Mass-Observation at the Movies

Source: May Crawshaw, quoted in Jeffrey Richards and Dorothy Sheridan (eds.), Mass-Observation at the Movies (London/New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), p. 128

Text: May Crawshaw (Mrs.), 14 Heaton Avenue (aged 40), regular cinema-goer (4 times a month), preference – both the same.

Comments: I like when going to the Cinema to see one long picture, with a little humour and a little pathos as long as it brings out the qualities of the actor, and a little love not overdrawn. Also a travel coloured picture, or a Mickey Mouse, and for a change, short musical revue. Then of course a good news reel with pictures of Royalty and not too much was news. I dont [sic] mind the ice cream advert, but hate to sit in semi-darkness watching adverts of housing estates, furniture, permanent waves etc.

Comments: Mass-Observation carried out a series of studies in 1930s and 1940s into how people in the UK lived, through a mixture of observation, diaries and invited comments. This comment comes from Mass-Observation’s research programme into cultural life in Bolton, Lancashire. The study began in 1938, and this comment is a response to a questionnaire issued in March 1938 asking Do you go to the cinema regularly? How many times a month do you go? Do you go regularly on the same day, if so which day? Do you think you see people on the screen who live like yourself? Which are the best films, British or American, or do you think both are the same? People were also asked to number the types of films they best, and to list what they would like to see more of in films. This respondee was a regular of the Odeon, Ashburner Street.

British Cinemas and their Audiences

Source: J.P. Mayer, British Cinemas and their Audiences: Sociological Studies (London: Dennis Dobson, 1948), pp. 57-59

Text: AGE: 19; SEX: F.; FATHER: HEAD CLERK, SOLICITORS MANAGING CLERK; OCCUPATION: STUDENT NURSE; NATIONALITY: BRITISH

I have been considering answering your request for a motion picture autobiography ever since the May 26th Picturegoer fell into my grasping hands a week ago, until I could not resist the urge this morning and refused to be tempted by the thoughts of a luxury lay-in or even ‘mon petit dejeuner’, so please spare me the cruel information that you are accepting no more contributions as I could not bear the thought of so much wasted energy.

My interest in films was first awakened, when I was expected to accompany my elder brothers and sisters to the nearest cinema perched on a hill some two miles distant, so that my parents were free to choose their particular choice of entertainment on Saturday afternoons. We were ‘treated’ to the front stalls but even on Saturday pennies did not always provide sufficient odd cash to travel in style so the hike not only enforced an early start, but also a delayed return.

My superiors would converse very learnedly on the way about the respective merits of the film we were about to see and it always used to puzzle me how they knew so much about it when they had not even seen it. Tarzan was a great favourite of mine in those days although even then my fellow hero-worshippers were inclined to be slightly cynical as well as highly intrigued by his magnificent feats.

I must have reached the imposing age of eight years or thereabouts when I considered Alice in Wonderland a film worthy of a three hours’ wait in the pouring rain at the aforementioned cinema partly because I had had visions beforehand of myself playing the part of the heroine. These were inspired by my mother’s insistence that I was the image of the ‘real Alice’ for whom the studio was searching, but my photo only resulted in a letter of thanks, the news that the part had been allotted to Charlotte Henry and the rapid subsidence of my dreams of fame.

These have never returned to the same extent since I have realised that magnificent swimming pools, publicity and glamour do not necessarily make for happiness, although there are times when I envy the stars the projection of their personalities on the world at large.

There is a spark of vanity in most of us which is encouraged by being the centre of attraction in some sphere however small and it must be wonderful to know that strangers too are aware of that irrepressible charm.

The disadvantage however is that people are apt to think of their screen heroes and heroines only in terms of their screen personalities instead of men and women with the ordinary trials of life plus those of their unreal environment to face.

It is mainly because of this that I am satisfied with my obscurity in the work I have chosen and have no great desire to change places with the hard working people in the entertainment world.

I always used to imagine that Hollywood hair styles, clothes and make-up were well out of my reach, but since the advent of natural beauty has arrived, it has become apparent to me that the rest are only appendages to produce the desired effect.

Ingrid Bergman is far more truly glamourous [sic] than Ginger Rogers in all her films, in Lady in the Dark while Ginger herself has no need to rely on the artificial props.

Studios tend to bring out a sparkling new star and rely on his or her talents from the start, but then gradually fit those same distinguishing features into the old pattern, thus forming an entirely new, less exciting personality.

The screen world always appeared as a dream world and although it has given me the desire to travel it has not made me feel dissatisfied with my way of life.

Travel films, pictorial, nature study, documentaries all interest me as they have something to teach, while films made from books encourage my love of literature.

My time is obviously running short with the result that my reply is conforming to the conventional pattern set by the lecturer for ‘guidance’ only, which may have prevented many irrelevancies if they had been consulted earlier and provided more of the required information. Nevertheless I intend to conclude this autobiography which more rightly belongs to the readers column, with the information that films have given me vocational ambitions to become a soldier, lawyer or nurse etc: to be more precise The Lamp Still Burns was mainly responsible for my taking up student nursing at this hospital and I can only thank all the people concerned in the production for their moving portrayal of the characters, which so greatly influenced my decision.

