hook!” whether or not the act is bad, whereat everybody laughs. There are times when the whole audience is so pleased with itself and everybody else that let any one accidentally, quite accidentally, sneeze, why, the whole house re-echoes with laughter. Have you ever noticed some old party who is so absorbed in the thing going on before him that he unconsciously makes remarks to nobody in particular, and seen how everybody around is generally tolerant, generally, be it said, and will nudge one another, and smile, and bob their heads in his direction. Ever seen it? Ever done it? Ever been it? Isn’t it nearly always a good-natured crowd? Doesn’t your heart warm within you and you feel like patting some small boy on the head, a small boy, be it said, that at any other time you would push out of your way? Somehow you all enter into the spirit of the thing. Armed with a few stray nickels, a bag of peanuts, a good supply of patience and good humor, and oh! what a time we did have! You all know that line from Kipling, “The colonel’s lady and Judy O’Grady are sisters under the skin.” Isn’t it so? Don’t you slip away from yourself, lose your reticence, reserve, pride, and a few other things? Don’t you even forgive the fat old gentleman who, when he passed you, stepped on your co—-? Aren’t you most willing to do that? And why? Here’s where I retreat and let you puzzle it out.

* * *

And when you come out, this is particularly so of a Saturday night, you wander up and down and find yourself brushing shoulders with goodness knows who. And then you go to speak to your friend, he was right by your side a second ago. You turn. “Oh! do let’s take in that one — Oh ! Oh-h-h-h! I be-eg your pardon. Oh! there you are. Mercy, that was a perfectly strange man.” There you are! The man took off his hat and went his way and forgot you. But there is something in the air, a something caused by the bright lights, and a great deal of squeeky noises issuing forth from each recess you pass, that gets into your bones, and you all lock arms, everybody in your crowd, and swing down the street, happy and care free, and proceed to take in every five-cent theater that so much as displays a little tweeny light — and then wish for more. And, of course, it is understood that you had not only no idea of ever going in the “cheap” places, but, when you were finally inveigled in, that you could go once, but never again. But what’s the use? Why not submit gracefully and admit that the five-cent theaters have a place all their own and that, after all, you are going again. By Jove! So there!

Comments: ‘Nickelodeon’ was a name given to early American film theatres, which appeared in cities from around 1905 onwards, where seats were commonly priced at five cents (a nickel).

Links: Copy at the Internet Archive

The Murder of Othello

Source: H.F. Hoffman, ‘The Murder of Othello’, Moving Picture World, 22 July 1911, p. 110

Text: It may be wrong for a writer in one department to go browsing around in the pasture of another. Mr. Richardson is supposed to be conducting the projection department of this paper, and no doubt I am violating all professional ethics when I deliberately steal some of his thunder. I have noticed that sometimes operators have criticised him because he goes to a show and then writes a “knock” about the operator.

If Mr. R. were not so capable of taking care of himself I might feel sorry for him and be inclined to help him out, but as it is I know he would not thank me for such a foolish proceeding on my part. However, there is no law that I can find against the giving of moral support, and therefore whatever I may write about the operator will come under the head of Moral Support.

Many of you exhibitors make use of a little slide that reads: “If you like our show tell others; if not, tell us.” Then when someone tells you your show is awfully bad you call it a “knock” and mumble something about deadheads being the biggest kickers, etc. That is, some of you do, but the majority of you take the criticism in the spirit in which it is given. The politicians say, “Let the tariff be reformed, but only by its friends,” and we say, “Let the moving picture be reformed, but only by its friends.”

Someone has got to do the kicking; that is a certainty, and we feel to a large extent the burden falls upon us who have the welfare of moving pictures at heart. We wish that everything about them were perfect, so we would not have to criticise. We believe we will live to see the day when they will be as nearly perfect as possible, but we also realize that nothing was ever improved by trying to gloss over the faults. One of the best ways to learn things is to learn by making mistakes. Teddy Roosevelt says that the only way to make a people correct their faults is to keep reminding them of those faults. In other words, “Ding it into em.”

There has been considerable written in the past in these pages about bad projection, etc., and the chances are that there will be and ought to be considerably more, just so long as there are exhibitors who stand for films to be run without titles or with the words reading backwards, or a dozen other stupid sins of comission or omission that are to be seen daily almost anywhere. The only way to remedy the fault is to keep on dinging about it.

Your little slide that says “If you like our show tell others; if not, tell us,” is all very pretty on the screen, but it doesn’t amount to much. If you are an exhibitor you know very well that none of your patrons comes to you and tells you your show is “rotten.” In the first place, they wouldn’t want to hurt your feelings, and secondly, they won’t take a chance on you swelling up and asking what people will want next for a nickel. If you are an exhibitor you also know that the public is fickle. You know that they simply reverse your little slide. When your show is good they tell you, and when it is bad they tell others. They like to flatter you, perhaps in the hope of getting on the free list some day. Your faults they relate to your competitor up the street because they may think he likes to hear it and may possibly grant them the freedom of his house, or something else. I don’t know why they do it, but they do.

The opinions of lay critics are not very safe guides, as I have found out once or twice to my sorrow. The public judges by results only. With them a picture is either good or bad, but they could not tell exactly why. Their criticism is not analytical. They do not know good projection from bad, except in the most superficial way. When the operating is bad you never hear them say, “What poor projection they have here.” No; you are more apt to hear them say “I like the pictures, but they hurt my eyes.” When the projection is good they forget about the technical end and lose themselves in the picture itself. Why? Because things are as they ought to be; they expect good projection when they come. They have a right to expect it.


Now then, having brushed away opposition from all sources, let us proceed with the Murder of Othello. He was murdered by an operator last Friday night. They took him out of his tin armour and placed him on the operating table in the operating room. They made a diagnosis, gave him an anasthetic [sic], then put him through a sausage machine and when the poor fellow came out of the other end he was mangled beyond recognition.

I had been talking just before with the manager. He said, “Yes, I take the Moving Picture World. A manager should not be without it because it is so full of valuable advice. Have you noticed our solid brick operating room?” I then took notice. The place was an airdome seating at least 1,500, with loads of room to spare. Behind the rear seats was a promenade fifty feet wide, and there at the end of the middle aisle stood the solid brick oven on four legs. It covered an area about six feet square or 36 square feet. He could have built a two-story residence there without interfering with anyone’s view, and yet he who took the World for its helpful hints had constructed this 6×6 oven and called it an operating room. Oh, Brother Richardson, you will have to use bigger type.

The Othello picture began with the usual chorus — “What’s the name of this?” “I wonder what this is.” “Mamma, who’s that man?” “Did you get the name?” “I beg pardon, sir, did you notice the title of this?” “I wish I knew what this is all about.” “What is it?” “I don’t know, looks like something from the Bible.” “What did it say?” “Excuse me, was there any name to this?” “No, I didn’t see any,” etc. Now in the name of just plain common sense, I am going to ask why this thing is done, day after day, in so many places. Is it possible that a man can have the nerve to call himself a manager or an operator, and still show such indifference to the one thing of all that brings the people to the place — the picture?

I would like to have a photograph of the mind of such a man to see by what mental process he concludes that the audience knows what it is looking at. After the first offense, if that party were in my employ, he would last about as long as a June frost. All this talk about reels coming from the exchange without titles is a lazy man’s excuse. Cover glass is cheap and title slides can be written in half a minute. Fancy lettering is not necessary and takes up too much time. There is nothing in a temporary slide that looks any better than good plain handwriting, especially if the slide is tinted and the principal words are properly capitalized and underscored. Try it and you will find it better than most of these horrible hand-printed affairs.

