The Tragedy of Tolstoy

Source: Aleksandra Tolstaya, The Tragedy of Tolstoy (Yale University Press, 1933)

Text: Chertkov and mother willingly informed everybody of the day of father’s departure from Krekshino; and when we came to the railway station, moving-picture men and photographers were waiting in readiness and cameras clicked. At the Briansky terminal in Moscow a crowd gathered – it seemed to have suddenly sprung up from the ground. Wrenching ourselves free, we took a hackney coach and went to Khamovniki. Here again the house was full of guests: Chertkov, Gorbunov, Dunayev, Maklakov, Goldenweiser. Brother Sergey had come from his estate. Father was cheerful and in good spirits. In spite of the multitude of people, he had rested up at Krekshino. I believe it was Maklakov who suggested going to the theater.

“Why not?” said father. “I would like to go to the ballet.”

Everybody was surprised. “Why to the ballet?”

“I have two followers who dance in the ballet, I should like very much to look at them.”

But the Bolshoy Theater was closed for the summer. We went to a movie on the Arbat. The audience recognized father at once, whispered, and craned their necks. It was stuffy, and a stupid piece was on the screen.

“What a pity,” father said, “the film might be one of the mightiest means of spreading knowledge and great ideas, and yet it only serves to litter people’s brains. And geography! How fine it would be to use the movies for the study of peoples and countries!”

We left the picture early and went home.

Comments: Aleksandra Tolstaya (1884-1979) was the youngest daughter of and secretary to the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. This visit to a cinema occurred in 1909 during a trip to Moscow. Tolstoy was regularly pursued by news cameramen at this time.

Tsuioko

Source: Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Tsuioko [Memoirs] (1926), quoted in Dennis Washburn and Carole Cavanaugh (eds.), Word and Image in Japanese Cinema (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. xix

Text: I was probably five or six when I saw a moving picture for the first time. I went with my father, if I remember rightly, to see this marvellous novelty at the Nishuro in Okawabata. The motion pictures were not projected on a large screen as they are nowadays. The size of the image was a rather small four-by-six or so. Also, they had no real story, nor were they as complex as films are these days. I remember, among the pictures that evening, one of a man fishing. He hooked a big one then fell head over heels into the water. He wore some kind of straw hat, and behind the long fishing pole he held in his hand were reeds and willows waving in the wind. Oddly enough, though my memory may be wrong, I fancy the man looked something like Admiral Nelson.

Comments: Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) was a Japanese short story writer, whose stories helped inspire Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashōmon. He was raised in Tokyo. My thanks to Dawid Glownia from bringing this passage to my attention.

My Eighty Years

Source: Robert Batchford, My Eighty Years (London: Cassell, 1931), pp. 253-254

Text: After tea we realized that we were both tired and went into a kinema to rest.
Oh, that theatre! Oh, that whirling, scurrying, unmeaning show, that surely was the weirdest part of the weird day-dream. What it was all about I cannot attempt to say. It was like a fevered and breathless nightmare. Squadrons of Mexicans and cow-boys chased each other on wild horses over wild prairies and wilder hills. Riders raced, guns fired, men fell, girls were abducted and rescued; a person in a slouch hat and decorated trousers, who might have been Ragtime Cowboy Joe, rode on horseback into a saloon and wrecked the chandeliers and mirrors with his “forty-four,” and when we came away was in the act of eloping with the general’s daughter, and would probably be pursued along roads and over mountains and across rivers by police and sheriffs in motor-cars, and there would be more climbing and leaping and shooting, and then the show would begin all over again.

Comments: Robert Blatchford (1851-1943) was a British journalist and socialist. This passage from his memoirs comes from a section describing a shopping trip in London in December 1917. My thanks to Lucie Dutton for bringing this text to my attention.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Total Recall

Source: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Story (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013), pp. 13-14

Text: Our education about the world continued at the NonStop Kino, a newsreel theater near the central square in Graz. It ran an hourlong show over and over all day. First would be a newsreel with footage from all around the world and a voice-over in German, then Mickey Mouse or some other cartoon, and then commercials consisting of slides of various stores in Graz. Finally, music would play, and the whole thing would start again. The NonStop wasn’t expensive – just a few schillings – and each newsreel seemed to bring new wonders: Elvis Presley singing “Hound Dog.” President Dwight Eisenhower making a speech. Clips of jet airliners and streamlined American cars and movie stars. Those are images I remember. There was also boring stuff, of course, and stuff that went right over my head, like the 1956 crisis over the Suez Canal.

