Time and Chance

Source: Alexander Black, Time and Chance: Adventures with People and Print (New York/Toronto: Farrar and Reinhardt, 1937), pp. 117-118

Text: I was witness to one blunder in translating an audience sound that may have had a parallel under other circumstances, yet scarcely with a setting so unique. Edouard [sic] Muybridge was lecturing at the Oxford Club in Brooklyn on his experiments in photographing the horse in motion – experiments which resulted in startling the artists of the world. By the aid of a primitive projector he was displaying his studies on a screen. The action pictures showed not only horses but human figures, some of which were not merely novel but strikingly beautiful. While Muybridge was projecting and describing the dance of a girl model with floating draperies that glittered in the sunlight, someone in the audience, impatient at the prevalence of too-audible comment, uttered a ‘Sh-h-h!’ Muybridge mistook the shush for a hiss. It was astounding that he should mistake the intention behind the sound, but he blurted out a quick-tempered protest. ‘I am amazed,’ he said, ‘that from an intelligent audience there should be any misjudgement of a picture which I think has been rightly recognized as a work of art. It is a sad humiliation to discover that prudery can go so far.’ The shusher said nothing. Perhaps only in an American audience could Muybridge’s rebuke have been heard in silence. The silence was not only a cruelty to him, but a saddening confession of stupidity if not on the part of the whole audience, on the party of the committee – not to mention the shusher. Of course Muybridge was enlightened when he got through, but the mischief had been done. At least one after-comment insisted that the incident ‘made a monkey of Muybridge and cowards of the crowd.’

Comments: Alexander Black (1859-1940) was an American photographer, journalist and novelist. He became a pioneer of cinematic-style narrative through his 1894 lecture Miss Jerry, which combined staged slides (using professional actors) with some illusion of movement and live commentary. The English chronophotographer Eadweard Muybridge, whose sequence photographs did so much to inspire cinema, lectured across America and Europe in the 1880s. The lecture described hear may have taken place in early 1889 (early film history Terry Ramsaye refers to the incident in his book A Million and One Nights). My thanks to Deac Rossell for bringing this passage to my attention.

Doing My Bit for Ireland

Source: Margaret Skinnider, Doing My Bit for Ireland (New York, The Century Co., 1917), pp. 202-204

Text: At a moving-picture performance of “The Great Betrayal,” I was surprised at the spirit of daring in the audience. The story was about one of those abortive nationalist revolts in Italy which preceded the revolution that made Italy free. The plot was parallel in so many respects to the Easter Week rising in Ireland that crowds flocked every day to see it. In the final picture, when the heroic leaders were shot in cold blood, men in the audience called out bitterly:

‘That’s right, Colthurst! Keep it up!”

Colthurst was the man who shot Sheehy Skeffington without trial on the second day of the rising. He had been promoted for his deeds of wanton cruelty, and only the fact that a royal commission was demanded by Skeffington’s widow and her friends, made it necessary to adjudge him insane as excuse for his behavior, when that behavior was finally brought to light.

It was on the occasion of my visit to the moving-pictures that I was annoyed by the knowledge that a detective was following me. His only disguise was to don Irish tweeds such as “Irish Irelanders” wear to stimulate home industry. He had been following me about Dublin ever since my arrival for my August visit. To this day I don’t know why he did not arrest me, nor what he was waiting for me to do. But I decided now to give him the slip. In Glasgow I have had much practice jumping on cars going at full speed. The Dublin cars are much slower, so as a car passed me in the middle of the block, I suddenly leaped aboard, leaving my British friend standing agape with astonishment on the sidewalk. Doubtless he felt the time had come for me to carry out whatever plot I had up my sleeve, and that he had been defeated in his purpose of looking on. I never saw him again.

Comments: Margaret Skinnider (1892-1971) was a Scottish revolutionary who fought as a sniper for the Irish republicans during the Easter Rising, being the only woman wounded during the action. The Great Betrayal was the British release title for the Italian four-reel feature film Romanticismo (Italy 1915), a drama of Italian partisans fighting the Austrians in the 19th century, directed by Carlo Campogalliani and starring Tullio Carminati and Helena Makowska. Skinnider dates her cinema visit to August 1916. She left Dublin for the United States, to avoid internment, publishing her autobiography there.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

How to Enjoy the Movies

Source: Anon., ‘How to Enjoy the Movies’, Peterborough Examiner, Oct. 12, 1921, p.14

Text: You think you will drop in to the “movies” for a few minutes, and if happens to be the [theatre where] they have those luxurious wicker chairs, you choose a handy one, right near the aisle, and settle back. There is a nasty rain outside, but in here it is nice and warm and comfortable.

