The Art Of The Moving Picture
Part 2 out of 4
in the watchfires of a hundred circling camps" and "They have builded him
an altar in the evening dews and damps"--for these are given symbolic
pageants of the Holy Sepulchre crusaders.
Then there is a visible parable, showing a marketplace in some wicked
capital, neither Babylon, Tyre, nor Nineveh, but all of them in essential
character. First come spectacles of rejoicing, cruelty, and waste. Then
from Heaven descend flood and fire, brimstone and lightning. It is like
the judgment of the Cities of the Plain. Just before the overthrow, the
line is projected upon the screen: "He hath loosed the fateful lightning
of his terrible swift sword." Then the heavenly host becomes gradually
visible upon the air, marching toward the audience, almost crossing the
footlights, and blowing their solemn trumpets. With this picture the line
is given us to read: "Our God is marching on." This host appears in the
photoplay as often as the refrain sweeps into the poem. The celestial
company, its imperceptible emergence, its spiritual power when in the
ascendant, is a thing never to be forgotten, a tableau that proves the
motion picture a great religious instrument.
Then comes a procession indeed. It is as though the audience were
standing at the side of the throne at Doomsday looking down the hill of
Zion toward the little earth. There is a line of those who are to be
judged, leaders from the beginning of history, barbarians with their
crude weapons, classic characters, Caesar and his rivals for fame;
mediaeval figures including Dante meditating; later figures, Richelieu,
Napoleon. Many people march toward the strange glorifying eye of the
camera, growing larger than men, filling the entire field of vision,
disappearing when they are almost upon us. The audience weighs the worth
of their work to the world as the men themselves with downcast eyes seem
to be doing also. The most thrilling figure is Tolstoi in his peasant
smock, coming after the bitter egotists and conquerors. (The
impersonation is by Edward Thomas.) I shall never forget that presence
marching up to the throne invisible with bowed head. This procession is
to illustrate the line: "He is sifting out the hearts of men before his
Judgment Seat." Later Lincoln is pictured on the steps of the White
House. It is a quaint tableau, in the spirit of the old-fashioned Rogers
group. Yet it is masterful for all that. Lincoln is taking the chains
from a cowering slave. This tableau is to illustrate the line: "Let the
hero born of woman crush the serpent with his heel." Now it is the end of
the series of visions. It is morning in Mrs. Howe's room. She rises. She
is filled with wonder to find the poem on her table.
Written to the rousing glory-tune of John Brown's Body the song goes over
the North like wildfire. The far-off home of the widow is shown. She and
the boy read the famous chant in the morning news column. She takes the
old sword from the wall. She gives it to her son and sends him to enlist
with her blessing. In the next picture Lincoln and Mrs. Howe are looking
out of the window where was once the idle recruiting tent. A new army is
pouring by, singing the words that have rallied the nation. Ritualistic
birth and death have been discussed. This film might be said to
illustrate ritualistic birth, death, and resurrection.
The writer has seen hundreds of productions since this one. He has
described it from memory. It came out in a time when the American people
paid no attention to the producer or the cast. It may have many technical
crudities by present-day standards. But the root of the matter is there.
And Springfield knew it. It was brought back to our town many times. It
was popular in both the fashionable picture show houses and the cheapest,
dirtiest hole in the town. It will soon be reissued by the Vitagraph
Company. Every student of American Art should see this film.
The same exultation that went into it, the faculty for commanding the
great spirits of history and making visible the unseen powers of the
air, should be applied to Crowd Pictures which interpret the
non-sectarian prayers of the broad human race.
The pageant of Religious Splendor is the final photoplay form in the
classification which this work seeks to establish. Much of what follows
will be to reenforce the heads of these first discourses. Further comment
on the Religious Photoplay may be found in the eleventh chapter, entitled
The outline is complete. Now to reenforce it. Pictures of Action Intimacy
and Splendor are the foundation colors in the photoplay, as red, blue,
and yellow are the basis of the rainbow. Action Films might be called the
red section; Intimate Motion Pictures, being colder and quieter, might be
called blue; and Splendor Photoplays called yellow, since that is the hue
of pageants and sunshine.
Another way of showing the distinction is to review the types of gesture.
The Action Photoplay deals with generalized pantomime: the gesture of the
conventional policeman in contrast with the mannerism of the stereotyped
preacher. The Intimate Film gives us more elusive personal gestures: the
difference between the table manners of two preachers in the same
restaurant, or two policemen. A mark of the Fairy Play is the gesture of
incantation, the sweep of the arm whereby Mab would transform a prince
into a hawk. The other Splendor Films deal with the total gestures of
crowds: the pantomime of a torch-waving mass of men, the drill of an army
on the march, or the bending of the heads of a congregation receiving the
Another way to demonstrate the thesis is to use the old classification of
poetry: dramatic, lyric, epic. The Action Play is a narrow form of the
dramatic. The Intimate Motion Picture is an equivalent of the lyric. In
the seventeenth chapter it is shown that one type of the Intimate might
be classed as imagist. And obviously the Splendor Pictures are the
equivalent of the epic.
But perhaps the most adequate way of showing the meaning of this outline
is to say that the Action Film is sculpture-in-motion, the Intimate
Photoplay is painting-in-motion, and the Fairy Pageant, along with the
rest of the Splendor Pictures, may be described as architecture-in-motion.
This chapter will discuss the bearing of the phrase sculpture-in-motion.
It will relate directly to chapter two.
First, gentle and kindly reader, let us discuss sculpture in its most
literal sense: after that, less realistically, but perhaps more
adequately. Let us begin with Annette Kellerman in Neptune's Daughter.