American movies made an even deeper impression. The first one that Meinhard and I ever saw was a Tarzan film starring Johnny Weissmuller. I thought he was going to swing right out of the screen at us. The idea that a human could swing from tree to tree and talk to lions and chimpanzees was fascinating, and so was Tarzan’s whole thing with lane. I thought that was a good life. Meinhard and I went back to see it several times.

Two movie theaters we always went to faced each other across Graz’s most popular shopping street. Mostly they showed Westerns but also comedies and dramas. The only problem was the strictly enforced rating system. A policeman assigned to the theater would check the ages of ticket holders going in. An Elvis movie, the equivalent of a modern PG-13, was pretty easy to get into, but all the movies I wanted to see – Westerns, gladiator movies, and war movies – were more like today’s R-rated films and therefore were much harder to get into. Sometimes a friendly cashier would let me wait until the movie started and then signal with his head toward the aisle where the policeman was standing. Sometimes I’d wait by the side exit and walk into the auditorium backward.

Comments: Arnold Schwarzenegger (1947- ) is an Austrian-American bodybuilder, film actor and politician. Born and raised in Austria, he regularly visited cinemas in Graz, later combining this with visits to the gym. At the time of this passage from his memoirs he was aged around 10. Meinhard was his elder brother.

Indiscretions of the Naval Censor

Source: Douglas Brownrigg, Indiscretions of the Naval Censor (London, Cassell, 1920), pp. 215-217

Text: After dinner, spurred by ennui, my companion and I went, to the local cinema house, or barn, and, climbing up many stairs, we arrived among the local “knuts” and enjoyed a remarkably fine show. There were excellent films of the French infantry and cavalry training, followed by a full-blooded American business, “featuring” a lady on horseback being pursued headlong down a ravine by picturesque ruffians. I didn’t, however, see the pursuers follow her “over the top.” I suspect the merchant turning the handle had his dinner-hour then.

Somehow, and why I never understood, the next chapter of the story showed bandits taking the tyres off a motor (I don’t think it was a Ford) and putting the car on the railway lines, and — puff, puff, off they went in pursuit of the “Twentieth Century, Limited,” “operating ” between Chicago and New York. They overtook the train, and climbed in through the corridor window, and “did in” a gentleman sitting in the restaurant car, who can hardly have had time to compare his country unfavourably with this old place, where even on our South Eastern lines I think one of our expresses could have given the slip to a motor-car such as was shown on the screen.

And then came the climax, the ab-so-lute limit. I confess that my heart was thumping with excitement. Whether that denotes senility or childishness I don’t know, but it is the plain fact, and I believe everybody in the hall was likewise quivering with excitement, when on the screen was thrown the horrible and almost unbelievable words: “Final Chapter of this story — NEXT WEEK”!

That may be all right for the residents of Sligo, but what about two miserable devils from London? I could have torn the house down willingly. Even with the knowledge that “next week” would bring them the denouement of this hair-raising story, I was surprised that the young bloods of Sligo could stand it. Maybe they are inured to cinema shocks, as they were the only sort of shocks to which Ireland was exposed during the war!

