The Cinematograph

Source: O. Winter, ‘The Cinematograph’, The New Review, May 1896, pp. 507-513

Text: Life is a game played according to a set of rules – physical, moral, artistic – for the moment ironbound in severity, yet ever shifting. The heresy of to-day is to-morrow‘s dogma, and many a martyr has won an unwilling crown for the defence of a belief, which his son’s boot-black accepts as indisputable. The tyranny of the arts, most masterful of all, seldom outlasts a generation; time brings round an instant revenge for a school’s contempt of its predecessor; and all the while Science is clamorously breaking the laws, which man, in his diffidence, believes to be irrefragable.

When the first rude photograph was taken, it was already a miracle; but stability was the condition of its being, and the frozen smirk of an impossible tranquillity hindered its perfection. Even the “snap-shot,” which revealed poses indiscoverable to the human eye, was, at best, a mere effect of curiosity, and became, in the hands of Mr. Muybridge and others, the instrument of a pitiless pedantry. But, meantime, the moving picture was perfected, and, at last, by a skilful adaptation of an ingenious toy, you may contemplate life itself thrown moving and alert upon a screen. Imagine a room or theatre brilliant with electric lights and decorated with an empty back-cloth. Suddenly the lights are extinguished, and to the whirring sound of countless revolutions the back-cloth quivers into being. A moment since it was white and inanimate; now it bustles with the movement and masquerade of tremulous life. Whirr! And a train, running (so to say) out of the cloth, floats upon your vision. It draws up at the platform; guards and porters hustle to their toil; weary passengers lean through the window to unfasten the cumbrous door; sentimentalists hasten to intercept their friends; and the whole common drama of luggage and fatigue is enacted before your eyes. The lights leap up, and at their sudden descent you see upon the cloth a factory at noon disgorging its inmates. Men and women jostle and laugh; a swift bicycle seizes the occasion of an empty space; a huge hound crosses the yard in placid content; you can catch the very changing expression of a mob happy in its release; you note the varying speed of the footsteps; not one of the smaller signs of human activity escapes you. And then, again, a sudden light, and recurring darkness. Then, once more, the sound and flicker of machinery; and you see on the bare cloth a tumbling sea, with a crowd of urchins leaping and scrambling in the waves. The picture varies, but the effect is always the same – the terrifying effect of life, but of life with a difference.

It is life stripped of colour and of sound. Though you are conscious of the sunshine, the picture is subdued to a uniform and baffling grey. Though the waves break upon an imagined shore. they break in a silence which doubles your shrinking from their reality. The boys laugh with eyes and mouth-that you can see at a glance. But they laugh in a stillness which no ripple disturbs. The figures move after their appointed habit; it is thus and not otherwise that they have behaved yesterday and will behave to-morrow. They are not marionettes, because they are individuals, while a marionette is always generalised into an aspect of pity or ridicule. The disproportion of foreground and background adds to your embarrassment, and although you know that the scene has a mechanical and intimate correspondence with truth, you recognise its essential and inherent falsity. The brain and the eye understand not the process of the sensitive plate. They are ever composing, eliminating, and selecting, as if by an instinct. They work far more rapidly than the most elaborate mechanism. They discard one impression and take on another before the first has passed the period of its legitimate endurance. They permit no image to touch them without alteration or adaptation. The dullest eye, the deafest ear, has a personality, generally unconscious, which transforms every scene, and modifies every sound. A railway station, for instance, is a picture with a thousand shifting focuses. The most delicate instrument is forced to render every incident at the same pace and with the same prominence, only reserving to itself the monstrous privilege of enlarging the foreground beyond recognition. If you or I meet an arriving train, we either compose the scattered elements into a simple picture, and with the directness, distinguishing the human vision from the photographic lens, reject the countless details which hamper and confuse our composition, or we stand upon the platform eager to recognise a familiar face. Then the rest of the throng, hastily scanned, falls into a shadowy background. Thus in the moving picture, thrown upon the screen, the crowd is severally and unconsciously choosing or rejecting the objects of sight. But we find the task impossible. The grey photograph unfolds at an equal pace and with a sad deliberation. We cannot follow the shadows in their enthusiasm of recognition; the scene is forced to trickle upon our nerves with an equal effect; it is neither so quick nor so changeful as life. From the point of view of display the spectacle fails, because its personages lack the one quality of entertainment: self-consciousness. The ignorant man falls back upon the ancient wonderment. “Ain’t it lifelike!” he exclaims in all sincerity, though he possesses the faculty of comparison but roughly developed, and is apt to give an interpretation of reality to the most absurd symbols.

Here, then, is life; life it must be because a machine knows not how to invent; but it is life which you may only contemplate through a mechanical medium, life which eludes you in your daily pilgrimage. It is wondrous, even terrific; the smallest whiff of smoke goes upward in the picture; and a house falls to the ground without an echo. It is all true, and it is all false. “Why hath not man a microscopic eye?” asked Pope; and the answer came prosaic as the question: “The reason it is plain, he’s not a fly.” So you may formulate the demand: Why does not man see with the vision of the Cinematograph? And the explanation is pat: Man cannot see with the mechanical unintelligence of a plate, exposed forty times in a second. Yet such has ever been the ambition of the British painter. He would go forth into the fields, and adjust his eyes to the scene as though they were a telescope. He would register the far-distant background with a monstrous conscientiousness, although he had to travel a mile to discover its qualities. He would exaggerate the foreground with the clumsy vulgarity of a photographic plate, which knows no better cunning, and would reveal to himself, with the unintelligent aid of a magnifying glass, a thousand details which would escape the notice of everything save an inhuman machine. And while he was a far less able register of facts than the Cinematograph, he was an even worse artist. He aimed at an unattainable and undesirable reality, and he failed. The newest toy attains this false reality without a struggle. Both the Cinematograph and the Pre-Raphaelite suffer from the same vice. The one and the other are incapable of selection; they grasp at every straw that comes in their way; they see the trivial and important, the near and the distant, with the same fecklessly impartial eye. And the Pre-Raphaelite is the worse, because he is not forced into a fatal course by scientific necessity. He is not racked upon a machine that makes two thousand revolutions in a minute, though he deserves to be. No; he pursues his niggled path in the full knowledge of his enormity, and with at least a chance, if ever he opened his eye, of discovering the straight road. The eye of the true impressionist, on the other hand, is the Cinematograph’s antithesis. It never permits itself to see everything or to be perplexed by a minute survey of the irrelevant. It picks and chooses from nature as it pleaseth; it is shortsighted, when myopia proves its advantage; it can catch the distant lines, when a reasoned composition demands so far a research. It is artistic, because it is never mechanical, because it expresses a personal bias both in its choice and in its rejection. It looks beyond the foreground and to the larger, more spacious lines of landscape. Nature is its material, whereas Fred Walker and his followers might have been inspired by a series of photographic plates.

