The Spell of China

Source: Archie Bell, The Spell of China (Boston: Page Co., 1917), pp. 102-104

Text: Charlie Chaplin has “invaded” the Orient and he is winning friends for the “American drama,” where acting and singing companies have failed to do so. They told me of an American comic opera company that visited Shanghai some time ago. My informant declared that the troupe gave creditable performances, but the Chinese ears were tortured by the singing. At first the audience calmly endured it, thinking that the agony would soon be over. Then they looked at one another absent-mindedly, and, finally, before the evening was over, most of the men had folded their coat sleeves over their mouths, so their laughter would not be audible. But they all have heard about the popularity of Chaplin in America, and for once in their lives Orient agrees with Occident. Chaplin is a great entertainer! The Chinese enjoy him, because his antics coincide exactly with their ideas of what comedy should be; and think he is the funniest man who ever lived. It is amusing to attend a theater in China where a Chaplin exhibition is in progress. When I first saw him in the country it was in a rather imposing theatre and “Our Best People” were said to be in attendance. The first glance at them, however, was rather shocking. Here was “full dress” with a vengeance; “full dress” that quite put into the shade any similar effort at undress in the Metropolitan horseshow in New York. Many Chinese were stripped to the waist and wore either a pair of bathing trunks—the idea was borrowed from America—or the long, baggy Chinese trousers that are tied around the ankles with ribbons. As I looked out over the audience from the back of the house, the bathing trunks, trousers and ribbons were invisible. What I saw was an ocean of bare backs and shoulders. I took a seat among this strangely costumed multitude, and finally recovered sufficiently to note that a Charlie Chaplin comedy was being shown. Bang! Something came down and hit him on the head. Zipp! He tripped his toe and fell headlong. The audience laughed as I had never seen Chinese laugh. There were few ladies present, because it is not yet considered quite the “proper” thing for a Chinese matron or her daughters to attend a cinema exhibition, but I carefully observed the perspiring gentlemen close to me. They seemed to be having the time of their lives, sometimes laughing so violently that it seemed to pain them, doubtless because it pained them to realize that they were so far forgetting themselves. Whenever “Our Charlie” took a particularly heavy fall, or whenever something fell on his head, apparently causing him great suffering, the Chinese closed their eyes, sat back on their benches and laughed facially and inwardly. It was a typical July night and it was very warm. The perspiration flowed down their backs in streams as they literally undulated with glee.

Comments: Archie Bell was an American travel writer. The racially questionable piece goes on to argue that “no better exhibition could be devised for the entertainment of the Chinese audience. He is supposed to have a ‘heart,’ but the Chinaman derives much satisfaction when he sees another man suffering, particularly if there is a remote possibility that he deserves it.”

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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)

Moslem Women Enter a New World

Source: Ruth Frances Woodsmall, Moslem Women Enter a New World (New York: Round Table Press, 1936), pp. 82-84

Text: The most widespread change in the general recreational life for women is shown by the increase of attendance at cinemas. Only a few years ago marked the beginning of cinema privileges for women in the Moslem East. Official approval of the cinema was given to women in Iran in 1928 by the removal of police restrictions. Special days were set aside when they could attend the cinema, the popularity of which was evident at the end of the performance from the steady stream of black chaddur figures leaving. A most remarkable performance for a mixed audience was given in Teheran in November 1928, when for the first time an unveiled Moslem woman sang in evening dress before a public audience. Seats were sold out several days in advance. Police were stationed in the aisles to avoid any possible trouble. A large detachment of police was detailed to the environs of the cinema, a precaution which showed the unusual significance of the occasion. It was one of the great events of the winter, widely talked about all over Iran. Cinemas in Iran still have a woman’s section, but women sit also in the mixed section, and enter veiled or unveiled. Even in a conservative centre such as Meshed women may attend the same cinema with men. An Iranian liberal newspaper made the interesting comment that having women sit with men at the cinema reduces the number of scenes in the streets and tends toward a higher moral tone. The opponents would of course challenge that statement.

