Remarks on the Cinema, ca. 1922-1923

Remarks on Cinema, 1919 _015.jpg
Remarks on Cinema, 1919 _016.jpg
Remarks on Cinema, 1919 _017.jpg
Remarks on Cinema, 1919 _018.jpg
Remarks on Cinema, 1919 _019.jpg
Remarks on Cinema, 1919 _020-2.jpg
Remarks on Cinema, 1919_021.jpg
Remarks on Cinema, 1919_022.jpg
Remarks on Cinema, 1919_023.jpg
Remarks on Cinema, 1919 _024.jpg
Remarks on Cinema, 1919_025.jpg
Remarks on Cinema, 1919_026.jpg
Remarks on Cinema, 1919_027.jpg
Remarks on Cinema, 1919_028.jpg
Remarks on Cinema, 1919_030.jpg

One of the ironies of life is the gradual discovery that our most precious hopes sometimes come to fruition not through the expenditure of moral energy, but through the discovery or application of a purely mechanical device. Thus the comfortable substitute for the long skirt so ardently advocated by Dr. Bloomer and a host of other dress reformers came to pass not as the result of their efforts, but through the widespread use of the bicycle by thousands of women who merely wished to ride comfortably and efficiently. To illustrate from a personal experience; the residents of Hull House had tried for five years to reduce the congested population in the nineteenth ward of Chicago with very little result, although a colony of Italians was established in Alabama, another lured to a new suburb ↑and↓ a law secured reducing the heights of tenements. The opening of a trolley system, however, passing through our ↑the↓ ward into the remoter west side, in six months reduced the population from 54,000 to 47,000.

It is I have a hazy ↑impression↓ that something of the same sort has happened with one the ↑certain↓ early ambitions of the settlement movement in relation to the mechanical device which presents pictures in motion; in other words, that the movie is succeeding in the ↑a↓ field where our greatest effort has produced at best only a moderate success.

In the early days of the settlements, we used to say rather grandiloquently that as it was the object of the University to extend the boundaries of human knowledge by study and research; of the College to hand on the mass of existing knowledge to the next generation, so it was the business of the Settlements to extend the area of intellectual life, to bring into it those minds hitherto left quite outside its stimulus and benefits. We hoped to create some consciousness of historic background, of that cultured life which surrounds and completes the narrow individual existence to persons who ↑had↓ have never been within this small circle. We realized even in our solemn youth that it was no small undertaking and that in order to achieve it, even most imperfectly, we would have to devise all [page 2] sorts of new methods, and to readapt most of those already in used in the University and College. The American Settlements, as a rule, were surrounded by thousands of immigrants, speaking varied languages, holding unlike religions and traditions, and making the difficult adjustment not only from Europe to America, but from the country to the city. Many of them had had but little schooling, others of them were absolutely illiterate. Their children were in the public schools and the ambitious young people, some of them already on the upward march to the University itself, were comparatively easy to help. But the situation was more perplexing in regard to that great mass of adult immigrants which the ex army examinations ↑have↓ recently held have discovered to be ↑revealed as↓ so surprisingly immature. In those early days, the Settlements hoped to utilize the stir and sense of adventure which the recent journey to this country must have given to the immigrants and which we felt should count for much in awaking their mental curiosity. But we found these newly arrived immigrants easily bewildered by words even in their own language and that they were ready to suspect ↑shy from↓ any obvious attempt for their improvement, although they were most responsive to kindly fellowship and eager for interest in the help ↑health↓ and progress of their children. Our early experiences ↑attempts↓ to actually break through [illegible] into the genuine interests of the immigrants, were often discouraged although our experiences even then might have given us a clue to what the movies have ↑later↓ illustrated so clearly.

↑For instance I↓ often used to call on my neighbors on Sunday afternoon because their family, if at home, was dressed in its best, the house ↑was↓ still fresh from its Saturday's scrubbing and both ready for visitors. At such times I almost always found the member of the family looking at the pictures in the Sunday papers and it is quite amazing how much information and humor they extracted from them, sometimes with the help of a child who had been in the public schools and could read a little, and sometimes without [page 3] Syrian such help. It would sometimes occur to me that the immigrant population surrounding Hull House, had no other universal language than that afforded by these crude illustrations, by the billboards, and various other advertisements.

