Horror Films

Source: Excerpt from interview with Tom Affleck, ‘Horror Films’, ref, 92-16-1 (1992), quoted in Annette Kuhn, An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory (London/New York: I.B. Tauris, 2002), p. 70

Text: The picture that sticks in my mind, The Werewolf of London, the most horrific one I ever remember. Coming out of the picture house I went to my Granny’s to meet my mother and after tea we made our way home. It was now dark and arriving there, having got the light on, my mother told me to pull the blind while she got a shovel of coal for the fire. As I went to the window there was a tap on it from outside and with the inside light on I could not see out. I only heard the tap and flew through to the scullery shouting that the werewolf was after me. Later I found out that the train had come in and one of the people passing was my cousin who tapped on the window.

Resulting from this incident, about eleven at the time, I tok a nervous condition, continually blinking my eyes but a doctor diagnosed nothing seriously wrong …

I finally laid the werewolf to rest when I saw that old picture on television some years ago, although it brought back painful memories.

Comments: An Everyday Magic is a study of the significance of memories of British cinemagoing in the 1930s, which makes extensive use interview material with picturegoers from the time. Werewolf of London is an American film from 1935, starring Henry Hull and Warner Oland.

Brave New World

Source: Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (London: Vintage, 2007 [orig. pub. 1932]), pp. 174-175

Text: The Park Lane Hospital for the Dying was a sixty-story tower of primrose tiles. As the Savage stepped out of his taxicopter a convoy of gaily-coloured aerial hearses rose whirring from the roof and darted away across the Park, westwards, bound for the Slough Crematorium. At the lift gates the presiding porter gave him the information he required, and he dropped down to Ward 81 (a Galloping Senility ward, the porter explained) on the seventeenth floor.

It was a large room bright with sunshine and yellow paint, and containing twenty beds, all occupied. Linda was dying in company – in company and with all the modern conveniences. The air was continuously alive with gay synthetic melodies. At the foot of every bed, confronting its moribund occupant, was a television box. Television was left on, a running tap, from morning till night. Every quarter of an hour the prevailing perfume of the room was automatically changed. “We try,” explained the nurse, who had taken charge of the Savage at the door, “we try to create a thoroughly pleasant atmosphere here – something between a first-class hotel and a feely-palace, if you take my meaning.”

“Where is she?” asked the Savage, ignoring these polite explanations.

The nurse was offended. “You are in a hurry,” she said. “Is there any hope?” he asked.

“You mean, of her not dying?” (He nodded.) “No, of course there isn’t. When somebody’s sent here, there’s no …” Startled by the expression of distress on his pale face, she suddenly broke off. “Why, whatever is the matter?” she asked. She was not accustomed to this kind of thing in visitors. (Not that there were many visitors anyhow: or any reason why there should be many visitors.) “You’re not feeling ill, are you?”

He shook his head. “She’s my mother,” he said in a scarcely audible voice.

The nurse glanced at him with startled, horrified eyes; then quickly looked away. From throat to temple she was all one hot blush.

“Take me to her,” said the Savage, making an effort to speak in an ordinary tone.

Still blushing, she led the way down the ward. Faces still fresh and unwithered (for senility galloped so hard that it had no time to age the cheeks – only the heart and brain) turned as they passed. Their progress was followed by the blank, incurious eyes of second infancy. The Savage shuddered as he looked.

Linda was lying in the last of the long row of beds, next to the wall. Propped up on pillows, she was watching the Semi-finals of the South American Riemann-Surface Tennis Championship, which were being played in silent and diminished reproduction on the screen of the television box at the foot of the bed. Hither and thither across their square of illuminated glass the little figures noiselessly darted, like fish in an aquarium – the silent but agitated inhabitants of another world.

Linda looked on, vaguely and uncomprehendingly smiling. Her pale, bloated face wore an expression of imbecile happiness. Every now and then her eyelids closed, and for a few seconds she seemed to be dozing. Then with a little start she would wake up again – wake up to the aquarium antics of the Tennis Champions, to the Super-Vox-Wurlitzeriana rendering of “Hug me till you drug me, honey,” to the warm draught of verbena that came blowing through the ventilator above her head-would wake to these things, or rather to a dream of which these things, transformed and embellished by the soma in her blood, were the marvellous constituents, and smile once more her broken and discoloured smile of infantile contentment.

