Dr Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon

A view of Philip James de Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon (1782), British Museum (via Wikipedia)

Source: Ephraim Hardcastle [W.H. Pyne], extracts from chapter ‘Dr Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon’, in Wine and Walnuts, or, After dinner chit-chat (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1823), pp. 284-290, 295-298, 302-304

Text: The stage on which the Eidophusikon was represented, was little more than six feet wide, and about eight feet in depth; yet such was the painter’s knowledge of effect and scientific arrangement, and the scenes which he described were so completely illusive, that the space appeared to recede for many miles, and his horizon seemed as palpably distant from the eye, as the extreme termination of the view would appear in nature.

The opening subject of the Eidophusikon represented the view from the summit of One-tree Hill, in Greenwich Park, looking up the Thames to the Metropolis; on one side, conspicuous upon its picturesque eminence, stood Flamstead House; and below, on the right, the grand mass of building, Greenwich Hospital, with its imposing cupolas, cut out of pasteboard, and painted with architectural correctness. The large groups of trees formed another division, behind which were the towns of Greenwich and Deptford, with the shore on each side stretching to the metropolis, which was seen in its vast extent, from Chelsea to Poplar. Behind were the hills of Hampstead, Highgate, and Harrow; and the intermediate space was occupied by the flat stage, as the pool or port of London, crowded with shipping, each mass of which being cut out in pasteboard, and receding in size by the perspective of their distance. The heathy appearance of the fore-ground was constructed of cork, broken into the rugged and picturesque forms of a sand-pit, covered with minute mosses and lichens, producing a captivating effect, amounting indeed to reality.

This scene, on the rising of the curtain, was enveloped in that mysterious light which is the precursor of day-break, so true to nature, that the imagination of the spectator sniffed the sweet breath of morn. A faint light appeared along the horizon; the scene assumed a vapourish tint of grey; presently a gleam of saffron, changing to the pure varieties that tinge the fleecy clouds that pass away in morning mist; the picture brightened by degrees; the sun appeared, gilding the tops of the trees and the projections of the lofty buildings, and burnishing the vanes on the cupolas; when the whole scene burst upon the eye in the gorgeous splendour of a beauteous day.

The clouds in every scene had a natural motion, and they were painted in semi-transparent colours, so that they not only received light in front, but, by a greater intensity of the argand lamps, were susceptible of being illuminated from behind. The linen on which they were painted was stretched on frames of twenty times the surface of the stage, which rose diagonally by a winding machine. De Loutherbourg, who excelled in representing the phenomena of clouds, may be said to have designed a series of effects on the same frame; thus, the first gleam of morn led to the succeeding increase of light; and the motion being oblique, the clouds first appeared from beneath the horizon, rose to a meridian, and floated fast or slow, according to their supposed density, or the power of the wind.

To illuminate the interesting scenes for this display of nature, the ingenious projector had constructed his lights to throw their power in front of the scenes; and this plan might be tried with advantage for spectacles, and particular effects at least, on the great stages of our magnificent theatres. The lamps on De Loutherbourg’s stage were above the proscenium, and hidden from the audience, instead of being unnaturally placed as we are accustomed to see them, by which the faces of the performers are illuminated, like Michael Angelo’s Satan, from the regions below; thus throwing on their countenances a preternatural character, in defiance of all their well studied science of facial passion and expression. What painter ever dreamt of inverting the order of nature so entirely as to light the human countenance upwards? And why depart so strangely from truth upon the stage? The expression would be increased tenfold by lighting from above the proscenium. — For how infinitely more impressive is the emotion of the passions, when described with the spacious orbit of the eye in that deep shadow which the grand gusto of the historic style of painting has adopted — the majesty of intellectual intelligence is seen to rest upon the human brow. Nothing can outrage truth, or do so much violence to that delicate expression, which is the soul of acting, when addressed to the philosophical mind, as to view the bold projection of the chin, the subordinate and characteristic prominence of the nose, the upper part of the orbits of the eyes, instead of forming harmonious shadows, glaring in the blaze of stage-lamps, each a separate touch of light. Were the other method adopted for illuminating the stage, the scenes would recede, in their respective distances; the front and most prominent characters would cast a shadow on those in the second ground, and the general effect would assume the superior light and shadow of nature in manifold combinations, such as we behold on the historical groups of the great masters. Why should we continue to tolerate absurdities upon the stage, to the manifest injustice of those fine and masterly traits, as exhibited in the actor’s “anatomy of expression?” which might, but for this, serve as a school for the painter to study the rudiments of rage, anger, terror, guilt, jealousy, and other potent passions operating on the human visage, with that marked expression which the science of certain great actors can personate at will.

Before the line of brilliant lamps, on the stage of the Eidophusikon, were slips of stained glass; yellow, red, green, purple, and blue: by the shifting of which, the painter could throw a tint upon the scenery, compatible with the time of day which he represented, and by a single slip, or their combinations, could produce a magical effect; thus giving a general hue of cheerfulness, sublimity, or awfulness, subservient to the phenomena of his scene. This too might be adopted on the regular stage, were the ingenious machinists of the scene-room to set their wits to work; and at no vast expence, since the improvements of lighting with gas.


Gainsborough was so wrapt in delight with the Eidophusikon, that for a time he thought of nothing else — he talked of nothing else — and passed his evenings at that exhibition in long succession. Gainsborough, himself a great experimentalist, could not fail to admire scenes wrought to such perfection by the aid of so many collateral inventions. Loutherbourg’s genius was as prolific in imitations of nature to astonish the ear, as to charm the sight. He introduced a new art — the picturesque of sound.

