A Sociology of the Cinema

Source: Emilie Altenloh, Zur Soziologie des Kino: Die Kino-Unternehmung und die Sozialen Schichten Ihrer Besucher, translated in part (by Kathleen Cross) as ‘A Sociology of the Cinema: the Audience’, Screen, vol. 42 no. 3, Autumn 2001, p.267

Text: Do you go to the theatre, public lectures, concerts, variety shows?
I go to almost everything. On Mondays I go to the cinema, Tuesday I stay at home, Wednesday I go to the theatre. Fridays I have gymnastics at 9.30 pm and Sundays I go walking in the woods with my girlfriend from next-door.

What do you enjoy best?
I particularly enjoy Mozart’s music, Richard Wagner’s dramas and Schiller’s dramas in the court theatre and national theatre on Sundays.

Do you go to the cinema? How often? On your own or with others?
Cinema now and then, but not on my own.

When do you usually go to the cinema (day of week, time of day)?
On weekdays between 8 30 and 11 pm.

What kinds of film do you like best?
Love dramas, stones about trappers and Red Indians, current news from around the world and films about aviation and airship travel.

What have been your favourites?
Das Leben im Paradies/Life in Paradise, Fremde Schuld/Strange Guilt, Die keusche Susanna/Chaste Susanna and Moderne Eva/Modern Eve, all four-acters.

Which cinema do you like best? Why?
The Saalbau, it’s dark, with a nice programme.

Comments: Emilie-Kiep Altenloh (1888-1985) was a German politician and economist with strong social welfare interests. Over 1912/13 she conducted a study of cinemagoers in Mannheim, Germany, part of which involved a questionnaire sent to 2,400 cinemagoers in Mannheim asking about their gender, age, social standing, marital status, employment, religious persuasion, politics and filmgoing habits. Altenhoh’s methodology and conclusions continue to be of great interest to cinema historians. Her published study is in two parts, covering production and audiences. It reproduces little from the completed questionnaires: this submission from a fifteen-year-old machine-fitter is an exception. The favourite films mentioned appear to be, in order: unknown, Um fremde Schuld – Eine Episode aus dem Leben (Germany 1912), Die keusche Susanna (Germany 1911 – a one-reel synchronised sound film of the Jean Gilbert operetta, not a four-part film), and unknown, but presumably derived from the 1912 operetta Die moderne Eva by Victor Holländer and Jean Gilbert.

Links: Complete German text
English translation of Audiences section

A Sociology of the Cinema

Source: Emilie Altenloh, Zur Soziologie des Kino: Die Kino-Unternehmung und die Sozialen Schichten Ihrer Besucher, translated in part (by Kathleen Cross) as ‘A Sociology of the Cinema: the Audience’, Screen, vol. 42 no. 3, Autumn 2001, p.267

Text: Do you go to the theatre, public lectures, concerts, variety shows?
I go to almost everything. On Mondays I go to the cinema, Tuesday I stay at home, Wednesday I go to the theatre. Fridays I have gymnastics at 9.30 pm and Sundays I go walking in the woods with my girlfriend from next-door.

What do you enjoy best?
I particularly enjoy Mozart’s music, Richard Wagner’s dramas and Schiller’s dramas in the court theatre and national theatre on Sundays.

Do you go to the cinema? How often? On your own or with others?
Cinema now and then, but not on my own.

When do you usually go to the cinema (day of week, time of day)?
On weekdays between 8 30 and 11 pm.

What kinds of film do you like best?
Love dramas, stones about trappers and Red Indians, current news from around the world and films about aviation and airship travel.

What have been your favourites?
Das Leben im Paradies/Life in Paradise, Fremde Schuld/Strange Guilt, Die keusche Susanna/Chaste Susanna and Moderne Eva/Modern Eve, all four-acters.

Which cinema do you like best? Why?
The Saalbau, it’s dark, with a nice programme.

Comments: Emilie-Kiep Altenloh (1888-1985) was a German politician and economist with strong social welfare interests. Over 1912/13 she conducted a study of cinemagoers in Mannheim, Germany, part of which involved a questionnaire sent to 2,400 cinemagoers in Mannheim asking about their gender, age, social standing, marital status, employment, religious persuasion, politics and filmgoing habits. Altenhoh’s methodology and conclusions continue to be of great interest to cinema historians. Her published study is in two parts, covering production and audiences. It reproduces little from the completed questionnaires: this submission from a fifteen-year-old machine-fitter is an exception. The favourite films mentioned appear to be, in order: unknown, Um fremde Schuld – Eine Episode aus dem Leben (Germany 1912), Die keusche Susanna (Germany 1911 – a one-reel synchronised sound film of the Jean Gilbert operetta, not a four-part film), and unknown, but presumably derived from the 1912 operetta Die moderne Eva by Victor Holländer and Jean Gilbert.

Links: Complete German text
English translation of Audiences section

Sculpting in Time

Source: Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989), p. 63.

Text: Why do people go to the cinema? What takes them into a darkened room where, for two hours, they watch the play of shadows on a sheet? The search for entertainment? The need for a kind of drug? All over the world there are, indeed, entertainment firms and organizations which exploit cinema and television and spectacles of many other kinds. Our starting point, however, should not be there, but in the essential principles of cinema, which have to do with the human need to master and know the world. I think that what a person normally goes to the cinema for is time: for time lost or spent or not yet had. He goes there for living experience; for cinema, like no other art, widens, enhances and concentrates a person’s experience — and not only enhances it but makes it longer, significantly longer. That is the power of cinema: ‘stars’, story-lines and entertainment have nothing to do with it.

Comment: Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986) was a Soviet/Russian filmmaker, director of Solaris, Stalker and Andrei Rublev. This much-quoted passage comes from his book Sculpting in Time which sets down his thoughts on making films.