Literature, too, has ever hankered unconsciously after the Cinematograph. Is not Zola the M. Lumière of his art? And might not a sight of the Cinematograph have saved the realists from a wilderness of lost endeavour? As the toy registers every movement without any expressed relation to its fellow, so the old and fearless realist believed in the equal value of all facts. He collected information in the spirit of the swiftly moving camera, or of the statistician. Nothing came amiss to him, because he considered nothing of supreme importance. He emptied his notebooks upon foolscap and believed himself an artist. His work was so faithful in detail that in the bulk it conveyed no meaning whatever. The characters and incidents were as grey and as silent as the active shadows of the Cinematograph. M. Zola and M. Huysmans (in his earlier incarnation) posed as the Columbuses of a new art, and all the while they were merely playing the despised part of the newspaper reporter. They fared forth, notebook in hand, and described the most casual accidents as though they were the essentials of a rapid life. They made an heroic effort to strip the brain of its power of argument and generalisation. They were as keenly convinced that all phenomena are of equal value as is the impersonal lens, which to-day is the Academician’s best friend. But they forget that the human brain cannot expose itself any more easily than the human eye to an endless series of impartial impressions. For the human brain is not mechanical: it cannot avoid the tasks of selection and revision, and when it measures itself: against a photographic apparatus it fails perforce. It is the favourite creed of the realists that truth is valuable for its own sake, that the description of a tiresome hat or an infamous pair of trousers has a merit of its own closely allied to accuracy. But life in itself is seldom interesting – so much has been revealed by photography; life, until it be crystallised into an arbitrary mould, is as flat and fatuous as the passing bus. The realist, however, has formulated his ambition: the master of the future, says he, will produce the very gait and accent of the back-parlour. This ambition may already be satisfied by the Cinematograph, with the Phonograph to aid, and while the sorriest pedant cannot call the result supremely amusing, so the most sanguine of photographers cannot pronounce it artistic. At last we have been permitted to see the wild hope of the realists accomplished. We may look upon life moving without purpose, without beauty, with no better impulse than a foolish curiosity; and though the spectacle frightens rather than attracts, we owe it a debt of gratitude, because it proves the complete despair of modern realism.

As the realistic painter, with his patient, unspeculative eye bent upon a restless foreground, produces an ugly, tangled version of nature, so the disciple of Zola perplexes his indomitable industry by the compilation of contradictory facts. Not even M. Zola himself, for all his acute intelligence, discovered that Lourdes, for instance, was a mere flat record. By the force of a painful habit, he differentiated his characters; he did not choose a single hero to be the mule (as it were), who should sustain all the pains and all the sins of the world. No, he bravely labelled his abstractions with names and qualities, but he played the trick with so little conviction, that a plain column and a half of bare fact would have conveyed as much information and more amusement. Now, M. Zola has at least relieved the gloom of ill-digested facts by adroitly-thrown pétards. When you find his greyness at its greyest, he will flick in a superfluous splash of scarlet, to arouse you from your excusable lethargy. But in America, where even the novel may be “machine-made,” they know far better than to throw pétards. Their whole theory of art is summed up in the Cinematograph, so long as that instrument does its work in such an unexciting atmosphere as the back-yard of a Boston villa. Life in the States, they murmur, is not romantic. Therefore the novel has no right to be romantic. Because Boston is hopelessly dull, therefore Balzac is an impostor. For them, the instantaneous photograph, and a shorthand clerk. And, maybe, when the historian of the future has exhausted the advertisement columns of the pompous journals, he may turn (for statistics) to the American novel, first cousin, by a hazard, to the Cinematograph.

The dominant lesson of M. Lumière’s invention is this: the one real thing in life, art, or literature, is unreality. It is only by the freest translation of facts into another medium that you catch that fleeting impression of reality, which a paltry assemblage of the facts themselves can never impart The master quality of the world is human invention, whose liberal exercise demonstrates the fatuity of a near approach to “life.” The man who invents, may invent harmoniously; he may choose his own key, and bend his own creations to his imperious will. And if he be an artist, he will complete his work without hesitancy or contradiction. But he who insists upon a minute and conscientious vision, is forthwith hampered by his own material, and is almost forced to see discordantly. Hence it is that M. Zola is interesting only in isolated pages. His imagination is so hopelessly crippled by sight, that he cannot sustain his eloquence beyond the limit of a single impression. Suppose he does astonish you by a flash of entertainment, he relapses instantly into dulness, since for him, as for the Cinematograph, things are interesting, not because they are beautiful or happily combined, but because they exist, or because they recall, after their clumsy fashion, a familiar experience.

Has, then, the Cinematograph a career? Artistically, no; statistically, a thousand times, yes. Its results will be beautiful only by accident, until the casual, unconscious life of the streets learns to compose itself into rhythmical pictures. And this lesson will never be learned outside the serene and perfect air of heaven. But if only the invention be widely and properly applied, then history may be written, as it is acted. With the aid of these modern miracles, we may bottle (so to say) the world’s acutest situations. They will be poured out to the students of the future without colour and without accent, and though their very impartiality may mislead, at least they will provide the facts for a liberal judgment. At least they will give what an ingenious critic of the drama once described as “slabs of life.” For the Cinematograph the phrase is well chosen; but for Ibsen, who prompted its invention, no phrase were more ridiculous. For whatever your opinion of Hedda Gabler, at least you must absolve its author from a too eager rivalry with M. Lumière’s hastily-revolving toy.

And now, that Science may ever keep abreast of literature, comes M. Röntgen’s invention to play the part of the pyschologist [sic]. As M. Bourget (shall we say?) uncovers the secret motives and inclinations of his characters, when all you ask of him is a single action, so M. Röntgen bids photography pierce the husk of flesh and blood and reveal to the world the skeletons of living men. In Science the penetration may be invaluable; in literature it destroys the impression, and substitutes pedantry for intelligence. M. Röntgen, however, would commit no worse an outrage than the cure of the sick and the advancement of knowledge. Wherefore he is absolved from the mere suspicion of an onslaught upon art. But it is not without its comedy, that photography’s last inventions are twin echoes of modern literature. The Cinematograph is but realism reduced to other terms, less fallible and more amusing ; while M. Röntgen’s rays suggest that, though a too intimate disclosure may be fatal to romance, the doctor and the curiosity-monger may find it profitable to pierce through our “too, too solid flesh” and count the rattling bones within.

