The Art Of The Moving Picture
Part 1 out of 4
had them scurrying to learn their A, B, C's, but they are drifting back
to their old ways again, and nightly are forming themselves in cues at
the doorways of the "Isis," the "Tivoli," and the "Riviera," the while
it is sadly noted that "'the pictures' are driving literature off the
With the creative implications of this new pictorial art, with the whole
visual-minded race clamoring for more, what may we not dream in the way
of a new renaissance? How are we to step in to the possession of such a
destiny? Are the institutions with a purely literary theory of life going
to meet the need? Are the art schools and the art museums making
themselves ready to assimilate a new art form? Or what is the type of
institution that will ultimately take the position of leadership in
culture through this new universal instrument?
What possibilities lie in this art, once it is understood and developed,
to plant new conceptions of civic and national idealism? How far may it
go in cultivating concerted emotion in the now ungoverned crowd? Such
questions as these can be answered only by minds with the imagination to
see art as a reality; with faith to visualize for the little mid-western
"home town" a new and living Pallas Athena; with courage to raze the very
houses of the city to make new and greater forums and "civic centres."
For ourselves in Denver, we shall try to do justice to the new Muse. In
the museum which we build we shall provide a shrine for her. We shall
first endeavor by those simple means which lie to our hands, to know the
areas of charm and imagination which remain as yet an untilled field of
her domain. Plowing is a simple art, but it requires much sweat. This at
least we know--to the expenditure we cheerfully consent. So much for the
beginning. It would be boastful to describe plans to keep pace with the
enlarging of the motion picture field before a real beginning is made.
But with youth in its favor, the Denver Art Museum hopes yet to see this
art set in its rightful place with painting, sculpture, architecture, and
the handicrafts--hopes yet to be an instrument in the great work of
making this art real as those others are being even now made real, to the
expanding vision of an eager people.
GEORGE WILLIAM EGGERS
The Denver Art Association
New Year's Day, 1922.
BOOK I--THE GENERAL PHOTOPLAY SITUATION IN AMERICA, JANUARY 1, 1922
Especially as Viewed from the Heights of the Civic Centre at Denver,
Colorado, and the Denver Art Museum, Which Is to Be a Leading Feature of
This Civic Centre
In the second chapter of book two, on page 8, the theoretical outline
begins, with a discussion of the Photoplay of Action. I put there on
record the first crude commercial films that in any way establish the
principle. There can never be but one first of anything, and if the
negatives of these films survive the shrinking and the warping that comes
with time, they will still be, in a certain sense, classic, and ten years
hence or two years hence will still be better remembered than any films
of the current releases, which come on like newspapers, and as George Ade
says:--"Nothing is so dead as yesterday's newspaper." But the first
newspapers, and the first imprints of Addison's Spectator, and the first
Almanacs of Benjamin Franklin, and the first broadside ballads and the
like, are ever collected and remembered. And the lists of films given in
books two and three of this work are the only critical and carefully
sorted lists of the early motion pictures that I happen to know anything
about. I hope to be corrected if I am too boastful, but I boast that my
lists must be referred to by all those who desire to study these
experiments in their beginnings. So I let them remain, as still vivid in
the memory of all true lovers of the photoplay who have watched its
growth, fascinated from the first. But I would add to the list of Action
Films of chapter two the recent popular example, Douglas Fairbanks in The
Three Musketeers. That is perhaps the most literal "Chase-Picture" that
was ever really successful in the commercial world. The story is cut to
one episode. The whole task of the four famous swordsmen of Dumas is to
get the Queen's token that is in the hands of Buckingham in England, and
return with it to Paris in time for the great ball. It is one long race
with the Cardinal's guards who are at last left behind. It is the same
plot as Reynard the Fox, John Masefield's poem--Reynard successfully
eluding the huntsmen and the dogs. If that poem is ever put on in an Art
Museum film, it will have to be staged like one of AEsop's Fables, with a
_man_ acting the Fox, for the children's delight. And I earnestly urge
all who would understand the deeper significance of the "chase-picture"
or the "Action Picture" to give more thought to Masefield's poem than to
Fairbanks' marvellous acting in the school of the younger Salvini. The
Mood of the _intimate photoplay_, chapter three, still remains indicated
in the current films by the acting of Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford,
when they are not roused up by their directors to turn handsprings to
keep the people staring. Mary Pickford in particular has been stimulated
to be over-athletic, and in all her career she has been given just one
chance to be her more delicate self, and that was in the almost forgotten
film:--A Romance of the Redwoods. This is one of the serious commercial
attempts that should be revived and studied, in spite of its crudities of
plot, by our Art Museums. There is something of the grandeur of the
redwoods in it, in contrast to the sustained Botticelli grace of "Our
I am the one poet who has a right to claim for his muses Blanche Sweet,
Mary Pickford, and Mae Marsh. I am the one poet who wrote them songs when
they were Biograph heroines, before their names were put on the screen,
or the name of their director. Woman's clubs are always asking me for
bits of delicious gossip about myself to fill up literary essays. Now
there's a bit. There are two things to be said for those poems. First,
they were heartfelt. Second, any one could improve on them.
In the fourth chapter of book two I discourse elaborately and formally on
The Motion Picture of Fairy Splendor. And to this carefully balanced
technical discourse I would add the informal word, this New Year's Day,
that this type is best illustrated by such fairy-tales as have been most
ingratiatingly retold in the books of Padraic Colum, and dazzlingly
illustrated by Willy Pogany. The Colum-Pogany School of Thought is one
which the commercial producers have not yet condescended to illustrate in
celluloid, and it remains a special province for the Art Museum Film.
Fairy-tales need not be more than one-tenth of a reel long. Some of the
best fairy-tales in the whole history of man can be told in a breath.
And the best motion picture story for fifty years may turn out to be a
reel ten minutes long. Do not let the length of the commercial film
tyrannize over your mind, O young art museum photoplay director. Remember
the brevity of Lincoln's Gettysburg address....
And so my commentary, New Year's Day, 1922, proceeds, using for points of
more and more extensive departure the refrains and old catch-phrases of
books two and three.
Chapter V--The Picture of Crowd Splendor, being the type illustrated by
Chapter VI--The Picture of Patriotic Splendor, which was illustrated by
all the War Films, the one most recently approved and accepted by the
public being The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Chapter VII--The Picture of Religious Splendor, which has no examples,
that remain in the memory with any sharpness in 1922, except The Faith
Healer, founded on the play by William Vaughn Moody, the poet, with much
of the directing and scenario by Mrs. William Vaughn Moody, and a more
talked-of commercial film, The Miracle Man. But not until the religious
film is taken out of the commercial field, and allowed to develop
unhampered under the Church and the Art Museum, will the splendid
religious and ritualistic opportunity be realized.
Chapter VIII--Sculpture-in-Motion, being a continuation of the argument
of chapter two. The Photoplay of Action. Like the Action Film, this
aspect of composition is much better understood by the commercial people
than some other sides of the art. Some of the best of the William S. Hart
productions show appreciation of this quality by the director, the
photographer, and the public. Not only is the man but the horse allowed
to be moving bronze, and not mere cowboy pasteboard. Many of the pictures
of Charles Ray make the hero quite a bronze-looking sculpturesque person,
despite his yokel raiment.
Chapter IX--Painting-in-Motion, being a continuation on a higher terrace
of chapter three, The Intimate Photoplay. Charlie Chaplin has intimate
and painter's qualities in his acting, and he makes himself into a
painting or an etching in the midst of furious slapstick. But he has been
in no films that were themselves paintings. The argument of this chapter
has been carried much further in Freeburg's book, The Art of Photoplay
Chapter X--Furniture, Trappings, and Inventions in Motion, being a
continuation of the chapter on Fairy Splendor. In this field we find one
of the worst failures of the commercial films, and their utterly
unimaginative corporation promoters. Again I must refer them to such
fairy books as those of Padraic Colum, where neither sword nor wing nor
boat is found to move, except for a fairy reason.
I have just returned this very afternoon from a special showing of the
famous imported film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Some of the earnest
spirits of the Denver Art Association, finding it was in storage in the
town, had it privately brought forth to study it with reference to its
bearing on their new policies. What influence it will have in that most
vital group, time will show.
Meanwhile it is a marvellous illustration of the meaning of this chapter
and the chapter on Fairy Splendor, though it is a diabolical not a
beneficent vitality that is given to inanimate things. The furniture,
trappings, and inventions are in motion to express the haunted mind, as
in Griffith's Avenging Conscience, described pages 121 through 132. The
two should be shown together in the same afternoon, in the Art Museum
study rooms. Caligari is undoubtedly the most important imported film
since that work of D'Annunzio, Cabiria, described pages 55 through 57.
But it is the opposite type of film. Cabiria is all out-doors and
splendor on the Mediterranean scale. In general, imported films do not
concern Americans, for we have now a vast range of technique. All we lack
is the sense to use it.
The cabinet of Caligari is indeed a cabinet, and the feeling of being in
a cell, and smothered by all the oppressions of a weary mind, does not
desert the spectator for a minute.
The play is more important, technically, than in its subject-matter and
mood. It proves in a hundred new ways the resources of the film in making
all the inanimate things which, on the spoken stage, cannot act at all,
the leading actors in the films. But they need not necessarily act to a
diabolical end. An angel could have as well been brought from the cabinet
as a murderous somnambulist, and every act of his could have been a work
of beneficence and health and healing. I could not help but think that
the ancient miracle play of the resurrection of Osiris could have been
acted out with similar simple means, with a mummy case and great
sarcophagus. The wings of Isis and Nephthys could have been spread over
the sky instead of the oppressive walls of the crooked city. Lights
instead of shadows could have been made actors and real hieroglyphic
inscriptions instead of scrawls.
As it was, the alleged insane man was more sensible than most motion
picture directors, for his scenery acted with him, and not according to
accident or silly formula. I make these points as an antidote to the
general description of this production by those who praise it.
They speak of the scenery as grotesque, strained, and experimental, and
the plot as sinister. But this does not get to the root of the matter.
There is rather the implication in most of the criticisms and praises
that the scenery is abstract. Quite the contrary is the case. Indoors
looks like indoors. Streets are always streets, roofs are always roofs.
The actors do not move about in a kind of crazy geometry as I was led to
believe. The scenery is oppressive, but sane, and the obsession is for
the most part expressed in the acting and plot. The fair looks like a
fair and the library looks like a library. There is nothing experimental
about any of the setting, nothing unconsidered or strained or
over-considered. It seems experimental because it is thrown into contrast
with extreme commercial formulas in the regular line of the "movie
trade." But compare The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with a book of Rackham or
Du Lac or Duerer, or Rembrandt's etchings, and Dr. Caligari is more
realistic. And Eggers insists the whole film is replete with suggestions
of the work of Pieter Breughel, the painter. Hundreds of indoor stories
will be along such lines, once the merely commercial motive is
eliminated, and the artist is set free. This film is an extraordinary
variation of the intimate, as expounded in chapter three. It is
drawing-in-motion, instead of painting-in-motion. Because it was drawing
instead of painting, literary-minded people stepped to the hasty
conclusion it was experimental. Half-tone effects are, for the most part,
eliminated. Line is dominant everywhere. It is the opposite of vast
conceptions like Theodora--which are architecture-in-motion. All the
architecture of the Caligari film seems pasteboard. The whole thing
happens in a cabinet.
It is the most overwhelming contrast to Griffith's Intolerance that could
be in any way imagined. It contains, one may say, all the effects left
out of Intolerance. The word cabinet is a quadruple pun. Not only does it
mean a mystery box and a box holding a somnambulist, but a kind of
treasury of tiny twisted thoughts. There is not one line or conception in
it on the grand scale, or even the grandiose. It is a devil's toy-house.
One feels like a mouse in a mouse-trap so small one cannot turn around.
