A Pound of Paper

Source: John Baxter, A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict (London: Doubleday, 2002), pp. 103-106

Text: But then, around 1965, whatever it was that made the Sixties such a distinctive decade began to work its liberating magic on Australia. Hints of other lifestyles and different points of view drifted across our skies like UFOs. Some saw them in the literature of the Beat Generation, others in rock music, but for me the vehicle of revelation was the movies.

Most Saturdays, I’d stop book hunting around noon, buy a slab of roast pork-belly at the Chinese takeaway on Campbell Street, watch the owner hack it into slices with his cleaver, then carry it with a bottle of Coke across the road to the Capitol Cinema. There I would pay, in those pre-decimal days, 2s 6d for a ticket and search the empty circle for a seat without protruding springs to spike my backside, and where I could munch the deliciously greasy spiced meat with no risk of being rousted by some officious usher.

A few moments usually remained before the start of the first film in the day’s double bill to contemplate John Eberson’s flaking midnight-blue ceiling, and wonder how it would look with its tiny stars illuminated — a feature rusted up long before I discovered the place. Since then, the Capitol has been restored and even its stars shine once more, but in those days its greatest appeal resided in its shabbiness, offering as it did both cheapness and anonymity. One could lose oneself in the warm dark — ‘lie low,’ as Leonard Cohen said, ‘and let the hunt go by’.

But what drew me back every week was the films. Mostly black and white and Italian or French, invariably dubbed into English, cut down to a jerky ninety minutes, and further hacked by the film censor, they reflected lives utterly alien to someone who’d never eaten an olive, seen a subtitled film, spoken to a Frenchman or kissed a girl, let alone slept with one.

Occasionally, during my adolescence, a foreign film had reflected back some flashes of my own experience — a 1954 movie called The Game of Love, for instance (a title attached by British distributors to almost anything French where the heroine removed a garment more intimate than a cardigan). Two teenagers, friends since infancy, meet at the same resort every year. They’re too shy to do anything about their mutual attraction until an older woman seduces the boy. The experience frees him to see his childhood friend for the first time, but undermines their uncomplicated love. An adaptation, in short, of Colette’s Le Blé en herbe — Ripening Seed. But its world of the beach and holidays was familiar enough to hint at lessons I might put into practice, some time, with some woman, if I ever got to know any.

Anybody in Australia hoping to learn about life from the cinema faced an uphill struggle in the Sixties. Nudity, violence, horror, obscenity, blasphemy and sedition — the censors cut them all. In the film of John O’Hara’s Butterfield 8, Liz Taylor, explaining to Eddie Fisher how she came to be a ‘party girl’ — i.e., part-time prostitute — traces it back to childhood, when a boyfriend of her mother’s, whom she regarded as a sort of uncle, took her on his knee and ‘interfered with’ her. Liz goes on, ‘But the worst thing was…’ At which point the film hiccuped, the sure sign of a cut. The next shot was of Fisher, looking bemused. Only much later did we discover that Liz said, ‘But the worse thing was, I enjoyed it.’ Enjoying sex? Obviously that had to go.

Interesting as I found the occasional flashes of eroticism in foreign films, the one that got me thinking most had no sex at all. The version presented at the Capitol was known as The Bandit’s Revenge, though it was actually called Salvatore Giuliano. Set in the rocky landscape of Sicily, it was a half documentary / half drama about a young man — face never seen — who, dressed in an incongruous grey dustcoat and with a World War II machine gun over his shoulder, led his gang against … who exactly? I couldn’t make that out. It would be years before I decoded the film, but Francesco Rosi’s darting direction remade my sense of how a story is told, as did the near-operatic behaviour of the characters – the old man who walks to a hilltop, for instance, and apostrophizes his native land like a character from Greek tragedy. Above all, the ink black and lime white of Gianni di Venanzo’s photography prepared me for Antonioni and the French new wave, just as the content lured me to history, politics, and, above all, to Europe.

Comments: John Baxter (1939- ) is an Australian writer of science fiction, film criticism and memoir. The cinema to which he refers is the Capitol Theatre, Sydney. The films he mentions are Le Blé en herbe (France 1954), Butterfield 8 (1960) and Salvatore Giuliano (Italy 1954).

Scandinavians

Source: Robert Ferguson, Scandinavians: In Search of the Soul of the North (London: Head of Zeus, 2016), pp. 327-329

Text: Fast-foward, as they say, to 1967 and a Swedish film called Hugs and Kisses. It was at a time when the British Board of Film Censors was still largely preoccupied with censoring naked bodies out of existence, and every visit to a cinema would be preceded by a sombre moment in which the curtains drew back to reveal a statement in white print on a black background announcing which of three audiences the film was considered appropriate for: an ‘X’ certificate for over-sixteens only; an ‘A’ for under sixteens accompanied by an adult; and a ‘U’, which meant anybody could see it. Getting into X-rated films was a kind of holy grail for kids under sixteen, and in Blackpool there were two cinemas in particular that were known to be easier to get into than others. One was the New Ritz on the Promenade, and the other the Tivoli, a little further back from the seafront, not far from the Talbot Road Bus Station. Both were flea-pits, scruffy, rundown and cheap. As far as I can recall, they only ever showed X- or A-rated films. At fourteen I hadn’t even started shaving, so visits to the Tivoli and the New Ritz were things I used to hear about from my older brother William. The word had got out that there was a film showing at the New Ritz with a naked woman standing in front of a mirror where you could see her pubic hair, her breasts, her arse – everything, as we boys used to gasp in disbelief in the playground.