Comments: Aldous Huxley (1893-1964) was a British novelist. His 1932 dystopian novel Brave New World is set in AD 2540 and depicts a genetically-engineered society, stratified by caste, where everyone is designed to accept their destiny and live in a state of synthetic happiness. The novel is in part a satire on American life, and mocks the ‘talkies’ as ‘feelies’ and provides an archetypal view of television (then in its experimental phase and barely known to the general public) as a mindless entertainment that anaesthetises minds. The Savage lives outside the city (London) in a reservation but is introduced to this new world. Linda is his mother.

The "Televisor"

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

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

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

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

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

For the Children

Source: Extracts from D.J. Enright, ‘For the Children’, in Fields of Vision: Essays on Literature, Language, and Television (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 72-76 (adapted from original essay ‘Quick Brown Fox – D.J. Enright writes in praise of Basil Brush’, Listener, 15 March 1973)

Text: [I]n the early 1970s I wrote a piece on a children’s programme for the Listener. […] [T]elevision was new to me. After many years abroad, living in countries where either there wasn’t any television or else it had just been introduced as a prime tool in the processes of ‘human engineering’ and therefore wasn’t taken very seriously. I had returned to this country – England – where television was both firmly established and basically free.

Now that I have learned to look on television not as in the hour of thoughtless middle age, would I enjoy The Basil Brush Show as much as I did then, when the set seemed apparelled in celestial light and its buttons and its knobs were still a mystery to me?

[…]

The pun is the essence of poetry, or its microcosm. The scorn frequently professed for punning is merely a sign of the higher illiteracy, in all likelihood linked with the taste for ponderous formulations and the concomitant suspicion that punning is a sort of cheating. Punning is at or very near the heart of a television programme in which the visual is combined with the verbal in a partnership of equality, something rarely come across – a children’s programme, nominally, and truly.

The Basil Brush Show is a team effort, and credit is due to the producer, Robin Nash, to the writer (of course), George Martin, and to the cameramen. It is also due to Derek Fowlds, most graceful of feed-men, who really seems to enjoy the proceedings and behaves as if Basil’s interventions were unexpected (perhaps some of them are). thus providing a sense of spontaneity to counteract the obviously drilled and sometimes less than gripping insets or side-shows. The feeling conveyed of a continuous relationship between Basil and Mr Derek, an intimacy still open to new discoveries, must have done much towards the show’s sustained popularity. But the lion’s share of thanks must go to Ivan Owen the prime mover, or (as Basil puts it when he has let his brush down) ‘my man, who speaks for me and generally lends a hand.’ Though outwardly simple and uncomplicated, Basil is an expressive creature, intelligent, nervous, and cunning. Just as onnagata, the Japanese actors specializing in female roles in the Kabuki theatre, contrive to be more like women than women are, so Basil is more like – no, not exactly a fox – more like a living being than many living beings are.

[…]

The show follows its own conventions closely. The two principal characters are discovered in the act of welcoming a duly appreciative audience of children. Then comes a passage of chit-chat, perhaps making play with one of Basil’s many relatives (naturally there is a Herr Brush in Hamburg), or Basil scores a point or two off his colleague: Mr Derek is getting to be almost as well known as his jokes. Now and then Basil falls into a pensive mood, and from the gravity of his demeanour one would suppose him musing on the wickedness of blood sports or the transient nature of jelly babies. On one such occasion he had simply misheard a reference to Khartoum, and confided to the audience how fond he was of cartoons, Yogi Bear in especial.

A guest appearance follows, a marionette theatre (a nice touch) or a magician, the Little Angels of Korea, a school choir or a pop group. This yields to the main course: a playlet, often topical in flavour, minimal in plot and with guest help as applicable. Basil and Mr Derek set about buying a house; they get into trouble at the Customs; they rehearse Romeo and Juliet (‘It’s a bit of a drag!’ complains Basil, dressed as Juliet); or they find themselves on holiday at the North Pole instead of Nostra Palma, that sunny spot on the Med. The Christmas edition featured a party given by Mr Charles Dickens for some of his more congenial characters. Music intervenes, mercifully brief, and the show concludes with the serial reading by Mr Derek of a book, latterly The Adventures of Basil the Buccaneer. The story is skeletal and the style unembellished, but Mr Derek is helped out or hindered fruitfully by Basil, who by turns is absorbed in the tale, at cross purposes with the text, and engaged elsewhere, perhaps with his pet mouse or a bag of peanuts.

[…]

Lavatorial humour of a traditional and innocuous kind (even Freudianly relieving, maybe) crops up regularly. Mr Derek assures Basil that babies’ high chairs always have a hole in them: ‘that’s the whole idea.’ ‘I think it’s a potty idea,’ says Basil. And after some talk of Nell Gwyn, when Basil hears that Charles II spent twenty-five years on the throne, he comments, ‘All those oranges, I suppose.’ The subject of underwear attracts repeated variations: ‘Don’t get your knickers in a twist/combs in a commotion/undies in an uproar/tights in a tangle.’ The audience identify with Basil, he is one of them, just a bit bolder and more privileged, and delight to see him putting down an adult, even one so amiable as Mr Derek. For all the excursions into Frankie Howerd country, Basil is unfailingly shocked if he thinks Mr Derek has used a naughty word – ‘Unmentionables must not be mentioned- – and his extreme delicacy obliges him to spell out the title of a children’s book, ‘Winnie the … P.O.O.H.’ ‘Mrs Lighthouse’ being one of his bugbears. A riskier joke occurred when he wished he could act in the theatre and Mr Derek told him, ‘You’re no Thespian’; he replied, ‘You don’t have to be like that to be an actor, do you?’ The children laughed like mad, presumably at the expression of shock and concern written all over his body. Like other good artists, Basil Brush can give pleasure at various levels simultaneously.

This being a serious occasion, we should attend to the profounder aspects of Brush’s art and thought. I am not thinking so much of his dealings with Sir Gerald Nabarro, Lord Longford, Mr Edward Heath, traffic wardens, or the Trade Description Act (‘Half a pound of tuppenny rice!’), nor of his alertness to pressing problems like gazumping and traffic congestion (‘Oxford Street, yes. That’s where you sit in your car and watch the pedestrians whizzing past’). But disciples of Zen could meditate profitably on Basil’s koan in a letter to his cousin Cyril: ‘I am writing this letter slowly, because I know you can read very fast.’ The piece of advice about not mentioning the unmentionable should be pondered by writers, and also Basil’s answer when asked what style he paints in, traditional, primitive, surrealistic, or impressionistic. ‘Mine is more the … contemptuous style.’

[…]

He once confided that he would like to be ‘an executive … running a factory or something … about fifty quid a week’. It was pointed out that he had no experience and therefore coildn;t expect a highly paid position. The pundits might care to study his rejoinder. ‘And why not? The job’s a lot harder if you do’t know anything about it!’

‘Boom, boom!’ (bangs head against Derek) (laugh) …

Comments: Dennis Joseph Enright (1920-2002) was a British poet, novelist, essayist and academic. The puppet fox character Basil Brush first appeared on BBC television in 1962 and was given his own show in 1968, which ran until 1980. It was recorded in a theatre in front of an audience of children. A different Basil Brush Show was broadcast by the BBC 2002-2007. ‘Mrs Lighthouse’ is a reference to Mary Whitehouse, a campaigner against sex and violence on television.

One Day in the Life of Television

Source: Josephine May, quoted in Sean Day-Lewis (ed.), One Day in the Life of Television (London: British Film Institute, 1989), pp. 133-134

Text: Madge Mitchell minces Mrs Mangel, or was it the other way round? All I know is that with 16 million others I am hooked on Neighbours. I even say ‘G’day’, and expression like ‘What a wombat’ have crept into my vocabulary … Voices floated back to me this morning in the street from two fashionably jean-clad teenagers: ‘Are they going to get engaged, Jane and Mike?’ At church on Sunday the sermon was all about neighbourliness. The priest had no trouble illustrating his theme from the serial. As a French teacher, I use it too. Exercises on the future tense are a doddle when the question is: ‘What will Mrs Mangel do next?’

Everyone watches, young and old alike. Everyone is portrayed. Nellie Mangel invited Harold to the church dance today and neither could be considered spring chooks. Young Lucy loses her mice and Helen gives Scott advice on budgeting. Daphne, expecting a baby, is not too well as she manages the coffee shop. Willingly or not, happily or not, these people are part of a community which makes up its differences and where no one is lonely …

Comments: One Day in the Life of Television was a project organised by the British Film Institute which documented one day’s television broadcasting in the UK (1 November 1988) with impressions specially recorded by hundreds of television professionals and ordinary viewers. Josephine May was a teacher from Henley-on-Thames. The Australian soap opera Neighbours was first broadcast in that country in 1985 on the Seven Network and in the UK on the BBC in 1986.

Hee-Hee for Tee-Vee

Source: Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle, ‘Hee-Hee for Tee-Vee’ in Whizz for Atomms (London: Max Parrish, 1956), reproduced in Willans and Searle, Molesworth (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1999), pp. 277-281

Text: Gosh super! we hav something to contend with which no other generation have ever had before i.e. the television cheers cheers cheers. Everybody know wot a t.v. is it is a square box with a screen. You switch on and o hapen, then just when you have given up hope and are going off to buzz conkers a great booming voice sa, ‘That’s an interesting point, postelthwaite. Wot does higginbottom feel? Higginbottom? ect. ect.’ It may be an interesting point but i could not care less and just go away agane when a ghastley face suddenly appere. It is worse than a squished tomato but it hold me in hypnotic trance and it is the same with molesworth 2, tho he always look dopey like that. We sit and watch more and more ghastley faces with out mouths open and even forget to chew the buble gum we are the slaves of the machine.

Of course all boys and gurls have to go through a time when there is no t.v. xcept at the postman’s down the road. Yore mater and pater then sa weedy things.

i will not hav one in the house.
the programmes are simply terible, my dear.
it is bad for children.
it destroy the simple pursuits of leisure.

Hem-hem if they only knew what the simple pursuits of leisure were like potting stones at vilage oiks or teaching parot rude words they would not hesitate for a moment. Anyway they get one in the end and sa ‘Children can only look for 1 hour at suitable programmes’ then they forget all about it until we are halfway through ‘1984’ and molesworth 2 sa ‘if that is the best a rat can do i do not think much of it.’ ‘The rat,’ i sa, ‘is exactly like thou, o clot-faced wet.’ Then mater become aware of our presence and hury the dreamy-eyed little felows up wood hill to blanket fair, as dear nana sa.

When you setle down to it this is wot hapens in your dulce domun (lat.)

Scene: A darkened room with glowing fire. Mum, Nana, me and molesworth 2 are goggling at the screen. So are the cats, dogs, rats, mice and various bugs about the place.

T.V. Are you a clump-press minder? (Grate cheers)
MATER: I thort he was an aero-dynamicist or a moulding-clamp turner……I really think……
ALL: Sshh

(Enter pater, third from the office.)

PATER: Are you looking at that friteful thing agane? Programmes are terible. Nothing to look at.

(With a roar and a ratle he put coal on the fire).

ALL: Sshh!

(Pater setle down. molesworth 2 aim his gat at very fat gentleman in specs. It is the same gun with which he shot mufin the mule, mcdonald hobley, a ping-pong champion, three midgets, a great-crested grebe, a persian student and lady Boyle and a budgerigar.)

MOLESWORTH 2: Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah. Got you.

ALL: Shh!

MATER: Do you not think it would be better if their heads were not three feet away from their shoulders?

(Pater go and twiddle knobs. First of all there is a snowstorm then what seems like the batle of jutland, then an electronic bombardment. Finaly a vast explosion.)

MATER: You have ruined it, clot.
NANA: Boost the contrast.
MOLESWORTH 2: Adjust the definition.
ME: Oh gosh, hurry up.

(Now picture is upside down, then leaning drunkenly, then it disappear altogether amid boos and catcalls. Finaly Nana do it.)

T.V. Are you connected with seaweed? (Huge cheer)
MATER: look at tibby the cat he canot stand Gilbert Harding…..
ALL: Sssh.
PATER: He’s a guggle-gouger…..

(And so it go on. Supper is not cooked, fires go out, kettles boil their heads off, slates fall off the roof and house burn down, but we are all still looking at a nature film in w. africa chiz in fact we have seen more monkeys since we got the t.v. than ever before xcept at st. custard’s where peason have the face of a wild baboon.)

Aktually t.v. is v. cultural for boys and improving to the mind. You learn so many things than when you go back to skool all are quite surprised.

MOLESWORTH 1: To the q. whether the hydrogen bomb should be banned i give a categorical ‘no’. unless there can be international agreement to co-exist in disarmament.
MOLESWORTH 2: That is a valid point, o weedy wet. Do you kno the population of chile?
MOLESWORTH 1: No. But everyone should look both ways before crossing the road and wot can be more dramatic than man’s fight against the locust, eh?
MOLESWORTH 2: The problem of asia is the problem of over-population and now i will pla brahms etude number 765000 in F flat….

You kno wot this mean he is going to zoom to the piano and pla fairy bells nothing can stop him …

Comments: Geoffrey Willans (1911-1958) was a British schoolmaster and comic writer and Ronald Searle (1920-2011) was a British illustrator. Together they created the comic character of Nigel Molesworth, a pupil at dilapidated boys’ school St Custard’s, whose distinctively mispelt exploits were first documented in Punch magazine (from 1939) and then in four books. ‘Hee-Hee for Tee-Vee’ is the title of a chapter in the third book, Whizz for Atomms. Searle also created the rebellious girls school St Trinian’s. The BBC television production of George Orwell’s 1984 was first broadcast on 12 December 1954 and aroused much controversy for its ‘horrific’ scenes. The quiz show parodied here is What’s My Line, first broadcast by the BBC in 1951 and based on an American original. Gilbert Harding was a regular panellist on the show. Dramatic picture interference was a common experience for television audiences in the 1950s.

Leaving the Movie Theater

Source: Extract from Roland Barthes (trans. Richard Howard), ‘Leaving the Movie Theater’, in The Rustle of Language (New York: Hill and Wang, 1986), pp. 345-346

Text: There is something to confess: your speaker likes to leave a movie theater. Back out on the more or less empty brightly lit sidewalk (it is invariably at night, and during the week, that he goes), and heading uncertainly for some café or other, he walks in silence (he doesn’t like discussing the film he’s just seen), a little dazed, wrapped up in himself, feeling the cold – he’s sleepy, that’s what he’s thinking, his body has become something sopitive, soft, limp, and he feels a little disjointed, even (for a moral organization, relief comes only from this quarter) irresponsible. In other words, obviously, he’s coming out of hypnosis. And hypnosis (an old psychoanalytic device – one that psychoanalysis these days seems to treat quite condescendingly) means only one thing to him; the most venerable of powers: healing. And he thinks of music: isn’t there such a thing as hypnotic music? The castrato Farinelli, whose messa di voce was “as incredible for its duration as for its emission,” relieved the morbid melancholy of Philip V by singing him the same aria every night for fourteen years.

This is often how he leaves a movie theater. How does he go in? Except for the – increasingly frequent – case of a specific cultural quest (a selected, sought for, desired film, object of a veritable preliminary alert), he goes to movies as a response to idleness, leisure, free time. It’s as if, even before he went into the theater, the classic conditions of hypnosis were in force: vacancy, want of occupation, lethargy; it’s not in front of the film and because of the film that he dreams off – it’s without knowing it, even before he becomes a spectator. There is a “cinema situation,” and this situation is pre-hypnotic. According to a true metonymy, the darkness of the theater is prefigured by the “twilight reverie” (a prerequisite for hypnosis, according to Breuer-Freud) which precedes it and leads him from street to street, from poster to poster, finally burying himself in a dim, anonymous, indifferent cube where that festival of affects known as a film will be presented.

What does the “darkness” of cinema mean? (Whenever I hear the word cinema, I can’t help thinking hall, rather than film.) Not only is the dark the very substance of reverie (in the pre-hypnoid meaning of the term); it is also the “color” of a diffused eroticism; by its human condensation, by its absence of worldliness (contrary to the cultural appearance that has to be put in at any “legitimate theater”), by the relaxation of postures (how many members of the cinema audience slide down into their seats as if into a bed, coats or feet thrown over the row in front!), the movie house (ordinary model) is a site of availability (even more than cruising), the inoccupation of bodies, which best defines modern eroticism – not that of advertising or strip-tease, but that of the big city. It is in this urban dark that the body’s freedom is generated; this invisible work of possible affects emerges from a veritable cinematographic cocoon; the movie spectator could easily appropriate the silkworm’s motto: Inclusum labor illustrat; it is because I am enclosed that I work and glow with all my desire.

In this darkness of the cinema (anonymous, populated, numerous – oh, the boredom, the frustration, of so-called private showings!) lies the very fascination of the film (any film). Think of the contrary experience: on television, where films are also shown, no fascination; here darkness is erased, anonymity repressed; space is familiar, articulated (by furniture, known objects), tamed: the eroticism – no, to put it better, to get across the particular kind of lightness, of unfulfillment we mean: the eroticization of the place is foreclosed: television doomed us to the Family, whose household instrument it has become – what the hearth used to be, flanked by its communal kettle …

Comments: Roland Barthes (1915-1980) was a French literary theorist and semiotician. This text, of which the first part is reproduced here, comes from a posthumously-published collection of essays written between 1967 and 1980.

Movie-Going

Source: John Hollander, extract from ‘Movie-Going’, in Movie-Going, and Other Poems (New York: Atheneum, 1962)

Text: … Always go in the morning if you can; it will
Be something more than habit if you do. Keep well
Away from most French farces. Try to see a set
Of old blue movies every so often, that the sight
Of animal doings out of the clothes of ‘thirty-five
May remind you that even the natural act is phrased
In the terms and shapes of particular times and places.
Finally, remember always to honour the martyred dead.
The forces of darkness spread everywhere now, and the best
And brightest screens fade out, while many-antennaed beasts
Perch on the house-tops, and along the grandest streets
Palaces crumble, one by one. The dimming starts
Slowly at first; the signs are few, as ‘Movies are
Better than Ever,’ ‘Get More out of Life. See a Movie’ Or
Else there’s no warning at all and, Whoosh! the theater falls,
Alas, transmogrified: no double-feature fills
A gleaming marquee with promises, now only lit
With ‘Pike and Whitefish Fresh Today ‘Drano’ and ‘Light
Or Dark Brown Sugar, Special.’ Try never to patronize
Such places (or pass them by one day a year). The noise
Of movie mansions changing form, caught in the toils
Of our lives’ withering, rumbles, resounds and tolls
The knell of neighborhoods. Do not forget the old
Places, for everyone’s home has been a battlefield.

I remember: the RKO COLONIAL; the cheap
ARDEN and ALDEN both; LOEW’S LINCOLN SQUARE’S bright shape;
The NEWSREEL; the mandarin BEACON, resplendently arrays
The tiny SEVENTY-SEVENTH STREET, whose demise I rued
So long ago; the eighty-first street, sunrise-hued,
RKO; and then LOWE’S at eighty-third, which had
The colder pinks of sunset on it; and then, back
Across Broadway again, and up, you disembarked
At the YORKTOWN and then the STODDARD, with their dark
Marquees; the SYMPHONY had a decorative disk
With elongated ‘twenties nudes whirling in it;
(Around the corner the THALIA, daughter of memory! owed
Her life to Foreign Hits, in days when you piled your coat
High on your lap and sat, sweating and cramped, to catch
“La Kermesse Heroique” every third week, and watched
Fritz Lang from among an audience of refugees, bewitched
By the sense of Crisis on and off that tiny bit
Of screen) Then north again: the RIVERSIDE, the bright
RIVIERA rubbing elbows with it; and right
Smack on a hundredth street, the MIDTOWN; and the rest
Of them: the CARLTON, EDISON, LOWE’S OLYMPIA, and best
Because, of course, the last of all, its final burst
Anonymous, the NEMO! These were once the pearls
Of two-and-a-half miles of Broadway! How many have paled
Into a supermarket’s failure of the imagination?

Honor them all …

Comments: John Hollander (1929-2013) was an American poet and academic. He wrote several poems on cinema, of which the long poem ‘Movie-Going’ is the best known. A third of the poem is reproduced here. Most, if not all, of the New York cinemas mentioned can be found, described and mapped, on the Cinema Treasures site. La Kermesse Heroique (France 1935) was directed by Jacques Feyder.

Movie-Going

Source: John Hollander, extract from ‘Movie-Going’, in Movie-Going, and Other Poems (New York: Atheneum, 1962)

Text: … Always go in the morning if you can; it will
Be something more than habit if you do. Keep well
Away from most French farces. Try to see a set
Of old blue movies every so often, that the sight
Of animal doings out of the clothes of ‘thirty-five
May remind you that even the natural act is phrased
In the terms and shapes of particular times and places.
Finally, remember always to honour the martyred dead.
The forces of darkness spread everywhere now, and the best
And brightest screens fade out, while many-antennaed beasts
Perch on the house-tops, and along the grandest streets
Palaces crumble, one by one. The dimming starts
Slowly at first; the signs are few, as ‘Movies are
Better than Ever,’ ‘Get More out of Life. See a Movie’ Or
Else there’s no warning at all and, Whoosh! the theater falls,
Alas, transmogrified: no double-feature fills
A gleaming marquee with promises, now only lit
With ‘Pike and Whitefish Fresh Today ‘Drano’ and ‘Light
Or Dark Brown Sugar, Special.’ Try never to patronize
Such places (or pass them by one day a year). The noise
Of movie mansions changing form, caught in the toils
Of our lives’ withering, rumbles, resounds and tolls
The knell of neighborhoods. Do not forget the old
Places, for everyone’s home has been a battlefield.

I remember: the RKO COLONIAL; the cheap
ARDEN and ALDEN both; LOEW’S LINCOLN SQUARE’S bright shape;
The NEWSREEL; the mandarin BEACON, resplendently arrays
The tiny SEVENTY-SEVENTH STREET, whose demise I rued
So long ago; the eighty-first street, sunrise-hued,
RKO; and then LOWE’S at eighty-third, which had
The colder pinks of sunset on it; and then, back
Across Broadway again, and up, you disembarked
At the YORKTOWN and then the STODDARD, with their dark
Marquees; the SYMPHONY had a decorative disk
With elongated ‘twenties nudes whirling in it;
(Around the corner the THALIA, daughter of memory! owed
Her life to Foreign Hits, in days when you piled your coat
High on your lap and sat, sweating and cramped, to catch
“La Kermesse Heroique” every third week, and watched
Fritz Lang from among an audience of refugees, bewitched
By the sense of Crisis on and off that tiny bit
Of screen) Then north again: the RIVERSIDE, the bright
RIVIERA rubbing elbows with it; and right
Smack on a hundredth street, the MIDTOWN; and the rest
Of them: the CARLTON, EDISON, LOWE’S OLYMPIA, and best
Because, of course, the last of all, its final burst
Anonymous, the NEMO! These were once the pearls
Of two-and-a-half miles of Broadway! How many have paled
Into a supermarket’s failure of the imagination?

Honor them all …

Comments: John Hollander (1929-2013) was an American poet and academic. He wrote several poems on cinema, of which the long poem ‘Movie-Going’ is the best known. A third of the poem is reproduced here. Most, if not all, of the New York cinemas mentioned can be found, described and mapped, on the Cinema Treasures site. La Kermesse Heroique (France 1935) was directed by Jacques Feyder.