In Intolerance, Griffith hurls nation at nation, race at race, century
against century, and his camera is not only a telescope across the plains
of Babylon, but across the ages. Griffith is, in Intolerance, the
ungrammatical Byron of the films, but certainly as magnificent as Byron,
and since he is the first of his kind I, for one, am willing to name him
But for technical study for Art Schools, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is
more profitable. It shows how masterpieces can be made, with the
second-hand furniture of any attic. But I hope fairy-tales, not
diabolical stories, will come from these attics. Fairy-tales are
inherent in the genius of the motion picture and are a thousand times
hinted at in the commercial films, though the commercial films are not
willing to stop to tell them. Lillian Gish could be given wings and a
wand if she only had directors and scenario writers who believed in
fairies. And the same can most heartily be said of Mae Marsh.
Chapter XI--Architecture-in-Motion, being a continuation of the argument
about the Splendor Pictures, in chapters five, six, and seven. This is an
element constantly re-illustrated in a magnificent but fragmentary way by
the News Films. Any picture of a seagull flying so close to the camera
that it becomes as large as a flying machine, or any flying machine made
by man and photographed in epic flight captures the eye because it is
architecture and in motion, motion which is the mysterious fourth
dimension of its grace and glory. So likewise, and in kind, any picture
of a tossing ship. The most superb example of architecture-in-motion in
the commercial history of the films is the march of the moving war-towers
against the walls of Babylon in Griffith's Intolerance. But Griffith is
the only person so far who has known how to put a fighting soul into a
The only real war that has occurred in the films with the world's
greatest war going on outside was Griffith's War Against Babylon. The
rest was news.
Chapter XII--Thirty Differences between the Photoplays and the Stage. The
argument of the whole of the 1915 edition has been accepted by the
studios, the motion picture magazines, and the daily motion picture
columns throughout the land. I have read hundreds of editorials and
magazines, and scarcely one that differed from it in theory. Most of them
read like paraphrases of this work. And of all arguments made, the one in
this chapter is the one oftenest accepted in its entirety. The people who
dominate the films are obviously those who grew up with them from the
very beginning, and the merely stage actors who rushed in with the
highest tide of prosperity now have to take second rank if they remain in
the films. But most of these have gone back to the stage by this time,
with their managers as well, and certainly this chapter is abundantly
Chapter XIII--Hieroglyphics. One of the implications of this chapter and
the one preceding is that the fewer words printed on the screen the
better, and that the ideal film has no words printed on it at all, but is
one unbroken sheet of photography. This is admitted in theory in all the
studios now, though the only film of the kind ever produced of general
popular success was The Old Swimmin' Hole, acted by Charles Ray. If I
remember, there was not one word on the screen, after the cast of
characters was given. The whole story was clearly and beautifully told by
Photoplay Hieroglyphics. For this feature alone, despite many defects of
the film, it should be studied in every art school in America.
Meanwhile "Title writing" remains a commercial necessity. In this field
there is but one person who has won distinction--Anita Loos. She is one
of the four or five important and thoroughly artistic brains in the
photoplay game. Among them is the distinguished John Emerson. In
combination with John Emerson, director, producer, etc., she has done so
many other things well, her talents as a title writer are incidental, but
certainly to be mentioned in this place.
The outline we are discussing continues through
_Book III--More Personal Speculations and Afterthoughts Not Brought
Forward so Dogmatically_.
Chapter XIV--The Orchestra, Conversation, and the Censorship. In this
chapter, on page 189, I suggest suppressing the orchestra entirely and
encouraging the audience to talk about the film. No photoplay people have
risen to contradict this theory, but it is a chapter that once caused me
great embarrassment. With Christopher Morley, the well-known author of
Shandygaff and other temperance literature, I was trying to prove out
this chapter. As soon as the orchestra stopped, while the show rolled on
in glory, I talked about the main points in this book, illustrating it by
the film before us. Almost everything that happened was a happy
illustration of my ideas. But there were two shop girls in front of us
awfully in love with a certain second-rate actor who insisted on kissing
the heroine every so often, and with her apparent approval. Every time we
talked about that those shop girls glared at us as though we were robbing
them of their time and money. Finally one of them dragged the other out
into the aisle, and dashed out of the house with her dear chum, saying,
so all could hear: "Well, come on, Terasa, we might as well go, if these
two talking _pests_ are going to keep this up behind us." The poor girl's
voice trembled. She was in tears. She was gone before we could apologize
or offer flowers. So I say in applying this chapter, in our present stage
of civilization, sit on the front seat, where no one can hear your
whisperings but Mary Pickford on the screen. She is but a shadow there,
and will not mind.
Chapter XV--The Substitute for the Saloon. I leave this argument as a
monument, just as it was written, in 1914 and '15. It indicates a certain
power of forecasting on the part of the writer. We drys have certainly
won a great victory. Some of the photoplay people agree with this
temperance sermon, and some of them do not. The wets make one mistake
above all. They do not realize that the drys can still keep on voting
dry, with intense conviction, and great battle cries, and still have a
sense of humor.
Chapter XVI--California and America. This chapter was quoted and
paraphrased almost bodily as the preface to my volume of verses, The
Golden Whales of California. "I Know All This When Gipsy Fiddles Cry," a
song of some length recently published in the New Republic and the London
Nation, further expresses the sentiment of this chapter in what I hope is
a fraternal way, and I hope suggests the day when California will have
power over India, Asia, and all the world, and plant giant redwood trees
of the spirit the world around.
Chapter XVII--Progress and Endowment. I allow this discourse, also, to
stand as written in 1914 and '15. It shows the condition just before the
war, better than any new words of mine could do it. The main change now
is the growing hope of a backing, not only from Universities, but great
Chapter XVIII--Architects as Crusaders. The sermon in this chapter has
been carried out on a limited scale, and as a result of the suggestion,
or from pure American instinct, we now have handsome gasoline filling
stations from one end of America to the other, and really gorgeous Ford
garages. Our Union depots and our magazine stands in the leading hotels,
and our big Soda fountains are more and more attractive all the time.
Having recited of late about twice around the United States and,
continuing the pilgrimage, I can testify that they are all alike from New
York to San Francisco. One has to ask the hotel clerk to find out whether
it is New York or ----. And the motion picture discipline of the American
eye has had a deal to do with this increasing tendency to news-stand and
architectural standardization and architectural thinking, such as it is.
But I meant this suggestion to go further, and to be taken in a higher
sense, so I ask these people to read this chapter again. I have carried
out the idea, in a parable, perhaps more clearly in The Golden Book of
Springfield, when I speak of the World's Fair of the University of
Springfield, to be built one hundred years hence. And I would recommend
to those who have already taken seriously chapter eighteen, to reread it
in two towns, amply worth the car fare it costs to go to both of them.
First, Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the end of the Santa Fe Trail, the oldest
city in the United States, the richest in living traditions, and with the
oldest and the newest architecture in the United States; not a stone or a
stick of it standardized, a city with a soul, Jerusalem and Mecca and
Benares and Thebes for any artist or any poet of America's future, or
any one who would dream of great cities born of great architectural
photoplays, or great photoplays born of great cities. And the other city,
symbolized by The Golden Rain Tree in The Golden Book of Springfield, is
New Harmony, Indiana. That was the Greenwich Village of America more than
one hundred years ago, when it was yet in the heart of the wilderness,
millions of miles from the sea. It has a tradition already as dusty and
wonderful as Abydos and Gem Aten. And every stone is still eloquent of
individualism, and standardization has not yet set its foot there. Is it
not possible for the architects to brood in such places and then say to
one another:--"Build from your hearts buildings and films which shall be
your individual Hieroglyphics, each according to his own loves and
Chapter XIX--On Coming Forth by Day. This is the second Egyptian chapter.
It has its direct relation to the Hieroglyphic chapter, page 171. I note
that I say here it costs a dime to go to the show. Well, now it costs
around thirty cents to go to a good show in a respectable suburb,
sometimes fifty cents. But we will let that dime remain there, as a
matter of historic interest, and pass on, to higher themes.
Certainly the Hieroglyphic chapter is in words of one syllable and any
kindergarten teacher can understand it. Chapter nineteen adds a bit to
the idea. I do not know how warranted I am in displaying Egyptian
learning. Newspaper reporters never tire of getting me to talk about
hieroglyphics in their relation to the photoplays, and always give me
respectful headlines on the theme. I can only say that up to this hour,
every time I have toured art museums, I have begun with the Egyptian
exhibit, and if my patient guest was willing, lectured on every period on
to the present time, giving a little time to the principal exhibits in
each room, but I have always found myself returning to Egypt as a
standard. It seems my natural classic land of art. So when I took up
hieroglyphics more seriously last summer, I found them extraordinarily
easy as though I were looking at a "movie" in a book. I think Egyptian
picture-writing came easy because I have analyzed so many hundreds of
photoplay films, merely for recreation, and the same style of composition
is in both. Any child who reads one can read the other. But of course
the literal translation must be there at hand to correct all wrong
guesses. I figure that in just one thousand years I can read
hieroglyphics without a pony. But meanwhile, I tour museums and I ride
Pharaoh's "horse," and suggest to all photoplay enthusiasts they do the
same. I recommend these two books most heartily: Elementary Egyptian
Grammar, by Margaret A. Murray, London, Bernard Quaritch, 11 Grafton
Street, Bond Street, W., and the three volumes of the Book of the Dead,
which are, indeed, the Papyrus of Ani, referred to in this chapter, pages
255-258. It is edited, translated, and reproduced in fac-simile by the
keeper of the Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities in the British Museum,
Professor E.A. Wallis Budge; published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York,
and Philip Lee Warner, London. This book is certainly the greatest motion
picture I ever attended. I have gone through it several times, and it is
the only book one can read twelve hours at a stretch, on the Pullman,
when he is making thirty-six hour and forty-eight hour jumps from town to
American civilization grows more hieroglyphic every day. The cartoons of
Darling, the advertisements in the back of the magazines and on the
bill-boards and in the street-cars, the acres of photographs in the
Sunday newspapers, make us into a hieroglyphic civilization far nearer to
Egypt than to England. Let us then accept for our classic land, for our
standard of form, the country naturally our own. Hieroglyphics are so
much nearer to the American mood than the rest of the Egyptian legacy,
that Americans seldom get as far as the Hieroglyphics to discover how
congenial they are. Seeing the mummies, good Americans flee. But there is
not a man in America writing advertisements or making cartoons or films
but would find delightful the standard books of Hieroglyphics sent out by
the British Museum, once he gave them a chance. They represent that very
aspect of visual life which Europe understands so little in America, and
which has been expanding so enormously even the last year. Hallowe'en,
for instance, lasts a whole week now, with mummers on the streets every
night, October 25-31.
Chapter XX--The Prophet-Wizard. Who do we mean by The Prophet-Wizard? We
mean not only artists, such as are named in this chapter, but dreamers
and workers like Johnny Appleseed, or Abraham Lincoln. The best account
of Johnny Appleseed is in Harper's Monthly for November, 1871. People do
not know Abraham Lincoln till they have visited the grave of Anne
Rutledge, at Petersburg, Illinois, then New Old Salem a mile away. New
Old Salem is a prophet's hill, on the edge of the Sangamon, with lovely
woods all around. Here a brooding soul could be born, and here the
dreamer Abraham Lincoln spent his real youth. I do not call him a dreamer
in a cheap and sentimental effort to describe a man of aspiration.
Lincoln told and interpreted his visions like Joseph and Daniel in the
Old Testament, revealing them to the members of his cabinet, in great
trials of the Civil War. People who do not see visions and dream dreams
in the good Old Testament sense have no right to leadership in America. I
would prefer photoplays filled with such visions and oracles to the state
papers written by "practical men." As it is, we are ruled indirectly by
photoplays owned and controlled by men who should be in the shoe-string
and hook-and-eye trade. Apparently their digestions are good, they are in
excellent health, and they keep out of jail.