I can never forget the awful impression that was excited by his ingenious contrivance to produce the effect of the firing of a signal of distress, in his sea-storm. That appalling sound, which he that had been exposed to the terrors of a raging tempest could not listen to, even in this mimic scene, without being reminded of the heart-sickening answer, which sympathetic danger had reluctantly poured forth from his own loud gun — a hoarse sound to the howling wind, that proclaimed, “I too, holy Heaven! need that succour I fain would lend!”

De Loutherbourg had tried many schemes to effect this; but none were satisfactory to his nice ear, until he caused a large skin to be dressed into parchment, which was fastened by screws to a circular frame, forming a vast tambourine; to this was attached a compact sponge that went upon a whalebone spring; which,s truck with violence, gave the effect of a near explosion; a more gentle blow, that of a far-off gun; and the reverberation of the sponge produced a marvellous imitation of the echo from to cloud, dying away into silence.

The thunder was no less natural, and infinitely grand: a spacious sheet of thin copper was suspended by a chain, which, shaken by one of the lower corners, produced the distant rumbling, seemingly below the horizon; and as the clouds rolled on, approached nearer and nearer, increasing peal by peal, until, following rapidly the lightning’s zig-zag flash, which was admirably vivid and sudden, it burst in a tremendous crash immediately over-head.

Once, being at the Eidophusikon, with a party of intelligent friends, when this scene was performing over Exeter ‘Change, I had the felicity to experience a most interesting treat. I had often wished for an opportunity to compare the effect of the awful phenomenon — a thunder storm, with this imitative thunder of De Loutherbourg’s. A lady exclaimed, “It lightens!” and, in great agitation, pointed to an aperture that admitted air to the upper seats. The consternation caused by this discovery, induced many to retire to the lobby, some of whom, moved by terror or superstition, observed, “that the exhibition was presumptuous.” We moved to the gallery, and opening a door, stood upon the landing place, where we could compare the real with the artificial storm. When the exhibition was over, and were tired to sup with one of our party, the worthy James Christie, in Pall Mall, we naturally went into the merits of this scenic display; when it was sagely determined, that man was an extraordinary creature, who could create a copy of Nature, to be taken for Nature’s self.


But the most impressive scene, which formed the finale of the exhibition, was that representing the region of the fallen angels, with Satan arraying his troops on the banks of the Fiery Lake, and the rising of the Palace of Pandaemonium, as described by the pen of Milton. De Loutherbourg had already displayed his graphic powers in his scenes of fire, upon a great scale, at the public theatre — scenes which had astonished and terified [sic] the audience; but in this he astonished himself, — for he had not conceived the power of light that might be thrown upon a scenic display, until he made the experiment on his own circumscribed stage. Here, in the foreground of a vista, stretching an immeasurable length between mountains, ignited from their bases to their lofty summits, with many-coloured flame, a chaotic mass rose in dark majesty, which gradually assumed form until it stood, the interior of a vast temple of gorgeous architecture, bright as molten brass, seemingly composed of unconsuming and unquenchable fire. In this tremendous scene, the effect of coloured glasses before the lamps was fully displayed; which, being hidden from the audience, threw their whole influence upon the scene, as it rapidly changed, now to a sulphurous blue, then to a lurid red, and then again to a pale vivid light, and ultimately to a mysterious combination of the glasses, such as a bright furnace exhibits, in fusing various metals. The sounds which accompanied the wondrous picture, struck the astonished ear of the spectator as no less preternatural; for, to add a more awful character to peals of thunder, and the accompaniments of all the hollow machinery that hurled balls and stones with indescribable rumbling and noise, an expert assistant swept his thumb over the surface of the tambourine, which produced a variety of groans, that struck the imagination as issuing from infernal spirits.

Such was De Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon; and would that it were in being now, when the love of the fine arts has spread in so vast a degree! — that knowledge which would have appreciated its merits having increased a thousand-fold, since the period when the greatest scene-painter in the world was induced to dispose of his wondrous little stage, because the age could not produce amateurs sufficient, after two seasons, to muster an audience to pay for lighting his theatre!

Comments: William Henry Pyne (1769-1843) was a British writer, painter and illustrator, who wrote under the pseudonym Ephraim Hardcastle. The Eidophusikon was the invention of Franco-British artist and scenery designer Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740-1812). It was a form of mechanical theatre, showing landscape pictures whose visual features changed through a system of pulleys, mirrors, coloured glass, with sound effects, though the exact mechanics are not known. There were three versions. The first was exhibited at De Loutherbourg’s home in Lisle Street, Leicester Square, London February-May 1781. The second, with additional scenes introduced, including the ‘Pandaemonium’ sequence, was exhibited January 1872 to some time in 1873. The third, that witnessed by Pyne, opened at Exeter Change on the Strand, London, in 1786. The venture was not a financial success, partly because De Loutherbourg could not keep up with audience demand for new scenes. The invention and its artworks do not survive.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

East Side Moving Picture Theatre – Sunday

Source: Maxwell Bodenheim, ‘East Side Moving Picture Theatre – Sunday’ in Edward J. O’Brien (ed.), The Masque of Poets: A Collection of New Poems, by Contemporary American Poets (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1918), p. 17

An old woman rubs her eyes
As though she were stroking children back to life.
A slender Jewish boy whose forehead
Is tall, and like a wind-marked wall,
Restlessly waits while leaping prayers
Clash their light-cymbals within his eyes.
And a little hunchbacked girl
Straightens her back with a slow-pulling smile.
(I am afraid to look at her again.)

Then the blurred, tawdry pictures rush across the scene,
And I hear a swishing intake of breath,
As though some band of shy rigid spirits
Were standing before their last heaven.