This City has over 500 Moving Picture Shows; Do YOU Know WHY?

someofthethings

Illustration that accompanies the original article

Source: Charles Darnton, ‘This City has over 500 Moving Picture Shows: Do YOU Know WHY?’ The Evening World [New York], 16 January 1909, p. 9

Text: “I like to see a story.”

A long tramp bad led to a short answer. And the woman with a shawl about her head and a wide-eyed child clutching her hand was probably right about the appeal of the moving picture.

How wide this appeal has become may be judged from the fact that there are more than 500 moving picture shows in New York. From one end of the town to the other the “manager,” with little more than a lantern to his name, is holding the screen up to nature and occasionally turning a trick that goes nature one better. Although vaudeville audiences take the moving picture as their cue to move toward home, true lovers of art in action take all they can get for five or ten cents and then come back for more next day.

They like to see a story.

That’s the explanation – thanks to the woman with a shawl over her head. They feed upon mechanical fiction. They read as they look. Sensational melodrama, with the villain doing his worst in a plug hat, is an old story to them. They know it by heart. And so, theatres in which virtue used to take a back seat until the last act have felt the power of moving pictures. Only one remains to tell the blood-and-thunder tale in all Manhattan and it was obliged to get down to “workingmen’s prices” before it could compete with its noiseless rivals. From the start the moving picture show had a double advantage – lower prices and a daily change of bill. Then it went further and produced “talking pictures,” but in most cases this feature has been done away with audiences preferring to take their plays in peace and not be disturbed by the man behind the megaphone. What they want is action. Their attitude goes to show that it is always well to leave something to the imagination. They like to see a story from their own point of view.

In New York nearly every neighborhood has its “show,” and the craze has spread throughout the country until no town is too small to do the moving picture honor. Here, according to the word of a Sixth avenue showman, “picture fiends,” who keep a record of what they have seen and protest against “repeaters,” are an outgrowth of the craze. Their criticism of the Sunday exhibitions at which only educational pictures may be shown, in accordance with the stupid law, is often expressed in the simple term “Rotten!” They insist upon getting action for their money. The pictures must get “a move on” to win success. Patrons of the picture-drama want to see a story with plenty of action in it. From the Bowery to the Bronx tastes and pictures are much the same.

Bowery Wants Bank Robberies

But hero and there of course individual taste asserts itself. The proprietor of a little hall on the Bowery confessed that while his clientele showed a due appreciation of comedy and tragedy they had from time to time expressed a deep yearning for bank robberies. Unfortunately safe-cracking is not included in the picture-maker’s repertoire, and so the regretful “manager” has not been able to supply the demand for that particular form of art. However his audience made the best of things on a recent afternoon and seemed rather pleased with “A Corsican Revenge.”

The Corsican who caused all the trouble by killing a fellow fisherman and then got knifed by his victim’s wife, a husky lady with a fine stroke, looked like Caruso in “Cavalleria Rusticana.” According to the hospitable custom of the country, she was obliged to entertain her husband’s slayer when he sought refuge in her home. But once she got him outside she made short work of him. The lively little tragedy was worked out with neatness and dispatch. Five or six Chinamen who could qualify as Broadway first-nighters without putting on boiled shirts watched “A Corsican Revenge” without the slightest change of expression. In fact, the audience made no sign until two energetic gentlemen were flashed upon the scene and began kicking each other in the stomach. This light comedy was received with roars of laughter. The drummer emphasized each kick with a thump and the “professor” came down hard on the piano. “Comedy” won the occasions.

A placard on the wall warned the visitor to “Beware of Pickpockets.” Another made this polite request: Gentlemen Will Please Refrain from using Profane Language. The gentlemen did.

Accordion Breathes Hard.

In front of another temple of art across the street was the sign: “Positively No Free List During This Engagement.” You had to have a nickel to get inside. Down in front sat a Bowery artist with an accordion that was drawing its breath with great difficulty. During the overture he addressed facetious remarks to the audience.

“Hey, there!” yelled one of the crowd. “Cut out that comedy and give us some music.”

“Anyt’ing doin’?” inquired the performer, holding out his hat. “Come on, now,” he urged, ” trow in a little sumt’in fer de dear ones wot are dead and gone.”

“Ferget it!” yelled the unsympathetic mob.

“The Gallant Guardsman” presently drew attention from the accordion artist. At the first appearance of a Spanish soldier on the screen the accordion began wheezing “Die Wacht am Rhein.” When the guardsman rescued a dancing girl from the embraces of a low-browed citizen the tune changed to “Marching Through Georgia.” A dash of “Trovatore” cheered the guardsman on his way. The low-browed citizen waited behind a wall and killed the first soldier that came along. But he got the wrong man and the hero was about to be shot when the barefooted dancing girl ran to the rescue and explained the situation in a few hand-made gestures.

The audience followed the story with intense interest, and only the accordion was heard until a picture showing a young man who was carried off in a wardrobe appealed to the Bowery sense of humor. The hero of this adventure found himself in the bedroom of a loving couple who finally accepted his explanation and then had him sit down to supper with them.

French but Chaste.

All of the pictures seen on the lower east and west sides were French but chaste. Nothing more shocking than a murder occurred in any of them.

At a place in Grand street “The Peasant’s Love” was the chief feature of the bill. All went well until the peasant’s sweetheart promised to meet a newly arrived sailor “down by the pond.” His note to her was revealed on the screen. But the jealous peasant got to the pond first and when the girl came along he sneaked up behind her and threw her into the pond. The inevitable gendarmes first arrested the sailor, of course, but after a long chase they nabbed the guilty peasant.

Nearly all of the pictures showed gendarmes in pursuit of somebody. The principal figure was usually obliged to “run for it,” and suspense was kept up until the capture of the fugitive. The “story” was kept on the jump.