The big laugh in Othello came with the first scene when the title and sub-titles came through reading backwards. It was the same laugh you hear when a song slide gets in upside down. But the fun didn’t end there. Instead of clipping his film at once and reversing the upper reel, the operator let the whole thing go through the way it was. We are all aware that Othello is not the easiest subject in the world to follow, even under the best of circumstances. The title and all the sub-titles are extremely necessary, even to those who know it, and a good lecture should go with it for those who do not. Imagine the audience then, for the most part in utter ignorance of what they were looking at. The light was vile. The patrons had their choice of two things to look at. On the sheet the spectacle of a white woman smearing her love upon a colored man, or in the operating room, the operator who had attracted their attention.

It seems that in his dilemma he had hit upon the idea of hiding his mistake by speeding up his machine when the sub-titles appeared, so as to get them over with quickly. But the racket of it only made matters worse by drawing their attention to him. All thought of how the audience was enjoying the picture was far from his mind, but they were enjoying it just the same. They quickly saw that he was trying to pull the wool over their eyes so they began to watch for the sub-titles. When these appeared mid he put on the high speed the audience would howl with delight. He was greeted with mock applause, laughter, cat calls and other noises. Nobodv felt bad when Othello breathed his last. The program was short on comedy anyhow, and this filled the bill very nicelv. On my part, for a long time to come, I will remember the murder of Othello.

Comments: The film of Othello was probably the Film d’Arte Italian production Otello (Italy 1909), which was released in the USA in April 1910. Mr Richardson is F. H. Richardson, who wrote a technical advice column for Moving Picture World. H.F. Hoffman was a film lecturer and occasional writer for the journal.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Pictures and Films

Source: Dorothy Richardson, ‘Continuous Performance: Pictures and Films’, Close Up vol. IV no. 1, January 1929, pp. 51-57


American films, sharp as steel, cold like the poles, beautiful as the tomb, passed before our dazzled eyes. The gaze of William Hart pierced our hearts and we loved the calm landscape where the hoofs of his horse raised clouds of dust.

Quite so. True, true, perfectly true. Something, at any rate, did, pierce our hearts, and we did love the calm of the landscape whereon the wild riders flew, the dust-clouds testifying to their pace. Just those things and as they were, unrelated to what came before and after. And to whatever it might be that had preceded, and to whatever it was that might follow, the splendid riding in the vast landscape gave its peculiar quality. We were devotees of the vast landscape and the wild riding and all the rest passing so magnificently before our eyes.

But however devout our feelings it did not occur to us to express them quite so openly and prayerfully. And, I beg … has not the quoted tribute a strange air? An air at first sight of being an extract from an out-of-date hand-book on the year’s pictures, part of whose compilation had been entrusted to a youth with literary ambitions, and a somewhat exotic youth at that, and therefore a youth who properly should not have been the prey of the wild west film? And yet here most certainly is cri du coeur, with no question of tongue in cheek.

But young Englishmen of no period, and under no matter what provocation, are to be found gushing in these terms. Gush they may. But not quite in these terms. A young Englishwoman, then? An aspiring and enthusiastic young Englishwoman writing to suggest to other aspiring and enthusiastic young Englishwomen exactly what they think about the movies, and well understanding the heart-piercing and the adoration of the landscape.

But though the sentiments may be thus accountable, the expression of them remains a little mysteriously not an English form of expression until – turning the page to discover in whose person it was that The Little Review at any point in its thrilled and thrilling career should have waxed lyrical over the movies in their own right, as distinct from their glimpsed possibilities – one finds the signature of a French writer, one of the super-realists who had hoped the war would have rescued art from romanticism, had been disappointed and, having enumerated the few artists who in Europe were giving the world anything worth the having, looked sadly back upon the movies in their pristine innocence.

With the strange unsuitability of the English garb to the sentiments expressed thus cleared up by the realisation that the article was a literal translation, one could give rein to one’s delight in the discovery of this genuine feeling of the day before yesterday, even though immediately one was forced to reflect that this wistful young man, given the circumstances and the date, could not possibly have seen any FILMS.

Accepting, therefore, its French reading, I have set down this tribute in the manner of a text, first because with an odd punctuality it came to my notice immediately on my return, from a first visit to London’s temple of good films, to get on with the business of extracting forgotten treasures from a packing-case, and also because its sentiments chimed perfectly with certain convictions floating uninvited into my mind as I talked, on matters unrelated to the film (if, indeed, at this date any matters can be so described), with a friend encountered by chance on my way home from The Avenue Pavilion.

I had seen, in great comfort, and from a back seat whose price was that of the less valuable portions of the average super-cinema, The Student of Prague. This film, I am told, though excellent for the date of its production, a good play, well acted and likely to remain indefinitely upon any well-chosen repertory, has been out-done and left behind by films now being shown in Germany and in Russia. It is approved by the film intelligentsia, including psycho-analysts who delightedly find it, like all works of art, ancient and modern, fuller of wisdom than its creator clearly knows. And it was most heartily approved by a large gathering of onlookers, revealed when the lights went up, as consisting for the most part of those kinds of persons to be seen scattered sparsely amongst the average cinema crowd.

For me, personally, and before the human interest of the drama began to compete with whatever conscious critical faculty I may possess, it joined forces with the few ‘good’ films I have seen at home and abroad in convincing me that the film can be an ‘art-form’. There is much in it I shall never forget, and that much was supported and amplified in a way that no conceivable stage setting can compete with. The absence of the spoken word was more than compensated. Captions there may have been. I remember none. Clear, too, was the role of the musical accompaniment, though this was now and again a little obtrusive, and one grew intolerant of the crescendo of cymbal-crashing that accompanied every great moment instead of being reserved for the post-script, the final discomfiture of the wonderful devil with the umbrella, surely one of the best devils ever seen on stage or film? The same uniform cymbal-crashing did much, a week or so later, to spoil the revival of Barrymore’s Jekyll and Hyde, first seen in England to the tune of the Erl-könig, itself a work of art and fitting most admirably to Barrymore’s achievement.

But the rôle of the musical accompaniment was clear, nevertheless, its contribution to the business of compensating the absence of the spoken word, its support and its amplification that joins the many other resources of the film in deepening and unifying and driving home all that is presented. Conrad Veidt on any stage would be a great actor. Conrad Veidt moving voiceless through the universal human tragedy in surroundings whose every smallest item ‘speaks to the occasion’ has the opportunity that at last gives to pure acting its fullest scope.

I left gratefully anticipating such other good films as it may:be my fortune to see. Yet within and around my delights there were, I knew, certain reservations at work waiting to formulate themselves and, as I have said, taking the opportunity, the moment my attention was busy elsewhere, of coming forward in the form of clear statement.

The burden of their message was that welcome for the FILM does not by any means imply repudiation of the movies. The FILM at its utmost possible development can no more invalidate the movies than the first-class portrait, say Leonardo’s of the Lady Lisa, can invalidate a snap-shot.

The film as a work of art is subject to the condition ruling all great art: that it shall be a collaboration between the conscious and the unconscious, between talent and genius. Let either of these elements get ahead of the other and disaster is the result, disaster in proportion to the size of the attempt.