Chapter XXI--The Acceptable Year of the Lord. If I may be pardoned for
referring again to the same book, I assumed, in The Golden Book of
Springfield, Illinois, that the Acceptable Year of the Lord would come
for my city beginning November 1, 2018, and that up to that time, amid
much of joy, there would also be much of thwarting and tribulation. But
in the beginning of that mystic November, the Soul of My City, named
Avanel, would become as much a part of the city as Pallas Athena was
Athens, and indeed I wrote into the book much of the spirit of the
photoplay outlined, pages 147 through 150. But in The Golden Book I
changed the lady the city worshipped from a golden image into a living,
breathing young girl, descendant of that great American, Daniel Boone,
and her name, obviously, Avanel Boone. With her tribe she incarnates all
the mystic ideals of the Boones of Kentucky.
All this but a prelude to saying that I have just passed through the city
of Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is a Santa Fe full of the glory of the New
Architecture of which I have spoken, and the issuing of a book of cowboy
songs collected, and many of them written, by N. Howard Thorp, a citizen
of Santa Fe, and thrilling with the issuing of a book of poems about the
Glory of New Mexico. This book is called Red Earth. It is by Alice Corbin
Henderson. And Santa Fe is full of the glory of a magnificent State
Capitol that is an art gallery of the whole southwest, and the glories of
the studio of William Penhallow Henderson, who has painted our New Arabia
more splendidly than it was ever painted before, with the real character
thereof, and no theatricals. This is just the kind of a town I hoped for
when I wrote my first draft of The Art of the Moving Picture. Here now is
literature and art. When they become one art as of old in Egypt, we will
have New Mexico Hieroglyphics from the Hendersons and their kind, and
their surrounding Indian pupils, a basis for the American Motion Picture
more acceptable, and more patriotic, and more organic for us than the
And I come the same month to Denver, and find a New Art Museum projected,
which I hope has much indeed to do with the Acceptable Year of the Lord,
when films as vital as the Santa Fe songs and pictures and architecture
can be made, and in common spirit with them, in this New Arabia. George
W. Eggers, the director of the newly projected Denver Art Museum, assures
me that a photoplay policy can be formulated, amid the problems of such
an all around undertaking as building a great Art Museum in Denver. He
expects to give the photoplay the attention a new art deserves,
especially when it affects almost every person in the whole country. So I
prophesy Denver to be the Museum and Art-school capital of New Arabia, as
Santa Fe is the artistic, architectural, and song capital at this hour.
And I hope it may become the motion picture capital of America from the
standpoint of pure art, not manufacture.
What do I mean by New Arabia?
When I was in London in the fall of 1920 the editor of The Landmark, the
organ of The English Speaking Union, asked me to draw my map of the
United States. I marked out the various regions under various names. For
instance I called the coast states, Washington, Oregon, and California,
New Italy. The reasons may be found in the chapter in this book on
California. Then I named the states just west of the Middle West, and
east of New Italy, New Arabia. These states are New Mexico, Arizona,
Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. These are the states which
carry the Rocky Mountains north toward the Aurora Borealis, and south
toward the tropics. Here individualism, Andrew Jacksonism, will forever
prevail, and American standardization can never prevail. In cabins that
cannot be reached by automobile and deserts that cannot be crossed by
boulevards, the John the Baptists, the hermits and the prophets can
strengthen their souls. Here are lonely places as sweet for the spirit as
was little old New Salem, Illinois, one hundred years ago, or the
wilderness in which walked Johnny Appleseed.
Now it is the independence of Spirit of this New Arabia that I hope the
Denver Art Museum can interpret in its photoplay films, and send them on
circuits to the Art Museums springing up all over America, where
sculpture, architecture, and painting are now constantly sent on circuit.
Let that already established convention--the "circuit-exhibition"--be
applied to this new art.
And after Denver has shown the way, I devoutly hope that Great City of
Los Angeles may follow her example. Consider, O Great City of Los
Angeles, now almost the equal of New York in power and splendor,
consider what it would do for the souls of all your film artists if you
projected just such a museum as Denver is now projecting. Your fate is
coming toward you. Denver is halfway between Chicago, with the greatest
art institute in the country, and Los Angeles, the natural capital of the
photoplay. The art museums of America should rule the universities, and
the photoplay studios as well. In the art museums should be set the final
standards of civic life, rather than in any musty libraries or routine
classrooms. And the great weapon of the art museums of all the land
should be the hieroglyphic of the future, the truly artistic photoplay.
And now for book two, at length. It is a detailed analysis of the films,
first proclaimed in 1915, and never challenged or overthrown, and, for
the most part, accepted intact by the photoplay people, and the critics
and the theorists, as well.
BOOK II--THE UNCHALLENGED OUTLINE OF PHOTOPLAY CRITICAL METHOD
THE POINT OF VIEW
While there is a great deal of literary reference in all the following
argument, I realize, looking back over many attempts to paraphrase it for
various audiences, that its appeal is to those who spend the best part of
their student life in classifying, and judging, and producing works of
sculpture, painting, and architecture. I find the eyes of all others
wandering when I make talks upon the plastic artist's point of view.
This book tries to find that fourth dimension of architecture, painting,
and sculpture, which is the human soul in action, that arrow with wings
which is the flash of fire from the film, or the heart of man, or
Pygmalion's image, when it becomes a woman.
The 1915 edition was used by Victor O. Freeburg as one of the text-books
in the Columbia University School of Journalism, in his classes in
photoplay writing. I was invited several times to address those classes
on my yearly visits to New York. I have addressed many other academic
classes, the invitation being based on this book. Now I realize that
those who approach the theory from the general University standpoint, or
from the history of the drama, had best begin with Freeburg's book, for
he is not only learned in both matters, but presents the special
analogies with skill. Freeburg has an excellent education in the history
of music, and some of the happiest passages in his work relate the
photoplay to the musical theory of the world, as my book relates it to
the general Art Museum point of view of the world. Emphatically, my book
belongs in the Art Institutes as a beginning, or in such religious and
civic bodies as think architecturally. From there it must work its way
out. Of course those bodies touch on a thousand others.
The work is being used as one basis of the campaign for the New Denver
Art Museum, and I like to tell the story of how George W. Eggers of
Denver first began to apply the book when the Director of the Art
Institute, Chicago, that it may not seem to the merely University type of
mind a work of lost abstractions. One of the most gratifying recognitions
I ever received was the invitation to talk on the films in Fullerton
Hall, Chicago Art Institute. Then there came invitations to speak at
Chicago University, and before the Fortnightly Club, Chicago, all around
1916-17. One difficulty was getting the film to _prove_ my case from out
the commercial whirl. I talked at these three and other places, but
hardly knew how to go about crossing the commercial bridge. At last, with
the cooperation of Director Eggers, we staged, in the sacred precincts of
Fullerton Hall, Mae Marsh in The Wild Girl of the Sierras. The film was
in battered condition, and was turned so fast I could not talk with it
satisfactorily and fulfil the well-known principles of chapter fourteen.
But at least I had converted one Art Institute Director to the idea that
an ex-student of the Institute could not only write a book about
painting-in-motion, but the painting could be shown in an Art Museum as
promise of greater things in this world. It took a deal of will and
breaking of precedent, on the part of all concerned, to show this film,
The Wild Girl of the Sierras, and I retired from the field a long time.
But now this same Eggers is starting, in Denver, an Art Museum from its
very foundations, but on the same constructive scale. So this enterprise,
in my fond and fatuous fancy, is associated with the sweet Mae Marsh as
The Wild Girl of the Sierras--one of the loveliest bits of poetry ever
put into screen or fable.
For about one year, off and on, I had the honor to be the photoplay
critic of The New Republic, this invitation also based on the first
edition of this book. Looking back upon that experience I am delighted to
affirm that not only The New Republic constituency but the world of the
college and the university where I moved at that time, while at loss for
a policy, were not only willing but eager to take the films with
But when I was through with all these dashes into the field, and went
back to reciting verses again, no one had given me any light as to who
should make the disinterested, non-commercial film for these immediate
times, the film that would class, in our civilization, with The New
Republic or The Atlantic Monthly or the poems of Edwin Arlington
Robinson. That is, the production not for the trade, but for the soul.
Anita Loos, that good crusader, came out several years ago with the
flaming announcement that there was now hope, since a school of films had
been heavily endowed for the University of Rochester. The school was to
be largely devoted to producing music for the photoplay, in defiance of
chapter fourteen. But incidentally there were to be motion pictures made
to fit good music. Neither music nor films have as yet shaken the world.
I liked this Rochester idea. I felt that once it was started the films
would take their proper place and dominate the project, disinterested
non-commercial films to be classed with the dramas so well stimulated by
the great drama department under Professor Baker of Harvard.
As I look back over this history I see that the printed page had counted
too much, and the real forces of the visible arts in America had not been
definitely enlisted. They should take the lead. I would suggest as the
three people to interview first on building any Art Museum Photoplay
project: Victor Freeburg, with his long experience of teaching the
subject in Columbia, and John Emerson and Anita Loos, who are as brainy
as people dare to be and still remain in the department store film
business. No three people would more welcome opportunities to outline the
idealistic possibilities of this future art. And a well-known American
painter was talking to me of a midnight scolding Charlie Chaplin gave to
some Los Angeles producer, in a little restaurant, preaching the really
beautiful film, and denouncing commerce like a member of Coxey's
illustrious army. And I have heard rumors from all sides that Charlie
Chaplin has a soul. He is the comedian most often proclaimed an artist by
the fastidious, and most often forgiven for his slapstick. He is praised
for a kind of O. Henry double meaning to his antics. He is said to be
like one of O. Henry's misquotations of the classics. He looks to me like
that artist Edgar Poe, if Poe had been obliged to make millions laugh. I
do not like Chaplin's work, but I have to admit the good intentions and
the enviable laurels. Let all the Art Museums invite him in, as tentative
adviser, if not a chastened performer. Let him be given as good a chance
as Mae Marsh was given by Eggers in Fullerton Hall. Only let him come in
person, not in film, till we hear him speak, and consider his
suggestions, and make sure he has eaten of the mystic Amaranth Apples of
THE PHOTOPLAY OF ACTION
Let us assume, friendly reader, that it is eight o'clock in the evening
when you make yourself comfortable in your den, to peruse this chapter. I
want to tell you about the Action Film, the simplest, the type most often
seen. In the mind of the habitue of the cheaper theatre it is the only
sort in existence. It dominates the slums, is announced there by red and
green posters of the melodrama sort, and retains its original elements,
more deftly handled, in places more expensive. The story goes at the
highest possible speed to be still credible. When it is a poor thing,
which is the case too often, the St. Vitus dance destroys the
pleasure-value. The rhythmic quality of the picture-motions is twitched
to death. In the bad photoplay even the picture of an express train more
than exaggerates itself. Yet when the photoplay chooses to behave it can
reproduce a race far more joyously than the stage. On that fact is based
the opportunity of this form. Many Action Pictures are indoors, but the
abstract theory of the Action Film is based on the out-of-door chase. You
remember the first one you saw where the policeman pursues the comical
tramp over hill and dale and across the town lots. You remember that
other where the cowboy follows the horse thief across the desert, spies
him at last and chases him faster, faster, faster, and faster, and
finally catches him. If the film was made in the days before the National
Board of Censorship, it ends with the cowboy cheerfully hanging the
villain; all details given to the last kick of the deceased.
One of the best Action Pictures is an old Griffith Biograph, recently
reissued, the story entitled "Man's Genesis." In the time when
cave-men-gorillas had no weapons, Weak-Hands (impersonated by Robert
Harron) invents the stone club. He vanquishes his gorilla-like rival,
Brute-Force (impersonated by Wilfred Lucas). Strange but credible manners
and customs of the cave-men are detailed. They live in picturesque caves.