Comments: Sir Douglas Egremont Robert Brownrigg (1867-1939) was the the Chief Naval Censor in Britain during the First World War. Despite the surprised tone of this account of an Irish film show, Brownrigg was well acquainted with the film industry, through his connections with propaganda filmmaking (as noted in his memoir, which is at times as indiscreet as its titles promises). A ‘knut’ was a slang term for a young person about town.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Magic Lantern

Source: Ingmar Bergman (trans. Joan Tate), Magic Lantern: An Autobiography by Ingmar Bergman (London: Penguin Books, 1988 – orig. pub. Laterna Magica, Norstedts Förlag, Sweden, 1987), pp. 14-16

Text: More than anything else, I longed for a cinematograph. The year before, I had been to the cinema for the first time, and seen a film about a horse. I think it was called Black Beauty and was based on a famous book. The film was on at the Sture cinema and we sat in the front row of the circle. To me, it was the beginning. I was overcome by a fever that has never left me. The silent shadows turned their pale faces towards me, and spoke in inaudible voices to my most secret feelings. Sixty years have gone by and nothing has changed; the fever is the same.

[…]

After breakfast, everyone went to bed for a few hours. The internal domestic routine must have gone on working, for at two o’clock, just as dusk was falling, afternoon coffee was served. We had open house for anyone who cared to come and wish the parsonage a happy Christmas. Several friends were practising musicians and part of the afternoon festivities was usually an improvised concert. Then the sumptuous culmination of Christmas Day approached: the evening meal. This was held in our spacious kitchen, where the social hierarchy was temporarily set aside. All the food was laid out on a serving table and covered working surfaces, and the distribution of Christmas gifts took place at the dining-room table. The baskets were carried in, Father officiated with a cigar and glass of sweet liqueur, the presents were handed out, verses were read aloud, applauded and commented on; no presents without verses.

That was when the cinematograph affair occurred. My brother was the one who got it.

At once I began to howl. I was ticked off and disappeared under the table, where I raged on and was told to be quiet immediately. I rushed off to the nursery, swearing and cursing, considered running away, then finally fell asleep exhausted by grief.

The party went on.

Later in the evening I woke up. Gertrud was singing a folk song downstairs and the nightlight was glowing. A transparency of the Nativity scene and the shepherds at prayer was glimmering faintly on the, tall chest-of-drawers.

Among my brother’s other Christmas presents on the white gate-legged table was the cinematograph, with its crooked chimney, its beautifully shaped brass lens and its rack for the film loops.

I made a swift decision. I woke my brother and proposed a deal. I offered him my hundred tin soldiers in exchange for the cinematograph. As Dag possessed a huge army and was always involved in war games with his friends, an agreement was made to the satisfaction of both parties.

The cinematograph was mine.

It was not a complicated machine. The source of light was a paraffin lamp and the crank was attached with a cogwheel and a Maltese cross. At the back of the metal box was a simple reflecting mirror, behind the lens a slot for coloured lantern slides. The apparatus also included a square purple box which contained some glass slides and a sepia-coloured film strip (35mm). This was about three metres long and glued into a loop. Information statd on the lid that the film was called Mrs Holle. Who this Mrs Holle was no one knew, but later it turned out that she was a popular equivalent of the Goddess of Love in Mediterranean countries.

The next morning I retreated into the spacious wardrobe in the nursery, placed the cinematograph on a sugar crate, lit the paraffin lamp and directed the beam of light on to the whitewashed wall. Then I loaded the film.

A picture of a meadow appeared on the wall. Asleep in the meadow was a young woman apparently wearing national costume. Then I turned the handle! It is impossible to describe this. I can’t find words to describe my excitement. But at any time I can recall the smell of the hot metal, the scent of mothballs and dust in the wardrobe, the feel of the crank against my hand. I can see the trembling rectangle on the wall.

I turned the handle and the girl woke up, sat up, slowly got up, stretched her arms out, swung round and disappeared to the right. If I went on turning, she would again lie there, then make exactly the same movements all over again.

She was moving.

Comments: Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007) was a Swedish film and theatre director, whose films include The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries and Persona. He was the son of a Lutheran Pastor, and his childhood was spent in Uppsala, Sweden. Toy cinematographs that could show a mixture of slides and short film strips were quite common. Black Beauty is the American feature film of 1921, based on the novel by Anna Sewell. Mrs Holle may be connected with the fairy tale of Frau Holle, or Mother Holle, collected by the Grimm brothers.