Comments: Maxwell Bodenheim (1892-1954) was an American poet and novelist, who enjoyed some success in the 1920s and 30s. He was noted for his Bohemian lifestyle, followed by a descent into vagrancy and his eventual murder. The poem is set in Chicago, where he then lived.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Picture Shows Popular in the ‘Hub’

Source: Anon., ‘Picture Shows Popular in the ‘Hub’, Moving Picture World, 16 May 1908, p. 433

Text: A lady correspondent of the Boston Journal finds that the picture theaters in the city of culture are equally popular with rich and poor, and draw their support from both sexes and all ages and nationalities. Her remarks are as follows:

Have you contracted the moving picture show habit yet? Most of the folks I know have, though for some reason they one and all seem loath to acknowledge the fact. Perhaps it is because it seems a childish pastime and not just the form of amusement one would expect worldly men and women to patronize to any extent. The man or woman who occupies a desk at your elbow may be a regular attendant upon these instructive and wholly entertaining little picture performances of an hour’s duration. You will not know it unless by chance you happen to see him or her buying an admission at the window, or after groping your way to a seat in the dark find one or the other filling the chair at your side.

Visiting the little theaters that offer an attractive assortment of pictures has long been a custom of mine, though curiously enough I have not confided my liking for this sort of thing to even my intimate friends. In the past I have paid my admission, and slipping into a seat, watched whatever the screen had to offer. Yesterday afternoon, quite by accident, I learned that a congenial friend of mine had the same interest in these fascinating views of foreign
shores, of mirth-provoking happenings and of events in the news which form the basis of the entertainment, so we made an appointment to attend one.

While waiting the young lady’s arrival, I lingered in the entrance and for the brief space of ten minutes was absorbed in watching the manner of men and women who singly and in groups approached the box office and paid their admittance fee of a dime. All kinds were represented in the steady throng that sought an entrance. The first man who held my attention looked as though he might be a bank official or broker. He had that cast-iron, blank expression that attaches itself to men who constantly handle money or constantly think about it in the day’s work. The next were a family party of three — father, mother and a two-year-old child.

Then came a woman who looked as though she might be employed in one of the great department stores. She was followed by another group of three, all women, winding up an afternoon’s shopping in town with a few moments’ recreation before returning to their homes to preside over their own supper tables and afterward put the babies to bed.

Next came two men whom I know by sight and reputation. They are partners in a flourishing business in the down-town section. I caught sight of a doctor next, whose name proclaims him prominent in his realm of endeavor, and then of a man of whom I have bought steaks and chops and other good things for several years. Beside those whom I recognized or had some inkling of their object in life, there were twenty others as interesting and as different in appearance as those I have described.

I was about to give my friend up and venture in alone when another figure loomed before me which made me feel quite conscious. It was that of a woman friend of mine who seemed to shrink within herself when she saw me. She felt as I felt no doubt — like a child caught at the jam-pot. We smilingly ex/hanged greetings, she murmured something about “enjoying them so much,” to which promptly responded. “So do I.” The friend whom I had been expecting pushed me through the door, brandishing the tickets as she did so, and we gave ourselves up to the enjoyment of an entertainment that appeals to all sorts, rich and poor, intelligent and unintelligent, which is instructive and helpful as well as amusing.

Comments: This piece was originally published in the Boston Journal (date unknown) and reproduced with introduction in the film trade journal Moving Picture World. ‘The Hub’ is a nickname for Boston.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

If I Don’t Write It, Nobody Will

Source: Eric Sykes, If I Don’t Write It, Nobody Will (London: Fourth Estate, 2005), pp. 78-80

Text: If the world was not exactly our oyster, it was most definitely our winkle. Our main Saturday night attraction was the Gaumont cinema at the end of Union Street. As for the films, the question we first asked ourselves was, ‘Is it a talkie?’and the second ‘Is it in colour?’ This didn’t bother us a bit; it was Saturday night, hey, lads, hey and the devil take the hindmost.

The Gaumont cinema was a large, luxurious emporium showing the latest films and up-to-date news, not forgetting Arthur Pules at the mighty Wurlitzer. For many Oldhamers the perfect panacea for the end of a stressful working week was a Saturday night at the pictures. Just relaxing into the armchair-like seats was an experience to savour. Uniformed usherettes busily showed patrons to their seats; one usherette stood against the orchestra pit, facing the audience with a smile as she sold crisps, peanuts, chocolates and soft drinks from a tray strapped round her shoulders; another usherette patrolled the aisles, selling various brands of cigarettes and matches from a similar tray. There was a general feeling of content in the audience, excitement slowly rising under subdued babble of conversation. The audience were the same people who had gone off to work during the week in overalls, dustcoats, ragged clothing and slightly better garb for office workers, but at the Gaumont cinema they had all, without exception, dressed up for the occasion. All the man wore collars and ties and the ladies decent frocks and in many cases hats as well. What a turnaround from my dear-old Imperial days; no running up and down the aisles chasing each other and certainly no whistling, booing or throwing orange peel at the screen during the sloppy kissing bits. In all fairness, though, I must add that it was only at the Saturday morning shows and we were children enjoying a few moments not under supervision or parental guidance. In fact when I was old enough to go to the Imperial for the evening films the audience even then dressed up and enjoyed the films in an adult fashion.

Back to the sublime at the Gaumont cinema; as the lights went down, so did the level of conversation. A spotlight hit the centre of the orchestra pit and slowly, like Aphrodite rising from the waves, the balding head of Arthur Pules would appear as he played his signature on the mighty Wurlitzer. He was a portly figure in immaculate white tie and tails, hands fluttering over the keys and shiny black pumps dancing over the pedals as he rose into full view, head swivelling from side to side, smiling and nodding to acknowledge the applause; but for all his splendid sartorial elegance, having his back to the audience was unfortunate as the relentless spotlight picked out the shape of his corsets. Regular patrons awaited this moment with glee, judging by the sniggers and pointing fingers. We were no exception; having all this pomp and circumstance brought down by the shape of a common pair of corsets on a man was always a good start to the evening’s entertainment.

