The Crowd

Source: Extract from Louis Delluc, ‘The Crowd’ (originally ‘La Foule’, Paris-Midi, 24 August 1918, p. 2), reproduced and translated in Richard Abel (ed.), French Film Theory and Criticism: a History/Anthology, 1907-1939 – Volume I: 1907-1929 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988), p. 161

Text: Another audience. At the Saturday evening screening of the only cinema palace of the town, the Tout-Aurillac, a first-run and second-run house. Convalescents, billeted soldiers, respectable families, respectable young girls, the smoke from pipes, the ritornellos of an untuned piano, all in a deep, dark, cold cinema with Le Courrier de Washington on the marquee.

They also screened La Lumière qui s’éteint, an English film previewed in Paris last winter. Despite its almost unanimous lack of culture, the audience was deeply moved by the inner adventures of Maisie, Dick, and Torp. And you know what became of the great Kipling’s work on film. An ordinary anecdote, badly decorated and photographed, with a sad, heavy actor playing Dick – when will we see Douglas Fairbanks in the part? – a fop as Torp, a fool as Maisie, and unbelievable Arab battles, let’s be blunt, a cardboard Sudanese Khartoum. There is a film to do over again.

Why was this rough peasant audience affected in front of this artless and unauthorized gaucherie? Will it understand even more when the same drama becomes a quite beautiful film?

Comments: Louis Delluc (1890-1924) was a French film director and pioneering film critic, writing on diverse aspects of film culture for French newspapers from 1917 onwards. Le Courrier de Washington was the French title for the American serial The Perils of Pauline (1914). La Lumière qui s’éteint is presumably The Light That Failed (1916), an American rather than an English film, directed by Edward José and starring Robert Edeson as Dick, Claude Fleming as Torp and Lillian Tucker as Maisie. Aurillac is in the Auvergne region of south-central France.

Jane Addams Condemns Race Prejudice Film

Source: ‘Jane Addams Condemns Race Prejudice Film’, New York Evening Post, 13 March 1915, p. 4

Text: Jane Addams Condemns Race Prejudice Film

Calls It “Pernicious Caricature of Negro Race.”

Producer Seems to have Gathered Most Vicious and Grotesque Individuals to Show Them as Representatives of Entire Race, says Head of Hull House After Seeing “The Birth of a Nation” Moving Picture Drama.

“Pernicious caricature of the negro race,” is the way in which Miss Jane Addams of Hull House, Chicago, expressed her opinion to-day of the motion-picture dramas. “The Birth of a Nation,” now being shown in New York, in which is told a story of Reconstruction days and Ku Klux Klan violence in the South following the Civil War. After having seen the film, Miss Addams softened no terms in her condemnation of it.

“The producer seems to have followed the principle of gathering the most vicious and grotesque individuals he could find among colored people, and showing them as representatives of the truth about the entire race,” she said in describing her impressions of the play. “It is both unjust and untrue. The same method could be followed to smirch the reputation of any race. For instance, it would be easy enough to go about the slums of a city and bring together some of the criminals and degenerates and take pictures of them purporting to show the character of the white race. It would no more be the truth about the white race than this is about the black.

An Anachronism

“One of the most unfortunate things about this film is that it appeals to race prejudice upon the basis of conditions of half a century ago, which have nothing to do with the facts we have to consider to-day. Even then it does not tell the whole truth. It is claimed that the play is historical: but history is easy to misuse. It is undoubtedly true that some of the elements of the plot are based on actual events, but they are only a part of the picture. You can use history to demonstrate anything, when you take certain of its facts and emphasize them to the exclusion of the rest.

“Nobody denies that in the haste and confusion of the period after the Civil War the men in control of politics did very tyrannical and shortsighted things; and made a great many mistakes. The ‘carpet-baggers’ from the North, who went in and influenced the negroes against the interests of the whites unquestionably did a great deal of harm; but to present the tendency they represented as the only one is as unfair to the North as to claim that all Southerners wanted to oppress the negroes would be to the South. Then the film shows a ridiculous scene in a Southern Legislature, to which the election of a majority of negroes has been obtained by defrauding whites of their votes. Negro legislators are shown taking off their shoes at their desks, drinking whiskey from flasks while making speeches, acting in all sorts of uncouth ways. It is laughably false to the whole truth.