In “The Magic Boots” a happy individual was seen eluding his pursuers by walking on water, telegraph wires – wherever his fancy led him. His wonderful boots defied the French and all other laws. But down in Grand street it was the serious pictures that gripped the spectators.

“Dremma,” answered one manager when asked what appealed to his patrons most of all. And a woman whom he described as one of his best customers said: “I like to see a story. The funny pictures – they are funny, yes, but you don’t remember them. I like to remember what I see. You don’t forget a story – it goes home with you.”

Take Them Seriously.

This serious interest in story-pictures was apparent in other halls along Grand street. But a desire to be cheerful under all circumstances was suggested by this announcement over the door of one place: “The Bride of Lammermoor – A Tragedy of Bonnie Scotland.”

In a Mulberry street “theatre,” conducted under Italian auspices, the pictures were similar to those in Grand street. A coal stove filled the place with gas but no one seemed to notice it. Another Italian place in West Houston street sported this sign: “Caruso Moving Pictures.” But Caruso wasn’t among those present on the screen. The name, apparently, was merely a delicate tribute to the Metropolitan’s sobbing tenor.

Bessie Wynn’s name was prominently displayed in front of an imposing theatre in Fourteenth street. But Bessie was there only in voice and picture. You could recognize her picture but her voice had to be taken for granted. When they canned Bessie’s voice they evidently forgot to screw down the lid, and so it had soured and curdled and lost its flavor.

“The Wild Horse” filled up on oats at the Manhattan Theatre and developed from a weak skinny nag into a fat and fearful animal that kicked everything to pieces. It was the “big laugh.”

Harlem Likes to Laugh.

But here as elsewhere serious pictures with now and then a shooting or stabbing incident for excitement outnumbered the comic subjects. Harlem showed the greatest fondness for funny pictures. The Bronx appeared to be more serious minded.

Some of the places open their doors as early as 9 in the morning and keep going until after 11 at night. The shows are continuous and so are the privileges that go with a ticket. Only the pictures are compelled to move.

Comment: Among the films described are Âmes corses [The Corsican’s Revenge] (France 1908 p.c. Eclair) and Le galant garde français [The Gallant Guardsman] (France 1908 p.c. Pathé Frères). Bessie Wynn was an American singer and stage comedienne. The mention of ‘talking pictures’ presumably refers to a short vogue in a few theatres for having actors speak behind the screen rather than synchronised sound films (i.e. films, usually of singers, synchronised to a gramophone recording).

Links: Available online at Chronicling America

London Particulars

Source: C.H. Rolph, London Particulars (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 104-107

Text: It was in the company of Mr Herbert and his Sunday School following that I made my second visit to a cinema. (The first had been in my mother’s arms at about the age of twelve months.) Since then, I had grown accustomed to the marvels of the magic lantern: first, through visits to Wally Gerrard’s house, where a magic lantern was one of the attractions, and from about 1908 onwards through our acquisition of an Army and Navy stores magic lantern, price 92 shillings and six pence with eight slides. Four slides told the story of a London Fire Brigade hero called Bob the Fireman. It seems odd to me that the second cinema visit, after a lapse of nine years should (in contrast with the first) have left in my mind virtually no record of what was shown on the screen. The explanation probably is that I was absorbed in the mechanics and showmanship of the whole thing. In the Fulham Road near the Fire Station a shop had been converted into a tiny cinema, though that is not what it was called. It was called the Parsons Green Moving Picture Theatre; and it seems a happy thought that the wonder and magic of ‘moving pictures’, even then probably twenty years old and yet growing year by year, should sustain the word ‘movie’ in our language to this day. (Not that we ever used the word then: I believe its public admission to un-American English happened in Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House towards the end of the war.) I suppose the Parsons Green Moving Picture Theatre seated an audience of thirty at the most, the front three rows of chairs being very small ones of the kind seen in nursery schools, and behind those (for the grown-ups) there were padded forms with no backs to them. Saturday performances started at 3 p.m. and the price of admission was twopence-halfpenny.

The music was provided by an old horn-type gramophone, operated by the ticket cashier, its horn protruding through a hole cut in the wall of the box-office. The films were all very short, and no doubt very old – they broke down many times in each performance. And at each breakdown a stout lady who always sat on a cushioned stool near the Exit (it was the first time I ever saw the word Exit, and to this day I don’t understand why it is better than Out) tugged at a little chain hanging from the gas-lamp near the door and, it seemed to our startled eyes, flooded the room with a dazzling light. Mr Herbert told us that the management had not learned to leave a company of children in the dark with nothing to engage their attention. An audience of grown-ups were allowed to wait in the dark, I believe, during breakdowns. But they probably knew how to pass the time.

It was I think a year or two after that (probably 1912) when my parents first took us all to the newly opened Putney Bridge Kinema: a splendid edifice, we thought, with a domed entrance; two or three hundred seats; a curtain that pulled itself, with an unforgettable swish, across the screen at the beginning and end of each picture – it bore corrugated references to what we had just seen and what was to come next; a little string ensemble eked out by an indefatigable pianist; and brown-uniformed attendants who paraded the aisles from time to time squirting deodorant over our heads (I wonder why?). The lights went up at the end of each picture, and it was then that the attendants began shouting ‘Sway out please’ and ‘Cigarette, Chocleet’. The very first time we were taken to this stately pleasure-dome, and waited while my father paid our admission fees, I leaned over and whispered in five-year-old Roland’s ear the mysterious words he must have been hearing so often from me in recent months: ‘Moving pictures!’ He tells me that once he was inside, and seated on his father’s lap, he noticed that there were indeed pictures all around the walls, and he was waiting breathlessly for them all to start moving when, to his intense disappointment, all the lights went out. It was some time before he found that everyone else was now looking at a huge illuminated square at the end of a searchlight, and even longer before he was prepared to allow that the flickering figures to be seen on it must be the moving pictures for which I had so long and so excitedly prepared him.