At this point the words of a popular melody would flash on to the screen – for instance, the ‘in’ song of the day, ‘It Happened on the Beach at Bali Bali’ – and, after a frilly arpeggio to give some of the audience time to put their glasses on, a little ball of light settled on the first word of the song. In this case the first word was ‘It’; then it bounced onto ‘Happened’; then it made three quick hops over ‘on the Beach at’; then it slowed down for ‘Bali Bali’. The women sang with gusto and the men just smiled and nodded.

Happily this musical interlude didn’t last too long. Arthur Pules, the organist, was lured back into his pit of darkness and the curtains opened on the big wide screen. The films at the Gaumont were a great improvement on the grainy pictures at the Imperial, and so they should have been: after all, the film industry had made great strides in the eight years since John and I had sat in the pennies, dry mouthed as the shadow moved across the wall to clobber one of the unsuspecting actors.

After two hours of heavy sighs and wet eyes ‘The End’ appeared on the screen and the lights in the auditorium came up, bringing us all to our feet as the drum roll eased into the National Anthem … no talking, no fidgeting, simply a mark of respect for our King and Queen.

Comments: Eric Sykes (1923-2012) was a British comic actor and writer, who wrote and performed widely over many years for film, television and radio, including the 1970s sitcom Sykes. He was born and raised in Oldham, Lancashire, and at the time of this recollection was in his mid-teens, having left school aged fourteen. John was his half-brother. The Gaumont cinema in Oldham was at corner the King Street and Union Street, having been re-built as a cinema in 1937 out of an earlier theatre.

There’s No Place Like Home

Source: Dorothy Richardson, ‘Continuous Performance V: There’s No Place Like Home’, Close Up vol. I no. 5, November 1927, pp. 44-47

Text: Short of undertaking pilgrimages we remain in ignorance of new films until they become cheap classics. Not completely in ignorance for there is always hearsay. But these films coming soon or late find us ready to give our best here where we have served our apprenticeship and the screen has made in us its deepest furrows. It is true that an excellence shining enough will bring out anywhere and everywhere our own excellence to meet it. And the reflected glory of a reputation will sometime carry us forth into the desert to see. But until we are full citizens of the spirit, free from the tyranny of circumstance and always and everywhere perfectly at home, we shall find our own place our best testing-ground and since, moreover, we are for THE FILM as well as for FILMS, we prefer in general to take our chance in our quarter, fulfilling thus the good bishop’s advice to everyman to select his church, whether in the parish or elsewhere near at hand, and remain there rather than go a-whoring after novelties. The truly good bishop arranges of course that the best, selected novelties shall circulate from time to time.

Meanwhile in the little bethel there is the plain miraculous food, sometimes coarse, sometimes badly served, but still miraculous food served to feed our souls in this preparatory school for the finer things that soon no doubt will be raising the level all round. And we may draw, if further consolation be needed, much consolation from the knowledge that, in matters of feeding, the feeder and the how and the where are as important as the what.

Once through the velvet curtain we are at home and on any but first nights can glide into our sittings without the help of the torch. There is a multitude of good sittings for the hall is shaped like a garage and though there are nave and two aisles with seats three deep, there are no side views. Something is to be said for seats at the heart of the congregation, but there is another something in favour of a side row. It can be reached, and left, without squeezing and apologetic crouching. The third seat serves as a hold-all. In front of us will be either the stalwart and the leaning lady, forgiven for her obstructive attitude because she, also an off-nighter, respects, if arriving first, our chosen sittings, or there will be a solitary, motionless middle-aged man. There is, in proportion to the size of the congregation, a notable number of solitary middle-aged male statues set sideways, arm over seat, half -persuaded, or wishing to be considered half-persuaded. Behind there is no one, no commentary, no causerie, no crackling bonbonnieres. The torch is immediately at hand for greetings and tickets and, having disposed ourselves and made our prayers we may look forth to find the successor of Felix making game of space and time. Hot Air beating Cold Steel by a neck, or, if we are late, an Arrow collar young man, collarless, writhing within ropes upon the floor of the crypt whose reappearance will be the signal for our departure. Perfection, of part or of whole, we shall rarely see, but there is no limit to vision and if we return quite empty-handed we shall know whose is the fault. The miracle works, some part of it works and gets home. And sometimes one of the “best” to date is ours without warning.

For any sake let everyman have his local cinema to cherish or neglect at will, and let it be, within reason, small. Small enough to be apprehended at a glance. And plain. That is to say simple. The theatre may be as ornate, as theatrical as it likes, the note of the cinema is simplicity. Abandon frills all ye who enter here. And indeed while dramatic and operatic enterprise is apt, especially in England, to be in part social function the cinema, though subtly social, is robbed by necessity of the chance of becoming a parade ground. One cannot show off one’s diamonds in the dark. Going to the cinema is a relatively humble, simple business. Moreover in any but the theatre’s more vital spaces it is impossible to appear in an old ulster save in the way of a splendiferous flouting of splendour that is more showy than diamonds. To the cinema one may go not only in the old ulster but decorated by the scars of any and every sort of conflict. To the local cinema one may go direct, just as one is.

For the local, or any, cinema the garage shape is the right shape because in it the faithful are side by side confronting the screen and not as in some super-cinemas in a semi-circle whose sides confront each other and get the screen sideways. The screen should dominate. That is the prime necessity. It should fill the vista save for the doorways on either side whose reassuring “Emergency Exit” beams an intermittent moonlight. It is no doubt because screens must vary in size according to the distance from them of the projector that the auditorium of the super-cinema (truly an auditorium for there is already much to be heard there) is built either in a semi-circle or in an oblong so wide that the screen, though proportionately larger, looks much smaller than that of a small cinema, seems a tiny distant sheet upon which one must focus from a surrounding disadvantageously-distributed populous bigness. The screen should dominate, and its dominating screen is one of the many points scored by the small local cinema.