“Then there is the impression that is created of the Ku Klux Klan — perfectly ridiculous. The Klan takes the place of the melodrama hero, always doing the noble thing and rescuing the heroine in distress. There are the revolting scenes of the pursuit of one white girl, which rouse feeling against the negro; and then there follows a second similar scene of attempted forced marriage between a powerful mulatto politician — there may have been such vicious individuals as this man is shown to be, but they were certainly exceptions — and a white girl. Of course, the Klan breaks in just in time to prevent the success of the design. At every turn the Klan is made to appeal to the enthusiasm of the spectator as the heroic defender of a victimized people. None of the outrageous, vicious, misguided outrages, which it certainly committed, are shown. I am not interested in loading blame for those outrages on the men who made up the Klan. It was natural that in the heat of the times they made mistakes, just as did the men of the North. I am simply contending that what this play tells of it is not the whole truth.

The Part of the Klan

“Of course the spectators applaud the Klan. It is not shown to them except to stir their sympathy. Of course they applaud slights and contempt for the negroes; they are shown only as despicable brutes.

“It is certainly to be hoped that such a film can be suppressed. As an appeal to race prejudice, it is full of danger.”

“Do you recall any portions of the play that you found particularly objectionable?” Miss Addams was asked.

“No, it was rather the whole tone of the second part,” was the reply. “Of course, there are the unpleasant episodes in which white girls figure; but the evil is rather in the dominant attitude of mind toward the negro. As I have said, it seems to me an attempt to make him appear worse than childish, and brutal and vicious — actually grotesque and primitive and contemptible.”

“How far did you observe that this attitude of mind influenced the spectators?”

“It is hard to tell, of course. Certainly I felt that they were made to feel a prejudice against negroes; some showed approval in applause when the hero refuses to shake hands with the mulatto politician, and they were roused to the point of clapping enthusiastically, before the end of the pictures, whenever the Ku Klux Klan appeared. That was the noticeable thing about the play — the success of the glorification of the activities of the Ku Klux Klan, contrasted with the base and elemental character of the negroes misrepresented in the ludicrously perverted scenes of plantation life. The production is the most subtle form of untruth — a half-truth.”

Comments: Jane Addams (1860-1935) was an American social worker and social reformer. Her criticism of The Birth of a Nation (USA 1915) was reproduced in many other newspapers and circulated widely by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which was lobbying for a boycott of the film. Criticism of the film was widespread among the African-American community, but rare from white Americans such as Addams. Her reference to the director D.W. Griffith having selected “the most vicious and grotesque individuals he could find among colored people” suggests she did not realise that the leading black parts in the film were played by white actors in blackface. She viewed the film in New York.

Facts about Birth of a Nation Play at the Colonial

Source: Mrs K.J. Bills, ‘Facts about Birth of a Nation Play at the Colonial’, The Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition), 11 September 1915, p. 3

Text: Facts about Birth of a Nation Play at the Colonial

One Who Has Seen and Knows About the Early Days the Author Tries to Falsely Depict Tells It Like It Was

I went to see the “Birth of a Nation” – not because I wanted to see it, but to be able to criticize intelligently. It is impossible to know what a play is unless one is an eye witness. I had heard so much said for and against the play I was determined to see for myself. There is nothing in the first part to which any reasonable person would object. It deals with historical facts which hold a person almost spellbound.

The second part – well, it is such an exaggeration that to a person who really knew and lived during that period it is not at all interesting. It is false from beginning to end. It is meant to create a greater race prejudice than already exists between the races. I shall mention some of the false impressions: Was there ever a congress composed entirely of Negroes who passed laws to govern all the whites in the South? Was there ever a time when the southern white people were at all as submissive to the blacks as this picture would have people believe? Does anyone believe that after the war the Negroes had no other ambition than to marry white women? Someone has said we as a race have enough hardships heaped upon us without creating a picture which actually lies. I wonder if Mr. Griffin [sic] lived during those days, and does he really remember things as they were.

The outrages of the Ku Klux were nothing like the picture shows them to be. There was no noise, no fast horseback riding, no clash between them and the Negroes. It is true they went around on horseback, but very quietly, like thieves. No one knew or heard any horses’ feet. I remember well when a small child the Ku Klux came to my father’s cabin. They knocked quietly, called him by name and made him open the door. Though they were masked, he knew their voices, for they were some of the gentlemen of his master’s family. They asked for his gun. He gave it to them. They left as quietly as they came. They went to every other Negro cabin and did the same thing. There was no resistance, no fighting.