In fact one of the earliest undertakings at Hull House was exhibitions of paintings borrowed from various parts of Chicago and our first Boys Club was founded upon a drawing class. The first building given us was a small picture gallery presented by Mr. E. B. Butler who himself became an artist. Did these vague impressions of mine [illegible] as well as our early experiences forecast Vachel Lindsay's description of a moving picture audience as "an astonishing assembly of cave men crawling out of their shelters to exhibit for the first time in history a common interest on a tremendous scale in an art form." Here is where ↑the movie's success↓ the challenges to the Settlement's ↑early method↓ comes in. We really ought to have known better than to place such confidence in words for we might readily have discovered that the cave man is a natural reader of picture writing, especially those people who hail from the Mediterranean so near the source and the highest development of that art.

I am almost ready to agree with Vachel [Lindsay], when he ↑further↓ says, "The invention of the photo-play is as great a step as was the beginning of picture writing in the stone age ↑and that↓ And the cave man and woman from our slums seems to be the people most affected by this novelty which is but an expression of the old in that spiral of life which is going higher while seeming to repeat the ancient phase." He draws attention to the young people who go with the baby alternating on the knees of his father and mother, and wonders by the time the infant has grown to be four years old how much of the world has been visually reflected upon his small brain. At any rate, he and his mother have gone with the head of the family, and have at least shared the tinsel glory of the region to which they have been transported ↑together.↓ [page 4]

In our wildest moments we of the early settlement never dreamed that we would reach the number achieved by the cinema in this breaking through of  [the] first hard crust of ignorance, so to speak. An attendance of 26,000,000 people a week at the moving picture show is the estimate given by experts which means that a number equal to the entire population of the United States attend each month although of course one person may be counted many times. In Chicago we are told that out of a weekly attendance of approximately 3,000,000, 1,000,000 are children.

These enormous numbers are necessary to the very existence of the elaborated film. It has been said that the cost of a film like that of a popular magazine is so exorbitant as to require instant and widespread popularity; the man who makes the picture cannot afford to pay the price of frustrating expectation, of disappointing the popular demand, and so he never runs the risk of radical change. He stays close to the old themes of love and jealousy, of the foiled villain and the triumphant hero, the inevitable chase or pursuit and the pie-throwing. One may well ask whether this is worth doing, even for people who find life insufferably dull. The settlement concedes that if success can only be secured by the use of such material that [we] would not compete if it ↑we↓ could. We had already discovered during a political campaigns that ↑when↓ the vote can only be secured by political tricks and bribery to lose the campaign by [illegible] ↑abstention↓ from them is ↑a↓ [illegible] ↑more↓ valuable contribution ↑to the political life of the neighborhood than success could be↓ in itself.

Nevertheless, we should be proud to place to our credit certain achievements of the present cinema in fulfilling a genuine human need; that of story telling, for instance, to the aged. I have been much impressed with the number of old people who attend the moving picture [theaters]. In the first place, the [theater] is near home so they do not need to walk more than a block or two. The appeal is striking enough to break though that vagueness and mistiness which so easily surrounds the faculties of the old and outworn. [page 5] They sit quietly and do not need to exercise much attention; it makes no difference if they are deaf and if they do not snore no one discovers that ↑how much↓ they are [sleep] in the friendly darkness which engulfs [alike] young and old, shabby and "stylish."

If reading has never been easy for a man, it becomes increasingly laborious as he ↑people↓ [grow] older. It not only strains the eyes, but the mental concentration, the capacity to visualize what it is all about, comes with increasing slowness and difficulty. The possibility of identifying themselves even for a passing moment, with the swaggering hero or the beloved heroine, must pull old people out of that "huge shipwreck of their own esteem," the inchoate debris of squalid memory in which they habitually live. ↑[illegible]↓

Perhaps in addition to all this they understand, (or does the film producer understand them) the constant use of memory as an integral part of life, apparitions and recollection appear in the middle of many scenes, the [fade-away] producing memories of childhood and of early love is constantly at work.

