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).

New York

Source: Paul Morand (trans. Hamish Miles), New York (London: William Heinemann, 1931 [orig. pub. 1930]), pp. 198-199

Text: As for the Roxy, that surpasses the impossible. Find a way through those dense crowds queued up there all day long; pass the tall gold-laced ushers, at once door-keepers and custodians of order; enter this Temple of Solomon. The overheated air is unbreathable, the din of the mechanical orchestra, which one failure in the electricity could bring to a standstill, is merciless; amid palm-trees and gigantic ferns one moves forward into the Mexican palace of some Spanish governor whom the tropics have turned stark mad. The walls are of a reddish rough-cast, treated with a liquid to give a semblance of age, and the brazen doors of the Ark of the Covenant open into a hall with golden cupolas, in old style, and a ceiling with storied panels. Satan has hung this disused sanctuary with scarlet velvet; a nightmare light falls from bowls of imitation alabaster, from yellow glass lanterns, from branching ritual candlesticks; the organ-pipes, lit from beneath by greenish lights, make one think of a cathedral under the waves, and in the wall are niches awaiting sinful bishops. I find a seat in a deep, soft fauteuil, from which for two hours I witness giant kisses on mouths like the crevasses of the Grand Canyon, embraces of titans, a whole propaganda of the flesh which maddens, without satisfying, these violent American temperaments. It is more than a Black Mass; it is a profanation of everything – of music, of art, of love, of colours. I vow I had there a complete vision of the end of the world. I saw Broadway suddenly as one vast Roxy, one of those unsubstantial treasures, one of those joy-baited traps, one of those fleeting and illusory gifts won by the spells of wicked magicians.

Comments: Paul Morand (1888-1976) was a French author and intellectual. He made trips to New York between 1925-1929, resulting in his travel book New York, published in French in 1930. The Roxy Theatre was located at 7th Avenue and 50th Street, off Times Square in New York City. It seated 5,920 (originally 6,200), and opened on 11 March 1927. It was named after its manager, the cinema impresario Samuel L. ‘Roxy’ Rothafel.

The Missionary Film

Source: Winifred Holtby, extract from ‘The Missionary Film’, Truth is not Sober (London: W. Collins Sons & Co., 1934), pp. 108-110

Text: In the market place the cinema beckoned to him, flaring with joyous light, festooned with small electric bulbs like jewels, emerald green and ruby stars. Such stars, though Mr. Grant, set all the Sons of God shouting for joy.

He paid eightpence and went in.

The honest friendly darkness engulfed him, but against the flickering pallor of the screen he saw the clear outline of Mrs. Fitton’s Sunday hat. He liked Mrs. Fitton; he liked the rural English audience; the scent of warm humanity and muddy boots reminded him of Sunday school treats in his childhood. The orchestra, a local pianist, and a girl playing the violin, broke out into Mendelssohn’s “Spring Song.” Bending to light his pipe, Mr. Grant missed the first title of the film. Head read only “… missionary propaganda, but rather education in its broadest sense.” He felt a twinge of disappointment, for he did not want to be educated. Above all, he did not want to be reminded of a man who had once been a missionary educationalist. He wanted to see Harold Lloyd or Tom Mix.

“The first sight of land which thrills the heart of the traveller,” he read with faint distaste. What trash about travellers. The best thing about travel was the last mile on the way home. He wanted to see Charlie Chaplin; but he saw instead a line of flat-topped hills, mottled about their base with little houses, and towering starkly over a placid sea.

He sat up rigidly, frowning.

“Adderley Street,” danced the caption. “the gateway to a continent.” Tall buildings, faint against the sunlight; dark trees tossing in a dusty wind; bearded farmers in knee breeches; Indian schoolgirls with prim plaits of hair hanging down muslin dresses; a market-gardener swinging baskets of melons and yams; pretty typists in sleeveless summer frocks; here they came. Then a couple swaggered down the road, the wind flapping in their ragged coats and wide trousers. They carried canes, and wore handkerchiefs in their breast pockets. Their black faces grinned, growing larger and larger until they filled the screen, blotting out towers and trams and all the paraphernalia of the European.