Comments: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His British Cinemas and their Audiences collates motion picture autobiographies submitted through competitions in Picturegoer magazine. This contribution comes from the section ‘Films and the Pattern of Life’. Contributors were asked to trace the history of their interest in films, the influence films had on them (including if they were ever frightened by films), what they imitated from films, if films made them more receptive to love-making, if films made them want to travel or to be dissatisfied with their way of life or neighbourhood, and if films gave them vocational ambitions. The films mentioned are Alice in Wonderland (USA 1933), Lady in the Dark (USA 1944) and The Lamp Still Burns (UK 1943).

Sociology of Film

Source: M.B., quoted in J.P. Mayer, Sociology of Film: Studies and Documents (London: Faber and Faber, 1946), pp. 119-120

Text: My Criticism of Films

On the whole I like most films.

I like the films adapted from Conan-Doyle[‘]s books. They are about Sherlock Holmes, who is a detective, and Doctor Watson, Holmes’s helper. Two very good films of them are Sherlock Holmes Faces Death and The Hound of the Baskervilles. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, which takes place near a wild and lonely moor, somebody lets out a hound which is nearly mad with hunger, and this hound is often the cause for some exceedingly perilious [sic] happenings.

I like murder films. I also like the Saint pictures and the Falcon pictures. They are both detectives but I do not think either of them are as good as Sherlock Holmes.

I like films in which Bing Crosby stars. I thought he was very good in Going My Way. In that he sang ‘Three Blind Mice’ as a round with some boys. In this same film was a clergyman, with whom Bing Crosby stayed, he was played by a new star, who I thought was a very good actor. His name is Barry Fitzgerald.

I like most funny films. Especially if any of these people star Arthur Askey, Charlie Chaplin, Will Hay, Bob Hope and Bud Abbot[t] and Leo Costello [sic] and many more. I like funny films about the army and the navy, especially if Joe Sawyer takes the part of a sergeant.

I like Fred Astaire but I don’t think he has very good partners.

I like History films, for example Lady Hamilton, Lady Hamilton was in love with Nelson. It showed you the Battle of Trafalgar. Lady Hamilton was played by Vivien Leigh and Nelson was played by Laurence Olivier. Both are very fine actors.

I like animal films such as My Friend Flicka and Lassie Come Home. I hope many more such films will be made. I think Roddy McDowall is very good in this sort of film.

I like true films about the Army, Navy and Airforce. Of the army I liked The Immortal Sergeant, I think, the best airforce film I have seen is Target for Tonight, a film which I liked and was mostly about the navy was We Strike at Dawn. Some other good films are Gung Ho, The Way Ahead and Coastal Command and The First of the Few.

I liked Women Coragous [sic] which was about The Womans [sic] Auxiliary Ferrying Service. Sometimes I like The March of Time which is a monthly programe.

I like cowboy films but the trouble is the stories are all so much alike. I also enjoy films like North West Mounted Police.

I prefer technicolour [sic] to ordinary black and white.

I like Nelson Eddie and Jeanette Macdonald together. Eddie Cantor and his goggly eyes makes me roar with laughter.

I do not like sloppy films.

I do not like films in which there are too many bands. I did not like Sensations of 1945 because it had about six jazz bands and there were also some negroe [sic] singers which I detest.

I like a film to have a fairly possible story. I do not like all singing and dancing and no story.

One thing I do detest, which is not really about the films themselves but about the cinema, is little boys who make rude remarks and keep hissing and booing at things.

(Time taken, 1 hour 45 mins.)

Comments: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His Sociology of Film draws on a large amount of evidence gathered through questionnaires and submissions received through invitations published in Picturegoer magazine. The above response comes from the section ‘Children and Adolescents and the Cinema’ and is one of twenty-two essays submitted by girl not old than 12½ from a ‘semi-state’ school in Hampstead. The films mentioned are Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (USA 1943), The Hound of the Baskervilles (USA 1939), Going My Way (USA 1944), That Hamilton Woman (USA 1941), My Friend Flicka (USA 1943), Lassie Come Home (USA 1943), Immortal Sergeant (USA 1943), Target for Tonight (UK 1941), We Dive at Dawn (UK 1943), Gung Ho! (USA 1943), The Way Ahead (UK 1944), Coastal Command (UK 1943), The First of the Few (UK 1942), Ladies Courageous (USA 1944), The March of Time (USA news magazine series), North West Mounted Police (USA 1940), Sensation of 1945 (USA 1944).