The film, therefore, runs enormous risks. Portraits are innumerable. The great portraits produced by any single nation are very few indeed. And the portrait that is merely clever or pretentious, be its technique what it will, is no food for mankind. But the snap-shot, and the movie that offers to the fool and the wayfaring man a perfected technique, is food for all. It can’t go wrong. It is innocent, and its results go straight to the imagination of the onlooker, the collaborator, the other half of the game.

The charm of the first movies was in their innocence. They were not concerned, or at any rate not very deeply concerned, either with idea or with characterisation. Like the snap-shot, they recorded. And when plot, intensive, came to be combined with characterisation, with just so much characterisation as might by good chance be supplied by minor characters supporting the tailor’s and modiste’s dummies filling the chief rôles, still the records were there, the snap-shot records that are always and everywhere food for a discriminating and an undiscriminating humanity alike. ‘Sharp as steel, cold like the poles’; of landscape calm or wild, of crowds and all the moving panorama of life, of interiors, and interiors opening out of interiors, an unlimited material upon which die imagination of the onlooker could get to work unhampered by the pressure of a controlling mind that is not his own mind.

I was reminded also that the Drama, for instance, the Elizabethan drama, became Great Art only in retrospect. Worship of Art and The Artist is a modern product. In the hey-day of the Elizabethan drama the stage was despised, the actor a vagabond and a low fellow.

It may be that the hey-day of the film will come when things have a little settled down. When the gold-diggers, put out of court, shall have ceased to dig, when the medium is developed and within reach of the vagabonds and low fellows, when writing for the film shall no longer offer a spacious livelihood. Then, by those coming innocently to a well-known medium, the World’s Great Films, the Hundred Best Films, will be produced. And, since history never repeats itself, they will probably be thousands, some of which, it would seem, have already been made in pioneering Russia.

But the movies will remain. The snap-shots will go on all the time. And there will always be people who infinitely prefer the family album of snap-shots to the family portrait gallery. And this is not necessarily the same as saying that there will always be irresponsible people, people who are happy merely because they are infantile. Much has been said, by those who dislike the pictures, of their value as evidence of infantilism. It is claimed that the people who flock to the movies do so because they love to lose themselves in the excitements of a dream-world, a world that bears no relationship to life as they know it, that makes no demand upon the intelligence, acts like a drug, and is altogether demoralising and devitalising.

Such people obviously know very little about the movies. But even if they did, even if they cared to take their chance and now and again submit themselves to the experience of a thoroughly popular show, it is hardly likely that they would lose their apparent inability to distinguish between childishness, the quality that has of late been so admirably analysed and presented under the label of infantilism, and childlikeness, which is quite another thing. The child trusts its world, and those who, in all civilisations and within all circumstances, in face of all evidence and no matter what experience, cannot rid themselves of a child-like trust are by no means to be confused with those who shirk problems and responsibilities and remain ego-centrically within a dream-world that bears no relation to reality.

The battles and the problems of those who trust life are not the same as the battles and problems of those who regard life as the raw material for great conflicts and great works of art. But only such as regard the Fine Arts as mankind’s sole spiritual achievement will reckon those who appear not to be particularly desirous of these achievements as therefore necessarily damned.

Comments: Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957) was a British modernist novelist. Through 1927-1933 she wrote a column, ‘Continuous Performance’ for the film art journal Close Up. The column concentrates on film audiences rather than the films themselves. The films mentioned are Der Student von Prag (Germany 1926) and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (USA 1920). The Avenue Pavilion cinema was in Shaftesbury Avenue, London, and specialised in showing foreign films. The Little Review was an American literary magazine.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

The Journals of Arnold Bennett

Source: Arnold Bennett, journal entry 3 August 1927, in Newman Flower (ed.), The Journals of Arnold Bennett: 1921-1928 (London: Cassell, 1933)

Text: Wednesday, August 3rd.

Went to see the “Metropolis” film at the Élite theatre. Sickening sentimentality. Many good effects, spectacular, spoilt by over-insistence. A footling story. No understanding of psychology of either employers or workmen. “Adapted by Channing Pollock.” Good God! What captions. Enough to make you give up the ghost. The theatre was very nearly empty.

Comments: Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) was a British writer, best known for his novels of life in the Potteries with its ‘five towns’ that now equate with Stoke-on-Trent. The spectacular science-fiction drama Metropolis (Germany 1927) was directed by Fritz Lang and scripted by his wife Thea von Harbou. Channing Pollock was an American playwright and film scenarist who wrote a revised script for the film’s American and UK release, cut down significantly from its original release length. The Élite Picture Theatre was in St Leonard’s, Sussex.

Het verhaal van den provinciaal

Source: Jacobus vann Looy, ‘Het verhaal van den provinciaal’ in De wonderlijke avonturen van Zebedeus, nieuwe bijlagen (Amsterdam: S.L. van Looy, 1925), pp. 149-161, originally published as ‘Nieuwe bijlagen. XXV’, in De Nieuwe Gids (1917) pp. 361-376