Presently a party of young people come in and settle directly behind you. They appear to be a great many of them. They make a loud noise and spend some time selecting seats. After two or three bumps, you sit forward until they are all settled. A cautious look around reveals that there are only four, two of each sex. One of the girls is powdering her nose and the other seems to be looking for something on the floor. She wriggles around, finally locates it, and settles down. Then they begin in earnest. The girls read the titles aloud and make remarks about them in half-whisper. They giggle about every little while and tell all they know about the actors in various pictures. It is a good deal. The vaudeville arrives, and they recognise one of the performers as an old acquaintance who visited the town some years ago. They know a good deal about his private life and tell each other. The young man directly behind you appears to have some difficulty with his knees. Every once in so often he changes their position and makes you get it in the back. He makes no excuse however. You look around. There are no other aisle seats vacant, so you resolve to endure to the bitter end. The young fellow at the farther end is very silent. The girls decide that he has gone to sleep and start to “kid” him. Their voices are louder now, and they giggle at every remark. Suddenly something descends upon your head. You have been contemplating the picture, and it is rather a shock. You are surprised. No excuse is made. Then whispering ensues. Then the young man directly behind proffers some information about the dancer, but is contradicted immediately by the girl next him who says she knows all about that young lady. He subsides into a morose silence, and gives you another vicious jab in the rear with his replaced knee. You shift your chair a little. The girls think they want some place to rest their feet, so turn to two vacant chairs around and in doing so knock your elbow. No excuse is made. They arrange their two pairs of feet on the cushioned chairs, and another era of whispering, giggling, fussing, conversation starts in. The comedy provides some situations which give them a chance to snicker. They do so. The young man re-adjusts his feet once more, and nearly capsizes your chair. No excuse is made. You move a couple of feet, and quiet down a bit. Then the girl says she wants to go and sit beside “Jack,” who is at the farther end, and the other one won’t let her. A slight scuffle ensues. The young men say nothing. You can hear him just behind re-arranging his feet once more, but this time you are out of range, so it doesn’t matter. The feature unrolls its romantic story, and the girls whisper and giggle some more. They are talking about another girl now, and enjoying themselves immensely. Finally the hero embraces the heroine, the young man changes his position for the last time, and you all go home.

Comments: This article appears in a Canadian newspaper, but may originate from another source. My thanks to Robert Clarke for bringing this piece to my attention.

Don't Look at the Camera

Source: Harry Watt, Don’t Look at the Camera (London: Elek Books, 1974), pp. 29-30

Text: So many of my highbrow associates think they can ‘meet the working man’. Malcolm Muggeridge, for instance, my revered and close friend. He hasn’t a hope. There’s that ghastly accent to start with. (I wonder if I would have talked like him if I’d gone to Cambridge, as my father suggested?) And he’s incapable of meandering on with the platitudes, repetitions and sudden flashes of colour in ordinary man’s speech. Without an innocuous Scots accent, a knowledge of football, boxing, cricket and horse racing, plus a few dirty stories mostly involving the bosses, and a capacity to swear, without repeating myself, for about two minutes, I could never have found the material to write the documentary films I did, both in peace and war. I imagine that Malcolm, master of words that he is, has not got these gifts. I once went with him to see The Bridge Over The River Kwai [sic] in a suburban cinema in Sydney, Australia. It was not one of my happier evenings. To start with, Malcolm can never speak sotto voce. He declaims, wherever he is. And that exaggerated ‘Pommy’ voice, echoing out over the Bijou Cinema, Cronulla, nearly started a riot. When William Holden, the co-star, disappeared, apparently killed, Malcolm said – as usual, at the top of his voice – ‘Thank God that dreary Yank has gone. I found him intolerable!’ I explained, very sotto voce, that Holden had been paid a million dollars for the picture, and as it was only a third of the way through, he was bound to reappear. When he did, Malcolm boomed ‘How clever you are, Harry, I can never understand the economic intricacies of your dreadful industry. So we have to put up with the awful shit to the end.’ At that, an enormous Rugby League forward, sitting behind us, got up and said ‘Listen, you Pommy poof, one more word out of you, and I’ll sink ya.’ Malcolm, of course, was not in the least discountenanced, and merely said, ‘My dear chap, I was only making what I thought was a perfectly valid criticism of a rather second-rate piece of cinema.’ The gorilla sat down, baffled. But I imagine Malcolm would have had great difficulty in achieving an intimacy with that Aussie.

Comments: Harry Watt (1906-1987) was a British documentary and feature film director, renowned for his contribution to such films as Night Mail, London Can Take It!, Target for Tonight and The Overlanders (one of a number of films he made in Australia). Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990) was a celebrated British journalist and social commentator, known for his early advocacy of left-wing views only to turn to strong conservatism in his latter years. He had a notably accentuated upper class English voice.

Cinemas and Cemeteries

Source: Richard Carr, ‘Cinemas and Cemeteries’, World Film and Television Progress, vol. 2 no. 2 (May 1937), pp. 18-19

Text: Once synonymous with suburban snobbery, Tooting to-day is a progressive and up-to-date suburb, contrasting favourably with its encircling neighbours, Balham and Wandsworth. As inner-London suburbs go, Tooting is fairly new: not so long ago, green fields abounded where now stand rows and rows of middle-class villas or streets of Council houses. Only in the older part of the suburb are there slums, bad ones too, slowly giving way before a continued and, at times, ferocious anti-slum campaign.

The population to-day is largely lower-middle and working class: the higher-ups have gradually moved further out as Council housing development has brought working-class people from the more crowded parts of London. Now its inhabitants are mainly office, shop, transport, printing and building workers, progressive in opinion and making the suburb a busy, lively and progressive area. It has no industries: unless cinemas and cemeteries be such.

For a population of 39,000 Tooting has seven cinemas. There are of course several others, on the outskirts of surrounding districts, within easy reach. Two of Tooting’s seven are “supers,” one a cine-news; the others date from earlier days and are correspondingly inadequate.