Comments: O. Winter was an occasional writer for art and culture journals in the 1890s. I have not been able to trace his full name. The essay was written after seeing an exhibition of the Lumière Cinématographe, which debuted in the United Kingdom on 20 February 1896. A number of Lumière films are suggested by the text, including Arrivée d’un train and La Sortie des Usines Lumière (Workers Leaving the Factory). Those mentioned in the text are the novelists Emile Zola, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Honoré Balzac and Paul Bourget, playwright Henrik Ibsen, Pre-Raphaelite painter Fred Walker, and photographer Eadweard Muybridge. Wilhelm Röntgen discovered what would soon become known as X-rays in 1895; X-rays, or Röntgen rays, would frequently be exhibited alongside motion pictures in the late 1890s.

Red Carpet

Source: Xinhua/REX Shutterstock, http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2015/may/16/the-20-photographs-of-the-week#img-9

Comments: This photograph shows Palestians in the el-Shuja’ia neighbourhood, east of Gaza City, watching a film during the Karama-Gaza Human Rights film festival, popularly known as ‘Red Carpet’. My thanks to Deac Rossell for pointing out the photograph to me.

Links: The Guardian

The Cinema in the Arena

Source: Extract from Joseph Roth (trans. Michael Hofmann), ‘The Cinema in the Arena’, in Report from a Parisian Paradise: Essays from France 1925-1939 (New York: W.W. Norton, 2004), pp. 38-40. Originally published in German in Frankfurter Zeitung, 12 September 1925

Text: The arena of Nîmes holds celebrated bullfights some afternoons, but in the evenings it houses a cinema, which is a rather more cultured thing than a bullfight. Currently. it is playing The Ten Commandments, that great American film that has already been shown in Germany. In the evening I take myself to the arena.

You have to hope it will stay dry, and in Nîmes the chances of that are good. It rains very rarely here, and never for long. The stones cool off in the evening. A couple of arc lamps light up half the arena. The other half is left in shade. The ghostly white forms of the huge crumbling blocks of stone loom up out of it. They have already been through so much, these stones. In the Middle Ages, two hundred families lived in the walls of the arena and built a church (in one of the spacious arches). In wartime the arena became a fortress. It survived the changing epochs, and time and again was emblematic of its era. Now, in 1925, it is no longer a church but a cinema, admittedly a cinema showing The Ten Commandments. At a time when these commandments are not much obeyed, that’s already saying something.

In the middle of the arena there’s the screen, like a white board in a classroom. In the archway opposite, the projector is purring away. The orchestra sits in front of the screen. The members of the audience (for fifty centimes) are free to wander about on the upper and lower stone seats. Some, who prefer to be cool and lofty, stand on the top edge of the wall, black against the blue sky. It’s a most marvelous cinema, cool, clean, without any danger of fire, and much more magnificent than a cinema has any need to be. If any Americans happen by, then surely by next year they’ll have put up a big concrete bowl, the largest in the world, with velvet trim, water closets, and glass roof.

Before the show the children play catch behind the screen, and hide-and-seek, and grandmother’s footsteps. All the children of Nîmes – and the people here have many children – go to the cinema. The mothers don’t forget to bring their infants. The youngest visitors are admitted free, though admittedly they don’t see anything but lie on their backs under the night sky, with open mouths as though to swallow the stars.

It seems almost feasible. Hereabouts the night sky is very open-handed with shooting stars. They fall not in an are, as they do in the North, but sideways, as if the heavens were rotating. There are several kinds of shooting stars. While the sentimental, ocean-diluted Bible is being shown on screen, the best thing to do is watch the shooting stars. Some are large, red, and lumpy. They slowly wipe across the sky, as though they were strolling, and leave a thin, bloody trail. Others again are small, swift, and silver. They fly like bullets. Others glow like little running suns and brighten the horizon considerably for quite some time.

Sometimes it’s as though the heavens opened and showed us a glimpse of red-gold lining. Then the split quickly closes, and the majesty is once more hidden for good.

From time to time a large, shooting star falls quite close. Then it’s like a silver rain. Each one vanishes in the same direction. Then the apparent quiet is restored to the deep blue, that everlasting fixity of the stars, of which we still manage to feel that they move, even if we didn’t know it.

There they are again, the old familiar constellations that remind everyone of childhood, because it was only as a child that one gazed at them so raptly. They are everywhere. There you are, so remote from your childhood, and yet you meet it again. That’s how small the world is.

And if you think some of it is foreign, you’re mistaken. Everywhere is home. The Great Bear is a little nearer, that’s all.

It was a good idea to put on a film in the old Roman arena. In such a cinema you come to comforting conclusions, as long as you look at the sky, rather than the screen.

Comments: Joseph Roth (1894-1939) was an Austrian journalist and novelist, best known for his novel Radetzky March. The Arena of Nîmes is a Roman amphitheatre built around AD 70 and is used today for public events, including concerts. The film mentioned is The Ten Commandments (USA 1923), directed by Cecil B. DeMille.

Going to the Pictures

(L-R) Thurston Hall, Edward Arnold and Thomas Mitchell
(L-R) Thurston Hall, Edward Arnold and Thomas Mitchell

Source: Alan Bennett, extract from ‘Going to the Pictures’, Untold Stories (London: Faber and Faber, 2005), pp. 466-469 (originally published, in shorter form, as ‘I know what I like, but I’m not sure about art’ in The Independent, 24 May 1995, based on a lecture given at the National Gallery on this date)

Text: Floundering through some unreadable work on art history, I’ve sometimes allowed myself the philistine thought that these intricate expositions, gestures echoing other gestures, one picture calling up another and all underpinned with classical myth … that surely contemporaries could not have had all this at their fingertips or grasp by instinct what we can only attain by painstaking study and explication, and that this is pictures being given what’s been called ‘over meaning’. What made me repent, though, was when I started to think about my childhood and going to a different kind of pictures, the cinema.

When I was a boy we went to the pictures at least twice a week, as most families did then, regardless of the merits of the film. To me Citizen Kane was more boring but otherwise no different from a film by George Formby, say, or Will Hay. And going to the pictures like this, taking what was on offer week in week out was, I can see now, a sort of education, an induction into the subtle and complicated and not always conventional moral scheme that prevailed in the world of cinema then, and which persisted with very little change until the early sixties.