My brother usually went to the cinema on Friday nights with two friends from school. This Friday, for some reason, they couldn’t make it and he reluctantly ordered me to go along with him. We caught the 11A from St Annes Square, got out and began walking towards the cinema entrance. It wasn’t raining but he had given me his white shortie mac to wear, saying it would make me look older. Right outside Louis Tussaud’s waxworks, next door to the cinema, just before we reached the neon glow of the foyer, he stopped, scrutinized me, turned up the collar of the shortie, took a packet of Embassy tipped from an inside pocket, lit one from the one he was smoking and stuck it in my mouth, telling me quite unnecessarily to remember to say to the ticket-seller that I was sixteen if he asked how old I was. As it turned out the ticket-booth was manned by a tired old pensioner who hardly even bothered to look up from his newspaper to sell us our tickets, which is how I got in to see Hugs and Kisses and for the first time in my life saw female pubic hair. It turns out the hair belonged to an actress named Agneta Ekmanner, now seventy-nine years old and to this day still working, according to the IMDb website. I am fascinated to note that she had a part in Suzanne Osten’s Bröderna Mozart (The Mozart Brothers), the 1986 film Olof Palme went to see on the night of his murder. Hugs and Kisses was Swedish, and with this film I had my first experience of that legendary frankness about sexuality that has been such an important part of how the rest of the world thinks about Scandinavians; or to be more precise how the rest of the world thinks about Swedes and Danes. Norwegians and Norwegian cinema were never a part of the sexual revolution exported throughout the last decades of the twentieth century by its neighbours, and which was still being exported in the twenty-first century by the Danish director Lars von Trier in films such as The Idiots and Nymphomaniac. In the 1980s, in the days before the internet, a striking sight when crossing the border by road from Norway into Sweden was all the caravans parked up on spare farm land on the Swedish side advertising ‘PORNO’ for sale in huge hand-lettered writing.

Comments: Robert Ferguson is a British translator, biographer (Henrik Ibsen, Knut Hamsun), author and authority on Scandinavian life and culture. His book Scandinavians is a study of nature of Scandinavian society. Hugs and Kisses (Swedish title Puss & kram) was directed by Jonas Cornell and was released in the UK in 1968 with a X certificate, after some cuts. Olaf Palme was prime minister of Sweden. He was shot in a Stockholm street by an unknown assailant.

The Desirable Alien

Source: Violet Hunt (with a preface and two additional chapters by Ford Madox Hueffer), The Desirable Alien at Home in Germany (London: Chatto and Windus, 1913), pp. 281-287

Text: I had never seen a cinematograph show until I came to live in Germany. I was then told that England abounded in them, and that this wild joy was at hand, and had been at hand for years in the two main streets that bounded my dwelling. I had never, so far, discovered them never known this famous form of amusement. Now I live in them. I am only sorry that the censor has lately been allowed to have anything to do with them; for now I shall never see again what I saw in the course of my first cinematograph the … No! Joseph Leopold, taking upon himself the office of the much-abused functionary, says that I am not to set down what I saw. At any rate, it was the triumph of the unexpected, and that surely is the salt of cinematographs and entertainments generally. And it was nothing wrong it was only out of place, and would not have been out of place in a musical comedy nay, it would have been indicated. … I burn to say what it was. …

Joseph Leopold does not take a frivolous view of this enormous international development. The cinematograph is an institution; it is educational; it is, at any rate, reading without tears.* It is vastly inducive of a philosophical attitude of mind; it is a vivid, cogent object-lesson in the sequence of events. The couple of stories usually given historical, cosmopolitan, revelatory of varieties of national character, as even the more laughable films are must be provocative of something like the prophetic powers that a study of history, past and present, gives.

A Hoch Spannendes Detective Drama may, in its details, pander to a vulgar taste, but it is pretty certain to reach the level of the intelligence it is designed to impress. Possibly some forger has been turned from his wickedness, some fool from his folly, some potential murderer from his crime, by the sight of one of these dramas of financial ruin, of blood and revenge, even though, owing to the obvious imperfection of the medium, blood cannot run red or the face of the ruined man blanch. It is better so; it is better, as Shakespeare’s Helena said, that “the white death should sit on their cheeks for ever,” for the coloured films are abominable. But as it is, I should not mind wagering that conscience money has been paid as a result of some evening spent in a red plush-covered armchair, with an antimacassar slung over the back of it a square of tawdry lace that is apt to follow you out into the street.

And are no simple souls induced to a more tolerant rule of piety after seeing, say, “The Bellringer,” where the devil terrifies the ancient functionary from ringing the Angelus, and only gives him leave to pursue his calling on condition that the devil shall take the first soul that enters the church while the bell is ringing? It is hard on the soul, but the philosophy of the scapegoat is sound enough. The innocent, since medieval times, must suffer for the guilty. And an angel from Heaven, her wide wings disguised under a beggar’s cloak, enters the church, and rings the bell for the charitable old bellringer, who has stooped in the porch to succour her.

This is, of course, a film which would not obtain in a Protestant town. And others which I have seen in Germany would be prohibited in England for the sake of the young person.

People rail in England against this large-looming personage, and her invasion of the library committees and the stalls at the “problem” plays, so dear to the English soul. But we have a short way with her in Germany. English people, who have a reasonable zest for seeing life as it is, complain that they are driven by their parental susceptibilities to read milk-and-water stuff, and view plays that are only fit for babes. But no one suggests that the onus of chaperonage might be thrown on the police, as it is in Germany, and the young person, deaf to moral suasion of parents, kept by armed force from the book or the play, instead of the play or the book from the young person! Yet it is practically so in Germany as far as the theatre is concerned. Reasonable plays are put on and enjoyed by the elders. An angel with a flaming sword stands at the gate of the theatrical Eden and forbids the young of both sexes to enter Paradise before their time i.e., eighteen years old. The Chief of Police prescribes to what plays young men and maidens under this age shall be admitted or no, and places a simple policeman at the doors of the theatre to enforce his behest.

