Source: ‘The Picture-Palaces of London’, The Daily Chronicle, 9 April 1910
Text: The Picture-Palaces of London. Have They Comes to Stay?
Pricked out in electric lights, on an imposing brand new structure of white stucco, you read the words “Cinematograph Theatre.” You wonder where the thing has come from. Like Aladdin’s Palace, it seems to have sprung up in a single night. On yesterday there was a block of old houses on that very spot. You remember looking in a the greengrocer’s window as you sauntered home to dinner, wondering what kind of fruit the children would like.
Well, no, it could not have been yesterday, but it was certainly the week before last!
A few weeks later the white stucco erection appears to have budded. There are two of the now, side by side. The matter is worth further enquiry, so you cross over, and read the “bill of fare” at either door. The rival attendants, gorgeously arrayed, glance at you with enticing eyes, but you regard not their mute entreaties. Then you are probably taken by surprise. The charm of the things catches you. Perhaps it is best set down as a free-and-easiness. Go when you will, after the door is opened, you are never late; never in anxiety over a seat. The show goes on continuously. There is a set of pictures for the day – six perhaps, or eight – and if you miss numbers one and two, why, you will see them for certain after number eight.
Entertainment Ad Lib.
The set may last an hour, to an hour and a half, but you need not go out at that time unless you have a mind to. You may sit still, if you choose, and see the whole set over again. I dare say you won’t, unless it is pouring wet outside, and you have forgotten your umbrella, but it is something to know that you can.
The cinematograph theatre fills a gap in our scheme of amusement. It may be a small gap, but still it was there, and now it is filled. It catches the leakage from the theatres and halls, the unfortunately who are sent sorrowfully away by the unwelcome announcement of “House full.”
It gives the tired sightseer an hour’s respite from the noise and fatigue of the streets, and in some cases it dangles the tempting bait of “afternoon tea[“] gratis before this type of prospective patron. To the regular theatre it stands in the same relationship as a “snack” does to a formal luncheon. It is the resource of the man with only an hour to spare, the lady who doesn’t like to be out late, the girl whose papa doesn’t approve of theatres, the little boy who must be in bed at six, the hospital nurse who only has two hours off duty, and the family party from the provinces, whose train starts at ten sharp.
Oh, and one must not forget the lovers! Humble lovers, perhaps, with a few shillings to spare. one sees them often in the sixpenny seats, holding hands in the friendly dark. They watch the films go spinning on, with absent eyes and beatific smiles. They haven’t come there for the show, but to find a corner to sit in, out of the wet. One can’t always go round and round the Inner Circle with a penny ticket without catching the eye of the cute conductor!
The Aristocratic Sixpence.
There are differences in the quality of these as of all other types of amusement. There are the second-raters in the outlying streets, just beyond the radius of West-end style. The modest sum of threepence will gain you admittance here, and if you indulge yourself to the tune of sixpence you are “a swell.” The pictures are usually quite up to the average, but the environment is not. The dark is not friendly, but apprehensive. One is suspicious of one’s neighbour, and keeps a tight clutch on one’s belongings. There is every prospect of carrying away with you less than you ought, and more than you bargained for. Reminiscences of the place are forced upon you next day by the odour of stale and indifferent tobacco that clings to your clothes. As you near the vicinity of Oxford-street there is a decided attempt at luxury in the internal appointments of the “Palaces.” The goods are not all in the shop window. Decidedly, too, the “orchestra” plays better. It consists usually of a girl with a piano, the latter very much at her mercy. In some of the theatres visited by the writer, it would be only charitable to suppose that the lady pianist had fallen a victim to the prevalent disease newly christened by a London daily as “The Hump.” She played in spasms, with a reckless disregard of time and tune, and an obvious idea that her function was merely to drown out the silence.
In the West they have changed all that, and, incidentally, the prices have gone up. We may now pay two shillings for a “fauteuil” (which is a horrid, awkward word to spell, and means exactly the same as seat, anyway!). Along with the fauteuil we have the advantage of being shone upon by rose-shaded electric lights, vastly improving to the complexion, and of feasting our eyes on the artistic decorations of the walls when we tire of the pictures.
People do not laugh so boisterously here as they do in the north and east. At most they chuckle. On the whole, there is a remarkable absence of all kinds of noise in these cinematograph theatres. Applause seems to be a thing unknown. It is a relief to hear the voice of a child imperiously demanding, as the name of the film appears, “Read it, mother. Read it quick!”
Child’s Living Picture Book.