I’ve been trying recently to write about some of the stock characters of films of that period and I’ll talk about two in particular in the hope that I can relate one sort of pictures to the other.

A regular figure in films of that time was a middle-aged businessman, a pillar of the community, genial, avuncular, with bright white hair, and the older ones among you will know immediately the kind of character I mean if I should you this actor. His name is Thurston Hall, and this is another actor, Edward Arnold. Their names are unimportant but they were at that time instantly recognisable. I certainly knew at the age of eight that as soon as this character or this type of character put in an appearance he was up to no good.

The character speaks:

I am not an elaborate villain, nor is my spirit particularly tormented; crime in my case is not a substitute for art. It is just that my silver hair and general benevolence, invariably supplemented by a double-breasted suit, give me the appearance of an honest man. In the movies honest men do not look like honest men and suave is just another way of saying suspect. Bad men wear good suits; honest men wear raincoats, and so untiring are they in the pursuit of evil that they sometimes forget to shave.

The converse of this character, though he is seldom in the same film, would be the man who has been respectable in himself once but who has made one big mistake in his life – a gun-fighter, say, who has killed an innocent man, a doctor who bungled an operation – and who by virtue of his misdemeanour (and the drink he takes to forget it) has put himself outside society.

Thomas Mitchell was such a doctor in John Ford’s Stagecoach, and though such lost souls are more often come across in westerns they turn turn up in the tropics too, their frequent location the back of beyond.

The character speaks:

In westerns I will generally team up with the tough wise-cracking no-nonsense lasy who runs the saloon, who in her turn, inhabits the audience’s presuppositions about her character. They know that a life spent in incessant and lucrative sexual activity has not dulled her moral perceptions one bit. They remember Jesus had a soft spot for such women, and so do they.

I am frequently a doctor, in particular a doctor who at a crucial turn of events has to be sobered up to deliver the heroine’s baby or to save a child dying of diptheria. Rusty though my skills are, I find they have not entirely deserted me and I am assisted in the operation by my friend the proprietress of the saloon. She is tough and unsqueamish and together we pull the patient through, and having performed a deft tracheotomy my success is signalled when I come downstairs and say, ‘She is sleeping now.’

He concludes:

But though I rise to the occasion as and when the plot requires it, there is never any suggestion that I am going to mend my ways in any permanent fashion. Delivering the baby, flying the plane, shooting the villain … none of this heralds a return to respectability, still less sobriety. I go on much as ever down the path to self-destruction. I know I cannot change so I do not try. A scoundrel but never a villain, I know redemption is not for me. It is this that redeems me.

Now though this analysis may seem a bit drawn out, the point I am making is that the twentieth-century audience had only to see one of these characters on the screen to know instinctively what moral luggage they were carrying, the past they had had, the future they could expect. And this was after, if one includes the silent films, not more than thirty years of going to the pictures. In the sixteenth century the audience or congregation would have been going to the pictures for 500 years at least, so how much more instinctive and instantaneous would their responses have been, how readily and unthinkingly they would have been able to decode their pictures – just as, as a not very precocious child of eight, I could decode mine.

And while it’s not yet true that the films of the thirties and forties would need decoding for a child of the present day, nevertheless that time may come; the period of settled morality and accepted beliefs which produced such films is as much over now as is the set of beliefs and assumptions that produced a painting as complicated and difficult, for us at any rate, as Bronzino’s Allegory of Venus and Cupid.

Comments: Alan Bennett (born 1934) is a British playwright, screenwriter, essayist and actor. Untold Stories is a collection of essays and memoir, including the section entitled ‘Going to the Pictures’, from which this extract comes. The essay was originally a talk given by Bennett in 1995 while he was a Trustee of the National Gallery in London. His childhood was spent in Leeds.

Links: Copy of Bennett’s original talk ‘I know what I like, but I’m not sure about art’ in The Independent

Silent Life and Silent Language

Source: Kate M. Farlow, Silent life and silent language, or, The inner life of a mute in an institution for the deaf and dumb (Dayton, Ohio: Christian Publishing House, 1883), pp. 108-109

Text: As time went on it was decided that the pupils ought to be enlivened by an entertainment of some sort. Accordingly arrangements were made, and one Saturday evening all the inmates were summoned to the chapel, where they found a great white sheet stretched across the platform. An instrument somewhat resembling a photographer’s camera was placed in front. After all had taken seats the lights were extinguished, and the pupils found themselves involved in darkness. Some who had never witnessed a magic-lantern exhibition were at a loss to know what all this meant. They supposed the lights must have been put out by accident. Presently there appeared in the center of the great white sheet an oval spot of brilliant light while all the rest of the room was still in darkness. By some invisible movement that little spot of light grew larger and larger until it was about twelve feet in circumference. A moment later there appeared in that oval space a beautiful picture. It was a circle of variegated colors, which, by some hidden movement, was made to revolve, thus presenting a novel as well as beautiful appearance. After that was shown a representation of our earth, with ships moving over a part of its surface and gradually disappearing from view at one point to re-appear again at another. An astronomical scene was represented, showing the moon and stars in motion. Scene followed scene in quick succession. A dog was seen, first barking at a cow, then tossed upward, apparently by the horns of the cow. There was an exhibition of a woman with a very long tongue. A prickly-pear was represented, which very unexpectedly opened, disclosing to view a man and a woman with scowling countenances. A rose was also shown, and from amid its scarlet petals emerged a dainty little fairy. A man was seen asleep, and a mouse, stealing from some hidden nook, made its way into his open mouth, a cat springing at it just as it disappeared down his throat. There were pictures of famous edifices and grand natural scenery; also, scenes illustrative of Bible stories. Finally, there appeared the picture of a queer looking little man. He held in his hand a paper roll. By some mysterious, unseen movement that was unrolled, and on it was displayed the expression, “Good-night”.

The gas-jets were again lighted, and the entertainment was at an end. It had been much enjoyed, as was evident from the happy expression on many faces as the pupils filed out of the chapel, and from the fact that it at once became the general theme of conversation.

Comments: Kate Farlow was an American writer on deaf issues who was a deaf-mute herself. The aim of her boom was to inform general reader and to overturn prejudices about deaf people. It covers all aspects of the activities of one American institution for the ‘deaf and dumb’ (the specific institution is not identified in the text).