And as for children of tender years, the Germans see that the lesson shall not be too strong, too deeply driven home to the tender intelligence. When a film that may prove a bugbear is presented, or one holding the powers-that-be up to execration or vilifying the Army, and any other lawfully consstituted authority, children are not allowed to enter at all.

It is impossible for local governments to take such a tender interest in the morals of their subjects without the conflict of authorities producing some odd results. It must never be forgotten that Germany is a mass of little, ill-welded nationalities, all under a First War Lord. That is what the Kaiser literally is. The curious local jealousies existing between one State and another are the unknown factor, and make a topsy-turveyness which in operation remind one of an opera of Gilbert and Sullivan.

There is one famous film, “Heisses Blut,” which was prohibited in Frankfort and forbidden to be performed in Trier. That is why I was able to see it in H—, because H— is in Hessen-Darmstadt, not in Prussia. And it is really, as its name denotes, a “Spannendes Drama.” A beautiful and famous Danish actress has played in the preparation of the film the part of the woman of strong passions united to a gentleman unable to satisfy them. She casts her affection on the new chauffeur, and makes an assignation with him during her husband’s absence. He returns and surprises the pair, and turns the temperamental lady and her lover out of the house. The degraded one becomes a burglar’s mate, and we see her in a thieves’ kitchen concocting a plan for the breaking into her former abode. She is persuaded by her truculent chauffeur lover to dress as a boy, to scale the window and let him in. She naturally chooses the nursery window. By her boy’s cot the ex-husband finds her; she confesses, and he takes her back. Hoch Spannendes, indeed!

For novelists like Joseph Leopold and me the rage for picture theatres is a distinct gain. It may be the novel-form of the future. When there will be so many books published that no one has time to read them, the author, wise before his time, will devote his intelligence to the presentation of his message, whatever it is, through this hasty medium, to all who will not wait for the development of style, niceties of dialogue, and so on. It is not perhaps generally known that the actors who take the parts of characters in a film accompany all their gestures, for the sake of vraisemblance, with speeches appropriate thereto half gag, half set down for them.

But without envisaging such a total abnegation of the merits of style in the future, let us see that in so far as the present condition of things affects authors they have all to gain by the tales that are told nightly in dumb show. The audience, composed pretty nearly of rustics in the classical sense, unsophisticated, unlettered, slow at apprehending the contortions, the mysteries of a good plot, will gradually get more and more used to following its peripatetics, tracing out its issues, holding the multiple strands that go to make a story, weaving them gradually, skilfully, into the main one, till by the time the light suddenly grows in the “Saal,” and the Pathe cock seems to stand on the empty sheet and crow triumphant, the whole has grown coherent in their minds. It is magnificent training for readers. We see in “Das Gefahrliche Alter,” another good German film, the spendthrift at the restaurant confronted by la douloureuse, and the elegant harpy who has cost him so dear at his side egging him on: “Get the money to pay it!” Her speech is given in writing on a board, but it is hardly necessary the context is explanatory enough. The slide shifts, we see his mother weeping over her secretaire, where notes for fifty pounds are tumbling about, mixed with correspondence cards, as they will in the desks of mothers in films. We see her go to bed. And in the next slide her son appears, walking in the peering, creepy way which is suggestive of proposed criminal attempts on secretaires. … And so on and so on, to a mother’s inevitable forgiveness.

Yes, I consider the advent of the Boy Scouts, the invention of picture postcards, and the rage for picture theatres, as the three most important developments of this age of brass and iron.

* The village of Kreuzberg on April 14, 1913, allocated £50 of its yearly revenue to purchasing seats for poor children at the local cinematographs on Sundays throughout the year. J.L.F.M.H.

Comments: Isobel Violet Hunt (1862-1942) was a British author, feminist, associate of the Pre-Raphaelites, and literary hostess. Closely linked with many of the literary notables of her age, she was the lover of the Anglo-German novelist Ford Madox Hueffer, who later changed his name to Ford Madox Ford and portrayed her as Sylvia Tietjens in his novel series Parade’s End. He collaborated with her on this book, which is a record of her impressions of time spent in Germany over 1911/12. ‘Joseph Leopold’, identified as her companion in the book, is Ford Madox Hueffer (his giveaway initials J.L.F.M.H. follow the footnote about poor children in cinemas). Heisses Blut (Germany 1911) starred the Danish actress Asta Nielsen. There were two German films entitled Das gefährliche Alter made in 1911. I have not been able to identify the ‘Bellringer’ film. Eyewitness accounts of cinemagoing at this period which refer to artificially coloured films are rare.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Facts about Birth of a Nation Play at the Colonial

Source: Mrs K.J. Bills, ‘Facts about Birth of a Nation Play at the Colonial’, The Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition), 11 September 1915, p. 3

Text: Facts about Birth of a Nation Play at the Colonial

One Who Has Seen and Knows About the Early Days the Author Tries to Falsely Depict Tells It Like It Was

I went to see the “Birth of a Nation” – not because I wanted to see it, but to be able to criticize intelligently. It is impossible to know what a play is unless one is an eye witness. I had heard so much said for and against the play I was determined to see for myself. There is nothing in the first part to which any reasonable person would object. It deals with historical facts which hold a person almost spellbound.

The second part – well, it is such an exaggeration that to a person who really knew and lived during that period it is not at all interesting. It is false from beginning to end. It is meant to create a greater race prejudice than already exists between the races. I shall mention some of the false impressions: Was there ever a congress composed entirely of Negroes who passed laws to govern all the whites in the South? Was there ever a time when the southern white people were at all as submissive to the blacks as this picture would have people believe? Does anyone believe that after the war the Negroes had no other ambition than to marry white women? Someone has said we as a race have enough hardships heaped upon us without creating a picture which actually lies. I wonder if Mr. Griffin [sic] lived during those days, and does he really remember things as they were.