The little folks are mostly to be found at the afternoon performances. It must all seem a kind of glorified picture book to them. How they roar over the man who knocks down everything, or the fat old lady pursued by some strange fatality, who is knocked down by everybody! They have a wonderful aptitude, too, for following the “story” in some of the more ambitious pictures. The kidnapped child is one of their favourites. “Did they find him, mother? Are you sure?” a little lad asks in a tearful voice, to the kindly amusement of all who sit near by. The tragic subjects find favour with young ladies, one fancies, and indeed they are sometimes admirably conceived – real dramas, in which the words are hardly missed. The marvellous power of facial expression to convey an emotion in all its subtle shades is brought home to the mind with striking force by the intense interest one feels in these “mimed” plays. Of course it is hard to forget that the pictures are “faked.” One could never for a moment admit the possibility of pictorial drama affecting the taste for the drama of the regular stage. Too much talk may be bad, as was instanced in a recent much-criticised production, but no talk at all is the worse evil of the two.
Perhaps most successful of all are the travel pictures, where the scenery is absolutely realistic, and the sense of motion admirably conveyed. No “book of views,” however beautiful, can fascinate as this moving panorama does. It is as good as a holiday – and somewhat cheaper!
Have the pictures come to stay? Yes, they have filled a gap. It will be long before anything more novel or more entertaining appears to fit that precise niche in the House of Pleasure.
Comment: The inner Circle refers to a London underground train line.
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.
Source: ‘Cinematographs – Truth and Fiction’, The Times [London], 9 April 1913, p. 11
Text: At the present moment the popularity of picture palaces and the reason for it are directing a good deal of attention to the state of the public mind. But these sudden crazes are not new: 30 years ago it was croquet, 15 years ago it was cycling, ten years ago it was roller-skating. It seems that from time to time, like a person lying long in bed, we turn over and try a new position. Nevertheless, whenever it happens, the more thoughtful part of the race becomes alarmed, collects statistics, and wonders what this development, which it chooses to call backsliding, is caused by. We have lately been told that picture palaces are preventing us from going to church, from going to the theatre, from going to public houses, and from reading novels. On the other hand, we may find encouragement in the fact that the number of people who use works of reference is increasing.
One need not be thoughtful, or specially anxious about the future of the race, or a great believer in the value of statistics, and yet one may wonder as one walks down the Strand or Oxford Street or Tottenham Court Road why these excessively brilliant doorways which star the pavement at such short distances apart prove so irresistibly attractive. It is true that the management often provide tea for nothing, and the carpets are very thick, and the attendants as finely grown as Royal footmen, and all these things are good; but without such attractions, when the door is unlit and down a back street, and the seats are hard and the attendants meagre and peremptory, we go – we pay our sixpence, we sit there until the first picture begins to come over again, and directly the programme is changed, which is not as often as it should be, we pay our sixpence and go once more.
But what is the reason of it? Why do we invariably find the hall full of men and women, old, elderly and young, paying their sixpences, listening intently, going away and coming again? No doubt we are all feeling much the same thing, and we are driven to drop in by some such experience as this.
After trudging for an hour and a half in and out of tubes, shops, omnibuses, hard pavement for the feet, grey sky between the houses, wind blown, with uncharitable people to confront, there comes a moment when it is no longer to be borne. Whoever you are, whatever your tastes, you stop at some street corner and declare that you must immediately escape. The only question is whether it shall be to a church or to a picture gallery or to a publichouse [sic] or to a library. Each of these offers some kind of relief from the stony superficiality, the inhospitality, the impersonality of the street. Each offers some kind of resting room where you may recollect your human soul. At the same time each demands a certain effort, a certain chafing and stamping if one may so call it, before one is comfortably aglow. It is now that the lighted doorway presents itself. The picture palace offers immediate escape with the least possible expenditure of energy. You have only to lean back in a well-wadded chair, and you are floated upon some ambling dance tune down southern streets, or to the dusty jungle where the lion crouches, or to the centre of some public pageant, where merely to trace the expressions of the faces is to be in at the making of history. The street is only a few yards away, and five minutes ago you were cold and wind blown like the rest; but now that is nothing, or is a dream. You are now in the position most comfortable to man – sitting at ease, observing, speculating, ruminating, imagining, with hardly any trouble to yourself. All the work seems to be done for you. The marvellous way in which an illusion, strong enough to defeat circumstances, is created at once, without any effort of imagination, must be attributed chiefly to the fact that the picture moves. You never have time to be bored by one picture before it changes, becomes another picture, becomes not only a picture but a story, something which has a separate life of its own. Meanwhile you are being worked upon, as indifferent music that goes straight to the obvious emotion does work upon one, and made to feel without willing it rather more than is reasonable.
But this is only part of the secret, for the stream of traffic outside has no such power to please. A great part of the enchantment must lie in the fact that the most trivial scene – let us say a meet of coaches in Hyde Park – when cut off from its surroundings becomes for some queer reason significant, even emotional, as it seldom does in reality. Looking up from an arm-chair in a darkened room you see as you have never seen before. The horses and the women and the trees appear on the sheet as if they had nothing to do with the future or with the past, as if the whips would never descend, or the grooms swing up behind, or the horses trot off down the road to Richmond. Let alone the strange way in which isolating something from its context heightens the meaning, there is the sheer excitement and curiosity of the sights themselves. For the first time we see wild beasts creeping down to the pools to drink, or ice-fields grinding each other in the Polar sea. We might almost say that for the first time we see flowers unfolding and waves breaking on the beach.
