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.
PARENTS’ OCCUPATION: FATHER – SOLDIER, MOTHER – HOUSEWIFE
OCCUPATION: G.P.O. EMPLOYEE
NATIONALITY: BRITISH

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).

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.
PARENTS’ OCCUPATION: FATHER – SOLDIER, MOTHER – HOUSEWIFE
OCCUPATION: G.P.O. EMPLOYEE
NATIONALITY: BRITISH

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).

The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets

Source: Jane Addams, The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (New York: Macmillan, 1909), pp. 75-88

Text: To the preoccupied adult who is prone to use the city street as a mere passageway from one hurried duty to another, nothing is more touching than his encounter with a group of children and young people who are emerging from a theater with the magic of the play still thick upon them. They look up and down the familiar street scarcely recognizing it and quite unable to determine the direction of home. From a tangle of “make believe” they gravely scrutinize the real world which they are so reluctant to reënter, reminding one of the absorbed gaze of a child who is groping his way back from fairy-land whither the story has completely transported him.

“Going to the show” for thousands of young people in every industrial city is the only possible road to the realms of mystery and romance; the theater is the only place where they can satisfy that craving for a conception of life higher than that which the actual world offers them. In a very real sense the drama and the drama alone performs for them the office of art as is clearly revealed in their blundering demand stated in many forms for “a play unlike life.” The theater becomes to them a “veritable house of dreams” infinitely more real than the noisy streets and the crowded factories.

This first simple demand upon the theater for romance is closely allied to one more complex which might be described as a search for solace and distraction in those moments of first awakening from the glamour of a youth’s interpretation of life to the sterner realities which are thrust upon his consciousness. These perceptions which inevitably “close around” and imprison the spirit of youth are perhaps never so grim as in the case of the wage-earning child. We can all recall our own moments of revolt against life’s actualities, our reluctance to admit that all life was to be as unheroic and uneventful as that which we saw about us, it was too unbearable that “this was all there was” and we tried every possible avenue of escape. As we made an effort to believe, in spite of what we saw, that life was noble and harmonious, as we stubbornly clung to poesy in contradiction to the testimony of our senses, so we see thousands of young people thronging the theaters bent in their turn upon the same quest. The drama provides a transition between the romantic conceptions which they vainly struggle to keep intact and life’s cruelties and trivialities which they refuse to admit. A child whose imagination has been cultivated is able to do this for himself through reading and reverie, but for the overworked city youth of meager education, perhaps nothing but the theater is able to perform this important office.

The theater also has a strange power to forecast life for the youth. Each boy comes from our ancestral past not “in entire forgetfulness,” and quite as he unconsciously uses ancient war-cries in his street play, so he longs to reproduce and to see set before him the valors and vengeances of a society embodying a much more primitive state of morality than that in which he finds himself. Mr. Patten has pointed out that the elemental action which the stage presents, the old emotions of love and jealousy, of revenge and daring take the thoughts of the spectator back into deep and well worn channels in which his mind runs with a sense of rest afforded by nothing else. The cheap drama brings cause and effect, will power and action, once more into relation and gives a man the thrilling conviction that he may yet be master of his fate. The youth of course, quite unconscious of this psychology, views the deeds of the hero simply as a forecast of his own future and it is this fascinating view of his own career which draws the boy to “shows” of all sorts. They can scarcely be too improbable for him, portraying, as they do, his belief in his own prowess. A series of slides which has lately been very popular in the five-cent theaters of Chicago, portrayed five masked men breaking into a humble dwelling, killing the father of the family and carrying away the family treasure. The golden-haired son of the house, aged seven, vows eternal vengeance on the spot, and follows one villain after another to his doom. The execution of each is shown in lurid detail, and the last slide of the series depicts the hero, aged ten, kneeling upon his father’s grave counting on the fingers of one hand the number of men that he has killed, and thanking God that he has been permitted to be an instrument of vengeance.

In another series of slides, a poor woman is wearily bending over some sewing, a baby is crying in the cradle, and two little boys of nine and ten are asking for food. In despair the mother sends them out into the street to beg, but instead they steal a revolver from a pawn shop and with it kill a Chinese laundry-man, robbing him of $200. They rush home with the treasure which is found by the mother in the baby’s cradle, whereupon she and her sons fall upon their knees and send up a prayer of thankfulness for this timely and heaven-sent assistance.

Is it not astounding that a city allows thousands of its youth to fill their impressionable minds with these absurdities which certainly will become the foundation for their working moral codes and the data from which they will judge the proprieties of life?

It is as if a child, starved at home, should be forced to go out and search for food, selecting, quite naturally, not that which is nourishing but that which is exciting and appealing to his outward sense, often in his ignorance and foolishness blundering into substances which are filthy and poisonous.

Out of my twenty years’ experience at Hull-House I can recall all sorts of pilferings, petty larcenies, and even burglaries, due to that never ceasing effort on the part of boys to procure theater tickets. I can also recall indirect efforts towards the same end which are most pitiful. I remember the remorse of a young girl of fifteen who was brought into the Juvenile Court after a night spent weeping in the cellar of her home because she had stolen a mass of artificial flowers with which to trim a hat. She stated that she had taken the flowers because she was afraid of losing the attention of a young man whom she had heard say that “a girl has to be dressy if she expects to be seen.” This young man was the only one who had ever taken her to the theater and if he failed her, she was sure that she would never go again, and she sobbed out incoherently that she “couldn’t live at all without it.” Apparently the blankness and grayness of life itself had been broken for her only by the portrayal of a different world.

