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.

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Trapped in "Black Russia"

Source: Ruth Pierce, Trapped in “Black Russia”: Letters June-November 1915 (Boston/New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1918) pp. 118-119

Text: Yes, we go from café to cinematograph and try and keep warm.

I’ve never liked moving pictures before. Here they are presented differently than in America. Some of the plays I’ve seen have the naïveté and simplicity of a confession. Others interpret abnormal, psychopathic characters whose feelings and thoughts are expressed by the actors with a fine and vivid realism. There is the exultation of life, and the despair, the aggression and apathy, the frivolity and the revolt. The action is taken slowly. There are no stars. You look at the screen as though you were looking at life itself. And the films don’t always have happy endings, because life isn’t always kind. It often seems senseless and cruel and crushes men’s spirits. I wish we could have these films in America instead of the jig-saw puzzles I’ve seen.

Comments: Mrs Ruth Pierce was an American living in Russia in 1915, but little else seems to be known about her. Her book is ostensibly a set letters written to her parents while she and her husband tried to get out of war-torn Russia. At the time of the cinema trip described here she was living in Kiev (then part of the Russian Empire). Russian films of the period were indeed distinguished by their psychopathic elements and tendency towards unhappy endings.

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Movies and Conduct

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

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

Comment: American sociologist Herbert Blumer’s Movies and Conduct presents twelve studies of the influence of motion pictures upon the young, made by the Committee on Educational Research of the Payne Fund, at the request of the National Committee for the Study of Social Values in Motion Pictures. The study solicited autobiographical essays, mostly from undergraduate students of the University of Chicago, and presented extracts from this evidence in the text. Most of the evidence relates to picturegoing in the 1920s. The interview extract is given in the chapter ‘Emotional Detachment’.

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