This film has a crude plot constructed to show off Annette's various
athletic resources. It is good photography, and a big idea so far as the
swimming episodes are concerned. An artist haunted by picture-conceptions
equivalent to the musical thoughts back of Wagner's Rhine-maidens could
have made of Annette, in her mermaid's dress, a notable figure. Or a
story akin to the mermaid tale of Hans Christian Andersen, or Matthew
Arnold's poem of the forsaken merman, could have made this picturesque
witch of the salt water truly significant, and still retained the most
beautiful parts of the photoplay as it was exhibited. It is an
exceedingly irrelevant imagination that shows her in other scenes as a
duellist, for instance, because forsooth she can fence. As a child of the
ocean, half fish, half woman, she is indeed convincing. Such mermaids as
this have haunted sailors, and lured them on the rocks to their doom,
from the day the siren sang till the hour the Lorelei sang no more. The
scene with the baby mermaid, when she swims with the pretty creature on
her back, is irresistible. Why are our managers so mechanical? Why do
they flatten out at the moment the fancy of the tiniest reader of
fairy-tales begins to be alive? Most of Annette's support were stage
dummies. Neptune was a lame Santa Claus with cotton whiskers.
But as for the bearing of the film on this chapter: the human figure is
within its rights whenever it is as free from self-consciousness as was
the life-radiating Annette in the heavenly clear waters of Bermuda. On
the other hand, Neptune and his pasteboard diadem and wooden-pointed
pitchfork, should have put on his dressing-gown and retired. As a toe
dancer in an alleged court scene, on land, Annette was a mere simperer.
Possibly Pavlowa as a swimmer in Bermuda waters would have been as much
of a mistake. Each queen to her kingdom.
For living, moving sculpture, the human eye requires a costume and a part
in unity with the meaning of that particular figure. There is the Greek
dress of Mordkin in the arrow dance. There is Annette's breast covering
of shells, and wonderful flowing mermaid hair, clothing her as the
midnight does the moon. The new costume freedom of the photoplay allows
such limitation of clothing as would be probable when one is honestly in
touch with wild nature and preoccupied with vigorous exercise. Thus the
cave-man and desert island narratives, though seldom well done, when
produced with verisimilitude, give an opportunity for the native human
frame in the logical wrappings of reeds and skins. But those who in a
silly hurry seek excuses, are generally merely ridiculous, like the
barefoot man who is terribly tender about walking on the pebbles, or the
wild man who is white as celery or grass under a board. There is no short
cut to vitality.
A successful literal use of sculpture is in the film Oil and Water.
Blanche Sweet is the leader of the play within a play which occupies the
first reel. Here the Olympians and the Muses, with a grace that we fancy
was Greek, lead a dance that traces the story of the spring, summer, and
autumn of life. Finally the supple dancers turn gray and old and die, but
not before they have given us a vision from the Ionian islands. The play
might have been inspired from reading Keats' Lamia, but is probably
derived from the work of Isadora Duncan. This chapter has hereafter only
a passing word or two on literal sculptural effects. It has more in mind
the carver's attitude toward all that passes before the eye.
The sculptor George Gray Barnard is responsible for none of the views in
this discourse, but he has talked to me at length about his sense of
discovery in watching the most ordinary motion pictures, and his delight
in following them with their endless combinations of masses and flowing
The little far-away people on the old-fashioned speaking stage do not
appeal to the plastic sense in this way. They are, by comparison, mere
bits of pasteboard with sweet voices, while, on the other hand, the
photoplay foreground is full of dumb giants. The bodies of these giants
are in high sculptural relief. Where the lights are quite glaring and the
photography is bad, many of the figures are as hard in their impact on
the eye as lime-white plaster-casts, no matter what the clothing. There
are several passages of this sort in the otherwise beautiful Enoch Arden,
where the shipwrecked sailor is depicted on his desert island in the
What materials should the photoplay figures suggest? There are as many
possible materials as there are subjects for pictures and tone schemes
to be considered. But we will take for illustration wood, bronze, and
marble, since they have been used in the old sculptural art.
There is found in most art shows a type of carved wood gargoyle where the
work and the subject are at one, not only in the color of the wood, but
in the way the material masses itself, in bulk betrays its qualities. We
will suppose a moving picture humorist who is in the same mood as the
carver. He chooses a story of quaint old ladies, street gamins, and fat
aldermen. Imagine the figures with the same massing and interplay
suddenly invested with life, yet giving to the eye a pleasure kindred to
that which is found in carved wood, and bringing to the fancy a similar
Or there is a type of Action Story where the mood of the figures is that
of bronze, with the aesthetic resources of that metal: its elasticity; its
emphasis on the tendon, ligament, and bone, rather than on the muscle;
and an attribute that we will call the panther-like quality. Hermon A.
MacNeil has a memorable piece of work in the yard of the architect Shaw,
at Lake Forest, Illinois. It is called "The Sun Vow." A little Indian is
shooting toward the sun, while the old warrior, crouching immediately
behind him, follows with his eye the direction of the arrow. Few pieces
of sculpture come readily to mind that show more happily the qualities of
bronze as distinguished from other materials. To imagine such a group
done in marble, carved wood, or Della Robbia ware is to destroy the very
image in the fancy.