Indeed the only grudge we have against the management of picture palaces is that they will go to any amount of trouble and expense in dramatizing romantic stories which take place, we believe, in cardboard castles in the outskirts of Paris, when the streets are full of pictures at once more comic, more tragic, and possessed of the incomparable recommendation that they are true. Suppose that, instead of inventing an improbable love story complicated by a couple of fierce brown bears in the Rocky Mountains, which has to be conveyed by trained actors carefully made up and craggy steeps that fail to convince, we had simply 12 o’clock yesterday in London, Paris, Moscow, Madrid, New York, Rome. The effect would be far more striking, and we must suppose a tenth part as expensive. Those half-dozen pictures of real people going about their businesses in real streets on different sides of the world, with all the little oddities and incidents that one would delight in detecting, would set up an image of the earth and mankind that would surpass all the lovers and all the bears in America.
The versions of famous novels and imaginary adventures which fill three-fourths of the programme appeal, of course, to our love of story-telling, and if they tend to be a little monotonous they have the advantage that moving pictures are simpler, quicker, more direct than the best printed prose can ever hope to be. Whether in this extraordinary greed of the eye we are to see reason for alarm or not, we do not know. We are inclined to expect that the eye in England has been rather cruelly starved. At the present moment, at any rate, it will take anything you choose to give it, as long as it moves quickly and is exactly like life. We are ready to look at places, people, animals, plants, waves, things that never happened, things that were written about, things that could no possibly happen anywhere. What the brain does with all this material it is difficult to say. Judging from personal experience, we should be inclined to believe that it remains quiescent during the greater part of the time, amused but not stimulated; that there are scattered moments of pure revelation; and, that, for the rest, a marvellous confusion reigns, a welter of music, of facts, of fiction, of forms. It is not life, it is not art, it is not music, it is not literature. Whether, all the same, we are fumbling towards some new form of art which is to have movement and shape, to be like life and yet to be selected and arranged as a work of art, who can say? In the meantime we have a fury for seeing and remain happy, greedy and terribly indiscriminate.
Source: The Cinema: Its Present Position and Future Possibilities (London: Williams and Norgate, 1917), pp. 201-203
Text: Twelfth Day. Monday, March 26, 1917. The Bishop of Birmingham in the chair.
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE Two Schoolboys. Examined.
1. The Chairman. What are your names, where do you come from, what are your ages, and what standards are you in? ______ and _____, _______, _________; ages thirteen and eleven, and in Standards VI and VII. 2. How often do you go to the cinema shows? — About once a week. 3. And what price seats do you go in? — Fourpence or twopence. 4. And you? — I always go into the fourpenny. 5. And your parents give you the money to go with? — Yes. 6. And they like you to go? — Yes. 7. About what time in the day do you go to the performances? — On Saturday afternoon. 8. And you? — On Friday after school. 9. And what time does that performance begin? — Five o’clock. 10. And your performance on Saturday? — About a quarter to three. 11. And it lasts about two hours? — Yes. 12. What is the picture theatre you principally go to? — The Grand Hall. 13. And you? — I go to the Tower Cinema. 14. Have you any particular fancy for any particular kind of picture? — Well, I like war pictures and I like geography pictures. 15. When you say geography, will you explain exactly what you mean? — Like the different kind of things that come into England, and the exports. 16. You like to see things unshipped? — Yes. 17. And do you like the comic films? — Yes, sometimes, if they are not too silly. 18. Do you consider Charlie Chaplin too silly? — Sometimes. 19. What about the love stories? — I do not think much of those. 20. Do you like the films where the people are stealing things? — Yes. 21. And where the clever detectives discovers them? — Yes. 22. Have you ever thought it would be a fine idea to copy these people and steal these things? — No. 23. Has it ever made you think what a fine sort of life it is to go round and break into people’s houses? — No. 24. And what are your favourite films? — (Second boy) I rather like tragedy. 25. What do you mean by that? — A play where sorts of deaths come in. 26. Where somebody kills somebody else? — Yes. 27. Seeing a bad man trying to kill a good fellow, you never want to go and kill the best boy in the school? — No. 28. Now, why do you specially like that film? Is it because it is adventure? — Well, it is; it rather makes you — like, jumpy. 29. It excites you? — Yes. 30. Does that excitement last with you after you leave the theatre; do you feel nervous? — I feel rather nervous when I get home and when I go up and down stairs in the dark. 31. Do you feel nervous next morning when you go to school? — No, I have never felt any effects in the daytime, but I do in the night. 