In Baghdad, but not yet in Basra or Mosul, everybody goes to the cinema. “Open a schoolgirl’s desk, and you will find on top of her books a movie magazine with pictures of Hollywood stars,” the principal of the girls’ high school in Baghdad said, in commenting on the present passion for the cinema. The conservative women attend the special afternoon performances featured for them; others of prominent social position attend the mixed movies in the evening, with their husbands. They are technically veiled but from their box they look freely around the audience. The distinction between the special afternoon cinemas for women and the mixed evening cinemas holds also in Aleppo and Beirut. If Moslem women in Syria attend the mixed performances, they usually are unveiled in order to avoid being conspicuous, for although Moslem women go freely, there are always more men. In Damascus women began
attending the cinema in 1930 when a large outdoor cinema was turned over to them once a week. The rule “For women only” was strictly observed; not even boys over twelve years were admitted. Crowds of women flocked to this popular weekly dissipation, almost as interested in seeing each other as in seeing the film, which, however, on the occasion of my visit was one of absorbing interest for the women of Damascus — the story of Saladin and the Crusades. Their keen reaction to the picture and enthusiasm over Saladin’s exploits gave one a different idea of the Crusades from the usual Western point of view. The women in Amman Trans-jordan six years ago attended their first film, entering veiled but sitting on the front row unveiled. Cinema attendances of women in Cairo in now a commonplace. Women go unveiled with men or veiled alone, unveiling during the performance; they sit in boxes or with the audience, as they choose.

For the most part the cinema has not attracted the Moslem women of the lower class in Beirut or elsewhere as much as it has the upper class, since change in recreation, as in unveiling, begins at the top and works down. A woman in Beirut of this lower class whom I asked whether she ever attended a cinema, gave me an answer which seems typical of her social level. “We know the cinema by name, but have never seen one.” But the different grades of cinemas and cheaper prices are beginning to make their appeal to this class also. Moreover the production of films portraying Eastern life in the language of the East and produced by Eastern players is bringing the cinema more into the life of the uneducated women, to whom the unfamiliar Western scene makes less appeal than to those who have had some Western education. In Turkey since the first Turkish film with Turkish women performers was produced only a few years ago, the Turkish production has steadily increased and doubtless the appeal of the cinema has accordingly widened. The unrestricted cinema attendance of Turkish women, since the special harem days were discontinued early in the new regime, is only one of the many indications of the naturalness of everyday life in Turkey to-day.

Travel, bobbed hair, photographs, sports, recreation, going to the cinema, these many precious stages of advance for the still veiled or hesitantly unveiling woman elsewhere in the Moslem world, have all become for the Turkish woman merely a matter of personal choice. One is impressed to-day with the lack of all reference in the Press or in private conversation to these details of freedom, which are regarded to-day as a normal part of life. The idea of freedom of women has been so completely accepted that distinctions between men and women are now as little emphasized as they would be in the Western world. It is indeed difficult to realize that the grandfathers of the present free young Turkish girls might have paid the price of this freedom by exile or death. For to-day Turkish girls play tennis, dance, dine out if invited, swim, ride horseback, play bridge, patronize the beauty parlour, frequent the movies, travel if they can afford it — work, study and play just as girls do in France or America. There is of course at the present time between the life of Istanbul or Ankara and parts of Asia Minor not only a difference of degree, but also of the kind of social life. But there are no artificially imposed social conventions of the veil and eventually Istanbul or Ankara will differ from Konia or Sivas in much the same way as the life in New York or Washington differs from that of cities or towns in the south or middle west.

Comments: Ruth Frances Woodsmall (1883-1963) was an American schoolteacher and author, who worked for the Young Women’s Christian Association, the Allied High Commission for Occupied Germany (where she was Chief of the Women’s Affairs Section), and UNESCO, reporting on women’s affairs. In 1928 she obtained a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation to investigate the changing status of Muslim women in the Middle East, which resulted in her influential book Moslem Women Enter a New World and other studies.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

With the Persian Expedition

Source: Major M.H. Donohoe, With the Persian Expedition (London: E. Arnold, 1919), pp. 26-27

Text: The cinema also exercised a great influence on the native mind. Never quite understanding its working, he accepted it all philosophically as part of the travelling outfit of that strange race of infidels from far away who had chased the Turks from the shores of the Arabian Sea, who seemed to be able to make themselves into birds at will, and who rushed over the roadless desert in snorting horseless carriages. Men such as these were capable of anything, and when the first cinema film arrived, the Arabs filled to overflowing the ramshackle building which served as a theatre. In Basra I often went to the cinema, not so much for the show itself as to catch the joy with which that primitive child of nature, the Arab, followed the mishaps and triumphs of the hero through three reels. How they were moved to tears by his sufferings! And how they shouted with joy when the villain of the piece was hoist by his own petard and his career of rascality abruptly and fittingly terminated!”