Text: In het Phebus-theater,
Waar anders geen geschater
Van luiten heerscht, maar nu een gróot orchest
Spelende was en tevens voor het lest,
Naar ik las in een advertentie,
In een blad uit de residentie,
Provinciale, wel te verstaan,
Ofschoon het mij er heen toch heeft doen gaan,
En alhoewel ik heimelijk bleef hopen
Dat het niet zoo’n vaart zou loopen,
Dat het niet zou zijn als wat
Ik er over gelezen had…
Ik ging om kort te gaan door ‘t drukke avondlicht,
Als of ik ging naar een gewijd gesticht;
En vroeg ter plaatse naar een plaats, een bèste…
‘U komt toch zeker niet om het orchest, è?’
Vroeg mij een gemobiliseerde man;
Het beste is ook het duurste, zult u weten.’
Hij deed een dame glimlachen daar, gezeten
In een soort van tempeltje,
Voor een poortje als een vlieggat met een drempeltje,
Als eene duive, in kraagdons, ja,
Van Venus of van Diana,
Al zat zij er gelijk een fotografiste
In ‘t rooie kamertje en bleek te zijn de caissiste,
En jong genoeg nog om de favouriete
Van een roman te zijn, zelfs nog zonder…
Evenmin als Diana, ‘t woord behelst geen schand’,
Is aan het Fransch ‘têter’ verwant,…
Tout homme a deux pays, le sien et puis la France,
Spreekt ook Englands dichter niet van popkens laten dansen?
Bestaat iets lievers dan wanneer van honger en van dorst,
Zoo’n heel klein menschje nog klokt aan de moederborst?…
Gewis, zij lachte, wis…
‘k Begrijp niet goed wat steeds aan mij te lachen is;
Zooals van ochtend ook de Directeur
Der Hulpbank deed, toen ‘k mij vergist had in de deur,
En heel ‘t lokaal met zijn persoon vervulde,
Een mensch is meer toch dan ‘n bankje van duizend gulden…
Al moog’ geen ridderorde mij de borst bepralen,
En had ik nooit ‘t geluk om mijne graad te halen,
Een ieder heeft zijn weet,
Lachen is wreed.
‘Smaadt de materie niet,’ als laatst de poldergast zei,
Toen hij zijn hand op ‘t zware heiblok lei;
‘Ik wil wel graag een praatje met u maken,
Maar smaadt mij niet de materie, ze kan je zoo leelijk kraken.
In het Phebus-theater,
Als in een grot onder water,
Als in een school of in de kerk
Van een ondergrondsch loopgravenwerk,
In eene pijpenlade
Waar ieder vrij mocht rooken zonder schade,
Zat ik dan
In afwachting van…
Er gloeiden lampen,
Lantarentjes, tegen rampen,
Er was een radertje, ik hoor nog hoe het snort,
En over mij zag ik een blind-wit bord;
Er zaten andren reeds, die hun gezicht toekeerden;
Allen gemobiliseerden,
Allen mij onbekenden,
Gelukkig niet een mij kende;
Er kwamen er nog meer,
Naast mij zeeg een juffrouw op het stoeltje neêr…
Een paartje volgde, een moeder en een zoon;
Van welk geslacht dan ook, ‘t geldt altijd een persoon;
Een heer zei overluid: ‘hij wou bij de kachel zitten,’
Al meer en meerder kwamen samenklitten,
Om zoo te zeggen, in dit hol,
En aldus werd het Phebus-theater zienderoogen vol.
En toen, nog stom,
Triangel kwam, horen schreed aan en trom,
Allen gemobiliseerden,
Een vedel dan een weinig soupireerde,
Want die het hoogste zat, vóor de piano, was
Dezelfde Diana van zoo pas.
Maar de klavierlamp nu ontstak
Haar roode tunica, haar bloese of haar jak.
Eensklaps werd het donker.
De lampjes smeulden als door kolengasgeflonker
En heel de ruimt’ verkeerde tot een klonterig gewemel
Onder den zolderhemel,
En op ‘t bord
Kwam een nattig maanlicht aangestort.
En toen, als eens voor koning Belsasar, verscheen
Schrift en weder verdween
En duister en bevlekt,
Ik zag het bord met schaduwspel bedekt.
Ik kan niet alles ordelijk vertellen,
De tafereelen bleven naar elkaâr toe snellen,
Er schoven landen
Van de een naar de andere rande,
Geheuvelde oorden,
Rivieren glommen tusschen lage boorden,
Ik kon niet immer goed zien wat het was,
Doch altijd wuivelde er wel ergens gras…
Het bord te schrikken leek; het bliksemde er en schudde,
Kolonne-lange kudden
Gemobiliseerden marcheerden door het ruim,
Zonder glorie of pluim
En zonder marketensters,
Zonder te blikken naar vensters,
Ze beenden fel
En groeiden snel…
Ik zag hun hurken gaan en eten gaan uit blikken,
Ik zag de bajonets op de geweren prikken…
Er kwamen telkens woorden op het bord,
In spiegelschrift en dikwijls schoot de laatste zin te kort,
Het leek bijwijlen een gecensureerde brief;
En aldus zag ik al de voorbereidselen van het groote offensief
Aan de Somme…
Al heviger ze roerden de tromme,
De piano, de fluit, de horen,
Het daverde in mijn ooren,
Ze ontwikkelden minder leven nauw
Dan het orchest in het Concert-gebouw;
‘t Geweld ter tonen maakte mij benepen…
‘Maar u hebt nooit van Wagner veel begrepen,
Hij brengt u van de wijs,’
Zooals mevrouw van M… mij zeide te Parijs…
In Parijs, o, toen Wagner daar was en vogue,
En ik bekende dat mijn hart meer naar Beethoven trok,
De negende simfonie…
Eensklaps voelde ik mijn buurvrouws knie,
Zoo beenen zenuwachtig worden voor ze dansen gaan,
Wroetelen tegen de mijne aan,
En weder raasde ‘t leven om mij om
Van de stalen driehoek, ‘t koper en de trom
En van het heet-bestreken snaar-instrument,
Maar toch, die pianiste had beslist talent…
Een heele poos leek alles mij te ontwijken,
Toen zag ik ammunitie als mij aan staan kijken,
Ontzaggelijk en vreemde…
‘De kneuzende oorlogsvracht beploegde Vlaandrens beemden’
Ging mij door het brein, ziende het vervoer,
De logge leger-auto’s horten langs den vloer.
Ik zag de kogels uitgespreid en opgesteld,
Zooals gerooide rapen liggen op het veld;
Ontelbaar, her en der, tot in het ver verschiet,
Als wat in ‘n lang gevoelde behoefte eindelijk voorziet.
Ik zag ze staan en zonder blussen, deuken,
En heb gedacht aan beuken,
Niet aan het werkwoord van dien naam natuurlijk,
In eenen zin figuurlijk,
Die vrouwelijkste boomen in het bosch,
Zoo blank ze waren, elegant en los,
Gebonden en gevlerkt,
Geen damesnagels fijner afgewerkt;
Ik zag ze daar verpakt als flesschen wijn,
In mandjes als om teêre vruchten zijn;
Soms kerkbeeld-hoog en als een spitsboograam,
En vele droegen ‘n naam,
Een naam als bakers voor de kinderen bedenken…
Een Tommie lag er languit bovenop te wenken,
Hij streelde met zijn handen zulk een pracht-granaat;
En nooit zal ik vergeten zijn gelaat,
Het vroolijke, dat mijlen van mij was,
En sneeuwwit was.
Bom! bom!
Kanonnen sjorden aan en stonden stom,
Als steigerende rossen in hun stalen toomen,
Onder het loof van boomen;
Als één stuk zwart metaal;
Machines als nog nooit een industrie gebruikte,
Ze nergens stuikten,
Na goed te zijn gesmeerd.
Het leek wel of zij ‘t hadden uit hun hoofd geleerd…
Ik zag het projectiel erin gedreven,
‘Many happy returns,’ met krijt er op geschreven,
En toen ze schoten zag ik dunne smook,
En schimmen loopen gaan die leken rook,
Voorover, met de vingers in hun ooren…
Hoe vreemd het is daar niet iets van te hooren…
Dan kreeg de dikke loop vanzelf een schok
En gliste weêr terug alsof er een aan trok,
Zoo zoetjes-an,
Si doucement.
En toen verscheen een randje gras met draad behekt,
Een lucht er boven was met wolkjes bedekt,
Het leek een droomerige aquarel,
Van Mauve of Israëls…
Dat al die mooie dingen gaan zoo duur…
Er ijlden door het bord stralen en spetten vuur;
‘t Verbeeldde ‘de overkant’.
En duidelijk was er brand,
Ik kan niet alles melden zoo ik wou,
Het ging zoo gauw.
Ik heb ook mijnen uit elkaâr zien slaan,
Fonteinen modder, als een inkt-vulkaan,
Of bergen sintels werden opgeblazen
Van al de boeken, schriften waar wij over lazen;
En daarna was
Weêr alles grijs als asch.
En hangend aan de gordels van soldaten,
Zag ik de handgranaten,
En in een schans en op een planken vloer,
Aan balen zand geleund, een schim staan op de loer,
Zijn helm blonk bovenuit den rand der terp,
Leek een historisch kunstvoorwerp,
Een omgekeerde kop of een bokaal
Waaruit gedronken werd bij ‘t schimmenmaal,
In het Walhalla,
Der in den krijg gevallen,
Verslagen reuzen,
En dienend om de hersens niet te kneuzen…
Een paard met bollen buik, geloof ik, ik dan zag,
Het was het vierde of het vijfde dat er reed of lag,
En naar twee hondjes heb ik ook gestaard,
Ze tripten naast een fuselier of naast een Gordon-guard.
En in een hut die leek van sneeuw gebouwd,
Werd, meen ik, door Lancasters met ‘n katapult gesjouwd;
Ik zag een bom hen stellen en ze duiken snel,
En weg hij was als de appel van Willem Tell;
Een ‘liebesgabe’ naar het bord vermeldde…
Mortieren zag ik klaar of gaan te velde,
Mitrailleuses, ik weet niet wat het was,
Maar altijd wuivelde er wel ergens gras…
Plots hel het werd;
Ik heb mijn blikken in de zaal toen opgesperd,
Het leek mij of zij waren ingekort,
Of alle menschen zeulden naar het bleeke bord.
Het zien van kleuren schonk wat leniging,
Het was of allen waren in versteeniging,
Een moeder raakte aan den arm haars zoons, bij ongeval,
En dat was al.
De juffrouw zag mij aan… het werd al weder donker,
En boven het geflonker
Der roode jaagster aan de piano,
En boven al de kruinen der gemobiliseerden, o,
Grimde naar het duister van de hal:
‘De aanval.’
En de jacht
Van de gelijke schimmen reed weêr door den nacht,
Ze spookten op het roeren onzer trom,
Bom-bom, bom-bom!
Uit hoeken en gaten,
Met glad-geschoren gelaten,
Door rattengangen, een voor een,
Verdekt ze slopen door de maan die scheen,
Naar de verzamelplaatse, zoo
De varkens in fabrieken gaan te Chicago:
‘k Hoorde in de verte: ‘Tipperary!’
Joelen uit veel bombarie,
En zag ze samen in paradedos,
Ze maakten hier wat vast, ze maakten daar wat los,
Er was er eentje bij
Die groette mij.
Ik zag hen in gelederen en rijen,
Gegroept, gescheien,
En voor een priester op de knie gevallen,
Ik zag de geultjes in hun halzen alle;
De evangeliedienaar had een wit hemd aan,
Zoo blank en zuiver als de volle maan;
En ‘k zag hen uit hun korrelige slooten springen,
En over gruis en stronken voorwaarts dringen,
Er viel er een neêr als een leêge jas,
En verder nog een waar nog woei wat gras…
Ik kon het niet ontwijken…
Ik was gekomen hier toch om te kijken…
Het was voorbij…
Plots spraken er twee heeren achter mij,
De een zei: ‘t was kemedie, dat ‘t hem tegenviel,
Dat ‘t hem tegenviel,
En de andre hooren deed:
‘Och, alle waar is naar zijn geld, je weet.’
Ik keek niet om en heb me stijf gehouden,
Uit vreeze dat zij mij misschien herkennen zouden;
Doch weder was er de aandacht uit mij henen…
Een overwonnen krater was op ‘t bord verschenen,
Eén stond er midden in, hij ging er gansch in schuil,
Gelijk een mierenleeuw, verzonken in zijn kuil.
Ik had door al die tusschenwerpsels wat gemist,
Vast en beslist,
Er woei niet langer gras,
De gronden leken van verbrijzeld glas,
Of rullige akkers vol geschilde rapen;
Er doolden een paar schimmen om van knapen,
Padvinders, zoekende herinneringen op…
En ‘k zag een open hut aan de uitgang van een slop,
Een tunnel, en de vedel was gaan klagen…
Ze droegen zwarte staven aan waarop gestalten lagen;
De ruimte van het bord
Was veel te kort.
De dragers met de kruisen op hun mouw,
Aanbukten reuzengroot en blinkend weg in ‘t nauw,
Lieten de baren blijven.
Ik kan het niet beschrijven,
‘t Was alles afgekeerd en dichtgemaakt…
Een beeld zat in de hut tot aan zijn gordel naakt.
Zijn arm hing naar mij toe, de hand geheel beklad,
Er leek een volle inktpot over uit gespat,
Hoog op zijn bovenarm was ook ‘n donkre smet,
De witte dokter boog er naar en heeft gebet,
Gewindseld dan en met een rappen stoot,
Den mond des mans een sigaret hij bood;
De Tommie keek zijn arm langs, ademhaalde rook…
‘Hoe goed geholpen zij worden’, had ‘k gelezen ook,
Maar achter mij sprak weêr de knorge stem:
Dat ‘t tegenviel hem;
En de andre ontevreeën:
‘Dat je je geld wel beter kon besteeën.’
Wij hebben de uitgeputte krijgers ook terug zien komen,
Een wapenschouw ik zag, hen neêrgevlijd in drommen,
Hun rust genietende,
Plassend, water vergietende;
Ze wreven wapens schoon en keken soms mij aan:
‘’s Wounds, ‘t gaat daar jullie geen van allen aan.’
En op dezelfde wijs ik zag die languit lagen,
Met zware spijkerlaarzen werden aangedragen;
En ‘k heb aan gras gedacht;
Ver in het spikkelig licht ze delfden ‘n gracht;
‘Dat is een lange,’ zei mijn buurmans mond,
Toen alles op het trillend bord verzwond…
Ik wilde henengaan, doch ‘t was niet uit;
Wij kregen nog ‘de buit’.
Al de verwonnen
Allerlei zonderlinge
Geweldige keukendingen,
Ze lagen overhoop
Zoo op de Maandagmarkt de rommel ligt te koop…
En ‘k zag ‘de levende buit’,
Kluit ik zag na kluit,
Als mijnvolk uit hun schachten opgekomen;
De ontwapende, gevangen genomen
Hol-schonkige Duitschers;
Ze hieven handen, als afwerpend kluisters,
Al op en neêr in ‘t gaan,
Of trokken er touwtjes aan;
Klemden ze voor hun oogen;
In de schoeren gebogen,
Van-af de borst bedropen,
De lippen hangend open,
En met den blik aan ‘t loenen
Of wijd naar visioenen.
Ze vonden wel hun weg daar door de bermen,
De duizelende zwermen,
De spookge horden,
Versloofd, verworden,
Zonder vertoon van militair
En zonder eenig air;
Schimmen van schaterlachers, hikkende,
Met schel-witte verbanden
Om het gemillimeterd brein en dikwijls om hun handen;
Er stapte er een op één been,
Omhelzend twee gezwachtelden, hij hinkte heen.
Ik kon het schier niet zien, het struntelen en douwen…
Van die ‘feldgrauen’,
Het deinzen en het dollen,
Ze leken van het witte bord te rollen;
Ik zag er een stooten, bij ongeluk,
Tegen een reine Tommie, met een ruk,
Schokte zijn lijf opzij, hij blikte net
Of hij de punt gevoeld had van een bajonet…
Er schoten telkens schichten
Den warrel door der wiebelende gezichten:
De vuurge scheuten in het bord,
Als met tranen overstort.
Tranen van Tommies en grauwen,
Tranen van mannen en vrouwen,
Tranen van bruiden, moeders,
Tranen van weezen, voeders,
Van hongerige armen,
En tranen van erbarmen…
Ik heb mij goed gehouden,
Geveinsd, dat niemand iets bespeuren zoude…
Er waren witte wolkjes komen zweven,
Als die der ‘plumpuddings’ en andere granaten zooeven.
Ze boden sigaretten, hadden zich verzoend;
En toen was ‘t bord weêr blank, als plotseling afgeboend.
De zaal ontsteeg gerucht…
Ik voelde me opgelucht…
De damp van de sigaren
Verzweefde naar het licht der tooverlantaren,
Een ellenlange pluim
Die kringelblauwend schuin schoof door het ruim.
En ‘k heb gewacht…
En heb gedacht…
Het raadje snorde steeds zijn maniakke wijs,
En schoon het warm was, was ik koud als ijs…
Schimmen van stokken, stronken,
Van kluiten, brokken, bonken,
Ze bleven op het bord als aan een keten gaan,
Gelijk een menschenledig landschap op de maan…