32. But you still like it? — Yes. 33. What else do you like besides? — Robberies are all right. 34. And you like to see how a fellow cleverly cuts things with a glass and gets into a window and over walls? — Yes, but a man has to be pretty good and have a good bit of sense to do all these things. 35. And you really think there is something rather clever about it? — Yes. 36. Have you ever met any boys who are? — There are one or two ruffians who sometimes go for other peoples’ things when they ought not to go. 37. And have they sometimes told you that the pictures made them anxious to go ? — I do not believe the pictures do, but they read some of these penny books. 38. Now do you like the comic things? — No, I do not like them. 39. Do you like the love stories? — Well, they are a bit trying sometimes. 40. Do you know those pictures which show you birds growing up and flowers coming out? — Yes, I like them all right. 41. Would you like the whole entertainment of two hours to be composed of that kind of film? — Well, they are not so bad, but sometimes they are a bit trying. 42. If an entertainment lasted two hours, would you object to half an hour of that? — No. 43. Do you find that seeing these things teaches you something? — Yes. 44. MR. T.P. O’CONNOR. Do you find that films assist you with your geography? — Yes. 45. If you saw a picture of Russia, say, would that make you study up your geography more about that country? — Yes. 46. PROFESSOR H. GOLLANCZ. Have you ever had any headaches on the same evening? — No. 47. Have you? — My eyes seem to be affected. 48. Did you notice any flickering? — Yes, during the performance. 49. Have you noticed any rough behaviour to some of the girls? — No. 50. MR. NEWBOULD. Is there a special attendant to look after the children when you go in? — Yes. 51. MR. KING. Have you ever felt sleepy? — Yes. 52. When do you feel that? — When there is a dry picture and you don’t care about looking at it. 53. MR. GRAVES. Would you like cinema lessons to be given in your schools the same as the magic lantern? — Yes, that would not be bad. 54. MONSIGNOR BROWN. Supposing a geography film lasted for half an hour, how do you think the children would take it? — They would not like it. 55. Are the children crowded in at the cinemas? — Not in all the places, but there was one place I went to where they were crowded together and there were no divisions or arms to the seats. 56. REV. CAREY BONNER. Have you seen any rough play going on? — There has always been decent behaviour, unless some ruffians get in. 57. THE CHAIRMAN. Do you see these films better if the hall is lighted better? — No, the darker the place the better you can see the pictures.
Comment: The Cinema: Its Present Position and Future Possibilities (1917) is a report and summary of evidence taken by the Cinema Commission Inquiry, instituted by the National Council of Public Morals. It includes several passages taken from interviews with children where commission members asked them questions about their cinema-going habits. The Grand Hall was in Camberwell New Road; the Tower Cinema was in Rye Lane, Peckham. T.P. O’Connor was an MP and president of the British Board of Film Censors.
Source: The Cinema: Its Present Position and Future Possibilities (London: Williams and Norgate, 1917), pp. 198-201
Text: [Three South London schoolgirls were examined together].
22. THE CHAIRMAN. How often do you go to the cinema? — I don’t go very often, as it is very injurious to my eyes when I go. 23. Do you sit right in the front? — Well, if they put you there you have to go there. 24. What do you pay generally? — Fourpence. 25. Do you go only for entertainments which are for children? — Not always. 26. Are you a great cinema-goer? — Yes. 27. How often do you go? — Once a week. Sometimes I go once a week for six months and then have a rest, and then start all over again. 28. What seats do you go in; what do you pay? — Sevenpence. 29. You sit right in the front? — No, it is all according to how much you pay. If you pay a low price you go into the front. 30. With your sevenpence, is that not a first-rate seat? — Just about in the middle of the cinema, and I can see all right there. 31. And you don’t find your eyes hurt? — When I go out it generally gives me a headache. 32. How long do you sit in the cinema? — Two and a half or three hours. 33. Do you go very much ? — About once every three weeks. 34. What do you like best? Comic things? — I like pretty pictures about dancing and horses. 35. Do you like seeing people breaking into rooms and taking things? — Not very much. 36. It never gives any of you an idea that what you see you want to go and do yourself? — No. 37. How about your eyes? Do you get a headache? — No. 38. Where do you sit? — I pay fourpence and sit about two or three seats away from the front. 39. What part of London do you come from? — We are all from the middle of South London. 40. Have you any particular picture palace which appeals to you? — I used to go to the Oval Cinema, but now I go to the Queen’s Hall, Newington Butts. 41. Where do you go? — To the Palladium, Brixton, and the Arcadia, Brixton. 42. What kind of things do you have at the Arcadia? — They generally have very good pictures, and I went once and saw “___ ______ __ __ .” It is not a very good picture to go to. 43. Why, what was the matter? — Because I do not like the way they used the crucifix. They used the crucifix to hit one another with, and it might make children think less of religion. 