Sir Philip Sydney

Source: ‘Sir Philip Sydney’ in Andrew Clark (ed.), ‘Brief Lives’: Chiefly of Contemporaries, Set Down by John Aubrey, Between the Years 1669 & 1696 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898), vol. II, pp. 249-250

Text: When I was a boy 9 yeares old, I was with my father at one Mr. Singleton’s, an alderman and wollen-draper in Glocester, who had in his parlour, over the chimney, the whole description of the funerall [of Sir Philip Sidney], engraved and printed on papers pasted together, which, at length, was, I beleeve, the length of the room at least; but he had contrived it to be turned upon two pinnes, that turning one of them made the figures march all in order. It did make such a strong impression on my young phantasy, that I remember it as if it were but yesterday. I could never see it elswhere. The house is in the great long street, over against the high steeple; and ’tis likely it remaines there still. Tis pitty it is not re-donne.

Comments: John Aubrey (1626-1697) was an English antiquarian, archaeologist and writer, best known for Brief Lives, a collection of biographical sketches of people from the seventeenth century which was not published until after his death and exists in several forms. The poet Sir Philip Sidney was killed at the Battle of Zutphen and his funeral was held in London on 16 February 1587. Aubrey includes this memory of a moving screen effect from around 1635 in his biography of Sidney (spelled Sydney in his text).

Links: Copy at the Internet Archive

Something Like an Autobiography

Source: Akira Kurosawa (trans. Audie Bock), Something Like an Autobiography (New York/Toronto: Random House, 1982), p. 6

Text: I think it was around this time that I saw my first movie or “motion picture.” From our house in Ōmori we’d walk to Tachiaigawa Station, take the train that went toward Shinagawa and get off at a station called Aomono Yokochō, where there was a movie theater. On the balcony in the very center was one section that was carpeted, and here the whole family sat on the floor Japanese style to watch the show.

I don’t remember exactly what it was that I saw when I was in nursery school and what I saw in primary school. I just remember that there was a kind of slapstick comedy I found very interesting. And I remember a scene in which a man who has escaped from prison scales a tall building. He comes out onto the roof and jumps off into a dark canal below. This may have been the French crime-adventure film Zigomar, directed by Victorin Jasset and first released in Japan in November 1911.

Another scene I recall shows a boy and girl who have become friends on a ship. The ship is on the verge of sinking, and the boy is about to step into an already overfull lifeboat when he sees the girl still on the ship. He gives her his place in the lifeboat and stays behind on the ship, waving goodbye. This was apparently a film adaptation of the Italian novel Il Cuore (The Heart).

But I much preferred comedy. One day when we went to the theater, they weren’t showing a comedy, and I cried and fretted about it. I remember my older sisters telling me I was being so stupid and disobedient that a policeman was coming to take me away. I was terrified.

However, my contact with the movies at this age has, I feel, no relation to my later becoming a film director. I simply enjoyed the varied and pleasant stimulation added to ordinary everyday life by watching the motion-picture screen. I relished laughing, getting scared, feeling sad and being moved to tears.

Looking back and reflecting on it, I think my father’s attitude toward films reinforced my own inclinations and encouraged me to become what I am today. He was a strict man of military background, but at a time when the idea of watching movies was hardly well received in educators’ circles, he took his whole family to the movies regularly. Later in more reactionary times he steadfastly maintained his conviction that going to the movies has an educational value; he never changed.

Comments: Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) was a Japanese film director, one of the great figures in world cinema. His childhood was spent in the Ōmori district of Tokyo. His father came from a Samurai family. Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset directed a series of Zigomar detective films, the eponymous first of which was released in 1911. The novel he refers to is Il Cuore by Edmondo De Amicis, specifically a short story within that book entitled ‘Shipwrecked’, but I have not traced a film adaptation of the title from this time.

Dr Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon

A view of Philip James de Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon (1782), British Museum (via Wikipedia)

Source: Ephraim Hardcastle [W.H. Pyne], extracts from chapter ‘Dr Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon’, in Wine and Walnuts, or, After dinner chit-chat (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1823), pp. 284-290, 295-298, 302-304

Text: The stage on which the Eidophusikon was represented, was little more than six feet wide, and about eight feet in depth; yet such was the painter’s knowledge of effect and scientific arrangement, and the scenes which he described were so completely illusive, that the space appeared to recede for many miles, and his horizon seemed as palpably distant from the eye, as the extreme termination of the view would appear in nature.