↑I know an↓ one old lady, a Scotch woman, who goes to a movie shows every night in a week. It is next door but one to the store over which she lives with her son. Because of her regular attendance, one seat is always reserved for her, and she is given a special price of fifteen cents for all tickets even including a the highest priced programs. She used to keep one evening a week for prayer meeting in a neighboring mission church, but she has given that up, because it is too far to walk. [page 6] Another old woman who is paralyzed, and her ↑numerous↓ grandchildren take turns pushing her rolling chair into the [theater] and paying for her ticket, so that she manages to go pretty nearly every day. It is the only pleasure she has and her only topic of conversation. Curiously enough she likes best scenes of adventure and wild places "where man has never trod" to use her own phrase. Another old woman is allowed to go only once a week, on Sunday afternoon, when her son takes care of the ↑her grand↓ children whom she tends [during] all the week. She lives the harried life of the aged who can no longer cope with the energy of the young and who therefore spend their days in the midst of wanton noise and defiance. But in some mysterious way, it is all made right for her on Sunday, when ↑and↓ she bargains tenaciously for the price of her weekly ticket, even when on rare occasions it cost as much as fifty cents. Nothing else [but] its withholding induces her to threaten her son, whose wife has deserted him, with ↑the dire↓ denouncement, "I too will↓ leave you,  too. I'll go to live with Mamie." A dull woman of 77 goes to every movie she hears of which promises "a good love story with a happy end." Such an ending is certainly in sharp contrast to her own story over so many years ago. Perhaps some obscure law of compensation ↑is at work↓ or that old trick of nature which "makes grass grow over almost any kind of a grave," at any rate the experience brings healing as well as entertainment to her poor moron mind grown duller in her old age.

While conceding great success in this field, the settlement must condemn the effect of the constant attendance of the movies on the part of the young and the great indictment against the cinema is its unfortunate influence upon them. There is not only the passivity, ↑with↓ the habit of getting their pleasures without making the slightest effort, (as bad for the young as it may be good for the aged) the sensational material and fake excitement but perhaps worse than all, the falsity of so much of what they see, the stress placed upon the overwhelming advantages of wealth and the ignoring of life's finer values. ↑Conscious of their grave shortcoming,↓ various settlements have tried many experiments in exhibiting "educational films," in [illegible] advocating censorship, in instituting "talks to parents about the movies," in cooperating with better film projects and ↑with↓ Visual Education Societies. [page 7]

The most persistent effort made by [illegible] any of us was undertaken by the Henry Street Settlement in New York in connection with the Neighborhood Play House. With great difficulty at the end of two years they had built up a following of fourteen hundred people who preferred what the ↑Playhouse↓ offered them there ↑in films↓ to anything which they might obtain elsewhere. They were obliged ↑however↓ to procced very cautiously with the so-called educational film concerning which the author ↑manager↓ relates the following incident: "One day we were showing a picture of dogs teaching puppies how to fight, etc. and then on the reel came cats showing kittens how to catch mice -- When that part of the picture was reached a burly man in the sixth row rose and said fervently 'Oh h---' and started up the aisle. He was followed by one of us asking him if he didn't want his money back. 'No' he said looking pityingly at us, 'No, let it go at that.'" Miss Arthur adds "I am afraid that even if these programs could have been continued at the standard of the best of them, they would never been popular, because they lacked vitality. But one cannot keep up these programs indefinitely when a daily change is required."