The outrages of the Ku Klux were nothing like the picture shows them to be. There was no noise, no fast horseback riding, no clash between them and the Negroes. It is true they went around on horseback, but very quietly, like thieves. No one knew or heard any horses’ feet. I remember well when a small child the Ku Klux came to my father’s cabin. They knocked quietly, called him by name and made him open the door. Though they were masked, he knew their voices, for they were some of the gentlemen of his master’s family. They asked for his gun. He gave it to them. They left as quietly as they came. They went to every other Negro cabin and did the same thing. There was no resistance, no fighting.

The part showing the black man chasing the little girl, compelling her to jump off a high place and kill herself, is meant only to stir up hatred. Nothing of this kind has ever happened since the world was created. the Negro has never been so brutal. Why was not some of this brutality shown while their masters were at war? It was then the Negroes had full charge of their masters’ families. They protected them as no other person would have done.

I cannot understand why this was not cut out by the censors. They claim to be so very particular. No other race but this black American race would stand for the exhibition of pictures which are mean to poison the mind as this picture is. The Irish, German, Jewish, Polish, Swedish or any other race would have wrecked the Colonial theater long ago. No judge or censor bureau would have permitted it if it were showing any other race than the Negro.

Comments: Mrs K.J. Bills was a suffragist and an occasional contributor to The Chicago Defender, a newspaper for African-American readers. The Birth of a Nation (USA 1915), based on the novel and play The Clansman by Thomas Dixon, was a feature film set during the American Civil War and the period immediately after. It was first released in February 1915. Its inflammatory scenes of supposed African-American behaviour and its lionising of the Ku Klux Klan aroused great controversy even while the film gained great praise and attracted huge audiences. There was a strong campaign from members of the African-American community to have the film censored or banned, and screenings were halted in some cities, including Chicago (though only temporarily). The film’s director D.W. Griffith was born in 1875, years after the Civil War, but his father had served as a Confederate army colonel. The Colonial was a combined movie house and variety theatre. My thanks to Beth Corzo-Duchardt for having brought this piece to my attention.

Russia of To-day

Source: John Foster Fraser, Russia of To-day (London: Cassell, 1915), pp. 92-93

Text: One more experience: we must go to a kinema show. The “pictures” are just as popular in Petrograd as in London or New York or Sydney or Paris. We have difficulty in getting seats and we pay twice as much as we would in London. Of course there are the usual American films; the Transatlantic dramas are pronounced “Anglichani” by the Russians who fail to know the difference.

But the Russian likes strong meat. Merely amusing pictures leave him cold. There was a film of the career of “A Daughter of Joy” which would not have been passed by the Censor in England. There was a sad love drama. The Russians will not have a happy ending. They adore a mournful ending where the young lady has to marry the man she hates and the real lover cuts his throat with a razor at the marriage feast and writhes on the floor before he expires with the bride on her knees sobbing upon his breast. The Russian glories in murder in the “pictures.” He and she turns up his or her nose at the sentimental journeys-end-in-lovers-meeting sort of film which is popular in other countries. The manager of a film firm told me it was usual to have two endings, one gruesome for Russia and one happy for elsewhere.

Comments: John Foster Fraser (1868-1936) was a British travel writer and cyclist. ‘Russian endings’, in which Russian-produced films had tragic endings for the Russian market and happy endings for export, were common.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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:

“YOU OWE ME THREE WEEKS’ RENT.”

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?

“NO, JOHN, I CANNOT MARRY YOU. I MUST DEVOTE MY LIFE TO MY MUSIC.”

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 —

“SIR, I DO NOT KNOW YOU. LET ME PASS.”

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.

“NO, WE HAVE TOLD YOU BEFORE, WE HAVE NOTHING …”

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?

“I CANNOT TELL THEM OF MY FAILURE. IT WOULD BREAK THEIR …”

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!

“LET ME TAKE YOU IN HERE TO DINNER.”

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!

“I WOULD RATHER DIE THAN EAT IT.”

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 —

“NO, MR. MEADOWLARK, I AM SORRY, I HAVE STILL NO LETTER FOR YOU …”

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 —

“I CANNOT WRITE. IT WOULD BREAK THEIR …”

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 —

“I WILL FIND HER FOR YOU IF I HAVE TO SEARCH ALL NEW YORK.”

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 —?

“I WILL DIE RATHER THAN DANCE.”

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!

“IF YOU CANNOT PAY, YOU MUST LEAVE TO-NIGHT.”

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!

“HAVE YOU SEEN A GIRL IN NEW YORK?”

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

“NO, WE HAVE NOT.”

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? —

“GIVE US A HUNDRED APIECE AND WE’LL DO IT.”

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 —

“INSPECTOR FORDYCE, TAKE YOUR BIGGEST CAR AND TEN MEN. IF YOU OVERTAKE THEM, SHOOT AND SHOOT TO KILL.”

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?

“YES, JOHN, I HAVE LEARNED THAT I WAS WRONG TO PUT MY ART BEFORE YOUR LOVE. I WILL MARRY YOU AS SOON AS YOU LIKE.”

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.

“BULGARIAN TROOPS ON THE MARCH.”

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

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:

“YOU OWE ME THREE WEEKS’ RENT.”

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?

“NO, JOHN, I CANNOT MARRY YOU. I MUST DEVOTE MY LIFE TO MY MUSIC.”

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 —

“SIR, I DO NOT KNOW YOU. LET ME PASS.”

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.