44. That was the principal thing, and you did not notice anything else? — No. 45. Where do you go? — I go to the Queen’s Hall, Newington Butts. 46. Did you see “___ _______ __ __ ” ? — No. 47. Do the girls sit amongst the boys? — Yes, all mixed up, and the attendant comes round, and if the boys start whistling about and do that again he turns them out. 48. I suppose girls never do that sort of thing? — That all depends. 49. Do you go to the late entertainment? — No, mother won’t let me. 50. Do you go late? — I get out about 9 or 9.30. Very often it is 9.30. If I go to Brixton by myself and my sisters are that way they meet me, otherwise I come home by myself. 51. Do you feel the influence next day? — I do not feel any bad effects. 52. SIR JOHN KIRK. Is the place very dark? — Yes, very dark. You can see over it while the performance goes on. 53. What would happen if the boys started fighting? — They would not start fighting, because they are always too anxious to see the pictures. 54. MR. LAMERT. Have you any other amusement to go to beside the cinema? — Sometimes a theatre. 55. Do you pay to go to the theatre ? — Sometimes mother lets us go into the pit, as she doesn’t like us to go up the stairs to the gallery. The price is one shilling and twopence tax. 56. When you go to the theatre what do you see? — Pantomimes, and if there is a revue mother thinks we will understand she will take us to it. 57. At the picture palaces do you take any steps to find out what is on? — No, we take our chance. 58. MONSIGNOR BROWN. What sort of picture do the children like best? — When the cowboys and Indians come on they clap very loudly. 59. Do you like flowers? — No, not very much. 60. Birds’ nests? — No, they don’t like those. 61. Charlie Chaplin? — They like those. 62. Do you get tired when they begin to show views and landscapes? — Sometimes some of them do. 63. Are they short films? — Yes, and sometimes they are the topical budget, and then a lot of them go out. 64. Do they like a long drama? — Yes. 65. How many minutes do the dramas last? — Sometimes one and a half hours. 66. Do they like dramas with a lot of love mixed up? — We don’t care for them very much; some like them and some don’t. 67. Would many like them ? — I should not think many of them would like them. I think they would prefer other pictures. 68. How many different picture houses have you been to? — Sixteen. 69. How many have you been to? — Eight. 70. How many you? — Six in London and Manchester. 71. DR. MARIE STOPES. Have you seen any picture which you thought at the time was bad to see? — No, but I saw a picture once which I thought was vulgar. It was called “_____” 72. Supposing you went into a picture house and you met a fairy at the door who told you you could see any picture you liked, what kind would you like to see? — I should like to see a picture about a circus. 73. What sort of picture would you like best? — I should like a good drama, but not a love drama. A drama like “Little Miss Nobody,” which I thought was very nice. 74. Why don’t you like love dramas? — There is too much fooling about in them, and there is always a hatred between two men and two women. 75. You don’t like to see two men hating each other? — Well, it is a lot of silliness. I do not think it would happen in real life. 76. You never got any disease at the cinema? — No, but once I got scarlet fever, but not in a cinema. 77. Did you ever get anything? — No, I did not catch my disease there. 78. DR. KIMMINS. What is the, nicest picture you have seen in the cinema? — I think it was “Cleopatra.” 79. And you? — “Little Miss Nobody.” 80. And you? — “The Prisoner of Zenda” and “Rupert of Hentzau.” MR. NEWBOULD. These three were of British manufacture. 81. Do you like serials? — I have seen “The Broken Coin,” but I did not like that, although I liked the acting. 82. COMMISSIONER ADELAIDE COX. Did you see anything that frightened you? — I saw one picture where a man was in the cell, and he was supposed to have an apparition, which breaks through the wall, and the wall falls over. It was in “Monte Cristo.” 83. And when you went to bed, did you think about these things ? — No, I went to sleep. 84. What do you like the least? — I do not like the topical budget. 85. And you? — Love stories. 86. And you ? — I think the same — love stories. 87. Mr. Graves. Have you seen any pictures which help you at school? — I have seen the picture about Nero. 88. Would you like some singing in between? — I should like to have some singing. 89. MR. NEWBOULD. Are you quite sure it was a crucifix you saw in “___ ______ __ __”? — Yes. 90. Have you any idea why she hit the man with the crucifix? — She was a servant in his father’s house, and he wanted to be in love with her, and he started cuddling and kissing her, and she gets up the crucifix quite unconsciously and hits him with it. 91. Have you ever seen films you do not understand? — Yes, I can never understand pictures on general plays. 92. MR. CROOK. Have you ever had a man who wanted to pay for you at night? — No. 93. PRINCIPAL GARVIE. Have the boys ever been rude to you in the cinema? — No, but they have pulled our hair and taken our hats off. 94. THE CHAIRMAN. Do they only do that in the cinema? — No, and if the attendant is about he puts them outside.