The attitude of high school students toward motion pictures

Source: Clarence Arthur Perry, The attitude of high school students toward motion pictures (New York: National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, 1923), pp. 41-44

Text: Slapstick or vulgar:
I do not like the vulgar comedies that are sometimes shown.
It is most disgusting to watch these people throw things at each other and act silly.
I do not like comedies in which the principal characters spend a great deal of time bombarding each other with cakes, pies, etc.
I dislike many of the so-called comedies which are humorous only to the feeble-minded.
I like comedies when they are really funny, but the ones where they fight and throw pies in people’s faces are absolutely silly.
I dislike those comedies in which they rush you all about most of the time.
I don’t like foolish, silly comedies that are meant to make you laugh at any cost, even resorting to certain vulgar experiences and actions.

Not true to life:
Pictures that do not happen in every-day life I do not like.
I don’t like pictures where the hero is always having hair-breadth escapes and never gets hurt.
I don’t like comedies where a man runs over a bank and has a sensational fall and comes out alive.
Pictures showing impossible feats do not appeal to me.
I don’t like pictures in which the worthy but poor young man, against impossible conditions, wins the hand of the young millionairess.
I don’t like pictures with real slush and unnatural plots, involving divorce, suicide and all sorts of utterly impossible stunts.
I don’t like a picture in which a small man attacks about a half dozen men larger than himself and throws them off of houses and bluffs.
I don’t like the dime novel brand of thriller where the hero is always in great danger at the end of each episode.
Those stories in which the hero comes out without a scratch and gets the girl he wants are the bunk.
I don’t like pictures that seem unreal in everyday life; for example, a blind man gets back his eyesight, a thing that hardly happens every day.
I dislike pictures where the hero can do nothing wrong, and the villain is so mean he can do nothing good.

Mushy or over-sentimental:
I don’t like stories where they are always hugging and kissing during the whole show.
Of course everyone enjoys a love story once in a while, but there is too much hugging and kissing usually in the shows.
I don’t like those mushy pictures where the fellow falls over himself for the girl.
I don’t like silly love stories which don’t build up character.
I don’t like love stories with a lot of fuss.
I don’t like slushy pictures with too much display of affection.
I loathe and detest that sentimental wishy-washy stuff.

Artistically bad:
The kind of picture I do not like is the kind whose plot is old and has been told and retold and each time is but the warmed-over edition of the previous story.
I do not like these long-drawn-out senseless pictures that can be told in half an hour instead of two and a half hours.
I don’t like pictures that are made to give one thrill after another; the facts are too easily comprehended and thus spoil what good there might be in the picture.
I don’t like pictures which are padded.
I don’t like pictures where there is no plot, or no main idea to them.
I don’t like pictures without a plot, for instance, “Neptune’s Bride.”
I don’t like pictures where the whole plot consists of a girl who dances before a cheap audience.
I don’t care for the average “clever” picture that has no plot, background, purpose or scarcely any other of the essential qualities of a good film.
Pictures such as “Back Pay” should not be released; they are not interesting, educating or entertaining and only wreck the reputation of a good theatre. Many pictures like those are given harmless names and passed off on the public, while such as “Male and Female” as directed by Cecil de Mille drive crowds away from a good show by a suggestive name.

Immoral:
I don’t like a picture that shows the vamps and such like.
I don’t like pictures that are vile and that you have to be ashamed of.
I do not like pictures that are so personal that they are embarrassing for a boy and girl to go together to see.
I absolutely despise the over-emotional love story and bedroom scenes because to sit and watch them is embarrassing besides demoralizing.
I do not like pictures like the “Affairs of Anatol” that deal with such demoralizing types of people supposedly in society.
I don’t like stories with bedroom and harem scenes.
I dislike pictures where there are vulgar displays made by women, and pictures on questionable topics.
I do not like a play where the actors are not dressed properly, for instance, “Foolish Wives.”
I do not think it necessary for some actresses to wear so little clothing as they do.
I do not like those stories in which the words or actions can be taken in an immoral way as well as the way in which probably they were meant.
I don’t like stories with sex as their only excuse for being.

Murder and shooting:
I don’t like pictures where everybody gets shot.
I don’t like pictures with very much murdering.
I don’t like pictures having murdering or killing scenes in them.
I have no taste for the picture in which so many of the players get killed.
I don’t like pictures which involve murders and are taken down in Chinatown.
I don’t like murder stories that get you too excited to sleep or to concentrate on anything but the picture you have just seen.
I greatly dislike horrible picturizations which include numerous murders and terrifying incidents.

Brutality:
I do not like pictures of the villainous kind where the heroine is mistreated.
I do not like stories of hideous crimes.
I don’t like pictures that show prison life, or anything of hardship or cruelty.