One thing, I found on talking to some of these native onlookers, puzzled their minds exceedingly, and that was the morals and manners of European women as shown on the screen. The Arab is a fervent stickler for the conventionalities, and it was a great shock to his religious scruples to see women promenading in low-necked dresses with uncovered faces, frequenting restaurants with strange men not their husbands, and imbibing strong drink. “The devil must be kept busy in Faringistan raking all these shameless creatures into the bottomless pit!” said one Arab to me, when I asked him what he thought of the cinema. It was useless to seek to explain that cinema scenes did not represent the real life of the Englishman or the American, and that all our women do not earn thier [sic] living as cinema artists.

In Basra I never saw a Mohammedan woman frequenting a cinema performance. Even had she won over her husband’s consent to such an innovation, public opinion would veto her presence there, and she would not be permitted to look upon this devil’s machine illustrating foreign “wickedness.”

Comments: Martin Henry Donohoe (1869-?) was a major in the British army Intelligence Corps and prior to that a special correspondent for the Daily Chronicle newspaper. The Persian expedition described in his book was an Allied military force named Dunsterforce (after its leader General Lionel Dunsterville), formed in December 1917 and made up of Australian, New Zealand, British and Canadian troops. It played a part in the latter stages of the First World War conflict in Persia (Iran) against the forces of the Ottoman Empire. Donohoe travelled to Iran by way of Basra (now in Iraq), which had been part of the Ottoman Empire but which was now occupied by the British.

Links: Copy at the Internet Archive

The Film Gone Male

Source: Dorothy Richardson, ‘Continuous Performance: The Film Gone Male’, Close Up vol. IX no. 1, March 1932, pp. 36-38

Text: Memory, psychology is to-day declaring, is passive consciousness. Those who accept this dictum see the in-rolling future as living reality and the past as reality entombed. They also regard every human faculty as having an evolutionary history. For these straight-line thinkers memory is a mere glance over the shoulder along a past seen as a progression from the near end of which mankind goes forward. They are also, these characteristically occidental thinkers, usually found believing in the relative passivity of females. And since women excel in the matter of memory, the two beliefs admirably support each other. But there is memory and memory. And memory proper, as distinct from a mere backward glance, as distinct even from prolonged contemplation of things regarded as past and done with, gathers, can gather, and pile up its wealth only round universals, unchanging, unevolving verities that move neither backwards nor forwards and have neither speech nor language.

And that is one of the reasons why women, who excel in, memory and whom the cynics describe as scar[c]ely touched by evolving civilisation, are humanity’s silent half, without much faith in speech as a medium of communication. Those women who never question the primacy of “clear speech”, who are docile disciples of the orderly thought of man, and acceptors of theorems, have either been educationally maltreated or are by nature more within the men’s than within the women’s camp. Once a woman becomes a partisan, a representative that is to say of one only of the many sides of question, she has abdicated. The batallions of partisan women glittering in the limelit regions of to-day’s world, whose prestige is largely the result of the novelty of their attainments, communicating not their own convictions but some one or other or a portion of some one or other of the astonishing varieties of thought-patterns under which men experimentally arrange such phenomena as are suited to the process, represent the men’s camp and are distinguishable by their absolute faith in speech as a medium of communication.

The others, whom still men call womanly and regard with emotion not unmixed with a sane and proper fear, though they may talk incessantly from the cradle onwards, are, save when driven by calamitous necessity, as silent as the grave. Listen to their outpouring torrents of speech. Listen to village women at pump or fireside, to villa women, to unemployed service-flat women, to chatelaines, to all kinds of women anywhere and everywhere. Chatter, chatter, chatter, as men say. And say also that only one in a thousand can talk. Quite. For all these women use speech, with individual differences, alike: in the manner of a façade. Their awareness of being, as distinct from man’s awareness of becoming, is so strong that when they are confronted, they must, in most circumstances, snatch at words to cover either their own palpitating spiritual nakedness or that of another. They talk to banish embarrassment. It is true they are apt to drop, if the confrontation be prolonged, into what is called gossip and owes both its charm and its poison to their excellence in awareness of persons. This amongst themselves. In relation to men their use of speech is various. But always it is a façade.

And the film, regarded as a medium of communication, in the day of its innocence, in its quality of being nowhere and everywhere, nowhere in the sense of having more intention than direction and more purpose than plan, everywhere by reason of its power to evoke, suggest, reflect, express from within its moving parts and in their totality of movement, something of the changeless being at the heart of all becoming, was essentially feminine. In its insistence on contemplation it provided a pathway to reality.

In becoming audible and particularly in becoming a medium of propaganda, it is doubtless fulfilling its destiny. But it is a masculine destiny. The destiny of planful becoming rather than of purposeful being. It will be the chosen battle-ground of rival patterns, plans, ideologies in endless succession and bewildering variety.

It has been declared that it is possible by means of purely aesthetic devices to sway an audience in whatever direction a filmateur desires. This sounds menacing and is probably true. (The costumiers used Hollywood to lengthen women’s skirts. Perhaps British Instructional, with the entire medical profession behind it, will kindly shorten them again). It is therefore comforting to reflect that so far the cinema is not a government monopoly. It is a medium, or a weapon, at the disposal of all parties and has, considered as a battlefield a grand advantage over those of the past when civil wars have been waged disadvantageously to one party or the other by reason of inequalities of publicity, restrictions of locale and the relative indirectness and remoteness of the channels of communication. The new film can, at need, assist Radio in turning the world into a vast council-chamber and do more than assist, for it is the freer partner. And multitudinous within that vast chamber as within none of the preceding councils of mankind, is the unconquerable, unchangeable eternal feminine. Influential.

Weeping therefore, if weep we must, over the departure of the old time films gracious silence, we may also rejoice in the prospect of a fair field and no favour. A field over which lies only the shadow of the censorship. And the censorship is getting an uneasy conscience.

Comments: Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957) was a British modernist novelist. Through 1927-1933 she wrote a column, ‘Continuous Performance’ for the film art journal Close Up. The column concentrates on film audiences rather than the films themselves. British Instructional Films was a British production company which specialised in instructional and educational films.

Links: Copy at the Internet Archive

The Movies

Source: Florence Kiper Frank, ‘The Movies’, in Harriet Monroe and Alice Corbin Henderson (eds.), The New Poetry: An Anthology (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1917)

Text:
She knows a cheap release
From worry and from pain –
The cowboys spur their horses
Over the unending plain.

The tenement rooms are small;
Their walls press on the brain.
Oh, the dip of the galloping horses
On the limitless, wind-swept plain!

Comments: Florence Kiper Frank (1885-1976) was an American poet. ‘The Movies’ is included in Philip French and Ken Wlaschin’s marvellous anthology The Faber Book of Movie Verse (1993), which has a section on the subject of ‘movie houses and moviegoing’. It is reproduced here in tribute to the cultured cinéaste French, who died this week.

The Log of a Noncombatant

Source: Horace Green, The Log of a Noncombatant (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1915), pp. 127-129

Text: I was conscious of a distinct break between the crisp, official atmosphere of Berlin — where the war hurts least and the mechanical appearance of success is strong — and the sentiment of the rank and file of people whose suffering, as the war continued, became a more and more important factor.

On the night of my second arrival in the capital I sat in the rear of a motion-picture theater, just off the Friedrichstrasse. It was a long, dark hallway, such as one may see in any of the cheaper “movies” on Washington Street or Broadway, where the audience sits in silence broken by the whirr of the cinematograph and in darkness pierced by the flickering light upon the screen. The woman in the seat beside mine was the typical Hausfrau of the middle class. She was, of course, dressed in mourning: the heavy veil, which was thrown back, revealed the expression so common to the German widow of to-day — that set, defiant look which begs no pity, and seems to say: “We’ve lost them once; we’d endure the same torture again if we had to.” It was a sad enough story that the reel clicked off, and about as melodramatic as “movies” usually are. But the woman kept herself well in hand, since the public display of grief is forbidden and they who sorrow must sorrow alone.

A Bavarian boy, as I recall it, — the youngest son, — runs away from home to join his father’s regiment in Poland. When his captain calls for volunteers for a dangerous mission, the boy steps forward. For hours they trudge over the snow until surrounded by a Cossack patrol. The Bavarian boy, although having a chance to escape, goes back under fire to succor his wounded comrade. Just as he is about to drag the comrade into the zone of safety, a bullet pierces his lung. For two days he suffers torture on the snow. The body is found and brought home to his mother.

Now and then the widow next me bit her lip and clenched her fist, but she gave no other sign of emotion. Another film was thrown on the screen, humorous, I believe. Suddenly the woman began to laugh. She did not stop laughing. It was a long, mirthless, dry, uncanny sort of cackle. People stared. She laughed still louder. An usher came down the aisle, and stood there, uncertain what to do. Hysterics had given way to weeping: the tears were now streaming down the woman’s face. She tried to control herself, but could not, and then arose and between choking sobs and laughter fled from the darkened room out into the Friedrichstrasse.

Comments: Horace Green (1885-?) was an American journalist with the New York Evening Post, who visited Belgium and Germany during first few months of the First World War.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Homestead

Source: Margaret Frances Byington, Homestead: The Households of a Mill Town [The Pittsburgh Survey vol. 4] (New York: Charities Publication Committee, 1910), pp. 110-112

Text: Practically the only public amusements in Homestead, during my stay there, were the
nickelodeons and skating rinks. Six of the former, all but one on Eighth Avenue, sent out their penetrating music all the evening and most of the afternoon. There was one ten-cent vaudeville house, but the others charge five cents for a show consisting of songs, moving pictures, etc., which lasts fifteen minutes or so.

The part these shows play in the life of the community is really surprising. Not only were no other theatrical performances given in Homestead, but even those in Pittsburgh, because of the time and expense involved in getting there, were often out of the reach of workingmen and their families. The writer, when living in Homestead, found few things in Pittsburgh worth the long trolley ride, forty-five minutes each way. Many people, therefore, find in the nickelodeons their only relaxation. Men on their way home from work stop for a few minutes to see something of life outside the alternation of mill and home; the shopper rests while she enjoys the music, poor though it be, and the children are always begging for five cents to go to the nickelodeon. In the evening the family often go together for a little treat. On a Saturday afternoon visit to a nickelodeon, which advertised that it admitted two children on one ticket, I was surprised to find a large proportion of men in the audience. In many ways this form of amusement is desirable. What it ordinarily offers does not educate but does give pleasure. While occasionally serious subjects are represented, as for example pictures of the life of Christ given in Easter week, the performance usually consists of song and dance and moving pictures, all of a mediocre type. Still, for five cents the nickelodeon offers fifteen minutes’ relaxation, and a glimpse of other sides of life, making the same appeal, after all, that theatre and novel do. As the nickelodeon seems to have met a real need in the mill towns, one must wish that it might offer them a better quality of entertainment. Many who go because they can afford nothing expensive would appreciate something better, even at a slightly higher price.

Comments: Margaret Frances Byington (1877-1952) was an American social investigator. Homestead was part of the 1907-08 Pittsburgh Survey into social conditions, sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation. Homestead is in Allegheny County, Pennyslvania, and is famed for the Homestead Strike of 1892.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Continuous Performance

Source: Dorothy Richardson, ‘Continuous Performance’, Close Up vol. I no. 1, July 1927, pp. 34-37

Text: …. So I gave up going to the theatre. Yet I had seen one or two who possessed themselves upon the stage and much good acting, especially of character parts; but I have never been on my knees to character acting. The one or two I saw – again and again, enduring for their sakes those others, many of them clever, all keyed up for their parts, all too high-pitched, taking their cues too soon. It was not that the pain of seeing them lose all our opportunities — their own and with them ours who were the audience — outweighed the joy of recreation at the hands of those others, makers and givers of life, but rather that on the whole the sense of guilt, of wasted performance for players and audience alike was too heavy to be borne. Waste and loss that could, it seemed to me, with ever so little control of the convulsionaries, be turned to gain.

Lured back by a series of German plays zestfully performed by a small and starless group, I found at once my persuasion confirmed that the English, whose very phlegm and composure is the other side of their self-consciousness and excitability, do not make actors. Watching for foreigners I saw a few French plays, saw Bernhardt and was more than ever ashamed of the remembered doings of the English castes.

Not even the most wooden of those selected to surround and show up the French star could produce anything to equal the sense of shame and loss that at that time overshadowed for me all I saw on the English stage that was not musical comedy with its bright colour for the soul and its gay music for the blood. The dignity of the French art and the simplicity of the German restored my early unapprehensive enthusiasm for the theatre, even for the pillared enclosure, the draped boxes, the audience waiting in the dim light to take their part in the great game. I went to no more English plays. And for a long time there were no foreign ones to see. But photo-plays had begun, small palaces were defacing even the suburbs. My experience with the English stage inhibited my curiosity. The palaces were repulsive. Their being brought me an uneasiness that grew lively when at last I found myself within one of those whose plaster frontages and garish placards broke a row of shops in a strident, north London street. It was a Monday and therefore a new picture. But it was also washing day, and yet the scattered audience was composed almost entirely of mothers. Their children, apart from the infants accompanying them, were at school and their husbands were at work. It was a new audience, born within the last few months. Tired women, their faces sheened with toil, and small children, penned in semi-darkness and foul air on a sunny afternoon. There was almost no talk. Many of the women sat alone, figures of weariness at rest. Watching these I took comfort. At last the world of entertainment had provided for a few pence, tea thrown in, a sanctuary’ for mothers, an escape from the everlasting qui vive into eternity on a Monday afternoon.

The first scene was a tide, frothing in over the small beach of a sandy cove, and for some time we were allowed to watch the coming and going of those foamy waves, to the sound of a slow waltz, without the disturbance of incident. Presently from the fisherman’s hut emerged the fisherman’s daughter, moss-haired. The rest of the scenes, all of which sparked continually, I have forgotten. But I do not forget the balm of that tide, and that simple music, nor the shining eyes and rested faces of those women. After many years during which I saw many films, I went, to oblige a friend, once more to a theatre. It was to a drawing-room play, and the harsh bright
light, revealing the audience, the over-emphasis of everything, the over-driven voices and movements of all but the few, seemed to me worse than ever. I realised that the source of the haunting guilt and loss was for me, that the players, in acting at instead of with the audience, were destroying the inner relationship between audience and players. Something of this kind, some essential failure to compel the co-operation of the creative consciousness of the audience.

Such co-operation cannot take place unless the audience is first stilled to forgetfulness of itself as an audience. This takes power. Not force or emphasis or noise, mental or physical. And the film, as intimate as thought, so long as it is free from the introduction of the alien element of sound, gives this co-operation its best chance. The accompanying music is not an alien sound. It assists the plunge into life that just any film can give, so much more fully than just any play, where the onlooker is perforce under the tyranny of the circumstances of the play without the chances of escape provided so lavishly by the moving scene. The music is not an alien sound if it be as continuous as the performance and blending with it. That is why, though a good orchestra can heighten and deepen effects, a piano played by one able to improvise connective tissue for his varying themes is preferable to most orchestral accompaniments. Music is essential. Without it the film is a moving photograph and the audience mere onlookers. Without music there is neither light nor colour, and the test of this is that one remembers musically accompanied films in colour and those unaccompanied by music as colourless.

The cinema may become all that its well-wishers desire. So far, its short career of some twenty years is a tale of splendid achievement. Its creative power is incalculable, and its service to the theatre is nothing less than the preparation of vast, new audiences for the time when plays shall be accessible at possible rates in every square mile of the town. How many people, including the repentent writer, has it already restored to the playhouse?

Comments: Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957) was a British modernist novelist. Through 1927-1933 she wrote a column, ‘Continuous Performance’ for the film art journal Close Up. The column concentrates on film audiences rather than the films themselves. This was the first essay in the series.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

We Love Glenda So Much

Source: Extract from Julio Cortázar (trans. Gregory Rabassa), ‘We Love Glenda So Much’, in Hopscotch / Blow-up and other stories / We Love Glenda So Much and other tales (New York/London/Toronto: Everyman’s Library, 2014), p. 805 (orig. pub. Queremos tanto a Glenda y otro realtos, 1980)

Text: In those days it was hard to know. You go to the movies or the theater and live your night without thinking about the people who have already gone through the same ceremony, choosing the place and the time, getting dressed and telephoning and row eleven or five, the darkness and the music, territory that belongs to nobody and to everybody there where everybody is nobody, the men or women in their seats, maybe a word of apology for arriving late, a murmured comments that someone picks up or ignores, almost always silence, looks pouring onto the stage or screen, fleeing from what’s beside them, from what’s on this side.

Comments: Julio Cortázar (1914-1984) was an Argentinian novelist and short story writer, best known for his experimental novel Hopscotch, and in film circles for his story ‘Blow-up’ which inspired Antonioni’s eponymous 1966 film. His short story ‘We Love Glenda So Much’, from which the above is the opening words, is about a group of (probably) Argentinian cinemagoers and their obsession with the actress Glenda Garson (loosely based on Glenda Jackson). In his book In Broad Daylight: Movies and Spectators After the Cinema (2012), Gabriele Pedullà says

This passage from We Love Glenda So Much offers an excellent starting point for reflecting on the condition of the spectator during the projection of a film, not least because of the novelist’s skill in sketching the dark cube experience through a catalog of such heterogeneous details. Sight, hearing, touch … A hypothetical list of the elements characterizing cinematic viewing would not be much more extensive than the one we find in the brilliant opening of Cortázar’s story.