The part showing the black man chasing the little girl, compelling her to jump off a high place and kill herself, is meant only to stir up hatred. Nothing of this kind has ever happened since the world was created. the Negro has never been so brutal. Why was not some of this brutality shown while their masters were at war? It was then the Negroes had full charge of their masters’ families. They protected them as no other person would have done.

I cannot understand why this was not cut out by the censors. They claim to be so very particular. No other race but this black American race would stand for the exhibition of pictures which are mean to poison the mind as this picture is. The Irish, German, Jewish, Polish, Swedish or any other race would have wrecked the Colonial theater long ago. No judge or censor bureau would have permitted it if it were showing any other race than the Negro.

Comments: Mrs K.J. Bills was a suffragist and an occasional contributor to The Chicago Defender, a newspaper for African-American readers. The Birth of a Nation (USA 1915), based on the novel and play The Clansman by Thomas Dixon, was a feature film set during the American Civil War and the period immediately after. It was first released in February 1915. Its inflammatory scenes of supposed African-American behaviour and its lionising of the Ku Klux Klan aroused great controversy even while the film gained great praise and attracted huge audiences. There was a strong campaign from members of the African-American community to have the film censored or banned, and screenings were halted in some cities, including Chicago (though only temporarily). The film’s director D.W. Griffith was born in 1875, years after the Civil War, but his father had served as a Confederate army colonel. The Colonial was a combined movie house and variety theatre. My thanks to Beth Corzo-Duchardt for having brought this piece to my attention.

The "Televisor"

Source: ‘The “Televisor”: Successful Test of New Apparatus’, The Times, 28 January 1926, p. 9

Text: Members of the Royal Institution and other visitors to a laboratory in an upper room in Frith-Street, Soho, on Tuesday saw a demonstration of apparatus invented by Mr. J.L. Baird, who claims to have solved the problem of television. They were shown a transmitting machine, consisting of a large wooden revolving disc containing lenses, behind which was a revolving shutter and a light sensitive cell. It was explained that by means of the shutter and lens disc an image of articles or persons standing in front of the machine could be made to pass over the light sensitive cell at high speed. The current in the cell varies in proportion to the light falling on it, and this varying current is transmitted to a receiver where it controls a light behind an optical arrangement similar to that at the sending end. By this means a point of light is caused to traverse a ground glass screen. The light is dim at the shadows and bright at the high lights, and crosses the screen so rapidly that the whole image appears simultaneously to the eye.

For the purposes of the demonstration the head of a ventriloquist’s doll was manipulated as the image to be transmitted, though the human face was also reproduced. First on a receiver in the same room as the transmitter and then on a portable receiver in another room, the visitors were shown recognizable reception of the movements of the dummy head and of a person speaking. The image as transmitted was faint and often blurred, but substantiated a claim that through the “Televisor” as Mr. Baird has named his apparatus, it is possible to transmit and reproduce instantly the details of movement, and such things as the play of expression on the face.

It has yet to be seen to what extent further developments will carry Mr. Baird’s system towards practical use. He has overcome apparently earlier failures to construct light sensitive cells which would function at the high speed demanded, and he as is now assured of financial support in his work, he will be able to improve and elaborate his apparatus. Application has been made to the Postmaster-General for an experimental broadcasting licence and trials with the system may shortly be made from a building in St. Martin’s Lane.

Comments: John Logie Baird (1888-1946) gave the first public demonstration of a working television system before members of the Royal Institution and a single news reporter, from The Times, on 26 January 1926, in his rooms at 22 Frith Street, London. (Earlier exhibitions at Selfridge’s store in March 1925 had featured silhouettes rather than ‘true’ television with graduated tones). The 3x5cm images shown were composed of just thirty vertical lines, and were shown through a viewer pointed at the edge of a spinning disc. The BBC began experimental broadcasts using Baird’s 30-line system in 1929.

All the Gaits of Horses

Source: ‘All the Gaits of Horses’, The Sun [New York], 18 November 1882, p. 1

Text: ALL THE GAITS OF HORSES

SHOWN IN MOVING PICTURES BY THE ZOOPRAXISCOPE

Motions that Artists’s Eyes Have Failed to Follow – The Exact Difference Between Ambling, Pacing, Trotting, and Galloping.