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Cinema Gains a Powerful Ally

Source: Northerner II, ‘This World of Ours: The Cinema Gains a Powerful Ally’, The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Mercury, 3 June 1953, p. 4

Text: I attended a revolution yesterday. I saw the triumph of large-screen television in the cinema. With about 2,000 other guests of J. Arthur Rank, I had been invited to the Odeon Theatre, Leeds, to watch the BBC’s television transmission of the Coronation – and we saw it on the largest screen in the country. The results were so good and the audience were so impressed that, as the show went on, the conviction grew that the magic box of the cinema had acquired a wonderful new trick. Television is certainly going to play an increasingly important part in bringing cinema audiences to the scenes of great events while they are actually taking place.

Yesterday’s show convinced Alderman H.M.G. McKay, Deputy Lord Mayor of Leeds, that the civic duties which had prevented him from going to London for the Coronation were a blessing in disguise. “I came into the theatre a disappointed man,” he said in a speech of thanks to the Odeon management. “My wife and I had been allocated tickets for seats on the Coronation procession route, but the Lord Mayor of Leeds’s Secretary is a hard-hearted man. He told me I could not got to London.

“The Lord Mayor and the Lady Mayoress are at the Abbey by Royal invitation – but I think we in this theatre are seeing a great deal more of the Abbey ceremony than they will see. It will give me great pleasure to tell the Lord Mayor all about it when he comes back to Leeds.”

Close-up of the Queen

The Odeon audience, who included old-age pensioners, nurses and representatives of many organisations in the city, shared Alderman MacKay’s enthusiasm. They applauded the Queen when she first appeared in the Royal Coach as it left Buckingham Palace. Their applause grew louder when a close-up shot made it appear as if she was smiling not at the cheering crowds who lined the streets but directly at us in the cinema.

They clapped Viscount Montgomery as he entered the Abbey in the procession. They clapped and cheered Sir Winston Churchill, who was wearing his most indomitable look. They gave a thunderous reception to the Duke of Edinburgh. But when the Queen entered, looking tense and serious, the cinema was hushed in sympathy with her for the ordeal that lay ahead.

For me the most moving part of the service was the singing of that noble hymn, “All people that on earth do dwell.” Some of the cinema audience softly joined in, and I am sure many more would have done so had the worlds of the hymn been flashed on the screen. I suggest that the BBC should adopt this practice on future occasions when people are asked to take part in the singing.

I can think of no other way in which the televising of the Coronation could have been improved. I thought the BBC carried out their extremely difficult task splendidly.

Comments: The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953 was broadcast live on BBC television, and played a major factor in popularising television in the United Kingdom. The live broadcast was also shown in some cinemas, holiday camps and other areas where large screens could be erected. Television in cinemas or theatres was not a new thing, however, having been first demonstrated by John Logie Baird at the Coliseum in London in 1930.

Modern Gladiators

Source: Véra Tsaritsyn [Lady Colin Campbell], ‘A Woman’s Walks. No. CXXXVIII. Modern Gladiators’, The World, 20 October 1897 pp. 26-27

Text: In spite of all that the humanitarians may say or the Peace Society may preach, the love of fighting will endure to the end of time to give savour to life and to prevent the human race from becoming plethorically inclined to “turn the other cheek to the smiter.” Humility may be praised as a Christian virtue; but it is not of any practical use to either private individuals or nations. Therefore anything that counteracts the doctrine of the Peace Society and helps to retain and foster the fighting spirit in the Anglo-Saxon race is to be approved; and it is with satisfaction that I note the number of people who are crowding into the theatre of the Aquarium to see the cinematograph version of the great fight between Corbett and Fitzsimmons, which took place last March in Carson City, Nevada.

It certainly was an admirable idea to have got up this historic encounter for the sake of the pictures to be obtained of it. It is given to comparatively few to see a real prize-fight; but these pictures put the P.R. “on tap,” as it were, for everybody. It is the real thing: the movements of the men, the surging of the crowd, the attentive ministrations of the backers and seconds, are all faithful represented; only it is so bowdlerised by the absence of colour and noise that the most super-sensitive person, male or female, can witness every details of the fight without a qualm. Evidently the fair sex appreciate such an opportunity, for there are plenty of those tilted “coster-girl’”hats adorned with ostrich feathers that would delight the heart of a “donah,” which are fashion’s decree for the moment, to be seen in the theatre. An elderly and ample lady comes in alone and occupies the next stall to us, with an air that fills us with the certainty that she knows all about the P.R. With a similar appearance of superior knowledge Mrs. Fitzsimmons must have watched the fray on the great occasion. The five-shilling “pit” (which are the lowest-priced seats for this peep-show) is soon filled up; the half-guinea stalls are not long behindhand; and the only part of the auditorium which remains partially empty is the back row of the stalls, which, for some mysterious reason, is thought to offer such exceptional advantages that the seats are priced at a guinea. The seats being exactly the same as the half-guinea abominations in clinging red velvet, and the point of view being precisely similar to that of the front row of the pit (which is only divided off by a rope), we ponder over the gullible snobbishness of the world, while a well-meaning but maddening lady bangs out “The Washington Post” out of an unwilling and suffering piano in the corner. We have nearly arrived at the point of adding our shrieks of exasperation to those of the tortured instrument when the show begins and the “Washington Post” is mercifully silenced.

We are first gratified with a little slice of statistics; the two miles of films on six reels, containing one hundred and sixty-five thousand pictures; the prize of 7000l. which went to the victor; the names of the referee, the timekeeper, and various other details, to which the audience listens with ill-concealed patience, being evidently of the opinion it would be best to “cut the cackle and come to the horses.” That consummation is at hand; the first picture is thrown upon the sheet, and, having wobbled about a little to find the centre of the canvas, settles down into an admirably distinct view of the platform, with the two champions wrapped in long ulsters, each surrounded by his backers. In the centre, below the platform, is the official timekeeper, Mr. Muldoon, who, with his back turned to us, keeps an unflinching watch on the chronometer in his hand. Beside him is Fitzsimmons’s trainer, with a face of the most brutal Irish type, who waves his white hat to the Cornishman ten seconds before the end of each round as a warning of the time he has in hand. The two combatants are pacing up and down, each at his side of the ring, with the nervous restlessness of wild animals. Presently they throw off their ulsters and appear in the simple garb of bathing drawers and shoes, to which are added the light boxing-gloves that only weigh five ounces the pair, and which, so far from being a mitigation of the blows, enable the men to hit very much harder, as they do not bark their knuckles. Both men are certainly splendid specimens of humanity. Corbett is by far the most attractive; good-looking, tall, beautifully proportioned, as light as a cat in his movements, and with a cheery smile which must have been a joy to his innumerable backers. Fitzsimmons is far more of the gorilla type than Corbett; he has the extraordinary breadth of shoulder, depth of chest, and abnormal length of arm which characterise the gorilla; and with this immense structural development of body, he is far lighter in build as regards his legs than his adversary. His face is of the regular pugilistic type, with indeterminate features that no amount of banging about could alter or make much impression upon; and his bald head makes him look a very great deal older than the boyish Corbett, though there is only the difference of four years between them. No; Fitzsimmons is certainly not as attractive as Corbett; but he awakens my warm approval and interest when he refuses to shake hands with the antagonist who sedulously defamed him and branded him as a coward before the fight came off. When one knows that each man came on to that platform with the pious intention of disabling, if not killing, his adversary in the shortest possible time, that there was bitter enmity of long standing between them which nothing but such a duel could assuage, the farce of a friendly hand-shake between them could only be regarded as sentimental “bunkum” to please the gallery; and I respect Fitzsimmons for refusing to be a party to such a thing.