In old Tooting, there is a cinema which has claimed to be one of the first halls in London to show films. During its chequered career it has been music-hall, theatre, cinema; has closed and re-opened so often that the legend “under new management” might well be engraved on its walls, second in importance only to the cinema’s name.

The exact date at which films were first shown at this theatre is uncertain but its type of programme certainly tends to take one back some years in movie history. Names appear on the programme strange to the new generation of cinema-goers. Serials are run here too, serials on the old model in which the hero is left for a whole week suspended over a precipice, or lying helpless before an oncoming express, or at the mercy of relentless enemies. The display bills, contrasting with the modernistic advertising of the “supers,” are just long black-lettered lists of films: lists of westerns, of thrillers, of serials, of comedies, films not for an age but for all time.

Besides children and lads, appreciative of exciting films, a small and rather depressed audience visits this cinema. One fancies them lost, hovering helplessly between the cinemas they knew in the ill-lit, novelty days and the new “supers.” These are neither the simple, easily satisfied audiences of the pre-war days, nor the sophisticated movie fans of to-day. Perhaps, too old or too tired to go farther than just round the corner to the pictures, or too conservative to accept change, or too dazed and bewildered by the luxury of the super and the speed and complexities of the modern film. Some are people from small provincial towns and villages who find the less luxurious cinema more like home. Much of this cinema’s custom depends of course on children to whom the cheaper prices are essential or the straight films more interesting.

One of the “supers,” Mr. Bernstein’s Granada, is the Mecca of cinema-goers for miles round, though its regular patronage is built of Tooting people. It opens at twelve, and for sixpence, in the afternoon, you can sit in a comfortable seat in luxurious surroundings and get somewhere around three and a half hours of entertainment. Two full-length films, a newsreel, a comedy cartoon or short and stage shows varying from straightforward acts to “sensations” and “circuses” at holiday times. No circus being complete without horses, elephants, and acrobats, even these are to be seen on the Granada stage at Christmas time.

Mr. Bernstein treats his patrons well: offers them substantial fare, good seating and reasonable prices and asks their opinions on films and stars regularly. There are minor criticisms though; the length of the programme means that the last performance starts around seven-thirty, sometimes a few minutes earlier or later. For men or women some distance from their work, or for shop-assistants in the area, this means missing part of the performance: even for those who can with a scramble get there round about seven, there is often a long wait outside in the cold, or standing inside, none too pleasant after a day’s work. This applies chiefly to the cheaper seats, the one-and-three and the nine-pennies and it is worth Mr. Bernstein’s while to give this some attention.

Repertory
Perhaps the best comment on this is provided by the success of Tooting’s newest venture: The Classic, a repertory cinema, where you can see the films you missed or those you liked well enough to see again. This cinema gives a two-and-a-half-hour show, one price only downstairs, sixpence. It was formerly a struggling independent cinema, bad lighting, bad screening, and bad sound diminishing its custom, its programmes being consequently limited. It has been renovated outside and in, seating and screening greatly improved, though the old structure has prevented it being all it should. One full length film is shown, the rest of the programme being made up of shorts, colour
cartoons and news.

It opened with David Copperfield; went on to Little Giant, the Edward G. Robinson success; Ruggles of Red Gap; Bengal Lancer; Top Hat; If I Had a Million; Desire; and The Informer. Its future programmes include Crime Without Passion; Design for Living; and Viva Villa. The highest of high-brow cinema-goers could hardly better this list within the limitations imposed. So far the attendances have been unusually good, showing increased appreciation of good films and a growing preference for a shorter programme. The mammoth programme is all right for the family outing, for an entire evening out, but for the late workers, a show starting at 8.30 gives time for a meal and allows a comfortable evening.

Audiences in this suburb vary greatly, both in size and in behaviour. Holiday shows, especially the Christmas circuses, bring crowds of children, mothers and fathers. They enjoy almost everything and applaud the stage acts with tremendous gusto. On the other hand gangster, tough-guy and western pictures bring a larger number of men than women to the cinema. The Shirley Temple type of film brings women and youngster. Recent successes have been Texas Rangers, Bullets or Ballots, Rhythm on the Range, San Francisco, Swing Time, My Man Godfrey, Manhattan Madness, The Great Ziegfeld, and Libelled Lady.

Speed, Action and Fast Dialogue
Differences in taste are noticeable: the audience in one of the smaller cinemas, catering mostly for working-class people, is much more responsive to speed, action, and fast dialogue than in the cinemas attended mainly by families, by women and by young girls, or middle-class people. Love stories get better response from the women of all classes. The Granada is a combination of lower middle-class and working-class audiences of the family type, and does fairly well with Shirley Temple and George Arliss for example; but an increase of men in the audience is very noticeable when a film like Texas Rangers, Bullets or Ballots, or Mutiny on the Bounty is shown. In the cinema where there is a tougher audience, much fidgeting and talking goes on during British pictures and most films of a purely love-interest type. With such audiences action pictures, good musicals, and good dialogue find an appreciative audience. The idols are Spencer Tracey, James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Gary Cooper, and, in comedy films, W.C. Fields and Laurel and Hardy.

