Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show

Source: Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show (USA 1902, Edison Manfucturing Company), Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division collection, http://www.loc.gov/item/00694324

Comments: This Edison film plays on the comic contemporary idea that some audiences were unable to distinguish the action on a screen from reality. The three films seen by Uncle Josh are Parisian Dancer (not the same as the 1897 Edison film Parisian Dance), Black Diamond Express (not the same as the 1896 Edison film of that title) and A Country Couple (appears to have been produced for this film). An earlier British film, The Countryman and the Cinematograph (UK 1901), finds its comedy in showing how a naive person from the country lacks a sophisticated urban understanding and runs away from an approaching train shown on the screen. The Edison film is a likely imitation. The projectionist shown at the end would have been in front of the screen, not behind it. Uncle Josh is played by Charles ‘Daddy’ Manley. The character featured in two other Edison films of this period.

Links: Online copy at Library of Congress

The Nickel Theater

Source: James Oppenheim, ‘The Nickel Theater’ in Monday Morning and other poems (New York: Sturgis & Walton, 1909), pp. 66-68

Text:
O Shakespeare come and sit with us!
Here are such theater-glories
As you, O million-peopled Soul, had loved! For
you told stories
The crowds could see — yea, though the poems
swept over their brains blind.
So much were women and men your words you
spoke to all mankind.

It’s a thick black room and a rough rude crowd —
the real strong human stuff —
A screen’s before, a beam of light rules through
the air — enough!
Lo, on that beam of light there darts vast hills
and men and women.
The screen becomes a stage; here’s life, blood-red
with the living human!

In but ten minutes how we sweep the Earth, un-
baring life.
Here in Algiers and there in Rome — a Paris street
— the strife
Of cowboys swinging lariat ropes — the plains, the
peaks, the sea —
Life cramped in one room or loosed out to all
eternity!

Lo, now, behold the dead salt desert, the trail-lost
man and wife,
A child clutched to her breast ! They toil through
sand, they cry for life.
They stagger on from hill to hill — now far, now
near — their cry
Breaks through our hearts, their fight is ours, we
love them as they die!

Yea, in ten minutes we drink Life, quintessenced
and compact.
Earth is our cup, we drain it dry; yea, in ten min-
utes act
The lives of alien people strange; the Earth grows
small; we see
The humanness of all souls human: all these are
such as we!

O at day’s end, and after toil that dragged the
heart In the street,
What utter glory to forget, to feel again the beat
Of the warming heart with light and life and love’s
unearthly gleam,
Till Dreams become our Living World, and all
the World’s a Dream!

Now we have lived the pain of others, now we
have drunk their joy!
It gives us new heroic grip upon our day’s employ!
O Shakespeare, here Earth’s dimmest brain can
draw strength from great stories!
The millions grasp their heritage of Art, the
theater-glories!

Comments: James Oppenheim (1882-1932) was an American poet, novelist, writer on psychology and editor of the literary magazine The Seven Arts.

Links: Copy of Monday Morning and other poems at Hathi Trust

The Murder of Othello

Source: H.F. Hoffman, ‘The Murder of Othello’, Moving Picture World, 22 July 1911, p. 110

Text: It may be wrong for a writer in one department to go browsing around in the pasture of another. Mr. Richardson is supposed to be conducting the projection department of this paper, and no doubt I am violating all professional ethics when I deliberately steal some of his thunder. I have noticed that sometimes operators have criticised him because he goes to a show and then writes a “knock” about the operator.

If Mr. R. were not so capable of taking care of himself I might feel sorry for him and be inclined to help him out, but as it is I know he would not thank me for such a foolish proceeding on my part. However, there is no law that I can find against the giving of moral support, and therefore whatever I may write about the operator will come under the head of Moral Support.

Many of you exhibitors make use of a little slide that reads: “If you like our show tell others; if not, tell us.” Then when someone tells you your show is awfully bad you call it a “knock” and mumble something about deadheads being the biggest kickers, etc. That is, some of you do, but the majority of you take the criticism in the spirit in which it is given. The politicians say, “Let the tariff be reformed, but only by its friends,” and we say, “Let the moving picture be reformed, but only by its friends.”

Someone has got to do the kicking; that is a certainty, and we feel to a large extent the burden falls upon us who have the welfare of moving pictures at heart. We wish that everything about them were perfect, so we would not have to criticise. We believe we will live to see the day when they will be as nearly perfect as possible, but we also realize that nothing was ever improved by trying to gloss over the faults. One of the best ways to learn things is to learn by making mistakes. Teddy Roosevelt says that the only way to make a people correct their faults is to keep reminding them of those faults. In other words, “Ding it into em.”

There has been considerable written in the past in these pages about bad projection, etc., and the chances are that there will be and ought to be considerably more, just so long as there are exhibitors who stand for films to be run without titles or with the words reading backwards, or a dozen other stupid sins of comission or omission that are to be seen daily almost anywhere. The only way to remedy the fault is to keep on dinging about it.

Your little slide that says “If you like our show tell others; if not, tell us,” is all very pretty on the screen, but it doesn’t amount to much. If you are an exhibitor you know very well that none of your patrons comes to you and tells you your show is “rotten.” In the first place, they wouldn’t want to hurt your feelings, and secondly, they won’t take a chance on you swelling up and asking what people will want next for a nickel. If you are an exhibitor you also know that the public is fickle. You know that they simply reverse your little slide. When your show is good they tell you, and when it is bad they tell others. They like to flatter you, perhaps in the hope of getting on the free list some day. Your faults they relate to your competitor up the street because they may think he likes to hear it and may possibly grant them the freedom of his house, or something else. I don’t know why they do it, but they do.

The opinions of lay critics are not very safe guides, as I have found out once or twice to my sorrow. The public judges by results only. With them a picture is either good or bad, but they could not tell exactly why. Their criticism is not analytical. They do not know good projection from bad, except in the most superficial way. When the operating is bad you never hear them say, “What poor projection they have here.” No; you are more apt to hear them say “I like the pictures, but they hurt my eyes.” When the projection is good they forget about the technical end and lose themselves in the picture itself. Why? Because things are as they ought to be; they expect good projection when they come. They have a right to expect it.

[…]

Now then, having brushed away opposition from all sources, let us proceed with the Murder of Othello. He was murdered by an operator last Friday night. They took him out of his tin armour and placed him on the operating table in the operating room. They made a diagnosis, gave him an anasthetic [sic], then put him through a sausage machine and when the poor fellow came out of the other end he was mangled beyond recognition.

I had been talking just before with the manager. He said, “Yes, I take the Moving Picture World. A manager should not be without it because it is so full of valuable advice. Have you noticed our solid brick operating room?” I then took notice. The place was an airdome seating at least 1,500, with loads of room to spare. Behind the rear seats was a promenade fifty feet wide, and there at the end of the middle aisle stood the solid brick oven on four legs. It covered an area about six feet square or 36 square feet. He could have built a two-story residence there without interfering with anyone’s view, and yet he who took the World for its helpful hints had constructed this 6×6 oven and called it an operating room. Oh, Brother Richardson, you will have to use bigger type.

The Othello picture began with the usual chorus — “What’s the name of this?” “I wonder what this is.” “Mamma, who’s that man?” “Did you get the name?” “I beg pardon, sir, did you notice the title of this?” “I wish I knew what this is all about.” “What is it?” “I don’t know, looks like something from the Bible.” “What did it say?” “Excuse me, was there any name to this?” “No, I didn’t see any,” etc. Now in the name of just plain common sense, I am going to ask why this thing is done, day after day, in so many places. Is it possible that a man can have the nerve to call himself a manager or an operator, and still show such indifference to the one thing of all that brings the people to the place — the picture?

I would like to have a photograph of the mind of such a man to see by what mental process he concludes that the audience knows what it is looking at. After the first offense, if that party were in my employ, he would last about as long as a June frost. All this talk about reels coming from the exchange without titles is a lazy man’s excuse. Cover glass is cheap and title slides can be written in half a minute. Fancy lettering is not necessary and takes up too much time. There is nothing in a temporary slide that looks any better than good plain handwriting, especially if the slide is tinted and the principal words are properly capitalized and underscored. Try it and you will find it better than most of these horrible hand-printed affairs.

The big laugh in Othello came with the first scene when the title and sub-titles came through reading backwards. It was the same laugh you hear when a song slide gets in upside down. But the fun didn’t end there. Instead of clipping his film at once and reversing the upper reel, the operator let the whole thing go through the way it was. We are all aware that Othello is not the easiest subject in the world to follow, even under the best of circumstances. The title and all the sub-titles are extremely necessary, even to those who know it, and a good lecture should go with it for those who do not. Imagine the audience then, for the most part in utter ignorance of what they were looking at. The light was vile. The patrons had their choice of two things to look at. On the sheet the spectacle of a white woman smearing her love upon a colored man, or in the operating room, the operator who had attracted their attention.

It seems that in his dilemma he had hit upon the idea of hiding his mistake by speeding up his machine when the sub-titles appeared, so as to get them over with quickly. But the racket of it only made matters worse by drawing their attention to him. All thought of how the audience was enjoying the picture was far from his mind, but they were enjoying it just the same. They quickly saw that he was trying to pull the wool over their eyes so they began to watch for the sub-titles. When these appeared mid he put on the high speed the audience would howl with delight. He was greeted with mock applause, laughter, cat calls and other noises. Nobodv felt bad when Othello breathed his last. The program was short on comedy anyhow, and this filled the bill very nicelv. On my part, for a long time to come, I will remember the murder of Othello.

Comments: The film of Othello was probably the Film d’Arte Italian production Otello (Italy 1909), which was released in the USA in April 1910. Mr Richardson is F. H. Richardson, who wrote a technical advice column for Moving Picture World. H.F. Hoffman was a film lecturer and occasional writer for the journal.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

The Journals of Sydney Race

Source: Ann Featherstone (ed.), The Journals of Sydney Race 1892-1900: A Provincial View of Popular Entertainment (London: The Society for Theatre Research, 2007), pp. 85-86

Text: 1898, October 6th, 7th, 8th
Goose Fair

I have not the patience to describe the Fair fully, but these were the shows:

Bostocks menagerie
Wall’s ghost (opposite Market Street)
Lawrence’s Cinematograph (facing Spaldings)
Wadbrooke’s Cinematographe (commencing the avenue from Binghams to Lambs)
Day’s Menagerie
? Cinematographe
Wallace the Untameable Lion
A second sight woman
Coxswain Terry’s Crocodiles
Randall Williams’s Cinematograph (looking down Wheeler’s Gate)
Count Orloff, the transparent man
The bear-faced woman
A child-dwarf
Ayme’s Mechanical Exhibition
Radford and Chappell’s Marionettes (late Ghost)
Buckley’s Performing dogs etc.
A swimming exhibition
Prof Burnett’s Military Exhibition
(opp Wombwell’s) Baby incubator and midgets

I am not sure this is a correct list as I cannot find the particulars I took down at the Fair, if indeed I did take any. But it is substantially correct.

I saw the child-dwarf. She was a poor little thing, the size of a baby a few weeks old, but said to have been born three years ago. She sat in a little chair and was lifted up by her mother for us to see her; but it was a poor exhibition and the child was not ‘all there.’

I went in most of the cinematograph shows and saw some really good pictures. Most of them showed a bull-fight – views of the actual thing – and very savage did the bull show himself. We did not see the actual death, but we saw several poor horses knocked down and dragged out of the arena lifeless. Randall Williams had a capital picture taken at Lords on Dr Grace’s Jubilee Day, taken as the two elevens were making a ceremonial parade of the ground. The Doctor came first and raised his hat most affably, as he got up to us. Walking with him was Arthur Shrewsbury whom it was quite easy to recognise, and the great Gunn came a little way behind, and also W. Nixon, the Notts Captain.

Walls showed two coloured pictures – the first I have seen – and also a view of the Gladstone funeral procession. This last was a very good picture. The Commons came first, marching four abreast, then there was a little interval and the Lord Chancellor wobbled across preceded by his mace bearer. After him came the Archbishop of York, walking alone, some of the temporal peers in fours, a group of bishops, and another set of peers. Last came the mourners, before whom walked the Bishop of London and then the body. The pall bearers who walked beside the hearse were quite recognisable – of Lord Salisbury we had a particularly good view and the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York we could see at the end. Among the mourners were some little boys who hardly seemed to comprehend the ceremony and at the rear walked the Revd. Gladstone by himself. Any faces one knew were easily picked out. Sir Mathew White Ridley and other Front bench men who headed the Commons I quickly recognised.

Another capital picture shown here was taken in front of a train as it dashed through the country. The hedges, the signal posts and telephone wires all went quickly by and the bridge which we could see ahead grew larger and larger as we approached until we had passed under it. Then we rushed by a station and could see the people walking up and down its platform and rapidly drew near a tunnel ahead. We saw the train entering it, then the sheet went black as we were [pages missing]

Comments: Sydney Race (1875-1960) was the working-class son of a cotton mill engineer and worked as an insurance clerk in Nottingham. His private journal documents the different kinds of entertainment he witnessed in Nottingham. The above is part of his account of visiting the Nottingham Goose Fair in October 1898. Dr Grace is the cricketer W.G. Grace and the film described is W.G. Grace Celebrates at Lord’s on His 50th Birthday (1898), made by the Prestwich Manufacturing Company. William Gunn and John Dixon were both Nottinghamshire players. The jubilee procession took place on 18 July 1898. The funeral of former prime minister William Gladstone took place 28 May 1898 and was filmed by several companies. Lord Salisbury was the serving prime minister. The ‘coloured pictures’ would have been hand-painted. Films taken from the front of moving trains were a common attraction in early film shows, often being given the name ‘phantom rides’.

Whose Laetie are You?

Source: Extracts from Rrekgetsi Chimeloane, Whose Laetie are You? My Sowetan Boyhood (Capetown: Kwela Books, 2001), pp. 31-34

Text: The day I saw my first Bruce Lee movie – Enter the Dragon – I understood why all the boys were running around with two bits of stick loosely bound together at one end by a chain. Kung fu hit the township in a big way and almost all the boys around my age were shrieking and screeching out like Bruce Lee: now me included.

[…]

I especially admired the boys who were going for karate and kung fu lessons all over the township. Every time I asked where I could go and sign up for classes, the other boys would look at me and say, “You think karate is for sissies like you? You wouldn’t even last a minute there.” There were boys who walked all the way to the Moravian Hall in Zone Five, about half an hour’s walk through different zones and territories, for lessons, and I wished I was among them. Then I would never again be afraid of any threats or obstacles.

But in the end I stayed with the movies and admired the art of acting. The two genres that had the most impact on me, not surprisingly, were martial arts and cowboys and Indians films. With the martial arts movies, not forgetting the special effects of actors performing the impossible, of great significance to me was the idea of seeing someone fighting bare-handed and defeating a bunch of people armed with a multitude of weapons. To me this was the answer to all the bullies who constantly threatened to beat me up with one weapon or another. The Hong Kong cinema presented me, in my mind anyway, with the possibility of turning myself from victim into victor. It showed me that you did not have to be big and strong to defeat your enemies, you just had to be quick and smart. Movies like Lady Whirlwind, with Angela Mao kicking all the bad guys from one end of the screen to the other, showed me that it did not even matter whether you were a boy or a girl.

[…]

Naturally enough, as young boys we all started adopting role models from the big screen. However, when one talks of the big screen, people should not think that we had a conventional cinema. It was a township school hall a makeshift movie house that existed on weekends only. What Bra Hohle did was to cover the windows with black plastic and throw a white sheet over the blackboard. That was our movie house, and since we had no other in the vicinity, that was fine with us.

Our first and foremost role model was Bruce Lee. As little boys we went crazy over Bruce Lee. What was strange, though, was that we could never remember even one of the names of the characters he played, To us, he was always simply known as Bruce Lee. Most of the other leading actors in the martial arts movies we gave names as we saw fit. We were around Sub B and Standard One and unable to remember or even properly pronounce their names, so we gave them names that seemed to suit their particular styles.

Take John Liu, for instance – due to his powerful kicking style, we called him Mr Ma-Kick. For some reason he was the only one ever afforded the respect of being called “Mr”. I knew for a face, because of the relatives we had living in the area, that in the Mabopane/Garankuwa district, north of Pretoria, he was called Chappies, after the bubble gum. Don’t ask me why. But to the kids in those areas the name somehow must have made sense.

Those we never gave names to were identified by their association with other actors and characters from the movies. It went something like, “He is the guy who was a friend of the starring who starred in the movie Eighteen Bronze Men.” By “staring” we meant the leading actor.

[…]

Another thing: we could not read the English subtitles at that age and were, anyway, not fast enough to follow the dialogue, but afterwards we could tell you exactly what the movie was about and what each character had said to each other.

What amazed me most, still amazes me as I look back, was how a movie you had missed was related back to you with intricacy, flair and style by those who had seen it. You would be told exactly who said what to whom and would get a full demonstration of the action. A second-hand film narration went something like this:

“After the starring fought with the other man … the one who was the villain in that other bioscope I told you about …”

“Which bioscope was that?”

“The one I told you about last time, man … about that man whose dark green punch sounded like a gun from the cowboy bioscope.”

“Is it the same one who rode on a reed on top of the water and always said ‘Buddha bless you’ in the other movie we saw, when they showed us a double feature and the film burnt halfway, and we had to come back the next day and watched that other movie about Shaolin?”

“Yes, but this time he did not have that green fist. In this bioscope he could crush your skull with his bare hands …”

“Yes, I remember that one …”

You really had to know your stuff about martial arts movies to follow a narration like that, or perhaps you just had to be as young, naïve and easily excited as we were about action movies and the big screen.

Comments: Rrekgetsi Chimeloane (born 1964) is a South African writer and novelist, whose memoirs describes his childhood in the South African township of Soweto under apartheid rule. ‘Laetie’ means little brother. ‘Bioscope’ is the South African term for cinema. The films mentioned are Enter the Dragon (Hong Kong 1973), Lady Whirlwind (aka Deep Thrust) (Hong Kong 1972) and The 18 Bronzemen (Hong Kong 1978).

We Love Glenda So Much

Source: Extract from Julio Cortázar (trans. Gregory Rabassa), ‘We Love Glenda So Much’, in Hopscotch / Blow-up and other stories / We Love Glenda So Much and other tales (New York/London/Toronto: Everyman’s Library, 2014), p. 805 (orig. pub. Queremos tanto a Glenda y otro realtos, 1980)

Text: In those days it was hard to know. You go to the movies or the theater and live your night without thinking about the people who have already gone through the same ceremony, choosing the place and the time, getting dressed and telephoning and row eleven or five, the darkness and the music, territory that belongs to nobody and to everybody there where everybody is nobody, the men or women in their seats, maybe a word of apology for arriving late, a murmured comments that someone picks up or ignores, almost always silence, looks pouring onto the stage or screen, fleeing from what’s beside them, from what’s on this side.

Comments: Julio Cortázar (1914-1984) was an Argentinian novelist and short story writer, best known for his experimental novel Hopscotch, and in film circles for his story ‘Blow-up’ which inspired Antonioni’s eponymous 1966 film. His short story ‘We Love Glenda So Much’, from which the above is the opening words, is about a group of (probably) Argentinian cinemagoers and their obsession with the actress Glenda Garson (loosely based on Glenda Jackson). In his book In Broad Daylight: Movies and Spectators After the Cinema (2012), Gabriele Pedullà says

This passage from We Love Glenda So Much offers an excellent starting point for reflecting on the condition of the spectator during the projection of a film, not least because of the novelist’s skill in sketching the dark cube experience through a catalog of such heterogeneous details. Sight, hearing, touch … A hypothetical list of the elements characterizing cinematic viewing would not be much more extensive than the one we find in the brilliant opening of Cortázar’s story.

Hitchcock on Style

Source: Extract from ‘Hitchcock on Style: An Interview with Alfred Hitchcock’, Cinema, vol. 5 issue 1 (August & September 1963), p. 8

Text: H: You know the young film director always says, oh, let’s do a scene where the audience is the camera. That’s the prime cliché of all clichés. Bob Montgomery did one called Lady in the Lake. It’s quite unnecessary. You might just as well do a close-up of who it is. You know, it’s a trick and there’s nothing to it. You’d much better have a close-up and then what they see. Move with them — do anything you like — make them go through any experience — anything.

I: But Chabrol and Truffaut have in a sense imitated this style of yours, or learned from it.

H: Yes, they have. But after all, the greatest example of that which has been traditional, I think, in movies is the experience of a person on a roller coaster. You know when they brought that out with Cinerama, people said “Oh, my God, isn’t Cinerama wonderful? Nothing, of course, nothing like it at all!” That old roller coaster angle has been shot ever since silent films — way, way, back. I remember when they made a film years ago called A Ride on a Runaway Train and they put the camera up front and looked the world in the face. I can go back as far as 1912, maybe earlier, maybe 1910, when they used to have a thing in London called “Hale’s Tours.” And the audience paid their money and they went into a long car, like a pullman car, with rows of seats and a screen at the end. So you sat there, and all they did, they back-projected a film taken on the front of a train in Switzerland. Going through the Alps and so forth, and you sat there, and you were taken for a ride on a train. This is the same thing. This is purely subjective treatment.

Comments: Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) was a British film director. He was brought up in London and was a regular cinemagoer from an early age, including experiencing Hale’s Tours of the World, an entertainment in which films were projected from the front of a mocked-up train carriage. There was a Hale’s Tours in London’s Oxford Street, as well as other locations. It opened in May 1906 and was still being exhibited in 1909-1910. A Ride on a Runaway Train was made in 1921 by American travelogue producer Lyman Howe.

Links: Copy at The Hitchcock Wiki

If I Don't Write It, Nobody Will

Source: Eric Sykes, If I Don’t Write It, Nobody Will (London: Fourth Estate, 2005), pp. 78-80

Text: If the world was not exactly our oyster, it was most definitely our winkle. Our main Saturday night attraction was the Gaumont cinema at the end of Union Street. As for the films, the question we first asked ourselves was, ‘Is it a talkie?’and the second ‘Is it in colour?’ This didn’t bother us a bit; it was Saturday night, hey, lads, hey and the devil take the hindmost.

The Gaumont cinema was a large, luxurious emporium showing the latest films and up-to-date news, not forgetting Arthur Pules at the mighty Wurlitzer. For many Oldhamers the perfect panacea for the end of a stressful working week was a Saturday night at the pictures. Just relaxing into the armchair-like seats was an experience to savour. Uniformed usherettes busily showed patrons to their seats; one usherette stood against the orchestra pit, facing the audience with a smile as she sold crisps, peanuts, chocolates and soft drinks from a tray strapped round her shoulders; another usherette patrolled the aisles, selling various brands of cigarettes and matches from a similar tray. There was a general feeling of content in the audience, excitement slowly rising under subdued babble of conversation. The audience were the same people who had gone off to work during the week in overalls, dustcoats, ragged clothing and slightly better garb for office workers, but at the Gaumont cinema they had all, without exception, dressed up for the occasion. All the man wore collars and ties and the ladies decent frocks and in many cases hats as well. What a turnaround from my dear-old Imperial days; no running up and down the aisles chasing each other and certainly no whistling, booing or throwing orange peel at the screen during the sloppy kissing bits. In all fairness, though, I must add that it was only at the Saturday morning shows and we were children enjoying a few moments not under supervision or parental guidance. In fact when I was old enough to go to the Imperial for the evening films the audience even then dressed up and enjoyed the films in an adult fashion.

Back to the sublime at the Gaumont cinema; as the lights went down, so did the level of conversation. A spotlight hit the centre of the orchestra pit and slowly, like Aphrodite rising from the waves, the balding head of Arthur Pules would appear as he played his signature on the mighty Wurlitzer. He was a portly figure in immaculate white tie and tails, hands fluttering over the keys and shiny black pumps dancing over the pedals as he rose into full view, head swivelling from side to side, smiling and nodding to acknowledge the applause; but for all his splendid sartorial elegance, having his back to the audience was unfortunate as the relentless spotlight picked out the shape of his corsets. Regular patrons awaited this moment with glee, judging by the sniggers and pointing fingers. We were no exception; having all this pomp and circumstance brought down by the shape of a common pair of corsets on a man was always a good start to the evening’s entertainment.

At this point the words of a popular melody would flash on to the screen – for instance, the ‘in’ song of the day, ‘It Happened on the Beach at Bali Bali’ – and, after a frilly arpeggio to give some of the audience time to put their glasses on, a little ball of light settled on the first word of the song. In this case the first word was ‘It’; then it bounced onto ‘Happened’; then it made three quick hops over ‘on the Beach at’; then it slowed down for ‘Bali Bali’. The women sang with gusto and the men just smiled and nodded.

Happily this musical interlude didn’t last too long. Arthur Pules, the organist, was lured back into his pit of darkness and the curtains opened on the big wide screen. The films at the Gaumont were a great improvement on the grainy pictures at the Imperial, and so they should have been: after all, the film industry had made great strides in the eight years since John and I had sat in the pennies, dry mouthed as the shadow moved across the wall to clobber one of the unsuspecting actors.

After two hours of heavy sighs and wet eyes ‘The End’ appeared on the screen and the lights in the auditorium came up, bringing us all to our feet as the drum roll eased into the National Anthem … no talking, no fidgeting, simply a mark of respect for our King and Queen.

Comments: Eric Sykes (1923-2012) was a British comic actor and writer, who wrote and performed widely over many years for film, television and radio, including the 1970s sitcom Sykes. He was born and raised in Oldham, Lancashire, and at the time of this recollection was in his mid-teens, having left school aged fourteen. John was his half-brother. The Gaumont cinema in Oldham was at corner the King Street and Union Street, having been re-built as a cinema in 1937 out of an earlier theatre.

If I Don’t Write It, Nobody Will

Source: Eric Sykes, If I Don’t Write It, Nobody Will (London: Fourth Estate, 2005), pp. 78-80

Text: If the world was not exactly our oyster, it was most definitely our winkle. Our main Saturday night attraction was the Gaumont cinema at the end of Union Street. As for the films, the question we first asked ourselves was, ‘Is it a talkie?’and the second ‘Is it in colour?’ This didn’t bother us a bit; it was Saturday night, hey, lads, hey and the devil take the hindmost.

The Gaumont cinema was a large, luxurious emporium showing the latest films and up-to-date news, not forgetting Arthur Pules at the mighty Wurlitzer. For many Oldhamers the perfect panacea for the end of a stressful working week was a Saturday night at the pictures. Just relaxing into the armchair-like seats was an experience to savour. Uniformed usherettes busily showed patrons to their seats; one usherette stood against the orchestra pit, facing the audience with a smile as she sold crisps, peanuts, chocolates and soft drinks from a tray strapped round her shoulders; another usherette patrolled the aisles, selling various brands of cigarettes and matches from a similar tray. There was a general feeling of content in the audience, excitement slowly rising under subdued babble of conversation. The audience were the same people who had gone off to work during the week in overalls, dustcoats, ragged clothing and slightly better garb for office workers, but at the Gaumont cinema they had all, without exception, dressed up for the occasion. All the man wore collars and ties and the ladies decent frocks and in many cases hats as well. What a turnaround from my dear-old Imperial days; no running up and down the aisles chasing each other and certainly no whistling, booing or throwing orange peel at the screen during the sloppy kissing bits. In all fairness, though, I must add that it was only at the Saturday morning shows and we were children enjoying a few moments not under supervision or parental guidance. In fact when I was old enough to go to the Imperial for the evening films the audience even then dressed up and enjoyed the films in an adult fashion.

Back to the sublime at the Gaumont cinema; as the lights went down, so did the level of conversation. A spotlight hit the centre of the orchestra pit and slowly, like Aphrodite rising from the waves, the balding head of Arthur Pules would appear as he played his signature on the mighty Wurlitzer. He was a portly figure in immaculate white tie and tails, hands fluttering over the keys and shiny black pumps dancing over the pedals as he rose into full view, head swivelling from side to side, smiling and nodding to acknowledge the applause; but for all his splendid sartorial elegance, having his back to the audience was unfortunate as the relentless spotlight picked out the shape of his corsets. Regular patrons awaited this moment with glee, judging by the sniggers and pointing fingers. We were no exception; having all this pomp and circumstance brought down by the shape of a common pair of corsets on a man was always a good start to the evening’s entertainment.

At this point the words of a popular melody would flash on to the screen – for instance, the ‘in’ song of the day, ‘It Happened on the Beach at Bali Bali’ – and, after a frilly arpeggio to give some of the audience time to put their glasses on, a little ball of light settled on the first word of the song. In this case the first word was ‘It’; then it bounced onto ‘Happened’; then it made three quick hops over ‘on the Beach at’; then it slowed down for ‘Bali Bali’. The women sang with gusto and the men just smiled and nodded.

Happily this musical interlude didn’t last too long. Arthur Pules, the organist, was lured back into his pit of darkness and the curtains opened on the big wide screen. The films at the Gaumont were a great improvement on the grainy pictures at the Imperial, and so they should have been: after all, the film industry had made great strides in the eight years since John and I had sat in the pennies, dry mouthed as the shadow moved across the wall to clobber one of the unsuspecting actors.

After two hours of heavy sighs and wet eyes ‘The End’ appeared on the screen and the lights in the auditorium came up, bringing us all to our feet as the drum roll eased into the National Anthem … no talking, no fidgeting, simply a mark of respect for our King and Queen.

Comments: Eric Sykes (1923-2012) was a British comic actor and writer, who wrote and performed widely over many years for film, television and radio, including the 1970s sitcom Sykes. He was born and raised in Oldham, Lancashire, and at the time of this recollection was in his mid-teens, having left school aged fourteen. John was his half-brother. The Gaumont cinema in Oldham was at corner the King Street and Union Street, having been re-built as a cinema in 1937 out of an earlier theatre.

The Picturegoers

Source: David Lodge, The Picturegoers (London: Penguin, 1993 [orig. pub. 1960]), pp. 18-20

The Picturegoers (from Wikipedia) Text: ‘Take us in, Mister?’

The question startled him.

‘I beg your pardon?’ he said politely, and peered down through his spectacles at the group of rough dirty children who surrounded him.

‘G’orn, guv, take’s in.’

Father Kipling smiled uncertainly, and decided on an I’m-in-the-same-boat-as-you-fellows approach.

‘Well, really, you know, I don’t think that I can afford it.’ Things had come to a pretty pass when children begged unashamedly on the streets for money to indulge in luxuries such as the cinema. He glanced meaningfully at his companions, and began to explain.

‘We don’t want you to pay for us, Mister. We just want you to take us in.’

‘Jus’ say we’re wiv yer,’ backed up another.

”Ere’s the money, Guv.’ A grimy, shrivelled paw held up some silver coins.

‘But why?’ asked Father Kipling, bewildered.

The leader took a deep breath.

‘Well yer see, Mister, it’s an “A” and you can’t get into an “A”….’

Father Kipling listened carefully to the explanation. At the end of it he said:

‘The really, you’re not allowed to see this film unless accompanied by a parent or guardian?’

‘That’s right, Mister.’

‘Well then, I’m afraid I can’t help you, because I’m certainly not your parent, and I can’t honestly say I’m your guardian. Can I now?’ He smiled nervously at the chief urchin, who turned away in disgust, and formed up his entourage to petition another cinema-goer. Father Kipling stared after them for a moment, the hurriedly made good his escape.

Inside the foyer he was faced with a difficult decision: the choice of seats. The prices all seemed excessively high, and he was conscious of a certain moral obligation to go in the cheapest. On the other hand, this was a rare, if not unique occasion, and as he had few enough treats, he was perhaps entitled to indulge himself to the extent of a comfortable seat. He couldn’t choose the middle price, because there were four. As he hesitated he caught the eye of the commissionaire staring at him, and he hastily purchased a ticket for the second most expensive seat.

For the next few minutes he seemed to be in the grip of a nightmare. When the young woman at the swing door had rudely snatched the ticket from his hand, and just as rudely thrust a severed portion of it back again, he was propelled into a pit of almost total darkness and stifling heat. A torch was shone on his ticket, and a listless voice intoned:

‘Over to your left.’

In the far recesses of the place another torch flickered like a distant lighthouse, and he set out towards it. When he couldn’t see it he stopped; then it would flicker impatiently again, and he would set off once more. Beneath his feet he crunched what appeared to be seashells; he gasped in an atmosphere reeking of tobacco and human perspiration. Dominating all, the screen boomed and shifted. At last he reached the young woman with the torch. But his ordeal was not over. She indicated a seat in the middle of a full row. The gesture was treacherously familiar. Horror of horrors! He had genuflected! The usherette stared. Blushing furiously he forced his way into the row, stumbled, panicked, threshed, kicked his way to the empty seat, leaving a trail of execration and protest in his wake. He wanted to die, to melt away. Never again would he come to the cinema. Never again.

Comments: David Lodge (born 1935) is a British novelist and academic, who often writes on Roman Catholic themes. The Picturegoers is his first novel. The novel follows the visits to a London cinema in the late 1950s of a group of characters, using their thoughts and experiences to comment on religion and a changing society, reflected in the decline of cinema itself. Father Kipling has gone to the cinema under the misapprehension that he is to see The Song of Bernadette. Children asking adults to accompany them into the cinema so that they could see ‘A’ certificate films was a common activity in the 1950s.