Then the fight begins; and as it progresses one becomes more and more impressed by the curious silence which is so unnatural to such a scene of activity. The blows given and received lose half their significance, and the excitement of the crowd can only be guessed by the spasmodic movement of a line of spectators at the back of the stand perched like large black crows upon a rail against the sky above the sea of faces below. Corbett, active a s a cat, leads his opponent about the ring, Fitzsimmons seeming almost lethargic for the first six or seven rounds. Corbett follows his usual tactics of trying to tire out his opponent, and he lands many a blow on Fitzsimmons’ face, who takes them stoically and is evidently watching his opportunity for getting in one of those crushing pole-axe blows with which he had already killed two men, Jack Dempsey and Con Riordan, in previous fights. My ignorance of the rules of the rules of the P.R. is fairly complete, but I do no hesitate to say that the fight is very considerably spoiled by the constant “clinching” and wrestling of the two men. Boxing is one thing, wrestling is another; and these continual corps-à-corps are as great a mistake in a pugilistic encounter as they are in a fencing assault. They are worse, in fact, because in fencing the adversaries do not seek to take advantage of each other on separating from a corps-à-corps; whereas in the “break-aways” between Corbett and Fitzsimmons both men do their best to get in a blow if they possibly can. Corbett gains “first blood” in the fifth round, and unquestionably is quicker with his fists as well as more active on his legs than his opponent. In the sixth round there is so much actual wrestling that we are told that even the spectators expressed their disapproval. In this round Fitzsimmons drops on one knee under a blow, and the referee counts the fatal seconds, then of which mean victory to Corbett if Fitzsimmons is not on his legs before they run out; but it looks as if the Cornishman had made this feint to get his wind, for at the eighth second he rises as fresh as ever, though by now he is certainly somewhat the worse for wear, even with the bowdlerised rendering of the cinematograph and its aversion to details.

Between the rounds the men are petted and ministered to by their backers. Corbett is surrounded by a cloud of admirers; one rubs his legs, no doubt to keep the cramp out of his muscles; two others screen him from the sun by making a tent over his head with a blanket; others fan him, sponge his face, and “cosset” him generally, like a favourite sultana in a harem. At the word “Time!” he is always the first in the middle of the platform; but as the rounds go on the jaunty spring goes out of his step. The more Fitzsimmons gets knocked about, the more active he becomes; and the pace of the fight is certainly telling more on Corbett than on the Cornishman, in spite of the latter’s face being all dark and blurred from the punishment he is receiving. Both men are blowing hard when the thirteenth round arrives; but Corbett’s activity seems to return to him, and he fights quite beautifully. The cinematograph seems to share in the excitement of the audience, for it wobbles to such a degree that it is hardly possible to make out what the men are doing at times; and one’s head and eyes ache with the effort of watching the maddening jig of the pictures and trying to follow the details of the duel. Fortunately it steadies a little for the fourteenth round, which is also the last; for not many blows have been given and received when Fitzsimmons at last gets his opportunity, and a crushing blow over the heart sends the Californian on his knees. Even then he is a beautiful thing to see, as he crouches almost in the attitude of the Dying Gladiator, and struggles hard to rise before the fatal ten seconds have been counted. With his hand pressed over his heart he drags himself across the platform to the ropes, hoping to rise by their aid; but he reaches them just as the time of respite expires. The sound of the fated “Ten!” seems to galvanise Corbett out his agony of pain. He gets on his feet, and through the crowd of backers which have invaded the platform he rushes like a bull at Fitzsimmons, who, having amiably kicked his second out of the ring in the fulness of his victorious joy, is talking to his friends in one corner of the platform. As quick as lightning he is on his guard against Corbett’s blow; the second close round the latter and drag him away by sheer force of numbers. But Corbett is mad with natural rage and disappointment at having been half a second too late; again and again he breaks away from his captors and goes for his enemy. The crowd is by now nearly as made as he; it sways hither and thither over the platform with the two white figures and bare heads appearing every now and then in the midst, until finally Corbett is fairly overpowered, lifted off his feet, and carried off the platform. It is a splendid and dramatic end to an historic encounter; and one feels a thrill of sympathy for Corbett in losing his chance by half a second. Up to that fatal blow the battle was extraordinarily equal; and with such an amount of fighting power still in him, even after so terrible an experience, no one could claims for Fitzsimmons that he had fought Corbett “to a standstill.”

The two miles of pictures have taken an hour and a half to pass before our eyes; but though we leave the theatre with aching heads, we regret that so little that we determine to return as soon as we can, to witness again this combat of modern gladiators.

Comments: Lady Colin Campbell, born Gertrude Elizabeth Blood (1857-1911) was an Irish journalist, author and socialite. She wrote a regular column for The World entitled ‘A Woman’s Walks’, using the pseudonym Véra Tsaritsyn. The world heavyweight boxing championship between James Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons was held at Carson City, Nevada on 17 March 1897. The full fight was filmed by the Veriscope company using a 63mm-wide film format and was widely exhibited, the full film being 11,000 feet in length and lasting around an hour-and-a-half. It was shown at the Royal Aquarium theatre in Westminster, London from September 1897. The exhibition of the film was controversial, given the illegal or semi-illegal status of boxing in many territories. As the writer records, a notable feature of the film’s exhibition was the number of women who came to see it. Fitzsimmons had been accused of the manslaughter of boxer Con Riordan, his sparring partner, in 1894, but was acquitted. He also severely defeated Jack ‘Nonpareil’ Dempsey, but the latter died of tuberculosis in 1895 and not through a Fitzsimmons blow. ‘P.R.’ stands for ‘prize ring’.