Visits to the Putney Bridge Kinema became a weekly occurrence, and it was there that we saw our first Charlie Chaplin film. It was called Laughing Gas, and it established a devoted family of Chaplin addicts who were never, in the next seventy years, to waver in their loyalty. The universal Chaplin impact was something I shall never really understand. For years it seemed to me that there are so many totally humourless people in the world that success on the Chaplin scale simply shouldn’t be possible, that it is a phenomenon calling for some transcendental explanation. Then I saw that this point of view merely rationalizes the feeling, in the breast of each Chaplinite, that Chaplin really belongs to him alone, that there is no one else who quite understands just how funny life can be. I do not see how this universal act of identity could have survived Charlie’s ham sociological period, his City Lights and his Great Dictator and Monsieur Verdoux and the rest. But when I was a boy no one could have foreseen those aberrations.

Three actresses of the time enslaved us, and at that age I was precociously ready for enslavement: ‘eleven-plus’ was for me, I now realize, a prominent emotional milestone. They personified our more ecstatic dreams of the fair: Mary Pickford, Daphne Wain, and Pearl White. Miss White held us by reason of the terrifying predicaments we always had to leave her in. As the curtain swished across at the end she was always crying for help from a seventh-floor window in a burning building, hanging by her beautifully manicured fingernails from the outside of a balloon basket, or bound and struggling gracefully in the path of an express train. Her films bore titles like The Exploits of Elaine, and it was only the need that she should survive for at least one more advertised Exploit that sent us home partly optimistic about the future. Mary Pickford and Daphne Wain held us by their beauty, whatever kind of story it had to illuminate, and they usually got their stories over in one go.

Comment: C.R. Rolph (real name Cecil Rolph Hewitt) (1901-1994) was the son of a policeman. His family lived in Southwark, then Finsbury Park, then Fulham. He became a Chief Inspector in the City of London Police, Vice-President of the Howard League for Penal Reform and served on the editorial staff of the New Statesman. London Particulars is the first of two classic volumes of autobiography.

The Cinema

Source: The Cinema: Its Present Position and Future Possibilities (London: Williams and Norgate, 1917), pp. 201-203

Text: Twelfth Day. Monday, March 26, 1917. The Bishop of Birmingham in the chair.

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Two Schoolboys. Examined.

1. The Chairman. What are your names, where do you come from, what are your ages, and what standards are you in? ______ and _____, _______, _________; ages thirteen and eleven, and in Standards VI and VII.
2. How often do you go to the cinema shows? — About once a week.
3. And what price seats do you go in? — Fourpence or twopence.
4. And you? — I always go into the fourpenny.
5. And your parents give you the money to go with? — Yes.
6. And they like you to go? — Yes.
7. About what time in the day do you go to the performances? — On Saturday afternoon.
8. And you? — On Friday after school.
9. And what time does that performance begin? — Five o’clock.
10. And your performance on Saturday? — About a quarter to three.
11. And it lasts about two hours? — Yes.
12. What is the picture theatre you principally go to? — The Grand Hall.
13. And you? — I go to the Tower Cinema.
14. Have you any particular fancy for any particular kind of picture? — Well, I like war pictures and I like geography pictures.
15. When you say geography, will you explain exactly what you mean? — Like the different kind of things that come into England, and the exports.
16. You like to see things unshipped? — Yes.
17. And do you like the comic films? — Yes, sometimes, if they are not too silly.
18. Do you consider Charlie Chaplin too silly? — Sometimes.
19. What about the love stories? — I do not think much of those.
20. Do you like the films where the people are stealing things? — Yes.
21. And where the clever detectives discovers them? — Yes.
22. Have you ever thought it would be a fine idea to copy these people and steal these things? — No.
23. Has it ever made you think what a fine sort of life it is to go round and break into people’s houses? — No.
24. And what are your favourite films? — (Second boy) I rather like tragedy.
25. What do you mean by that? — A play where sorts of deaths come in.
26. Where somebody kills somebody else? — Yes.
27. Seeing a bad man trying to kill a good fellow, you never want to go and kill the best boy in the school? — No.
28. Now, why do you specially like that film? Is it because it is adventure? — Well, it is; it rather makes you — like, jumpy.
29. It excites you? — Yes.
30. Does that excitement last with you after you leave the theatre; do you feel nervous? — I feel rather nervous when I get home and when I go up and down stairs in the dark.
31. Do you feel nervous next morning when you go to school? — No, I have never felt any effects in the daytime, but I do in the night.
32. But you still like it? — Yes.
33. What else do you like besides? — Robberies are all right.
34. And you like to see how a fellow cleverly cuts things with a glass and gets into a window and over walls? — Yes, but a man has to be pretty good and have a good bit of sense to do all these things.
35. And you really think there is something rather clever about it? — Yes.
36. Have you ever met any boys who are? — There are one or two ruffians who sometimes go for other peoples’ things when they ought not to go.
37. And have they sometimes told you that the pictures made them anxious to go ? — I do not believe the pictures do, but they read some of these penny books.
38. Now do you like the comic things? — No, I do not like them.
39. Do you like the love stories? — Well, they are a bit trying sometimes.
40. Do you know those pictures which show you birds growing up and flowers coming out? — Yes, I like them all right.
41. Would you like the whole entertainment of two hours to be composed of that kind of film? — Well, they are not so bad, but sometimes they are a bit trying.
42. If an entertainment lasted two hours, would you object to half an hour of that? — No.
43. Do you find that seeing these things teaches you something? — Yes.
44. MR. T.P. O’CONNOR. Do you find that films assist you with your geography? — Yes.
45. If you saw a picture of Russia, say, would that make you study up your geography more about that country? — Yes.
46. PROFESSOR H. GOLLANCZ. Have you ever had any headaches on the same evening? — No.
47. Have you? — My eyes seem to be affected.
48. Did you notice any flickering? — Yes, during the performance.
49. Have you noticed any rough behaviour to some of the girls? — No.
50. MR. NEWBOULD. Is there a special attendant to look after the children when you go in? — Yes.
51. MR. KING. Have you ever felt sleepy? — Yes.
52. When do you feel that? — When there is a dry picture and you don’t care about looking at it.
53. MR. GRAVES. Would you like cinema lessons to be given in your schools the same as the magic lantern? — Yes, that would not be bad.
54. MONSIGNOR BROWN. Supposing a geography film lasted for half an hour, how do you think the children would take it? — They would not like it.
55. Are the children crowded in at the cinemas? — Not in all the places, but there was one place I went to where they were crowded together and there were no divisions or arms to the seats.
56. REV. CAREY BONNER. Have you seen any rough play going on? — There has always been decent behaviour, unless some
ruffians get in.
57. THE CHAIRMAN. Do you see these films better if the hall is lighted better? — No, the darker the place the better you can see the pictures.