Comments: Clarence Arthur Perry (1872-1944) was an American sociologist and town planner. His study The attitude of high school students toward motion pictures (1923) is based on a questionnaire circulated by the National Committee for Better Films, working with the National Board of Review. The questionnaire was sent to 600 high schools across America in May 1922 and received 44,000 responses. The questions included filmgoing habits, favourite actors, picture preferences and dislikes, attitudes towards educational films, and whether and films served as a stimulus to reading. The report is filled with interesting and useful data. The responses quoted here are a selection of those given in answer to the question “Mention any kinds of picture you do not like”. The films referred to are Neptune’s Bride (USA 1920 d. Leslie T. Peacocke), Back Pay (USA 1922 d. Frank Borzage), Male and Female (USA 1919 d. Cecil B DeMille), The Affairs of Anatol (USA 1921 d. Cecil B. DeMille), and Foolish Wives (USA 1922 d. Erich Von Stroheim).

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Female, 20, white, college sophomore’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), p. 136

Text: The first film plot which ever made an impression on me was “Reaching for the Moon,” which starred Douglas Fairbanks. This film had the usual exciting Douglas Fairbanks episodes, but it ended with the disclosure that they had all been a dream. Hitherto I had watched movies with an absorbing interest and entered unreservedly into the life portrayed, but after that I began to think about the reality of them, and began to question their validity. At first I was afraid that it all might be a dream again, and then I just began to think about the true life relationships. I began to compare the movies with life as I knew it. I began to be skeptical about many phases of movies. For the first time I realized that the effects presented were gained by technique and not by actual daring. I became curious about, and interested in, the methods by which various scenes were produced and I found out about “doubles” and artificial scenery and queer photography.

As a result of the impersonal attitude I began to have toward the movies, I felt sorry for the men who had to play the villain’s part, while before I had sincerely hated them. My ambition to be a motion-picture actress was chilled considerably when I discovered that the action was not filmed consecutively. One of the charms of that profession, as I had formerly conceived it, was the living of those exciting and lovely stories which always turned out so well if one were the hero or the heroine. Having to separate the scenes would spoil it all.

Comments: American sociologist Herbert Blumer’s Movies and Conduct presents twelve studies of the influence of motion pictures upon the young, made by the Committee on Educational Research of the Payne Fund, at the request of the National Committee for the Study of Social Values in Motion Pictures. The study solicited autobiographical essays, mostly from undergraduate students of the University of Chicago, and presented extracts from this evidence in the text. This extract comes from the section ‘Emotional Detachment’. This film referred to is Reaching for the Moon (USA 1917), not the later Douglas Fairbanks film of the same title from 1930 (which is not a remake).

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Female, 19, white, college sophomore’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), p. 96

Text: Crying at a movie is my second nature. As soon as an event occurs which is the least bit sad my throat chokes up and very often I shed tears; I have never sobbed or made boisterous noises, thank goodness, for crying is a chief source of embarrassment with me; if I can get by with silent sorrow I feel all right. One of the saddest pictures I ever saw was Hardy’s novel “Tess of D’Urbervilles” dramatized on the screen. I took that so hard and lived through Tess’ part so real that I was embarrassed to go out on the street with my eyes all red and swollen. For that reason I do not enjoy a sad picture; it usually makes me miserable. Likewise “Way Down East,” “Ramona,” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” afforded me heartaches. I do not merely cry, but it seems I actually feel the pain as acutely as the actor himself. “Sorrel and Son” affected me so strangely that I cried over it the next day. Try as I might to control my tears I cannot, and I certainly do not find pleasure in crying.

Comments: American sociologist Herbert Blumer’s Movies and Conduct presents twelve studies of the influence of motion pictures upon the young, made by the Committee on Educational Research of the Payne Fund, at the request of the National Committee for the Study of Social Values in Motion Pictures. The study solicited autobiographical essays, mostly from undergraduate students of the University of Chicago, and presented extracts from this evidence in the text. This extract comes from the section ‘Emotional Possession: Sorrow and Pathos’. The films mentioned are Tess of the D’Urbervilles (USA 1924). Way Down East (USA 1920), Ramona (USA 1928) and Sorrell and Son (USA 1927).

Links:

Mass-Observation at the Movies

Source: Annie Whittle, quoted in Jeffrey Richards and Dorothy Sheridan (eds.), Mass-Observation at the Movies (London/New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), p. 134

Text: Mrs Annie Whittle, 40 Salisbury St (aged 65), regular cinema-goer (6 times per month), preference – American films

Comments: I go to the cinema primarily for relaxation and entertainment. A lot of American films are alright for Americans but not for us as the meaning is lost to us, i.e. various rackets. Like to see musicals but get fed up with that foot-tapping, a bit, alright, a lot, bored. Like to see films with good singers and beautiful natural scenery. Think films like Three Smart Girls are excellent, for their spontaneity and freshness. Think British musicals are excellent but the rest a long way of American. As yet waiting for the time to come when British films will portray ordinary people like the Americans do, not impossible if talent and something else is required.