Marsena

Source: Harold Frederic, extract from ‘Marsena’, in In the Sixties (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1897 [orig. pub. in ‘Marsena’ and Other Stories of the Wartime, 1894]), pp. 196-199

Text: … On the second and final evening, after the oyster supper, the Philharmonics played and a choir of girls sang patriotic songs. Then the gas was turned down and the stereopticon show began.

As the last concerted achievement of the firm of Pulford & Shull, this magic-lantern performance is still remembered. The idea of it, of course, was Julia’s. She suggested it to Marsena, and he gladly volunteered to make any number of positive plates from appropriate pictures and portraits for the purpose. Then she pressed Newton Shull into the service to get a stereopticon on hire, to rig up the platform and canvas for it, and finally to consent to quit his post among the Philharmonics when the music ceased, and to go off up into the gallery to work the slides. He also, during Marsena’s absence one day, made a slide on his own account.

Mr. Shull had not taken very kindly to the idea when Miss Julia first broached it to him.

“No, I don’t know as I ever worked a stereopticon,” he said, striving to look with cold placidity into the winsome and beaming smile with which she confronted him one day out in the reception-room. She had never smiled at him before or pretended even to know his name. “I guess you’d better hire a man up from Tecumseh to bring the machine and run it himself.”

“But you can do it so much better, my dear Mr. Shull!” she urged. “You do everything so much better! Mr. Pulford often says that he never knew such a handy man in all his life. It seems that there is literally nothing that you can’t do — except — perhaps — refuse a lady a great personal favor.”

Miss Julia put this last so delicately, and with such a pretty little arch nod of the head and turn of the eyes, that Newton Shull surrendered at discretion. He promised everything on the spot, and he kept his word. In fact, he more than kept it.

The great evening came, as I have said, and when the lights were turned down to extinction’s verge those who were nearest the front could distinguish the vacant chair which Mr. Shull had been occupying, with his bass viol leaning against it. They whispered from one to another that he had gone up in the gallery to work this new-fangled contrivance. Then came a flashing broad disk of light on the screen above the judges’ bench, a spreading sibilant murmur of interest, and the show began.

It was an oddly limited collection of pictures — mainly thin and feeble copies of newspaper engravings, photographic portraits, and ideal heads from the magazines. Winfield Scott followed in the wake of Kossuth, and Garibaldi led the way for John C. Fremont and Lola Montez. There was applause for the long, homely, familiar face of Lincoln, and a derisive snicker for the likeness of Jeff Davis turned upside down. Then came local heroes from the district round about — Gen. Boyce, Col. Mclntyre, and young Adjt. Heron, who had died so bravely at Ball’s Bluff — mixed with some landscapes and statuary, and a comic caricature or two. The rapt assemblage murmured its recognitions, sighed its deeper emotions, chuckled over the funny plates — deeming it all a most delightful entertainment. From time to time there were long hitches, marked by a curious spluttering noise above, and the abortive flashes of meaningless light on the screen, and the explanation was passed about in undertones that Mr. Shull was having difficulties with the machine.

It was after the longest of these delays that, all at once, an extremely vivid picture was jerked suddenly upon the canvas, and, after a few preliminary twitches, settled in place to stare us out of countenance. There was no room for mistake. It was the portrait of Miss Julia Parmalee standing proudly erect in statuesque posture, with one hand resting on the back of a chair, and seated in this chair was Lieut. Dwight Ransom, smiling amiably. There was a moment’s deadly hush, while we gazed at this unlooked-for apparition. It seemed, upon examination, as if there was a certain irony in the Lieutenant’s grin. Some one in the darkness emitted an abrupt snort of amusement, and a general titter arose, hung in the air for an awkward instant, and then was drowned by a generous burst of applause. While the people were still clapping their hands the picture was withdrawn from the screen, and we heard Newton Shull call down from his perch in the gallery:

“You kin turn up the lights now. They ain’t no more to this.”

In another minute we were sitting once again in the broad glare of the gaslight, blinking confusedly at one another, and with a dazed consciousness that something rather embarrassing had happened. The boldest of us began to steal glances across to where Miss Parmalee and Marsena sat, just in front of the steps to the bench …

Comments: Harold Frederic (1856-1898) was an American journalist and novelist. ‘Marsena’ is a short story set during the 1860s period in America, following the Civil War. Magic lanterns were commonly referred to as stereopticons in America.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Seeing at a Distance

Source: Extracts from ‘Seeing at a Distance’, opening chapter of G.V. Dowding (ed.), Book of Practical Television (London: The Amalgamated Press, 1935), pp. 9-16

Text: So far relatively few people have witnessed the modern television under domestic conditions. No doubt the generally accepted ideas is that it is pretty crude and is little more than a tiny, dim flickering picture which is tiring to the eyes and doesn’t show much more than shimmering spots and splotches. Probably many will decide to wait for “improvements,” believing that everything must at its very beginning be only a ghostly precursor of better things to come. […]

The new television is transmitted with a “pictures per second” standard higher than the modern films. Therefore, its smoothness of action or picture movement, to use familiar if not quite technically correct words, is very good. The technical difficulties are greater than in the films, but by means of ingenious systems of interlaced scanning and so on, results fully comparable are obtainable. The definition, too, is largely a function of the transmission and not of reception. And it is “high definition” as all will know. That terms means what it says. The details of the pictures is comparable to the detail given by a good newspaper illustration, that is, on all but the poorest receiving apparatus.

Brightness and Size. The brightness and size of pictures is a purely reception limitation. On first rate gear black and white pictures bright enough to show clearly in a lighted room are possible on a screen twelve by nine inches, and even larger. Lower down the scale screens of but four or five inches or so square are met with and illumination making it desirable for the pictures to be witnessed in a dark room for comfortable “looking”.

Nevertheless, the mistake should not be made of discounting entirely these smaller and dimmer pictures. It should be remembered that they are “talkies” and not silent pictures. There is a great difference between these, a difference that is psychological of course, but none the less real. It has been said that television can provide nothing more than a talking cabinet photograph. But size is not an all-important factor in the creation of illusion, though naturally it plays some part, and when it is controllable within wide limits as in a cinema, it is an art-quality that is employed generously. The question may well be asked that if a small television picture must inevitably militate against the creation of perfect illusion, why shouldn’t a giant close-up on a cinema screen also do that?