The photoplay of the American Indian should in most instances be planned
as bronze in action. The tribes should not move so rapidly that the
panther-like elasticity is lost in the riding, running, and scalping. On
the other hand, the aborigines should be far from the temperateness of
Mr. Edward S. Curtis, the super-photographer, has made an Ethnological
collection of photographs of our American Indians. This work of a
life-time, a supreme art achievement, shows the native as a figure in
bronze. Mr. Curtis' photoplay, The Land of the Head Hunters (World Film
Corporation), a romance of the Indians of the North-West, abounds in
I have gone through my old territories as an art student, in the Chicago
Art Institute and the Metropolitan Museum, of late, in special
excursions, looking for sculpture, painting, and architecture that might
be the basis for the photoplays of the future.
The Bacchante of Frederick MacMonnies is in bronze in the Metropolitan
Museum and in bronze replica in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. There is
probably no work that more rejoices the hearts of the young art students
in either city. The youthful creature illustrates a most joyous leap into
the air. She is high on one foot with the other knee lifted. She holds a
bunch of grapes full-arm's length. Her baby, clutched in the other hand,
is reaching up with greedy mouth toward the fruit. The bacchante body is
glistening in the light. This is joy-in-bronze as the Sun Vow is
power-in-bronze. This special story could not be told in another medium.
I have seen in Paris a marble copy of this Bacchante. It is as though it
were done in soap. On the other hand, many of the renaissance Italian
sculptors have given us children in marble in low relief, dancing like
lilies in the wind. They could not be put into bronze.
The plot of the Action Photoplay is literally or metaphorically a chase
down the road or a hurdle-race. It might be well to consider how typical
figures for such have been put into carved material. There are two bronze
statues that have their replicas in all museums. They are generally one
on either side of the main hall, towering above the second-story
balustrade. First, the statue of Gattamelata, a Venetian general, by
Donatello. The original is in Padua. Then there is the figure of
Bartolommeo Colleoni. The original is in Venice. It is by Verrocchio and
Leopardi. These equestrians radiate authority. There is more action in
them than in any cowboy hordes I have ever beheld zipping across the
screen. Look upon them and ponder long, prospective author-producer. Even
in a simple chase-picture, the speed must not destroy the chance to enjoy
the modelling. If you would give us mounted legions, destined to conquer,
let any one section of the film, if it is stopped and studied, be
grounded in the same bronze conception. The Assyrian commanders in
Griffith's Judith would, without great embarrassment, stand this test.
But it may not be the pursuit of an enemy we have in mind. It may be a
spring celebration, horsemen in Arcadia, going to some happy tournament.
Where will we find our precedents for such a cavalcade? Go to any museum.
Find the Parthenon room. High on the wall is the copy of the famous
marble frieze of the young citizens who are in the procession in praise
of Athena. Such a rhythm of bodies and heads and the feet of proud
steeds, and above all the profiles of thoroughbred youths, no city has
seen since that day. The delicate composition relations, ever varying,
ever refreshing, amid the seeming sameness of formula of rider behind
rider, have been the delight of art students the world over, and shall so
remain. No serious observer escapes the exhilaration of this company. Let
it be studied by the author-producer though it be but an idyl in disguise
that his scenario calls for: merry young farmers hurrying to the State
Fair parade, boys making all speed to the political rally.
Buy any three moving picture magazines you please. Mark the illustrations
that are massive, in high relief, with long lines in their edges. Cut out
and sort some of these. I have done it on the table where I write. After
throwing away all but the best specimens, I have four different kinds of
sculpture. First, behold the inevitable cowboy. He is on a ramping
horse, filling the entire outlook. The steed rears, while facing us. The
cowboy waves his hat. There is quite such an animal by Frederick
MacMonnies, wrought in bronze, set up on a gate to a park in Brooklyn. It
is not the identical color of the photoplay animal, but the bronze
elasticity is the joy in both.
Here is a scene of a masked monk, carrying off a fainting girl. The hero
intercepts him. The figures of the lady and the monk are in sufficient
sculptural harmony to make a formal sculptural group for an art
exhibition. The picture of the hero, strong, with well-massed surfaces,
is related to both. The fact that he is in evening dress does not alter
his monumental quality. All three are on a stone balcony that relates
itself to the general largeness of spirit in the group, and the
semi-classic dress of the maiden. No doubt the title is: The Morning
Following the Masquerade Ball. This group could be made in unglazed clay,
in four colors.
Here is an American lieutenant with two ladies. The three are suddenly
alert over the approach of the villain, who is not yet in the picture.
In costume it is an everyday group, but those three figures are related
to one another, and the trees behind them, in simple sculptural terms.
The lieutenant, as is to be expected, looks forth in fierce readiness.
One girl stands with clasped hands. The other points to the danger. The
relations of these people to one another may seem merely dramatic to the
superficial observer, but the power of the group is in the fact that it
is monumental. I could imagine it done in four different kinds of rare
tropical wood, carved unpolished.
Here is a scene of storm and stress in an office where the hero is caught
with seemingly incriminating papers. The table is in confusion. The room
is filling with people, led by one accusing woman. Is this also
sculpture? Yes. The figures are in high relief. Even the surfaces of the
chairs and the littered table are massive, and the eye travels without
weariness, as it should do in sculpture, from the hero to the furious
woman, then to the attorney behind her, then to the two other revilers,
then to the crowd in three loose rhythmic ranks. The eye makes this
journey, not from space to space, or fabric to fabric, but first of all
from mass to mass. It is sculpture, but it is the sort that can be done
in no medium but the moving picture itself, and therefore it is one goal
of this argument.