Comment: The Cinema: Its Present Position and Future Possibilities (1917) is a report and summary of evidence taken by the Cinema Commission Inquiry, instituted by the National Council of Public Morals. It includes several passages taken from interviews with children where commission members asked them questions about their cinema-going habits. The Grand Hall was in Camberwell New Road; the Tower Cinema was in Rye Lane, Peckham. T.P. O’Connor was an MP and president of the British Board of Film Censors.

Yesterday’s Sunshine

Source: Verne Morgan, Yesterday’s Sunshine: Reminiscences of an Edwardian Childhood (Folkestone: Bailey Brothers and Swinfen, 1974), pp. 122-126

Text: The Moving Pictures, as we called them, first came to Bromley when I was about seven. They made their début at the Central Hall, and the performances took place on Friday nights. There were two houses, one at five o’clock for the children and one at seven for the grown-ups. The programmes lasted approximately one hour, and consisted of a succession of short films. Indeed some of them would last no longer than three or four minutes and there would be an appreciable wait in between while the man in the box got busy threading the next reel.

The Central Hall was a vast place with a huge gallery encircling it. It was used mostly for political meetings and the like, and quite often a band concert would be held there too. But it also had a pronounced ecclesiastical leaning and the man who owned it belonged in some way to the church and was avidly religious. He was an elderly man and wore pince-nez spectacles to which were attached a long black cord. He was a man of extremely good intentions and loved to stand upon the platform making long speeches spouting about them. Unfortunately, he had the most dreadful impediment and it was quite impossible to understand a word he said. But I well remember the enthusiastic claps he got when he eventually sat down, not because we had appreciated what he said so much as the fact that he had at last finished. The film programme could then begin.

The operating box was a temporary affair, and was perched up at the rear of the gallery. I used to get a seat as close to it as possible so that I could see how it was all done. The lighting was effected by a stick of black carbon, about the size of a piece of chalk, which lit up the small box with a brilliant blueish-white light and had a blinding effect if you looked right at it. Occasionally it would burn low and the operator would push it up a bit; this would be reflected by the density of light on the screen. The screen itself was also of a temporary nature, it was in fact little more than a large white sheet weighted at the bottom to keep it taut. Any movement close to it would cause it to wobble, and the picture would go a little peculiar. We were not critical of such minor details. The very fact that the picture moved was enough to satisfy us.

As each small reel was finished the operator would place it outside for re-winding, his box being of limited dimensions. On account of this I was able to study the technique as to how the pictures appeared to move. It was so simple I could hardly believe it. I told my Brother about it; I told my Mother about it; I told lots of people about it. But no one believed me. So, to prove myself right, I set about editing a film on my own account. I drew a succession of pictures in pencil on the bottom of a hymn book in church. Each one was just that little bit different, so that when the pages were flicked over the overall picture appeared to move. This technique, in ‘flicker’ form, has, of course, been used in many ways since then, but at the time it was entirely my own idea, and I was middling proud of it. I can’t say that anybody was particularly impressed, but at the time it thrilled me beyond description. In due course I pictorialised all the hymn books I could lay my hands on, during the sermon and other breaks in the church service. They consisted mostly of football matches with someone scoring a goal. Or it might be a boxing match with someone getting knocked out. Or an exciting race with a hectically close finish. Anything that inspired my sporting instincts was in course of time recorded in the hymn books of St. Luke’s Church, Bromley. I have often wondered since what the effect must have been on the boy who eventually took my seat in the choir pew when he found what he had inherited. I can only hope that he had as much enjoyment out of watching animated pictures as I had got out of drawing them.

The Central Hall was situated close to the top of Bromley Hill, nearly three miles from where we lived. It was a long walk for small legs, and there was no public transport at that time. Yet, whatever the weather, we never missed. Every Friday, shortly after school hours, a swarm of happy-faced youngsters were to be seen all heading in the same direction. The Central Hall had become the centre of a new culture. But, as yet, only the school kids had caught on to it.

Then quite suddenly, the Grand Theatre in Bromley High Street, which up till then had housed nothing more spectacular than stage dramas of the “Maria Marten” and “Sweeney Todd” kind, put up the shutters and announced that in future Moving Pictures would take over. They would be put on once nightly with a full programme of films. A new firm moved in calling itself Jury’s. The old Grand was given a face-lift and transformed into a picture house.

This was revolutionary indeed.

The grown-ups were sceptical. But the programmes were of a higher standard than those at the Central Hall, and would sometimes have a two-reeler as the star attraction. The films began to take on a more realistic angle, with interesting stories, love scenes, cowboys and Indians, exciting battles and lots of gooey pathos.

People began to go.