De maan blonk aan de lucht, hoog boven alles uit,
De straat in donker door ‘t gemeenteraad-besluit,
Van lichtbesparing om de groote kolennood,
Deed me weldadig aan, het stemde me, ik genoot
Door die afwezigheid van overdaad en tinkels,
En ‘t aangegaapt te zijn door opgeschoten kinkels.
Het was nog steeds in mij, alsof in mij wat sliep,
Alsof ik binnen in een levend wezen liep,
En zag de donker-gloênde wandlaars gaan en komen,
Zooals in aderen de bloed-lichaampjes stroomen;
Het was nog steeds in mij of ik niet wakker was,
Of wat ‘k gezien het leven, dit een droom slechts was;
De toren in de diepten van den manehemel stak,
En stille, zachte waden dekten huis en dak,
En in de heimelijke schemering der straat,
De lijven bleven gaan met hun befloersd gelaat.
Tot eindelijk weder sprak in mij herinnering,
Het snorren van een raadje uit mij zelf ontging;
En ‘k langs de toeë winkels loopend verder trad,
Al mijmerzieker door de vreemde stilt’ der stad.
Ik voelde rond mij om de warmte weêr als weelde,
En overdacht de waarde dezer oorlogsbeelden,
Wat ‘k had gelezen in verslagen eener krant,
Om waar- en eerlijkheid, verheldering van verstand,
Het algemeen, groot nut van deze levende platen,
Omdat zij niets aan de verbeelding overlaten.
Ik dacht aan België, dat voor de Vrijheid vecht,
Aan nooit te delgen schuld van het geschonden Recht,
En werd al wandeldenkende weêr welgemoed,
Wijl ‘t bij ons Vreê nog is, tot dusver, alles goed.