For the small local cinema that will remain reasonably in tune with the common feelings of common humanity both in its films and in its music, there is a welcome waiting in every parish.

Comments: Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957) was a British modernist novelist. Through 1927-1933 she wrote a column, ‘Continuous Performance’ for the film art journal Close Up. The column concentrates on film audiences rather than the films themselves. ‘Felix’ is a reference to the cartoon character Felix the Cat. The Arrow Collar Man was a familiar figure from advertisements for shirts and detachable shirt collars.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Madeline of the Movies

Source: Stephen Leacock, ‘Madeline of the Movies: A Photoplay Done Back into Words’, in Further Foolishness: Sketches and Satires on the Follies of the Day (New York/London: John Lane, 1917), pp. 133-150

Text: (EXPLANATORY NOTE – In writing this I ought to explain that I am a tottering old man of forty-six. I was born too soon to understand moving pictures. They go too fast. I can’t keep up. In my young days we used a magic lantern. It showed Robinson Crusoe in six scenes. It took all evening to show them. When it was done the hall was filled full with black smoke and the audience quite unstrung with excitement. What I set down here represents my thoughts as I sit in front of a moving picture photoplay and interpret it as best I can.)

Flick, flick, flick … I guess it must be going to begin now, but it’s queer the people don’t stop talking: how can they expect to hear the pictures if they go on talking?

Now it’s off. PASSED BY THE BOARD OF —. Ah, this looks interesting — passed by the board of — wait till I adjust my spectacles and read what it —

It’s gone. Never mind, here’s something else, let me see — CAST OF CHARACTERS — Oh, yes — let’s see who they are —MADELINE MEADOWLARK, a young something — EDWARD DANGERFIELD, a — a what? Ah, yes, a roo — at least, it’s spelt r-o-u-e, that must be roo all right — but wait till I see what that is that’s written across the top — MADELINE MEADOWLARK; OR, ALONE IN A GREAT CITY. I see, that’s the title of it. I wonder which of the characters is alone. I guess not Madeline: she’d hardly be alone in a place like that. I imagine it’s more likely Edward Dangerous the Roo. A roo would probably be alone a great deal, I should think. Let’s see what the other characters are — JOHN HOLDFAST, a something. FARMER MEADOWLARK, MRS. MEADOWLARK, his Something —

Pshaw, I missed the others, but never mind; flick, flick, it’s beginning — What’s this? A bedroom, eh? Looks like a girl’s bedroom — pretty poor sort of place. I wish the picture would keep still a minute — in Robinson Crusoe it all stayed still and one could sit and look at it, the blue sea and the green palm trees and the black footprints in the yellow sand — but this blamed thing keeps rippling and flickering all the time — Ha! there’s the girl herself — come into her bedroom. My! I hope she doesn’t start to undress in it — that would be fearfully uncomfortable with all these people here. No, she’s not undressing — she’s gone and opened the cupboard. What’s that she’s doing — taking out a milk jug and a glass — empty, eh? I guess it must be, because she seemed to hold it upside down. Now she’s picked up a sugar bowl — empty, too, eh? — and a cake tin, and that’s empty — What on earth does she take them all out for if they’re empty? Why can’t she speak? I think — hullo — who’s this coming in? Pretty hard-looking sort of woman—what’s she got in her hand? —some sort of paper, I guess — she looks like a landlady, I shouldn’t wonder if …

Flick, flick! Say! Look there on the screen:


Oh, I catch on! that’s what the landlady says, eh? Say! That’s a mighty smart way to indicate it isn’t it? I was on to that in a minute — flick, flick — hullo, the landlady’s vanished — what’s the girl doing now — say, she’s praying! Look at her face! Doesn’t she look religious, eh?

Flick, flick!

Oh, look, they’ve put her face, all by itself, on the screen. My! what a big face she’s got when you see it like that.

She’s in her room again — she’s taking off her jacket—by Gee! She is going to bed! Here, stop the machine; it doesn’t seem — Flick, flick!

Well, look at that! She’s in bed, all in one flick, and fast asleep! Something must have broken in the machine and missed out a chunk. There! she’s asleep all right—looks as if she was dreaming. Now it’s sort of fading. I wonder how they make it do that? I guess they turn the wick of the lamp down low: that was the way in Robinson Crusoe — Flick, flick!

Hullo! where on earth is this — farmhouse, I guess — must be away upstate somewhere — who on earth are these people? Old man — white whiskers — old lady at a spinning-wheel — see it go, eh? Just like real! And a young man — that must be John Holdfast — and a girl with her hand in his. Why! Say! it’s the girl, the same girl, Madeline — only what’s she doing away off here at this farm — how did she get clean back from the bedroom to this farm? Flick, flick! what’s this?


Who says that? What music? Here, stop —

It’s all gone. What’s this new place? Flick, flick, looks like a street. Say! see the street car coming along — well! say! isn’t that great? A street car! And here’s Madeline! How on earth did she get back from the old farm all in a second? Got her street things on — that must be music under her arm — I wonder where — hullo — who’s this man in a silk hat and swell coat? Gee! he’s well dressed. See him roll his eyes at Madeline! He’s lifting his hat — I guess he must be Edward Something, the Roo — only a roo would dress as well as he does — he’s going to speak to her —


Oh, I see! The Roo mistook her; he thought she was somebody that he knew! And she wasn’t! I catch on! It gets easy to understand these pictures once you’re on.