The opening subject of the Eidophusikon represented the view from the summit of One-tree Hill, in Greenwich Park, looking up the Thames to the Metropolis; on one side, conspicuous upon its picturesque eminence, stood Flamstead House; and below, on the right, the grand mass of building, Greenwich Hospital, with its imposing cupolas, cut out of pasteboard, and painted with architectural correctness. The large groups of trees formed another division, behind which were the towns of Greenwich and Deptford, with the shore on each side stretching to the metropolis, which was seen in its vast extent, from Chelsea to Poplar. Behind were the hills of Hampstead, Highgate, and Harrow; and the intermediate space was occupied by the flat stage, as the pool or port of London, crowded with shipping, each mass of which being cut out in pasteboard, and receding in size by the perspective of their distance. The heathy appearance of the fore-ground was constructed of cork, broken into the rugged and picturesque forms of a sand-pit, covered with minute mosses and lichens, producing a captivating effect, amounting indeed to reality.

This scene, on the rising of the curtain, was enveloped in that mysterious light which is the precursor of day-break, so true to nature, that the imagination of the spectator sniffed the sweet breath of morn. A faint light appeared along the horizon; the scene assumed a vapourish tint of grey; presently a gleam of saffron, changing to the pure varieties that tinge the fleecy clouds that pass away in morning mist; the picture brightened by degrees; the sun appeared, gilding the tops of the trees and the projections of the lofty buildings, and burnishing the vanes on the cupolas; when the whole scene burst upon the eye in the gorgeous splendour of a beauteous day.

The clouds in every scene had a natural motion, and they were painted in semi-transparent colours, so that they not only received light in front, but, by a greater intensity of the argand lamps, were susceptible of being illuminated from behind. The linen on which they were painted was stretched on frames of twenty times the surface of the stage, which rose diagonally by a winding machine. De Loutherbourg, who excelled in representing the phenomena of clouds, may be said to have designed a series of effects on the same frame; thus, the first gleam of morn led to the succeeding increase of light; and the motion being oblique, the clouds first appeared from beneath the horizon, rose to a meridian, and floated fast or slow, according to their supposed density, or the power of the wind.

To illuminate the interesting scenes for this display of nature, the ingenious projector had constructed his lights to throw their power in front of the scenes; and this plan might be tried with advantage for spectacles, and particular effects at least, on the great stages of our magnificent theatres. The lamps on De Loutherbourg’s stage were above the proscenium, and hidden from the audience, instead of being unnaturally placed as we are accustomed to see them, by which the faces of the performers are illuminated, like Michael Angelo’s Satan, from the regions below; thus throwing on their countenances a preternatural character, in defiance of all their well studied science of facial passion and expression. What painter ever dreamt of inverting the order of nature so entirely as to light the human countenance upwards? And why depart so strangely from truth upon the stage? The expression would be increased tenfold by lighting from above the proscenium. — For how infinitely more impressive is the emotion of the passions, when described with the spacious orbit of the eye in that deep shadow which the grand gusto of the historic style of painting has adopted — the majesty of intellectual intelligence is seen to rest upon the human brow. Nothing can outrage truth, or do so much violence to that delicate expression, which is the soul of acting, when addressed to the philosophical mind, as to view the bold projection of the chin, the subordinate and characteristic prominence of the nose, the upper part of the orbits of the eyes, instead of forming harmonious shadows, glaring in the blaze of stage-lamps, each a separate touch of light. Were the other method adopted for illuminating the stage, the scenes would recede, in their respective distances; the front and most prominent characters would cast a shadow on those in the second ground, and the general effect would assume the superior light and shadow of nature in manifold combinations, such as we behold on the historical groups of the great masters. Why should we continue to tolerate absurdities upon the stage, to the manifest injustice of those fine and masterly traits, as exhibited in the actor’s “anatomy of expression?” which might, but for this, serve as a school for the painter to study the rudiments of rage, anger, terror, guilt, jealousy, and other potent passions operating on the human visage, with that marked expression which the science of certain great actors can personate at will.