The Cine-news represents a real experiment, for the news-theatre has, in the past, got its chief support in the centre of towns, where many people have an hour to spare or to occupy. In a suburb, it does not invite the same support, the only attractions being newsreels of big races, fights, and other sporting events. A certain amount of custom is received as a result of nearby cinemas being crowded. In the main, the response has not been overwhelming. Whether local news items offer a means of building support remains to be seen, but it has to be remembered that the main attractions of the Cine-news — its cartoons and its newsreels — are often showing at the main cinemas as well.

Progressive Taste
Tooting provides much of interest and encouragement to the progressive cinemagoers or worker. Tip-top films are invariably well supported if shown under satisfactory conditions. The shifting of audiences from cinema to cinema corresponds strikingly to the merits of the film showing, save for such exceptional periods as holidays.

That there is a large and rapidly growing audience for the best type of film is strongly demonstrated by the likes and dislikes of Tooting audiences.

Comments: Richard Carr was a film journalist who wrote a series of articles on filmgoing habits across Britain for World Film and Television Progress. Tooting’s seven cinemas were the Granada Theatre, the Regent Cinema (founded c.1909 and probably the vintage cinema referred to by Carr), the Cinenews, the Broadway Palace Theatre, the Classic Cinema, the Mayfair Cinema, and the Methodist Central Hall.

Links: Copy at the Internet Archive (c/o Media History Digital Library)

Letters of James Joyce

Source: James Joyce, extract from letter to Stanislaus Joyce, 28 December 1904, reproduced in Richard Ellmann (ed.), Letters of James Joyce, vol. II (New York: Viking Press, 1966), p. 75

Text: One night I had a severe cramp in my stomach and Nora prayed ‘O my God, take away Jim’s pain.’ The other evening we went to a bioscope. There were a series of pictures about betrayed Gretchen. In the third last Lothario throws her into the river and rushes off, followed by rabble. Nora said ‘O, policeman, catch him’.

Comments: James Joyce (1882-1941) was an Irish novelist and briefly (December 1909-January 1910) a cinema manager. In 1904, while he and Nora Barnacle were living in Pola (now Pula) in what is now Croatia but was then part of Austria-Hungary, they went to a travelling film show, possibly the ‘Bioscopio elettrico’ managed by Carlo Lifka, which was located close to the Berlitz language school where Joyce taught. The reference to Gretchen and Lothario is probably generic rather than a specific film with those characters. Stanislaus Joyce was his brother.

Moving (Dioramic) Experiences

Source: Charles Dickens, ‘Moving (Dioramic) Experiences’, All the Year Round, vol. XVII, 23 March 1867, pp. 304-307

Text: The diorama is a demesne that seems to be strictly preserved for the virtuous and good. Those for whom the gaudy sensualities of the theatre are interdicted may here be entertained with the mild and harmless joys of an instructive diorama. At the doors going in, we may see the quality of the guests — benevolent-looking elderly men, dry virgins, a clergyman or two, and portly mammas with a good deal on their minds, who have brought the governess and all their young family. There is a crowd, and extraordinary eagerness to get in, though there, alas! often proves to be too much room. For these moral shows address themselves only to a limited area; though the limited area does not come forward so handsomely as it should do. Among such audiences there is a more resentful and jealous feeling about points of disagreement between them to the entertainment, such as not commencing — returning money and the like; the umbrellas and sticks, it may be remarked, are made more use of — I mean in the way of creating noise and the word “Shame!” is uttered from the back benches with more burning indignation. How often on the first night, say, of the Grand Moving Diorama of the Tonga Islands, when there has been a long delay, and something fatally wrong in the gasworks of the little town has prevented the despairing exhibitor from doing much more than show dim pictures, and transformations that miscarried dreadfully, how often have we not seen a bald head and glassy spectacles rise out of the Cimmerian gloom to which the character of the show inevitably consigns its audiences, and in what seems sepulchral accents address us on our wrongs. “We learn by our excellent weekly organ — not the one we hear in our place of worship — that this is Mr. Laycock, our “worthy” fellow-citizen, who has been for years a resident. He thinks we have been treated badly— outrageously; in fact, in the whole course of his long residence at Dunmacleary — then umbrellas and sticks give a round — he never recollected an audience — a highly intelligent and respectable audience (sticks and umbrellas again) — treated with such disrespect. What they had seen that night was a miserable and inefficient thing — a wretched imposture and take-in” (sticks again). The poor showman is always helpless, and from his “stand,” where he had been in such luxuriant language describing the beauties of foreign lands, excitedly defends himself, to cries of “No, no,” and umbrella interruptions. It was not his fault. He had arrived late “in their town.” He had been up all night (“Return the money”). It was the fault of their gasworks (groans), and he would mention names. Yes, of Mr. John Cokeleigh, the secretary (“Shame”), who assured him (great interruption at this unworthy attempt to defame the absent).

A really good diorama is a really high treat, and for the young an entertainment second only to the pantomime. Parents should encourage this feeling, instead of serving out those little sugar-plums, which are so precious to a child, as if they were dangerous and forbidden fruit, which might corrupt the morals and corrupt the soul. These joys are always made to hang awfully in the balance on the turn of a feather-weight, as it were — by well-meaning but injudicious parents.