Comment: The Cinema: Its Present Position and Future Possibilities (1917) is a report and summary of evidence taken by the Cinema Commission Inquiry, instituted by the National Council of Public Morals. It includes several passages taken from interviews with children where commission members asked them questions about their cinema-going habits. Here three girls (ages not given) from South London are interview. A.E. Newbould, who speaks up for British films, was one of the British cinema industry representatives on the Commission; one of its members was the birth control campaigner Marie Stopes. Topical Budget was the name of a British newsreel, though ‘topical budget’ is here being used as a generic name for newsreels. Filmed mentioned are The Count of Monte Cristo (USA 1913), The Prisoner of Zenda (UK 1915), Rupert of Hentzau (UK 1915) and Little Miss Nobody (USA 1916), all features. ‘Cleopatra’ is possibly Marcantonio e Cleopatra (Italy 1913) (it is not the Theda Bara film Cleopatra, which was released after these interviews took place). The film with a crucifix has not been identified. The Broken Coin (USA 1915) was a popular serial, mentioned by other interviewees.
‘They were permitted to drink deep of oblivion of all the trouble of the world’. The illustration by Wladyslaw T. Benda (and its caption) accompanied Mary Heaton Vorse’s original article for Outlook magazine
Source: Mary Heaton Vorse, ‘Some Picture Show Audiences’, Outlook 98, 24 June 1911, pp. 441-447
Text: One rainy night in a little Tuscan town I went to a moving-picture show. It was market-day; the little hall was full of men in their great Italian cloaks. They had come in from small isolated hamlets, from tiny fortified towns perched on the tops of distant hills to which no road led, but only a salita. I remembered that there was in the evening’s entertainment a balloon race, and a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and a mad comic piece that included a rush with a baby-carriage through the boulevards of Paris; and there was a drama, ‘The Vendetta,’ which had for its background the beautiful olive terraces of Italy.
I had gone, as they had, to see pictures, but in the end I saw only them, because it seemed to me that what had happened was a latter-day miracle. By an ingenious invention all the wonderful things that happened in the diverse world outside their simple lives could come to them. They had no pictures or papers; few of them could read; and yet they sat there at home and watching the inflating of great balloons and saw them rise and soar and go away into the blue, and watched again the strange Oriental crowd walking through the holy streets of Jerusalem. It is hard to understand what a sudden widening of their horizon that meant for them. It is the door of escape, for a few cents, from the realities of life.
It is drama, and it is travel, and it is even beauty, all in one. A wonderful things it is, and to know how wonderful I suppose you must be poor and have in your life no books and no pictures and no means of travel or seeing beautiful places, and almost no amusements of any kind; perhaps your only door of escape or only means of forgetfulness more drink that is good for you. Then you will know what a moving-picture show really means, although you will probably not be able to put it into words.
We talk a good deal about the censorship of picture shows, and pass city ordinances to keep the young from being corrupted by them: and this is all very well, because a great amusement of the people ought to be kept clean and sweet; but at the same time this discussion has left a sort of feeling in the minds of people who do not need to go to the picture show that it is a doubtful sort of a place, where young girls and mean scrape undesirable acquaintances, and where the prowler lies in wait for the unwary, and where suggestive films of crime and passion are invariably displayed. But I think that this is an unjust idea, and that any one who will take the trouble to amuse himself with the picture show audiences for an afternoon or two will see why it is that the making of films has become a great industry, why it is that the picture show has driven out the vaudeville and the melodrama.
You cannot go to any one of the picture shows in New York without having a series of touching little adventures with the people who sit near you, without overhearing chance words of a naiveté and appreciation that make you bless the living picture book that has brought so much into the lives of the people who work.
Houston Street, on the East Side, of an afternoon is always more crowded than Broadway. Push=carts line the street. The faces that you see are almost all Jewish – Jews of many types; swarthy little men, most of them, looking under-sized according to the Anglo-Saxon standard. Here and there a deep-chested mother of Israel sails along, majestic in shietel and shawl. These are the toilers – garment-makers, a great many of them – people who work ‘by pants,’ as they say. A long and terrible workday they have to keep body and soul together. Their distractions are the streets, and the bargaining off the push-carts, and the show. For a continual trickle of people of people detaches itself from the crowded streets and goes into the good-sized hall; and around the entrance too, wait little boys – eager-eyed little boys – with their tickets in their hands, trying to decoy those who enter into taking them in with them as guardians, because the city ordinances do not allow a child under sixteen to go in unaccompanied by an older person.
In the half-light the faces of the audience detach themselves into little pallid ovals, and, as you will always find in the city, it is an audience largely composed of men.
Behind us sat a woman with her escort. So rapt and entranced was she with what was happening on the stage that her voice accompanied all that happened – a little unconscious and lilting obbligato. It was the voice of a person unconscious that she spoke – speaking from the depths of emotion; a low voice, but perfectly clear, and the unconsciously spoken words dropped with the sweetness of running water. She spoke in German. One would judge her to be from Austria. She herself was lovely in person and young, level-browed and clear-eyed: a beneficent and lovely woman one guessed her to be. And she had never seen Indians before; perhaps never heard of them.