One boy whom I had known from babyhood began to take money from his mother from the time he was seven years old, and after he was ten she regularly gave him money for the play Saturday evening. However, the Saturday performance, “starting him off like,” he always went twice again on Sunday, procuring the money in all sorts of illicit ways. Practically all of his earnings after he was fourteen were spent in this way to satisfy the insatiable desire to know of the great adventures of the wide world which the more fortunate boy takes out in reading Homer and Stevenson.

In talking with his mother, I was reminded of my experience one Sunday afternoon in Russia when the employees of a large factory were seated in an open-air theater, watching with breathless interest the presentation of folk stories. I was told that troupes of actors went from one manufacturing establishment to another presenting the simple elements of history and literature to the illiterate employees. This tendency to slake the thirst for adventure by viewing the drama is, of course, but a blind and primitive effort in the direction of culture, for “he who makes himself its vessel and bearer thereby acquires a freedom from the blindness and soul poverty of daily existence.”

It is partly in response to this need that more sophisticated young people often go to the theater, hoping to find a clue to life’s perplexities. Many times the bewildered hero reminds one of Emerson’s description of Margaret Fuller, “I don’t know where I am going, follow me”; nevertheless, the stage is dealing with the moral themes in which the public is most interested.

And while many young people go to the theater if only to see represented, and to hear discussed, the themes which seem to them so tragically important, there is no doubt that what they hear there, flimsy and poor as it often is, easily becomes their actual moral guide. In moments of moral crisis they turn to the sayings of the hero who found himself in a similar plight. The sayings may not be profound, but at least they are applicable to conduct. In the last few years scores of plays have been put upon the stage whose titles might be easily translated into proper headings for sociological lectures or sermons, without including the plays of Ibsen, Shaw and Hauptmann, which deal so directly with moral issues that the moralists themselves wince under their teachings and declare them brutal. But it is this very brutality which the over-refined and complicated city dwellers often crave. Moral teaching has become so intricate, creeds so metaphysical, that in a state of absolute reaction they demand definite instruction for daily living. Their whole-hearted acceptance of the teaching corroborates the statement recently made by an English playwright that “The theater is literally making the minds of our urban populations to-day. It is a huge factory of sentiment, of character, of points of honor, of conceptions of conduct, of everything that finally determines the destiny of a nation. The theater is not only a place of amusement, it is a place of culture, a place where people learn how to think, act, and feel.” Seldom, however, do we associate the theater with our plans for civic righteousness, although it has become so important a factor in city life.

One Sunday evening last winter an investigation was made of four hundred and sixty six theaters in the city of Chicago, and it was discovered that in the majority of them the leading theme was revenge; the lover following his rival; the outraged husband seeking his wife’s paramour; or the wiping out by death of a blot on a hitherto unstained honor. It was estimated that one sixth of the entire population of the city had attended the theaters on that day. At that same moment the churches throughout the city were preaching the gospel of good will. Is not this a striking commentary upon the contradictory influences to which the city youth is constantly subjected?

This discrepancy between the church and the stage is at times apparently recognized by the five-cent theater itself, and a blundering attempt is made to suffuse the songs and moving pictures with piety. Nothing could more absurdly demonstrate this attempt than a song, illustrated by pictures, describing the adventures of a young man who follows a pretty girl through street after street in the hope of “snatching a kiss from her ruby lips.” The young man is overjoyed when a sudden wind storm drives the girl to shelter under an archway, and he is about to succeed in his ttempt when the good Lord, “ever watchful over innocence,” makes the same wind “blow a cloud of dust into the eyes of the rubberneck,” and “his foul purpose is foiled.” This attempt at piety is also shown in a series of films depicting Bible stories and the Passion Play at Oberammergau, forecasting the time when the moving film will be viewed as a mere mechanical device for the use of the church, the school and the library, as well as for the theater.

At present, however, most improbable tales hold the attention of the youth of the city night after night, and feed his starved imagination as nothing else succeeds in doing. In addition to these fascinations, the five-cent theater is also fast becoming the general social center and club house in many crowded neighborhoods. It is easy of access from the street the entire family of parents and children can attend for a comparatively small sum of money and the performance lasts for at least an hour; and, in some of the humbler theaters, the spectators are not disturbed for a second hour.

The room which contains the mimic stage is small and cozy, and less formal than the regular theater, and there is much more gossip and social life as if the foyer and pit were mingled. The very darkness of the room, necessary for an exhibition of the films, is an added attraction to many young people, for whom the space is filled with the glamour of love making.

Hundreds of young people attend these five-cent theaters every evening in the week, including Sunday, and what is seen and heard there becomes the sole topic of conversation, forming the ground pattern of their social life. That mutual understanding which in another social circle is provided by books, travel and all the arts, is here compressed into the topics suggested by the play.