Alas! do I not recal Mr. Blackstone, our daily tutor, a steady, conscientious, poor, intellectual “navvy,” who was reading nominally “for orders,” but, as it proved, for a miserable curacy, which he still holds, and I believe will hold, till he reaches sixty. This excellent man kept a mother and sisters “on me and a few more boys,” that is to say, by coining for two hours each day on tutorship. Mr. Blackstone kept a little judgment-book with surprising neatness, in which are entries which scored down, with awful rigidness, Latin, bene; Greek, satis; French, medi. This volume was submitted every evening at dinner to the proper authority, and by its testimony we were used according to our deserts, and, it may be added, with the result which the rare instinct of the Lord Hamlet anticipated on using people after their deserts. During this course of instruction, it came to pass that the famous Diorama of the North Pole arrived in our city. It had indeed been looked for very wistfully and for a long time, and its name and description displayed on walls in blue and white stalactite letters, apparently hanging from the eaves of houses, stimulated curiosity. Indeed, I had the happiness of seeing the North Pole actually arrive, not as it might be present to romantic eyes, all illuminated from behind, and in a state of transparent gorgeousness, but in a studied privacy and all packed close in great rolls. Later, I found my way up the deserted stair of the “rooms” where the North Pole had taken up its residence, and, awe-struck, peeped into the great darkened chamber where it reposed with mysterious stillness. There was a delightful perfume of gas, and the rows of seats stretched away far back, all deserted. The North Pole, shrouded in green baize, rose up gauntly, as if it were wrapping itself close in a cloak, and did not wish to be seen. A hammer began to knock behind, and I withdrew hurriedly. Somehow, that grand déshabille by day left almost as mysterious, though not so gay, an impression as the night view. But to return to Mr. Blackstone. Latterly, rather an awkward run of “satis” and “medis” had set in, and the pupil at that evening’s inspection of the books had been warned and remonstrated. With that rather gloomy view which is always taken of a child’s failings, he had been warned that he was entering on a course that would bring him early “to a bad end,” if not “to the gallows.” This awful warning, though the connexion of this dreadful exit with the “satis,” &c., was but imperfectly seen, always sank deep, and the terrors of the “drop” and a public execution sometimes disturbed youthful dreams. But, however, just on the arrival of the North Pole it was unfortunate that this tendency towards a disgraceful end should have set in. For the very presence of this pleasing distraction unnerved the student. It was determined that an early day should be fixed when the family should go, as it were, en masse, and have their minds improved by the spectacle of what the Arctic navigators had done. To the idle apprentice who was under Mr. Blackstone’s care, it was sternly intimated that unless he promptly mended, and took the other path which did not lead to the gallows, he should be made an example of. This awful penalty was enough from sheer nervousness to bring about failure, and when the day fixed for the North Pole came round, Mr. Blackstone said “it was with much pain that he was compelled to give the worst mark in his power for Greek, namely, ‘malè!'”

At this terrible blow all fortitude gave way, and, with a piteous appeal to tutorial mercy, it was “blubbered” out what a stake was depending on his decision, and that not only was the North Pole hopelessly lost for ever, but that worse might follow. Blackstone was a good soul at heart, and I recal his walking up and down the room in sincere distress as he listened to the sad story. He was a conscientious man, and when he began, “You see what you are coming to, by the course of systematic idleness you have entered on,” and when, too, he began to give warnings of the danger of such a course, with an indistinct allusion to the gallows, it was plain there was hope. After a good deal of sarcasm and anger, and even abuse, I recal his sitting down with his penknife and neatly — he did everything neatly — scratching out the dreadful “malè.” But his conscience would only suffer him to substitute a “vix medi,” a description which, in truth, did not differ much, but which had not the naked horror of the other. I could have embraced his knees. And yet suspicion was excited by this erasure, most unjustly, and but little faith was put in the protestations of the accused; for his eagerness to be present at the show was known, and he was only cleared by the friendly testimony of an expert as to handwriting.

That North Pole was very delightful. It seems to me now to be mostly ships in various positions, and very “spiky” icebergs. The daring navigators, Captain Back and others, always appeared in full uniform. They had all our sympathy. The most exciting scene was the capture of the whale, as it was called, though it scarcely amounted to a capture. When the finny monster had struck out with his tail and sent the boat and crew all into the air, a dreadful spectacle of terror and confusion, which caused a sensation among the audience, exhibited by rustling and motion in the dark, an unpleasantness, however, quickly removed by the humour of our lecturer, who, in his comic way, says, “As this is a process which happens on an average about once in the week, the sailors get quite accustomed to this ducking, and consider it rather fun than otherwise, as it saves them the trouble of taking a bath.” This drollery convulses us, and the youthful mind thinks what it would give to have such wit. Not less delightful was the scene where the seals were playing together on the vast and snowy-white shore, with the great “hicebergs” (so our lecturer had a tendency to phrase it) in the distance, and the two ships all frozen up. We had music all through, as the canvas moved on. And when our lecturer dwelt on the maternal affection of the wounded seal which was struggling to save its offspring, and declined to escape into the water, Mr. George Harker, the admired tenor (but invisible behind the green baize), gave us, with great feeling and effect — was it the ballad of “Let me kiss him for his Mother”?

Only a few years ago, when the intrepid navigators, M’Clintock and others, were exciting public attention, a new panorama of their perils and wanderings was brought out. Faithful to the old loves of childhood, I repaired to the show; but presently begun to rub my eyes. It seemed like an old dream coming back. The boat in the air, the wounded seal, and the navigators themselves, in full uniform, treating with the Esquimaux — all this was familiar. But I rather resented the pointing out of the chief navigator “in the foreground” as the intrepid Sir Leopold, for he was the very one who had been pointed to as the intrepid Captain Back.