Professor Eadweard Muybridge delivered last evening, in the Turf Club Theatre, an exceedingly interesting lecture upon the attitudes of animals in motion, illustrating it by photographs made by instantaneous process and by a machine called the Zoöpraxiscope which caused animals and human beings to appear in actual motion upon the screen in a startingly lifelike manner. He explained first the ingenious apparatus by which those pictures were made – a series of twenty-four cameras each fitted with an electro-exposer that exposed the negative to the light for one five-thousandth of a second when an animal in motion before it broke a thread and made the electric connection.

The series of pictures thus produced represented every movement of any animal for the observation of which this apparatus was employed and revolutionized the old ideas of the motions of quadrupeds in their several gaits, especially of those of horses. It had been a matter of dispute whether the horse ever had three feet on the ground at one time when walking. These pictures settled that. He always has two feet on the ground and part of the time three, the two feet being alternately diagonals and laterals.

Wherever a walking horse is supported on two feet and the suspended feet are inside, the suspended feet are invariably on the same side; where he is supported on two extended feet the suspended feet inside are diagonals. If a horse drops the left hind foot on the ground the next to follow will be the left fore foot, followed by the right hind and finally by the right fore.

Egyptian, Assyrian and Roman pictures were shown to demonstrate that an erroneous idea of this motion prevailed in the earliest attempts at art. It was perpetuated in the famous statue of Marcus Aurelius, which has been the model of almost all equestrian statues to the present day, and is as conspicuous in the equestrian statues of Washington, in Boston and in Union Square as in any of the old Egyptian or Assyrian pictures. It is not possible for a horse to walk in the way there depicted. Meissonier had a correct idea of a horse’s walk when he painted his great picture of Napoleon in 1814 but the critics ridiculed it and pronounced it incorrect. Now he has the satisfaction of knowing that he was right and they were all wrong. Miss Thompson also was correct and the critics derided her for being so. Now the laugh is on the other side.

A dozen pictures were next shown illustrative of a horse ambling, a gait in which he is never altogether clear of the ground, but is supported alternately by one and two feet, the single foot being alternately a fore and a hind foot, and the two foot alternately laterals and diagonals. This was best understood when actually represented by the zoöpraxiscope and the demonstration was so perfect as to elicit great applause from the spectators.

The racking or pacing gait was next amply illustrated. In it the horse moves the lateral foot simultaneously instead of the diagonal foot as in the trot. Then the trot was shown in an exhaustive series of photographs covering every movement of a trotting horse both at a slow and a fast trot. In the latter the horse was, at one point, in his stride entirely off the ground, the right fore and hind feet quite clear and others not quite touching. In a fast trot time the horse invariably puts the heel down first, never the ball of the foot or toe.

By an ingenious arrangement of five cameras five pictures were successfully made simultaneously from different points of view, for artists’ use, of horses in the several attitudes of motion and several of these foreshortened animals, when thrown upon the screen, were astonishingly comic however true to nature they unquestionably were.

The canter was next shown in which during a portion of his stride the horse has three feet on the ground and the fourth almost touching it. Then the gallop was illustrated. A fast horse going rapidly, Mr. Muybridge said, will be in the air three times in a single stride, he believed, but this was only his conjecture arguing from the illustrations he had obtained.

The lecturer reverted again to ancient history showing the old Egyptian and Assyrian models of the running horse – models blindly followed by artists ever since – in which the animal is presented poising himself on both hind feet extended far behind with his fore feet stretched far out ahead of him together. The North American Indians had a much more correct idea of the motion of a horse as was demonstrated by their rude pictures upon a buffalo robe that Lafayette bought when in this country and took back with him to Paris.

The horse as he appears in jumping was the subject of the final series of horse pictures, and afforded some of the most surprising and brilliant effects of the zoöpraxiscope. In response to a question of an auditor as to whether the horse, in jumping, got his power from his hind legs, the lecturer replied that he undoubtedly did, that he raised the front part of his body with his fore legs and took his spring from his hind legs. In speaking of horses jumping he said that the horse of which some of these pictures were made had risen 15 feet in front of a 3 ft. 6 in. hurdle, cleared it, and alighted 11 feet beyond it. In alighting from a jump the horse always lands first on his fore feet, with them 36 or 40 inches apart.