“NO, WE HAVE TOLD YOU BEFORE, WE HAVE NOTHING …”

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?

“I CANNOT TELL THEM OF MY FAILURE. IT WOULD BREAK THEIR …”

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!

“LET ME TAKE YOU IN HERE TO DINNER.”

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!

“I WOULD RATHER DIE THAN EAT IT.”

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 —

“NO, MR. MEADOWLARK, I AM SORRY, I HAVE STILL NO LETTER FOR YOU …”

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 —

“I CANNOT WRITE. IT WOULD BREAK THEIR …”

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 —

“I WILL FIND HER FOR YOU IF I HAVE TO SEARCH ALL NEW YORK.”

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 —?

“I WILL DIE RATHER THAN DANCE.”

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!

“IF YOU CANNOT PAY, YOU MUST LEAVE TO-NIGHT.”

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!

“HAVE YOU SEEN A GIRL IN NEW YORK?”

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

“NO, WE HAVE NOT.”

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? —

“GIVE US A HUNDRED APIECE AND WE’LL DO IT.”

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 —

“INSPECTOR FORDYCE, TAKE YOUR BIGGEST CAR AND TEN MEN. IF YOU OVERTAKE THEM, SHOOT AND SHOOT TO KILL.”

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?

“YES, JOHN, I HAVE LEARNED THAT I WAS WRONG TO PUT MY ART BEFORE YOUR LOVE. I WILL MARRY YOU AS SOON AS YOU LIKE.”

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.

“BULGARIAN TROOPS ON THE MARCH.”

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

The Cinema Habit

Source: ‘The Cinema Habit’, Punch, vol. 146, 18 March 1914, p. 215

Text: The writer of “The Ideal Film Plot,” which appeared in a recent issue of Punch, has quoted an “authority” (anonymous) for the approval of his scenario. It is quite evident that this “authority” (so-styled) must belong to the plebeian ranks of the film-world. It cannot reside in our suburb.

Our cinema theatre is, I venture to state, of a far superior order, both as to drama and as to morality. It is not a mere lantern-hall, close and stuffy, with twopenny and fourpenny seats (half-price to children, and tea provided free at matinée performances), but a white-and-gold Picturedrome, catering to an exclusive class of patrons at sixpence and a shilling, with neat attendants in dove-grey who atomise scent about the aisles, two palms, one at each side of the proscenium (real palms), and, in addition to a piano, a mustel organ to accompany the pathetic passages in the films. Moreover, the commissionaire outside, whose medals prove that he has seen service in the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Black Hole of Calcutta, and the Great Raid on the House of Commons in 1910, is not one of those blatant-voiced showmen who clamour for patronage; he is a quiet and dignified réceptionnaire, content to rely on the fame and good repute of his theatre. Sometimes evening dress (from “The Laburnums,” Meadowsweet Avenue, who are on the Stock Exchange) is to be seen in the more expensive seats.

It is unquestionably a high-class Picturedrome. True that the local dentist, who is a stickler for correct English, protests against the designation. I have pointed out to him that if a “Hippodrome” is a place where one sees performing hippos, then surely a place where one sees performing pictures is correctly styled a “Picturedrome.”

I am acquiring the cinema habit.

It is very restful. Each film is preceded on the screen by a certificate showing that its morality has been guaranteed by Mr. REDFORD. I have complete confidence in Mr. REDFORD’S sense of propriety. If, for instance, a bedroom scene is shown and a lady is about to change her gown, one’s advance blushes are needless. That film will be arrested at the loosing of the first hook or button. Virtue will always be plainly triumphant and vice as plainly vanquished. Even the minor imperfections of character will be suitably punished. When on the screen we see Daisy, the flighty college girl, borrowing without permission her friend’s hat, gown, shoes, necklace and curls in order to make a fascinating display before her young college man, it is certain that she will be publicly shamed by her friends and discredited in the eyes of her lover whose affections she seeks to win in this unmoral fashion.

On the screen we shall be sure to meet many old friends. The young American society nuts, in square-rigged coats, spacious trousers, and knobbly shoes, will buzz around the pretty girl like flies around a honey-pot, clamouring for the privilege of presenting her with a twenty-dollar bouquet of American Beauty roses. The bouquet she accepts will be the hero’s; and the other nuts will then group themselves in the background while she registers a glad but demure smile full in the eye of the camera.

The hero, however, loses his paternal expectations in the maelstrom of Wall Street. Throwing off his coat – literally, because at the cinema we are left in no doubt as to intentions – he resolves to go “out West” and retrieve the family fortunes.

Our old friends the cow-boys meet him at the wooden shack which represents the railway station at Waybackville, registering great glee at the prospect of hazing a tenderfoot. We know full well that he will eventually win their respect and high regard – probably by foiling a dastardly plot on the part of a Mexican half-breed – and we are therefore in no anxiety of mind when they raise the dust around his feet with their six-shooters, toss him in a blanket or entice him on to a meek-looking, but in reality record-busting, broncho.

In the middle of the drama we look forward to the “chases,” and we are never disappointed. Our pursued hero, attired in the picturesque bandarilleros of shaggy mohair and the open-throated shirterino of the West, will race through the tangled thickets of the picadoro-trees; thunder down the crumbling banks of amontillados so steep that the camera probably gets a crick in the neck looking up at him; ride the foaming torrent with one hand clasping the mane of his now tamed broncho, and the other hand triggering his shooting-iron; and eventually fall exhausted from the horse at the very doorstep of the ranch, one arm, pinged by a dastardly rifle-bullet, dangling helplessly by his side. (It is, by the way, always the arm or shoulder; the cinema never allows him to get it distressingly in the leg or in the neck.)

In the ultimate, with the wounded arm in a sling, he will tenderly embrace the heroine through a hundred feet of film, she meanwhile registering great joy and trustfulness, until the scene slowly darkens into blackness, and the screen suddenly announces that the next item on the programme will be No. 7, Exclusive to the Picturedrome.

We are greatly favoured with “exclusives.” It may be possible that other suburbs have these films, but it must be second-hand, after we have finished with them. The names of the artistes who create the róles are announced on the screen: “Captain Jack Reckles – Mr. Courcy van Highball,” or it maybe “Juliet, Miss Mamie Euffles.” Or it is a film taken at the local regatta or athletic sports, and the actors in it include all the notabilities of the district. We flock to see how we (or our neighbours) look on the screen, and enjoy a hearty laugh when the scullers of “The Laburnums” register a crab full in the eye of the camera, or “The Oleanders” canoe receives a plenteous backwash from a river-steamer.

But the staple fare is drama – red-blooded drama, where one is never in doubt as to who is in love with whom, and how much. Sometimes, to be frank, there is a passing flirtation, due to pique, between a wife and a third party, leading to misunderstandings, complications and blank despair on the part of the husband; but as there is always a “little one” somewhere in the background, we are never anxious as to the final outcome. It will end with the husband embracing the repentant (but stainless) wife, and at the same time extending a manly hand of reconciliation to the third party.

We also like the dying fiddler (with visions) and the motor-car splurges – especially the latter. In our daily life we are plagued with motor-cars, cycle-cars and motor-cycle side-cars, being on a highroad from London town to the country; but on the screen we adore them.

The cinema is very restful. There are no problems to vex the moral judgment; no psychological doubts; no anxieties. It will be “the mixture as before,” ending in the loving, lingering kiss.

Say what you will of Mr. REDFORD, he never deprives us of the kiss.

Comments: Punch was a British humorous magazine which frequently poked fun at the cinema and its audiences. George Redford was head of the British Board of Film Censors.

Links: Copy at Project Gutenberg

The Cinema

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a remarkable production for a young child.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment: The Cinema: Its Present Position and Future Possibilities (1917) is a report and summary of evidence taken by the Cinema Commission Inquiry, instituted by the National Council of Public Morals. This remarkable sequence features evidence from Commission member Dr. Charles William Kimmins, Chief Inspector under the Education Committee of the London County Council (his son Anthony Kimmins became an actor and film director). He had 6,701 children of different ages from 25 London schools each write an account of ‘the moving picture they liked most of all those they had seen in the cinema’. They had 15 minutes in which to do so, with no preparatory discussion. These extracts from the essays (the originals appear to be lost) form a precious and substantial body of evidence from children themselves about what they thought of films they had seen. Some of noteworthy points are the detailed recollection of artificial colour effects, the role of music in shaping memories of a film, the memory of film titles themselves, and the variety of films (fiction and non-fiction) that made a particular impression on their memories.

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

Links:
Copy on Internet Archive

Some Picture Show Audiences

spectators

‘They were permitted to drink deep of oblivion of all the trouble of the world’. The illustration by Wladyslaw T. Benda (and its caption) accompanied Mary Heaton Vorse’s original article for Outlook magazine

Source: Mary Heaton Vorse, ‘Some Picture Show Audiences’, Outlook 98, 24 June 1911, pp. 441-447

Text: One rainy night in a little Tuscan town I went to a moving-picture show. It was market-day; the little hall was full of men in their great Italian cloaks. They had come in from small isolated hamlets, from tiny fortified towns perched on the tops of distant hills to which no road led, but only a salita. I remembered that there was in the evening’s entertainment a balloon race, and a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and a mad comic piece that included a rush with a baby-carriage through the boulevards of Paris; and there was a drama, ‘The Vendetta,’ which had for its background the beautiful olive terraces of Italy.

I had gone, as they had, to see pictures, but in the end I saw only them, because it seemed to me that what had happened was a latter-day miracle. By an ingenious invention all the wonderful things that happened in the diverse world outside their simple lives could come to them. They had no pictures or papers; few of them could read; and yet they sat there at home and watching the inflating of great balloons and saw them rise and soar and go away into the blue, and watched again the strange Oriental crowd walking through the holy streets of Jerusalem. It is hard to understand what a sudden widening of their horizon that meant for them. It is the door of escape, for a few cents, from the realities of life.

It is drama, and it is travel, and it is even beauty, all in one. A wonderful things it is, and to know how wonderful I suppose you must be poor and have in your life no books and no pictures and no means of travel or seeing beautiful places, and almost no amusements of any kind; perhaps your only door of escape or only means of forgetfulness more drink that is good for you. Then you will know what a moving-picture show really means, although you will probably not be able to put it into words.

We talk a good deal about the censorship of picture shows, and pass city ordinances to keep the young from being corrupted by them: and this is all very well, because a great amusement of the people ought to be kept clean and sweet; but at the same time this discussion has left a sort of feeling in the minds of people who do not need to go to the picture show that it is a doubtful sort of a place, where young girls and mean scrape undesirable acquaintances, and where the prowler lies in wait for the unwary, and where suggestive films of crime and passion are invariably displayed. But I think that this is an unjust idea, and that any one who will take the trouble to amuse himself with the picture show audiences for an afternoon or two will see why it is that the making of films has become a great industry, why it is that the picture show has driven out the vaudeville and the melodrama.

You cannot go to any one of the picture shows in New York without having a series of touching little adventures with the people who sit near you, without overhearing chance words of a naiveté and appreciation that make you bless the living picture book that has brought so much into the lives of the people who work.

Houston Street, on the East Side, of an afternoon is always more crowded than Broadway. Push=carts line the street. The faces that you see are almost all Jewish – Jews of many types; swarthy little men, most of them, looking under-sized according to the Anglo-Saxon standard. Here and there a deep-chested mother of Israel sails along, majestic in shietel and shawl. These are the toilers – garment-makers, a great many of them – people who work ‘by pants,’ as they say. A long and terrible workday they have to keep body and soul together. Their distractions are the streets, and the bargaining off the push-carts, and the show. For a continual trickle of people of people detaches itself from the crowded streets and goes into the good-sized hall; and around the entrance too, wait little boys – eager-eyed little boys – with their tickets in their hands, trying to decoy those who enter into taking them in with them as guardians, because the city ordinances do not allow a child under sixteen to go in unaccompanied by an older person.

In the half-light the faces of the audience detach themselves into little pallid ovals, and, as you will always find in the city, it is an audience largely composed of men.

Behind us sat a woman with her escort. So rapt and entranced was she with what was happening on the stage that her voice accompanied all that happened – a little unconscious and lilting obbligato. It was the voice of a person unconscious that she spoke – speaking from the depths of emotion; a low voice, but perfectly clear, and the unconsciously spoken words dropped with the sweetness of running water. She spoke in German. One would judge her to be from Austria. She herself was lovely in person and young, level-browed and clear-eyed: a beneficent and lovely woman one guessed her to be. And she had never seen Indians before; perhaps never heard of them.

The drama being enacted was the rescue from the bear pit of Yellow Wing, the lovely Indian Maiden, by Dick the Trapper; his capture by the tribe, his escape with the connivance of Yellow Wing, who goes to warn him in his log house, their siege by the Indians, and final rescue by a splendid charge of the United States cavalry; these one saw riding with splendid abandon over hill and dale, and the marriage then and there of Yellow Wing and Dick by the gallant chaplain. A guileless and sentimental dime novel, most ingeniously performed; a work of art; beautiful, too, because one had glimpses of stately forests, sunlight sifting through leaves, wild, dancing forms of Indians, the beautiful swift rushing of horses. One must have had a heart of stone not to follow the adventures of Yellow Wing and Dick the Trapper with passionate interest.

But to the woman behind it was reality at its highest. She was there in a fabled country full of painted savages. The rapidly unfolding drama was to her no make-believe arrangement ingeniously fitted together by actors and picture-makers. It had happened; it was happening for her now.

‘Oh!’ she murmured. ‘That wild and terrible people! Oh boy, take care, take care! Those wild and awful people will egt you!’ ‘Das wildes und grausames Volk,’ she called them. ‘Now – now – she comes to save her beloved!’ This as Yellow Wing hears the chief plotting an attack on Dick the Trapper, and flies fleet-foot through the forest. ‘Surely, surely, she will save her beloved!’ It was almost a prayer; in the woman’s simple mind there was no foregone conclusion of a happy ending. She saw no step ahead, since she lived in the present moment so intensely.

When Yellow Wing and Dick were besieged within and Dick’s hand was wounded –

‘The poor child! how can she bear it? To see the geliebte wounded before one’s very eyes!’

And when the cavalry thundered through the forest –

‘God give that they arrive swiftly – to be in time they must arrive swiftly!’ she exclaimed to herself.

Outside the iron city roared: before the door of the show the push-cart vendors bargained and trafficked with customers. Who is the audience remembered it? They had found the door of escape. For the moment they were in the depths of the forest following the loves of Yellow Wing and Dick. The woman’s voice, so like the voice of a spirit talking to itself, unconscious of time and place, was their voice. There they were; a strange company of aliens – Jews, almost all; haggard and battered and bearded men, young girls with their beaus, spruce and dapper youngsters beginning to make their way. In that humble playhouse one ran the gamut of the East Side. The American-born sat next to the emigrant who arrived but a week before. A strange and romantic people cast into the welter of the terrible city of New York, each of them with the overwhelming problem of battling with strange conditions and an alien civilization. And for the moment they were permitted to drink deep of oblivion of all the trouble in the world. Life holds some compensation, after all. The keener your intellectual capacity, the higher your artistic sensibilities are developed, just so much more difficult is it to find this total forgetfulness – a thing that for the spirit is a life-giving as sleep.

And all through the afternoon and evening this company of tired workers, overburdened men and women, fills the little halls scattered throughout the city and throughout the land.

There are motion-picture shows in New York that are as intensely local to the audience as to the audience of a Tuscan hill town. Down on Bleecker Street is the Church of Our Lady of Pompeii. Here women, on their way to work or to their brief marketing, drop in to say their prayers before their favourite saints in exactly the same fashion as though it were a little church in their own parish. Towards evening women with their brood of children go in: the children frolic and play subdued tag in the aisles, for church with them is an every-day affair, not a starched-up matter of Sunday only. Then, prayers finished, you may see a mother sorting out her own babies and moving on serenely to the picture show down the road – prayers first and amusement afterwards, after the good old Latin fashion.

It is on Saturday nights down here that the picture show reaches its high moment. The whole neighborhood seems to be waiting for a chance to go in. Every woman has a baby in her arms and at least two children clinging to her skirts. Indeed, so universal is this custom that a woman who goes there unaccompanied by a baby feels out of place, as if she were not properly dressed. A baby seems as much a matter-of-course adjunct to one’s toilet on Bleecker Street as a picture hat would be on Broadway.

every one seems to know everyone else. As a new woman joins the throng other women cry out to her, gayly:

‘Ah, good-evening, Concetta. How is Giuseppe’s tooth?’

‘Through at last,’ she answers. ‘And where are your twins?’

The first woman makes a gesture indicating that they are somewhere swallowed up in the crowd.

This talk all goes on in good north Italian, for the people on Bleecker Street are the Tuscan colony. There are many from Venice also, and from Milan and from Genoa. The South Italian lives on the East Side.