When they announced a showing of the famous story “Quo Vadis” in seven reels, all Bromley turned out to see it. Even my father condescended, and grumbled volubly because he had to “line up” to get it (the word “queue” had not yet come into circulation).

It was the beginning of a new era. Very soon a place was built in the High Street, calling itself a cinema. Moving pictures were firmly on the map, and shortly to be called films. We watched with astonishment as the new building reached completion and gave itself the high-flown title of “The Palaise [sic] de luxe”.

Most of us pronounced it as it was spelt, “The Palace de lux”, but my cousin Daisy, who was seventeen and having French lessons twice a week, pronounced it the “Palyay dee Loo”. And she twisted her mouth into all sorts of shapes when she said it.

That being as it may, the Palaise de Luxe put on programmes that pulled in the crowds from far and near, and it wasn’t long before they engaged a pianist to play the piano while the films were in progress. I remember him well. A portly gentleman who hitherto had earned a precarious living playing in local pubs. He soon got into his stride and began to adapt his choice of music to the particular film that was being shown. If it was a comedy he would play something like “The Irish Washerwoman”; if it was something sad, he would rattle off a popular number of the day like, “If your heart should ache awhile never mind”, and if it was a military scene, he would strike up a well-known march. The classic example came when a religious film was presented and we saw Christ walking on the water. He immediately struck up a few bards of “A life on the ocean wave”.

Later on, all cinemas worthy of the name included a small orchestra to accompany the films, and in due course, a complete score of suitable music would be sent with the main feature film so as to give the right effect at the right moment.

The Palaise de Luxe was indeed a palace as far as we were concerned. We sat in plush tip-up seats and there were two programmes a night. Further, you could walk in any old time and leave when you felt like it. Which meant, of course, that you could, if you so desired, be in at the start and watch the programme twice through (which many of us did and suffered a tanning for getting home late). It was warm and cosy, and there was a small upper circle for those who didn’t wish to mix!

The projector was discreetly hidden away behind the back wall up in the circle, and no longer could you see the man turning the handle. We became conscious for the first time of the strong beam of light that extended from the operating box to the screen. It was all so fascinating and mysterious. The screen, too, was no longer a piece of white material hanging from the ceiling, it was built into the wall, or so it appeared, and it was solid, so that no amount of movement could make it wobble.

It quickly became the custom to visit the cinema once a week. It was the “in” thing, or as we said in those days, it was “all the rage”.

We learnt to discriminate. My Brother and I became infatuated with a funny little man who was just that bit different from the others. His tomfoolery had a “soul” we decided, and whereas we smiled and tittered at the others comics, we roared our heads off with laughter whenever this one came on the screen. We went to a great deal of trouble to find out who he was, for names were not very often given in the early days.

“He’s called Charlie Chaplin”, the manager of the cinema told us, a little surprised no doubt that one so young could be all that interested.

Comment: Verne Morgan lived in Kent, and became a writer of pantomimes and theatre sketches. Palais de Luxe cinemas were a chain, run by Electric Theatres (1908) Ltd. Jury’s Imperial Pictures was a producer and distributor, must did not manage cinemas. The period described is the early to mid-1910s: the Italian film Quo Vadis was made in 1913 and Chaplin’s first films were released in 1914. The mention of a piano player being introduced suggests that the earlier screenings had been watched without musical accompaniment.

Yesterday's Sunshine

Source: Verne Morgan, Yesterday’s Sunshine: Reminiscences of an Edwardian Childhood (Folkestone: Bailey Brothers and Swinfen, 1974), pp. 122-126

Text: The Moving Pictures, as we called them, first came to Bromley when I was about seven. They made their début at the Central Hall, and the performances took place on Friday nights. There were two houses, one at five o’clock for the children and one at seven for the grown-ups. The programmes lasted approximately one hour, and consisted of a succession of short films. Indeed some of them would last no longer than three or four minutes and there would be an appreciable wait in between while the man in the box got busy threading the next reel.

The Central Hall was a vast place with a huge gallery encircling it. It was used mostly for political meetings and the like, and quite often a band concert would be held there too. But it also had a pronounced ecclesiastical leaning and the man who owned it belonged in some way to the church and was avidly religious. He was an elderly man and wore pince-nez spectacles to which were attached a long black cord. He was a man of extremely good intentions and loved to stand upon the platform making long speeches spouting about them. Unfortunately, he had the most dreadful impediment and it was quite impossible to understand a word he said. But I well remember the enthusiastic claps he got when he eventually sat down, not because we had appreciated what he said so much as the fact that he had at last finished. The film programme could then begin.

The operating box was a temporary affair, and was perched up at the rear of the gallery. I used to get a seat as close to it as possible so that I could see how it was all done. The lighting was effected by a stick of black carbon, about the size of a piece of chalk, which lit up the small box with a brilliant blueish-white light and had a blinding effect if you looked right at it. Occasionally it would burn low and the operator would push it up a bit; this would be reflected by the density of light on the screen. The screen itself was also of a temporary nature, it was in fact little more than a large white sheet weighted at the bottom to keep it taut. Any movement close to it would cause it to wobble, and the picture would go a little peculiar. We were not critical of such minor details. The very fact that the picture moved was enough to satisfy us.

As each small reel was finished the operator would place it outside for re-winding, his box being of limited dimensions. On account of this I was able to study the technique as to how the pictures appeared to move. It was so simple I could hardly believe it. I told my Brother about it; I told my Mother about it; I told lots of people about it. But no one believed me. So, to prove myself right, I set about editing a film on my own account. I drew a succession of pictures in pencil on the bottom of a hymn book in church. Each one was just that little bit different, so that when the pages were flicked over the overall picture appeared to move. This technique, in ‘flicker’ form, has, of course, been used in many ways since then, but at the time it was entirely my own idea, and I was middling proud of it. I can’t say that anybody was particularly impressed, but at the time it thrilled me beyond description. In due course I pictorialised all the hymn books I could lay my hands on, during the sermon and other breaks in the church service. They consisted mostly of football matches with someone scoring a goal. Or it might be a boxing match with someone getting knocked out. Or an exciting race with a hectically close finish. Anything that inspired my sporting instincts was in course of time recorded in the hymn books of St. Luke’s Church, Bromley. I have often wondered since what the effect must have been on the boy who eventually took my seat in the choir pew when he found what he had inherited. I can only hope that he had as much enjoyment out of watching animated pictures as I had got out of drawing them.

The Central Hall was situated close to the top of Bromley Hill, nearly three miles from where we lived. It was a long walk for small legs, and there was no public transport at that time. Yet, whatever the weather, we never missed. Every Friday, shortly after school hours, a swarm of happy-faced youngsters were to be seen all heading in the same direction. The Central Hall had become the centre of a new culture. But, as yet, only the school kids had caught on to it.

Then quite suddenly, the Grand Theatre in Bromley High Street, which up till then had housed nothing more spectacular than stage dramas of the “Maria Marten” and “Sweeney Todd” kind, put up the shutters and announced that in future Moving Pictures would take over. They would be put on once nightly with a full programme of films. A new firm moved in calling itself Jury’s. The old Grand was given a face-lift and transformed into a picture house.

This was revolutionary indeed.

The grown-ups were sceptical. But the programmes were of a higher standard than those at the Central Hall, and would sometimes have a two-reeler as the star attraction. The films began to take on a more realistic angle, with interesting stories, love scenes, cowboys and Indians, exciting battles and lots of gooey pathos.

People began to go.

When they announced a showing of the famous story “Quo Vadis” in seven reels, all Bromley turned out to see it. Even my father condescended, and grumbled volubly because he had to “line up” to get it (the word “queue” had not yet come into circulation).

It was the beginning of a new era. Very soon a place was built in the High Street, calling itself a cinema. Moving pictures were firmly on the map, and shortly to be called films. We watched with astonishment as the new building reached completion and gave itself the high-flown title of “The Palaise [sic] de luxe”.

Most of us pronounced it as it was spelt, “The Palace de lux”, but my cousin Daisy, who was seventeen and having French lessons twice a week, pronounced it the “Palyay dee Loo”. And she twisted her mouth into all sorts of shapes when she said it.

That being as it may, the Palaise de Luxe put on programmes that pulled in the crowds from far and near, and it wasn’t long before they engaged a pianist to play the piano while the films were in progress. I remember him well. A portly gentleman who hitherto had earned a precarious living playing in local pubs. He soon got into his stride and began to adapt his choice of music to the particular film that was being shown. If it was a comedy he would play something like “The Irish Washerwoman”; if it was something sad, he would rattle off a popular number of the day like, “If your heart should ache awhile never mind”, and if it was a military scene, he would strike up a well-known march. The classic example came when a religious film was presented and we saw Christ walking on the water. He immediately struck up a few bards of “A life on the ocean wave”.

Later on, all cinemas worthy of the name included a small orchestra to accompany the films, and in due course, a complete score of suitable music would be sent with the main feature film so as to give the right effect at the right moment.

The Palaise de Luxe was indeed a palace as far as we were concerned. We sat in plush tip-up seats and there were two programmes a night. Further, you could walk in any old time and leave when you felt like it. Which meant, of course, that you could, if you so desired, be in at the start and watch the programme twice through (which many of us did and suffered a tanning for getting home late). It was warm and cosy, and there was a small upper circle for those who didn’t wish to mix!

The projector was discreetly hidden away behind the back wall up in the circle, and no longer could you see the man turning the handle. We became conscious for the first time of the strong beam of light that extended from the operating box to the screen. It was all so fascinating and mysterious. The screen, too, was no longer a piece of white material hanging from the ceiling, it was built into the wall, or so it appeared, and it was solid, so that no amount of movement could make it wobble.

It quickly became the custom to visit the cinema once a week. It was the “in” thing, or as we said in those days, it was “all the rage”.

We learnt to discriminate. My Brother and I became infatuated with a funny little man who was just that bit different from the others. His tomfoolery had a “soul” we decided, and whereas we smiled and tittered at the others comics, we roared our heads off with laughter whenever this one came on the screen. We went to a great deal of trouble to find out who he was, for names were not very often given in the early days.

“He’s called Charlie Chaplin”, the manager of the cinema told us, a little surprised no doubt that one so young could be all that interested.

Comment: Verne Morgan lived in Kent, and became a writer of pantomimes and theatre sketches. Palais de Luxe cinemas were a chain, run by Electric Theatres (1908) Ltd. Jury’s Imperial Pictures was a producer and distributor, but did not manage cinemas. The period described is the early to mid-1910s: the Italian film Quo Vadis was made in 1913 and Chaplin’s first films were released in 1914. The mention of a piano player being introduced suggests that the earlier screenings had been watched without musical accompaniment.

London Through Chinese Eyes

Source: Min-Ch’ien T. Z. Tyau, London Through Chinese Eyes; or, My Seven and a Half Years in London (London: The Swarthmore Press, 1920), pp. 142-143

Text: If the music halls are popular, the cinema shows are perhaps even more popular. Not only are the prices of admission exceedingly low, but the performance itself is continuous from eleven or twelve in the morning to eleven or twelve in the evening. In a theatre or music hall the hours for the performance are definitely fixed; here the exhibition goes on uninterruptedly for twelve hours. When the pictures are finished, the series will commence all over again. Therefore, one can drop in at any time and, for a matter of sixpence or a shilling, enjoy the pictures for two or three hours. Moreover, there is also here all the freedom and unconventionality of a music hall; so one can smoke through the performance or come however dressed.

As in the stage, so in the cinema world, each has its admirers and heroes. But in the popular mind the cinema profession is perhaps more romantic. Not only are the lives of a cinema actor and actress more strenuous and exciting but the tricks of the cinema photographer make their adventures look most realistic and sensational. When we see a man fall from the top of a cliff or being burned to death, we know that the tragedy is faked and that he will soon appear again, safe and sound, in another part of the film. But for the moment our senses run riot, and we watch the result with bated breath and palpitating hearts. We half believe and half disbelieve, and we cry and laugh like children. Can a romance ask for more response?

Comment: This travel guide to London by a Chinese writer describes a visit to a London cinema in 1917. Min-Ch’ien T. Z. Tyau was a student in London during the First World War, during which time he set up a Chinese newspaper. On returning to China he became a noted writer on law and politics.

The Child and the Cinematograph Show

Source: Canon H.D. Rawnsley, The Child and the Cinematograph Show and the Picture Post-Card Evil (reprinted from the Hibbert Journal, vol. xi. 1913), pp. 3-11

Text: It is not improbable that the cinematograph film has a good deal to answer for in this matter of the public demand for horror and sensation. On many of the hoardings near the cinematograph halls or pavilions, beneath the sensational programmes are written such words as “nerve-thrillers”, “eye-openers tonight”, and when we turn to these programmes we cannot help noticing that it is the horrible that draws. “Massacre; a terrible tragedy, 2000 feet”; “The Wheel of Destruction”; “The Motor Car Race: the car when going at prodigious speed overturns and buries its living occupants. Don’t miss this”. “Dante’s hell”, the Devil film, with a huge invitation beneath it, “Don’t miss this opportunity of seeing Satan – Satan and the Creator; Satan and the Saviour, 4000 feet in length”; all these are signs of a downgrade pandering to a sense of horror which is being fostered throughout the length and breadth of the land by the downgrade film.

I spoke to a boy, about twelve years old, who had attended a cinematograph show in a little country town a week or two ago, and he positively trembled as he reported what he had seen. He said, “I shall never go again. It was horrible”. I said, “What was horrible?” He said, “I saw a man cut his throat”.

As I write, a friend tells me that a week or two ago his neighbours, seeing pictures of Sarah Bernhardt advertised as the chief item in a cinematograph show, visited the hall with their little daughter. They found to their disgust the bulk of the entertainment was sensational horrors of such a character that in consequence they were obliged to sit up all night with the child, who constantly woke with screams and cries …

Nor is this sense of horror alone appealed to. Many of these films prove to be direct incentives to crime. Clever burglaries are exhibited before the eyes of mischievous boys, who at once have their attention called to the possibility of the “expert cracksman’s life” …

In the face of the claims of the cinematograph proprietors that the exhibitions are for the moral improvement and amusement of the masses, and in opposition to all the tall talk about the educational value of the film to which the trade from time to time treats us, we have only to reply, “Look at your posters and the items of horror or fierce excitement or degrading sensationalism which, in spite of Mr Redford and his censorship, are still being exhibited up and down the country, to the detriment and discouragement of the nobler feelings of gentleness and compassion!”

The worst of it all is, that neither the police nor the agents of the cinematograph firms who are sent out as exhibitors, are sufficiently educated to know what is horrible and what is not. Thus, for example, when the mayor was appealed to in a town where the most terrible exhibition of the horrors of hell and the tortures of the damned were being visibly enacted as illustrations in gross caricature of Dante’s Inferno, he in turn appealed to the police to visit the cinematograph hall and report. The officer who was well up in the legal aspect of the case and was probably on the look-out for a criminally indecent film as a thing to be objected to, reported to the mayor that he could see nothing objectionable in this horrible Hell film, and therefore had not thought it necessary to speak to the exhibitor …

It is not only the sensational, cruel, or crime film that is sowing seeds of corruption among the people. The film manufacturers have invaded the most holy mysteries of our religious faith. There can be no question that in suitable surroundings, and with specially reverent treatment, pictures from the life of our Lord may be impressive and educational, but the idea of exploiting the life of our Lord as a commercial speculation, and the getting of a troupe of actors to go out to Palestine and pose in situ as His disciples, and as impersonators of the scenes described in the Gospels, is in itself abhorrent; and the quickness of motion needed by the film takes away reverence and imparts a sense of what is artificial, and sometimes almost comic …

It is not only the health of the religious and moral sense and spiritual understanding of the child which needs safeguarding. The time has come when the educationists of the country must realise that it is no use spending millions of money upon elementary education if children beneath school age are allowed to attend a cinematograph show till eleven o’clock at night, and then go home so overwrought and excited by the scenes they had witnessed that sleep is impossible.

I say overwrought advisedly, for it was reported in the press a short time ago that a child going home from a cinematograph hall pleaded piteously with a policeman to protect him from those two men with long beards that were following him. The two men with long beards were two ruffians that he had seen, and actually supposed to be living beings, in a cinematograph film that night …

… A census was taken on a certain Saturday in November last, in Liverpool, with the result that it was proved that there were 13,332 children below the age of fourteen present at matinees held in twenty-seven halls in that city, which appeared to cater especially for children so far as the price of entrance was concerned. The children’s ages … ranged from four or five up to thirteen, and they were viewing the ordinary films shown at the other performances during the rest of the week. Parts of the programme were composed of pictures of a sensational character, some showing crimes, others serious accidents, while not a few were suggestive of immorality.

Comment: Canon Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley (1851-1920) was an outspoken critic of the cinema, who wrote and lectured widely on its supposed evil effects on children. The Dante film referred to is the Italian production L’inferno (1911). The troupe of actors going to Palestine is a reference to the American film company Kalem’s production of From the Manger to the Cross, made in 1912. George A. Redford was the first president of the British Board of Film Censors.