Not less welcome in these old days was the ingenious representation of Mr. Green the intrepid aeronaut’s voyage in his great balloon “Nas sau.” There was a dramatic air about all that. The view of gardens, crowded with spectators in very bright dresses (illuminated from behind), and with faces all expressive of delight and wonder, and the balloon in the middle — a practicable balloon, not attached to the canvas. We could see it swaying as the men strove to hold it. I remember the describer’s words to this hour: “At last, all being now ready, Mr. Green, the intrepid aeronaut, and his companion entered the car, and having taken farewell of his friends, gave the signal to cast off, and in a moment the balloon rapidly ascended.” At the same time cheerful music behind the baize, “The Roast Beef of Old England,” I think, struck up, and the garden, wondering spectators, trees, all went down rapidly, the balloon remaining stationary. The effect was most ingeniously produced. I never shall forget the interest with which that voyage was followed. We had the clouds, the stars, the darkened welkin, all moving slowly by (to music). The crossing of the Channel by night, and the rising of the sun — wonderful effect! Plenty of rich fiery streaking well laid on. Then the Continent, and terra firma again; and how ingeniously was a difficulty got rid of. Necessarily, the countries we were to see from Mr. Green’s car could only be under faint bird’s- eye condition, and “so many thousand feet above the level of the sea,” which would make everything rather indistinct and unsatisfactory. We therefore took advantage of the interval between the first and second parts to get rid of our large balloon which blocked up the centre of the canvas, and changed it for a tiny one, which was put away high in the air, in its proper place, where it took up no room, and did quite as well as the other. However, at the close of the performance, when we had travelled over every- thing, and wished to see Mr. Green coining down, we took back our large balloon, and were very glad to see it again, and the wondering faces of the Germans.

There is one scene which the dioramic world seems inclined not willingly to let die. At least it somehow thrusts itself without any regard to decent dioramic fitness upon every kind of diorama indiscriminately. Any student will know at once that I allude to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. This seems to have a sort of fascination for the painters. I never knew a single show that had not this church “lugged in” head and shoulders, or rather porch and pillars, either at the beginning or at the end. I am afraid this is from no spirit of piety or veneration, but simply from the favourable opening the church presents for changing from a daylight view to a gorgeous “night effect.” They know, too, that the good are among the audience in strong force, and that is touching the true chord. We know by heart the clumpy Byzantine pillars and the Moorish arches, and the stairs down to the right, and the round globes of white light lamps burning, and the men in turbans kneeling.

Suddenly we hear the harmonium behind, and the voices of Mr. George Harker, the admired tenor, and Miss Edith Williams, the (also) admired soprano, attuning their admired voices together in a very slow hymn; and gradually the whole changes to midnight, with a crypt lit up with countless lamps and countless worshippers. A dazing and dazzling spectacle, the umbrellas of the good and pious becoming deafening in their approbation. Taken as an old friend, that I have seen in every town in the kingdom, I have an affection for this crypt and its transformation; but still I know every stone in it by heart. Where was it that I saw the DIORAMA OF IRELAND, with “national harps and altars,” “national songs and watchwords,” “national dances and measures,” all in great green letters, made out of staggering round towers and ruined abbeys? — appropriate songs and dances by Miss Biddy Magrath. Where but is an Irish town rather towards the north. I recal the lecturer, a very solemn man, who preached a good deal as the canvas moved on to music — it is a law that canvas can only move to music; and a city with bridges, &c., and a river would slowly pass on, and stop short when it was finally developed. Our lecturer would say, sadly, as if he were breaking a death, “LIM-ER-ICK! the city of the vier-lated te-reaty!” The result of this announcement in the northern town was a burst of hisses, with a counter-demonstration from the back benches. The grand scene, however, was when a bright and gay town came on, and was introduced as “DERRY, THE MAIDEN CITY!” Then there was terrific applause, and even cheers, with a counter-demonstration from the back. It will be conceived that this state of things did not conduce at all to the success of the diorama, and it was very shortly withdrawn from its native land, and exhibited to more indifferent spectators. And yet Miss Magrath’s exertions, both in singing and dancing, were exceedingly arch, and deserved a better fate.