Doch in den nacht daarop ik droomde droef,
Dat ‘k eigenhandig in een tuin een mensch begroef,
Tusschen het wuivelende gras,
En ik was
Die doode zelf;
Hij lag te staren naar het luchtgewelf
Met rond verwijde oogen:
En door den hooge
Het snorde rusteloos en heeft gewaaid,
Of werd een eindelooze film afgedraaid:
Van Donau’s, Marne’s, Aisne’s en van Yzers,
Van diplomaten, en magnaten en van keizers…
En die begroef mij deed het smart noch pijn…
Ongeloofelijke menschen wij zijn.

Comments: Jacobus van Looy (1855-1930) was a Dutch painter and writer. His 1916 poem ”Het verhaal van den provinciaal’ (‘The tale of the provincial’) tells of a man visiting a city and going to the cinema, whose conflicted views on the war and being in a cinema are revealed through the long poem’s stream of consciousness style. It is only gradually made apparent that it is the British documentary film The Battle of the Somme that he is watching. Geert Bulens (see link below) provides an analysis of poem’s themes. Practical elements referred to include projection, intertitles, and the accompanying music. Van Looy lived in Haarlem, but no cinema named Phebus-Theater is listed on the historical database of Dutch cinema, Cinema Context, in Haarlem or elsewhere. The Netherlands was neutral during the First World War. I can find no full English translation of the poem, but the penultimate stanza was translated (by Klaas de Zwaan) for my silent film blog, The Bioscope, as follows:

I felt the comforting warmth surrounding me again,
And thought over the value of these images of war,
What I’ve read in the reports of some newspapers,
About truth and honesty, clarification of the mind,
The overall, great usefulness of these living pictures,
Because they leave nothing to the imagination.
I thought of Belgium, fighting for Freedom,
An irredeemable infringement of Justice,
And while walking I pleasantly realized
Peace was among us, so far so good.

Links: Dutch text in copy of De wonderlijke avonturen van Zebedeus in DBNL (Digital Library for Dutch Literature)
Geert Buelens, ‘Sound and Realism in British and Dutch Poems Mediating The Battle of the Somme’, Journal of Dutch Literature, vol. 1 no. 1, December 2010 (includes discussion of the poem, in English)


Source: Dorothy Richardson, ‘Continuous Performance III: Captions’, Close Up vol. I no. 3, September 1927, pp. 52-56

Text: Experience has taught us to disregard placards. So we enter the hall in innocence and give ourselves to the preliminary entertainments. They are always very various, and whether good or bad we charm them, powerfully or feebly according to our condition, with the charm of our confident anticipation. A good mood will fling some sort of life even into the most tasteless of the local advertisements that immediately precede the real business of the evening, beginning when at last we are confronted with a title, set, like a greeting in a valentine, within an expressive device. We peer for clues. Sometimes there is no clue but the title, appearing alone in tall letters that fill the screen, fill the hall with a stentorian voice. Thrilling us. We know we are being got, but not yet at what vulnerable point and we sit in suspense while the names of author, adapter, producer, art-director, photographer and designer come on in curly lettering and singly, each lingering. Then there is a screenful of names, the parts and their players, also lingering and perhaps to be followed by further information. We do not desire it but may not now turn away from the screen. At any moment the censor’s permit will appear and whether lingering or not — usually by this time the operator has gone to sleep in his stride and it lingers — this last barrier must be faced for the length of its stay or we may miss the first caption. At one time we used to pay devout attention to the whole of these disclosures. They were a revelation of the size of the undertaking and our wondering gratitude went forth to the multitude of experts who had laboured together for our enterprise. But after a while the personal introduction of all these labourers became a torment. We grudged the suspense exacted by what might prove to be a record of wasted effort.

In due course and as if in awareness of our overtaxed patience the preliminaries were reduced to title, name of author, of a star or so, official permission, each hurrying by, hurrying us towards the caption that should launch us on our journey: a screenful of psychology, history, or description of period and locality. There is eager silence in the hall during the stay of the oblong of clear print whether beginning: “Throughout the ages mankind has — ” or “Avarice is the cruellest” — or “In a remote village of the Pyrenees, far from — “. When we have read we know where we are supposed to be going; we have grown accustomed to finding our places in the long procession of humanity, to going down into the dread depths of our single selves, to facing life in unfamiliar conditions. But we do not yet know whether our journey is to be good. Whether there is to be any journey at all. So we are wary. We remember films whose caption, appearing in instalments at regular intervals, has been the better part, presenting, bright and new, truths that in our keeping had grown a little dim, or telling us strange news of which within reason we can never have too much. We have come forth, time and place forgotten, surroundings vanished, and have been driven back. Very often by people whose one means of expressing emotion is a vexed frown, or people whose pulpy rouged mouths are forever at work pouting, folding, parting in a smile that laboriously reveals both rows of teeth. These people, interminably interfering with the scenery, drive us to despair. Sometimes we are too much upset to battle our way to indifference and see, missing what is supposed to be seen, anything and everything according to our mood; it is difficult to beat us altogether. We remember films damaged by their captions. Not fatally. For we can substitute our own, just as within limits we can remake a bad film as we go. With half a chance we are making all the time. Just a hint of any kind of beauty and if we are on the track, not waiting for everything to be done for us, not driven back by rouged pulp and fixed frown, we can manage very well. For the present we take captions for granted. But we are ready to try doing without them. Now and again a film gathers us in without any clear hint beyond the title. This we love. We love the challenge. We are prepared to go without a hint even in the title. We are prepared for anything. We trust the pictures. Somewhere sooner or later there will be a hint. Or something of which we can make one, each for himself. The absence of any hint is a hint we are ready to take.