Flick, flick — Oh, say, stop! I missed a piece — where is she? Outside a street door — she’s pausing a moment outside — that was lucky her pausing like that — it just gave me time to read EMPLOYMENT BUREAU on the door. Gee! I read it quick.

Flick, flick! Where is it now? — oh, I see, she’s gone in — she’s in there — this must be the Bureau, eh? There’s Madeline going up to the desk.


Pshaw! I read too slow — she’s on the street again. Flick, flick!

No, she isn’t — she’s back in her room — cupboard still empty — no milk — no sugar — Flick, flick!

Kneeling down to pray — my! but she’s religious — flick, flick — now she’s on the street — got a letter in her hand—what’s the address — Flick, flick!

Mr. Meadowlark
Meadow Farm
Meadow County
New York

Gee! They’ve put it right on the screen! The whole letter!

Flick, flick — here’s Madeline again on the street with the letter still in her hand — she’s gone to a letter-box with it — why doesn’t she post it? What’s stopping her?


Break their what? They slide these things along altogether too quick — anyway, she won’t post it — I see —s he’s torn it up — Flick, flick!

Where is it now? Another street — seems like everything — that’s a restaurant, I guess — say, it looks a swell place — see the people getting out of the motor and going in — and another lot right after them — there’s Madeline — she’s stopped outside the window — she’s looking in — it’s starting to snow! Hullo! here’s a man coming along! Why, it’s the Roo; he’s stopping to talk to her, and pointing in at the restaurant — Flick, flick!


Oh, I see! The Roo says that! My! I’m getting on to the scheme of these things — the Roo is going to buy her some dinner! That’s decent of him. He must have heard about her being hungry up in her room — say, I’m glad he came along. Look, there’s a waiter come out to the door to show them in — what! she won’t go! Say! I don’t understand! Didn’t it say he offered to take her in? Flick, flick!


Gee! Why’s that? What are all the audience applauding for? I must have missed something! Flick, flick!

Oh, blazes! I’m getting lost! Where is she now? Back in her room — flick, flick — praying — flick, flick! She’s out on the street! — flick, flick! — in the employment bureau — flick, flick! — out of it — flick — darn the thing! It changes too much — where is it all? What is it all —? Flick, flick!

Now it’s back at the old farm — I understand that all right, anyway! Same kitchen — same old man — same old woman — she’s crying — who’s this? — man in a sort of uniform — oh, I see, rural postal delivery — oh, yes, he brings them their letters — I see —


Flick! It’s gone! Flick, flick — it’s Madeline’s room again — what’s she doing? — writing a letter? — no, she’s quit writing — she’s tearing it up —


Flick — missed it again! Break their something or other — Flick, flick!

Now it’s the farm again — oh, yes, that’s the young man John Holdfast — he’s got a valise in his hand — he must be going away — they’re shaking hands with him — he’s saying something —


He’s off — there he goes through the gate — they’re waving good-bye — flick — it’s a railway depot — flick — it’s New York — say! That’s the Grand Central Depot! See the people buying tickets! My! isn’t it lifelike? — and there’s John — he’s got here all right — I hope he finds her room —

The picture changed — where is it now? Oh, yes, I see — Madeline and the Roo — outside a street entrance to some place — he’s trying to get her to come in — what’s that on the door? Oh, yes, DANCE HALL — Flick, flick!

Well, say, that must be the inside of the dance hall — they’re dancing — see, look, look, there’s one of the girls going to get up and dance on the table.

Flick! Darn it! — they’ve cut it off — it’s outside again — it’s Madeline and the Roo — she’s saying something to him —my! doesn’t she look proud —?


Isn’t she splendid! Hear the audience applaud! Flick — it’s changed — it’s Madeline’s room again — that’s the landlady — doesn’t she look hard, eh? What’s this — Flick!


Flick, flick — it’s Madeline — she’s out in the street — it’s snowing — she’s sat down on a doorstep — say, see her face, isn’t it pathetic? There! They’ve put her face all by itself on the screen. See her eyes move! Flick, flick!

Who’s this? Where is it? Oh, yes, I get it — it’s John — at a police station — he’s questioning them — how grave they look, eh? Flick, flick!


I guess that’s what he asks them, eh? Flick, flick —


Too bad — flick — it’s changed again — it’s Madeline on the doorstep — she’s fallen asleep — oh, say, look at that man coming near to her on tiptoes, and peeking at her — why, it’s Edward, it’s the Roo — but he doesn’t waken her — what does it mean? What’s he after? Flick, flick —

Hullo — what’s this? — it’s night — what’s this huge dark thing all steel, with great ropes against the sky — it’s Brooklyn Bridge — at midnight — there’s a woman on it! It’s Madeline — see! see! She’s going to jump — stop her! Stop her! Flick, flick —

Hullo! she didn’t jump after all — there she is again on the doorstep — asleep — how could she jump over Brooklyn Bridge and still be asleep? I don’t catch on —or, oh, yes, I do — she dreamed it — I see now, that’s a great scheme, eh? — shows her dream —

The picture’s changed — what’s this place — a saloon, I guess — yes, there’s the bartender, mixing drinks — men talking at little tables — aren’t they a tough-looking lot? — see, that one’s got a revolver — why, it’s Edward the Roo — talking with two men — he’s giving them money — what’s this? —


It’s in the street again — Edward and one of the two toughs —they’ve got little black masks on — they’re sneaking up to Madeline where she sleeps — they’ve got a big motor drawn up beside them — look, they’ve grabbed hold of Madeline — they’re lifting her into the motor — help! Stop! Aren’t there any police? — yes, yes, there’s a man who sees it — by Gee! It’s John, John Holdfast — grab them, John — pshaw! they’ve jumped into the motor, they’re off!

