The Cinema

Source: The Cinema: Its Present Position and Future Possibilities (London: Williams and Norgate, 1917), pp. 198-201

Text: [Three South London schoolgirls were examined together].

22. THE CHAIRMAN. How often do you go to the cinema? — I don’t go very often, as it is very injurious to my eyes when I go.
23. Do you sit right in the front? — Well, if they put you there you have to go there.
24. What do you pay generally? — Fourpence.
25. Do you go only for entertainments which are for children? — Not always.
26. Are you a great cinema-goer? — Yes.
27. How often do you go? — Once a week. Sometimes I go once a week for six months and then have a rest, and then start all over again.
28. What seats do you go in; what do you pay? — Sevenpence.
29. You sit right in the front? — No, it is all according to how much you pay. If you pay a low price you go into the front.
30. With your sevenpence, is that not a first-rate seat? — Just about in the middle of the cinema, and I can see all right there.
31. And you don’t find your eyes hurt? — When I go out it generally gives me a headache.
32. How long do you sit in the cinema? — Two and a half or three hours.
33. Do you go very much ? — About once every three weeks.
34. What do you like best? Comic things? — I like pretty pictures about dancing and horses.
35. Do you like seeing people breaking into rooms and taking things? — Not very much.
36. It never gives any of you an idea that what you see you want to go and do yourself? — No.
37. How about your eyes? Do you get a headache? — No.
38. Where do you sit? — I pay fourpence and sit about two or three seats away from the front.
39. What part of London do you come from? — We are all from the middle of South London.
40. Have you any particular picture palace which appeals to you? — I used to go to the Oval Cinema, but now I go to the Queen’s Hall, Newington Butts.
41. Where do you go? — To the Palladium, Brixton, and the Arcadia, Brixton.
42. What kind of things do you have at the Arcadia? — They generally have very good pictures, and I went once and saw “___ ______ __ __ .” It is not a very good picture to go to.
43. Why, what was the matter? — Because I do not like the way they used the crucifix. They used the crucifix to hit one another with, and it might make children think less of religion.
44. That was the principal thing, and you did not notice anything else? — No.
45. Where do you go? — I go to the Queen’s Hall, Newington Butts.
46. Did you see “___ _______ __ __ ” ? — No.
47. Do the girls sit amongst the boys? — Yes, all mixed up, and the attendant comes round, and if the boys start whistling about and do that again he turns them out.
48. I suppose girls never do that sort of thing? — That all depends.
49. Do you go to the late entertainment? — No, mother won’t let me.
50. Do you go late? — I get out about 9 or 9.30. Very often it is 9.30. If I go to Brixton by myself and my sisters are that way they meet me, otherwise I come home by myself.
51. Do you feel the influence next day? — I do not feel any bad effects.
52. SIR JOHN KIRK. Is the place very dark? — Yes, very dark. You can see over it while the performance goes on.
53. What would happen if the boys started fighting? — They would not start fighting, because they are always too anxious to see the pictures.
54. MR. LAMERT. Have you any other amusement to go to beside the cinema? — Sometimes a theatre.
55. Do you pay to go to the theatre ? — Sometimes mother lets us go into the pit, as she doesn’t like us to go up the stairs to the gallery. The price is one shilling and twopence tax.
56. When you go to the theatre what do you see? — Pantomimes, and if there is a revue mother thinks we will understand she will take us to it.
57. At the picture palaces do you take any steps to find out what is on? — No, we take our chance.
58. MONSIGNOR BROWN. What sort of picture do the children like best? — When the cowboys and Indians come on they clap very loudly.
59. Do you like flowers? — No, not very much.
60. Birds’ nests? — No, they don’t like those.
61. Charlie Chaplin? — They like those.
62. Do you get tired when they begin to show views and landscapes? — Sometimes some of them do.
63. Are they short films? — Yes, and sometimes they are the topical budget, and then a lot of them go out.
64. Do they like a long drama? — Yes.
65. How many minutes do the dramas last? — Sometimes one and a half hours.
66. Do they like dramas with a lot of love mixed up? — We don’t care for them very much; some like them and some don’t.
67. Would many like them ? — I should not think many of them would like them. I think they would prefer other pictures.
68. How many different picture houses have you been to? — Sixteen.
69. How many have you been to? — Eight.
70. How many you? — Six in London and Manchester.
71. DR. MARIE STOPES. Have you seen any picture which you thought at the time was bad to see? — No, but I saw a picture once which I thought was vulgar. It was called “_____”
72. Supposing you went into a picture house and you met a fairy at the door who told you you could see any picture you
liked, what kind would you like to see? — I should like to see a picture about a circus.
73. What sort of picture would you like best? — I should like a good drama, but not a love drama. A drama like “Little Miss Nobody,” which I thought was very nice.
74. Why don’t you like love dramas? — There is too much fooling about in them, and there is always a hatred between two men and two women.
75. You don’t like to see two men hating each other? — Well, it is a lot of silliness. I do not think it would happen in real life.
76. You never got any disease at the cinema? — No, but once I got scarlet fever, but not in a cinema.
77. Did you ever get anything? — No, I did not catch my disease there.
78. DR. KIMMINS. What is the, nicest picture you have seen in the cinema? — I think it was “Cleopatra.”
79. And you? — “Little Miss Nobody.”
80. And you? — “The Prisoner of Zenda” and “Rupert of Hentzau.”
MR. NEWBOULD. These three were of British manufacture.
81. Do you like serials? — I have seen “The Broken Coin,” but I did not like that, although I liked the acting.
82. COMMISSIONER ADELAIDE COX. Did you see anything that frightened you? — I saw one picture where a man was in the cell, and he was supposed to have an apparition, which breaks through the wall, and the wall falls over. It was in “Monte Cristo.”
83. And when you went to bed, did you think about these things ? — No, I went to sleep.
84. What do you like the least? — I do not like the topical budget.
85. And you? — Love stories.
86. And you ? — I think the same — love stories.
87. Mr. Graves. Have you seen any pictures which help you at school? — I have seen the picture about Nero.
88. Would you like some singing in between? — I should like to have some singing.
89. MR. NEWBOULD. Are you quite sure it was a crucifix you saw in “___ ______ __ __”? — Yes.
90. Have you any idea why she hit the man with the crucifix? — She was a servant in his father’s house, and he wanted to be in love with her, and he started cuddling and kissing her, and she gets up the crucifix quite unconsciously and hits him with it.
91. Have you ever seen films you do not understand? — Yes, I can never understand pictures on general plays.
92. MR. CROOK. Have you ever had a man who wanted to pay for you at night? — No.
93. PRINCIPAL GARVIE. Have the boys ever been rude to you in the cinema? — No, but they have pulled our hair and taken our hats off.
94. THE CHAIRMAN. Do they only do that in the cinema? — No, and if the attendant is about he puts them outside.