Their half-monkey gestures are wonderful to see. But these things are
beheld on the fly. It is the chronicle of a race between the brain of
Weak-Hands and the body of the other, symbolized by the chasing of poor
Weak-Hands in and out among the rocks until the climax. Brain desperately
triumphs. Weak-Hands slays Brute-Force with the startling invention. He
wins back his stolen bride, Lily-White (impersonated by Mae Marsh). It is
a Griffith masterpiece, and every actor does sound work. The audience,
mechanical Americans, fond of crawling on their stomachs to tinker their
automobiles, are eager over the evolution of the first weapon from a
stick to a hammer. They are as full of curiosity as they could well be
over the history of Langley or the Wright brothers.
The dire perils of the motion pictures provoke the ingenuity of the
audience, not their passionate sympathy. When, in the minds of the
deluded producers, the beholders should be weeping or sighing with
desire, they are prophesying the next step to one another in worldly
George Ade slang. This is illustrated in another good Action Photoplay:
the dramatization of The Spoilers. The original novel was written by Rex
Beach. The gallant William Farnum as Glenister dominates the play. He has
excellent support. Their team-work makes them worthy of chronicle: Thomas
Santschi as McNamara, Kathlyn Williams as Cherry Malotte, Bessie Eyton
as Helen Chester, Frank Clark as Dextry, Wheeler Oakman as Bronco Kid,
and Jack McDonald as Slapjack.
There are, in The Spoilers, inspiriting ocean scenes and mountain views.
There are interesting sketches of mining-camp manners and customs. There
is a well-acted love-interest in it, and the element of the comradeship
of loyal pals. But the chase rushes past these things to the climax, as
in a policeman picture it whirls past blossoming gardens and front lawns
till the tramp is arrested. The difficulties are commented on by the
people in the audience as rah-rah boys on the side lines comment on
hurdles cleared or knocked over by the men running in college field-day.
The sudden cut-backs into side branches of the story are but hurdles
also, not plot complications in the stage sense. This is as it should be.
The pursuit progresses without St. Vitus dance or hysteria to the end of
the film. There the spoilers are discomfited, the gold mine is
recaptured, the incidental girls are won, in a flash, by the rightful
These shows work like the express elevators in the Metropolitan Tower.
The ideal is the maximum of speed in descending or ascending, not to be
jolted into insensibility. There are two girl parts as beautifully
thought out as the parts of ladies in love can be expected to be in
Action Films. But in the end the love is not much more romantic in the
eye of the spectator than it would be to behold a man on a motorcycle
with the girl of his choice riding on the same machine behind him. And
the highest type of Action Picture romance is not attained by having
Juliet triumph over the motorcycle handicap. It is not achieved by
weaving in a Sherlock Holmes plot. Action Picture romance comes when each
hurdle is a tableau, when there is indeed an art-gallery-beauty in each
one of these swift glimpses: when it is a race, but with a proper and
golden-linked grace from action to action, and the goal is the most
beautiful glimpse in the whole reel.
In the Action Picture there is no adequate means for the development of
any full grown personal passion. The distinguished character-study that
makes genuine the personal emotions in the legitimate drama, has no
chance. People are but types, swiftly moved chessmen. More elaborate
discourse on this subject may be found in chapter twelve on the
differences between the films and the stage. But here, briefly: the
Action Pictures are falsely advertised as having heart-interest, or
abounding in tragedy. But though the actors glower and wrestle and even
if they are the most skilful lambasters in the profession, the audience
gossips and chews gum.
Why does the audience keep coming to this type of photoplay if neither
lust, love, hate, nor hunger is adequately conveyed? Simply because such
spectacles gratify the incipient or rampant speed-mania in every
To make the elevator go faster than the one in the Metropolitan Tower is
to destroy even this emotion. To elaborate unduly any of the agonies or
seductions in the hope of arousing lust, love, hate, or hunger, is to
produce on the screen a series of misplaced figures of the order
How often we have been horrified by these galvanized and ogling corpses.
These are the things that cause the outcry for more censors. It is not
that our moral codes are insulted, but what is far worse, our nervous
systems are temporarily racked to pieces. These wriggling half-dead men,
these over-bloody burglars, are public nuisances, no worse and no better
than dead cats being hurled about by street urchins.
The cry for more censors is but the cry for the man with the broom.
Sometimes it is a matter as simple as when a child is scratching with a
pin on a slate. While one would not have the child locked up by the chief
of police, after five minutes of it almost every one wants to smack him
till his little jaws ache. It is the very cold-bloodedness of the
proceeding that ruins our kindness of heart. And the best Action Film is
impersonal and unsympathetic even if it has no scratching pins. Because
it is cold-blooded it must take extra pains to be tactful. Cold-blooded
means that the hero as we see him on the screen is a variety of amiable
or violent ghost. Nothing makes his lack of human charm plainer than when
we as audience enter the theatre at the middle of what purports to be the
most passionate of scenes when the goal of the chase is unknown to us and
the alleged "situation" appeals on its magnetic merits. Here is neither
the psychic telepathy of Forbes Robertson's Caesar, nor the fire-breath of
E.H. Sothern's Don Quixote. The audience is not worked up into the
deadly still mob-unity of the speaking theatre. We late comers wait for
the whole reel to start over and the goal to be indicated in the
preliminary, before we can get the least bit wrought up. The prize may
be a lady's heart, the restoration of a lost reputation, or the ownership
of the patent for a churn. In the more effective Action Plays it is often
what would be secondary on the stage, the recovery of a certain glove,
spade, bull-calf, or rock-quarry. And to begin, we are shown a clean-cut
picture of said glove, spade, bull-calf, or rock-quarry. Then when these
disappear from ownership or sight, the suspense continues till they are
again visible on the screen in the hands of the rightful owner.
In brief, the actors hurry through what would be tremendous passions on
the stage to recover something that can be really photographed. For
instance, there came to our town long ago a film of a fight between
Federals and Confederates, with the loss of many lives, all for the
recapture of a steam-engine that took on more personality in the end than
private or general on either side, alive or dead. It was based on the
history of the very engine photographed, or else that engine was given in
replica. The old locomotive was full of character and humor amidst the
tragedy, leaking steam at every orifice. The original is in one of the
Southern Civil War museums. This engine in its capacity as a principal
actor is going to be referred to more than several times in this work.
The highest type of Action Picture gives us neither the quality of
Macbeth or Henry Fifth, the Comedy of Errors, or the Taming of the Shrew.
It gives us rather that fine and special quality that was in the
ink-bottle of Robert Louis Stevenson, that brought about the limitations
and the nobility of the stories of Kidnapped, Treasure Island, and the
New Arabian Nights.
This discussion will be resumed on another plane in the eighth chapter:
Having read thus far, why not close the book and go round the corner to a
photoplay theatre? Give the preference to the cheapest one. _The Action
Picture will be inevitable. Since this chapter was written, Charlie
Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks have given complete department store
examples of the method, especially Chaplin in the brilliantly constructed
Shoulder Arms, and Fairbanks in his one great piece of acting, in The
THE INTIMATE PHOTOPLAY
Let us take for our platform this sentence: THE MOTION PICTURE ART IS A
GREAT HIGH ART, NOT A PROCESS OF COMMERCIAL MANUFACTURE. The people I
hope to convince of this are (1) The great art museums of America,
including the people who support them in any way, the people who give the
current exhibitions there or attend them, the art school students in the
corridors below coming on in the same field; (2) the departments of
English, of the history of the drama, of the practice of the drama, and
the history and practice of "art" in that amazingly long list of our
colleges and universities--to be found, for instance, in the World
Almanac; (3) the critical and literary world generally. Somewhere in this
enormous field, piled with endowments mountain high, it should be
possible to establish the theory and practice of the photoplay as a fine
art. Readers who do not care for the history of any art, readers who
have neither curiosity nor aspiration in regard to any of the ten or
eleven muses who now dance around Apollo, such shabby readers had best
lay the book down now. Shabby readers do not like great issues. My poor
little sermon is concerned with a great issue, the clearing of the way
for a critical standard, whereby the ultimate photoplay may be judged. I
cannot teach office-boys ways to make "quick money" in the "movies." That
seems to be the delicately implied purpose of the mass of books on the
photoplay subject. They are, indeed, a sickening array. Freeburg's book
is one of the noble exceptions. And I have paid tribute elsewhere to John
Emerson and Anita Loos. They have written a crusading book, and many
After five years of exceedingly lonely art study, in which I had always
specialized in museum exhibits, prowling around like a lost dog, I began
to intensify my museum study, and at the same time shout about what I was
discovering. From nineteen hundred and five on I did orate my opinions to
a group of advanced students. We assembled weekly for several winters in
the Metropolitan Museum, New York, for the discussion of the
masterpieces in historic order, from Egypt to America. From that
standpoint, the work least often found, hardest to make, least popular in
the street, may be in the end the one most treasured in a world-museum as
a counsellor and stimulus of mankind. Throughout this book I try to bring
to bear the same simple standards of form, composition, mood, and motive
that we used in finding the fundamental exhibits; the standards which are
taken for granted in art histories and schools, radical or conservative,
Again we assume it is eight o'clock in the evening, friend reader, when
the chapter begins.
Just as the Action Picture has its photographic basis or fundamental
metaphor in the long chase down the highway, so the Intimate Film has its
photographic basis in the fact that any photoplay interior has a very
small ground plan, and the cosiest of enclosing walls. Many a worth-while
scene is acted out in a space no bigger than that which is occupied by an
office boy's stool and hat. If there is a table in this room, it is often
so near it is half out of the picture or perhaps it is against the front
line of the triangular ground-plan. Only the top of the table is seen,
and nothing close up to us is pictured below that. We in the audience are
privileged characters. Generally attending the show in bunches of two or
three, we are members of the household on the screen. Sometimes we are
sitting on the near side of the family board. Or we are gossiping
whispering neighbors, of the shoemaker, we will say, with our noses
pressed against the pane of a metaphoric window.
Take for contrast the old-fashioned stage production showing the room and
work table of a shoemaker. As it were the whole side of the house has
been removed. The shop is as big as a banquet hall. There is something
essentially false in what we see, no matter how the stage manager fills
in with old boxes, broken chairs, and the like. But the photoplay
interior is the size such a work-room should be. And there the awl and
pegs and bits of leather, speaking the silent language of picture
writing, can be clearly shown. They are sometimes like the engine in
chapter two, the principal actors.
Though the Intimate-and-friendly Photoplay may be carried out of doors to
the row of loafers in front of the country store, or the gossiping
streets of the village, it takes its origin and theory from the snugness
of the interior.
The restless reader replies that he has seen photoplays that showed
ballrooms that were grandiose, not the least cosy. These are to be
classed as out-of-door scenery so far as theory goes, and are to be
discussed under the head of Splendor Pictures. Masses of human beings
pour by like waves, the personalities of none made plain. The only
definite people are the hero and heroine in the foreground, and maybe one
other. Though these three be in ball-costume, the little triangle they
occupy next to the camera is in sort an interior, while the impersonal
guests behind them conform to the pageant principles of out-of-doors, and
the dancers are to the main actor as is the wind-shaken forest to the
charcoal-burner, or the bending grain to the reaper.
The Intimate Motion Picture is the world's new medium for studying, not
the great passions, such as black hate, transcendent love, devouring
ambition, but rather the half relaxed or gently restrained moods of human
creatures. It gives also our idiosyncrasies. It is gossip _in extremis_.
It is apt to chronicle our petty little skirmishes, rather than our
feuds. In it Colin Clout and his comrades return.
The Intimate Photoplay should not crowd its characters. It should not
choke itself trying to dramatize the whole big bloody plot of Lorna
Doone, or any other novel with a dozen leading people. Yet some gentle
episode from the John Ridd farm, some half-chapter when Lorna and the
Doones are almost forgotten, would be fitting. Let the duck-yard be
parading its best, and Annie among the milk-pails, her work for the
evening well nigh done. The Vicar of Wakefield has his place in this
form. The Intimate-and-friendly Motion Picture might very well give
humorous moments in the lives of the great, King Alfred burning the
cakes, and other legendary incidents of him. Plato's writings give us
glimpses of Socrates, in between the long dialogues. And there are
intimate scraps in Plutarch.
Prospective author-producer, do you remember Landor's Imaginary
Conversations, and Lang's Letters to Dead Authors? Can you not attain to
that informal understanding in pictorial delineations of such people?
The photoplay has been unjust to itself in comedies. The late John
Bunny's important place in my memory comes from the first picture in
which I saw him. It is a story of high life below stairs. The hero is the
butler at a governor's reception. John Bunny's work as this man is a
delightful piece of acting. The servants are growing tipsier downstairs,
but the more afraid of the chief functionary every time he appears,
frozen into sobriety by his glance. At the last moment this god of the
basement catches them at their worst and gives them a condescending but
forgiving smile. The lid comes off completely. He himself has been
imbibing. His surviving dignity in waiting on the governor's guests is
worthy of the stage of Goldsmith and Sheridan. This film should be
reissued in time as a Bunny memorial.
So far as my experience has gone, the best of the comedians is Sidney
Drew. He could shine in the atmosphere of Pride and Prejudice or
Cranford. But the best things I have seen of his are far from such. I beg
the pardon of Miss Jane Austen and Mrs. Gaskell while I mention Who's Who
in Hogg's Hollow, and A Regiment of Two. Over these I rejoiced like a
yokel with a pocketful of butterscotch and peanuts. The opportunities to
laugh on a higher plane than this, to laugh like Olympians, are seldom
given us in this world.
The most successful motion picture drama of the intimate type ever placed
before mine eyes was Enoch Arden, produced by Cabanne.
Lillian Gish takes the part of Annie, Alfred Paget impersonates Enoch
Arden, and Wallace Reid takes the part of Philip Ray. The play is in four
reels of twenty minutes each. It should have been made into three reels
by shortening every scene just a bit. Otherwise it is satisfying, and I
and my friends have watched it through many times as it has returned to
The mood of the original poem is approximated. The story is told with
fireside friendliness. The pale Lillian Gish surrounded by happy children
gives us many a genre painting on the theme of domesticity. It is a
photographic rendering in many ways as fastidious as Tennyson's
versification. The scenes on the desert island are some of them
commonplace. The shipwreck and the like remind one of other photoplays,
but the rest of the production has a mood of its own. Seen several months
ago it fills my eye-imagination and eye-memory more than that particular
piece of Tennyson's fills word-imagination and word-memory. Perhaps this
is because it is pleasing to me as a theorist. It is a sound example of
the type of film to which this chapter is devoted. If you cannot get your
local manager to bring Enoch Arden, reread that poem of Tennyson's and
translate it in your own mind's eye into a gallery of six hundred
delicately toned photographs hung in logical order, most of them cosy
interior scenes, some of the faces five feet from chin to forehead in the
more personal episodes, yet exquisitely fair. Fill in the out-of-door
scenes and general gatherings with the appointments of an idyllic English
fisher-village, and you will get an approximate conception of what we
mean by the Intimate-and-friendly Motion Picture, or the Intimate
Picture, as I generally call it, for convenience.
It is a quality, not a defect, of all photoplays that human beings tend
to become dolls and mechanisms, and dolls and mechanisms tend to become
human. But the haughty, who scorn the moving pictures, cannot rid
themselves of the feeling that they are being seduced into going into
some sort of a Punch-and-Judy show. And they think that of course one
should not take seriously anything so cheap in price and so appealing to
the cross-roads taste. But it is very well to begin in the
Punch-and-Judy-show state of mind, and reconcile ourselves to it, and
then like good democrats await discoveries. Punch and Judy is the
simplest form of marionette performance, and the marionette has a place
in every street in history just as the dolls' house has its corner in
every palace and cottage. The French in particular have had their great
periods of puppet shows; and the Italian tradition survived in America's
Little Italy, in New York for many a day; and I will mention in passing
that one of Pavlowa's unforgettable dance dramas is The Fairy Doll.
Prospective author-producer, why not spend a deal of energy on the
photoplay successors of the puppet-plays?
We have the queen of the marionettes already, without the play.
One description of the Intimate-and-friendly Comedy would be the Mary
Pickford kind of a story. None has as yet appeared. But we know the Mary
Pickford mood. When it is gentlest, most roguish, most exalted, it is a
prophecy of what this type should be, not only in the actress, but in the
scenario and setting.
Mary Pickford can be a doll, a village belle, or a church angel. Her
powers as a doll are hinted at in the title of the production: Such a
Little Queen. I remember her when she was a village belle in that film
that came out before producers or actors were known by name. It was
sugar-sweet. It was called: What the Daisy Said. If these productions had
conformed to their titles sincerely, with the highest photoplay art we
would have had two more examples for this chapter.
Why do the people love Mary? Not on account of the Daniel Frohman style
of handling her appearances. He presents her to us in what are almost the
old-fashioned stage terms: the productions energetic and full of
painstaking detail but dominated by a dream that is a theatrical hybrid.
It is neither good moving picture nor good stage play. Yet Mary could be
cast as a cloudy Olympian or a church angel if her managers wanted her to
be such. She herself was transfigured in the Dawn of Tomorrow, but the
film-version of that play was merely a well mounted melodrama.
Why do the people love Mary? Because of a certain aspect of her face in
her highest mood. Botticelli painted her portrait many centuries ago
when by some necromancy she appeared to him in this phase of herself.
There is in the Chicago Art Institute at the top of the stairs on the
north wall a noble copy of a fresco by that painter, the copy by Mrs.
MacMonnies. It is very near the Winged Victory of Samothrace. In the
picture the muses sit enthroned. The loveliest of them all is a startling
replica of Mary.
The people are hungry for this fine and spiritual thing that Botticelli
painted in the faces of his muses and heavenly creatures. Because the mob
catch the very glimpse of it in Mary's face, they follow her night after
night in the films. They are never quite satisfied with the plays,
because the managers are not artists enough to know they should sometimes
put her into sacred pictures and not have her always the village hoyden,
in plays not even hoydenish. But perhaps in this argument I have but
betrayed myself as Mary's infatuated partisan.
So let there be recorded here the name of another actress who is always
in the intimate-and-friendly mood and adapted to close-up interiors,
Marguerite Clark. She is endowed by nature to act, in the same film, the
eight-year-old village pet, the irrepressible sixteen-year-old, and
finally the shining bride of twenty. But no production in which she acts
that has happened to come under my eye has done justice to these
possibilities. The transitions from one of these stages to the other are
not marked by the producer with sufficient delicate graduation, emphasis,
and contrast. Her plots have been but sugared nonsense, or swashbuckling
ups and downs. She shines in a bevy of girls. She has sometimes been
given the bevy.
But it is easier to find performers who fit this chapter, than to find
films. Having read so far, it is probably not quite nine o'clock in the
evening. Go around the corner to the nearest theatre. You will not be apt
to find a pure example of the Intimate-and-friendly Moving Picture, but
some one or two scenes will make plain the intent of the phrase. Imagine
the most winsome tableau that passes before you, extended logically
through one or three reels, with no melodramatic interruptions or awful
smashes. For a further discussion of these smashes, and other items in
this chapter, read the ninth chapter, entitled "Painting-in-Motion."
THE MOTION PICTURE OF FAIRY SPLENDOR
Again, kind reader, let us assume it is eight o'clock in the evening, for
purposes of future climax which you no doubt anticipate.
Just as the Action Motion Picture has its photographic basis in the race
down the high-road, just as the Intimate Motion Picture has its
photographic basis in the close-up interior scene, so the Photoplay of
Splendor, in its four forms, is based on the fact that the kinetoscope
can take in the most varied of out-of-door landscapes. It can reproduce
fairy dells. It can give every ripple of the lily-pond. It can show us
cathedrals within and without. It can take in the panorama of cyclopaean
cloud, bending forest, storm-hung mountain. In like manner it can put on
the screen great impersonal mobs of men. It can give us tremendous
armies, moving as oceans move. The pictures of Fairy Splendor, Crowd
Splendor, Patriotic Splendor, and Religious Splendor are but the
embodiments of these backgrounds.
And a photographic corollary quite useful in these four forms is that the
camera has a kind of Hallowe'en witch-power. This power is the subject of
The world-old legends and revelations of men in connection with the
lovely out of doors, or lonely shrines, or derived from inspired
crusading humanity moving in masses, can now be fitly retold. Also the
fairy wand can do its work, the little dryad can come from the tree. And
the spirits that guard the Republic can be seen walking on the clouds
above the harvest-fields.
But we are concerned with the humblest voodooism at present.
Perhaps the world's oldest motion picture plot is a tale in Mother Goose.
It ends somewhat in this fashion:--
The old lady said to the cat:--
"Cat, cat, kill rat.
Rat will not gnaw rope,
Rope will not hang butcher,
Butcher will not kill ox,
Ox will not drink water,
Water will not quench fire,
Fire will not burn stick,
Stick will not beat dog,
Dog will not bite pig,
Pig will not jump over the stile,
And I cannot get home to-night."
By some means the present writer does not remember, the cat was persuaded
to approach the rat. The rest was like a tale of European diplomacy:--
The rat began to gnaw the rope,
The rope began to hang the butcher,
The butcher began to kill the ox,
The ox began to drink the water,
The water began to quench the fire,
The fire began to burn the stick,
The stick began to beat the dog,
The dog began to bite the pig,
The frightened little pig jumped over the stile,
And the old lady was able to get home that night.
Put yourself back to the state of mind in which you enjoyed this bit of
Though the photoplay fairy-tale may rise to exquisite heights, it begins
with pictures akin to this rhyme. Mankind in his childhood has always
wanted his furniture to do such things. Arthur names his blade
Excalibur. It becomes a person. The man in the Arabian tale speaks to
the magic carpet. It carries him whithersoever he desires. This yearning
for personality in furniture begins to be crudely worked upon in the
so-called trick-scenes. The typical commercialized comedy of this sort is
Moving Day. Lyman H. Howe, among many excellent reels of a different
kind, has films allied to Moving Day.
But let us examine at this point, as even more typical, an old Pathe Film
from France. The representatives of the moving-firm are sent for. They
appear in the middle of the room with an astonishing jump. They are told
that this household desires to have its goods and hearthstone gods
transplanted two streets east. The agents salute. They disappear. Yet
their wireless orders are obeyed with a military crispness. The books and
newspapers climb out of the window. They go soberly down the street. In
their wake are the dishes from the table. Then the more delicate
porcelains climb down the shelves and follow. Then follow the
hobble-de-hoy kitchen dishes, then the chairs, then the clothing, and the
carpets from over the house. The most joyous and curious spectacle is to
behold the shoes walking down the boulevard, from father's large boots
to those of the youngest child. They form a complete satire of the
family, yet have a masterful air of their own, as though they were the
most important part of a human being.
The new apartment is shown. Everything enters in procession. In contrast
to the general certainty of the rest, one or two pieces of furniture grow
confused trying to find their places. A plate, in leaping upon a high
shelf, misses and falls broken. The broom and dustpan sweep up the
pieces, and consign them to the dustbin. Then the human family comes in,
delighted to find everything in order. The moving agents appear and
salute. They are paid their fee. They salute again and disappear with
another gigantic leap.
The ability to do this kind of a thing is fundamental in the destinies of
the art. Yet this resource is neglected because its special province is
not understood. "People do not like to be tricked," the manager says.
Certainly they become tired of mere contraptions. But they never grow
weary of imagination. There is possible many a highly imaginative
fairy-tale on this basis if we revert to the sound principles of the
story of the old lady and the pig.
Moving Day is at present too crassly material. It has not the touch of
the creative imagination. We are overwhelmed with a whole van of
furniture. Now the mechanical or non-human object, beginning with the
engine in the second chapter, is apt to be the hero in most any sort of
photoplay while the producer remains utterly unconscious of the fact. Why
not face this idiosyncrasy of the camera and make the non-human object
the hero indeed? Not by filling the story with ropes, buckets,
fire-brands, and sticks, but by having these four unique. Make the fire
the loveliest of torches, the water the most graceful of springs. Let the
rope be the humorist. Let the stick be the outstanding hero, the
D'Artagnan of the group, full of queer gestures and hoppings about. Let
him be both polite and obdurate. Finally let him beat the dog most
* * * * *
Then, after the purely trick-picture is disciplined till it has fewer
tricks, and those more human and yet more fanciful, the producer can move
on up into the higher realms of the fairy-tale, carrying with him this
Mabel Taliaferro's Cinderella, seen long ago, is the best film
fairy-tale the present writer remembers. It has more of the fireside
wonder-spirit and Hallowe'en-witch-spirit than the Cinderella of Mary
There is a Japanese actor, Sessue Hayakawa, who takes the leading part
with Blanche Sweet in The Clew, and is the hero in the film version of
The Typhoon. He looks like all the actors in the old Japanese prints. He
has a general dramatic equipment which enables him to force through the
stubborn screen such stagy plays as these, that are more worth while in
the speaking theatre. But he has that atmosphere of pictorial romance
which would make him a valuable man for the retelling of the old Japanese
legends of Kwannon and other tales that are rich, unused moving picture
material, tales such as have been hinted at in the gleaming English of
Lafcadio Hearn. The Japanese genius is eminently pictorial. Rightly
viewed, every Japanese screen or bit of lacquer is from the Ancient Asia
Columbus set sail to find.
It would be a noble thing if American experts in the Japanese principles
of decoration, of the school of Arthur W. Dow, should tell stories of old
Japan with the assistance of such men as Sessue Hayakawa. Such things go
further than peace treaties. Dooming a talent like that of Mr. Hayakawa
to the task of interpreting the Japanese spy does not conduce to accord
with Japan, however the technique may move us to admiration. Let such of
us as are at peace get together, and tell the tales of our happy
childhood to one another.
This chapter is ended. You will of course expect to be exhorted to visit
some photoplay emporium. But you need not look for fairy-tales. They are
much harder to find than they should be. But you can observe even in the
advertisements and cartoons the technical elements of the story of the
old lady and the pig. And you can note several other things that show how
much more quickly than on the stage the borderline of All Saints' Day and
Hallowe'en can be crossed. Note how easily memories are called up, and
appear in the midst of the room. In any plays whatever, you will find
these apparitions and recollections. The dullest hero is given glorious
visualizing power. Note the "fadeaway" at the beginning and the end of
the reel, whereby all things emerge from the twilight and sink back into
the twilight at last. These are some of the indestructible least common
denominators of folk stories old and new. When skilfully used, they can
all exercise a power over the audience, such as the crystal has over the
But this discussion will be resumed, on another plane, in the tenth
chapter: "Furniture, Trappings, and Inventions in Motion."
THE PICTURE OF CROWD SPLENDOR
Henceforth the reader will use his discretion as to when he will read the
chapter and when he will go to the picture show to verify it.
The shoddiest silent drama may contain noble views of the sea. This part
is almost sure to be good. It is a fundamental resource.
A special development of this aptitude in the hands of an expert gives
the sea of humanity, not metaphorically but literally: the whirling of
dancers in ballrooms, handkerchief-waving masses of people in balconies,
hat-waving political ratification meetings, ragged glowering strikers,
and gossiping, dickering people in the marketplace. Only Griffith and his
close disciples can do these as well as almost any manager can reproduce
the ocean. Yet the sea of humanity is dramatically blood-brother to the
Pacific, Atlantic, or Mediterranean. It takes this new invention, the
kinetoscope, to bring us these panoramic drama-elements. By the law of
compensation, while the motion picture is shallow in showing private
passion, it is powerful in conveying the passions of masses of men.
Bernard Shaw, in a recent number of the Metropolitan, answered several
questions in regard to the photoplay. Here are two bits from his
"Strike the dialogue from Moliere's Tartuffe, and what audience would
bear its mere stage-business? Imagine the scene in which Iago poisons
Othello's mind against Desdemona, conveyed in dumb show. What becomes of
the difference between Shakespeare and Sheridan Knowles in the film? Or
between Shakespeare's Lear and any one else's Lear? No, it seems to me
that all the interest lies in the new opening for the mass of dramatic
talent formerly disabled by incidental deficiencies of one sort or
another that do not matter in the picture-theatre...."
"Failures of the spoken drama may become the stars of the picture palace.
And there are the authors with imagination, visualization and first-rate
verbal gifts who can write novels and epics, but cannot for the life of
them write plays. Well, the film lends itself admirably to the
succession of events proper to narrative and epic, but physically
impracticable on the stage. Paradise Lost would make a far better film
than Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman, though Borkman is a dramatic
masterpiece, and Milton could not write an effective play."
Note in especial what Shaw says about narrative, epic, and Paradise Lost.
He has in mind, no doubt, the pouring hosts of demons and angels. This is
one kind of a Crowd Picture.
There is another sort to be seen where George Beban impersonates The
Italian in a film of that title, by Thomas H. Ince and G. Gardener
Sullivan. The first part, taken ostensibly in Venice, delineates the
festival spirit of the people on the bridges and in gondolas. It gives
out the atmosphere of town-crowd happiness. Then comes the vineyard, the
crowd sentiment of a merry grape-harvest, then the massed emotion of many
people embarking on an Atlantic liner telling good-by to their kindred on
the piers, then the drama of arrival in New York. The wonder of the
steerage people pouring down their proper gangway is contrasted with the
conventional at-home-ness of the first-class passengers above. Then we
behold the seething human cauldron of the East Side, then the jolly
little wedding-dance, then the life of the East Side, from the policeman
to the peanut-man, and including the bar tender, for the crowd is treated
on two separate occasions.
It is hot weather. The mobs of children follow the ice-wagon for chips of
ice. They besiege the fountain-end of the street-sprinkling wagon quite
closely, rejoicing to have their clothes soaked. They gather round the
fire-plug that is turned on for their benefit, and again become wet as
Passing through these crowds are George Beban and Clara Williams as The
Italian and his sweetheart. They owe the force of their acting to the
fact that they express each mass of humanity in turn. Their child is
born. It does not flourish. It represents in an acuter way another phase
of the same child-struggle with the heat that the gamins indicate in
their pursuit of the water-cart.
Then a deeper matter. The hero represents in a fashion the adventures of
the whole Italian race coming to America: its natural southern gayety set
in contrast to the drab East Side. The gondolier becomes boot-black. The
grape-gathering peasant girl becomes the suffering slum mother. They are
not specialized characters like Pendennis or Becky Sharp in the Novels of
Omitting the last episode, the entrance into the house of Corrigan, The
Italian is a strong piece of work.
Another kind of Crowd Picture is The Battle, an old Griffith Biograph,
first issued in 1911, before Griffith's name or that of any actor in
films was advertised. Blanche Sweet is the leading lady, and Charles H.
West the leading man. The psychology of a bevy of village lovers is
conveyed in a lively sweet-hearting dance. Then the boy and his comrades
go forth to war. The lines pass between hand-waving crowds of friends
from the entire neighborhood. These friends give the sense of patriotism
in mass. Then as the consequence of this feeling, as the special agents
to express it, the soldiers are in battle. By the fortunes of war the
onset is unexpectedly near to the house where once was the dance.
The boy is at first a coward. He enters the old familiar door. He appeals
to the girl to hide him, and for the time breaks her heart. He goes forth
a fugitive not only from battle, but from her terrible girlish anger.
But later he rallies. He brings a train of powder wagons through fires
built in his path by the enemy's scouts. He loses every one of his men,
and all but the last wagon, which he drives himself. His return with that
ammunition saves the hard-fought day.
And through all this, glimpses of the battle are given with a splendor
that only Griffith has attained.
Blanche Sweet stands as the representative of the bevy of girls in the
house of the dance, and the whole body social of the village. How the
costumes flash and the handkerchiefs wave around her! In the battle the
hero represents the cowardice that all the men are resisting within
themselves. When he returns, he is the incarnation of the hardihood they
have all hoped to display. Only the girl knows he was first a failure.
The wounded general honors him as the hero above all. Now she is radiant,
she cannot help but be triumphant, though the side of the house is blown
out by a shell and the dying are everywhere.
This one-reel work of art has been reissued of late by the Biograph
Company. It should be kept in the libraries of the Universities as a
standard. One-reel films are unfortunate in this sense that in order to
see a favorite the student must wait through five other reels of a mixed
programme that usually is bad. That is the reason one-reel masterpieces
seldom appear now. The producer in a mood to make a special effort wants
to feel that he has the entire evening, and that nothing before or after
is going to be a bore or destroy the impression. So at present the
painstaking films are apt to be five or six reels of twenty minutes each.
These have the advantage that if they please at all, one can see them
again at once without sitting through irrelevant slapstick work put there
to fill out the time. But now, having the whole evening to work in, the
producer takes too much time for his good ideas. I shall reiterate
throughout this work the necessity for restraint. A one hour programme is
long enough for any one. If the observer is pleased, he will sit it
through again and take another hour. There is not a good film in the
world but is the better for being seen in immediate succession to itself.
Six-reel programmes are a weariness to the flesh. The best of the old
one-reel Biographs of Griffith contained more in twenty minutes than
these ambitious incontinent six-reel displays give us in two hours. It
would pay a manager to hang out a sign: "This show is only twenty minutes
long, but it is Griffith's great film 'The Battle.'"
But I am digressing. To continue the contrast between private passion in
the theatre and crowd-passion in the photoplay, let us turn to Shaw
again. Consider his illustration of Iago, Othello, and Lear. These parts,
as he implies, would fall flat in motion pictures. The minor situations
of dramatic intensity might in many cases be built up. The crisis would
inevitably fail. Iago and Othello and Lear, whatever their offices in
their governments, are essentially private persons, individuals _in
extremis_. If you go to a motion picture and feel yourself suddenly
gripped by the highest dramatic tension, as on the old stage, and reflect
afterward that it was a fight between only two or three men in a room
otherwise empty, stop to analyze what they stood for. They were probably
representatives of groups or races that had been pursuing each other
earlier in the film. Otherwise the conflict, however violent, appealed
mainly to the sense of speed.
So, in The Birth of a Nation, which could better be called The Overthrow
of Negro Rule, the Ku Klux Klan dashes down the road as powerfully as
Niagara pours over the cliff. Finally the white girl Elsie Stoneman
(impersonated by Lillian Gish) is rescued by the Ku Klux Klan from the
mulatto politician, Silas Lynch (impersonated by George Seigmann). The
lady is brought forward as a typical helpless white maiden. The white
leader, Col. Ben Cameron (impersonated by Henry B. Walthall), enters not
as an individual, but as representing the whole Anglo-Saxon Niagara. He
has the mask of the Ku Klux Klan on his face till the crisis has passed.
The wrath of the Southerner against the blacks and their Northern
organizers has been piled up through many previous scenes. As a result
this rescue is a real climax, something the photoplays that trace
strictly personal hatreds cannot achieve.
The Birth of a Nation is a Crowd Picture in a triple sense. On the films,
as in the audience, it turns the crowd into a mob that is either for or
against the Reverend Thomas Dixon's poisonous hatred of the negro.
Griffith is a chameleon in interpreting his authors. Wherever the
scenario shows traces of The Clansman, the original book, by Thomas
Dixon, it is bad. Wherever it is unadulterated Griffith, which is half
the time, it is good. The Reverend Thomas Dixon is a rather stagy Simon
Legree: in his avowed views a deal like the gentleman with the spiritual
hydrophobia in the latter end of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Unconsciously Mr.
Dixon has done his best to prove that Legree was not a fictitious
* * * * *
Joel Chandler Harris, Harry Stillwell Edwards, George W. Cable, Thomas
Nelson Page, James Lane Allen, and Mark Twain are Southern men in Mr.
Griffith's class. I recommend their works to him as a better basis for
future Southern scenarios.
The Birth of a Nation has been very properly denounced for its Simon
Legree qualities by Francis Hackett, Jane Addams, and others. But it is
still true that it is a wonder in its Griffith sections. In its handling
of masses of men it further illustrates the principles that made notable
the old one-reel Battle film described in the beginning of this chapter.
The Battle in the end is greater, because of its self-possession and
concentration: all packed into twenty minutes.
When, in The Birth of a Nation, Lincoln (impersonated by Joseph Henabery)
goes down before the assassin, it is a master-scene. He falls as the
representative of the government and a thousand high and noble crowd
aspirations. The mimic audience in the restored Ford's Theatre rises in
panic. This crowd is interpreted in especial for us by the two young
people in the seats nearest, and the freezing horror of the treason
sweeps from the Ford's Theatre audience to the real audience beyond them.
The real crowd touched with terror beholds its natural face in the glass.
Later come the pictures of the rioting negroes in the streets of the
Southern town, mobs splendidly handled, tossing wildly and rhythmically
like the sea. Then is delineated the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, of which
we have already spoken. For comment on the musical accompaniment to The
Birth of a Nation, read the fourteenth chapter entitled "The Orchestra,
Conversation and the Censorship."
In the future development of motion pictures mob-movements of anger and
joy will go through fanatical and provincial whirlwinds into great
national movements of anger and joy.
A book by Gerald Stanley Lee that has a score of future scenarios in it,
a book that might well be dipped into by the reader before he goes to
such a play as The Italian or The Battle, is the work which bears the
title of this chapter: "Crowds."
Mr. Lee is far from infallible in his remedies for factory and industrial
relations. But in sensitiveness to the flowing street of humanity he is
indeed a man. Listen to the names of some of the divisions of his book:
"Crowds and Machines; Letting the Crowds be Good; Letting the Crowds be
Beautiful; Crowds and Heroes; Where are we Going? The Crowd Scare; The
Strike, an Invention for making Crowds Think; The Crowd's Imagination
about People; Speaking as One of the Crowd; Touching the Imagination of
Crowds." Films in the spirit of these titles would help to make
world-voters of us all.
The World State is indeed far away. But as we peer into the Mirror Screen
some of us dare to look forward to the time when the pouring streets of
men will become sacred in each other's eyes, in pictures and in fact.
A further discussion of this theme on other planes will be found in the
eleventh chapter, entitled "Architecture-in-Motion," and the fifteenth
chapter, entitled "The Substitute for the Saloon."
The Patriotic Picture need not necessarily be in terms of splendor. It
generally is. Beginning the chronicle is one that waves no banners.
The Typhoon, a film produced by Thomas H. Ince, is a story of the
Japanese love of Nippon in which a very little of the landscape of the
nation is shown, and that in the beginning. The hero (acted by Sessue
Hayakawa), living in the heart of Paris, represents the far-off Empire.
He is making a secret military report. He is a responsible member of a
colony of Japanese gentlemen. The bevy of them appear before or after his
every important action. He still represents this crowd when alone.
The unfortunate Parisian heroine, unable to fathom the mystery of the
fanatical hearts of the colony, ventures to think that her love for the
Japanese hero and his equally great devotion to her is the important
human relation on the horizon. She flouts his obscure work, pits her
charms against it. In the end there is a quarrel. The irresistible meets
the immovable, and in madness or half by accident, he kills the girl.
The youth is protected by the colony, for he alone can make the report.
He is the machine-like representative of the Japanese patriotic formula,
till the document is complete. A new arrival in the colony, who obviously
cannot write the book, confesses the murder and is executed. The other
high fanatic dies soon after, of a broken heart, with the completed
manuscript volume in his hand. The one impression of the play is that
Japanese patriotism is a peculiar and fearful thing. The particular
quality of the private romance is but vaguely given, for such things in
their rise and culmination can only be traced by the novelist, or by the
gentle alternations of silence and speech on the speaking stage, aided by
the hot blood of players actually before us.
Here, as in most photoplays, the attempted lover-conversations in
pantomime are but indifferent things. The details of the hero's last
quarrel with the heroine and the precise thoughts that went with it are
muffled by the inability to speak. The power of the play is in the
adequate style the man represents the colony. Sessue Hayakawa should give
us Japanese tales more adapted to the films. We should have stories of
Iyeyasu and Hideyoshi, written from the ground up for the photoplay
theatre. We should have the story of the Forty-seven Ronin, not a
Japanese stage version, but a work from the source-material. We should
have legends of the various clans, picturizations of the code of the
The Typhoon is largely indoors. But the Patriotic Motion Picture is
generally a landscape. This is for deeper reasons than that it requires
large fields in which to manoeuvre armies. Flags are shown for other
causes than that they are the nominal signs of a love of the native land.
In a comedy of the history of a newspaper, the very columns of the
publication are actors, and may be photographed oftener than the human
hero. And in the higher realms this same tendency gives particular power
to the panorama and trappings. It makes the natural and artificial
magnificence more than a narrative, more than a color-scheme, something
other than a drama. In a photoplay by a master, when the American flag is
shown, the thirteen stripes are columns of history and the stars are
headlines. The woods and the templed hills are their printing press,
almost in a literal sense.
Going back to the illustration of the engine, in chapter two, the
non-human thing is a personality, even if it is not beautiful. When it
takes on the ritual of decorative design, this new vitality is made
seductive, and when it is an object of nature, this seductive ritual
becomes a new pantheism. The armies upon the mountains they are defending
are rooted in the soil like trees. They resist invasion with the same
elementary stubbornness with which the oak resists the storm or the cliff
resists the wave.
* * * * *
Let the reader consider Antony and Cleopatra, the Cines film. It was
brought to America from Italy by George Klein. This and several ambitious
spectacles like it are direct violations of the foregoing principles.
True, it glorifies Rome. It is equivalent to waving the Italian above the
Egyptian flag, quite slowly for two hours. From the stage standpoint,
the magnificence is thoroughgoing. Viewed as a circus, the acting is
elephantine in its grandeur. All that is needed is pink lemonade sold in
The famous Cabiria, a tale of war between Rome and Carthage, by
D'Annunzio, is a prime example of a success, where Antony and Cleopatra
and many European films founded upon the classics have been failures.
With obvious defects as a producer, D'Annunzio appreciates spectacular
symbolism. He has an instinct for the strange and the beautifully
infernal, as they are related to decorative design. Therefore he is able
to show us Carthage indeed. He has an Italian patriotism that amounts to
frenzy. So Rome emerges body and soul from the past, in this spectacle.
He gives us the cruelty of Baal, the intrepidity of the Roman legions.
Everything Punic or Italian in the middle distance or massed background
speaks of the very genius of the people concerned and actively generates
their kind of lightning.
The principals do not carry out the momentum of this immense resource.
The half a score of leading characters, with the costumes, gestures, and
aspects of gods, are after all works of the taxidermist. They are
stuffed gods. They conduct a silly nickelodeon romance while Carthage
rolls on toward her doom. They are like sparrows fighting for grain on
the edge of the battle.
The doings of his principals are sufficiently evident to be grasped with
a word or two of printed insert on the films. But he sentimentalizes
about them. He adds side-elaborations of the plot that would require much
time to make clear, and a hard working novelist to make interesting. We
are sentenced to stop and gaze long upon this array of printing in the
darkness, just at the moment the tenth wave of glory seems ready to sweep
in. But one hundred words cannot be a photoplay climax. The climax must
be in a tableau that is to the eye as the rising sun itself, that follows
the thousand flags of the dawn.
In the New York performance, and presumably in other large cities, there
was also an orchestra. Behold then, one layer of great photoplay, one
layer of bad melodrama, one layer of explanation, and a final cement of
music. It is as though in an art museum there should be a man at the door
selling would-be masterly short-stories about the paintings, and a man
with a violin playing the catalogue. But for further discourse on the
orchestra read the fourteenth chapter.
I left Cabiria with mixed emotions. And I had to forget the distressful
eye-strain. Few eyes submit without destruction to three hours of film.
But the mistakes of Cabiria are those of the pioneer work of genius. It
has in it twenty great productions. It abounds in suggestions. Once the
classic rules of this art-unit are established, men with equal genius
with D'Annunzio and no more devotion, will give us the world's
masterpieces. As it is, the background and mass-movements must stand as
monumental achievements in vital patriotic splendor.
D'Annunzio is Griffith's most inspired rival in these things. He lacks
Griffith's knowledge of what is photoplay and what is not. He lacks
Griffith's simplicity of hurdle-race plot. He lacks his avalanche-like
action. The Italian needs the American's health and clean winds. He needs
his foregrounds, leading actors, and types of plot. But the American has
never gone as deep as the Italian into landscapes that are their own
tragedians, and into Satanic and celestial ceremonials.
Judith of Bethulia and The Battle Hymn of the Republic have impressed me
as the two most significant photoplays I have ever encountered. They may
be classed with equal justice as religious or patriotic productions. But
for reasons which will appear, The Battle Hymn of the Republic will be
classed as a film of devotion and Judith as a patriotic one. The latter
was produced by D.W. Griffith, and released by the Biograph Company in
1914. The original stage drama was once played by the famous Boston
actress, Nance O'Neil. It is the work of Thomas Bailey Aldrich. The
motion picture scenario, when Griffith had done with it, had no especial
Aldrich flavor, though it contained several of the characters and events
as Aldrich conceived them. It was principally the old apocryphal story
plus the genius of Griffith and that inner circle of players whom he has
endowed with much of his point of view.
This is his cast of characters:--
Judith Blanche Sweet
Holofernes Henry Walthall
His servant J.J. Lance
Captain of the Guards H. Hyde
Judith's maid Miss Bruce
General of the Jews C.H. Mailes
Priests Messrs. Oppleman and Lestina
Nathan Robert Harron
Naomi Mae Marsh
Keeper of the slaves for Holofernes Alfred Paget
The Jewish mother Lillian Gish
The Biograph Company advertises the production with the following Barnum
and Bailey enumeration: "In four parts. Produced in California. Most
expensive Biograph ever produced. More than one thousand people and about
three hundred horsemen. The following were built expressly for the
production: a replica of the ancient city of Bethulia; the mammoth wall
that protected Bethulia; a faithful reproduction of the ancient army
camps, embodying all their barbaric splendor and dances; chariots,
battering rams, scaling ladders, archer towers, and other special war
paraphernalia of the period.
"The following spectacular effects: the storming of the walls of the
city of Bethulia; the hand-to-hand conflicts; the death-defying chariot
charges at break-neck speed; the rearing and plunging horses infuriated
by the din of battle; the wonderful camp of the terrible Holofernes,
equipped with rugs brought from the far East; the dancing girls in their
exhibition of the exquisite and peculiar dances of the period; the
routing of the command of the terrible Holofernes, and the destruction of
the camp by fire. And overshadowing all, the heroism of the beautiful
This advertisement should be compared with the notice of Your Girl and
Mine transcribed in the seventeenth chapter.
But there is another point of view by which this Judith of Bethulia
production may be approached, however striking the advertising notice.
There are four sorts of scenes alternated: (1) the particular history of
Judith; (2) the gentle courtship of Nathan and Naomi, types of the
inhabitants of Bethulia; (3) pictures of the streets, with the population
flowing like a sluggish river; (4) scenes of raid, camp, and battle,
interpolated between these, tying the whole together. The real plot is
the balanced alternation of all the elements. So many minutes of one,
then so many minutes of another. As was proper, very little of the tale
was thrown on the screen in reading matter, and no climax was ever a
printed word, but always an enthralling tableau.
The particular history of Judith begins with the picture of her as the
devout widow. She is austerely garbed, at prayer for her city, in her own
quiet house. Then later she is shown decked for the eyes of man in the
camp of Holofernes, where all is Assyrian glory. Judith struggles between
her unexpected love for the dynamic general and the resolve to destroy
him that brought her there. In either type of scene, the first gray and
silver, the other painted with Paul Veronese splendor, Judith moves with
a delicate deliberation. Over her face the emotions play like winds on a
meadow lake. Holofernes is the composite picture of all the Biblical
heathen chieftains. His every action breathes power. He is an Assyrian
bull, a winged lion, and a god at the same time, and divine honors are
paid to him every moment.
Nathan and Naomi are two Arcadian lovers. In their shy meetings they
express the life of the normal Bethulia. They are seen among the reapers
outside the city or at the well near the wall, or on the streets of the
ancient town. They are generally doing the things the crowd behind them
is doing, meanwhile evolving their own little heart affair. Finally when
the Assyrian comes down like a wolf on the fold, the gentle Naomi becomes
a prisoner in Holofernes' camp. She is in the foreground, a
representative of the crowd of prisoners. Nathan is photographed on the
wall as the particular defender of the town in whom we are most
The pictures of the crowd's normal activities avoid jerkiness and haste.
They do not abound in the boresome self-conscious quietude that some
producers have substituted for the usual twitching. Each actor in the
assemblies has a refreshing equipment in gentle gesticulation; for the
manners and customs of Bethulia must needs be different from those of
America. Though the population moves together as a river, each citizen is
quite preoccupied. To the furthest corner of the picture, they are
egotistical as human beings. The elder goes by, in theological
conversation with his friend. He thinks his theology is important. The
mother goes by, all absorbed in her child. To her it is the only child in
Alternated with these scenes is the terrible rush of the Assyrian army,
on to exploration, battle, and glory. The speed of their setting out
becomes actual, because it is contrasted with the deliberation of the
Jewish town. At length the Assyrians are along those hills and valleys
and below the wall of defence. The population is on top of the
battlements, beating them back the more desperately because they are
separated from the water-supply, the wells in the fields where once the
lovers met. In a lull in the siege, by a connivance of the elders, Judith
is let out of a little door in the wall. And while the fortune of her
people is most desperate she is shown in the quiet shelter of the tent of
Holofernes. Sinuous in grace, tranced, passionately in love, she has
forgotten her peculiar task. She is in a sense Bethulia itself, the race
of Israel made over into a woman, while Holofernes is the embodiment of
the besieging army. Though in a quiet tent, and on the terms of love, it
is the essential warfare of the hot Assyrian blood and the pure and
peculiar Jewish thoroughbredness.
Blanche Sweet as Judith is indeed dignified and ensnaring, the more so
because in her abandoned quarter of an hour the Jewish sanctity does not
leave her. And her aged woman attendant, coming in and out, sentinel and
conscience, with austere face and lifted finger, symbolizes the fire of
Israel that shall yet awaken within her. When her love for her city and
God finally becomes paramount, she shakes off the spell of the divine
honors which she has followed all the camp in according to that living
heathen deity Holofernes, and by the very transfiguration of her figure
and countenance we know that the deliverance of Israel is at hand. She
beheads the dark Assyrian. Soon she is back in the city, by way of the
little gate by which she emerged. The elders receive her and her bloody
The people who have been dying of thirst arise in a final whirlwind of
courage. Bereft of their military genius, the Assyrians flee from the
burning camp. Naomi is delivered by her lover Nathan. This act is taken
by the audience as a type of the setting free of all the captives. Then
we have the final return of the citizens to their town. As for Judith,
hers is no crass triumph. She is shown in her gray and silvery room in
her former widow's dress, but not the same woman. There is thwarted love
in her face. The sword of sorrow is there. But there is also the prayer
of thanksgiving. She goes forth. She is hailed as her city's deliverer.
She stands among the nobles like a holy candle.
Providing the picture may be preserved in its original delicacy, it has
every chance to retain a place in the affections of the wise, if a humble
pioneer of criticism may speak his honest mind.
Though in this story the archaic flavor is well-preserved, the way the
producer has pictured the population at peace, in battle, in despair, in
victory gives me hope that he or men like unto him will illustrate the
American patriotic crowd-prophecies. We must have Whitmanesque scenarios,
based on moods akin to that of the poem By Blue Ontario's Shore. The
possibility of showing the entire American population its own face in the
Mirror Screen has at last come. Whitman brought the idea of democracy to
our sophisticated literati, but did not persuade the democracy itself to
read his democratic poems. Sooner or later the kinetoscope will do what
he could not, bring the nobler side of the equality idea to the people
who are so crassly equal.
The photoplay penetrates in our land to the haunts of the wildest or the
dullest. The isolated prospector rides twenty miles to see the same film
that is displayed on Broadway. There is not a civilized or half-civilized
land but may read the Whitmanesque message in time, if once it is put on
the films with power. Photoplay theatres are set up in ports where
sailors revel, in heathen towns where gentlemen adventurers are willing
to make one last throw with fate.
On the other hand, as a recorder Whitman approaches the wildest, rawest
American material and conquers it, at the same time keeping his nerves in
the state in which Swinburne wrote Only the Song of Secret Bird, or
Lanier composed The Ballad of Trees and The Master. J.W. Alexander's
portrait of Whitman in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, is not too
sophisticated. The out-of-door profoundness of this poet is far richer
than one will realize unless he has just returned from some cross-country
adventure afoot. Then if one reads breathlessly by the page and the score
of pages, there is a glory transcendent. For films of American
patriotism to parallel the splendors of Cabiria and Judith of Bethulia,
and to excel them, let us have Whitmanesque scenarios based on moods like
that of By Blue Ontario's Shore, The Salute au Monde, and The Passage to
India. Then the people's message will reach the people at last.
The average Crowd Picture will cling close to the streets that are, and
the usual Patriotic Picture will but remind us of nationality as it is at
present conceived and aflame, and the Religious Picture will for the most
part be close to the standard orthodoxies. The final forms of these merge
into each other, though they approach the heights by different avenues.
We Americans should look for the great photoplay of to-morrow, that will
mark a decade or a century, that prophesies of the flags made one, the
crowds in brotherhood.
As far as the photoplay is concerned, religious emotion is a form of
crowd-emotion. In the most conventional and rigid church sense this phase
can be conveyed more adequately by the motion picture than by the stage.
There is little, of course, for the anti-ritualist in the art-world
anywhere. The thing that makes cathedrals real shrines in the eye of the
reverent traveller makes them, with their religious processions and the
like, impressive in splendor-films.
For instance, I have long remembered the essentials of the film, The
Death of Thomas Becket. It may not compare in technique with some of our
present moving picture achievements, but the idea must have been
particularly adapted to the film medium. The story has stayed in my mind
with great persistence, not only as a narrative, but as the first hint to
me that orthodox religious feeling has here an undeveloped field.
Green tells the story in this way, in his History of the English
"Four knights of the King's court, stirred to outrage by a passionate
outburst of their master's wrath, crossed the sea and on the twenty-ninth
of December forced their way into the Archbishop's palace. After a stormy
parley with him in his chamber they withdrew to arm. Thomas was hurried
by his clerks into the cathedral, but as he reached the steps leading
from the transept into the choir his pursuers burst in from the
cloisters. 'Where,' cried Reginald Fitzurse, 'is the traitor, Thomas
Becket?' 'Here am I, no traitor, but a priest of God,' he replied. And
again descending the steps he placed himself with his back against a
pillar and fronted his foes.... The brutal murder was received with a
thrill of horror throughout Christendom. Miracles were wrought at the
martyr's tomb, etc...."
It is one of the few deaths in moving pictures that have given me the
sense that I was watching a tragedy. Most of them affect one, if they
have any effect, like exhibits in an art gallery, as does Josef Israels'
oil painting, Alone in the World. We admire the technique, and as for
emotion, we feel the picturesqueness only. But here the church
procession, the robes, the candles, the vaulting overhead, the whole
visualized cathedral mood has the power over the reverent eye it has in
life, and a touch more.
It is not a private citizen who is struck down. Such a taking off would
have been but nominally impressive, no matter how well acted. Private
deaths in the films, to put it another way, are but narrative statements.
It is not easy to convey their spiritual significance. Take, for
instance, the death of John Goderic, in the film version of Gilbert
Parker's The Seats of the Mighty. The major leaves this world in the
first third of the story. The photoplay use of his death is, that he may
whisper in the ear of Robert Moray to keep certain letters of La
Pompadour well hidden. The fact that it is the desire of a dying man
gives sharpness to his request. Later in the story Moray is hard-pressed
by the villain for those same papers. Then the scene of the death is
flashed for an instant on the screen, representing the hero's memory of
the event. It is as though he should recollect and renew a solemn oath.
The documents are more important than John Goderic. His departure is but
one of their attributes. So it is in any film. There is no emotional
stimulation in the final departure of a non-public character to bring
tears, such tears as have been provoked by the novel or the stage over
the death of Sidney Carton or Faust's Marguerite or the like.
All this, to make sharper the fact that the murder of Becket the
archbishop is a climax. The great Church and hierarchy are profaned. The
audience feels the same thrill of horror that went through Christendom.
We understand why miracles were wrought at the martyr's tomb.
In the motion pictures the entrance of a child into the world is a mere
family episode, not a climax, when it is the history of private people.
For instance, several little strangers come into the story of Enoch
Arden. They add beauty, and are links in the chain of events. Still they
are only one of many elements of idyllic charm in the village of Annie.
Something that in real life is less valuable than a child is the goal of
each tiny tableau, some coming or departure or the like that affects the
total plot. But let us imagine a production that would chronicle the
promise to Abraham, and the vision that came with it. Let the film show
the final gift of Isaac to the aged Sarah, even the boy who is the
beginning of a race that shall be as the stars of heaven and the sands of
the sea for multitude. This could be made a pageant of power and glory.
The crowd-emotions, patriotic fires, and religious exaltations on which
it turns could be given in noble procession and the tiny fellow on the
pillow made the mystic centre of the whole. The story of the coming of
Samuel, the dedicated little prophet, might be told on similar terms.
The real death in the photoplay is the ritualistic death, the real birth
is the ritualistic birth, and the cathedral mood of the motion picture
which goes with these and is close to these in many of its phases, is an
The film corporations fear religious questions, lest offence be given to
this sect or that. So let such denominations as are in the habit of
cooperating, themselves take over this medium, not gingerly, but
whole-heartedly, as in mediaeval time the hierarchy strengthened its hold
on the people with the marvels of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
This matter is further discussed in the seventeenth chapter, entitled
"Progress and Endowment."
But there is a field wherein the commercial man will not be accused of
heresy or sacrilege, which builds on ritualistic birth and death and
elements akin thereto. This the established producer may enter without
fear. Which brings us to The Battle Hymn of the Republic, issued by the
American Vitagraph Company in 1911. This film should be studied in the
High Schools and Universities till the canons of art for which it stands
are established in America. The director was Larry Trimble. All honor to
The patriotism of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, if taken literally,
deals with certain aspects of the Civil War. But the picture is
transfigured by so marked a devotion, that it is the main illustration in
this work of the religious photoplay.
The beginning shows President Lincoln in the White House brooding over
the lack of response to his last call for troops. (He is impersonated by
Ralph Ince.) He and Julia Ward Howe are looking out of the window on a
recruiting headquarters that is not busy. (Mrs. Howe is impersonated by
Julia S. Gordon.) Another scene shows an old mother in the West refusing
to let her son enlist. (This woman is impersonated by Mrs. Maurice.) The
father has died in the war. The sword hangs on the wall. Later Julia Ward
Howe is shown in her room asleep at midnight, then rising in a trance and
writing the Battle Hymn at a table by the bed.
The pictures that might possibly have passed before her mind during the
trance are thrown upon the screen. The phrases they illustrate are not in
the final order of the poem, but in the possible sequence in which they
went on the paper in the first sketch. The dream panorama is not a
literal discussion of abolitionism or states' rights. It illustrates
rather the Hebraic exultation applied to all lands and times. "Mine eyes
have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord"; a gracious picture of the
nativity. (Edith Storey impersonates Mary the Virgin.) "I have seen him
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