My own experience has been that if educational films are shown in connection with an educational evening which promised to be without them, they are then very popular, but if they are shown in lieu of, or as part of an entertainment, the audience will not brook them. Of course ↑young people↓ get education for themselves out of the movies ↑especially that part which↓ to helps them in their that ↑their own↓ absorbing business of theirs, the securing of a mate. A young girl who was asked why she like to go to the movies, frankly replied "Because I learn how to make love." Last year a summer Settlement resident spoke to one of her club members who was going to dances at the Hippodrome in regard to the dangers encountered there. "Oh, Miss M --" the girl replied, "You don’t have to tell me. I have learned from the movies how to have to behave." This ↑naturally↓ made Miss M. more nervous than ↑before↓ ever, but on talking it over, she found that the girl had evolved a certain code of her own, from observing as she said, the temptations and [page 8] without this knowledge ↑which↓, she might have been a long time arriving at certain information. The Social Hygiene people and others, of course, have used the movie in the hope of helping girls in this way, but it is all as yet, tentative, and it is difficult to generalize about it. The whole portrayal has to be made very lurid in order to get the story across and even in the midst of the best film I have seen a group of "flappers" leave en masse saying, "Cut out this stuff; not for me; let's go somewhere where there's a picture." And yet city mothers, especially those who are distrustful of their own ability to influence their daughters, constantly utilize the commercial ↑films↓ to drive home lessons of a city's temptation; a simple Italian woman in our neighborhood always takes her family when the film promises to teach such a lesson. "I put Francesca on one side of me and Angelina on the other and then ↑at the right place↓ I punch ↑them↓ with my elbows and say 'Look at that; did you get it?'" Another neighbor of sturdy [American] background who never ceases to regret the fact that poverty and her husband's business keeps her family [illegible] ↑in↓ what she considers an undesirable part of the city is always taking her children to the movies in order to show them "a better kind of life." [illegible] She is happiest when the film portrays an interior or a landscape which reminds her of Southern Michigan and [enables] her to say "That's the kind of a place I was raised in." In the interminable [conversations?] [illegible] ↑about movies↓ which one occasionally overhears between young people, interspersed with the assertion that "Doug is a darling" and that "Mary Pickford grows cuter every minute" one does her ↑hear↓ discussions stating approval and disapproval concerning moral situations presented in the movies. It affords [illegible] ↑a starting point↓ as books and lectures do to more fortunate young people for that unending [conversation?] beginning with "What I would do" And so forth . [page 9]

Children who have the movie habit ↑seem to indulge in this sort of conversation very little and they also↓ grow to be very exigent in their demands. One veteran manager of a moving picture [theater] says that 95% of the children who are his patrons, like western frontier stuff. Sometimes they come to the box office and ask "Any shooting today?" "Any killing going on?" If the reply is a negative one, they will turn away and refuse to spend their money. Various efforts to substitute reforms are only moderately successful. An enterprising school superintendent in a nearby city secured the serial film of Robinson Crusoe for to be exhibited to children at reduced prices ↑on↓ Saturday afternoons. As the book had been a "required reading" in the school, he anticipated that the auditorium seating twelve hundred would be full. But the film does ↑did↓ not pay expenses, and the average attendance is about ↑averaged↓ one hundred and twenty-five ↑[although]↓ those who ↑did go were↓ pleased and given to applause.

Was there a lack of enthusiasm, partly due to the fact that they had "had that" and had finished with it, as the reverse is certainly true; no child wants to read "David Copperfield" or "Treasure Island" because he has seen the story in the film and he bluntly tells the ↑"settlement lady"↓ fond parent who has ↑thus↓ been trying to lure him ↑in↓ to literature that "he knows it already." He is frankly out for either seeing it again or for seeing something new ↑but not for reading about it.↓ [page 10]

One of the early ambitions of the settlement was to secure a larger measure of like-mindedness in the community and we eagerly sought new methods, confident that "the things which make men alike are finer and better than the things which make men different."

The success of the cinema in the effort to secure like-mindedness can only be compared with the daily newspaper and it is possible that the cinema may become the instrument for solving one of the most vexed situations in modern life. We are told by Mr. [Lippmann] that to secure the material for a common consciousness is the great problem of democracy. Certainly one of the simplest and most direct methods of carrying the same idea to a large number of people at the same time is the cinema. If idea be too grand a word, let us say the same emotion, and ↑consciousness of similar↓ common experiences.

The war has taught us that propaganda has become a self-conscious art, and that almost anything can be put over if there is enough ability and money behind it. Perhaps it is just as well, for the moment, this great instrument of propaganda has been so varied and complex in its appeal, as to simulate life itself ↑and↓ on the whole it has been confined to the simple human story which may be an advantage until we are wise enough to direct its course.

All over the country night after night there is presented first the News Weekly; second, the educational film, or "Scenic;" third, a two-reel comedy; and ↑forth and↓ last, the five-reel picture. That The news weekly reports the latest scandals but also something of national and international affairs; the educational film is popular for to the verge of pure entertainment but the "native" dives for pearls and gathers tea in the midst of the most enchanting landscape; the comedy is coarse and obvious but sometimes [illegible] very funny; the five reel story which in one way or another approximates the old French definition of a plot -- get a man up a tree, throw stones at him, get him down -- after all produces a sigh of relief from thousands of simple breasts as the hero's feet touch the earth. [page 11]

In common with the stage and the novel, types of life acquired from the moving picture, in the end ↑time↓ of course ↑[illegible]↓ tend to be imposed upon reality. Are we steadily building up an imagery which will in a crisis dominate the minds of millions of us as the wide reading of Uncle Tom's Cabin, in a previous crisis, exerted a tremendous influence? Certainly the moving-picture film reaches both those who live in the crowded tenement and penetrates to the frontiers and back woods of the nation. "Isolated prospectors ride twenty miles to see the same film that is displayed in [Broadway]" is one of their boasts, as it well may be. ↑It is a great achievement.↓

Perhaps we have not yet learned to use the like-mindedness which even the present stage of the cinema development affords us, ↑[although] we certainty find that we can talk over↓ many things with the young on the assumption that all of them in a given group have seen "Intolerance" for instance, or "The Birth of a Nation." just as I have discussed with a club of immigrant women the sad story of Enoch Arden, accurately knowing the mental pictures in each ↑mind.↓ [page 12] The film had a great run in the neighborhood and the sad story had ↑very much↓ impressed the newly arrived Mexican women. The It was a matter of much moment to them, this question of deserting husbands and ↑the↓ responsibility of one man for another man's children and [illegible] similar problems which the situation suggested. I believe Tennyson himself would not have objected to the challenge of his denouement if he had heard a sad-faced woman say "Of course, he ↑the man↓ meant to be kind to the woman but how about ↑leaving↓ his children to a stepfather?" I even ventured to read the story ↑to them↓ before the afternoon was over but plain English is bewildering enough and the "poetry was pretty hard to understand." Some such experience as that leads ↑makes↓ one to understand ↑comprehend↓ the overdone attempt on the part of the producer "to keep the film [illegible] to the ↑intelligence↓ level of a South Sea islander," as one producer confesses that he tries to do or "to the intelligence of his ↑my↓ daughters, aged 12 and 14," as another ↑more ambitious↓ producer did ↑admitted.↓ It at least keeps to a ↑the↓ wide bases which must underlie the truly popular appeal and with all its crudity and vulgarity the cinema yet follows the well defined lines of human kindliness. We are told that certain broad types of story are labeled "Not wanted" by the ↑all↓ producing companies. The instructor of Photoplay at Columbia University tells the would-be ↑writer of↓ scenarios to avoid the following list: Stories dealing with the under world, those in which evil triumphs over good, stories reflecting on race, class or creed, those which make sport of affliction and deformity. Such directions doubtless indicate timidity on the part of film producers especially as difficulties between capital and labor are included, but it also indicates understanding of the fact in a certain fundamental sense ↑that↓ all of us are kinder than any one of us, or at least kinder than we ordinarily allow ourselves to be. It is on this universal side showing our gregarious experiences that the cinema is most effective. As Bernard Shaw has pointed out, the motion picture [page 13] ↑is as feeble↓ in showing private passion, as it is powerful in conveying the passions of masses of men. He insists that as private passion is for the regular [theater], so crowd passion is for the photo-play, but all this makes it easier for the type of city dweller described as cave men. He has lived in crowds, from the time he poured down the gangway of the [steerage] with thousands of his fellow countrymen into the seething streets of the east side of New York. He works in a crowded factory, he sleeps in a crowded tenement. His child is accustomed to march in and out of the schoolhouse with two thousand other children and to play in a municipal playground with almost as many. The whole situation therefore appeals more nearly to his experience than it would to people who have lived a more highly individualized life. Perhaps it was in line with this generalization that one of the most popular films in our neighborhood although it is ↑has↓ long since belonged to the films of the past was entitled "Man's Genesis" in which the ↑hero↓ Weakhands, gradually triumphs over all beasts of the field and fowls of the air, asserting the eternal dignity of man had a long run and was persistently popular. It appealed ↑to people to whom↓ as no lecture boiled ↑down↓ from Wells's outline of history, or [Thomson's] outline of science, could possibly have done ↑reached↓ even though translated into the immigrant's native language and "illustrated by stereopticon slides." The cave man, (to continue ↑Vachel [Lindsay's]↓ phrase which is not altogether happy, and certainly inaccurate), is accustomed to no human beings ↑only↓ as they reveal themselves in action. He does not demand a portrayal of the psychological processes which cannot be translated into action ↑films↓ and does not miss them out of the evening's entertainment as the novel reader and the lover of legitimate drama ↑does↓ would. It would be interesting to know how much more absolutely the root of the matter reached his mind ↑[through] Weakhands↓ than the lectures would have done, even if he had ↑could have been induced to attend them!↓ [page 14]

The Christian Herald has made a great effort to secure the widespread use of the moving picture in the churches, pointing out that when movable type made the printing press possible, it was seized upon at once by the existing religious organizations, that the Bible was the first book printed and that for decades religious books were the only output of the new invention.

The reformers took over printing as a vehicle for religious instruction as the church had previously utilized Byzantine mosaic and Italian painting. Were the good of the 13th century more alert to a new invention than the educational forces of the 20th century? [illegible] ↑Perhaps↓ the clericals [illegible] ↑merely↓ claimed printing as the natural child of the manuscript quite as the vaudeville show ↑first↓ took over the moving picture as a stunt. Do ↑both printing & movies↓ they both show traces of [illegible] their early adoption?

An undue authority to this day still clings to the printed page so that ↑"to see↓ it in the paper" carries conviction to simple people who read mostly the Bible and the newspapers.

Has the moving picture show because of its original ownership and use ↑inevitably↓ become associated with base and vulgar sentiments which also persistently cling ↑and alienate many good people.↓ A brief review of its ↑amazing↓ history may be illuminating for it is almost exactly twenty one years ago since the first cinema was given ↑shown↓ in New York City. In twenty one years, the production, ↑distribution &↓ exhibition of moving pictures has become the third largest industry in the United States.

The [illegible] infant cinema was born of honest mechanics starting life quite free from any moral taint but it was almost immediately adopted by vulgar people who used it to show questionable subjects in penny arcades and as a performing stunt in vaudeville shows often between vulgar songs and ribald dances. The industry to this day shows many traces of its unhappy childhood but perhaps ever more of the its later rapid rise into prosperity. It is as if a young man drunk with power and too early acquired wealth was bent on a vulgar display [page 15] of his prosperity and ↑unconsciously↓ exhibited a total although unconscious disregard of all the finer tests of living. [illegible]

But [illegible] we hear that This heady young industry ↑however↓ has lately had a sobering experience. There are 5,000,000 less attendances a week on an average throughout the United States and tax figures show that the public paid about one hundred million dollars less last year for movies than the year before. The whole moving picture industry, producers, distributors, ↑and↓ exhibitors ↑alike↓ are frightened and are somewhat meekly taking the drubbing which is being administered to them by ↑reformers↓ the Colliers Weekly and others who insists ↑state↓ that [they] ↑are↓ not appealing for aesthetic standards of pedagogic ↑values↓ but [illegible] ↑must↓ [insist] ↑upon changes because↓ that "the vast majority of films now being shown are degrading American standards, because of their bad taste, incorrect representation of life and twisted views of character."

The numerous ↑movies↓ retort that they are reforming as fast as they possibly can and they point to the fact that they have secured the leadership ↑services↓ of the former federal secretary, Will. H. Hays, to straighten out their business affairs, that Gilbert Parker and many other highbrows have been summoned to Hollywood to write scenarios, that they are honestly trying to set their house in order and that any way no one knows why there has been this falling off in attendance!

Perhaps we can take advantage of this moment in the life of the industry when it has attained its majority. The 21st birthday sometimes gives rise to solemn reflections and ↑based upon↓ the determination to sow no more wild oats out ↑and↓ to live the life of a responsible citizen.