Before the line of brilliant lamps, on the stage of the Eidophusikon, were slips of stained glass; yellow, red, green, purple, and blue: by the shifting of which, the painter could throw a tint upon the scenery, compatible with the time of day which he represented, and by a single slip, or their combinations, could produce a magical effect; thus giving a general hue of cheerfulness, sublimity, or awfulness, subservient to the phenomena of his scene. This too might be adopted on the regular stage, were the ingenious machinists of the scene-room to set their wits to work; and at no vast expence, since the improvements of lighting with gas.

[…]

Gainsborough was so wrapt in delight with the Eidophusikon, that for a time he thought of nothing else — he talked of nothing else — and passed his evenings at that exhibition in long succession. Gainsborough, himself a great experimentalist, could not fail to admire scenes wrought to such perfection by the aid of so many collateral inventions. Loutherbourg’s genius was as prolific in imitations of nature to astonish the ear, as to charm the sight. He introduced a new art — the picturesque of sound.

I can never forget the awful impression that was excited by his ingenious contrivance to produce the effect of the firing of a signal of distress, in his sea-storm. That appalling sound, which he that had been exposed to the terrors of a raging tempest could not listen to, even in this mimic scene, without being reminded of the heart-sickening answer, which sympathetic danger had reluctantly poured forth from his own loud gun — a hoarse sound to the howling wind, that proclaimed, “I too, holy Heaven! need that succour I fain would lend!”

De Loutherbourg had tried many schemes to effect this; but none were satisfactory to his nice ear, until he caused a large skin to be dressed into parchment, which was fastened by screws to a circular frame, forming a vast tambourine; to this was attached a compact sponge that went upon a whalebone spring; which,s truck with violence, gave the effect of a near explosion; a more gentle blow, that of a far-off gun; and the reverberation of the sponge produced a marvellous imitation of the echo from to cloud, dying away into silence.

The thunder was no less natural, and infinitely grand: a spacious sheet of thin copper was suspended by a chain, which, shaken by one of the lower corners, produced the distant rumbling, seemingly below the horizon; and as the clouds rolled on, approached nearer and nearer, increasing peal by peal, until, following rapidly the lightning’s zig-zag flash, which was admirably vivid and sudden, it burst in a tremendous crash immediately over-head.

Once, being at the Eidophusikon, with a party of intelligent friends, when this scene was performing over Exeter ‘Change, I had the felicity to experience a most interesting treat. I had often wished for an opportunity to compare the effect of the awful phenomenon — a thunder storm, with this imitative thunder of De Loutherbourg’s. A lady exclaimed, “It lightens!” and, in great agitation, pointed to an aperture that admitted air to the upper seats. The consternation caused by this discovery, induced many to retire to the lobby, some of whom, moved by terror or superstition, observed, “that the exhibition was presumptuous.” We moved to the gallery, and opening a door, stood upon the landing place, where we could compare the real with the artificial storm. When the exhibition was over, and were tired to sup with one of our party, the worthy James Christie, in Pall Mall, we naturally went into the merits of this scenic display; when it was sagely determined, that man was an extraordinary creature, who could create a copy of Nature, to be taken for Nature’s self.

[…]