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. Here three girls (ages not given) from South London are interview. A.E. Newbould, who speaks up for British films, was one of the British cinema industry representatives on the Commission; one of its members was the birth control campaigner Marie Stopes. Topical Budget was the name of a British newsreel, though ‘topical budget’ is here being used as a generic name for newsreels. Filmed mentioned are The Count of Monte Cristo (USA 1913), The Prisoner of Zenda (UK 1915), Rupert of Hentzau (UK 1915) and Little Miss Nobody (USA 1916), all features. ‘Cleopatra’ is possibly Marcantonio e Cleopatra (Italy 1913) (it is not the Theda Bara film Cleopatra, which was released after these interviews took place). The film with a crucifix has not been identified. The Broken Coin (USA 1915) was a popular serial, mentioned by other interviewees.

Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Female, 20, white, college junior’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), p. 132

Text: However, I received one of the greatest disappointments of my young life, I believe, when I went to a movie that ended sadly. I cannot remember what it was, but it surely revolutionized my ideas. I had always believed that no matter how badly things seemed, everything would turn out happily in the end. Some people had a long period of difficulties, and others were more fortunate, but both at some time would finally obtain their desires and would “live happily ever after.” I used to call that belief my philosophy (I liked the word), and comforted my playmates at every opportunity by telling them they just hadn’t reached the turning point yet. I had quite a group of followers who were the same friends with whom I went to the movies. I could always refer to the movies to confirm my beliefs until that fatal day. They asked for explanations and I couldn’t give any. I was almost heartbroken and finally went to mother and told her all about it. She didn’t laugh. I often wondered why. She talked to me for a long time and told me I must not take movies too seriously. They only showed a few experiences of lives of imaginary people, both pleasant and unpleasant. She told me I could pity people who must live as some did who were represented in the movies and at the same time by contrast appreciate my own opportunities. It was during this talk too that she impressed upon my mind that to obtain money was not the main aim in life, another idea I had gathered from movies. There were two parallel points she stressed, happiness for myself and happiness for others. I shall always remember that talk.

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 extract is given in the chapter ‘Emotional Detachment’.

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The Cinema

Source: The Cinema: Its Present Position and Future Possibilities (London: Williams and Norgate, 1917), pp. 209-201

Text:
23. THE CHAIRMAN. What do you like best at the cinema? — All about thieves.
24. The next best? — Charlie Chaplin.
25. And you? — Mysteries; and then Charlie Chaplin.
26. And you? — Mysteries, and Charlie Chaplin.
27. What do you mean by mysteries? — Where stolen goods are hidden away in vaults so that the police can’t get them.
28. And you? — Cowboys; and then Charlie Chaplin second.
29. When you have seen these pieces showing thieving and people catching the thief, has it ever made you wish to go and do the same thing? — Yes.
30. Do you think the fellow who steals, then, a fine man? — No.
31. But you would like to do it yourself? — Yes.
32. Do you like the adventure or what? — I like the adventure.
33. You have no desire, then, to steal in order to get things for yourself, but you like the dashing about and getting up drain-pipes and that sort of thing? Yes.
34. And you? — No, I don’t like that, I should not like to do that.
35. Do you like pictures where you see flowers growing? — No.
36. Do you like ships coming in and bringing things from distant lands? — (One boy replied “No,” and the other three “Yes.”)
37. You like to have a consistent programme of detective stories and Charlie Chaplin, and you don’t want any more? — Yes.
38. Do you sit amongst the girls ? — Sometimes.
39. What do you pay? — 1d. and 2d.
40. Do you ever have to sit on the ground? — No, we always have a seat.
41. Have you ever seen the boys behave roughly to the girls? — Yes.
42. What do they do? — Aim orange peel at them.
43. Do they pull the girls about? — Yes, their hair.
44. And do the girls pull back again? — No; they seem to enjoy it.
45. Do your sisters go? — I take baby every night; it is four and a half years old.
46. Does baby like it and laugh? — Yes.
47. She likes Charlie Chaplin best? — Yes.
48. Is your father at the war? — (One boy here stated his father was on the Midland Railway; another one on war work; the third, a sailor; and the fourth, working at Woolwich Arsenal.)
49. Then your fathers are away a great deal, and you don’t see much of them? — No.
50. And mother? — Mother looks after us at home.
51. I suppose mother is very busy on Saturday night, and she gives you the baby to take to the pictures? — Yes.
52. Do you pay for the baby? — Yes, a penny.
53. Do you go to Sunday School? — (One boy stated he went to Sunday School, but the other three said they did not.)
54. Are you able to sleep long on Sunday morning after going to the pictures? — I do not feel tired.
55. PRINCIPAL GARVIE. Can you tell me the film you like best? — (One boy liked “The Broken Coin,” and three boys preferred “Red Circle.”)
56. Can you tell us the story of the “Red Circle”? — A man has a red circle on his hand and it forces him to do crime.
57. MR. KING. If there were no picture palaces what would you do? — Stop at home; but sometimes we go out and play football.
58. Why do you like the cowboy films? — Because they are exciting.
59. DR. KIMMINS. What other films do you like besides the “Red Circle” and “The Broken Coin”? — Tragedy.
60. What is the nicest one you have ever seen? — A picture about the death of a boy’s mother and he revenges her.
61. Do you care about love stories at all? — No.
62. MONSIGNOR BROWN. If there were two picture houses together, and one was showing flowers and geography films, and
the other one Charlie Chaplin films, which would you go to? — The one showing Charlie Chaplin.
63. Supposing they put on some of the films you do not like, what would the boys do? — They would grumble and shout “Chuck it off.”
64. MR. LAMERT. Did you ever on a film see a man do anything with any apparatus or things which you could get hold
of? — No.
65. Would you know how to get any of these things? — No.

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. Here four schoolboys from Bethnal Green, London were questioned. Two were aged eleven, two thirteen. Two attended cinemas on Saturday night and two on Saturday afternoon, each going once a week. The Red Circle (USA 1915) was a serial starring Ruth Roland as a woman with a birthmark which compelled her to steal in times of stress. The Broken Coin (USA 1915) was another serial, directed by Francis Ford.

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.

Movies, Delinquency and Crime

Source: ‘Male, white, 23, sentenced for robbery, inmate of reformatory’, quoted in Herbert Blumer and Philip M. Hauser, Movies, Delinquency and Crime (New York: Macmillan, 1933), p. 69

Text: As soon as I got to be old enough to wander around a little without getting lost, my first thing I done was to get acquainted with the other neighborhood tots and we would all get our nickels together and go to see the thrilling western or crook pictures that happened to be shown in the neighborhood. It was a great thrill to see the guns in action in a big train robbery or cattle-rustling breakup. As soon as we got tired of looking straight up at pictures we would decide to go back to the neighborhood and start our evening game of “cops and robbers.” It used to be hard for us kids to decide as to who would be the “coppers” because everyone wanted to be the bold robber they just saw in the moving pictures. As a small lad I did not have much use for a copper in crook plays, I always hoped the robber would get the best of the copper. I got a kind of grudge up when I saw the copper conquering the robber; I decided some day to grow up and show the coppers something, but I was only a child then. The boys always used to choose me for their chief robber, because I was the biggest and strongest, and if they wouldn’t choose me as chief, I would punch a few of them and break up the game. I was always a very bad man for the kid coppers to catch and if they would corner me, I’d fight my way out. So you see motion pictures were responsible a little in bringing or starting me up in the racket.

Comment: American sociologist Herbert Blumer’s Movies, Delinquency and Crime studies the supposed connection between cinemagoing and crime, and is part of a series of studies 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.

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Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Female, 19, white, college sophomore’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), p. 41

Text: Then came the time when I became interested in men. I had heard older boys and girls talking about “technique” and the only way I could find out how to treat boys was through reading books and seeing movies. I had always known boys as playmates, but having reached my freshman year in high school they became no longer playmates but “dates.” I didn’t want it to be that way but it seemed inevitable. I was asked to parties and dances and friends’ homes. The boys were older and sophisticated. I felt out of place. I noticed that older girls acted differently with boys than they did when with girls alone. I didn’t know what to do.

I decided to try some of the mannerisms I had seen in the movies. I began acting quite reserved, and I memorized half-veiled compliments. I realized my “dates” liked it. I laid the foundation with movie material. Then I began to improvise.

Of course, I had a rival in the crowd. Every time she began to receive more attention from the boys than I, I would see a movie and pick up something new with which to regain their interest. I remember one disastrous occasion. She was taking the center of the stage, and I was peeved. I could think of nothing to do.

Then I remembered the afternoon before I had seen Nazimova smoke a cigarette, and I decided that would be my next move. The party was at a friend’s home and I knew where her father’s cigarettes were kept. I got one, lit it, and had no difficulty whatsoever in handling it quite nonchalantly. The boys were fascinated and the victory was mine.

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 extract is given in the chapter ‘Imitation by Adolescents’.

Links: Copy on Internet Archive

Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Female, 17, Negro, high-school senior’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), p. 146

Text: It seems to me that every picture picturing a Negro is just to ridicule the race. When a Negro man or woman is featured in a movie they are obliged to speak flat southern words, be superstitious, and afraid of ghosts and white men. They have to make themselves as ugly and dark as possible. The bad things are emphasized and the good characteristics left out. This is very unfair to the race. All Negroes are not alike; there are different types as in other races. Why must they be portrayed as ignorant, superstitious animals instead of decent people that are just as capable of doing great things as any other race; all they need is the chance. It is the same with other dark races besides the Negro. They are always the loser, the shrinking coward, and never the victor. It is very unjust of the white race to make every nation appear inferior compared to them.

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 extract is given in the chapter ‘Schemes of Life’ under the section ‘Stereotyped views’.

Links: Copy on Internet Archive

Movies and Conduct

Source: Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), pp. 105-106

Text: In the gloom of the Fox Theater, I sat with my gang, and I gasped in pleasurable anticipation as the tense moment approached. The hero placed his hands about the heroine’s divinely small waist and pulled her half-fiercely toward him. Her beautiful lips parted slightly; he looked into her heavenly eyes with infinite adoration and their kiss was perfect. My response was inevitable. My hand clutched Vera’s; we thrilled in ecstasy.

Short-lived this bliss which passed all understanding. From behind, where a group of boys sat there came a rude burst of laughter, of smacks and kisses. A furious wave of anger engulfed me. How revolting and vulgar they were! I wanted to knock their heads together, to destroy them, to tramp upon them for they had hurt my sensitive soul without a thought. They had ruined the sacred beauty of that moment with their vulgarity. I had experienced that moment because I had put myself in the heroine’s place; I had felt the sweeping silk of her garment against me; I had been as beautiful as she, in surroundings as glamorous; and the hero had been replaced by a certain boy a few rows away who, I felt, was watching me at that moment. It was a personal insult to me that they had laughed. I turned, haughty scorn in my glance, to look at those insufferable creatures,- and I caught his eye. He smiled – a warmth suffused me, in that moment I knew –

The minutes hurried by. There came the close-up, the flare of lights, the noise of stamping crowds, anxious to gain the exit. I walked in a dream, feeling a spell and a magic touch upon me. I had scarcely left my friends at the corner when the well-known lines of his roadster loomed before me, and the headlights cut gaudy streaks across the pavement. Came the creaking of brakes, a subdued question, my mute assent, the opening of the car-door, and the purr of the engine as we slid into the mystery of a vaguely fragrant night.

I had known it all along, from the moment I had seen that perfect embrace in the movies; I had felt that this would happen. He had parked in lover’s lane, his arms were about me, persuading. To my bewildered mind there came two thoughts; one, “Mama said, ‘ Don’t kiss the boys'”; the other, “What harm can it be? It is beautiful.” So I struggled no longer; and I learned the charm which before I had only dreamed of.

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. This extract, from a college girl aged nineteen, is given in the chapter ‘Emotional Possession: Love and Passion’. The full autobiographical essay is reproduced as ‘Case 5: My Movie Autobiography’ in Garth Jowett, Ian C. Jarvie, Kathryn H. Fuller, Children and the Movies: Media Influence and the Payne Fund Controversy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 255-260.

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At the Works

Source: Lady [Florence] Bell, At the Works: A Study of a Manufacturing Town (London: Nelson, 1911 [originally London: Edward Arnold, 1907]), pp. 185-186

Text: At the moment of writing there are ten music-halls in full swing, at all of which Moving Pictures are shown on the Cinematograph, and at seven of which a variety entertainment is given as well. These pictures have made an extraordinary difference to the leisure hours of the working class, adults as well as children, to whom they seem to give untiring delight. The price in most of the halls ranges from 6d. to 2d., children being half price: in two of them the best places are 2s. and 1s. respectively. The seating capacity of the biggest of these halls is about 2,000; of the smallest, 350. It may appear to many of us that if a wisely tolerant supervision could be exercised over the selection of the pictures, excluding the actually harmful, but not always insisting on the improving, it would be an innocuous and not undesirable form of amusement. The front row of the gallery generally consists of children, mostly little boys between seven and ten, eagerly following every detail of the entertainment. Each of them these must have paid for his place – how he did it who can tell? perhaps either by begging or by playing pitch and toss in the street. One may sometimes see a queue of women waiting to go to the cheap seats, often with their husbands accompanying them. These women, many of whom have their babies in their arms, come out of the place looking pleased and brightened up. The kind of variety entertainment usually offered does not to the critical onlooker seem either particularly harmful or especially ennobling. The curious fact that, in almost any social circle, it makes people laugh convulsively to see any one tumble down, is kept well in view, and utilized to frequent effect. Six of these halls show their moving pictures on a Sunday, an incalculable boon.

Comment: Lady Bell (Dame Florence Eveleen Eleanore Bell) (1851-1930) was a British aristocrat, playwright and author of At the Works, a study of working lives in Middlesborough in the 1900s.

Middletown

Source: Robert S. Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd, Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture (Orlando: Harcourt, Crace & Co., 1929), pp. 263-269

Text: Like the automobile, the motion picture is more to Middletown than simply a new way of doing an old thing; it has added new dimensions to the city’s leisure. To be sure, the spectacle-watching habit was strong upon Middletown in the nineties. Whenever they had a chance people turned out to a “show,” but chances were relatively fewer. Fourteen times during January, 1890, for instance, the Opera House was opened for performances ranging from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to The Black Crook, before the paper announced that “there will not be any more attractions at the Opera House for nearly two weeks.” In July there were no “attractions”; a half dozen were scattered through August and September; there were twelve in October.[17]

Today nine motion picture theaters operate from 1 to 11 P.M. seven days a week summer and winter; four of the nine give three different programs a week, the other five having two a week; thus twenty-two different programs with a total of over 300 performances are available to Middletown every week in the year. In addition, during January, 1923, there were three plays in Middletown and four motion pictures in other places than the regular, theaters, in July three plays and one additional movie, in October two plays and one movie.

About two and three-fourths times the city’s entire population attended the nine motion picture theaters during the month of July, 1923, the “valley” month of the year, and four and one-half times the total population in the “peak” month of December.[18] Of 395 boys and 457 girls in the three upper years of the high school who stated how many times they had attended the movies in “the last seven days,” a characteristic week in mid-November, 30 per cent, of the boys and 39 per cent of the girls had not attended, 31 and 29 per cent, respectively had been only once, 22 and 21 per cent, respectively two times, 10 and 7 per cent, three times, and 7 and 4 per cent, four or more times. According to the housewives interviewed regarding the custom in their own families, in three of the forty business class families interviewed and in thirty-eight of the 122 working class families no member “goes at all” to the movies.[19] One family in ten in each group goes as an entire family once a week or oftener; the two parents go together without their children once a week or oftener in four business class families (one in ten), and in two working class families (one in sixty); in fifteen business class families and in thirty-eight working class families the children were said by their mothers to go without their parents one or more times weekly.

In short, the frequency of movie attendance of high school boys and girls is about equal, business class families tend to go more often than do working class families, and children of both groups attend more often without their parents than do all the individuals or other combinations of family members put together. The decentralizing tendency of the movies upon the family, suggested by this last, is further indicated by the fact that only 21 per cent, of 337 boys and 33 per cent of 423 girls in the three upper years of the high school go to the movies more often with their parents than without them. On the other hand, the comment is frequently heard in Middletown that movies have cut into lodge attendance, and it is probable that time formerly spent in lodges, saloons, and unions is now being spent in part at the movies, at least occasionally with other members of the family. [20] Like the automobile and radio, the movies, by breaking up leisure time into an individual, family, or small group affair, represent a counter movement to the trend toward organization so marked in clubs and other leisure-time pursuits.

How is life being quickened by the movies for the youngsters who bulk so large in the audiences, for the punch press operator at the end of his working day, for the wife who goes to a “picture” every week or so “while he stays home with the children,” for those business class families who habitually attend?

“Go to a motion picture … and let yourself go,” Middletown reads in a Saturday Evening Post advertisement. “Before you know it you are living the story laughing, loving, hating, struggling, winning! All the adventure, all the romance, all the excitement you lack in your daily life are in Pictures. They take you completely out of yourself into a wonderful new world … Out of the cage of everyday existence! If only for an afternoon or an evening escape!”

The program of the five cheaper houses is usually a “Wild West” feature, and a comedy; of the four better houses, one feature film, usually a “society” film but frequently Wild West or comedy, one short comedy, or if the feature is a comedy, an educational film (e.g., Laying an Ocean Cable or Making a Telephone), and a news film. In general, people do not go to the movies to be instructed; the Yale Press series of historical films, as noted earlier, were a flat failure and the local exhibitor discontinued them after the second picture. As in the case of the books it reads, comedy, heart interest, and adventure compose the great bulk of what Middletown enjoys in the movies. Its heroes, according to the manager of the leading theater, are, in the order named, Harold Lloyd, comedian; Gloria Swanson, heroine in modern society films; Thomas Meighan, hero in modern society films; Colleen Moore, ingenue; Douglas Fairbanks, comedian and adventurer; Mary Pickford, ingenue; and Norma Talmadge, heroine in modern society films. Harold Lloyd comedies draw the largest crowds. “Middletown is amusement hungry,” says the opening sentence in a local editorial; at the comedies Middletown lives for an hour in a happy sophisticated make-believe world that leaves it, according to the advertisement of one film, “happily convinced that Life is very well worth living.”