Click! They had gone. The orchestra began to play Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody. A train started up from the veldt like a frightened snake and slid out of the picture. An ox-wagon lumbered between the scorching hills and twisted thorn bushes. A naked boy with a round, gleaming belly ran ahead of the beats. Mr. Grant could hear the creak of the leather and the grinding of heavy wheels on the dry red soil.

A group of women stooped beside the spruit washing sweet potatoes. Their white bead anklets clanked as they moved. Water dripped from black wrists and flat pink palms. One carried on her head a blanket in which two fowls roosted cackling.

Mr. Grant’s pipe had gone out. He sat clutching the plush arm rest of his eightpenny chair. The sweat round his lips tasted salt and cold …

Comments: Winifred Holtby (1898-1935) was a British novelist, journalist and political campaigner. This extract is from a collection of her short stories. The story is about a man who had previously served on a mission who sees a promotional film in a British cinema about South Africa, and is reminded of how he was forced to leave because of his sympathy for the black South Africans. At the end of the story he decides to return to South Africa to pursue what he believes in. Adderley Street is in Cape Town.

The Diorama

Plan and exterior of the Diorama in Park Square, Regent’s Park, from Pugin and Britton, Illustrations of the Public Buildings of London vol. 1 (second edition, 1838)

Source: ‘The Diorama’, The Morning Post, 29 September 1823, p. 3

Text: The Exhibition under the above name, which we announced to the public a few days ago, was on Saturday submitted to private inspection, previous to it being thrown open to the public this day. The immense building which has been erected for the purpose, is situated in the Regent’s Park, directly opposite the eastern side of Portland Crescent, and close to the Riding School. its magnitude may be judged of from the fact that the mere walls were raised at an expense of 8000l. The interior is also fitted up in a most costly and tasteful style. The saloon, from which the exhibition is viewed, is circular, and splendidly hung with crimson cloth, while the ceiling is formed by a transparency of elegant device, representing medallion heads of the greatest masters in painting. the accommodations for the public are in a style befitting the superior arrangements and construction of the whole.

With regard to the exhibition itself, we think it better for two reasons, to abstain from any attempt at explaining the means by which its effect is produced. In the first place it might be prejudicial to the amazing interest with which every person must be struck who sees it; and secondly, the perfect novelty of the thing, and the extraordinary power by which it operates, almost makes us despair of giving an intelligible or a credible account of the little which a first visit has enabled us to ascertain. All we shall do, therefore, will be to describe the effect which a visitor beholds on entering the saloon. he sees before him a magnificent landscape, out into which nothing seems to prevent his walking but the benches occupied by lovely forms, whom his politeness will not permit him to disturb. this is the Valley of Sarnen, in Switzerland, perhaps the most enchanting specimen of all that is beautiful in natural scenery, that can be found even in that romantic country. In the foreground he will see a little rivulet rising and bubbling down its tiny precipice with all the animation of nature. Close behind it he sees a house, which wears the very air of invitation and hospitality. Then spreads out an expanse of country, decorated with every variety of rural charms. in its ample bosom rests a soft blue lake, and the distance is filled by mountains rearing their snow-crowned heads, and shining in all the diademic splendour which is conferred upon them by the sun’s rays. Suddenly, however, the beholder finds the brightness of the scene giving way to the approach of gloom. The hills lose their brightness, and the transparent blue of the tranquil lake is defaced by the reflection of the darkening clouds. A threatened storm passes off with all its fury to one of the mountaintops, and the beauty of nature is again vindicated by the restoration of her smiles and gladness. Having exhausted his admiration upon this magical delusion, he perceives that he, and all his fellow gazers, if they amount to three hundred, are receding from the view; and in a few seconds he finds himself looking up the nave of Trinity Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral. Here his wonder will be taxed to a still higher point; and he must hold fast of the impossibility with all his might, or he will conclude that some of the things which he sees before him are real and not imitative. We, of course, need not add, that the whole is pictorial illusion. It is altogether an exhibition unprecedented in its magnitude, and, in our opinion, far surpassing every thing of its kind in beauty. The Paintings rank high as works of art, independent of the astonishing interest they receive from this stupendous machine. We have been informed that above 12,000l. have been expended on the establishment previous to its opening. The price of admission appears at first sight to be high; but without considering the enormous expense to which we have alluded, we are sure that no one will think the money too much, after he has paid it. in short, the Diorama is an exhibition which every body must see.