Following these pictures were a long series of illustrations of the various gaits of oxen, a wild bull, Newfoundland dog, hound, deer, goat and hog. In speaking the motions of the ox, Mr. Muybridge criticised Rosa Bonheur sharply, pointing out that in her picture of three yokes of draught oxen laboring, she misssed the natural movements of the beasts. The goat runs like a horse and the deer like the hound, bounding rather than running. In one part of the deer’s stride its attitude was very near to that which artists have so long inaccurately made as that of the running horse.

Then there were many more instantaneous photographs of Hazaek walking, and running, and jumping; of athletes boxing, turning plain somersaults and twisting somersaults. “Hazael was very much astonished at the various attitudes in which he had unconsciously placed himself when jumping,” remarked the lecturer. “And I should think he would be,” responded a voice from among the audience in the darkness in a tone of conviction that set everybody laughing. The pictures that astonished Hazael certainly did show him in a wondrous series of twists.

Photographs of pigeons and sea gulls in flight, beautiful pictures, with the birds in an infinite variety of positions upon an exquisite background of clouds concluded the exhibition. Remarking upon them, the lecturer pointed out birds that at the moment of being photographed had their wings down below their bodies, and said that but two peoples had over pictured birds in that natural position, the Egyptians and the Japanese.

Comments: Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) was a British photographer whose developments in instantaneous sequence photography, most famously of horses galloping, led the way to motion pictures. Muybridge was able to show his photographic sequences in motion by use of his invention, the Zoöpraxiscope. This projected silhouette images based on the photographs from a rotating glass disc. In effect the result was a proto-animation derived from the original photographs. Muybridge lectured extensively with the Zoöpraxiscope in Europe and America from 1880 onwards. Jean-Ernest Louis Meissonier and Rosa Bonheur were French artists. George Hazael was a renowned British athlete who settled in America.

Links: Copy at Chronicling America

A Cinema in the Harbour

Source: Extract from Joseph Roth (trans. Michael Hofmann), ‘A Cinema in the Harbour’, in Report from a Parisian Paradise: Essays from France 1925-1939 (New York: W.W. Norton, 2004), pp. 64-66 . Originally published in German in Frankfurter Zeitung, 4 November 1925

Text: The cinema faces the ships. From out at sea a man who has long lived without the pleasures of terra firma can take out his binoculars and make out the large, colourful posters. The cinema goes by the modest name “Cosmos.” Today, it is showing the film called Red Wolves.

The Red Wolves are a band of robbers in the Abruzzi. They have kidnapped the beautiful Margot and hidden her in a high tower miles from anywhere. Ah, but what is miles from anywhere, how high is high? A brave young man by the name of Cesare joins the Red Wolves, but only for appearances: What he really wants is to free Margot.

You probably imagine joining a band of robbers is a simple matter? Let me tell you! It’s incredibly difficult.You need to take a battery of tests, in wrestling, in knife fighting, and in arm wrestling. This series of tests takes up most of the film. Cesare comes through them and gains the applause not only of the Red Wolves but of the audience here, who dream of being robbers in the Abruzzi.

The film about the Red Wolves is screened eight times a day, from ten in the morning until midnight. Cesare passes his tests eight times a day, and eight times the audience gets enraptured, a third of them spending the entire day in the cinema. This one-third are women and children. By day it’s cooler in the dark cinema than it is in their own cramped apartments and in the even more cramped streets. So the women go there to cool off. Children get in for nothing. Every adult visitor brings at least four children with her. She pays for one seat and occupies five.

In the evening the men, dockworkers in the harbour, come along. They eat, they wash, and they go to the cinema. They watched and cheered Cesare’s deeds yesterday and the day before yesterday. But it’s not possible to see enough of such heroism, if you are nothing more than a dockworker – with the dream in your heart of being a robber in the Abruzzi.

Even more romantic than a harbour is the robbers’ cave in the Abruzzi. The day labourer who is today a fisherman, tomorrow gets taken on as a seaman, and the day after finds himself in a distant port watching the film about the Red Wolves finds his life insufficiently romantic.