The young people attend the five-cent theaters in groups, with something of the “gang” instinct, boasting of the films and stunts in “our theater.” They find a certain advantage in attending one theater regularly, for the habitués are often invited to come upon the stage on “amateur nights,” which occur at least once a week in all the theaters. This is, of course, a most exciting experience. If the “stunt” does not meet with the approval of the audience, the performer is greeted with jeers and a long hook pulls him off the stage; if, on the other hand, he succeeds in pleasing the audience, he may be paid for his performance and later register with a booking agency, the address of which is supplied by the obliging manager, and thus he fancies that a lucrative and exciting career is opening before him. Almost every night at six o’clock a long line of children may be seen waiting at the entrance of these booking agencies, of which there are fifteen that are well known in Chicago.

Thus, the only art which is constantly placed before the eyes of “the temperamental youth” is a debased form of dramatic art, and a vulgar type of music, for the success of a song in these theaters depends not so much upon its musical rendition as upon the vulgarity of its appeal. In a song which held the stage of a cheap theater in Chicago for weeks, the young singer was helped out by a bit of mirror from which she threw a flash of light into the faces of successive boys whom she selected from the audience as she sang the refrain, “You are my Affinity.” Many popular songs relate the vulgar experiences of a city man wandering from amusement park to bathing beach in search of flirtations. It may be that these “stunts” and recitals of city adventure contain the nucleus of coming poesy and romance, as the songs and recitals of the early minstrels sprang directly from the life of the people, but all the more does the effort need help and direction, both in the development of its technique and the material of its themes.

Comment: Jane Addams (1860-1935) was an American social worker and social reformer. Her The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets argues that the city is determinental to children’s lives and calls for greater opportunities for play and recreation programmes. In her chapter ‘The House of Dreams’ (of which the above is the first half) moving pictures, which she combines with cheap theatre shows and lantern presentations, are seen as one of the anti-play elements of the city.

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Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Female, 15, white, high-school sophomore’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), p. 37

Text: I have attempted to imitate the manners of several actresses, but I have never received any satisfactory results. I bobbed my hair when I was only eight years old, as a result of seeing someone in the movies doing likewise. I try to walk and move with ease and grace, but I find that it is a little difficult to act like others if I can’t see how I look. I remember one movie star, Mabel Normand, who had large eyes, and from the admiring of them I gradually began to stare at others with wide eyes. My friends thought there was something wrong with my eyes because I did this, and perhaps I did acquire poor eyesight as a result. At other times I curled my hair, manicured my fingernails, and dressed like my favorite stars. Of course my attempts never brought any pleasing results, so I abandoned my imitations and became original. Sometimes I posed for hours at a time before my dressing table mirror, posing with my hands about my face, and moving my arms as gracefully as I could. In the movies, it always seems that the innocent, wide-eyed girls have the most suitors, and that shyness promotes respect and adoration on the part of the opposite sex. When I went to parties I tried to be a meek little maid, but it proved to be a failure in attracting sweethearts; only gay and vivid types are wanted by the modern generation.

Comment: American sociologist Herbert Blumer’s Movies and Conduct presents twelve studies of the influence of motion pictures upon the young, made by the Committee on Educational Research of the Payne Fund, at the request of the National Committee for the Study of Social Values in Motion Pictures. The study solicited autobiographical essays, mostly from undergraduate students of the University of Chicago, and presented extracts from this evidence in the text. Most of the evidence relates to picturegoing in the 1920s. The interview above comes from the chapter ‘Imitation by Adolescents’.

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Working with the Working Woman

Source: Cornelia Stratton Parker, Working With the Working Woman (New York/London: Harper & Brothers, 1922), pp. 160-161

Text: Outside of the gayety during working hours, there was little going on about the Falls. Movies – of course, movies. Four times a week the same people, usually each entire family, conscientiously change into their best garments and go to the movie palace. The children and young people fill the first rows, the grown folk bring up the rear. Four times a week young and old get fed on society dramas, problem plays, bathing girl comedies. Next day it is always:

“Sadie, did ya saw the show last night? Wasn’t it swell where she recognized her lover just before he got hung?”

Just once since movies were has the town been taken by storm, and that was while I was there. It was “The Kid” that did it. Many that day at the bleachery said they weren’t going – didn’t like Charlie Chaplin – common and pie-slinging; cheap; always all of that. Sweet-faced Mamie, who longs to go through Sing Sing some day – “That’s where they got the biggest criminals ever. Wonder if they let you see the worst ones” – Mamie, who had thrilled to a trip through the insane asylum; Mamie, who could discuss for hours the details of how a father beat his child to death; Mamie, to whom a divorce was meat and a suicide drink – Mamie wasn’t going to see Charlie Chaplin. All that pie-slinging stuff made her sick.

Usually a film shows but once at the Falls. “The Kid” ran Monday matinée. Monday night the first time in history the movie palace was filled and over two hundred turned away. Tuesday night it was shown to a third full house. Everyone was converted.

Comment: Cornelia Stratton Parker wrote six pieces from Harper’s Magazine June-December 1921 which recorded how she had mixed with low-wage-earning women in America to learn about their lives. The articles were then turned into a book Working With the Working Woman. This passage comes from her chapter ‘No. 536 Tickets Pillow Cases’ on the workers in a New York bleachery (original article title ‘Labeling pillow cases in a bleachery’). Chaplin’s feature film The Kid was released in 1921.

Links: Copy on Internet Archive

Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Female, 19, white, college sophomore’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), pp. 75-76

Text: My very earliest recollection of a movie is vague in a way and yet one part is very vivid. I do not even know where I saw my first movie, but it was in some very small theater in Englewood. I do not know who the heroine was, but I do remember that at the most dramatic part she was bound, laid on a pile of sticks and burned. At this point, I became hysterical and had to be taken from the theater. I never knew if the unfortunate girl was rescued or burned to death, but I never forgot the smoke and flames curling around her slender body. This little episode characterizes to a great extent my reactions to my early movies. I never could be convinced that the actors were not really suffering the horrible tortures depicted in many films and my sympathy knew no bounds.

Comment: American sociologist Herbert Blumer’s Movies and Conduct presents twelve studies of the influence of motion pictures upon the young, made by the Committee on Educational Research of the Payne Fund, at the request of the National Committee for the Study of Social Values in Motion Pictures. The study solicited autobiographical essays, mostly from undergraduate students of the University of Chicago, and presented extracts from this evidence in the text. Most of the evidence relates to picturegoing in the 1920s. The interview above comes from the chapter ‘Emotional Possession: Fear and Terror’.

Links: Copy on Internet Archive

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).

The Cinema

Source: The Cinema: Its Present Position and Future Possibilities (London: Williams and Norgate, 1917), pp. 276-282

Text: April 21, 1917. MINUTES OF EVIDENCE. Dr. Kimmins. Examined.

DR. KIMMINS: I think the simplest way would be for me to elaborate the evidence, and give you a few extracts from essays showing you the mind of the child with regard to the cinema. I would urge you not to attach much importance to the results from the girls’ central school, because I only had 184 papers sent in, which is not a sufficient number from which to draw a very definite conclusion. In many of the children’s essays they simply refer to the last performance or the one before that. I have thoroughly analysed the papers and there are several points which come out very clearly. I have noticed that the girls take a greater interest in domestic drama and fairy stories. Quite a large number of fairy stories have been filmed, and they have been described in great detail. As regards the comics they are very much more popular with the boys than the girls, and when one analyses every age one finds that in the upper standards the boys are less attracted by the comics than the boys in the lower standards. The boys are much keener on serial films than the girls, but this may be explained by the fact that the boys have more opportunities of attending the cinema than the girls. The interest in war films is very great and varies from school to school. Then, again, the boys take a keener interest in the crook films than the girls, while love films are more popular with the girls than the boys; and it is very noticeable that in the schools in very well-to-do districts the purely love film is more popular than in the poorer districts. To carry on this investigation I selected six schools from poor districts and six schools from good districts, in order to get a great difference in the home surroundings. One point comes out in the analyses of the papers of the girls’ central school; and that is, that there is an increased interest at twelve and thirteen years of age in films about cowboys and adventure. I will quote some extracts from essays as to why some of the children do not go to cinemas.

The first is rather pathetic, it is from a child of nine: “I have never been in a cinema. It was my dada’s wish that I was not to go in a cinema. Mother likes to keep his wish because he was killed” (in France).

Then another child of nine says: “My reasons for not going to cinemas are that the heat gives me a headache. I also found that germs like the dark and so cinemas are unhealthy, so father and mother decided I better not go. I like books very much and having many at home I do not want to go.”

Then a child of ten: “I have never been to cinemas. Last year my two sisters went, and in two or three days, one had scarlet fever and the other measles, and so mother would not let me go because she thought I might get it.”

Then a girl of thirteen says — and I must say here that a girl of thirteen is much more critical than a boy of thirteen: “I do not go to the pictures because of these reasons: (1) I save money by stopping at home; (2) it don’t do your eyes any good; (3) it’s not healthy to be stuck inside a hot place taking other people’s breath.”

Now I will read some extracts from essays on films. Here is a rather remarkable one from a boy of ten: “A girl had an extremely heroic mother whose husband was locked up in a den of tigers. The woman, who was determined to save her man, boldly went to the circus train where she begged pitifully and melancholily to give her the keys of the den. After a long argument they answered in the affirmative. When she got to the place they said ‘ You can have the keys on one condition only,’ and that was, when she got to the door and unlocked it they must give back the keys. At first she answered in the negative, afterwards she agreed. The second she got into the gloomy cavern she heard her husband’s voice. ‘Is that you, John?’ ‘Who is that?’ came a dreamy and fatigued voice. ‘It is me your wife, Charlotte.’ Then the tears flowed.”

Here is an extraordinary account of the impression a girl of thirteen obtained from seeing a film dealing with the death of Nurse Cavell: “They took her to a prison in a German neighbourhood and ordered her to tell the British plans. When she thought of her God and country she said: ‘I will not be a traitor to my own country.’ The German Emperor, who is called the Kaiser, said : ‘You will suffer for it if you do not tell us.’ Nurse Cavell knelt by her stony bed and said her evening prayer. When Von Bissing saw her he spoke some German language to her, and she did not understand it. The following day the Kaiser ordered his soldiers to fetch her to the place where she was going to be shot. When she was led through the market the people laughed and teased her. When she arrived at her destination the Kaiser said: ‘Fancy you trying to fight against me.’ He then ordered Von Bissing to level his revolver and shoot her. He did so, and then he was given an Iron Cross and some money for killing her.”

One small child after describing a country scene says : “The picture I like best is like a meadow. It had flowers and little hills. Why I like it is, because it makes you think that you are in the country yourself. It also learns you your Nature study.”

Then a child of eleven says: “I always look forward to pictures about people who do daring things. I like to see people climb mountains under great difficulties, or people running away and being pursued. There is one picture that I think is very good. It is called Liberty. It is a very daring play and the people go through very dangerous things.”

The girls, by the way, take very much more interest in scenery than the boys, and here is what one of the girls says: “The picture that I enjoyed most was one delivered in six parts and dealing with the wild life of Alaska and the Yukon District. I cannot exactly recollect the details, but I have a rather hazy, it is true, remembrance of them. It is about a man who, in disguise, tracks to the snowy regions of Alaska and there kills the man who ran away with his wife. The music that was played at the time, I think, has a great deal to do with my decision.”

Here is another: “It was a beautiful picture and beautiful scenery too; as we sat looking at it, it seemed to dazzle our eyes. The lady of the house was dressed in green velvet, while her son had a green suit; her son’s sweetheart also had a green dress, but it was trimmed with black fur. As they sat under the trees, on a seat made of oak, in the moonlight, it was picturesque. The green made it look more beautiful than ever. We held our breaths as we watched it, for it was so beautiful.”

At the age of thirteen, the girls like to describe the appearance of the people who are acting. That comes out very strikingly in one or two essays I have here: “Joan was a young and beautiful girl of about seventeen years of age, who worked in the mines. Her friend was Lizzie, a pretty girl of about the same age, but fragile and obstinate. Their ‘boss’ as they called the manager, was a young man, handsome and kind. Many a time had he saved Joan from blows from the foreman, and she had grown to love him. Joan’s father was a bully and the terror of the mine.”

Here is another short description: “It was a dull day, and a heavy storm was raging overhead ; and a man, evidently a newcomer, entered the inn. He was tall and respectable, with large bright eyes, which seemed to influence everybody. Having had his fill, and the storm having abated, he left the inn and proceeded homewards. On arriving there he sat down and seemed lost in meditation.”

Here is a good description: “The picture that I liked most was not a funny story nor a drama, but just views of water waving and curling, and also some falls. It gave some most beautiful falls and fountains splashing and sparkling in sunny France. The water first turned a beautiful blue, and then on the fountains it sprinkled with a silver tint. Then came the fall, with its beautiful waters jumping and bubbling over sharp stones and rocks, making many pools of white foam. Another picture was the river, and sometimes it did not sparkle but was dark and sullen.”

This is a remarkable production for a young child.

Then another child says: “I like mysteries and detective pictures, from them you can learn many things: first, you can learn to copy detectives’ ways; secondly, you can be careful of whom you make acquaintance, whether a nice girl or a nasty mean girl.”

Here is something for the Censor: ” Some pictures are degrading, and they do not do one any good; but they would help to make the people who see them less pure and have less moral support. These pictures are only shown in cheap and degraded picture palaces, and are only supported by the people of inferior education. Some pictures are degrading, and these never ought to be passed by the Censor.”

The age of that girl is only thirteen and she goes to an ordinary elementary school.

Then you have: “Pictures of foreign scenes, exploration and aviation give one ideas that are not to be found in books and do a great deal to improve our ideas. My opinion is, that pictures could be utilised for the education of children along with the form of education that is taught in our schools. Pictures about foreign countries are highly valued for their aid to education, and in the improvement of children’s minds.”

Another girl says: “Love pictures are sometimes ridiculous and are only meant for grown-ups. Pictures such as ‘Quo Vadis?’ ‘John Halifax, Gentleman’ and ‘The Three Musketeers’ are really a help to education and give one a good idea of the habits of the people at the time.”

Then here is a delightful child who gives this description: “I have an aesthetic taste for scenery, and one of the best pictures I have seen is ‘Doran’s Travels in China.’ This young lady travelled on the tranquil winding river. The mountains glistened in the sun and the traveller stood amazed at the wondrous spectacle. The people in the massive building were similar to the ancient people of years ago. The beautiful scenery helps to uplift one to purer thoughts. It helps to give one a better idea of the beauty of the world and gives one ideas of different countries.”

In one essay a girl traces the extraordinary influence of one person upon another: “Bob believed in crime, and reared Daisy, as the little girl was called, to believe in the same principles. One day Daisy was hungry, and being now a girl of seventeen and very pretty, she decided to pick some one’s pocket, but also was detected and carried to the police station, where a middle-aged man took pity on her and took her to his own home, which was situated in Park Lane. Daisy had never seen such a lovely house, and even after she was dressed in lovely clothes, the impulse to steal would come to her, and at last, while the haughty footman was asleep, she cut off the gorgeous gold braid from his shoulder, and tied it round her own waist.”

Then here is the essay of a boy of eight years of age: “There was a girl about fourteen years of age. She had a very nice young man. There was another lady who was very jealous, because she wanted the young man. So she made up her mind to murder this young lady. She got two young men to capture her. One day they saw her out. They blindfolded her and took her away. They put her in a house and left her there. While she was looking out of the window she saw her sweetheart. She opened the window and called out to him and told him all about it, so he knocked the door down and got her.”

Here is a boy of nine: ” The best film I have ever seen is ‘The Man Who Stayed at Home.’ I like it best, because it ended up nicely, and some pictures end up so funny. But ‘The Man Who Stayed at Home’ ended up where the Man Who Stayed at Home saves one of our biggest liners, and sunk one of the German submarines, and killed a lot of German soldiers. So you can see that it did end up very nicely.”

The boys’ descriptions of war films are extremely well done, as you will see by this one: “Name — Battle of the Ancre. Crash! Boom! The Tower Cinema Band is imitating the battle of the Ancre. You see the Tanks in action, also men slushing about in mud. Now you see a transport wagon being guided round a shell hole by an officer; the officer takes an unlucky step and has a bath in mud. Now the eighteen-pounders in action, making frightful havoc over in the German trenches. Now the whistle shrills, and they leap over the parapet, rat, tap, tap, tap, go the German machine guns, but nothing daunts our soldiers. Crack ! and their gallant captain falls. This enrages the men to fury. At last they reach the German lines. Most of the Germans flee for their lives shouting ‘Kamerad! Kamerad!’ etc. Now the British and German wounded are brought in, some seriously, others slightly. Soon after follow the German prisoners, some vicious-looking scoundrels that I should not like to meet on a dark night, others young boys, about sixteen years of age.”

Here is the essay of a boy of eleven: “Moving pictures are nice, and although I have seen and enjoyed many, that which I liked most was a film entitled ‘His Mistake.’ In the first picture one saw three evil-looking men in an old shepherd’s hut, plotting to kill Lord Harston of Myrtle Manor. The next shows these men slinking home in the dark to a dilapidated cottage. Third, one saw Lord Harston riding out with his faithful dog ‘Rufe.’ As Harston came down a leafy lane a masked man with a revolver calls upon him to stop. Harston speaks to his dog, which, unnoticed, creeps behind the masked man and then, with a low crouch, darts forward upon Harston’s would-be kidnapper. He, startled by the attack, falls and is immediately attacked by the dog. Part II shows Lord Harston’s Manor, which he is using as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. Part III films a second attempt on Harston’s life, in which he receives a mysterious threat in a note brought by a shaggy dog. Last part: Lord Harston’s baby is kidnapped and threatened with death unless Harston turns up at a certain spot. Lord Harston takes ten constables, captures the robbers or plotters and imprisons them.”

I have had some fine descriptions of Tom Brown’s Schooldays. It is a very favourable film with the girls and many of them write upon that. Then just one description of the way in which the boys describe Charlie Chaplin —

“Charlie by the Sea. In this two-reel farce we see the inimitable Charlie Chaplin garbed in the clothes of a seaside lounger, bowler hat and baggy trousers complete, strolling along the front at Mud-splosh-on-Sea, winking merrily at the oysters and twiddling the toothbrush on his upper lip. A fair form hoves in sight, which gradually changes itself into a fair maiden, escorted by a fierce old gentleman with a moustache which nearly hid his uncomely face from view. She soon left him asleep, at which Charlie gaily tripped along, his golden locks waving gently to and fro in the breezes. On being asked, the fair damsel agreed to go for a stroll along the sands with our hero. After a game with another of the young maiden’s admirers in which a lifeboat came prominently into action, Charlie left his young lady to meet his friend Jerry Swiller, whom he treated to some ices. At the end of the picture we see all the irate maidens he had jilted chasing our hero.”

This is, I think, one of the best of the Battle pictures: “The best picture I have seen was the Battle of the Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks. It shows us in Old England the privations Tommy has to undergo in blood-sodden France and Belgium. The Tommies went to the trenches stumbling and slipping, but always wore the smile which the Kaiser’s legions, try hard as they might, could not brush off. Lords, tinkers, earls, chimney sweeps, side by side, were shown in this splendid film. It showed and proved that although England was small and Germany large, the British Lion was a match for the German Eagle any day. The film also showed that monster terror and fear of the Germans, the Tank. Snorting, creaking, waddling, the huge bogey started for the German first-line trenches. The film showed the huge British guns. Day and night, night and day the huge monsters of destruction roared never ceasing.”

That I think is a remarkable essay for a small boy from an elementary school. I will conclude with one or two extracts from the girls’ essays.

A child of eight says: ” When I went to the picture palace I saw a picture of a fire. It was a large house which was on fire. The fire was caused by a little girl dropping a lighted lamp. When the house was burning a boy came walking along. He saw the house on fire and three little girls looking out of the window. He threw up to them a large rope. They took hold of it and climbed down in turns. The mother came down after her children and the father came down last. The mother and father were very pleased with the boy for saving their children’s lives and their own.”

Then a girl of ten says: “The pictures I like best are dramas not too sad. I like about when people get bankrupt. A lady has to marry a person she does not like to get her father’s business back. She loves another gentleman and she tells him her trouble. Then just as they are going to church a telegram boy comes to say that her uncle has died and she is an heiress. Then she marries her real young man. Her father is then able to keep his business on.”

Here is the extraordinary story of the reformation of a beer-drinker: “Once when I went to the cinema I saw a picture about a little girl named Mary, whose mother was very ill and whose father was a drunkard. One night her father came home very drunk and he aimed a jug at his wife and killed her, and when Mary saw it she ran away. Presently she came to a motor and got under a covering and went to sleep. Later, a gentleman got in who was very rich, and whose fiancée had broken off her engagement with him because he drank beer. When he got in the motor he put his feet on the blanket and he woke Mary up. He sat her on his lap and she said: ‘I don’t like you; your breath smells like my daddy’s.’ He took her home with him determined not to touch beer again.”

This next one is very typical and shows the child’s extreme love of detail: “‘The House of Fear’ was the moving picture I enjoyed most. It was a drama in four acts, but it was not as long as some dramas. It was about a very old lady, named Mrs. White, who was bedridden. She had only one child, a girl named Margaret, who was married to a certain Mr. Fairley, who had no relatives. Margaret had one child named. Elsie, who was thirteen months old. Soon after Elsie’s second birthday her father was accidently [sic] shot through the head and died immediately. Her mother, hearing of her husband’s sudden death, is taken very ill and dies soon afterwards. She then lived with her grandmother until she had turned five, knowing but little of her parents’ deaths. In her ninety-ninth year Mrs. White dies, leaving the child in the care of an uncle who is her godfather, but the uncle was a miser and did not wish to keep her. After the funeral of her grandmother Elsie is brought before a meeting in her house and the uncle is asked to keep his promise. He does not wish to, but in the end, wishing not to appear ungrateful, he consents. In the end Elsie is married to her uncle’s nephew, and here we leave her with a good husband, a comfortable home and two children.”

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. This remarkable sequence features evidence from Commission member Dr. Charles William Kimmins, Chief Inspector under the Education Committee of the London County Council (his son Anthony Kimmins became an actor and film director). He had 6,701 children of different ages from 25 London schools each write an account of ‘the moving picture they liked most of all those they had seen in the cinema’. They had 15 minutes in which to do so, with no preparatory discussion. These extracts from the essays (the originals appear to be lost) form a precious and substantial body of evidence from children themselves about what they thought of films they had seen. Some of noteworthy points are the detailed recollection of artificial colour effects, the role of music in shaping memories of a film, the memory of film titles themselves, and the variety of films (fiction and non-fiction) that made a particular impression on their memories.

The films mentioned include Tom Brown’s Schooldays (UK 1916 d. Rex Wilson), John Halifax, Gentleman (UK 1916 d. George Pearson), The Battle of the Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks (UK 1917, ph. Geoffrey Malins, J.B. McDowell, Oscar Bovill) (a War Office-sponsored documentary), Nurse and Martyr (UK 1915 d. Percy Moran), Quo Vadis (Italy 1913 d. Enrico Guazzoni), The Three Musketeers (USA 1916 d. Charles Swickard), The Man Who Stayed at Home (UK 1915 d. Cecil Hepworth), By the Sea (USA 1915 d. Charles Chaplin) and The House of Fear (USA 1915 d. Stuart Paton).

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The Cinema

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.

Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Negro male student in High School. Age 17’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), pp. 254-257

Text: I first became interested in the movies when I had started to kindergarten. I had gone to the theater before but I had not paid much attention to them while sitting on my mother’s lap or down in what seemed to me a very low seat. In school I heard the other children talking about cowboys and detectives and policemen that they had seen on the screen. When I again went I saw an exciting serial and William S. Hart which made me clamor to come back on the same day weekly. I kept up with that serial and several others when that one had ended. I did not lose interest in these pictures until a few years ago when I took to a higher type and more refined picture. I learned through education to distinguish between a good picture educationally and a bad or poor picture. This led me to those dramas mostly, although I occasionally go to see a serial or a Western story.

The earliest movie stars that I can remember were Wm. S. Hart and Tom Mix who played entirely in Western stories. I liked to see them shoot the villain and save the girl and “live happily ever after.” It caused me to shout as loudly, or louder, than the rest. Following them came Douglas Fairbanks, who seemed so carefree and light that he won nearly everyone with his personality. He would jump, use a lasso, thrust a sword, and fight in a way to satisfy any child’s desire for action. Now I have no special star but I think Emil Jannings is a great actor because he seems to put his heart and soul into his work.

As a boy, I went with nearly every one to the theater; my mother, father, sister or brother, relatives, and friends. Usually I went in the afternoon or evening, anywhere from one to five times a week. Now I still go with my relatives occasionally but mostly with friends or alone.

I cannot recall anything that I have done that I had seen in the movies except try to make love. It happened that when I was small there were no boys in my neighborhood and I had to go several blocks before I could play with some my size or age. But there were a few girls in my neighborhood my size. Seeing Douglas Fairbanks woo his maiden I decided to try some of ” Doug’s stuff” on one of the girl friends. I know I was awkward and it proved more or less a flop.

Several times on seeing big, beautiful cars which looked to be bubbling over with power and speed, I dreamed of having a car more powerful and speedier than all the rest. I saw this car driven by myself up to the girl friend’s door and taking her for a ride. (I was then eight years old and in my dreams I was no older.) Then too, I saw Adolphe Menjou, the best dressed man in the world, try in various ways to kill me because I had won his title. Perhaps the picture that left the most depressing picture on my mind was one in which a murdered man was thrown over a high cliff from a mountain top. I could see that dead body falling, falling to the rocky depths far below and squash into almost nothing. Some nights I dreamed of falling and other nights I had nightmares from dreaming of the same thing, awoke in a cold sweat, and was not able to go to sleep again till dawn. Whenever I saw anyone looking down from some rather high place or some workman in the precarious position, I had a sickly feeling in the pit of my stomach and averted my eyes.

The most heartbreaking picture that I ever saw and which caused me to shed uncontrollable tears was “Over the Hill,” starring Mary Carr. She was ill treated by all her children except one and had to go to the poorhouse and scrub daily. This picture caused me to see my mother in a new light and make a vow that I would always protect and provide for her as long as I or she lives. This mood lasted until the comedy, when I soon forgot it, but I have always kept my vow.

I have not adopted any mannerisms from the movies but I have tried to act like the actors of a picture for a short time after seeing the picture. Such actions were trying to act like a screen drunkard, a hero cowboy who shot and killed the villain and rode triumphantly away with the fair one. I used to go to “wild western” pictures and observe the Indians grab their hearts, or put their hands over their hearts, turn all away around and fall dead after they had been shot while resisting the unlawful Americans. When my chums played cowboy or cops and robbers, I tried to imitate these Indians in falling. Of course, many besides myself, I suppose, have tried to imitate Charles Chaplin or Douglas Fairbanks but I became so proficient in imitating Charles Chaplin that I became to be known as Charles in the neighborhood in which I formerly lived which made me dream of the time when I, Charles Chaplin, would be the star of the silver screen. Douglas Fairbanks gave me an inspiration to jump, fight, use long whips, ride, use rapiers and to be as happy and as full of life as he seemed to be.

While imitating these stars I became interested in love pictures and went to see them as often as I could. This liking developed after seeing such stars as Wallace Reid, Norma Talmadge, Rudolph Valentino, Mary Pickford, and Pola Negri. These actors stirred within me a desire to do an ardent love scene with a girl. The first girl that I tried this on said that I was crazy. The second girl wasn’t interested. But the third girl actually thought that I really meant what I was saying about her eyes and lips and she permitted me to try out everything that I had planned and this occasion proved successful in more ways than one.

Occasionally I used to think constantly of such actors as Wallace Reid, Rudolph Valentino, or Pola Negri; especially the latter whose bewitching eyes instilled within me many ungodly thoughts that never were voiced.

I cannot say that I received any temptations from the movies but I did get one real ambition. That being, to fly and be an aviator. This desire originated from such pictures as “Wings,” “The Flying Fleet,” and “Lilac Time,” all of which featured airplanes. Now I visit all the aviation exhibits and “talks” possible. The most interesting show I have yet seen is the one that was at the Chicago Coliseum. I visit the municipal airport often and just the sound of an airplane’s motor is enough to start one thinking of that time when I am going to have a powerful plane of my own and see all the world by means of it.

Another ambition that I had was to be a “Jackie Coogan” at the age of eight. I thought I would be more of a star than Jackie himself. I dreamed of the time when I would be a great star and have a great deal of money because of it. Then I could buy a tiny automobile, just my size, that would run as fast as any big car. I would also have some ponies, a beautiful home for my mother and myself and be a veritable “lady’s man.” (All this time I was eight years old.)

Sometimes from seeing such pictures as “The Birth of a Nation” I would not but feel the injustice done the Negro race by other races. Most of the bad traits of unintelligent Negroes are used in many pictures and a lovable or educated character is rarely pictured.

At other times, “West Point,” a picture of college life and a military training school, stirs within me a desire to go to college or some military or naval school away from home and serve my country as best I can.

In crime pictures, as in real life, the criminal not only becomes the hero on the screen but outside the theater as well. At other times the criminal’s life is such that the audience simply abhors being such a character. If there were more of the latter type of picture I am of the opinion that there would be far less crime.

Comment: American sociologist Herbert Blumer’s Movies and Conduct presents twelve studies of the influence of motion pictures upon the young, made by the Committee on Educational Research of the Payne Fund, at the request of the National Committee for the Study of Social Values in Motion Pictures. The study solicited autobiographical essays, mostly from undergraduate students of the University of Chicago, and presented extracts from this evidence in the text. Most of the evidence relates to picturegoing in the 1920s. The interview above comes from Appendix C, ‘Typical Examples of the Longer Motion Picture Autobiographies’. The films referred to include Over the Hill to the Poorhouse (USA 1920), Wings (USA 1927), The Flying Fleet (USA 1929), Lilac Time (USA 1928) and The Birth of a Nation (USA 1915).

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