Comments: The Diorama was the invention of Louis Daguerre, later one of the inventors of photography. The diorama was a visual spectacle presented in an elaborate theatre, able to accommodate around 350 people. The audience would viewed a large-scale landscape painting on a screen 70ftx45ft whose appearance would alter through the manipulation of lighting and scenic effects. A turntable would then rotate the audience around to view a second painting. The Diorama premiered in Paris in 1822, and opened in London at Regent’s Park on 29 September 1823 in a venue designed by Augustus Pugin (father of the architect of the same name). Daguerre himself was one of the artists who produced the paintings. The Diorama was a considerable popular success, and was followed by a number of imitator attractions. It was opened from 10am until dusk. The show lasted around 15 minutes. The prices of admission were 3 shillings (for seats in boxes), 2 shillings (standing in the ampitheatre), children aged under 12 half-price.

Links:
The Morning Post (British Newspaper Archive, subscription site)
R. Derek Wood, The Diorama in Great Britain in the 1820s (1993)

With the Picture Fans

Source: W.W. Winters, ‘With the Picture Fans’, The Nickeodeon, 1 September 1910, pp. 123-124

Text: Come on, girls, let’s go to the show. You get the tickets, Gertie. Of course, it’s Dutch treat, you know. Here’s mine.” There immediately begins an animated search among powder rags, trinkets, and sundry other articles held in a girl’s pocketbook, for the little purse with her small change. Result! “Heavens. Has everybody put all they have in? Yes? And only two dollars and sixty-nine cents. Mercy! Let’s see, one, two, three, four, five. Five of us can’t go anywhere on that. No, we went to Chase’s yesterday, so there are two of us who don’t want to go there. What? Of course, I won’t go in the gallery! Horrors ! I’m surprised at you, Clara. Oh! come on, then, and for mercy’s sake quit fighting about it here.”

Answer to the riddle. Twenty minutes later Five girls, with as many bundles, containing candy, etc., are sitting giggling in one of the city’s foremost nicolettes. Happiness!

* * *

“Do you know, Mrs. Jones, I do get too petered out shopping for any use, I do, indeed.” Mrs. Jones, looking a little done up herself, sympathizes with her. “And do you know, Mrs. Jones, it do beat all how hard it is these days to find a bargain. Oh! there goes that Mrs. Brown. ‘Pon my word, I don’t know where she gets the money she spends on her clothes. And Mr. Jones says her husband ain’t doing nothing worth talking of. Don’t tell me some women ain’t worthless. But Lord! you never can tell; there’s that dear Mrs. Smith, and you do know that her husband is acting scand’lus. What? You didn’t? Why it do beat all, but you know they say he has been running around with some little hussy that dyes her hair and — and, mercy, it’s an outrage, but I never do talk scandal, so you will have to find out — now, I wonder! Mrs. Jones, let’s take in this here show. Never been in one? Well, come on in now, I’ll pay, and I’ve got some candy that I promised Johnnie I would get him, but he’ll never know if we eat some, come on.” Exit Mrs. Jones and her talkative friend through the entrance of one of the five-cent theaters.

* * *

“Two o’clock. H-m-m-m, threequarters of an hour before I can see that man. Why didn’t I make it earlier. Great Scott, what a noise those places do make. Wonder what they’re like. H-m-m-m, 40 minutes. I reckon I’ll take a chance.” The next minute the gentleman disappears into a nicolodeon [sic], with a rather sheepish look.

