The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh

Source: Michael Davie (ed.), The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1976), p. 168.

Text: Wednesday, 9 July 1924
I made a pilgrimage to the Coliseum to see a new sort of film called ‘Plastigram’. They claim for it that by means of stereoscopic photography they can obtain an impression of a third dimension. There was an elaborate apparatus of coloured celluloid to fit over one’s nose and so far as we were concerned a most ineffective impression of depth. There were gasps of amazement and admiration behind us, however, so perhaps it seemed better in the more distant seats. The rest of the show was pretty good.

Comment: The novelist Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) was a frequent cinema-goer in the 1920s, though this particular show was held at the Coliseum theatre in London. Plastigram was a steroscopic process devised by Frederic E. Ives and Jacob Leventhal for which the audience saw the 3D effect by donning spectacles with coloured cellophane (not celluloid).

The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan

Source: Count Harry Kessler (translated and edited by Charles Kessler), The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan 1918-1939 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson). p. 325

Text: Thursday, 11 August 1927 / Berlin
In the evening I saw the American film What Price Glory?, the best war film I have so far seen and the only one that has had the courage to show war as it really is, in the round and from all sides, without concealment. During various scenes the audience broke into stormy applause.

Comment: Count Harry Kessler (1868-1937) was an Anglo-German aristocrat and diplomat. His diaries are an exceptionally vivid and observant account of art and politics in Weimar Germany. What Price Glory? (USA 1926 d. Raoul Walsh) stars Edmund Lowe and Victor McLaglen and tells of the rivalry between two US marines serving in France during the First World War.

Ben's Limehouse

Source: Ben Thomas, Ben’s Limehouse: Recollections by Ben Thomas (London: Ragged School Books, 1987), p. 43

Text: The first moving film I saw was of a man being chased, who kept falling over and tripping over things. I thought it very funny, and there were roars of laughter from the children. The other picture was a sad one with a woman holding a little girl’s hand going through the snow. This was at the Brunswick Chapel, and they charged ½d to go in. The next moving picture I went to see, was at a little cinema in the High Street Poplar, called the Star, and it also cost ½d to go in. I saw John Bunny, Pearl White, and a lot of big stars of them days. We used to see two comics, two dramas and slides about what was being shown next week. The other cinemas I was taken to by my youngest sister, these were the Kinema, or Fleapit (its nickname) in Whitehorse Street, also the Ben Hur in Whitehorse Street.

Whitehorse Street was a busy market then, near the Church, and nicknamed the ‘Old Road’. The other cinema was the Majestic, which was in a cul de sac and near a school in Ben Jonson Road.

I remember people reading aloud in the days of the silent films. In them days a lot of people, especially the elderly, couldn’t read owing to little schooling or bad eyesight. So while you would be looking at the picture being shown, as soon as the captions or wording came on someone would read it aloud to the person they were with. It might be a man reading to his wife, or vice versa, or a couple of women, or some woman would have one of her kids read to her. So there was always a good deal of mumbling going on and if the cinema wasn’t too packed, you kept away from them. Jews done a lot of this reading aloud, for there were a lot of Russian, Polish and German Jews in the East End who couldn’t read or speak English.

Another thing at the Ben Hur cinema was women doing their potato peeling, during the 1914-1918 War and on until the late 1920’s. The ‘Old Road’ was a very cheap market, so what some women used to do, was to do their bit of shopping just before 2 o’clock, then queue up at Ben Hur’s which opened at 2 o’clock. While watching the films the women would peel their spuds or when the film changing was on, for the lights would go up then. So the cleaners, besides nut shells and orange peelings to clear up, had potato peelings as well, some women peeled carrots, swedes and parsnips as well.

Comment: Ben Thomas was born in London’s East End 1907, youngest in a lighterman’s family of seven. The cinema he refers to was the Palaceadium, 137 Whitehorse Street, which was run by a local businessman nicknamed ‘Ben Hur’.

Ben’s Limehouse

Source: Ben Thomas, Ben’s Limehouse: Recollections by Ben Thomas (London: Ragged School Books, 1987), p. 43

Text: The first moving film I saw was of a man being chased, who kept falling over and tripping over things. I thought it very funny, and there were roars of laughter from the children. The other picture was a sad one with a woman holding a little girl’s hand going through the snow. This was at the Brunswick Chapel, and they charged ½d to go in. The next moving picture I went to see, was at a little cinema in the High Street Poplar, called the Star, and it also cost ½d to go in. I saw John Bunny, Pearl White, and a lot of big stars of them days. We used to see two comics, two dramas and slides about what was being shown next week. The other cinemas I was taken to by my youngest sister, these were the Kinema, or Fleapit (its nickname) in Whitehorse Street, also the Ben Hur in Whitehorse Street.

Whitehorse Street was a busy market then, near the Church, and nicknamed the ‘Old Road’. The other cinema was the Majestic, which was in a cul de sac and near a school in Ben Jonson Road.

I remember people reading aloud in the days of the silent films. In them days a lot of people, especially the elderly, couldn’t read owing to little schooling or bad eyesight. So while you would be looking at the picture being shown, as soon as the captions or wording came on someone would read it aloud to the person they were with. It might be a man reading to his wife, or vice versa, or a couple of women, or some woman would have one of her kids read to her. So there was always a good deal of mumbling going on and if the cinema wasn’t too packed, you kept away from them. Jews done a lot of this reading aloud, for there were a lot of Russian, Polish and German Jews in the East End who couldn’t read or speak English.

Another thing at the Ben Hur cinema was women doing their potato peeling, during the 1914-1918 War and on until the late 1920’s. The ‘Old Road’ was a very cheap market, so what some women used to do, was to do their bit of shopping just before 2 o’clock, then queue up at Ben Hur’s which opened at 2 o’clock. While watching the films the women would peel their spuds or when the film changing was on, for the lights would go up then. So the cleaners, besides nut shells and orange peelings to clear up, had potato peelings as well, some women peeled carrots, swedes and parsnips as well.

Comment: Ben Thomas was born in London’s East End 1907, youngest in a lighterman’s family of seven. The cinema he refers to was the Palaceadium, 137 Whitehorse Street, which was run by a local businessman nicknamed ‘Ben Hur’.

Going to the Pictures

Source: Ben Moakes, ‘Going to the Pictures’, in The Time of our Lives (Peckham Publishing Project, 1983), pp. 96-97

Text: All those people who, like me, were born in the early years of this century have grown up with the cinema, reached their prime with the cinema and are now declining with the cinema.

The early films had just a novelty value and were shown wherever a suitable hall could be rented. Music halls would feature ‘the bioscope’ as an added attraction.

No film lasted more than half an hour and was usually accompanied by a piano tinkling out appropriate music.

We children had plenty of choice between cinemas that catered for youngsters. There was one in Walworth Road, near Liverpool Grove, and the halls that stands behind the Visionhire premises nearby was called ‘The Electric’ cinema. There was also ‘The Gem’ in Carter Street opposite the Beehive Public House.

My elder brother and I were given a penny each for our weekly visit to the pictures. We favoured the little cinema near Liverpool Grove.

The procedure was to buy a penny ticket each at the paybox outside; then, on entering, half the ticket would be taken by an usher, the other half being retained.

The seating consisted of rows of wooden forms. After two or three short films had been shown, the lights were switched on and the remaining half tickets were collected from us. The children who had arrived earlier and seen their full pennyworth would have to leave.

At the end of the next part of the programme once more the lights went on and we, having no ticket, would go out.

But my brother and I liked to have sweets to suck, so we spent a halfpenny on toffee before getting to the cinema, then bought one penny ticket and one halfpenny ticket. This meant that one of us, it was always me, had to leave after the first half was seen. So we planned a fiddle. I would lay full length under the form when the collector came, hidden by the legs of the other children. They also spread themselves along to cover the space I had occupied. As soon as the lights went out I climbed back on the form. But after a while they got wise to us. A man came in with a broom that had a long bamboo handle. “Hold up your feet”, he shouted, then plunged the broom under the forms to detect anybody lying there.

Eventually Mum gave us an extra halfpenny for our sweets.

Eddie Polo was one of our early film heroes. He had fights in every picture, getting his shirt ripped each time.

Two of our cowboy heroes were William S. Hart and Broncho Billy Anderson. Tom Mix came later. Charles Ray was the college boy heart-throb for the girls.

In the many fights we saw on the screen, our heroes always fought fairly. When they had knocked down their antagonist, they stood back to allow him to get up. But the villains would frequently kick the man who was on the ground.

After a few years we got the serials, with an exciting episode every week, the hero or heroine being left is a desperate situation each time. From this the word ‘cliff-hanger’ evolved.

‘The Shielding Shadow’ was a serial that intrigued us with its trick camera effects showing only the hands of an invisible man who foiled the villains every time. We all knew that Jerry Carson was The Shielding Shadow. He couldn’t be seen because he used a substance left in a jar by a scientist.

‘The Exploits of Elaine’, ‘The Hazards of Helen’ and ‘The Perils of Pauline’ were all serials and Pearl White was the blonde heroine who stole the hearts of growing lads – us!

Comment: Ben Moakes was born in 1904. His piece on cinemagoing is part of a local collection of memories of life in Peckham, London. The Perils of Pauline, The Exploits of Elaine and The Hazards of Helen were all American serials that began in 1914, The American serial The Shielding Shadow was released in 1916.

Wartime Letters from Italy

Source: Charles Truitt, Wartime Letters from Italy (New York: The Sherwood Press, 1915), pp. 75-76

Text: I saw at a cinematograph the other evening a series of films showing the construction of the Panama Canal. It was a revelation even to me, who as an American am accustomed to seeing machines that in five minutes will do what a hundred men could not do in an hour. The Italian audience sat absolutely quiet, and when five hundred Italians sit in silence it means they are confronted by something that seems to them supernatural. I myself quite understood why the girl in front of me should shrink as out of the air there came a huge bird of steel that swooped down upon a hillside, opened its jaws, took a three thousand ton bite, swooped lower still, almost into the faces of us who sat in the front rows, and disgorged that mass of earth and gravel.

Judging from the films, apparently men at Panama counted for nothing more than intelligences that pressed a button here or a lever there to bring from its lair some monster of steel that carried small mountains from one place to another, wrenched mighty trees from the earth with one twist of their riveted tentacles or lifted bridges and trestles as if they were toys of tin.

The preceding films of love, hate and vendetta had brought forth tears, curses and hisses from the audience, but before these colossi of iron and steel with which the wonderful Americani win peaceful battles the impressionable Italians sat stupefied.

Comment: The US construction of the Panama Canal took place over 1904-1914.

Links:
Copy at Hathi Trust Digital Library

R.D.B.'s Diary

Source: R.D. Blumenfeld, R.D.B.’s Diary: 1887-1914 (London: W. Heinemann, 1930), p. 69

Text: 1 October 1900
I looked in at the Empire last night and saw some Boer War pictures on the bioscope. They were very lifelike, and almost free from flicker, which usually makes these moving pictures so objectionable.

Comment: Ralph David Blumenfeld (1864-1948) was the American-born editor of the British newspaper Daily Express 1902-1932. The Empire is probably the Empire Theatre of Varieties in London’s Leicester Square. The Anglo-Boer War ran from October 1899 to May 1902.

Links:
Copy at Hathi Trust Digital Library (under the title In the Days of Bicycles and Bustles)

R.D.B.’s Diary

Source: R.D. Blumenfeld, R.D.B.’s Diary: 1887-1914 (London: W. Heinemann, 1930), p. 69

Text: 1 October 1900
I looked in at the Empire last night and saw some Boer War pictures on the bioscope. They were very lifelike, and almost free from flicker, which usually makes these moving pictures so objectionable.

Comment: Ralph David Blumenfeld (1864-1948) was the American-born editor of the British newspaper Daily Express 1902-1932. The Empire is probably the Empire Theatre of Varieties in London’s Leicester Square. The Anglo-Boer War ran from October 1899 to May 1902.

Links:
Copy at Hathi Trust Digital Library (under the title In the Days of Bicycles and Bustles)

British Cinemas and their Audiences

Source: J.P. Mayer, British Cinemas and their Audiences: Sociological Studies (London: Dennis Dobson, 1948), p. 115

Text: Age 21 Sex: F
Occupation: Shorthand typist secretary
Father’s occupation: Hairdresser (English)
Mother’s occupation: Housewife (Irish)

When I was 15, I managed to get to see a ‘H’ certificate picture called The Vampire Bat, which was the most frightening film I have ever seen. It was about a woman who lived on human blood which she sucked from the neck of people asleep in there [sic] beds at night. I think what made me terrified was the scene in which she looked through the window into a girls [sic] bedroom watching her chance to get in (during this suspense, I gripped and tore a bit of stuffing out of my seat). I also remember how white looking her face was with a sort of black tinge to it, and her hair was black and down to the waist in length. This vision at the window remained in my memory all the way home afterwards. I could not even speak to the girl I went with very much as she was also shaken. That night I never slept at all. I imagined I saw her looking in at my bedroom window, and I remember screaming which brought my mother hurrying in to see what the matter was. She found me in a cold sweat. I told her about seeing the face at the window just like I did inthe film. She said ‘all pictures are not real but just imagination, and that there was no such thing as a woman vampire. A Vampire was a sort of bird that lived hundreds of years ago in foreign countries’. Anyway it took me some time to get over it. I shiver now when I think of it.

Comment: 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. Contributors were to supply personal details, to trace the history of their interest in films, to say if they were ever frightened by a film, what they may have imitated from films, any temptations or ambitions they had due to films, and if films gave them any vocational ambitions. Prizes were offered for the best answers. In her full autobiography this contributor describes joining the Gaumont British Kiddies Club when aged 11, her fondness for cowboy and Indian films, then for Deanna Durbin, her later idolising of Tyrone Power, and her dissatisfaction with her adult life compared with that which she saw on the screen (she went to the cinema four days a week). The Vampire Bat (USA 1933 d. Frank Strayer) starred Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray. It has no female vampire. ‘H’ certificates, for Horror, were introduced by the British Board of Film Censors in 1932, to be replaced by the X certificate in 1951.

Take Your Girlie to the Movies

Source: ‘Take your girlie to the movies’, sung by Billy Murray, composer Pete Wendling, lyrics Bert Kalmar, Edgar Leslie, recorded 19 June 1919, Victor 18592

Text: Beatrice Fairfax gives advice
To anyone in love
That’s why Johnny Gray
Wrote to her one day
‘When I call to love my girl
Her folks are always there
That’s why I’m blue
What shall I do?
And Beatrice said, “never despair”

Take your girlie to the movies
If you can’t make love at home
There’s not little brother there who always squeals
You can say an awful lot in the seven reels
Take your lessons at the movies
And have love scenes of your own
Tho she’s just a simple little ribbon clerk
Close your eyes and think you’re kissing Billie Burke
Take your girlie to the movies
If you can’t make love at home

Sweethearts always used to spoon
In a big morris chair
Young folks of today
Have a different way
Far away from cranky dad
And mother’s eagle eye
It’s lots of fun
Here’s how it’s done
So come on and give it a try

Take your girlie to the movies
If you can’t make love at home
Find a cozy corner where it’s nice and dark
Don’t catch influenza, kissing in the park
Take your tips from Douglas Fairbanks
And have love scenes of your own
Going to your seat you’ve got a dandy chance
You can shine your shoes on someone else’s pants
Take your girlie to the movies
If you can’t make love at home

Comment: Dear Beatrice Fairfax was an American newspaper advice column, written by Marie Manning.