The lecturers are always delightful. What were they — I always think while waiting for the green baize to be drawn — before they took to this profession? Is it a lucrative profession? — by the way, it certainly must be a limited one. How he must get at last absolutely to loathe the thing he described, and yet he always looks at it as he speaks with an air of affection; but in his heart of hearts he must loathe it, or be dead to all human feelings and repugnances. For only consider the “day performance” at two — the night one at eight. Yet he always seems to deliver it with an air of novelty, and an air of wisdom, too, and morality, which is not of the pulpit, or forum, but simply dioramic. It is only when he descends to jests and joking that he loses our respect. A little story of his goes an immense way, especially anything touching on love or courtship. “There,” he says, speaking of the prairies, “the vast rolling plains are covered with a rank lugsurious and rich verjoor. There we can see the solitary wigwam, with the squaw preparing the family kettle, unencumbered by their babies. They have an excellent way in the prairies of dealing with troublesome appendages. Every child is made up into a sort of case or bandage, as depicted in the foreground of the scene. When they are busy, they simply hang them on a tree to be out of the way.” Every father and mother laughs heartily, and with delight, at this humorous stroke. Perhaps the pleasantest of the whole round was a certain diorama that called itself “The Grand Tour,” and which carried out the little fiction of its visitors being “excursionists,” and taken over every leading city on the Continent. We were supposed to take our tickets, “first-class,” at London- bridge, embarked in a practicable steamer at St. Katharine’s Wharf, with its rigging all neatly cut out, so that, as we began to move—or rather, as the many thousand square feet of canvas began to move — we saw the Tower of London, and various objects of interest along the river passing us by. The steamer was uncommonly good indeed, and actually gave delicate people present quite an uncomfortable feeling. Presently all the objects of interest had gone by, and we were out at sea, with fine effects by moonlight, fine effects by blood-red sunrise, and then we were landed, and saw every city that was worth visiting. Against one little “effect” some of our “excursionists” — among the more elderly — made indignant protest. When we were passing through Switzerland and came to Chamounix, where there had been a prodigal expenditure of white paint and a great saving in other colours, and found ourselves at the foot of the great mountain — I forget how many thousand feet above the level of the sea, but we were told to a fraction our lecturer warmed into enthusiasm, and burst out into the lines:

Mont Blanc, the monarch of mountains,
In his robe of snow, &c.

But the greatest danger that menaces us is what our lecturer calls the “have-a-launch,” which must be a very serious thing indeed. “Often ‘ole villages may be reposing in peaceful tranquilhity, the in’abitants fast locked in slumber, when suddenly, without a note of preparation” —- Exactly, that is what such of us as have nerves object to — a startling crash produced behind the baize — a scream among the audience — and the smiling village before us is buried in a mass of snow—white paint. It is the “have-a-launch.” This is the grand coup of the whole. Why does the music take the shape of the mournful Dead March in Saul?

Yet even dioramas have the elements of decay. Sometimes they light on a dull and indifferent town, and get involved in debt and difficulty. The excursions can’t pay their own expenses. I once saw a diorama of the Susquehanna, covering many thousand square feet of canvas, and showing the whole progress of that noble river, sold actually for no more than five pounds. I was strongly tempted, as the biddings rested at that figure. It would be something to say you had bought a panorama once in your life.

Comments: Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was a British novelist and journalist. All the Year Round was a literary periodical that Dickens founded and initially edited, as well as contributing material. Although the piece was written in 1867, Dickens is mostly recalling shows from the 1830s. Moving panoramas (or moving dioramas) of the kind described by Dickens combined panoramic paintings that scrolled pass the viewer with lighting effects and music. Among the panoramas to which he refers are David Roberts’ Moving Diorama of the Polar Expedition (1829) and Aeronautikon! or, Journey of the Great Balloon, originally created in 1836 by panorama specialist the Grieve family and inspired by a balloon flight from Britain to Germany undertaken by Charles Green. These particular panoramas, and Dickens’s commentary, are discussed in Erkki Huhtamo’s book Illusions in Motion: Media Archaeology of the Moving Panorama and Related Spectacles (2013).

Links: Copy at Dickens Journals Online

One Day in the Life of Television

Source: Nicola Irvine, quoted in Sean Day-Lewis (ed.), One Day in the Life of Television (London: British Film Institute, 1989), p. 213

Text: The television is on in the living-room and the cassette player is playing in the adjacent kitchen. One of my favourite programmes is on at 5.15 pm. and I try my best to concentrate on Blockbusters, amidst the barrage of questions, people arguing, and shouting at someone to shut the door. I live with four, sometimes five, other students (or ex-students) and the cooking and talking causes quite a racket. Then the telephone starts ringing

I love watching Blockbusters because getting the questions correct is due to a skill acquired from watching the programme repeatedly and not from a vast general knowledge. The ‘easiness’ and ‘hardness’ of questions goes in patterns and depends on the rhythm of the game, and also how badly a contestant is losing. For instance, you know that the answer to ‘K’, a picture card in a pack of playing cards, is ‘knave’ and not ‘king’. This will give the slower contestants a chance to win a point because the quicker competitor will immediately guess ‘king’.

As with most of my experience of watching game shows (which I do rarely) I shout insults at the television, regarding the contestants. The schoolchildren on the programme are invariably those types who are considered ‘characters’ or what a school report would describe as ‘outgoing’. On television they appear obnoxious and embarrassingly precocious, as emphasized by their cuddly mascots. I am further aggravated when Bob asks them questions about themselves, especially when they say they want to go into advertising. When I was at school, people wanted to be teachers and nurses and footballers, but now everyone wants to awaken to a Maxwell House 7 a.m. shoot and be a media person …

Comments: One Day in the Life of Television was a project organised by the British Film Institute which documented one day’s television broadcasting in the UK (1 November 1988) with impressions specially recorded by hundreds of television professionals and ordinary viewers. Nicola Irvine was a student in Birmingham. Blockbusters (originally broadcast 1983) was a long-running British TV quiz show, based on an American original, and hosted by Bob Holness.

Mazie

Source: Joseph Mitchell, extract from ‘Mazie’ in Up in the Old Hotel (London: Vintage, 1992), pp. 23-24 (original essay published in The New Yorker, 21 December 1940)

Text: … Mazie has presided for twenty-one years over the ticket cage of the Venice Theatre, at 209 Park Row, a few doors west of Chatham Square, where the Bowery begins.