Comments: Mass-Observation carried out a series of studies in 1930s and 1940s into how people in the UK lived, through a mixture of observation, diaries and invited comments. This comment comes from Mass-Observation’s research programme into cultural life in Bolton, Lancashire. The study began in 1938, and this comment is a response to a questionnaire issued in March 1938 asking Do you go to the cinema regularly? How many times a month do you go? Do you go regularly on the same day, if so which day? Do you think you see people on the screen who live like yourself? Which are the best films, British or American, or do you think both are the same? People were also asked to number the types of films they best, and to list what they would like to see more of in films. This respondee was a regular of the Odeon, Ashburner Street. Three Smart Girls (USA 1936) starred Deanna Durbin.

Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘College senior, a girl of 22 years, of native white parentage’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), pp. 213-217

Text: Considerably influenced by the gospel of H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, I have for the past few years held the complacent attitude that “the movies were made for morons,” that they were an inferior order of entertainment, and that I was possessed of an intellect decidedly too keen to be swayed by such a low order of art. But as I detach myself from this groundless generalization and consider objectively my motion picture experiences, it appears that, on the contrary, I am at least temporarily very acutely affected.

The movies could not have wielded a very great or enduring influence over me, however, for the reason that I have never been a chronic devotee. All the eighteen years of my life I have lived in a small town whose only picture palace was a small, dark, ill-ventilated hole, frequented by every type of person. As I was rather frail, and an only child, my mother regularly discouraged attendance there; I do not recall ever seeing a movie unaccompanied by one of my parents until I was eleven years old. The theater was called the Critic, a name indicative of the types of shows presented to attract the ardent Baptist population.

My first recollection of a movie is still a very vivid one. I could not have been more than five at the time, when Mother took me to a matinee to see Charlie Chaplin. We arrived early, just in the middle of a “serial,” which was shown in weekly installments. It was called “The Claw,” and revolved about a villainous character whose right hand was replaced by an iron hook. I can still see this claw reaching out from behind a bridge to grab the heroine. Even the following antics of the famous comedian failed to soften my terrified impressions, and for weeks after I slept with the light on at night and peered carefully under the bed each morning before setting foot on the floor.

I also remember seeing at a later date other “serials” in one of which a mother and her child, shipwrecked, drifted about the Atlantic Ocean clinging to a log, while the struggling husband and father drowned before their eyes; and in the other of which occurred a forest fire. All my earliest impressions were those of fear – very real and vivid.

A little later on, however, between the ages of about six and nine, the movies began to work their way into our play. At one period, our favorite game was “Sandstorm,” an idea derived directly from some desert picture now forgotten. The two little boys with whom I played and I would hide in our caravan, the davenport, and watch the storm sweep over the horizon. When it reached us, we would battle our way through it, eventually to fall prostrate in the middle of the room, where we would lie until the storm blew over. Then we would get up and start the game over.

Another popular pastime, which was undoubtedly affected by certain “Western” pictures was “Cowboy.” My father had at one time lived on a coffee plantation in Mexico and owned and provided us with all the necessary regalia – ten-gallon hats, spurs, ‘kerchiefs, and holsters. The pistols which went with the outfit we were not allowed to have, but carried instead carved wooden guns. Stories of Father’s own (fictitious?) experiences were combined with movie scenarios to form what was for two years our great game. I do not recall any specific instances of our imitating the two-reelers, but I do know that Father obtained and autographed for us greatly cherished photographs of the inimitable William S. Hart.

After I entered school, my tastes changed rapidly from the hairbreadth, wild and woolly Westerners and slap-stick comedies to more sentimental forms. Until the time I entered Junior High, I was interested in the actresses, the heroines. I preferred them sweet, blonde, and fluffy – everything that I was not. I doted on misty close-ups of tear-streamed faces. In the sixth grade, my best friend and I were constantly imitating Mary Miles Minter and Mary Pickford, respectively. Later on I became, in turn, Alice Calhoun and Constance Talmadge, but my friend remained true to her first crush. In classes we wrote notes to each other, and signed them “Mary,” “Alice,” or whatever names we had at the time adopted.

After the seventh grade, however, my attentions again shifted, this time to the male actors. I had become boy-conscious, and, affecting an utter disdain toward all boys of my acquaintance, I took delight in the handsome and heroic men of the screen. I liked nearly all of them, as long as they were neither too old nor too paternal (like Thomas Meighan), but I especially favored Charles Ray, Harrison Ford, and, above all, Wallace Reid. He epitomized all I thought young manhood should be clean, good-looking, daring, and debonair. All the girls of my age and most of the boys liked him. We saw such pictures as “Clarence,” “The Affairs of Anatole,” and “Mr. Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford.”

As a young high-school student, I attended the movies largely for the love scenes. Although I never admitted it to my best friend, the most enjoyable part of the entire picture was inevitably the final embrace and fade-out. I always put myself in the place of the heroine. If the hero was some man by whom I should enjoy being kissed (as he invariably was), my evening was a success and I went home in an elated, dreamy frame of mind, my heart beating rather fast and my usually pale cheeks brilliantly flushed. I used to look in the mirror somewhat admiringly and try to imagine Wallace Reid or John Barrymore or Richard Barthelmess kissing that face! It seems ridiculous if not disgusting now, but until my Senior year this was the closest I came to Romance. And then I fell in love with a boy that looked remarkably like
Dick Barthelmess.