Where is it now? — oh, yes — it’s the police station again — that’s John, he’s telling them about it — he’s all out of breath — look, that head man, the big fellow, he’s giving orders —


Hoorah! Isn’t it great — hurry! don’t lose a minute — see them all buckling on revolvers — get at it, boys, get at it! Don’t lose a second —

Look, look — it’s a motor — full speed down the street —look at the houses fly past — it’s the motor with the thugs — there it goes round the corner — it’s getting smaller, it’s getting smaller, but look, here comes another my! it’s just flying — it’s full of police — there’s John in front — Flick!

Now it’s the first motor — it’s going over a bridge — it’s heading for the country —s ay, isn’t that car just flying —Flick, flick!

It’s the second motor — it’s crossing the bridge too — hurry, boys, make it go! — Flick, flick!

Out in the country — a country road — early daylight — see the wind in the trees! Notice the branches waving? Isn’t it natural? — whiz! Biff! There goes the motor — biff! There goes the other one — right after it — hoorah!

The open road again — the first motor flying along! Hullo, what’s wrong? It’s slackened, it stops — hoorah! it’s broken down — there’s Madeline inside — there’s Edward the Roo! Say! isn’t he pale and desperate!

Hoorah! the police! the police! all ten of them in their big car —see them jumping out — see them pile into the thugs! Down with them! paste their heads off! Shoot them! Kill them! isn’t it great — isn’t it educative —that’s the Roo — Edward — with John at his throat! Choke him, John! Throttle him! Hullo, it’s changed — they’re in the big motor — that’s the Roo with the handcuffs on him.

That’s Madeline — she’s unbound and she’s talking; say, isn’t she just real pretty when she smiles?


Flick, flick!

What pretty music! Ding! Dong! Ding! Dong! Isn’t it soft and sweet! — like wedding bells. Oh, I see, the man in the orchestra’s doing it with a little triangle and a stick — it’s a little church up in the country — see all the people lined up — oh! there’s Madeline! in a long white veil — isn’t she just sweet! — and John —

Flick, flack, flick, flack.


What! Isn’t it over? Do they all go to Bulgaria? I don’t seem to understand. Anyway, I guess it’s all right to go now. Other people are going.

Comments: Stephen Leacock (1869-1944) was a Canadian humorist who was probably the most popular comic writer of his day. In the printed text the mock intertitles are presented in boxes.

Links: Copy on Internet Archive

We Can’t Have Everything

Source: Rupert Hughes, We Can’t Have Everything (New York: Harper & Bros, 1917), pp. 58-61

Text: At length she reached a center of what she most desired – noise and mob and hurry. At 164th Street she came to a star of streets where the Third Avenue Elevated collaborated with the surface-cars and the loose traffic to create a delicious pandemonium. She loved those high numbers—a hundred and eighty streets! Beautiful! At home Main Street dissolved into pastures at Tenth Street.

She wanted to find Main Street in New York and see what First Street looked like. It was probably along the Atlantic Ocean. That also was one of the things she must see – her first ocean!

But while Kedzie was reveling in the splendors of 164th Street her eye was caught by the gaudy placards of a moving-picture emporium. There was a movie-palace at home. It was the town’s one metropolitan charm.

There was a lithograph here that reached out and caught her like a bale-hook. It represented an impossibly large-eyed girl, cowering behind a door on whose other side stood a handsome devil in evening dress. He was tugging villainously at a wicked mustache, and his eyes were thrillingly leery. Behind a curtain stood a young man who held a revolver and waited. The title of the picture decided Kedzie. It was “The Vampire’s Victim; a Scathing Exposure of High Society.”

Kedzie studied hard. For all her gipsy wildness, she had a trace of her father’s parsimony, and she hated to spend money that was her very own. Some of the dimes and quarters in that little purse had been there for ages. Besides, her treasury would have to sustain her for an indefinite period.

But she wanted to know about high society. She was not sure what scathing meant, or what the pronunciation of it was. She rather inclined to “scat-ting.” Anyway, it looked important.

She stumbled into the black theater and found a seat among mysterious persons dully silhouetted against the screen. This was none of the latter-day temples where moving pictures are run through with cathedral solemnity, soft lights, flowers, orchestral uplift, and nearly classic song. This was a dismal little tunnel with one end lighted by the twinkling pictures. Tired mothers came here to escape from their children, and children came here to escape from their tired mothers. The plots of the pictures were as trite and as rancid as spoiled meat, but they suited the market. This plot concerned a beautiful girl who came to the city from a small town. She was a good girl, because she came from a small town and had poor parents.

She was dazzled a little, however, by the attentions of a swell devil of great wealth, and she neglected her poor – therefore honest – lover temporarily. She learned the fearful joys of a limousined life, and was lured into a false marriage which nearly proved her ruin. The villain got a fellow-demon to pretend to be a minister, put on false hair, reversed his collar, and read the wedding ceremony; and the heroine was taken to the rich man’s home.

The rooms were as full of furniture as a furniture-store, and so Kedzie knew it was a swell home. Also there was a butler who walked and acted like a wooden man.

The heroine was becomingly shy of her husband, but finally went to her room, where a swell maid put her to bed (with a proper omission of critical moments) in a bed that must have cost a million dollars. Some womanly, though welching, intuition led the bride to lock her door. Some manly intuition led the hero to enter the gardens and climb in through a window into the house. If he had not been a hero it would have been a rather reprehensible act. But to the heroes all things are pure. He prowled through the house heroically without attracting attention. Every step of his burglarious progress was applauded by the audience.

The hero hid behind one of those numberless portières that hang everywhere in the homes of the noveaux riches, and waited with drawn revolver for the dastard bridegroom to attempt his hellish purpose.