I like to imagine the robbers in the Abruzzi going to the cinema to see a film about the sea dogs of Marseilles. The robbers in the mountain envy the men of the port. The robber treats his calling as a humdrum job, and dreams of something romantic and exotic elsewhere. It is these reciprocal yearnings that make the film industry tick.

And yet the men in the harbour have roughly the same traits as the men of the mountains. The dockers stab with Corsican knives; they are passionate arm wrestlers with their friends, a stage wrestling matches with their colleagues. They are pleased to see that these same recreations are also popular in the Abruzzi. While still sitting in the cinema, they pull out their knives, and, not taking their eyes off the screen, give their neighbour a playful little stab.

The neighbour, who doesn’t stand for this sort of nonsense, challenges his friend to step up in front of the screen and make like Cesare.

So in the cinema, you don’t just see the deeds of men of the Abruzzi but also those of the men of Marseilles.

Meanwhile the pianist keeps banging out La Fille du Régiment. No wonder the viewers are getting restive. They want a different tune. The pianist gets up, walks out, and the film continues without music.

A little later I see a large, angry-looking man. He’s not putting up with the piano-player’s rudeness. One knows what it means when a very large, very broad man, with a broad red belt slung around his hips, with about one inch of forehead and with hands like iron shovels, won’t stand for the impertinence of a tiny piano player in evening dress and umbrella.

Five minutes later the pianist is wriggling in the iron grip of the irate cinemagoer, the lights go on, and everyone laughs. The giant waves to the crowd with his left hand, plunks the pianist down in front of his instrument, and decrees the tune desired by the majority.

And the film carries on. …

Comments: Joseph Roth (1894-1939) was an Austrian journalist and novelist, best known for his novel Radetzky March. I have not been able to identify any film of this period called ‘The Red Wolves’ (or a translation of this) or which features a robber band called by that name.

The Wonders of the Kinetoscope

Source: ‘The Wonders of the Kinetoscope’, Pall Mall Gazette, 18 October 1894, p. 7

Text: THE WONDERS OF THE KINETOSCOPE. MR. EDISON’S NEWEST INVENTION.

Mr. Edison is the miracle worker of the modern age. The newest of his inventions was on view at 70, Oxford-street, last night. It is not an easy task to describe the kinetoscope, but here is a general suggestion of the thing. The Kinetoscope is, in the first instance, photography, many times multiplied in point of speed. By Mr. Edison’s invention the movements of a given body are taken at the rate of forty-five a second. These movements are transmitted to a celluloid film forty-three feet long, and underneath the film shines the electric light. The result to the looker-on is that all these movements are co-ordinated after the natural fashion, and a representation of ordinary human movements is obtained in a manner little short of marvellous – if that. The idea is to wed kinetoscopy to photography. By this means the action of a speaker as well as his words will be made plain to the audience, and a record may be preserved for future generations. The phonograph will store up the tones and the kinetoscope the action of the orator. Thus two centuries from now the oratory and the action of Lord Salisbury or Mr. Gladstone may be effectively present to the people of those days. Mr. Edison hopes to be able to throw the results of the kinetoscope upon the magic-lantern screen, and this, accompanied by the phonograph, will, in the language of the halls doubtless be “a great popular” success.

Comments: The Kinetoscope peepshow was previewed to the press on 17 October 1894 by Edison agents Maguire & Baucus at 70 Oxford Street, London, and opened to the public the following day. A sound recording exists of Gladstone’s voice, but the only film of him shows his funeral. Film exists of Lord Salisbury (the then Prime Minister), but not a sound recording of his voice.

The Movies in Moscow

Source: V.P., extract from ‘The Movies in Moscow’, The Manchester Guardian, 5 January 1927, p. 16

Text: Since the vogue of “Potemkin” it has been recognised that we must reckon, both artistically and politically, with the Russian historical film. It is well to remember that under the Romanoffs historical drama was practically forbidden on the Russian stage; Alexis Tolstoy’s “Czar Feodor” was an exception, and even it was cut. With such a past, is it to be wondered at that among the hundred films made this year by the Soviets’ two big companies the majority are historical? Consider some of the titles: “The Year 1905,” “The Ninth of January,” “Pushkin and Nicolai the First,” “Rasputin’s Plot,” “The End of Koltchak,” “Ivan the Terrible,” “The Decembrists,” “Black Sunday,” “The Wings of the Slave.” As for the historical accuracy of these stories, we say the Soviets distort. The retort that they merely correct a previous distortion which silence has shaped, as a hole in the ground shapes the earth about its mouth.