The drama being enacted was the rescue from the bear pit of Yellow Wing, the lovely Indian Maiden, by Dick the Trapper; his capture by the tribe, his escape with the connivance of Yellow Wing, who goes to warn him in his log house, their siege by the Indians, and final rescue by a splendid charge of the United States cavalry; these one saw riding with splendid abandon over hill and dale, and the marriage then and there of Yellow Wing and Dick by the gallant chaplain. A guileless and sentimental dime novel, most ingeniously performed; a work of art; beautiful, too, because one had glimpses of stately forests, sunlight sifting through leaves, wild, dancing forms of Indians, the beautiful swift rushing of horses. One must have had a heart of stone not to follow the adventures of Yellow Wing and Dick the Trapper with passionate interest.
But to the woman behind it was reality at its highest. She was there in a fabled country full of painted savages. The rapidly unfolding drama was to her no make-believe arrangement ingeniously fitted together by actors and picture-makers. It had happened; it was happening for her now.
‘Oh!’ she murmured. ‘That wild and terrible people! Oh boy, take care, take care! Those wild and awful people will egt you!’ ‘Das wildes und grausames Volk,’ she called them. ‘Now – now – she comes to save her beloved!’ This as Yellow Wing hears the chief plotting an attack on Dick the Trapper, and flies fleet-foot through the forest. ‘Surely, surely, she will save her beloved!’ It was almost a prayer; in the woman’s simple mind there was no foregone conclusion of a happy ending. She saw no step ahead, since she lived in the present moment so intensely.
When Yellow Wing and Dick were besieged within and Dick’s hand was wounded –
‘The poor child! how can she bear it? To see the geliebte wounded before one’s very eyes!’
And when the cavalry thundered through the forest –
‘God give that they arrive swiftly – to be in time they must arrive swiftly!’ she exclaimed to herself.
Outside the iron city roared: before the door of the show the push-cart vendors bargained and trafficked with customers. Who is the audience remembered it? They had found the door of escape. For the moment they were in the depths of the forest following the loves of Yellow Wing and Dick. The woman’s voice, so like the voice of a spirit talking to itself, unconscious of time and place, was their voice. There they were; a strange company of aliens – Jews, almost all; haggard and battered and bearded men, young girls with their beaus, spruce and dapper youngsters beginning to make their way. In that humble playhouse one ran the gamut of the East Side. The American-born sat next to the emigrant who arrived but a week before. A strange and romantic people cast into the welter of the terrible city of New York, each of them with the overwhelming problem of battling with strange conditions and an alien civilization. And for the moment they were permitted to drink deep of oblivion of all the trouble in the world. Life holds some compensation, after all. The keener your intellectual capacity, the higher your artistic sensibilities are developed, just so much more difficult is it to find this total forgetfulness – a thing that for the spirit is a life-giving as sleep.
And all through the afternoon and evening this company of tired workers, overburdened men and women, fills the little halls scattered throughout the city and throughout the land.
There are motion-picture shows in New York that are as intensely local to the audience as to the audience of a Tuscan hill town. Down on Bleecker Street is the Church of Our Lady of Pompeii. Here women, on their way to work or to their brief marketing, drop in to say their prayers before their favourite saints in exactly the same fashion as though it were a little church in their own parish. Towards evening women with their brood of children go in: the children frolic and play subdued tag in the aisles, for church with them is an every-day affair, not a starched-up matter of Sunday only. Then, prayers finished, you may see a mother sorting out her own babies and moving on serenely to the picture show down the road – prayers first and amusement afterwards, after the good old Latin fashion.
It is on Saturday nights down here that the picture show reaches its high moment. The whole neighborhood seems to be waiting for a chance to go in. Every woman has a baby in her arms and at least two children clinging to her skirts. Indeed, so universal is this custom that a woman who goes there unaccompanied by a baby feels out of place, as if she were not properly dressed. A baby seems as much a matter-of-course adjunct to one’s toilet on Bleecker Street as a picture hat would be on Broadway.
every one seems to know everyone else. As a new woman joins the throng other women cry out to her, gayly:
‘Ah, good-evening, Concetta. How is Giuseppe’s tooth?’
‘Through at last,’ she answers. ‘And where are your twins?’
The first woman makes a gesture indicating that they are somewhere swallowed up in the crowd.
This talk all goes on in good north Italian, for the people on Bleecker Street are the Tuscan colony. There are many from Venice also, and from Milan and from Genoa. The South Italian lives on the East Side.
Then, as the crowd becomes denser, as the moment for the show approaches, they sway together, pushed on by those on the outskirts of the crowd. And yet everyone is good-tempered. It is –
‘Not so hard there, boy!’
‘Mind for the baby!’
Though indeed it doesn’t seem any place for a baby at all, and much less so for the youngsters who aren’t in their mothers’ arms but are perilously engulfed in the swaying mass of people. But the situation is saved by Latin good temper and the fact that every one is out for a holiday.
By the time one has stood in this crowd twenty minutes and talked with the women and babies, one had made friends, given an account of oneself, told how it was one happened to speak a little Italian, and where it was in Italy one had lived, for all the world as one gives an account of one’s self when travelling through Italian hamlets. One answers the questions that Italian women love to ask:
‘Are you married?’
‘Have you children?’
‘Then why aren’t they at the picture show with you?’
This audience was an amused, and an amusing audience, ready to laugh, ready to applaud. The young man next me had an ethical point of view. He was a serious, dark-haired fellow, and took his moving pictures seriously. He and his companion argued the case of the cowboy who stole because of his sick wife.
‘He shouldn’t have done it,’ he maintained.
‘His wife was dying, poveretta,’ his companion defended.
‘His wife was a nice girl,” said the serious young man. ‘You saw for yourself how nice a girl. One has but to look at her to see how good she is.’ He spoke as though of a real person he had met. ‘She would rather have died than have her husband disgrace himself.’
‘It turned out happily; through the theft she found her father again. He wasn’t even arrested.’
‘It makes no difference,’ said the serious youth; ‘he had luck, that is all. He shouldn’t have stolen. When she knows about it, it will break her heart.’
Ethics were his strong point, evidently. He had something to say again about the old man who, in the Franco-Prussian War, shot a soldier and allowed a young man to suffer the death penalty in his stead. It was true that the old man’s son had been shot and that there was no one else to care for the little grandson, and, while the critic admitted that that made a difference, he didn’t like the idea. The dramas appealed to him from a philosophical standpoint; one gathered that he and his companion might pass an evening discussing whether, when a man is a soldier, and therefore pledged to fight for his country, he has a right to give up his life to save that of an old man, even though he is the guardian of a child.
Throughout the whole show, throughout the discussion going on beside me, there was one face that I turned to again and again. It was that of an eager little girl of ten or eleven, whose lovely profile stood out in violent relief from the dingy wall. So rapt was she, so spellbound, that she couldn’t laugh, couldn’t clap her hands with the others. She was in a state of emotion beyond any outward manifestation of it.
In the Bowery you get a different kind of audience. None of your neighborhood spirit here. Even in what is called, the ‘dago show’ – that is, the show where the occasional vaudeville numbers are Italian singers — the people seem chance-met; the audience is almost entirely composed of men, only an occasional woman.
It was here that I met the moving-picture show expert, the connoisseur, for he told me that he went to a moving-picture show every night. It was the best way that he knew of spending your evenings in New York, and one gathered that he had early twenties, with a tough and honest countenance, and he spoke the dialect of the city of New York with greater richness than I have ever heard it spoken. He was ashamed of being caught by a compatriot in a ‘dago show.’
‘Say,’ he said, ‘dis is a bum joint. I don’t know how I come to toin in here. You don’t un’erstan’ what that skoit’s singin’, do you? You betcher I don’t!’
Not for worlds would he have understood a word of the inferior Italian tongue.
“I don’t never come to dago moving-picter shows,’ he hastened to assure me. ‘Say, if youse wanter see a real show, beat it down to Grand Street. Dat’s de real t’ing. Dese dago shows ain’t got no good films. You hardly ever see a travel film; w’en I goes to a show, I likes to see the woild. I’d like travelin’ if I could afford it, but I can’t; that’s why I like a good travel film. A good comic’s all right, but a good travel film or an a’rioplane race or a battle-ship review — dat’s de real t’ing ! You don’t get none here. I don’t know what made me come here,’ he repeated. He was sincerely displeased with himself at being caught with the goods by his compatriots in a place that had no class, and the only way he could defend himself was by showing his fine scorn of the inferior race.
You see what it means to them; it means Opportunity — a chance to glimpse the beautiful and strange things in the world that you haven’t in your life; the gratification of the higher side of your nature ; opportunity which, except for the big moving picture book, would be forever closed to you. You understand still more how much it means opportunity if you happen to live in a little country place where the whole town goes to every change of films and where the new films are gravely discussed. Down here it is that you find the people who agree with my friend of the Bowery — that ‘travel films is de real t’ing.’ For those people who would like to travel they make films of pilgrims going to Mecca; films of the great religious processions in the holy city of Jerusalem; of walrus fights in the far North. It has even gone so far that in Melilla there was an order for the troops to start out; they sprang to their places, trumpets blew, and the men fell into line and marched off — all for the moving-picture show. They were angry — the troops — but the people in Spain saw how their armies acted.
In all the countries of the earth — in Sicily, and out in the desert of Arizona, and in the deep woods of America, and on the olive terraces of Italy — they are making more films, inventing new dramas with new and beautiful backgrounds, for the poor man’s theater. In his own little town, in some far-off fishing village, he can sit and see the coronation, and the burial of a king, or the great pageant of the Roman Church.
It is no wonder that it is a great business with a capitalization of millions of dollars, since it gives to the people whoneed it most laughter and drama and beauty and a chance for once to look at the strange places of the earth.
Comment: Mary Heaton Vorse (1874-1966) was a left-wing American journalist and novelist, deeply committed to issues of social justice. Bleecker Street is in Manhattan, within the Greenwich Village area.