Perhaps the truth about captions is just here: that somewhere, if not in any given place then all over the picture, is a hint. The artist can no more eliminate the caption than he can eliminate himself. Art and literature, Siamese twins making their first curtsey to the public in a script that was a series of pictures, have never yet been separated. In its uttermost abstraction art is still a word about life and literature never ceases to be pictorial. A work of pure fantasy bears its caption within. A narrative, whether novel, play or film, supplies the necessary facts directly, in the novel either by means of the author’s descriptive labels or through information given in the dialogue, in the play by means of that uncomfortable convention that allows characters to converse in anachronisms, in the film by means of the supply of interlarded words. And if the direct giving of information in captions is the mark of a weak film, the direct giving of information in a play or novel is the mark of a weak novel or play. There are masterpieces enough to flout the dogma.

Nevertheless the film has an unrivalled opportunity of presenting the life of the spirit directly, and needs only the minimum of informative accompaniment. The test of the film on whatever level is that the wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein, though each will take a different journey. The test of the caption is its relative invisibility. In the right place it is not seen as a caption; unless it lingers too long upon the screen.

Comments: Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957) was a British modernist novelist. Through 1927-1933 she wrote a column, ‘Continuous Performance’ for the film art journal Close Up. The column concentrates on film audiences rather than the films themselves.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Madeline of the Movies

Source: Stephen Leacock, ‘Madeline of the Movies: A Photoplay Done Back into Words’, in Further Foolishness: Sketches and Satires on the Follies of the Day (New York/London: John Lane, 1917), pp. 133-150

Text: (EXPLANATORY NOTE – In writing this I ought to explain that I am a tottering old man of forty-six. I was born too soon to understand moving pictures. They go too fast. I can’t keep up. In my young days we used a magic lantern. It showed Robinson Crusoe in six scenes. It took all evening to show them. When it was done the hall was filled full with black smoke and the audience quite unstrung with excitement. What I set down here represents my thoughts as I sit in front of a moving picture photoplay and interpret it as best I can.)

Flick, flick, flick … I guess it must be going to begin now, but it’s queer the people don’t stop talking: how can they expect to hear the pictures if they go on talking?

Now it’s off. PASSED BY THE BOARD OF —. Ah, this looks interesting — passed by the board of — wait till I adjust my spectacles and read what it —

It’s gone. Never mind, here’s something else, let me see — CAST OF CHARACTERS — Oh, yes — let’s see who they are —MADELINE MEADOWLARK, a young something — EDWARD DANGERFIELD, a — a what? Ah, yes, a roo — at least, it’s spelt r-o-u-e, that must be roo all right — but wait till I see what that is that’s written across the top — MADELINE MEADOWLARK; OR, ALONE IN A GREAT CITY. I see, that’s the title of it. I wonder which of the characters is alone. I guess not Madeline: she’d hardly be alone in a place like that. I imagine it’s more likely Edward Dangerous the Roo. A roo would probably be alone a great deal, I should think. Let’s see what the other characters are — JOHN HOLDFAST, a something. FARMER MEADOWLARK, MRS. MEADOWLARK, his Something —

Pshaw, I missed the others, but never mind; flick, flick, it’s beginning — What’s this? A bedroom, eh? Looks like a girl’s bedroom — pretty poor sort of place. I wish the picture would keep still a minute — in Robinson Crusoe it all stayed still and one could sit and look at it, the blue sea and the green palm trees and the black footprints in the yellow sand — but this blamed thing keeps rippling and flickering all the time — Ha! there’s the girl herself — come into her bedroom. My! I hope she doesn’t start to undress in it — that would be fearfully uncomfortable with all these people here. No, she’s not undressing — she’s gone and opened the cupboard. What’s that she’s doing — taking out a milk jug and a glass — empty, eh? I guess it must be, because she seemed to hold it upside down. Now she’s picked up a sugar bowl — empty, too, eh? — and a cake tin, and that’s empty — What on earth does she take them all out for if they’re empty? Why can’t she speak? I think — hullo — who’s this coming in? Pretty hard-looking sort of woman—what’s she got in her hand? —some sort of paper, I guess — she looks like a landlady, I shouldn’t wonder if …

Flick, flick! Say! Look there on the screen:


Oh, I catch on! that’s what the landlady says, eh? Say! That’s a mighty smart way to indicate it isn’t it? I was on to that in a minute — flick, flick — hullo, the landlady’s vanished — what’s the girl doing now — say, she’s praying! Look at her face! Doesn’t she look religious, eh?

Flick, flick!

Oh, look, they’ve put her face, all by itself, on the screen. My! what a big face she’s got when you see it like that.

She’s in her room again — she’s taking off her jacket—by Gee! She is going to bed! Here, stop the machine; it doesn’t seem — Flick, flick!

Well, look at that! She’s in bed, all in one flick, and fast asleep! Something must have broken in the machine and missed out a chunk. There! she’s asleep all right—looks as if she was dreaming. Now it’s sort of fading. I wonder how they make it do that? I guess they turn the wick of the lamp down low: that was the way in Robinson Crusoe — Flick, flick!

Hullo! where on earth is this — farmhouse, I guess — must be away upstate somewhere — who on earth are these people? Old man — white whiskers — old lady at a spinning-wheel — see it go, eh? Just like real! And a young man — that must be John Holdfast — and a girl with her hand in his. Why! Say! it’s the girl, the same girl, Madeline — only what’s she doing away off here at this farm — how did she get clean back from the bedroom to this farm? Flick, flick! what’s this?


Who says that? What music? Here, stop —

It’s all gone. What’s this new place? Flick, flick, looks like a street. Say! see the street car coming along — well! say! isn’t that great? A street car! And here’s Madeline! How on earth did she get back from the old farm all in a second? Got her street things on — that must be music under her arm — I wonder where — hullo — who’s this man in a silk hat and swell coat? Gee! he’s well dressed. See him roll his eyes at Madeline! He’s lifting his hat — I guess he must be Edward Something, the Roo — only a roo would dress as well as he does — he’s going to speak to her —


Oh, I see! The Roo mistook her; he thought she was somebody that he knew! And she wasn’t! I catch on! It gets easy to understand these pictures once you’re on.

Flick, flick — Oh, say, stop! I missed a piece — where is she? Outside a street door — she’s pausing a moment outside — that was lucky her pausing like that — it just gave me time to read EMPLOYMENT BUREAU on the door. Gee! I read it quick.

Flick, flick! Where is it now? — oh, I see, she’s gone in — she’s in there — this must be the Bureau, eh? There’s Madeline going up to the desk.


Pshaw! I read too slow — she’s on the street again. Flick, flick!

No, she isn’t — she’s back in her room — cupboard still empty — no milk — no sugar — Flick, flick!

Kneeling down to pray — my! but she’s religious — flick, flick — now she’s on the street — got a letter in her hand—what’s the address — Flick, flick!