But there are several other goals. One of the sculpturesque resources of
the photoplay is that the human countenance can be magnified many times,
till it fills the entire screen. Some examples are in rather low relief,
portraits approximating certain painters. But if they are on sculptural
terms, and are studies of the faces of thinking men, let the producer
make a pilgrimage to Washington for his precedent. There, in the rotunda
of the capitol, is the face of Lincoln by Gutzon Borglum. It is one of
the eminently successful attempts to get at the secret of the countenance
by enlarging it much, and concentrating the whole consideration there.
The photoplay producer, seemingly without taking thought, is apt to show
a sculptural sense in giving us Newfoundland fishermen, clad in oilskins.
The background may have an unconscious Winslow Homer reminiscence. In the
foreground our hardy heroes fill the screen, and dripping with sea-water
become wave-beaten granite, yet living creatures none the less. Imagine
some one chapter from the story of Little Em'ly in David Copperfield,
retold in the films. Show us Ham Peggotty and old Mr. Peggotty in
colloquy over their nets. There are many powerful bronze groups to be had
from these two, on to the heroic and unselfish death of Ham, rescuing his
enemy in storm and lightning.
I have seen one rich picture of alleged cannibal tribes. It was a comedy
about a missionary. But the aborigines were like living ebony and silver.
That was long ago. Such things come too much by accident. The producer is
not sufficiently aware that any artistic element in his list of
productions that is allowed to go wild, that has not had full analysis,
reanalysis, and final conservation, wastes his chance to attain supreme
Open your history of sculpture, and dwell upon those illustrations which
are not the normal, reposeful statues, but the exceptional, such as have
been listed for this chapter. Imagine that each dancing, galloping, or
fighting figure comes down into the room life-size. Watch it against a
dark curtain. Let it go through a series of gestures in harmony with the
spirit of the original conception, and as rapidly as possible, not to
lose nobility. If you have the necessary elasticity, imagine the figures
wearing the costumes of another period, yet retaining in their motions
the same essential spirit. Combine them in your mind with one or two
kindred figures, enlarged till they fill the end of the room. You have
now created the beginning of an Action Photoplay in your own fancy.
Do this with each most energetic classic till your imagination flags. I
do not want to be too dogmatic, but it seems to me this is one way to
evolve real Action Plays. It would, perhaps, be well to substitute this
for the usual method of evolving them from old stage material or
There is in the Metropolitan Museum a noble modern group, the Mares of
Diomedes, by the aforementioned Gutzon Borglum. It is full of material
for the meditations of a man who wants to make a film of a stampede. The
idea is that Hercules, riding his steed bareback, guides it in a circle.
He is fascinating the horses he has been told to capture. They are held
by the mesmerism of the circular path and follow him round and round till
they finally fall from exhaustion. Thus the Indians of the West capture
wild ponies, and Borglum, a far western man, imputes the method to
Hercules. The bronze group shows a segment of this circle. The whirlwind
is at its height. The mares are wild to taste the flesh of Hercules.
Whoever is to photograph horses, let him study the play of light and
color and muscle-texture in this bronze. And let no group of horses ever
run faster than these of Borglum.
An occasional hint of a Michelangelo figure or gesture appears for a
flash in the films. Young artist in the audience, does it pass you by?
Open your history of sculpture again and look at the usual list of
Michelangelo groups. Suppose the seated majesty of Moses should rise,
what would be the quality of the action? Suppose the sleeping figures of
the Medician tombs should wake, or those famous slaves should break their
bands, or David again hurl the stone. Would not their action be as heroic
as their quietness? Is it not possible to have a Michelangelo of
photoplay sculpture? Should we not look for him in the fulness of time?
His figures might come to us in the skins of the desert island solitary,
or as cave men and women, or as mermaids and mermen, and yet have a force
and grandeur akin to that of the old Italian.
Rodin's famous group of the citizens of Calais is an example of the
expression of one particular idea by a special technical treatment. The
producer who tells a kindred story to that of the siege of Calais, and
the final going of these humble men to their doom, will have a hero-tale
indeed. It will be not only sculpture-in-action, but a great Crowd
Picture. It begins to be seen that the possibilities of monumental
achievement in the films transcend the narrow boundaries of the Action
Photoplay. Why not conceptions as heroic as Rodin's Hand of God, where
the first pair are clasped in the gigantic fingers of their maker in the
clay from which they came?
Finally, I desire in moving pictures, not the stillness, but the majesty
of sculpture. I do not advocate for the photoplay the mood of the Venus
of Milo. But let us turn to that sister of hers, the great Victory of
Samothrace, that spreads her wings at the head of the steps of the
Louvre, and in many an art gallery beside. When you are appraising a new
film, ask yourself: "Is this motion as rapid, as godlike, as the sweep of
the wings of the Samothracian?" Let her be the touchstone of the Action
Drama, for nothing can be more swift than the winged Gods, nothing can be
more powerful than the oncoming of the immortals.
This chapter is founded on the delicate effects that may be worked out
from cosy interior scenes, close to the camera. It relates directly to
While the Intimate-and-friendly Motion Picture may be in high sculptural
relief, its characteristic manifestations are in low relief. The
situations show to better advantage when they seem to be paintings rather
than monumental groups.
Turn to your handful of motion picture magazines and mark the
illustrations that look the most like paintings. Cut them out. Winnow
them several times. I have before me, as a final threshing from such an
experiment, five pictures. Each one approximates a different school.
Here is a colonial Virginia maiden by the hearth of the inn. Bending over
her in a cherishing way is the negro maid. On the other side, the
innkeeper shows a kindred solicitude. A dishevelled traveller sleeps
huddled up in the corner. The costume of the man fades into the velvety
shadows of the wall. His face is concealed. His hair blends with the soft
background. The clothing of the other three makes a patch of light gray.