But the most impressive scene, which formed the finale of the exhibition, was that representing the region of the fallen angels, with Satan arraying his troops on the banks of the Fiery Lake, and the rising of the Palace of Pandaemonium, as described by the pen of Milton. De Loutherbourg had already displayed his graphic powers in his scenes of fire, upon a great scale, at the public theatre — scenes which had astonished and terified [sic] the audience; but in this he astonished himself, — for he had not conceived the power of light that might be thrown upon a scenic display, until he made the experiment on his own circumscribed stage. Here, in the foreground of a vista, stretching an immeasurable length between mountains, ignited from their bases to their lofty summits, with many-coloured flame, a chaotic mass rose in dark majesty, which gradually assumed form until it stood, the interior of a vast temple of gorgeous architecture, bright as molten brass, seemingly composed of unconsuming and unquenchable fire. In this tremendous scene, the effect of coloured glasses before the lamps was fully displayed; which, being hidden from the audience, threw their whole influence upon the scene, as it rapidly changed, now to a sulphurous blue, then to a lurid red, and then again to a pale vivid light, and ultimately to a mysterious combination of the glasses, such as a bright furnace exhibits, in fusing various metals. The sounds which accompanied the wondrous picture, struck the astonished ear of the spectator as no less preternatural; for, to add a more awful character to peals of thunder, and the accompaniments of all the hollow machinery that hurled balls and stones with indescribable rumbling and noise, an expert assistant swept his thumb over the surface of the tambourine, which produced a variety of groans, that struck the imagination as issuing from infernal spirits.

Such was De Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon; and would that it were in being now, when the love of the fine arts has spread in so vast a degree! — that knowledge which would have appreciated its merits having increased a thousand-fold, since the period when the greatest scene-painter in the world was induced to dispose of his wondrous little stage, because the age could not produce amateurs sufficient, after two seasons, to muster an audience to pay for lighting his theatre!

Comments: William Henry Pyne (1769-1843) was a British writer, painter and illustrator, who wrote under the pseudonym Ephraim Hardcastle. The Eidophusikon was the invention of Franco-British artist and scenery designer Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740-1812). It was a form of mechanical theatre, showing landscape pictures whose visual features changed through a system of pulleys, mirrors, coloured glass, with sound effects, though the exact mechanics are not known. There were three versions. The first was exhibited at De Loutherbourg’s home in Lisle Street, Leicester Square, London February-May 1781. The second, with additional scenes introduced, including the ‘Pandaemonium’ sequence, was exhibited January 1872 to some time in 1873. The third, that witnessed by Pyne, opened at Exeter Change on the Strand, London, in 1786. The venture was not a financial success, partly because De Loutherbourg could not keep up with audience demand for new scenes. The invention and its artworks do not survive.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

A Ragged Schooling

Source: Robert Roberts, A Ragged Schooling (Fontana, 1978; orig. pub. Manchester University Press, 1976), pp. 59-60

Text: Mr Higham, we also heard, had played piano in hotels, and opulent picture palaces now opened in the city, but ‘bad luck’ had reduced him latterly to performing at our local fleapit. There, we learned, in the course of the evening, he was plagued by a problem of hygiene unknown in bourgeois entertainment circles – our ‘Kinema’ floor had, he complained, to be swilled out and disinfected every morning. And no wonder! Owner-managers of slum cinemas, out for every penny they could get, crushed their youngest patrons so tightly along the cheap benches that no child dared get up for fear of losing his seat. In our establishment, even before the lights went out, retaining position could be difficult. Theoretically, no standing was allowed. The chucker-out would bring in a small paying customer to an already packed bench, push his posterior against the end occupant and make room for the newcomer; but this sent pressure running along the row, and another child slid off the other end. Once in the dark, no one dreamed of going to the lavatory. Through need or mischief children relieved themselves where they sat, and often the lower reaches ran awash. Down slope, before the silver screen, Mr Higham, we understood, battled on at his music, feet upon the pedals, powerless, despite threats, as King Canute. But already he seemed to have grown tolerant, looking upon the phenomenon as a mere occupational hazard. Indeed, at a later date, he referred to it airily as the ‘Falls of Lodore,’ which shows one can get used to almost anything.

Comments: Robert Roberts (1905-1979) became an English teacher following a Salford childhood, where his parents ran a corner-shop. His book The Classic Slum is a classic combination of autobiography and historical account of the lives of the Edwardian poor. A Ragged Schooling is a further autobiographical account of his childhood. The city referred to is Manchester. In a footnote to the above section, he writes “Strangers to the town were puzzled when invite to patronise a local picture house referred to by all as the ‘By Joe’ – our native rendering of ‘Bijou’, a name chosen for high inappropriateness on every count.”