Cinema Comparisons. In the course of any celluloid drama the glamorous features of one or more of the stars are reproduced in such dimensions that they practically fill the screen. But the audience is not at once aware of anything particularly incongruous in having the talking image of a giant face, perhaps forty feet in diameter, thrust before it, with cavernous mouth opening to reveal teeth truly as large as tombstones, and false eyelashes as big as cricket stumps waving with exaggerated emotion.

The fact is that the human imagination is immensely adaptable, and in those few words you have the answer to what many find to be an extremely perplexing problem, that is, if they ever think about this matter of film picture sizes at all; we would hazard the guess that very few do. There is a widespread belief that the bigger you make a picture the better it becomes. Certainly you will see more of the detail of a gnat’s geography if you place him underneath a microscope, but the same reasoning does not apply to film pictures.

You can test this simply enough for yourself. Study a good postcard of your favourite film star, or any clear photo for that matter, and then when you go to the cinema the next time carefully examine one of the huge close-ups which are flashed on the screen. The relative magnification will be something equal to that applied by a fairly high-powered microscope, but you won’t see much, if any, exaggeration of detail. It is a good job too, otherwise the huge screen image would reveal such things as the sweat glands of the skin and other pathological details, which would in truth destroy many illusions!

Television Definition a Fixed Quality. If the cinema projector could be moved nearer and nearer to the screen the while you too moved closer in order to accommodate yourself to the smaller picture that resulted, you would find that the diminishing size was followed by an apparent increase in the sharpness of its definition, though you wouldn’t see any more detail. This is a vital fact to note and the cause of it is that this definition of television is fixed in the transmission. No amount of juggling with screen sizes, etc., at the receiving end can add to the definition of the pictures.

It has also been said that while the compass of the ear is limited to a mere handful of different notes ranging from an organ’s bass rumble to the squeak of a piccolo or violin top note, the compass of the eye can never be extended to its limits except by the broad open spaces of nature. And that any attempt to satisfy the eye with small pictures on a screen is bound to fail leaving the owner of that eye fully conscious all the time that he is in fact merely looking at a small picture. This may be right up to a point, and it depends upon the imaginative pliability of the looker as to how much he will be able to immerse himself in the subject of the picture and forget the vehicle which brings it before his eyes.

If it were possible for any of us to become subjective lookers, cinematography would have had a short life limited to its novelty appeal. When this is remembered no conflict with the purely scientific optical laws […] need be suspected. We are concerned here with rather more abstract things – imagination for example. But the reality of the part imagination plays in the cinematographic art is considerable and is easily illustrated.

A “Silly Symphony” Example. It is common knowledge that the Mickey Mouse cartoons are nothing but clever drawings (about fifteen thousand of theme to each episode) and yet such is the power of the of the human imagination that Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Donald the Duck and others of the ingenious Walt Disney creations have assumed almost human qualities in the minds of a large number of films fans. Some of the Silly Symphonies have been so successful in the creation of illusion that tears of emotion have been extracted from the eyes of audiences in sympathy with the plight of cartooned grasshoppers and other such fantasies. Cartooned grasshoppers, mark you, with no parallel in reality, grotesque sketches of grasshoppers as big as horses or as “small” as mice. Any screen personality or object is liable to shrink or expand at any moment and yet the audience remains quite enthralled. No jarring note of artificiality seems to be struck if the practised producer of a film decides to dodge about with his dimensions. On the contrary, with so much of it having been done, if a film presenting all of its actors and actresses at a fixed distance from the camera’s eyes were shown, then no doubt the audience would consider that something was wrong!

uncomfortably _close

The comparatively small television screen is, therefore, not in itself any insuperable limitation to the creation of illusion. It can only show talking human beings of doll-like size but the looker will not find himself feeling any sense of incongruity so long as the subject is of good entertainment value. If this were not the case then it could be as equally argued that the receiving television screen should prove a better medium for Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies than the full size cinema screen, for his delightful insect and animal absurdities would for the most part appear in sizes nearer to the dimensions of the things cartooned. […]

angle_of_view

Easy looking. Would you get easy looking if you television screen were as big as the side of the room? Decidedly not. You would be “too close to the picture.” You would feel the urge to get back farther and farther back so that you did not have to wave your head about from side to side and up and down continuously in order to be able to comprehend the whole of the picture and all that was taking part in it. These points are illustrated in Fig. I and Fig. Ia.

A screen of six by eight inches can provide “easy looking” for as many people as would normally be present in a normal household to see what was coming over in the way of television. Going back again to the cinema we can now appreciate the reason why those gigantic close-ups do not strike a note of incongruity so long as the film drama has been scientifically produced. […] It is very difficult to define hard and fast limits, but we would hazard the opinion that at a distance of ten feet, and most of us cannot get much farther away than that in the room in which we listen and look-in at home, there is no advantage in having a screen larger than, say, four feet square and that a screen appreciably bigger might in fact militate against easy looking. With smaller screens you can go closer, but, on the other hand anything smaller than the six by eight inches may certainly cramp the illusion, for the detail of the pictures will crowd together and lose apparent clarity and you will become conscious that it is a small reproduction. […]

Perfect Home Entertainment. No, you do not need to stretch your imagination in order to derive entertainment from the modern television. Our case for it may or may not sound convincing to those who have not yet enjoyed an hour or two of looking. Those who have done so will agree that one of the better Silly Symphonies or a good straightforward talkie or an entertaining variety act is every bit as absorbing on the television screen as it is in a music hall or movie theatre. Perhaps rather more so, because there are quieter conditions. No deafening roars of laughter, drowning parts of the dialogue, no coughing from all angles, no kicking at the back of the seat, but plenty of room to stretch your legs from a comfortable chair and a position relative to the screen which can be chosen to a nicety. In short, television in the home is the ideal and perfect medium of entertainment, and it remains in the hands of the B.B.C. to see that the substance is worthy of the medium! …

Comments: The essay is unsigned but is presumably by the book’s editor G.V. Dowding. In 1935 the BBC was producing regular demonstration broadcasts (to an audience of a few thousand) using the Baird’s 30-line electromechanical system, broadcasts which continued until 11 September 1935. This essay however refers to higher definition broadcasts, which were first seen by the public when the BBC launched a regular service on 2 November 1936, alternating between a Baird mechanical system with 240 lines and an EMI electronic system with 405 lines. The latter was found to be far superior and was the only system used after February 1937. Early accounts of television often refers to ‘lookers’; the term ‘viewers’ was only adopted later.