Added to this is the gayety of special textures: the turban of the
negress, a trimming on the skirt of the heroine, the silkiness of the
innkeeper's locks, the fabric of the broom in the hearthlight, the
pattern of the mortar lines round the bricks of the hearth. The tableau
is a satisfying scheme in two planes and many textures. Here is another
sort of painting. The young mother in her pretty bed is smiling on her
infant. The cot and covers and flesh tints have gentle scales of
difference, all within one tone of the softest gray. Her hair is quite
dark. It relates to the less luminous black of the coat of the physician
behind the bed and the dress of the girl-friend bending over her. The
nurse standing by the doctor is a figure of the same gray-white as the
bed. Within the pattern of the velvety-blacks there are as many subtle
gradations as in the pattern of the gray-whites. The tableau is a
satisfying scheme in black and gray, with practically one non-obtrusive
Here is a picture of an Englishman and his wife, in India. It might be
called sculptural, but for the magnificence of the turban of the rajah
who converses with them, the glitter of the light round his shoulders,
and the scheme of shadow out of which the three figures rise. The
arrangement remotely reminds one of several of Rembrandt's semi-oriental
Here is a picture of Mary Pickford as Fanchon the Cricket. She is in the
cottage with the strange old mother. I have seen a painting in this mood
by the Greek Nickolas Gysis.
The Intimate-and-friendly Moving Picture, the photoplay of
painting-in-motion, need not be indoors as long as it has the
native-heath mood. It is generally keyed to the hearthstone, and keeps
quite close to it. But how well I remember when the first French
photoplays began to come. Though unintelligent in some respects, the
photography and subject-matter of many of them made one think of that
painter of gentle out-of-door scenes, Jean Charles Cazin. Here is our
last clipping, which is also in a spirit allied to Cazin. The heroine,
accompanied by an aged shepherd and his dog, are in the foreground. The
sheep are in the middle distance on the edge of the river. There is a
noble hill beyond the gently flowing water. Here is intimacy and
friendliness in the midst of the big out of doors.
If these five photo-paintings were on good paper enlarged to twenty by
twenty-four inches, they would do to frame and hang on the wall of any
study, for a month or so. And after the relentless test of time, I would
venture that some one of the five would prove a permanent addition to the
Hastily made photographs selected from the films are often put in front
of the better theatres to advertise the show. Of late they are making
them two by three feet and sometimes several times larger. Here is a
commercial beginning of an art gallery, but not enough pains are taken to
give the selections a complete art gallery dignity. Why not have the most
beautiful scenes in front of the theatres, instead of those alleged to be
the most thrilling? Why not rest the fevered and wandering eye, rather
than make one more attempt to take it by force?
Let the reader supply another side of the argument by looking at the
illustrations in any history of painting. Let him select the pictures
that charm him most, and think of them enlarged and transferred bodily to
one corner of the room, as he has thought of the sculpture. Let them take
on motion without losing their charm of low relief, or their serene
composition within the four walls of the frame. As for the motion, let it
be a further extension of the drawing. Let every gesture be a bolder but
not less graceful brush-stroke.
The Metropolitan Museum has a Van Dyck that appeals equally to one's sense
of beauty and one's feeling for humor. It is a portrait of James Stuart,
Duke of Lennox, and I cannot see how the author-producer-photographer can
look upon it without having it set his imagination in a glow. Every small
town dancing set has a James like this. The man and the greyhound are the
same witless breed, the kind that achieve a result by their clean-limbed
elegance alone. Van Dyck has painted the two with what might be called a
greyhound brush-stroke, a style of handling that is nothing but courtly
convention and strut to the point of genius. He is as far from the
meditative spirituality of Rembrandt as could well be imagined.
Conjure up a scene in the hereditary hall after a hunt (or golf
tournament), in which a man like this Duke of Lennox has a noble parley
with his lady (or dancing partner), she being a sweet and stupid swan (or
a white rabbit) by the same sign that he is a noble and stupid greyhound.
Be it an ancient or modern episode, the story could be told in the tone
and with well-nigh the brushwork of Van Dyck.
Then there is a picture my teachers, Chase and Henri, were never weary of
praising, the Girl with the Parrot, by Manet. Here continence in nervous
force, expressed by low relief and restraint in tone, is carried to its
ultimate point. I should call this an imagist painting, made before there
were such people as imagist poets. It is a perpetual sermon to those that
would thresh around to no avail, be they orators, melodramatists, or
makers of photoplays with an alleged heart-interest.
Let us consider Gilbert Stuart's portrait of Washington. This painter's
notion of personal dignity has far more of the intellectual quality than
Van Dyck. He loves to give us stately, able, fairly conscientious gentry,
rather than overdone royalty. His work represents a certain mood in
design that in architecture is called colonial. Such portraits go with
houses like Mount Vernon. Let the photographer study the flat blacks in
the garments. Let him note the transparent impression of the laces and
flesh-tints that seem to be painted on glass, observing especially the
crystalline whiteness of the wigs. Let him inspect also the
silhouette-like outlines, noting the courtly self-possession they convey.
Then let the photographer, the producer, and the author, be they one man
or six men, stick to this type of picturization through one entire
production, till any artist in the audience will say, "This photoplay was
painted by a pupil of Gilbert Stuart"; and the layman will say, "It looks
like those stately days." And let us not have battle, but a Mount Vernon
Both the Chicago and New York museums contain many phases of one same
family group, painted by George de Forest Brush. There is a touch of the
hearthstone priestess about the woman. The force of sex has turned to the
austere comforting passion of motherhood. From the children, under the
wings of this spirit, come special delicate powers of life. There is
nothing tense or restless about them, yet they embody action, the beating
of the inner fire, without which all outer action is mockery.
Hearthstone tales keyed to the mood and using the brush stroke that
delineates this especial circle would be unmistakable in their
Charles W. Hawthorne has pictures in Chicago and New York that imply the
Intimate-and-friendly Photoplay. The Trousseau in the Metropolitan Museum
shows a gentle girl, an unfashionable home-body with a sweetly sheltered
air. Behind her glimmers the patient mother's face. The older woman is
busy about fitting the dress. The picture is a tribute to the qualities
of many unknown gentlewomen. Such an illumination as this, on faces so
innocently eloquent, is the light that should shine on the countenance of
the photoplay actress who really desires greatness in the field of the
Intimate Motion Picture. There is in Chicago, Hawthorne's painting of
Sylvia: a little girl standing with her back to a mirror, a few blossoms
in one hand and a vase of flowers on the mirror shelf. It is as sound a
composition as Hawthorne ever produced. The painting of the child is
another tribute to the physical-spiritual textures from which humanity is
made. Ah, you producer who have grown squeaky whipping your people into
what you called action, consider the dynamics of these figures that
would be almost motionless in real life. Remember there must be a
spirit-action under the other, or all is dead.
Yet that soul may be the muse of Comedy. If Hawthorne and his kind are
not your fashion, turn to models that have their feet on the earth
always, yet successfully aspire. Key some of your intimate humorous
scenes to the Dutch Little Masters of Painting, such pictures as Gerard
Terburg's Music Lesson in the Chicago Art Institute. The thing is as well
designed as a Dutch house, wind-mill, or clock. And it is more elegant
than any of these. There is humor enough in the picture to last one reel
through. The society dame of the period, in her pretty raiment, fingers
the strings of her musical instrument, while the master stands by her
with the baton. The painter has enjoyed the satire, from her elegant
little hands to the teacher's well-combed locks. It is very plain that
she does not want to study music with any sincerity, and he does not
desire to develop the ability of this particular person. There may be a
flirtation in the background. Yet these people are not hollow as gourds,
and they are not caricatured. The Dutch Little Masters have indulged in
numberless characterizations of mundane humanity. But they are never so
preoccupied with the story that it is an anecdote rather than a picture.
It is, first of all, a piece of elegant painting-fabric. Next it is a
scrap of Dutch philosophy or aspiration.
Let Whistler turn over in his grave while we enlist him for the cause of
democracy. One view of the technique of this man might summarize it thus:
fastidiousness in choice of subject, the picture well within the frame,
low relief, a Velasquez study of tones and a Japanese study of spaces.
Let us, dear and patient reader, particularly dwell upon the spacing. A
Whistler, or a good Japanese print, might be described as a kaleidoscope
suddenly arrested and transfixed at the moment of most exquisite
relations in the pieces of glass. An Intimate Play of a kindred sort
would start to turning the kaleidoscope again, losing fine relations only
to gain those which are more exquisite and novel. All motion pictures
might be characterized as _space measured without sound, plus time
measured without sound_. This description fits in a special way the
delicate form of the Intimate Motion Picture, and there can be studied
out, free from irrelevant issues.
As to _space measured without sound_. Suppose it is a humorous
characterization of comfortable family life, founded on some Dutch Little
Master. The picture measures off its spaces in harmony. The triangle
occupied by the little child's dress is in definite relation to the
triangle occupied by the mother's costume. To these two patterns the
space measured off by the boy's figure is adjusted, and all of them are
as carefully related to the shapes cut out of the background by the
figures. No matter how the characters move about in the photoplay, these
pattern shapes should relate to one another in a definite design. The
exact tone value of each one and their precise nearness or distance to
one another have a deal to do with the final effect.
We go to the photoplay to enjoy right and splendid picture-motions, to
feel a certain thrill when the pieces of kaleidoscope glass slide into
new places. Instead of moving on straight lines, as they do in the
mechanical toy, they progress in strange curves that are part of the very
shapes into which they fall.
Consider: first came the photograph. Then motion was added to the
photograph. We must use this order in our judgment. If it is ever to
evolve into a national art, it must first be good picture, then good
Belasco's attitude toward the stage has been denounced by the purists
because he makes settings too large a portion of his story-telling, and
transforms his theatre into the paradise of the property-man. But this
very quality of the well spaced setting, if you please, has made his
chance for the world's moving picture anthology. As reproduced by Jesse
K. Lasky the Belasco production is the only type of the old-line drama
that seems really made to be the basis of a moving picture play. Not
always, but as a general rule, Belasco suffers less detriment in the
films than other men. Take, for instance, the Belasco-Lasky production of
The Rose of the Rancho with Bessie Barriscale as the heroine. It has many
highly modelled action-tableaus, and others that come under the
classification of this chapter. When I was attending it not long ago,
here in my home town, the fair companion at my side said that one scene
looked like a painting by Sorolla y Bastida, the Spaniard. It is the
episode where the Rose sends back her servant to inquire the hero's
name. As a matter of fact there were Sorollas and Zuloagas all through
the piece. The betrothal reception with flying confetti was a satisfying
piece of Spanish splendor. It was space music indeed, space measured
without sound. Incidentally the cast is to be congratulated on its
picturesque acting, especially Miss Barriscale in her impersonation of
It is harder to grasp the other side of the paradox, picture-motions
considered as _time measured without sound_. But think of a lively and
humoresque clock that does not tick and takes only an hour to record a
day. Think of a noiseless electric vehicle, where you are looking out of
the windows, going down the smooth boulevard of Wonderland. Consider a
film with three simple time-elements: (1) that of the pursuer, (2) the
pursued, (3) the observation vehicle of the camera following the road and
watching both of them, now faster, now slower than they, as the
photographer overtakes the actors or allows them to hurry ahead. The
plain chase is a bore because there are only these three time-elements.
But the chase principle survives in every motion picture and we simply
need more of this sort of time measurement, better considered. The more
the non-human objects, the human actors, and the observer move at a
varying pace, the greater chances there are for what might be called
No two people in the same room should gesture at one mechanical rate, or
lift their forks or spoons, keeping obviously together. Yet it stands to
reason that each successive tableau should be not only a charming
picture, but the totals of motion should be an orchestration of various
speeds, of abrupt, graceful, and seemingly awkward progress, worked into
a silent symphony.
Supposing it is a fisher-maiden's romance. In the background the waves
toss in one tempo. Owing to the sail, the boat rocks in another. In the
foreground the tree alternately bends and recovers itself in the breeze,
making more opposition than the sail. In still another time-unit the
smoke rolls from the chimney, making no resistance to the wind. In
another unit, the lovers pace the sand. Yet there is one least common
multiple in which all move. This the producing genius should sense and
make part of the dramatic structure, and it would have its bearing on the
periodic appearance of the minor and major crises.
Films like this, you say, would be hard to make. Yes. Here is the place
to affirm that the one-reel Intimate Photoplay will no doubt be the form
in which this type of time-and-space music is developed. The music of
silent motion is the most abstract of moving picture attributes and will
probably remain the least comprehended. Like the quality of Walter
Pater's Marius the Epicurean, or that of Shelley's Hymn to Intellectual
Beauty, it will not satisfy the sudden and the brash.
* * * * *
The reader will find in his round of the picture theatres many single
scenes and parts of plays that elucidate the title of this chapter. Often
the first two-thirds of the story will fit it well. Then the producers,
finding that, for reasons they do not understand, with the best and most
earnest actors they cannot work the three reels into an emotional climax,
introduce some stupid disaster and rescue utterly irrelevant to the
character-parts and the paintings that have preceded. Whether the alleged
thesis be love, hate, or ambition, cottage charm, daisy dell sweetness,
or the ivy beauty of an ancient estate, the resource for the final punch
seems to be something like a train-wreck. But the transfiguration of the
actors, not their destruction or rescue, is the goal. The last moment of
the play is great, not when it is a grandiose salvation from a burning
house, that knocks every delicate preceding idea in the head, but a
tableau that is as logical as the awakening of the Sleeping Beauty after
the hero has explored all the charmed castle.
FURNITURE, TRAPPINGS, AND INVENTIONS IN MOTION
The Action Pictures are sculpture-in-motion, the Intimate Pictures,
paintings-in-motion, the Splendor Pictures, many and diverse. It seems
far-fetched, perhaps, to complete the analogy and say they are
architecture-in-motion; yet, patient reader, unless I am mistaken, that
assumption can be given a value in time without straining your
Landscape gardening, mural painting, church building, and furniture
making as well, are some of the things that come under the head of
architecture. They are discussed between the covers of any architectural
magazine. There is a particular relation in the photoplay between Crowd
Pictures and landscape conceptions, between Patriotic Films and mural
paintings, between Religious Films and architecture. And there is just as
much of a relation between Fairy Tales and furniture, which same is
discussed in this chapter.
Let us return to Moving Day, chapter four. This idea has been represented
many times with a certain sameness because the producers have not thought
out the philosophy behind it. A picture that is all action is a plague,
one that is all elephantine and pachydermatous pageant is a bore, and,
most emphatically, a film that is all mechanical legerdemain is a
nuisance. The possible charm in a so-called trick picture is in
eliminating the tricks, giving them dignity till they are no longer such,
but thoughts in motion and made visible. In Moving Day the shoes are the
most potent. They go through a drama that is natural to them. To march
without human feet inside is but to exaggerate themselves. It would not
be amusing to have them walk upside down, for instance. As long as the
worn soles touch the pavement, we unconsciously conjure up the character
of the absent owners, about whom the shoes are indeed gossiping. So let
the remainder of the furniture keep still while the shoes do their best.
Let us call to mind a classic fairy-tale involving shoes that are
magical: The Seven Leagued Boots, for example, or The Enchanted
Moccasins, or the footwear of Puss in Boots. How gorgeous and embroidered
any of these should be, and at a crisis what sly antics they should be
brought to play, without fidgeting all over the shop! Cinderella's
Slipper is not sufficiently the heroine in moving pictures of that story.