Mr. Meadowlark
Meadow Farm
Meadow County
New York

Gee! They’ve put it right on the screen! The whole letter!

Flick, flick — here’s Madeline again on the street with the letter still in her hand — she’s gone to a letter-box with it — why doesn’t she post it? What’s stopping her?


Break their what? They slide these things along altogether too quick — anyway, she won’t post it — I see —s he’s torn it up — Flick, flick!

Where is it now? Another street — seems like everything — that’s a restaurant, I guess — say, it looks a swell place — see the people getting out of the motor and going in — and another lot right after them — there’s Madeline — she’s stopped outside the window — she’s looking in — it’s starting to snow! Hullo! here’s a man coming along! Why, it’s the Roo; he’s stopping to talk to her, and pointing in at the restaurant — Flick, flick!


Oh, I see! The Roo says that! My! I’m getting on to the scheme of these things — the Roo is going to buy her some dinner! That’s decent of him. He must have heard about her being hungry up in her room — say, I’m glad he came along. Look, there’s a waiter come out to the door to show them in — what! she won’t go! Say! I don’t understand! Didn’t it say he offered to take her in? Flick, flick!


Gee! Why’s that? What are all the audience applauding for? I must have missed something! Flick, flick!

Oh, blazes! I’m getting lost! Where is she now? Back in her room — flick, flick — praying — flick, flick! She’s out on the street! — flick, flick! — in the employment bureau — flick, flick! — out of it — flick — darn the thing! It changes too much — where is it all? What is it all —? Flick, flick!

Now it’s back at the old farm — I understand that all right, anyway! Same kitchen — same old man — same old woman — she’s crying — who’s this? — man in a sort of uniform — oh, I see, rural postal delivery — oh, yes, he brings them their letters — I see —


Flick! It’s gone! Flick, flick — it’s Madeline’s room again — what’s she doing? — writing a letter? — no, she’s quit writing — she’s tearing it up —


Flick — missed it again! Break their something or other — Flick, flick!

Now it’s the farm again — oh, yes, that’s the young man John Holdfast — he’s got a valise in his hand — he must be going away — they’re shaking hands with him — he’s saying something —


He’s off — there he goes through the gate — they’re waving good-bye — flick — it’s a railway depot — flick — it’s New York — say! That’s the Grand Central Depot! See the people buying tickets! My! isn’t it lifelike? — and there’s John — he’s got here all right — I hope he finds her room —

The picture changed — where is it now? Oh, yes, I see — Madeline and the Roo — outside a street entrance to some place — he’s trying to get her to come in — what’s that on the door? Oh, yes, DANCE HALL — Flick, flick!

Well, say, that must be the inside of the dance hall — they’re dancing — see, look, look, there’s one of the girls going to get up and dance on the table.

Flick! Darn it! — they’ve cut it off — it’s outside again — it’s Madeline and the Roo — she’s saying something to him —my! doesn’t she look proud —?


Isn’t she splendid! Hear the audience applaud! Flick — it’s changed — it’s Madeline’s room again — that’s the landlady — doesn’t she look hard, eh? What’s this — Flick!


Flick, flick — it’s Madeline — she’s out in the street — it’s snowing — she’s sat down on a doorstep — say, see her face, isn’t it pathetic? There! They’ve put her face all by itself on the screen. See her eyes move! Flick, flick!

Who’s this? Where is it? Oh, yes, I get it — it’s John — at a police station — he’s questioning them — how grave they look, eh? Flick, flick!


I guess that’s what he asks them, eh? Flick, flick —


Too bad — flick — it’s changed again — it’s Madeline on the doorstep — she’s fallen asleep — oh, say, look at that man coming near to her on tiptoes, and peeking at her — why, it’s Edward, it’s the Roo — but he doesn’t waken her — what does it mean? What’s he after? Flick, flick —

Hullo — what’s this? — it’s night — what’s this huge dark thing all steel, with great ropes against the sky — it’s Brooklyn Bridge — at midnight — there’s a woman on it! It’s Madeline — see! see! She’s going to jump — stop her! Stop her! Flick, flick —

Hullo! she didn’t jump after all — there she is again on the doorstep — asleep — how could she jump over Brooklyn Bridge and still be asleep? I don’t catch on —or, oh, yes, I do — she dreamed it — I see now, that’s a great scheme, eh? — shows her dream —

The picture’s changed — what’s this place — a saloon, I guess — yes, there’s the bartender, mixing drinks — men talking at little tables — aren’t they a tough-looking lot? — see, that one’s got a revolver — why, it’s Edward the Roo — talking with two men — he’s giving them money — what’s this? —


It’s in the street again — Edward and one of the two toughs —they’ve got little black masks on — they’re sneaking up to Madeline where she sleeps — they’ve got a big motor drawn up beside them — look, they’ve grabbed hold of Madeline — they’re lifting her into the motor — help! Stop! Aren’t there any police? — yes, yes, there’s a man who sees it — by Gee! It’s John, John Holdfast — grab them, John — pshaw! they’ve jumped into the motor, they’re off!

Where is it now? — oh, yes — it’s the police station again — that’s John, he’s telling them about it — he’s all out of breath — look, that head man, the big fellow, he’s giving orders —


Hoorah! Isn’t it great — hurry! don’t lose a minute — see them all buckling on revolvers — get at it, boys, get at it! Don’t lose a second —

Look, look — it’s a motor — full speed down the street —look at the houses fly past — it’s the motor with the thugs — there it goes round the corner — it’s getting smaller, it’s getting smaller, but look, here comes another my! it’s just flying — it’s full of police — there’s John in front — Flick!

Now it’s the first motor — it’s going over a bridge — it’s heading for the country —s ay, isn’t that car just flying —Flick, flick!

It’s the second motor — it’s crossing the bridge too — hurry, boys, make it go! — Flick, flick!

Out in the country — a country road — early daylight — see the wind in the trees! Notice the branches waving? Isn’t it natural? — whiz! Biff! There goes the motor — biff! There goes the other one — right after it — hoorah!

The open road again — the first motor flying along! Hullo, what’s wrong? It’s slackened, it stops — hoorah! it’s broken down — there’s Madeline inside — there’s Edward the Roo! Say! isn’t he pale and desperate!

Hoorah! the police! the police! all ten of them in their big car —see them jumping out — see them pile into the thugs! Down with them! paste their heads off! Shoot them! Kill them! isn’t it great — isn’t it educative —that’s the Roo — Edward — with John at his throat! Choke him, John! Throttle him! Hullo, it’s changed — they’re in the big motor — that’s the Roo with the handcuffs on him.

That’s Madeline — she’s unbound and she’s talking; say, isn’t she just real pretty when she smiles?


Flick, flick!

What pretty music! Ding! Dong! Ding! Dong! Isn’t it soft and sweet! — like wedding bells. Oh, I see, the man in the orchestra’s doing it with a little triangle and a stick — it’s a little church up in the country — see all the people lined up — oh! there’s Madeline! in a long white veil — isn’t she just sweet! — and John —

Flick, flack, flick, flack.


What! Isn’t it over? Do they all go to Bulgaria? I don’t seem to understand. Anyway, I guess it’s all right to go now. Other people are going.

Comments: Stephen Leacock (1869-1944) was a Canadian humorist who was probably the most popular comic writer of his day. In the printed text the mock intertitles are presented in boxes.

Links: Copy on Internet Archive