The locked door thwarted the villain for the time, and he decided to wait till he got the girl aboard one of those yachts which rich people keep for evil purposes. Thus the villain unwittingly saved the hero from the painful necessity of committing murder, and added another reel to the picture.

It is not necessary and it might infringe a copyright to tell the rest of the story. It would be insulting to say that the false minister, repenting, told the hero, who told the heroine after he rescued her from the satanic yacht and various other temptations. Of course she married the plain-clothes man and lived happily ever after in a sin-proof cottage with a garden of virtuous roses.

Comments: Rupert Hughes (1872-1956) was an American novelist, playwright, biographer and screenwriter. He was also uncle to business magnate and film producer Howard Hughes. His novel of marital disharmony We Can’t Have Everything was turned into a film (of the same title), directed by Cecil B. DeMille, in 1918. Many other of his works were also filmed.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Marie Lloyd

Source: T.S. Eliot, extract from ‘Marie Lloyd’, in Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot (London: Faber & Faber, 1975), pp. 173-174 [originally published as ‘London Letter’ in The Dial, December 1922, pp. 659-663]

Text: The lower classes still exist; but perhaps they will not exist for long. In the music-hall comedians they find the artistic expression and dignity of their own lives; and this is not found for any life in the most elaborate and expensive revue. In England, at any rate, the revue expresses almost nothing. With the dwindling of the music-hall, by the encouragement of the cheap and rapid-breeding cinema, the lower classes will tend to drop into the same state of amorphous protoplasm as the bourgeoisie. The working-man who went to the music-hall and saw Marie Lloyd and joined in the chorus was himself performing part of the work of acting; he was engaged in that collaboration of the audience with the artist which is necessary in all art and most obviously in dramatic art. He will now go to the cinema, where his mind is lulled by continuous senseless music and continuous action too rapid for the brain to act upon, and he will receive, without giving, in that same listless apathy with which the middle and upper classes regard any entertainment of the nature of art. He will also have lost some of his interest in life.

Comment: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) was an American poet, critic and dramatist chiefly based in Britain. Marie Lloyd (1870-1922) was one of the most celebrated of British music hall stars.

Bioscope & Cinematograph Shows

Source: Report from Police Sergeant George Jordan, Arbour Square station, H Division, The National Archives, MEPO 2/9172 file 590446/5, ‘Bioscope & Cinematograph Shows’, March 11th, 1909

Text: No 12 High Street, Whitechapel has been recently erected. The front has been constructed with a pay box in the centre and a pair of doors each side.

The price of admission is: – Adults 2, Children 1 penny.

The room is about 45 ft deep and 20 ft wide. The machine and films are placed in a fireproof box just inside the entrance and immediately behind the paybox. The sheet on which the pictures are shown being at the far end. The machine is worked by one of the three adult attendants who relieve each other.

There are several rows of “tip-up” seats near the curtain, with ordinary chairs behind occupying two-thirds of the floor space; the remaining portion being for standing room only.

A five foot gangway is arranged at one side of the seats, with an exit door opening outwards half-way down. An electric piano placed near the screen plays continuously. About 250 English and Jewish people were present, including about 100 children.

No 63 Whitechapel Road was formerly a small shop; it has only one ordinary door opening into a room 30 feet deep by 15 feet wide.

Adults are charged one penny and children one halfpenny for admission.

The machine and films are placed in an asbestos box at the far end of the room and worked by an adult operator employed for that purpose. The pictures are shown on a screen attached to the window.

Chairs are provided in rows with a four foot passage way at the side. There was a mixed audience of about 100 persons present, half of whom were children.

An ordinary piano was placed near the window with a notice displayed inviting members of the audience to play; a young girl was playing when I entered. The proprietor’s wife, son age about 20, and a boy were acting as attendants.

No 97 Commercial Road was formerly a small shop with window and side door leading to a passage and to the room in question, which is about 30 feet deep and 15 feet wide.

Adults pay one penny; children one halfpenny for admission.

Forms are placed across the room rising in height at the back to about four feet. There is one central passage between the forms not more than three feet wide.

The audience numbered about 150; about 100 being children from four years upwards; the remainder were young Jews – male and female.

The machine and films are placed in a separate room at the rear. This room is about six feet above the shop level, with a rough “Jacobs” ladder leading to it from the side passage. The machine stands on an iron base about 12 inches above the wooden floor. It has no protecting box and there is a bedstead and table near.

An adult operator is employed at 30/- per week.

A hole has been made in the parting wall and the pictures are exhibited on a screen attached to the shop window …

In all these places of entertainment the audience is mixed together irrespective of age or sex. A series of five or six sets of pictures are shown in quick succession lasting from 30 to 45 minutes. During that time the room is in darkness. The rays from the lantern slightly illuminate the benches near the curtain, but at the opposite end where some of the spectators stand up in order to get a better view, it would be quite easy for acts of misconduct or indecency to take place without fear of detection.

In several cases the only means of exit is by one door, and the gangways are so narrow and inadequate that if an alarm of fire was raised it would be impossible for the younger members of the audience to escape in the rush that would ensue, and there might be loss of life.

Comments: This police report is part of a series of reports from the various Metropolitan Police Divisions conducted in March 1909, driven by concerns of crime, indecency and fire hazards in the small shop-conversions cinemas, or bioscopes, that existed in London at this time. The report covers the Whitechapel district of East London. The Whitechapel Picture Theatre was located as 12 Whitechapel Street and was managed by Charles Robinson. The name of the entertainment at 63 Whitechapel Road is not known but the proprietor was Barnard Cohen. Happy Land was located at 97 Commercial Road, run by Lewis Klein.

Links: National Archives file reference


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

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

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

Honor them all …

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