When one says five-cent theater the first thought is that they are for the poorer people, those who cannot afford even to pay 50 cents for a seat in the “peanut” at one of the other theaters. But is this so? To a certain extent, yes; but only to a certain extent. No matter what time you take to visit these theaters you are sure to find among the motley throng some who are of your station almost, no matter what that station may be. You can, for instance, see plenty of Chinamen there, but whether or not — and from the immobile expression I should say not — they are enjoying it can only be a conjecture. And right here it can be said, and with praise, that one set that they appeal to is the soldier from the fort, the marine barracks, and, in fact, anywhere he comes from. This is in itself a fact that is worthy of praise, for if the soldier can secure an evening’s enjoyment by going to those places, and, at the same time, not spend more than he thinks right, they have filled a vacancy long felt in cities adjoining posts. Then, too, there are the children. They can surely find no more harmless amusement, and few less expensive. And last, but not by any means least, are the men and women who drop in for a while to be amused, or to fill up a spare moment, or even out of courtesy. This only brings us to the cleanness of the performance. It can be truly said that, as a general rule, there is nothing to offend the most fastidious. Taken as a whole, they present amusements that are good, bad, and — worse, the pictures of which the same may be said at times, but which are at least clean. This, too, is a fact worthy of praise, and more — of continuance.

* * *

How different it must seem to a man or woman who has not visited the city for, say, five years — nay, even less — to come here, and in the evening stroll down the avenues and streets. To see tall buildings outlined with lights, huge doorways filled with lighted figures, brilliant paintings, and the ever-present phonograph. But to see the outlay of lights and noise and color is to go back to the Midway at a fair; and consequently we wander past the girl at the window, depositing at the same time a coin, carelessly and as if by chance, on the counter, take up our ticket, and slip inside. It depends entirely upon where this sudden idea takes you what the inside will be like. No two are the least alike, and it must be said that they all show a certain amount of beauty. It is well to say a certain amount, for not wanting to knock them, there is nevertheless a certain incongruity about some of them in the manner in which they have mixed ideas. In other words, you can from the “trimmings” imagine it was done after any of a dozen styles of architecture. But this is a side issue. You go there to see moving pictures and vaudeville acts, and not to comment upon the wall decorations. You go there for amusement. And you can surely get it. No matter how crude the acting, or how far fetched the pictures, there is always sure to be some one who thinks they are “perfectly lovely,” and so amusement is assured. For if you cannot enjoy the performance it is pretty safe to say it is because you have been used to better acting, etc., but unless you are an absolute pessimist you cannot fail to be amused by those around you who do enjoy it.

* * *

One of the most noticeable habits of the patrons of those theaters is that of reading out loud what is flashed upon the screen. “The Capture of the Outlaws.” Ah-h-h-h-h. Everybody sits up and “takes notice.” “Love Triumphant.” Another long-drawn-out “Ah-h-h-h!” and some more notice. Then comes an act a la vaudeville. Somebody in the exurberance of their spirits yells “Get the hook!” whether or not the act is bad, whereat everybody laughs. There are times when the whole audience is so pleased with itself and everybody else that let any one accidentally, quite accidentally, sneeze, why, the whole house re-echoes with laughter. Have you ever noticed some old party who is so absorbed in the thing going on before him that he unconsciously makes remarks to nobody in particular, and seen how everybody around is generally tolerant, generally, be it said, and will nudge one another, and smile, and bob their heads in his direction. Ever seen it? Ever done it? Ever been it? Isn’t it nearly always a good-natured crowd? Doesn’t your heart warm within you and you feel like patting some small boy on the head, a small boy, be it said, that at any other time you would push out of your way? Somehow you all enter into the spirit of the thing. Armed with a few stray nickels, a bag of peanuts, a good supply of patience and good humor, and oh! what a time we did have! You all know that line from Kipling, “The colonel’s lady and Judy O’Grady are sisters under the skin.” Isn’t it so? Don’t you slip away from yourself, lose your reticence, reserve, pride, and a few other things? Don’t you even forgive the fat old gentleman who, when he passed you, stepped on your co—-? Aren’t you most willing to do that? And why? Here’s where I retreat and let you puzzle it out.