The Venice is a small, seedy moving-picture theatre, which opens at 8 A.M. and closes at midnight. It is a dime house. For this sum a customer sees two features, a newsreel, a cartoon, a short, and a serial episode. The Venice is not a ‘scratch house.’ In fact, it is highly esteemed by its customers, because its seats get a scrubbing at least once a week. Mazie brags that it is as sanitary as the Paramount. ‘Nobody ever got loused up in the Venice,’ she says. On the Bowery, cheap movies rank just below cheap alcohol as an escape, and most bums are movie fans. In the clientele of the Venice they are numerous. The Venice is also frequented by people from the tenement neighborhoods in the vicinity of Chatham Square, such as Chinatown, the Little Italy on lower Mulberry Street, and the Spanish section on Cherry Street. Two-thirds of its customers are males. Children and most women sit in a reserved section under the eyes of a matron. Once, in an elegant mood, Mazie boasted that she never admits intoxicated persons. ‘When do you consider a person intoxicated? she was asked. Mazie snickered. ‘When he has to get down on all fours and crawl.‘ she said. In any case, there are drunks in practically every Venice audience. When the liquor in them dies down they become fretful and mumble to themselves, and during romantic pictures they make loud, crazy, derogatory remarks to the actors on the screen. but by and large they are not as troublesome as a class of bums Mazie calls ‘the stiffs,’ These are the most listless of bums. They are blank-eyed and slow-moving, and they have no strong desire for anything but sleep. Some are able to doze while leaning against a wall, even in freezing weather. Many stiffs habitually go into the Venice early in the day and slumber in their seats until they are driven out at midnight. ‘Some days I don’t know which this is, a movie-pitcher theatre or a flophouse,’ Mazie once remarked. ‘Other day I told the manager pitchers with shooting in them are bad for business. They wake up the customers.’

Most Bowery movie houses employ bouncers. At the Venice, Mazie is the bouncer. She tells intimates that she feels fighting is unladylike but that she considers it her duty to throw at least one customer out of the theatre every day. ‘If I didn’t put my foot down, the customers would take the place,’ she says. ‘I don’t get any fun out of fighting. I always lose my temper. When I start swinging, I taste blood, and I can’t stop. Sometimes I get beside myself. Also, a lot of the bums are so weak they don’t fight back, and that makes me feel like a heel.’ Mazie is small, but she is wiry and fearless, and she has a frightening voice. Her ticket cage is in the shadow of the tracks of the City Hall spur of the Third Avenue elevated line, and two decades of talking above the screeching of the trains have left her with a rasping bass, with which she can dominate men twice her size. Now and then, in the Venice, a stiff throws his head back and begins to snore so blatantly that he can be heard all over the place, especially during tense moments in the picture. When this happens, or when one of the drunks gets into a bellowing mood, the women and children in the reserved section stamp on the floor and chant,‘Mazie! Mazie! We want Mazie!’ The instant this chant goes up, the matron hastens out to the lobby and raps on the side window of Mazie’s cage. Mazie locks the cash drawer, grabs a bludgeon she keeps around, made of a couple of copies of True Romances rolled up tightly and held together by rubber bands, and strides into the theatre. As she goes down the aisle, peering this way and that, women and children jump to their feet, point fingers in the direction of the offender, and cry, ‘There he is, Mazie! There he is!’ Mazie gives the man a resounding whack on the head with her bludgeon and keeps on whacking him until he seems willing to behave. Between blows, she threatens him with worse punishment. Her threats are fierce and not altogether coherent.‘Outa here on a stretcher!‘ she yells. ‘Knock your eyeballs out! Big baboon! Every tooth in your head! Bone in your body!’ The women and children enjoy this, particularly if Mazie gets the wrong man. as she sometimes does. In action, Mazie is an alarming sight. Her face becomes flushed, her hair flies every which way, and her slip begins to show. If a man defends himself or is otherwise contrary, she harries him out of his seat and drives him from the theatre. As he scampers up the aisle, with Mazie right behind him, whacking away, the women and children applaud …

Comments: Joseph Mitchell (1908-1996) was an American journalist, best-known for his pieces in The New Yorker, of which Up in the Old Hotel is a collection. The Venice opened in 1914 and seated 650 people. The profile continues with its description of Mazie and the cinema operation, noting that she was quite uninterested in films themselves, saying ‘They make me sick’. My thanks to Deac Rossell for bringing this piece to my attention.

Out of the Darkness

Source: Allan Morley, ‘Our Cinematographic Cartoons, no. 50 – Out of the Darkness’, Pictures and the Picturegoer, 13 February 1916, p. 475

Comments: Allan Morley is probably the comic artist of that name (1895-1960) who worked for DC Thomson magazines from the 1920s to the 1950s, including work for such children’s comics as The Beano and The Dandy. The legend that accompanies the cartoon reads: “Pictures are often amusing, but the conversations of picturegoers are very often more so. Our cartoonist presents a sample of what he has overheard at sundry cinemas”. The use of speech bubbles to reveal the conversations of a film audience in the dark is also employed in the postcards ‘The Bioscope‘ and ‘In the Cinema‘ previously featured on this site. Pictures and the Picturegoer was a British film trade journal. My thanks to Maria Velez for having first tweeted this image.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive