Musical Accompaniment

Source: Dorothy Richardson, extract from ‘Continuous Performance II: Musical Accompaniment’, Close Up vol. I no. 2, August 1927, reproduced in James Donald, Anne Friedberg and Laura Marcus (eds.), Close Up 1927-1933: Cinema and Modernism (London: Cassell, 1998), pp. 162-163

Text: Our first musician was a pianist who sat in the gloom beyond the barrier and played without notes. His playing was a continuous improvisation varying in tone and tempo according to what was going forward on the screen. During the earlier part of the evening he would sometimes sing. He would sing to the sailing by of French chateaux, sotto voce, in harmony with the gently flowing undertone that moved so easily from major to minor and from key to key. His singing seemed what probably it was, a spontaneous meditative appreciation of things seen. For the Gazette he had martial airs, waltzes for aeroplanes. Jigs accompanied the comic interludes and devour low-toned nocturnes the newest creations of fashion. For drama he usually had a leitmotif, borrowed or invented, set within his pattern of sound moving suitably from pianissimo to fortissimo. He could time a passage to culminate and break punctually on a staccato chord at a crisis. This is a crude example of his talent for spontaneous adaptation. As long as he remained with us music and picture were one. If the film were good he enhanced it, heightened its effect of action moving forward for the first time. If it were anything from bad to worst his music helped the onlooker to escape into incidentals and thence into his private world of meditation or of thought.

The little palace prospered and the management grew ambitious. Monthly programmes were issued, refreshments were cried up and down the gangways and perfumed disinfectants squirted ostentatiously over the empty spaces. The pianist vanished and the musical accompaniment became a miniature orchestra, conspicuous in dress clothes and with lights and music stands and scores between the audience and the screen, playing set pieces, for each scene a piece. At each change of scene one tune would give place to another, in a different key, usually by means of a tangle of discords. The total result of these efforts towards improvement was a destruction of the relationship between onlookers and film. With the old unity gone the audience grew disorderly. Talking increased. Prosperity waned. Much advertisement of ‘west-end successes’ pulled things together for a while during which the management aimed still higher. An evening came when in place of the limping duet of violin and piano, several instruments held together by some kind of conducting produced sprightly and harmonious effects. At half-time the screen was curtained leaving the musician’s pit in a semi-darkness where presently wavered a green spot-light that came to rest upon the figure of a handsome young Jew dramatically fronting the audience with violin poised for action. Fireworks. Applause. After which the performance was allowed to proceed. Within a month the attendance was reduced to a scattered few and in due course the hall was ‘closed for decorations’, to reopen some months later ‘under entirely new management’, undecorated and with the old pianist restored to his place. The audience drifted back.

But during the interregnum, and whilst concerted musical efforts were doing their worst, an incident occurred that convinced me that any kind of musical noise is better than none. Our orchestra failed to appear and the pictures moved silently by, life less and colourless, to the sound of intermittent talking and the continuous faint hiss and creak of the apparatus. The result seemed to justify the curses of the most ardent enemies of the cinema and I understood at last what they mean who declare that dramatic action in photograph is obscene because it makes no personal demand upon the onlooker. It occurred to me to wonder how man of these enemies are persons indifferent to music and those to whom music of any kind is a positive nuisance …

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

Spain was indeed different

Source: Christopher Clark, contributed by the author.

Text: During the 1960s I often used to spend summer holidays with the Nadal family in Cadaques. My father and Angel Nadal collaborated at the time on the Buster comic strip: Dad wrote the storyboard and dialogue and posted the sketches to Angel who applied the artwork at a desk on the balcony of his apartment, fishing rod to hand. His eldest children, David and Ana were a little younger than me and had a large circle of friends whose families typically resided in Gerona or Barcelona for most of the year but escaped to the Costa Brava villages during the summer months. Talk between us kids was mostly about pop, heard intermittently over the radio: I taught them ‘A hard day’s night’ and the English words to ‘Amarillo el submarino es’ (Yellow Submarine). But we also talked about cinema.

General Franco and the Church ensured that censorship remained tight. The Spanish children could sense that things were different and more exciting across the Pyrenees. A few years later this translated into queues at the border to see ‘Love Story’ while it was being shown in Perpignan. I was quizzed about the supposedly lurid details and caused them immense disappointment, and even more surprise, when I told them I hadn’t seen it and was not inclined to do so either.

Cadaques is a very special place, isolated for decades by the surrounding mountains from the interior. Artists loved it: Dali had a house in neighbouring Port Lligat. Film makers loved it too and I remember witnessing a scene being shot that I was told included James Mason, though I only saw the large car that brought him there. Social life revolved around the beaches during the day and the bars and casino during the evening: dancing sardanas on Sundays. Children largely made their own entertainment, fishing, playing games of tag or going on late afternoon hikes up the mountain. Spanish TV in the 60s was uniformly dreadful, replete with overdubbed American and British movies from previous decades.

So I was surprised one evening (in 1966 or 1968) when David and Ana said we were going to the cinema. They didn’t say which film: I was just curious about where the cinema might be. I have failed to remember exactly where it was but it was close to the imposing church and may have been in the church hall. The noise was unbelievable as we went in: a bare room, concrete floor and metal-legged chairs scraping or falling by the dozen as throngs of kids (I don’t recall seeing many adults present) joked, poked and generally misbehaved at the tops of their voices – illegally in Catalan. As soon as the lights were turned off and the projector warmed up the noise level dropped but then the fingers and occasional head silhouettes started to appear on the blank screen and the hubbub resumed.

The film was Las Minas del Rey Salomon (King Solomon’s Mines, 1950) with Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr. I’d pretended to read the book at school so didn’t really know the story but was cross that the Spanish couldn’t get the King’s name right.

About ten minutes into the film the audience noise had subsided enough to be able to hear the dialogue, breathlessly dubbed in Spanish. Then the projector broke down, which it was prone to do regularly during that screening. The light went back on, the shouting and yelling resumed, this time levelled at the hapless projectionist.

I honestly cannot remember a single scene from that film: all I can bring to mind is the audience behaviour and the sonorous bareness of the venue. That was the only time I went to the cinema in Cadaques.

Several years later, just before and while studying Spanish at university, I went to several cinemas in Barcelona. The cinemas in central Barcelona were then, as you’d expect in a cosmopolitan centre, high class establishments and the experience was similar to an evening out in London or Paris. But out in the suburbs the experience could be closer to that evening in Cadaques. People came in and went out of the cinema when they felt like it: our group of about six lads arrived late for El Graduado (extensively cut, I later realised) and so we sat through part of the next showing to catch the opening scenes we’d missed. I decided I needed to see it again so took the bus down the hill to a small cinema next to Plaza Lesseps, which was more bar than cinema. The film was shown in two parts, so after more booze the audience was even more prone to participate during the second part than in the first. I had to wait a couple more years before I could see it properly, in the original, uncut version, on the telly back home.

Comments: Christopher Clark (born 1952) is a musician and former sound archivist at the British Library. His father was cartoonist and film animator Ron ‘Nobby’ Clark. He adds: “I’ve always enjoyed going to the cinema, ever since my Dad took me to the cartoons at Victoria Station to fill in time before our train departed. I knew from matinees in my home town of Horsham that a cinema full of kids was prone to occasional disturbances but in all my childhood years of half-term Disney first releases and westerns I can’t remember any noise above the occasional rustle of sweet papers intruding on the film’s progress. Spain was indeed different.” The films mentioned are Love Story (USA 1970), King’s Solomon’s Mines (USA 1950) and The Graduate (USA 1967).

Mass-Observation at the Movies

Source: Sidney Smith, quoted in Jeffrey Richards and Dorothy Sheridan (eds.), Mass-Observation at the Movies (London/New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), p. 68

Text: Sidney Smith, 30 Green Way, Hall-i-the-Wood, Bolton (aged 40), regular cinema-goer (4 times a month), preference – American films.

Comments: Our main requirement is comedy that is comedy, not the absurd stuff that we get now. If you cant [sic] give us the real thing, at least do not force on to us a poor imitation. Most supporting items, except news and cartoons, are very poor, and annoying to see. You should dispense with this obvious padding and let us have either longer main feature items or shorts of main feature quality. Cut out entirely the refreshment interval and next week’s trailers, and if you must have cinema organs and advertisements, use them only in the intervals between programmes. Even the people who are musical do not care for too much organ music and many people dislike it intensely. Do something to stop people from talking while the show is on.

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

Maisie at the Movies

Source: Gertrude S. Walton, Maisie at the Movies (Philadelphia: The Penn Publishing Company, 1922)

Text: CHARACTER – A Shop-Girl. She is overdressed, wears her hair in extreme fashion and her nose is powdered white. She is chewing gum vigorously.

(Gropes way down aisle and pauses — addresses companion LILIAN.) S’awful dark in here, ain’t it, Lil? I think I see a coupla seats in here. Pardon me. (Climbs over two or three seats and settles self.) Y’gonna take yer hat off, Lilian? Let’s slink down in the seats and take a chance — our hats is so small anyhow; in fact I thought the very day I bought the hat that it would be so small that I wouldn’t hafta take it off in the movies.

I hope this ain’t a sad picture, Lilian, because I’m sure to cry over it. I’m so sympathetic, Lilian, and I’m worse ever since Joe and I had our falling out — I cry at the least thing — not that I care so much about Joe, y’understand, only it’s made me so sympathetic or somethin’. Ma says I’m a fool but I donno. Joe was a nice fella but it was his fault a’course.

(Looks frantically from left to right in an effort to see the picture.) Good-night, Lilian, that man certainly takes his time taking his coat off. You’d think it was glued to him, in fact you’d think any man with any sense would take his coat off before he gets in front of the whole show and makes you break your neck trying to see the picture, but then, I don’t care so much for these comedy things anyway.

(Turns to person behind her.) Did you speak to me? My hat — it’s in your way? Well, can you beat that, Lilian? Some people are mighty fussy, believe me.

Thank goodness this crazy comedy is over. What didja say the feature picture was ? Oo-o, The Haunted House-Boat! Why, Lilian, I’ve seen this picture. No, we won’t go out — it’s a swell picture — you’ll be crazy about it, Lilian, it has such an original plot — so different from anything you ever saw before. Y’see the fella that takes the part of the crook is the hero but he really isn’t a crook at all. You’ll love this picture, Lilian. Just wait now — look, that’s him. Ain’t he grand though? His eyes is just like Joe’s. In fact he reminds me terribly of Joe. And look there, see the butler? Well, he’s the one who really takes the jewels in the end and he plays so innocent all the time you’d never think it. Why, the first time I seen this picture I was so surprised. Yeh, that’s the heroine. She wears the swellest clothes you ever seen. Wait until you see the dress she wears in the ballroom scene — gee, it’s a dream — no back to it and only one strap to hold it up — I mean what there is of the waist to it — only one strap to hold it up besides her strength of will. The ballroom scene is where she loses the pearls and the diamond bracelet and every one thinks the hero done it, but it’s really the butler after all. The butler is the real crook, Lilian.

Then this House-Boat that’s supposed to be haunted all the time is really the hiding place for all these crooks. See, that’s the House-Boat now. Gee, Lil, I get so excited when I think about the awful fight they have on it at the end of the picture. That’s when you discover that the hero isn’t a crook at all — he’s from the Police Department and the butler is the real crook. Any minute you’d think the butler will kill him but he doesn’t.

See that fella with the black moustache — well, he’s another one of the crooks and he ties the girl to the railroad track just as the train is coming. No — I’m wrong, it isn’t him that ties her to the track, it’s the half-breed. Yeh, that’s who it is. I kinda forgot it. Y’see, the half-breed is really the brother of the butler, who isn’t a half-breed — he’s a whole-breed, or whatever you call it — I mean the half-breed is the whole-breed’s half-brother. I mean the half-breed had an Indian mother, y’see, so that made ’em only half-brothers — if you get what I mean.

The butler is the brains of the jewel-robbing gang and the half-breed’ll do anything he tells him because he hasn’t got so much brains on account of his being a half-breed, y’know.

This is the sad part, Lil — see, the hero’s mother is going to die now. Gee, I hope I don’t cry. (Blinks.) Don’t he look just like Joe now — look, Lil — ain’t he the picture of Joe? Yeh, you said it, why did we have a falling out? I suppose it was my fault a little bit, but you really couldn’t blame me for getting sore. Joe’s an awful nice fella though. Look, Lilian, she’s going to die now just as soon as she falls on the floor. Ain’t it sad? (Fumbles in pocket.) Lil, have you got a handkerchief ? Thanks, I didn’t bring none. (Dabs at eyes.) Gee, I wish I wasn’t so sympathetic.

Good-night, Lil, I dropped my hat. (Gropes about on floor, sits up and accepts hat from neighbor on opposite side.) Oh, thank you ever so (Opens mouth and stares in astonishment.) Joe — you been sitting here all the time? And I never knew it; I never knew you were there at all. Gee, you surprised me so I guess I swallowed my gum. Lilian, look what was sitting right here beside us and me none the wiser. Yeh, I remember I said I’d never speak to you again, Joe, but I’ve forgotten all about that now. I wasn’t really mad, Joe. I just met Lil this afternoon and we thought we would go to the movies but I’ve seen this picture before. Y’see the butler is really the crook and the hero is from the Police Department and this House-Boat is really the hiding place for (Turns to usher in aisle.) Whadja say? We gotta stop talking or leave? Can you beat that! Don’t worry, little Sunshine, we’ll leave all right. I’ve seen the picture anyway. Cmon, Joe. (Slams on hat, climbs out into aisle.) Now I ask you, Lil, have I said two words since we been in here? You said it — I ain’t said a word — not — a — word. Believe me, some nerve!

Comments: The existence of several comic monologues around this time which satirise the talkative member of a cinema audience (generally female) indicates a general perception of certain modes of movie audience behaviour, in particular talking about what you saw on the screen.

Links: Copy on Internet Archive

Sociology of Film

Source: J.P. Mayer, Sociology of Film: Studies and Documents (London: Faber and Faber, 1946), pp. 117-118

Text: 7. Y.L.

I go to the films about once every fortnight, and I only go to it if it is worth while. I can’t bear sob-stuff. Another sort of film I loathe are jazz and swing films. For instance, I went to a news theatre about a month ago, and one of the short films showed a band, and one of the singers was so funny, that everyone was absolutely roaring with laughter. I laughed so much that I was nearly crying. A man in front of me choked from laughing, and he had to go out of the theatre.

As I have said before, I don’t like love and sob-stuff. It not only amuses me, but it also bores me stiff. When two people kiss each other and keep like it for about ten minutes, I think I have reason to be bored.

Once I went to the pictures on a Saturday afternoon, and there were two women behind me. One of them was telling the other one all about the film, and also keeping a running commentary going. It got to the pitch when I felt as if I wanted to tear her hair off. My mother, who had come with me got in such a temper that she had to tell the woman to be quiet (in I am afraid a rather rude way). I am interested in historical films, and also murders. I am afraid to say that I am very bloodthirsty. Murder films affect some people, so that they have nightmares. That has only happened to me once. I had been to see a film about a detective. While a man who was a dealer in gold, was sitting with his back to a window in his house, a pair of hands came through the open window, clutched him round the neck, and finally strangled him. The man let out the most awful shriek, which went right through me. That night I dreamt I saw someone sitting in front of the window, and a pair of hands came up behind him. I rushed up and clutched the hands. The man who had tried to strangle the other man chased me all through the woods and goodness knows what, and when he caught me up, and was just about to strangle me, I woke up. You could not imagine how very relieved I was, at that particular moment to wake up. I was very surprised with myself, as I had never had a real nightmare before. As you have gathered from this essay, I like historical and detective films, but not love.

Comments: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His Sociology of Film draws on a large amount of evidence gathered through questionnaires and submissions received through invitations published in Picturegoer magazine. The above response comes from the section ‘Children and Adolescents in the Cinema’ which reproduces essays obtained from a school in Hampstead, the contributors being “on the average not older than 12½ … their parents are probably mostly members of the middle class”. They were invited to write about the films that they liked.

The Plastic Age

Source: Percy Marks, The Plastic Age (New York: The Century Co., 1924), pp. 24-28

Text: “Well,” he exclaimed, “that’s that! At last I know where I’m going. You certainly saved my life. I know where all the buildings are; so it ought to be easy.”

“Sure,” said Carl encouragingly; “it’s easy. Now there’s nothing to do till to-morrow until eight forty-five when we attend chapel to the glory of the Lord. I think I’ll pray to-morrow; I may need it. Christ! I hate to study.”

“Me, too,” Hugh lied. He really loved books, but somehow he couldn’t admit the fact, which had suddenly become shameful, to Carl. “Let’s go to the movies,” he suggested, changing the subject for safety.

“Right-o!” Carl put on his freshman cap and flung Hugh’s to him. “Gloria Nielsen is there, and she’s a pash baby. Ought to be a good fillum.”

The Blue and Orange – it was the only movie theater in town – was almost full when the boys arrived. Only a few seats near the front were still vacant. A freshman started down the aisle, his “baby bonnet” stuck jauntily on the back of his head.

“Freshman!”… “Kill him!”… “Murder the frosh!” Shouts came from all parts of the house, and an instant later hundreds of peanuts shot swiftly at the startled freshman. “Cap! Cap! Cap off!” There was a panic of excitement. Upper-classmen were standing on their chairs to get free throwing room. The freshman snatched off his cap, drew his head like a scared turtle down into his coat collar, and ran for a seat. Hugh and Carl tucked their caps into their coat pockets and attempted to stroll nonchalantly down the aisle. They hadn’t taken three steps before the bombardment began. Like their classmate, they ran for safety.

Then some one in the front of the theatre threw a peanut at some one in the rear. The fight was on! Yelling like madmen, the students stood on their chairs and hurled peanuts, the front and rear of the house automatically dividing into enemy camps. When the fight was at its hottest, three girls entered.

“Wimmen! Wimmen!” As the girls walked down the aisle, infinitely pleased with their reception, five hundred men stamped in time with their steps.

No sooner were the girls seated than there was a scramble in one corner, an excited scuffling of feet. “I’ve got it!” a boy screamed. He stood on his chair and held up a live mouse by its tail. There was a shout of applause and then – “Play catch!”

The boy dropped the writhing mouse into a peanut bag, screwed the open end tight-closed, and then threw the bag far across the room. Another boy caught it and threw it, this time over the girls’ heads. They screamed and jumped upon their chairs, holding their skirts, and dancing up and down in assumed terror. Back over their heads, back and over, again and again the bagged mouse was thrown while the girls screamed and the boys roared with delight. Suddenly one of he girls threw up her arm, caught the bag deftly, held it for a second, and then tossed it into the rear of the theater.

Cheers of terrifying violence broke loose: “Ray! Ray! Atta girl! Hot dog! Ray, ray!” And then the lights went out.

“Moosick! Moosick! Moo-sick!” The audience stamped and roared, whistled and howled. “Moosick! We want moosick!”

The pianist, an undergraduate, calmly strolled down the aisle.

“Get a move on!”… “Earn your salary!”… “Give us moosick!”

The pianist paused to thumb his nose casually at the entire audience, and then amid shouts and hisses sat down at the piano and began to play “Love Nest.”

Immediately the boys began to whistle, and as the comedy was utterly stupid, they relieved their boredom by whistling the various tunes that the pianist played until the miserable film flickered out.

Then the “feature” and the fun began. During the stretches of pure narrative, the boys whistled, but when there was any real action they talked. The picture was a melodrama of “love and hate,” as the advertisement said.

The boys told the actors what to do; they revealed to them the secrets of the plot. “She’s hiding behind the door, Harold. No, no! Not that way. Hey, dumbbell – behind the door.”… “Catch him, Gloria; he’s only shy!”… “No, that’s not him!”

The climactic fight brought shouts of encouragement – to the villain. “Kill him!”… “Shoot one to his kidneys!”… “Ahhhhh,” as the villain hit the hero in the stomach…. “Muss his hair. Attaboy!”… “Kill the skunk!” And finally groans of despair when the hero won his inevitable victory.

But it was the love scenes that aroused the greatest ardor and joy. The hero was given careful instructions. “Some neckin’, Harold!”… “Kiss her! Kiss her! Ahhh!”… “Harold, Harold, you’re getting rough!”… “She’s vamping you, Harold!”… “Stop it; Gloria; he’s a good boy.” And so on until the picture ended in the usual close-up of the hero and heroine silhouetted in a tender embrace against the setting sun. The boys breathed “Ahhhh” and “Ooooh” ecstatically – and laughed. The meretricious melodrama did not fool them, but they delighted in its absurdities.

The lights flashed on and the crowd filed out, “wise-cracking” about the picture and commenting favorably on the heroine’s figure. There were shouts to this fellow or that fellow to come on over and play bridge, and suggestions here and there to go to a drug store and get a drink.

Hugh and Carl strolled home over the dark campus, both of them radiant with excitement, Hugh frankly so.

Comments: Percy Marks (1891-1956) was an American author whose notorious novel of college life, The Plastic Age, was filmed under that title in 1925 (starring Clara Bow) and in 1929 as Red Lips.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Continuous Performance

Source: Extracts from Dorothy Richardson, ‘Continuous Performance VIII’, Close Up vol. II no. 3, March 1928, reproduced in James Donald, Anne Friedberg and Laura Marcus (eds.), Close Up 1927-1933: Cinema and Modernism (London: Cassell, 1998), pp. 174-176

Text: Amongst the gifts showered upon humanity by the screen and already too numerous to be counted, none has been more eagerly welcomed than the one bestowed upon the young woman who is allowed to shine from its surface just as she is. In silent, stellar radiance, for the speech that betrayeth is not demanded of her and is this she is more fortunate than her fellows upon the stage …

… But it is not only upon the screen that this young woman has been released in full power. She is to be found also facing it, and by no means silent, in her tends of thousands. A human phenomenon, herself in excelsis; affording rich pasture for the spiritual descendants of Messrs Juvenal and Co. And thus far the lady is beneficient. But there are others together with her in the audience. There are for example those illogical creatures, who, while they respectfully regard woman as life’s supreme achievement, capping even the starfish and the stars, are still found impotently raging when in the presence of the wonders of art she remains self-centred and serenely self-expressive. Such, meeting her at her uttermost, here where so far there is not even a convention of silence to keep her within bounds, must sometimes need more than all their chivalry to stop short of moral homicide.

I must confess to having at least one foot in their camp. I evade the lady whenever it is possible and, in the cinema, as far as it gloom allows, choose a seat to the accompaniment of an apprehensive consideration of its surrounding, lest any of her legion should be near at hand. Nevertheless I have learned to cherish her. For it’s she at her most flagrant that has placed the frail edifice of my faith in woman at last upon a secure foundation. For this boon I thank her, and am glad there has been time for her fullest demonstrations before the day when the cinema audience shall have established a code of manners.

That day is surely not far off. One of the things, perhaps so far, the only thing, to be said for the film that can be heard as well as seen is that it puts the audience in its place, reduces it to the condition of being neither seen nor heard. But it may be that before the standard film becomes and audible entertainment it will occur to some enterprising producer, possibly to one of those transatlantic producers who possess so perfectly the genial art of taking the onlookers into their confidence and not only securing but conducting their collaboration, to prelude his performance by a homily on the elements of the technique of film-seeing: a manual of etiquette for the cinema in a single caption, an inclusive courteous elegant paraphrase of the repressed curses of the minority:

Don’t stand arguing in the gangway, we are not deaf.
Crouch on your way to your seat, you are not transparent.
Sit down the second you reach it.
Don’t deliver public lectures on the film as it unfolds.
Or on anything else.
Don’t be audible in any way unless the films brings you laughter.
Ceases, in fact, to exist except as a contributing part of the film, critical or otherwise, and if critical, silently so.
If this minimum of decent consideration for your neighbours is beyond you, go home.

An excellent alternative would be a film that might be called A Mirror of Audiences, with many close-ups.

Meanwhile here we are, and there she is. In she comes and the screen obediently ceases to exist. If when she finally attends to it – for there is first her toilet to think of, and then her companion, perhaps not seen since yesterday – she is disappointed, we all hear of it. If she is pleased we learn how and why. If her casual glance discovers stock characters engrossed in a typical incident of an average film, well known to her for she has served her enthralled apprenticeship and is a little blasé, her conversation proceeds uninterrupted …

… Let us attend to her, for she can lead her victim through anger to cynicism and on at last to a discovery that makes it passing strange that no male voice has been raised save in condemnation, than no man, film-lover and therefore for years past helplessly at her mercy, has risen up and cried Eureka. For she is right. For all her bad manners that will doubtless be pruned when the film becomes high art and its temple a temple of stillness save for the music that at present inspires her to do her worst, she is innocently, directly, albeit unconsciously, upon the path that men have reached through long centuries of effort and of thought. She does not need, this type of woman clearly does not need, the illusions of art to come to the assistance of her own sense of existing. Instinctively she maintains a balance, the thing perceived and herself perceiving. She must therefore insist that she is not unduly moved, or if she be moved must assert herself as part of that which moves her. She takes all things currently …

… Down through the centuries men and some women have pathetically contemplated art as a wonder outside themselves. It is only in recent years that man has known beauty to emanate from himself, to be his gift to what he sees. And the dreadful woman asserting herself in the presence of no matter what grandeurs unconsciously testifies that life goes on, art or no art and that the onlooker is a part of the spectacle.

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

Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918

Source: Excerpt from interview with Mrs Alfreda Elicia Holmes, C707/4002, Thompson, P. and Lummis, T., Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918, 1870-1973 [computer file]. 7th Edition. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], May 2009. SN: 2000, http://dx.doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-2000-1

Text: A: Oh but now I must tell you something that might interest you, do you know – do you know the – that cinema in Drayton Gardens. The Barons. The Paris Pullman now, it used to be called the Bolton cinema you see. Well on a Saturday morning, they did – they did a marvellous thing. From ten o’clock ’til twelve – they used to have a childrens – do, and you could get in for threepence. And – many a Saturday morning when I’d saved up – I’d take the children.

Q: What kinds of things would they have on?

A: Oh cowboys of course, cowboys and Indians and things like that and somebody playing the piano you know. Whathaveyou you see. And of whenever the – whenever the – cowboys looked like – you know, we used to sort of – shout out you see. We were quite convinced that that – it was because they could hear us through the screen, that that’s why they – that’s why they moved quickly you see, and – and of course the cowboys always won of course, I mean the Indian spears, you know, never – never sort of – hit them properly you know. And – and – but of course we used to walk – we used to walk from – where we were living then, in Knightsbridge, to – you know, so it didn’t cost us anything in bus fares you see. And – I used to try and contrive to get, you know, a little bag of sweets to have in between, ’cos it was typically a children’s do you know, and you had to be doing something you know, during the time. But that was the result of our – that was – that was our – our main – and – and every Christmas – I remember – my mother always used to take us to the Chelsea Palace here, that is now – it’s this big – huge building you know, the Granada people had it, and – we used to go to pantomime. We used to go up in the gods, we used to love it. That also used to be threepence in those days, most things used to be about threepence you know, in those days.

Comment: Alfreda Holmes was born in 1902 in Kensington, London, the eldest of five. Her father was a restaurant manager, the mother was a lady’s maid. She was interviewed on 18 July 1972 and 20 July 1973, one of 444 people interviewed by Paul Thompson and his team as part of a study of the Edwardian era which resulted in Thompson’s book The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975). The Bolton Picture Playhouse was at 65 Drayton Gardens, South Kensington.

A Childhood at the Cinema

Source: Voldemars Puce, ‘Kinojauniba’ [A Childhood at the Cinema], Literatura un Maksla, 10 September 1982, p. 16, quoted (and translated) in Yuri Tsivian, Early Cinema in Russia and its Cultural Reception (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 114

Text: The viewers were never at a loss for pithy interjections: they shouted, applauded loudly, egged on the heroes and booed the villains. Whenever they thought a picture lacked sound or text they did their best to provide their own sound effects. In the love scenes they would encourage a faint-hearted lover and express their approval of decisive action. When lovers kissed on the screen loud smacking noises resounded all round the auditorium and people tried to time their kisses to synchronise exactly with those on the screen. When this happened there would be laughter and applause throughout the auditorium.

Comment: Voldemars Puce was a Latvian film director. The period describes appears to cover the 1910s.

The King and Kinemacolor

Source: D.L.W., ‘The King and Kinemacolor’, Cinema News and Property Gazette, June 1912, p. 14

Text: THE KING AND KINEMACOLOR

ROYALTY SEES ITSELF UPON THE SCREEN.

The recent visit of the King and Queen to the Scala Theatre to witness the Kinemacolor pictures of the Durbar is a unique event in the annals of Cinematography. No less than eight other Royal personages, including Queen Alexandra and the Dowager Empress of Russia, accompanied Their Majesties. The following impressionist sketch is written by a member of THE CINEMA staff whose privilege it was to be present.

A MOST interesting evening, and one that will live long in the memory.

I had heard so much about the Kinemacolor pictures of the Durbar, but like so many others I had not yet seen them. And now that I have done so words fail altogether to express one’s feelings, as one sat comfortably in a cushioned armhair and witnessed all the grand pageantry of what was, perhaps, the greatest gathering of Indian personalities that has ever been drawn to the presence of their Sovereign. Such a feast of gorgeous colouring has surely never been seen in a London theatre before. It was all very wonderful. A short journey to the Scala Theatre, which stands on the site of the old Prince of Wales’ Theatre, reminiscent of the Bancrofts and their palmy days. The lights are turned down and we are transported to that great Indian Empire which is the envy of every other civilised country in the world. Before our wondering gaze are unfolded all the magnificence, all the splendour, all the beauty of Oriental colouring, which were so remarkable a feature of the crowning of our King and Queen in India. So perfect was the reproduction of the natural colours of the scene upon the screen that it required but little effort of the imagination to see oneself a member of that vast and orderly crowd of dusky sightseers, waiting patiently with the rays of the sun beating mercilessly down upon their heads till the Emperor of all the Indies, and his Consort, appear in the vast arena.

The Royal Party.

One could almost hear the great shout of welcome from hundreds of thousands of the King’s loyal subjects as the Royal procession made its way to the beautiful canopy upon which all eyes were fixed, and Majesty seated itself upon the waiting thrones; and only a few minutes before the self-same ceremony of ushering Royalty to its seats had been enacted here before our eyes. To the Scala Theatre had come the King and Queen, with a large family party, to see once again all the glories of the great ceremony in which they had played the leading parts. In the Royal box, within a few feet of us, sat King George and Queen Mary, Queen Alexandra, the Dowager Empress of Russia, Princess Henry of Battenberg, Princess Victoria, the Grand Duchess Olga, Prince Peter, and the Duke and Duchess of Teck. Seldom, if ever, have so many Royalties been present at an ordinary performance in any theatre. The Queen wore a gown of shell pink brocade with pearl and diamond embroideries, and a diamond and sapphire tiara and necklace. Queen Alexandra was attired in dull black, but her widow’s cap was relieved in front by a small pair of diamond wings, and she wore a diamond dog collar. This, I believe was one of Her Majesty’s first appearances at a theatre since the death of King Edward.

A Memorable Occasion.

To witness the Durbar pictures in the actual presence of the King was the next best thing to seeing it in reality. Only those who were present on this memorable occasion can appreciate to the full how absolutely real the whole scene seemed. It almost lived with all its marvellous movement and sense of expansiveness, its perfect atmosphere, and its blaze of Oriental colouring, as one saw it in the company of those who had been the chief actors upon this beautiful stage. I am quite sure that everyone must have felt the same.

Silencing the King.

We were near enough to the Royal box to see how thoroughly the King and Queen and their party enjoyed the novel experience of seeing themselves as others saw them. One could also clearly hear the remarks passing between the King and Queen Alexandra, who sat next to him. Owing to the Queen Mother’s sad affliction, the King had to raise his voice somewhat in order that she might hear what he said. This led to a somewhat disconcerting — although amusing — incident. Sounds of “Ssh! Ssh!” arose from different parts of the house, and it was some little time before the audience realised that it had been endeavouring to silence the King! Such remarks as floated down to us in the stalls were full of interest, and show how thoroughly human Royalty is.

“Is that me?”

“Is that me?” — with the accent on the me. We heard the Queen distinctly ask the question of her Royal spouse. Then Queen Alexandra’s voice — soft and sweet — “Did you have to read something?” as the pictures on the screen showed Lord Hardinge handing a scroll to the King at the Durbar Shamiana, when the high officials and ruling chiefs did homage to their Sovereign. The scene which, however, seemed to impress the Royal visitors most was the review of 50,000 troops, and they applauded frequently as the wonderful picture of probably the most wonderful review which the world has ever seen unfolded itself. It is something stupendous, and the effect left upon the mind was one of inexpressible wonderment as to how it could all be reproduced so faithfully.

Mr. Charles Urban’s Greatest Film.

Of all the many pictures which Mr. Charles Urban secured in India, this is certainly the greatest and the one of which he has reason to feel most proud, for it shows more than all the others put together — fine as many of them are — how great are the possibilities of the Kinemacolor process. And mention of the inventor calls to mind the feeling of regret which was felt by all who knew the reason which prevented Mr. Charles Urban being present to share in the triumph of which this memorable evening was a fitting termination. May he soon be himself again, renewed in health and strength, to go on developing the wonderful process which he has made his own.

A Word in Conclusion.

A word in conclusion. The Royal Party came and went without ceremony. At the Scala Theatre they were received by Dr. E. Distin Maddick, and the Royal box, designed by Mr. Frank Verity, F.R.I.B.A., the architect of the theatre, was so arranged as to create the impression that the visitors were seated under the same canopy as at the Durbar. The colour scheme of the interior was pale biscuit; the roof was supported by bronze columns, and the whole was draped with a crimson valance, and decked with a profusion cf flowers and plants. As the Royal party left at the close of the performance and one made one’s way out again into the drab surroundings of Tottenham Court Road, the beautiful scenes of the Durbar floated away — away — away! But the memory of the evening with the King at the Pictures remains.

Comment: Kinemacolor was a ‘natural’ colour process, managed by producer Charles Urban, which enjoyed great commercial and social success 1909-1914, in part by targeting high society audiences. The Scala Theatre in London was used as a showcase theatre for Kinemacolor. The Delhi Durbar was a spectacular ceremony held in Delhi on 12 December 1912 to mark the coronation of King George V, and was attended by the King and Queen. The royal couple went to see themselves on the screen at the Scala on 11 May 1912. Charles Urban had fallen ill with a perforated gastric ulcer and so missed the occasion. Edmund Distin Maddick was the owner of the Scala. The film was entitled With Our King and Queen Through India.

Links: Available on the Internet Archive