When I asked my Russian friends on a recent visit to Moscow “What motion pictures are on now, and what shall I see?” they answered, “Our beautiful new film ‘Matt’ you must see. It is beautiful, as splendid as “Potemkin”; but of course it is about the revolution. It shows us again our sorrows. So we ourselves like best our newest comic picture ‘The Case of the Three Million.'”

The seats at the “Kino” were from forty kopecks to a rouble, and, wishing to be as inconspicuous a stranger as possible, I compromised on a fifty-kopeck place. Yes, said the girl at the window, the picture had just begun, but, of course, I could enter. And would I not like her to keep an extra five kopecks of the change and give me this postcard instead? The extra was for the British miners – it was not obligatory, but it would be gracious of me. The postcard was a picture of Lenin making a speech.

Then I went upstairs and found myself in a long foyer, where I was made to understand that I must wait for the next show because it was taken for granted no one would care to see a picture in the middle or disturb others already arrived. After two hours I was admitted, and found myself unpleasantly conspicuous as the only person sitting in the cheap seats; three or four rows behind me the audience began to appear, and far back, where the view was good, were all the rouble places – full. As for “The Case of the Three Million,” it was a bad film, but interesting, about a comic thief whom, at the end of his nefarious adventures, we saw tailored into a serious, self-satisfied bourgeois and sending a pitiful pickpocket who had inefficiently filched his white gloves to gaol. Another day I saw a new picture, not yet released, called “The Wings of the Slave” – of little interest, except that it was incredibly cruel. The slave was a sixteenth-century peasant who made himself a pair of wings that worked and, before the Czar and his Court, flew to the ground from a high tower, proved the principle of the airplane, and was persecuted by the Czar. He was imprisoned and his wings were smashed because it was believed that such intelligence could only come from the Devil. But this flying scene was but one scene in thousands of feet of film unwinding one horror after another – stupid horror that showed all nobles cruel and all peasants kind, and showed these things without beauty or reticence or any hint of any principle of art. This indescribable picture was shown us in a little room in a school building, and as its horrors accumulated I heard the voice of little children raised in repeating lessons, and after a little while some of them came and watched with us. Could this thing be made by men of the same community as those who had made “Potemkin”? But apparently it was the public, not the company, that knew how to appraise “Potemkin.” “Its success was a great surprise to us,” said the Sov-Kino, “a great triumph.” I was told many interesting things. The great popularity here of the American films is permitted because it was felt after the Revolution that kinos must be kept open at all costs, and there were no Russian pictures to fill them, so the American pictures were freely cut and recaptioned and distributed. Now the Russians make films of their own; but a film that only runs in Russia earns only one-third of its cost, so a foreign market will be acceptable. No noticeable stars have arisen in the Red film firmament, nor are the 300 student-players now studying in Moscow at the Kinema University encouraged to aspire to stardom, nor the stage stars encouraged to come to the screen. Balanovkaya is a name to remember; and, after Eisenstein, who is now in the provinces making a new historical film, the three best producers are Ivonosky, Kilischoff, and Pudolfkin. It was Pudolfkin who made “Matt.” …

Comments: The article is signed ‘V.P.’. Among the films mentioned are Bronenosets Potemkin / Battleship Potemkin (USSR 1925), Devyatoe yanvarya / The Ninth of January (USSR 1925), Poet and Tsar / Poet i tsar (USSR 1927), Konets Sankt-Peterburga / The End of St Petersburg (USSR 1927), Dekabristi / The Decembrists (USSR 1927), Krylya kholopa / Wings of a Serf (USSR 1926), Mat / Mother (USSR 1926), Protsess o tryokh millyonakh / The Three Million Case (USSR 1926). The Year 1905 was a planned multi-episode history from which Battleship Potemkin was the only outcome. Ivan the Terrible was title given to Wings of a Serf when shown outside the USSR. I cannot identify Rasputin’s Plot or Black Sunday. The film directors mentioned are Sergei Eisenstein, Alexander Ivanovsky, Lev Kuleshov (presumably) and Vsevolod Pudovkin. The article continues with a review of Pudovkin’s film Mat.