Next largest are the crowds which come to see the sensational society films. The kind of vicarious living brought to Middletown by these films may be inferred from such titles as: “Alimony – brilliant men, beautiful jazz babies, champagne baths, midnight revels, petting parties in the purple dawn, all ending in one terrific smashing climax that makes you gasp”; “Married FlirtsHusbands: Do you flirt? Does your wife always know where you are? Are you faithful to your vows? Wives: What’s your hubby doing? Do you know? Do you worry? Watch out for Married Flirts.” So fast do these flow across the silver screen that, e.g., at one time The Daring Years, Sinners in Silk, Women Who Give, and The Price She Paid were all running synchronously, and at another “Name the Man – a story of betrayed womanhood,” Rouged Lips, and The Queen of Sin. [21] While Western “action” films and a million-dollar spectacle like The Covered Wagon or The Hunchback of Notre Dame draw heavy houses, and while managers lament that there are too few of the popular comedy films, it is the film with burning “heart interest,” that packs Middletown’s motion picture houses week after week. Young Middletown enters eagerly into the vivid experience of Flaming Youth: “neckers, petters, white kisses, red kisses, pleasure-mad daughters, sensation-craving mothers, by an author who didn’t dare sign his name; the truth bold, naked, sensational” – so ran the press advertisement under the spell of the powerful conditioning medium of pictures presented with music and all possible heightening of the emotional content, and the added factor of sharing this experience with a “date” in a darkened room. Meanwhile, Down to the Sea in Ships, a costly spectacle of whaling adventure, failed at the leading theater “because,” the exhibitor explained, “the whale is really the hero in the film and there wasn’t enough ‘heart interest’ for the women,”

Over against these spectacles which Middletown watches today stand the pale “sensations” of the nineties, when Sappho was the apogee of daring at the Opera House: “The Telephone Girl – Hurricane hits, breezy dialogue, gorgeous stage setting, dazzling dancing, spirited repartee, superb music, opulent costumes.” Over the Garden Wall, Edith’s Burglar, East Lynne, La Belle Maria, or Women’s Revenge, The Convict’s Daughter, Joe, a Mountain Fairy, The Vagabond Heroine, Guilty Without Crime, The World Against Her (which the baker pronounced in his diary, “good, but too solemn”), Love Will Find a Way, Si. Plankard. These, it must be recalled, were the great days when Uncle Tom’s Cabin, with “fifty men, women, and children, a pack of genuine bloodhounds, grandest street parade ever given, and two bands,” packed the Opera House to capacity.

Actual changes of habits resulting from the week-after-week witnessing of these films can only be inferred. Young Middletown is finding discussion of problems of mating in this new agency that boasts in large illustrated advertisements, “Girls! You will learn how to handle ‘em!” and “Is it true that marriage kills love? If you want to know what love really means, its exquisite torture, its overwhelming raptures, see — .”

“Sheiks and their ‘shebas,’” according to the press account of the Sunday opening of one film,” … sat without a movement or a whisper through the presentation … It was a real exhibition of love-making and the youths and maidens of [Middletown] who thought that they knew something about the art found that they still had a great deal to learn.”

Some high school teachers are convinced that the movies are a powerful factor in bringing about the “early sophistication” of the young and the relaxing of social taboos. One workingclass mother frankly welcomes the movies as an aid in child-rearing, saying, “I send my daughter because a girl has to learn the ways of the world somehow and the movies are a good safe way.” The judge of the juvenile court lists the movies as one of the “big four” causes of local juvenile delinquency, [22] believing that the disregard of group mores by the young is definitely related to the witnessing week after week of fictitious behavior sequences that habitually link the taking of long chances and the happy ending. While the community attempts to safeguard its schools from commercially intent private hands, this powerful new educational instrument, which has taken Middletown unawares, remains in the hands of a group of men – AN ex-peanut-stand proprietor, an ex-bicycle racer and race promoter, and so on – Whose primary concern is making money.[23]

Middletown in 1890 was not hesitant in criticizing poor shows at the Opera House. The “morning after” reviews of 1890 bristle with frank adjectives: “Their version of the play is incomplete. Their scenery is limited to one drop. The women are ancient, the costumes dingy and old. Outside of a few specialties, the show was very ‘bum.’ When Sappho struck town in 1900, the press roasted it roundly, concluding, “[Middletown] has had enough of naughtiness of the stage … Manager W – will do well to fumigate his pretty playhouse before one of the dean, instructive, entertaining plays he has billed comes before the footlights.” The newspapers of today keep their hands off the movies, save for running free publicity stories and cuts furnished by the exhibitors who advertise. Save for some efforts among certain of the women’s clubs to “clean up the movies” and the opposition of the Ministerial Association to “Sunday movies,” Middletown appears content in the main to take the movies at their face value “a darned good show” and largely disregard their educational or habit-forming aspects.

Footnotes

17. Exact counts were made for only January, July, and October. There were less than 125 performances, including: matinees, for the entire year.

18. These figures are rough estimates based upon the following data: The total Federal amusement tax paid by Middletown theaters in July was $3002.04 and in December $4,781.47. The average tax paid per admission is about $0.0325, and the population in 1923 about 38,000. Attendance estimates secured in this way were raised by one-sixth to account for children under twelve who are tax-free. The proprietor of three representative houses said that he had seven admissions over twelve years to one aged twelve or less, and the proprietor of another house drawing many children has four over twelve to one aged twelve or less.

These attendance figures include, however, farmers and others from outlying districts.

19. The question was asked in terms of frequency of attendance “in an average month” and was checked in each case by attendance during the month just past.

Lack of money and young children needing care in the home are probably two factors influencing these families that do not attend at all; of the forty-one working class families in which all the children are twelve years or under, eighteen never go to the movies, while of the eighty-one working class families in which one or more of the children is twelve or older, only twenty reported that no member of the family ever attends.

“I haven’t been anywhere in two years,” said a working class wife of thirty-three, the mother of six children, the youngest twenty months. “I went to the movies once two years ago. I was over to see Mrs. — and she says, ‘Come on, let’s go to the movies.’ I didn’t believe her. She is always
ragging the men and I thought she was joking. ‘Come on,’ she says, ‘put your things on and we’ll see a show.’ I thought, well, if she wanted to rag the men, I’d help her, so I got up and put my things on. And, you know, she really meant it. She paid my carfare uptown and paid my way into the movies. I was never so surprised in my life. I haven’t been anywhere since.”

20. Cf . N. 10 above. The ex-proprietor of one of the largest saloons in the city said, “The movies killed the saloon. They cut our business in half overnight.”

21. It happens frequently that the title overplays the element of “sex adventure” in a picture. On the other hand, films less luridly advertised frequently portray more “raw situations.”

22. cf. Ch. XI.

Miriam Van Waters, referee of the juvenile court of Los Angeles and author of Youth in Conflict, says in a review of Cyril Burt’s The Young Delinquent: “The cinema is recognized for what it is, the main source of excitement and of moral education for city children. Burt finds that only mental defectives take the movies seriously enough Jo imitate the criminal exploits portrayed therein, and only a small proportion of thefts can be traced to stealing to gain money for admittance. In no such direct way does the moving picture commonly demoralize youth. It is in the subtle way of picturing the standards of adult life, action and emotion, cheapening, debasing, distorting adults until they appear in the eyes of the young people perpetually bathed in a moral atmosphere of intrigue, jealousy, wild emotionalism, and cheap sentimentality. Burt realizes that these exhibitions stimulate children prematurely.” (The Survey, April 15, 1926.)

23. One exhibitor in Middletown is a college-trained man interested in bringing “good films” to the city. He, like the others, however, is caught in fthe competitive game and matches his competitors’ sensational advertisements.

Comment: This is an extract (with its original footnotes) from a classic and still influential sociological study, set in the archetypal small American city – the actual city used by the Lynds was Muncie, Indiana, population 38,000. The study began in 1924 and was published in 1924, with a follow-up, Middletown in Transition, published in 1937.