* * *

And when you come out, this is particularly so of a Saturday night, you wander up and down and find yourself brushing shoulders with goodness knows who. And then you go to speak to your friend, he was right by your side a second ago. You turn. “Oh! do let’s take in that one — Oh ! Oh-h-h-h! I be-eg your pardon. Oh! there you are. Mercy, that was a perfectly strange man.” There you are! The man took off his hat and went his way and forgot you. But there is something in the air, a something caused by the bright lights, and a great deal of squeeky noises issuing forth from each recess you pass, that gets into your bones, and you all lock arms, everybody in your crowd, and swing down the street, happy and care free, and proceed to take in every five-cent theater that so much as displays a little tweeny light — and then wish for more. And, of course, it is understood that you had not only no idea of ever going in the “cheap” places, but, when you were finally inveigled in, that you could go once, but never again. But what’s the use? Why not submit gracefully and admit that the five-cent theaters have a place all their own and that, after all, you are going again. By Jove! So there!

Comments: ‘Nickelodeon’ was a name given to early American film theatres, which appeared in cities from around 1905 onwards, where seats were commonly priced at five cents (a nickel).

Links: Copy at the Internet Archive

Mass-Observation at the Movies

Source: John W. Woodhead, quoted in Jeffrey Richards and Dorothy Sheridan (eds.), Mass-Observation at the Movies (London/New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), p. 80

Text: John W. Woodhead, 37 Stanley Rd (aged 18), regular cinema-goer (6 times amonth), preference – American films.

Comments. First of all I should like to thank the Films for the many entertaining hours I have spent watching them. I sincerely hope that the high rate of entertainment which has been raised in present-day Films will be maintained. Also, a word of praise for modern cinemas – their luxurious interiors certainly increase one’s enjoyment of a show. But must we have:-

1 Worn-out film plots?
2 Inane ‘shorts’?
3 Depressing ‘psychological’, films.
4 Lady-patrons in front of us wearing eccentric head-gear?

Comments: Mass-Observation carried out a series of studies in 1930s and 1940s into how people in the UK lived, through a mixture of observation, diaries and invited comments. This comment comes from Mass-Observation’s research programme into cultural life in Bolton, Lancashire. The study began in 1938, and this comment is a response to a questionnaire issued in March 1938 asking Do you go to the cinema regularly? How many times a month do you go? Do you go regularly on the same day, if so which day? Do you think you see people on the screen who live like yourself? Which are the best films, British or American, or do you think both are the same? People were also asked to number the types of films they best, and to list what they would like to see more of in films. This respondee was a regular of the Odeon, Ashburner Street.

Babbitt

Source: Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), p. 156

Text: At least once a week Mr. and Mrs. Babbitt and Tinka went to the movies. Their favorite motion-picture theater was the Chateau, which held three thousand spectators and had an orchestra of fifty pieces which played Arrangements from the Operas and suites portraying a Day on the Farm, or a Four-alarm Fire. In the stone rotunda, decorated with crown-embroidered velvet chairs and almost medieval tapestries, parrakeets sat on gilded lotos columns.

With exclamations of “Well, by golly!” and “You got to go some to beat this dump!” Babbitt admired the Chateau. As he stared across the thousands of heads, a gray plain in the dimness, as he smelled good clothes and mild perfume and chewing-gum, he felt as when he had first seen a mountain and realized how very, very much earth and rock there was in it.

He liked three kinds of films: pretty bathing girls with bare legs; policemen or cowboys and an industrious shooting of revolvers; and funny fat men who ate spaghetti. He chuckled with immense, moist-eyed sentimentality at interludes portraying puppies, kittens, and chubby babies; and he wept at deathbeds and old mothers being patient in mortgaged cottages. Mrs. Babbitt preferred the pictures in which handsome young women in elaborate frocks moved through sets ticketed as the drawing-rooms of New York millionaires. As for Tinka, she preferred, or was believed to prefer, whatever her parents told her to.

Comments: Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) was an American novelist, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930. His novel Babbitt is a satire on American middle-class life. Its central character is the materialistic and socially conformist businessman George Babbitt. It has numerous reference to the movies and movie-going. It was filmed twice in 1924 and 1934.

The London Nobody Knows

biograph

Saturday afternoon at the Biograph, Victoria [book illustration]

Source: Geoffrey Fletcher, The London Nobody Knows (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966) [orig. pub. 1962], pp. 112-114

Text: Early cinemas of the Edwardian period and up to the Great War occurred in all the London suburbs; these, often family owned, have been less able to stand up to the competition of television than the larger circuits, and consequently many have disappeared or else been modernized and spoiled like the Classic in King’s Road, Chelsea. Many of these cinemas were of a delightfully ham-fisted Baroque, with fat Tuscan columns that appeared to be in danger of being squashed by the loads that they supported. This exaggerated entasis was equalled by an exaggerated abundant decorations – swags, festoons, and the like carried out in stucco or terracotta. I have never been fortunate enough to find a Gothic cinema, though Tudor-style ones occurred. Cinemas followed the pattern of shapes evolved by the theatre and were naturally built in the prevailing style of the day, i.e. Edwardian Baroque, redolent of Imperial expansion and big cigars. Fortunately the earliest cinema in London – the earliest in the country, in fact – still survives in Wilton Road, Victoria – the Biograph, originally the Bioscope. My drawing of it is reproduced on p. 113. Pimlico people have been ‘going to the Bio’ since it was built in 1905 by an American, George Washington Grant. The Bio still has its classical façade, and apart from changes in the equipment, the only alteration was when the auditorium was enlarged, the new wall being a replica of the old. But the gas jets have gone and the commissionaires with heavy moustaches – gone like the horse buses that used to run along the Vauxhall Bridge Road. When my drawing was made, the customers were watching The Fiend from Outer Space instead of Mary Pickford as the little slavey with a heart of gold.

column

Inside, two Corinthian columns (illustrated at the head of this page), wallpapered with Anaglypta below, support the projection box, the width of which is that of the cinema in 1905. Below the ‘ceiling’ formed by the box runs and Edwardian egg and dart moulding – a typical early cinema decorations. In the foyer a framed copy of the Biograph Weekly News, distributed gratis. This forms rich reading at the present day. The issue in the frame is that for the week commencing 16 September 1929, and has the headline: ‘Talkies Coming Here!!’ A letter from the manager announces ‘our first talking picture’ – Show Boat on 30 September. Elsewhere in the paper a newsy item states that ‘workmen were labouring day and night to bring you the greater talkies as soon as possible’. Other forthcoming attractions of that period included William Boyd in The Cop and a supporting film called The Mystery of the Louvre. Betty Balfour was to appear in Paradise and Rin Tin Tin in The Million Dollar Collar. Prices were 2s., 1s. 3d., and 9d., children at reduced rates, ‘special children’s matinee 4d.’ (I remember those children’s 4d. matinees; how noisy they were and the way the films rained! And those serials, ending each installment on a fantastic note of drama – the heroine hanging by her finger-tips over a well of crocodiles. The week which had to elapse before her fate could be known was unendurable, but next time she simply had got out, one never knew how, and we were building up to a new crisis even more hair-raising than last week’s dilemma.)

Comments: Geoffrey Fletcher (1923-2004) was a British artist and illustrator, best know for his elegiac 1962 book The London Nobody Knows which was turned into a documentary film in 1967. However, the Biograph was not London’s oldest cinema, nor the country’s oldest, nor was it founded in 1905 – and it was never known as the Bioscope. It was founded in June 1909 as one of the Electric Theatres (1908) Ltd chain. It changed its name from the Electric Theatre to Biograph at some point in the 1910s. As Allen Eyles and Keith Skone point out, in their London’s West End Cinemas (1984), the mistake comes from a wholly erroneous plaque displayed in its foyer. The Biograph closed on 4 August 1983. There was no film entitled The Fiend from Outer Space (possibly he may be thinking of the 1958 film Fiend Without a Face).