Then, as the crowd becomes denser, as the moment for the show approaches, they sway together, pushed on by those on the outskirts of the crowd. And yet everyone is good-tempered. It is –

‘Not so hard there, boy!’

‘Mind for the baby!’

‘Look out!’

Though indeed it doesn’t seem any place for a baby at all, and much less so for the youngsters who aren’t in their mothers’ arms but are perilously engulfed in the swaying mass of people. But the situation is saved by Latin good temper and the fact that every one is out for a holiday.

By the time one has stood in this crowd twenty minutes and talked with the women and babies, one had made friends, given an account of oneself, told how it was one happened to speak a little Italian, and where it was in Italy one had lived, for all the world as one gives an account of one’s self when travelling through Italian hamlets. One answers the questions that Italian women love to ask:

‘Are you married?’

‘Have you children?’

‘Then why aren’t they at the picture show with you?’

This audience was an amused, and an amusing audience, ready to laugh, ready to applaud. The young man next me had an ethical point of view. He was a serious, dark-haired fellow, and took his moving pictures seriously. He and his companion argued the case of the cowboy who stole because of his sick wife.

‘He shouldn’t have done it,’ he maintained.

‘His wife was dying, poveretta,’ his companion defended.

‘His wife was a nice girl,” said the serious young man. ‘You saw for yourself how nice a girl. One has but to look at her to see how good she is.’ He spoke as though of a real person he had met. ‘She would rather have died than have her husband disgrace himself.’

‘It turned out happily; through the theft she found her father again. He wasn’t even arrested.’

‘It makes no difference,’ said the serious youth; ‘he had luck, that is all. He shouldn’t have stolen. When she knows about it, it will break her heart.’

Ethics were his strong point, evidently. He had something to say again about the old man who, in the Franco-Prussian War, shot a soldier and allowed a young man to suffer the death penalty in his stead. It was true that the old man’s son had been shot and that there was no one else to care for the little grandson, and, while the critic admitted that that made a difference, he didn’t like the idea. The dramas appealed to him from a philosophical standpoint; one gathered that he and his companion might pass an evening discussing whether, when a man is a soldier, and therefore pledged to fight for his country, he has a right to give up his life to save that of an old man, even though he is the guardian of a child.

Throughout the whole show, throughout the discussion going on beside me, there was one face that I turned to again and again. It was that of an eager little girl of ten or eleven, whose lovely profile stood out in violent relief from the dingy wall. So rapt was she, so spellbound, that she couldn’t laugh, couldn’t clap her hands with the others. She was in a state of emotion beyond any outward manifestation of it.

In the Bowery you get a different kind of audience. None of your neighborhood spirit here. Even in what is called, the ‘dago show’ – that is, the show where the occasional vaudeville numbers are Italian singers — the people seem chance-met; the audience is almost entirely composed of men, only an occasional woman.

It was here that I met the moving-picture show expert, the connoisseur, for he told me that he went to a moving-picture show every night. It was the best way that he knew of spending your evenings in New York, and one gathered that he had early twenties, with a tough and honest countenance, and he spoke the dialect of the city of New York with greater richness than I have ever heard it spoken. He was ashamed of being caught by a compatriot in a ‘dago show.’

‘Say,’ he said, ‘dis is a bum joint. I don’t know how I come to toin in here. You don’t un’erstan’ what that skoit’s singin’, do you? You betcher I don’t!’

Not for worlds would he have understood a word of the inferior Italian tongue.

“I don’t never come to dago moving-picter shows,’ he hastened to assure me. ‘Say, if youse wanter see a real show, beat it down to Grand Street. Dat’s de real t’ing. Dese dago shows ain’t got no good films. You hardly ever see a travel film; w’en I goes to a show, I likes to see the woild. I’d like travelin’ if I could afford it, but I can’t; that’s why I like a good travel film. A good comic’s all right, but a good travel film or an a’rioplane race or a battle-ship review — dat’s de real t’ing ! You don’t get none here. I don’t know what made me come here,’ he repeated. He was sincerely displeased with himself at being caught with the goods by his compatriots in a place that had no class, and the only way he could defend himself was by showing his fine scorn of the inferior race.

You see what it means to them; it means Opportunity — a chance to glimpse the beautiful and strange things in the world that you haven’t in your life; the gratification of the higher side of your nature ; opportunity which, except for the big moving picture book, would be forever closed to you. You understand still more how much it means opportunity if you happen to live in a little country place where the whole town goes to every change of films and where the new films are gravely discussed. Down here it is that you find the people who agree with my friend of the Bowery — that ‘travel films is de real t’ing.’ For those people who would like to travel they make films of pilgrims going to Mecca; films of the great religious processions in the holy city of Jerusalem; of walrus fights in the far North. It has even gone so far that in Melilla there was an order for the troops to start out; they sprang to their places, trumpets blew, and the men fell into line and marched off — all for the moving-picture show. They were angry — the troops — but the people in Spain saw how their
armies acted.

In all the countries of the earth — in Sicily, and out in the desert of Arizona, and in the deep woods of America, and on the olive terraces of Italy — they are making more films, inventing new dramas with new and beautiful backgrounds, for the poor man’s theater. In his own little town, in some far-off fishing village, he can sit and see the coronation, and the burial of a king, or the great pageant of the Roman Church.

It is no wonder that it is a great business with a capitalization of millions of dollars, since it gives to the people whoneed it most laughter and drama and beauty and a chance for once to look at the strange places of the earth.

Comment: Mary Heaton Vorse (1874-1966) was a left-wing American journalist and novelist, deeply committed to issues of social justice. Bleecker Street is in Manhattan, within the Greenwich Village area.