I liked my movies pure Romance: beautiful heroines in distress, handsome gallants in love, gorgeous costumes, and happy endings. “When Knighthood Was in Flower,” “Robin Hood,” “Beau Brummel,” and “Monsieur Beaucaire” were favorites, although as a rule I didn’t like screen versions of books I had read and loved. (“The Three Musketeers” was an example of an adored book grossly insulted.) In a life which was monotonous with all the placidity of a Baptist small town, these movies and books were about all the excitement one could enjoy.

I never liked pictures with a moral, unless it was so subtly expressed that I was unaware of its preaching. Such movies as “The Ten Commandments,” and more recently the “King of Kings,” impressed me as gorgeous spectacles, but too flagrant in their moralizing, so that in parts I was bored to the point of antagonism. A renovated production of “Ten Nights in a Barroom” was so bad it bordered on a screamingly funny burlesque. Just recently, however, I saw “White Shadows in the South Seas,” and was surprised to discover how deeply I was affected by the propaganda.

Over-sexed plays were always more or less repulsive. I remember especially “Flesh and the Devil” with the Garbo-Gilbert combination and an older one starring Gloria Swanson and Valentino. I liked neither. The former embarrassed and the latter bored me.

I have always been unrestrained in my emotions at a motion picture. My uncontrollable weeping at sad movies has been a never-ending source of mortification. I recall first shedding tears over the fate of some deserted water-baby when I was about eight years old, and I have wept consistently and unfailingly ever since, from “Penrod and Sam” to “Beau Geste.” The latter, which I liked as well as any picture I have ever seen, caused actual sobbing both times I saw it. I weep at scenes in which others can see no pathos whatsoever. Recently I have refused to see a half-dozen notably sad shows because of their distressing effects.

I do not believe the movies have ever stimulated me to a real thought, as books have done. Neither have they influenced me on questions of morals, of right and wrong. They have given me a more or less fluctuating standard of the ideal man – in general, the good-looking, dreamy, boyish type – and the kind of lover he must be – sincere, thoughtful, and tender. They have given me my ideas of luxury – sunken baths, silken chaises-lounges, arrays of servants and powerful motors; of historical background – medieval castles, old Egyptian palaces, gay Courts; and of geographical settings – the moonlit water framed in palms of the South Seas, the snow fields of the far North, the Sahara, the French Riviera, and numerous others. I suppose they have from time to time influenced my conception of myself; although I was not aware of this until recently when I saw “A Woman of Affairs,” the film version of Michael Arlen’s “Green Hat.” For days after I was consciously striving to be the “Gallant Lady”; to face a petty world squarely and uncomplainingly; to see things with her broad, sophisticated vision; even to walk and to smoke with her serene nonchalance. I, too, wished to be a gallant lady.

On the whole, I doubt if the movies have wielded much of an influence on my life; not because they were incapable of it, but because they have had too little opportunity. In my youth, my family discouraged attendance at the local cinema, and as I grew older, I formed other interests. Since the first of October, I have seen no more than ten pictures. Two of these impressed me immensely; three of them I could not sit through. Last year I used to go mainly to hear the organ music, but with the advent of the Vitaphone, this attraction is dispensed with. I dislike the stage shows presented at the leading theaters, and also the “talkies.” I usually attend a movie for rest and relaxation, and a bellowing, hollow voice or a raucous vaudeville act does not add to my pleasure. I like my movies unadulterated, silent, and far-between.

Comments: American sociologist Herbert Blumer’s Movies and Conduct presents twelve studies of the influence of motion pictures upon the young, made by the Committee on Educational Research of the Payne Fund, at the request of the National Committee for the Study of Social Values in Motion Pictures. The study solicited autobiographical essays, mostly from undergraduate students of the University of Chicago, and presented extracts from this evidence in the text. This extract comes from Appendix C, ‘Typical Examples of the Longer Motion Picture Autobiographies’.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

British Cinemas and their Audiences

Source: J.P. Mayer, British Cinemas and their Audiences: Sociological Studies (London: Dennis Dobson, 1948), pp. 125-127

Text: AGE: 36, SEX: M, OCCUPATION: TRANSPORT MANAGER, FATHER’S OCCUPATION: COMMERCIAL TRAVELLER, NATIONALITY: BRITISH

From an early age I remember being taken by my mother and father to a local cinema every Thursday evening. Most of the films I saw in those days have faded into oblivion, but I still recall laughing very much at Max Linder’s Trip to America, and being very thrilled by Ride on a Runaway Express. Maybe this latter exhibited the first glimmerings of an interest in technique and the moving camera.