The Cinématographe in Rochester, New York

Source: Excerpt from The Post-Express, Rochester New York, 6 February 1897 p. 14, quoted in George C. Pratt, Spellbound in Darkness: A History of the Silent Film (Greenwich, Conn.: new York Graphic Society, 1973), pp. 17-18

Text: The Lumière Cinématographe will begin its fifteenth consecutive week at the Wonderland [Theatre] next week, continuing what was log ago the longest run ever made by any one attraction in this city. People go to see it again and again, for even the familiar views reveal some new feature with each successive exhibition. Take, for example, BABY’S BREAKFAST, shown last week and this. It represents Papa and Mamma fondly feeding the junior member of the household. So intent is the spectator usually in watching the proceedings of the happy trio at table that he fails to notice the pretty background of trees and shrubbery, whose waving branches indicate that a stiff breeze is blowing. So it is in each of the pictures shown; they are full of interesting little details that come out one by one when the same views are seen several times …

Comments: The Lumière Cinématographe made its USA debut at Keith’s Union Square Theater, New York, on 29 June 1896. The film described here is Le Repas de Bébé (France 1895). It featured Auguste and Marguerite Lumière and their baby daughter Andrée.

Picture Shows Popular in the ‘Hub’

Source: Anon., ‘Picture Shows Popular in the ‘Hub’, Moving Picture World, 16 May 1908, p. 433

Text: A lady correspondent of the Boston Journal finds that the picture theaters in the city of culture are equally popular with rich and poor, and draw their support from both sexes and all ages and nationalities. Her remarks are as follows:

Have you contracted the moving picture show habit yet? Most of the folks I know have, though for some reason they one and all seem loath to acknowledge the fact. Perhaps it is because it seems a childish pastime and not just the form of amusement one would expect worldly men and women to patronize to any extent. The man or woman who occupies a desk at your elbow may be a regular attendant upon these instructive and wholly entertaining little picture performances of an hour’s duration. You will not know it unless by chance you happen to see him or her buying an admission at the window, or after groping your way to a seat in the dark find one or the other filling the chair at your side.

Visiting the little theaters that offer an attractive assortment of pictures has long been a custom of mine, though curiously enough I have not confided my liking for this sort of thing to even my intimate friends. In the past I have paid my admission, and slipping into a seat, watched whatever the screen had to offer. Yesterday afternoon, quite by accident, I learned that a congenial friend of mine had the same interest in these fascinating views of foreign
shores, of mirth-provoking happenings and of events in the news which form the basis of the entertainment, so we made an appointment to attend one.

While waiting the young lady’s arrival, I lingered in the entrance and for the brief space of ten minutes was absorbed in watching the manner of men and women who singly and in groups approached the box office and paid their admittance fee of a dime. All kinds were represented in the steady throng that sought an entrance. The first man who held my attention looked as though he might be a bank official or broker. He had that cast-iron, blank expression that attaches itself to men who constantly handle money or constantly think about it in the day’s work. The next were a family party of three — father, mother and a two-year-old child.

Then came a woman who looked as though she might be employed in one of the great department stores. She was followed by another group of three, all women, winding up an afternoon’s shopping in town with a few moments’ recreation before returning to their homes to preside over their own supper tables and afterward put the babies to bed.

Next came two men whom I know by sight and reputation. They are partners in a flourishing business in the down-town section. I caught sight of a doctor next, whose name proclaims him prominent in his realm of endeavor, and then of a man of whom I have bought steaks and chops and other good things for several years. Beside those whom I recognized or had some inkling of their object in life, there were twenty others as interesting and as different in appearance as those I have described.

I was about to give my friend up and venture in alone when another figure loomed before me which made me feel quite conscious. It was that of a woman friend of mine who seemed to shrink within herself when she saw me. She felt as I felt no doubt — like a child caught at the jam-pot. We smilingly ex/hanged greetings, she murmured something about “enjoying them so much,” to which promptly responded. “So do I.” The friend whom I had been expecting pushed me through the door, brandishing the tickets as she did so, and we gave ourselves up to the enjoyment of an entertainment that appeals to all sorts, rich and poor, intelligent and unintelligent, which is instructive and helpful as well as amusing.

Comments: This piece was originally published in the Boston Journal (date unknown) and reproduced with introduction in the film trade journal Moving Picture World. ‘The Hub’ is a nickname for Boston.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive