British Cinemas and their Audiences

Source: J.P. Mayer, British Cinemas and their Audiences: Sociological Studies (London: Dennis Dobson, 1948), pp. 182-184

Text: NO. 15A
AGE: 18 SEX: F.

When I go to the cinema, I go to be entertained, and having seen the film I like to feel convinced, and satisfied with my entertainment. I enjoy quite a few types of films but in nine cases out of ten the draw is the star in the film. The sort of film I like best has plenty of outdoor scenes, and children. Always, I look for a sense of freedom in a film, something refreshing, something that really might happen in real life. Children too, seem to be the embodiment of freedom and happiness. One of the most refreshing, charming, film [sic] I have ever seen was Sunday Dinner for a Soldier. Here the children, the elder sister, the grandfather, the animals, the houseboat all seemed so real, and their experiences might happen to anybody. For that reason too I enjoyed National Velvet and the beautiful refreshing scenes shot by the sea.

On the more serious side I like a good film taken from a novel whether modern or old but to convince me the acting must be at a very high standard. Here, the stars attract me, Bette Davis, Ida Lupino, Joan Fontaine, Ingrid Bergmann [sic]; and as I watch them I think how wonderful it must be and how satisfying to them to be able to act like that. What an achievement to really be able to convince the audience that you are happy, sad, indifferent, cruel, etc. I like a film of a serious nature to have an unhappy ending although I can never remember crying in a cinema if the hero or heroine died.

Then too, I like a film in which one scene stands out above all others so that I remember it for a long time afterwards, such as King Henry wooing the French Princess in Henry V, the duel scene in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, of Agnes Morrcheat’s [sic] performance in The Magnificent Ambersons. I find great pleasure in thinking back over them.

I like a comedy but it must be very clever and fast and funny so that I can laugh all the time. It must also have a great many surprises in it. I like some films with classical music running through them. Especially I enjoyed Song of Russia because of Tchaikowsky’s beautiful music. I think that his music is more beautiful than any other composer’s.

Lastly I like travel films because I can learn something from them about other countries. Although I should like to travel all over the world, I shall never be able to, and through seeing films about other lands, this makes up a little for not being able to go, (but only a very little I’m afraid).

The films I dislike most are modern musicals and also the ‘gay nineties’ type. The acting is generally very bad, the plot is repeated again and again, and after a day I have forgotten all about the film. The only reason I would go to a musical would be to study the actresses’ hair styles and dress. Very sentimental films tend to depress and even sicken me. The players never win my sympathy in the slightest.

I do not like American films with scenes set in England because they are always inaccurate. England looks in these films Hollywood would like her to look. This annoys me very much.

I do not like seeing films taken from novels I have read as they are nearly always chopped about beyond recognition and if I was the unfortunate authoress of a book that had been hacked about I should feel like weeping with shame when I saw my book filmed.

I do not like crime films, thrillers, or murders, as I find myself imagining all sorts of horrible things when I am alone in the house or walking in the dark at night for a time after I have seen them.

Lastly, I am hoping that I shall never see a war film or an ‘underground army’ type of film as long as I live. I want to forget all about war and try to help peace in this poor old world of ours for ever.

Comments: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His British Cinemas and their Audiences collates motion picture autobiographies submitted through a competition in Picturegoer magazine. This contribution comes from the section ‘A Study in Film Preferences’. Agnes Moorehead is the name of the actress in The Magnificent Ambersons (USA 1942). The other films mentioned are Sunday Dinner for a Soldier (USA 1944), Henry V (UK 1944), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (UK 1943), National Velvet (1944) and Song of Russia (USA 1944).

A Hole in the Screen

Source: Daniel Moyano, ‘A Hole in the Screen’, in Ian Breakwell and Paul Hammond (eds.), Seeing in the Dark: A Compendium of Cinemagoing (London: Serpent’s Tail, 1990), p. 39

Text: In the 1940s we lived alongside a cinema, in a small town lost in the southern pampas of Argentina. The cinema was immediately adjacent to our house, so that every night we could hear the film and imagine what was on the screen. All of us that is except uncle Eugenio, who had never been to see a film, saying that it was all a fraud, all illusion, and that when the lights went up and all the characters disappeared the screen was no more than a rag. When he saw us coming back from the movies every Sunday, discussing the film, he would say, ‘I don’t believe it. I never would have credited that people would talk about these illusions as if they’d really taken place.’ He regarded us as stupid and ignorant. If the film had a sad ending aunt Delicia, who always took anybody’s love affair for her own, would return home crying. ‘Poor thing,’ she’d sob, thinking about the heroine, and she’d get undressed so that she could carry on crying in bed. Uncle Eugenio would get mad with frustration, utterly unable to find the words to refute the fact that illusions might provoke real tears.

We convinced him in Holy Week. They were showing a film, The Life of Christ, and though this was clearly an illusion as well it had taken place in real life, and uncle was very much a believer. He went in acting very worried, looking at people as though ashamed that they were seeing him in a cinema. But five minutes into the film he was as possessed as he was when he was down at the football stadium watching a match.

When uncle Eugenio saw Judas striking a bargain with the Romans he cried out ‘I can’t stand this!’ and ran out of the movie theatre. He appeared with his shotgun just at the moment when Judas was handing over his master. And so as not to hurt anyone inadvertently uncle Eugenio waited until the apostle was some way from the rest of the crowd.

The hole in the screen coincided with screams and the lights going up and the immediate disappearance of the images. In the midst of the smell and dust of his incredible deed, and the smoke from the gunshot, it was uncle Eugenio who seemed like an illusion.

Comment: Daniel Moyano (1930-1992) was an Argentinian novelist and short story writer. Seeing in the Dark is a collection of commissioned reminiscences of cinemagoing.

Mass-Observation at the Movies

Source: Jeffrey Richards and Dorothy Sheridan (eds.), Mass-Observation at the Movies (London/New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), p. 229.

Text: Commercial traveller, aged 35, Leamington Spa.

Once per month I go to the films. This is when my car is greased at a neighbouring garage, and I find it convenient to sit in the warmth and comfort of a cinema until the operation is complete. I cannot remember 6 films I have seen, I saw Dear Octopus this week. I liked it. I had not one damned Yankee accent in the whole film. The usual strident idiocies of Hollywood were absent. I did not, as usual, feel like vomiting. And even the news short did not as usual give the impression that Americans only were fighting the Germans. If you want an opinion about films you will have to go to others. My opinions are perhaps illinformed [sic], but they are definite, if given vent to, they make me swear.

Comment: Mass-Observation carried out a series of studies in 1930s and 1940s into how people in the UK lived, through a mixture of observation, diaries and invited comments. This comment comes from a directive issued in November 1943 asking the question ‘What films have you liked best during the past year? Please list six films in order of liking and give your reasons for liking them.’ Dear Octopus was a British film, made in 1943, based on the play by Dodie Smith.

Sociology of Film

Source: J.P. Mayer, Sociology of Film: Studies and Documents (London: Faber and Faber, 1946), pp. 219-221

Text: Miss…

In regard to your request for information as regards the average film audience I am writing the following examples of how some films have influenced my conduct, hoping they may be of some use to you.

1. Until five years ago I took an average interest in music, but never listened to it seriously. I liked the effect of incidental music in films. While seeing The Great Lie I was entranced by the music, but I thought, ‘Oh its [sic] incidental music. It was beautiful, but I shall never hear it again, because incidental music is very rarely published.’

Later I discovered that the music in the film was actually Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor. Because of the effect made on me by the beauty of this music, I gradually came to take an interest in symphonic and classical music in general. Nowadays one of my regular joys is listening to the symphony concerts featured by the B.B.C. on Sundays. I don’t think many of the highly emotional films would have nearly so much effect without incidental music, but I suppose there are hundreds of people who disagree with me on this point. Sometimes I try to memorise the incidental music in films and write a rough sketch of it for piano. It seems such a waste of beautiful music, that you hear it in a film and then it is so quickly forgotten. Such films as All This and Heaven Too, Marie Walewska, Juarez, Lady Hamilton, and Elizabeth and Essex, have made me read a good deal about the characters represented in films.

People and events in the past come vividly to mind on seeing the films and reading the books, and give me immense pleasure.

I always go to see films on my own. After seeing a really good dramatic film I like to go off on my own for a walk, and think the various scenes over. I don;t like to come in contact with people. They seem to intrude on my enjoyment of bringing to mind the excellent acting I had just seen.

Films such as Dark Victory, Now Voyager and Watch on the Rhine, among many others, affected me in this way, and later I wrote out the dialogue as near as I could remember it. And now if I wish to relive the scenes in any of the films, all I have to do is read over my writing.

The greatest wish of my life is to meet Bette Davis. It was on seeing her in The Sisters in 1939 that made me take an interest in films.

In my estimation, acting such as hers is beyond all praise, but if I could ever meet her, and try to tell her even a little about how much her acting means to me, I should be the happiest person in the world.

The fashions in films have no effect on me, because they are usually specially concocted for use in the studios, and are for everyday use, quite unsuitable. Hairstyles need constant professional attention if they are anything like the elaborate affairs featured by stars in some films.

2. I have never dreamed about films, but I have dreamed about individual personalities in films.

Age – 18 years. Sex – Female. Nationality – British (Scotch). Profession – Cashier. Profession of Mother – Housewife. Father is dead.

Comment: J.P. (Jacob Peter) Mayer was a German sociologist at the London School of Economics. His Sociology of Film draws on a large amount of evidence gathered through questionnaires and submissions received through invitations published in Picturegoer magazine. The above response comes from the section ‘The Adult and the Cinema’, for which responses were sought via Picturegoer in February 1945 to two questions: Have films ever influenced you with regard to personal decisions or behaviour? and Have films ever appeared in your dreams? The films mentioned are The Great Lie (USA 1941), Conquest (aka Marie Walewska) (USA 1937), Juarez (USA 1939), That Hamilton Woman (aka Lady Hamilton) (USA 1941), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (USA 1939), Dark Victory (USA 1939), Now Voyager (USA 1942), Watch on the Rhine (USA 1943) and The Sisters (USA 1938).