However, it remained in abeyance for many years, for when I reached the age of about fourteen, and joined a tennis club, I ceased to take much interest in films. Even in those days, I must have been critically minded, and became tired of the eternal sameness and lack of originality of the majority of films. For several years tennis occupied most of my spare time and only very occasionally did I enter a cinema, attracted by something or other, maybe a star, maybe publicity, (at this date I can recall no important reason), and the result was to keep me in an apathetic attitude to films.

After going to work, I began dropping into films occasionally on the way home from the City. And then something happened. I discovered that there was a way of discriminating between films and that was to find out who directed them. I don’t know how I first got hold of this idea, but it has been my guiding star ever since.

The first film I remember seeing that showed me the possibilities of technique in the film was Asquith’s Shooting Stars, which, although actually directed by A.V. Bramble was mainly interesting because of his script.

About this time I discovered the periodical Close Up, which, high-faluting and precious as much of its writing was, did give me an entirely new angle on films, and made me long to be able to see the films mentioned therein. A few of these, mainly German films, did succeed in getting into cinemas, but it has always been one of my greatest regrets that the film The Love of Jeanne Ney, greatly eulogised in that magazine, I missed when it was generally released round the Gaumont circuit, owing to its being very stupidly renamed Lusts of the Flesh, and my not recognising it in that guise.

It was shortly after this that a little ‘flee-pit’ [sic] in a back street amongst some of the worst slums in … started a programme of ‘screen classics’. ‘Talkies’ had arrived at most cinemas by this time, but the manager was only interested in showing the best of the silents. To this little back-street slum cinema, with wooden forms, came people from all over London to programmes of films never seen before or since. The double feature programme changed twice a week and every film shown was of interest to connoisseurs. During the two or three months this season lasted, we saw Mother, Storm Over Asia, The End of St. Petersburg, Turksib, Earth, The Student of Prague, Warning Shadows, Berlin, La Passion de Jeanne D’Arc, Les Neauveux [sic] Messieurs and many other films of a like nature, some of which thrilled me immensely, especially Turksib, Mother and The Student of Prague.

Always at these shows I made a point of speaking to the manager afterwards to see what treasures he had in store for us. On one of these occasions, I met a girl who was also discussing films with him, and she was reading Paul Rotha’s The Film Till Now. This book had only just been published and was difficult to get hold of, and when I expressed my desire to read it, she took my name and address, and eventually wrote to me and lent me the book.

This book which gives a historical survey of silent film, together with Elmer Rice’s A Voyage to Purilia, which I read shortly afterwards, and which is a brilliant satire on films, bringing in every cliché ever used in films, practically finished my education in cinema. Never again could I be fobbed off with the inferior, the shoddy, the meretricious, the hackneyed story, the inevitable coincidence.

And what since? It has all been rather in the nature of an anti-climax. I had seen the pick of the finest films almost all together, and what masterpieces I have seen since have been spread out over the years, and with the complete submerging of the silent film in the swamp of the talkies, silent films have been seen less and less, except at occasional film societies’ showings or sub-standard versions given by enthusiastic amateurs. And for all the brilliance of some talking films, the complete unity and artistry of the silent films has never been recaptured. The Avenue Pavilion and the Forum continued the good work of the back-street … cinema, and to-day, the number of cinemas has increased but the quality of the films has, alas, very considerably depreciated.

Turksib, which, to this day, is still my number 1 film, and which I have seen 19 times (a film, in my opinion, unlike that of most people who are only interested in seeing a film once, because then they ‘know it’ when it is good enough, should be treated like a symphony, something to experience numerous times, and each time providing new delight) first showed me the scope of the film. Here was a film without actors, and with human beings dwarfed by the magnitude of the theme of the building of a railroad. This interest in the documentary movement, has increased with the years. Here, away from the studios and the aping of the theatre, is the true medium for the film, and until producers realise this, and the public appreciate that the film, like no other medium, can ‘present the world to the world’, as one of the commentators of the ridiculously inadequate newsreels is for-ever telling us, until then the full scope of the film will not be utilised. We have seen a trend in the right direction in many of the magnificent British documentaries and fictional films with a documentary approach, dealing with the War. Let us hope they will appreciate the great power of the film for ‘winning the Peace’.

My interest in films has made me wish to make films myself, but except for a little amateur work, I have never succeeded in getting ‘into’ films, although I have hopes at the moment of entering a small documentary group. In the meantime, I have maintained my interest, by writing occasional articles for various papers, and am at the moment engaged on a history of British Films.

Comments: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His British Cinemas and their Audiences collates motion picture autobiographies submitted through competitions in Picturegoer magazine. This contribution comes from the section ‘Films and the Pattern of Life’. The films mentioned are Max Comes Across (USA 1917), A Ride on a Runaway Train (USA 1921), Shooting Stars (UK 1928), Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney (Germany 1927), Mat (USSR 1927), Potomok Chingiskhana (USSR 1928), Konets Sankt-Peterburga (USSR 1927), Turksib (USSR 1929), Der Student von Prag (Germany 1926), Schatten (Germany 1923), Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (Germany 1927), La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (France 1928) and Les nouveaux messieurs (France 1929). Paul Rotha’s The Film Till Now was published in 1930; Elmer Rice’s A Voyage to Purilia was published in 1930 (having been serialised in 1929). Close Up was published 1927-1933.

Sociology of the Film

Source: Unnamed 17-year old female, quoted in J.P. Mayer, Sociology of Film: Studies and Documents (London: Faber and Faber, 1946), pp. 213-215

Text: Have Films Ever Appeared in Your Dreams?

Yes, films have often appeared in my dreams.

I think films are a wonderful medium of entertainment, one which we should think about a great deal. When I see a beautiful film, as when I see a beautiful play or hear a lovely piece of music at a concert or on the radio, I like to think about it by myself and when I go to bed I dream about them.

For me to think about and therefore to dream about a film, it has to be one of the first class or else to be very unusual. The acting must be good, the voice arresting for me to see or hear them in my dreams. I never dream of slapstick comedy, or even a thrilling murder. When I see a film it may interest me during the couple of hours I am in the cinema, but I may forget it promptly on leaving it. Sometimes, however, I see a film which I like very much, one
which I could see again perhaps, on the way home from the theatre I think about it, and at night, asleep, certain scenes will come back to me. Perhaps it will be a line spoken by one of the actors, maybe a glance or gesture.

I can always remember, when I was a child seeing The Great Ziegfeld. In those days it was considered spectacular, and in my dreams for many nights afterwards I dreamt of the revolving stage, the glamourous (glamorous) girls and those lovely dogs. In those days too I used to see Shirley Temple a great deal. At night I used to re-live her adventures and unhappy moments. Wonderful things like films have a strange impression on a child’s mind, and now
that I am seventeen, films still have a great fascination for me.

I went to see The Man in Grey some time ago, a picture which I found thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating. At night I kept seeing the terrifying look on James Mason’s face as he beat Hester to death. I could not get it out of my dreams for some time.

After I had seen the picture The Great Waltz, I did not dream of scenes or people but of the haunting Strauss waltzes. It was the same with Love Story when parts of the Cornish Rhapsody appeared in my dreams. Also The Great Victor Herbert and A Song to Remember.

A week or so ago I saw Madonna of the Seven Moons. I enjoyed it and thought about it quite a bit. When you think about a thing a lot before going to sleep, it is likely that you should dream about it. But no! For some reason or other I kept hearing Patricia Roc say when she saw her mother — ‘It isn’t possible, no one could be so lovely’. While on the subject of split minds, I always remember going to see Dr. Jeckyll [sic] and Mr. Hyde on a foggy night, and having the most terrible nightmare afterwards. I kept seeing the face change from good to bad and vice versa.

After seeing Blossoms in the Dust, lilies kept appearing in my dreams. The night after seeing Since You Went Away the scene in the hay was re-lived in my dreams.

Rebecca was one of the best films I have ever seen, and therefore quite natural that I should think and dream about it a lot. I often saw in my dreams Joan Fontaine’s shy face. And in many of my dreams I saw Laurence Olivier’s expression when he told his wife about Rebecca. I heard that wonderful voice saying: ‘Do you think I killed her, loving her; I hated her.’ It was a wonderful piece of acting.

I think the him I dreamed about more than any other was Gone with the Wind. I could see it over and over again and still dream about it. How often did I dream I saw Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara climb the stairs at Twelve Oaks after telling Ashley that she loved him, she was so proud, so beautiful. How often did I see her treading her way among the wounded in Atlanta. And I could see Melanie’s face when she was so ill. A scene I shall never forget was of Scarlett on her return home, standing in the desolate garden and saying ‘As God is my witness, I’m never going to be hungry again’. You could not see her face only her silouhette (silhouette).

I dreamed of her also standing in the windy orchard almost at the end of her tether. I saw over and over again Clark Gable’s eyes as she fell down the stairs. I dreamt I saw Scarlett entering Melanie’s party, in her red dress and her head up, ready for anything. I saw the sweet smile of Bonnie, Mammie’s disapproving face, and Gerald’s expression as he opened the door to Scarlett.

The scene I saw most was the last one where she lay on the stairs thinking everything she loved most in the world had gone, and she heard the voice of her father, Ashley and Rhett coming to her telling her that Tara was left. I saw her stiffen and say ‘After all, tomorrow is another day’. What a lovely ending for a film!

I could go on for ever telling of all the films I have dreamed of, but it would take too long. Films take my mind off things and I can always relax in a cinema. They make me forget this world and live in another. Therefore I like to dream of good films and sometimes I dream that there were more good films to dream about. Don’t you?

Comments: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His Sociology of Film draws on a large amount of evidence gathered through questionnaires and submissions received through invitations published in Picturegoer magazine. The above response comes from the section ‘The Adult and the Cinema’, and is the first half of of the picturegoer’s response. She is described as Age – 17 years, Profession – junior clerk, Nationality – British (London), Sex – female, Profession of father – furrier.