It should be the tiny leading lady of the piece, in the same sense the
mighty steam-engine is the hero of the story in chapter two. The peasants
when they used to tell the tale by the hearth fire said the shoe was made
of glass. This was in mediaeval Europe, at a time when glass was much more
of a rarity. The material was chosen to imply a sort of jewelled
strangeness from the start. When Cinderella loses it in her haste, it
should flee at once like a white mouse, to hide under the sofa. It should
be pictured there with special artifice, so that the sensuous little foot
of every girl-child in the audience will tingle to wear it. It should
move a bit when the prince comes frantically hunting his lady, and peep
out just in time for that royal personage to spy it. Even at the
coronation it should be the centre of the ritual, more gazed at than the
crown, and on as dazzling a cushion. The final taking on of the slipper
by the lady should be as stately a ceremony as the putting of the circlet
of gold on her aureole hair. So much for Cinderella. But there are novel
stories that should be evolved by preference, about new sorts of magic
We have not exhausted Moving Day. The chairs kept still through the
Cinderella discourse. Now let them take their innings. Instead of having
all of them dance about, invest but one with an inner life. Let its
special attributes show themselves but gradually, reaching their climax
at the highest point of excitement in the reel, and being an integral
part of that enthusiasm. Perhaps, though we be inventing a new
fairy-tale, it will resemble the Siege Perilous in the Arthurian story,
the chair where none but the perfect knight could sit. A dim row of
flaming swords might surround it. When the soul entitled to use this
throne appears, the swords might fade away and the gray cover hanging in
slack folds roll back because of an inner energy and the chair might turn
from gray to white, and with a subtle change of line become a throne.
The photoplay imagination which is able to impart vital individuality to
furniture will not stop there. Let the buildings emanate conscious life.
The author-producer-photographer, or one or all three, will make into a
personality some place akin to the House of the Seven Gables till the
ancient building dominates the fancy as it does in Hawthorne's tale.
There are various ways to bring about this result: by having its outlines
waver in the twilight, by touches of phosphorescence, or by the passing
of inexplicable shadows or the like. It depends upon what might be called
the genius of the building. There is the Poe story of The Fall of the
House of Usher, where with the death of the last heir the castle falls
crumbling into the tarn. There are other possible tales on such terms,
never yet imagined, to be born to-morrow. Great structures may become in
sort villains, as in the old Bible narrative of the origin of the various
languages. The producer can show the impious Babel Tower, going higher
and higher into the sky, fascinating and tempting the architects till a
confusion of tongues turns those masons into quarrelling mobs that become
departing caravans, leaving her blasted and forsaken, a symbol of every
Babylon that rose after her.
There are fables where the rocks and the mountains speak. Emerson has
given us one where the Mountain and the Squirrel had a quarrel. The
Mountain called the Squirrel "Little Prig." And then continues a clash of
personalities more possible to illustrate than at first appears. Here we
come to the second stage of the fairy-tale where the creature seems so
unmanageable in his physical aspect that some actor must be substituted
who will embody the essence of him. To properly illustrate the quarrel of
the Mountain and the Squirrel, the steep height should quiver and heave
and then give forth its personality in the figure of a vague smoky giant,
capable of human argument, but with oak-roots in his hair, and Bun,
perhaps, become a jester in squirrel's dress.
Or it may be our subject matter is a tall Dutch clock. Father Time
himself might emerge therefrom. Or supposing it is a chapel, in a
knight's adventure. An angel should step from the carving by the door: a
design that is half angel, half flower. But let the clock first tremble a
bit. Let the carving stir a little, and then let the spirit come forth,
that there may be a fine relation between the impersonator and the thing
represented. A statue too often takes on life by having the actor
abruptly substituted. The actor cannot logically take on more personality
than the statue has. He can only give that personality expression in a
new channel. In the realm of letters, a real transformation scene,
rendered credible to the higher fancy by its slow cumulative movement, is
the tale of the change of the dying Rowena to the living triumphant
Ligeia in Poe's story of that name. Substitution is not the fairy-story.
It is transformation, transfiguration, that is the fairy-story, be it a
divine or a diabolical change. There is never more than one witch in a
forest, one Siege Perilous at any Round Table. But she is indeed a witch
and the other is surely a Siege Perilous.
We might define Fairy Splendor as furniture transfigured, for without
transfiguration there is no spiritual motion of any kind. But the phrase
"furniture-in-motion" serves a purpose. It gets us back to the earth for
a reason. Furniture is architecture, and the fairy-tale picture should
certainly be drawn with architectural lines. The normal fairy-tale is a
sort of tiny informal child's religion, the baby's secular temple, and it
should have for the most part that touch of delicate sublimity that we
see in the mountain chapel or grotto, or fancy in the dwellings of
Aucassin and Nicolette. When such lines are drawn by the truly
sophisticated producer, there lies in them the secret of a more than
ritualistic power. Good fairy architecture amounts to an incantation in
If it is a grown-up legend, it must be more than monumental in its lines,
like the great stone face of Hawthorne's tale. Even a chair can reach
this estate. For instance, let it be the throne of Wodin, illustrating
some passage in Norse mythology. If this throne has a language, it speaks
with the lightning; if it shakes with its threat, it moves the entire
mountain range beneath it. Let the wizard-author-producer climb up from
the tricks of Moving Day to the foot-hills where he can see this throne
against the sky, as a superarchitect would draw it. But even if he can
give this vision in the films, his task will not be worth while if he is
simply a teller of old stories. Let us have magic shoes about which are
more golden dreams than those concerning Cinderella. Let us have stranger
castles than that of Usher, more dazzling chairs than the Siege Perilous.
Let us have the throne of Liberty, not the throne of Wodin.
There is one outstanding photoplay that I always have in mind when I
think of film magic. It illustrates some principles of this chapter and
chapter four, as well as many others through the book. It is Griffith's
production of The Avenging Conscience. It is also an example of that rare
thing, a use of old material that is so inspired that it has the dignity
of a new creation. The raw stuff of the plot is pieced together from the
story of The Tell-tale Heart and the poem Annabel Lee. It has behind it,
in the further distance, Poe's conscience stories of The Black Cat, and
William Wilson. I will describe the film here at length, and apply it to
whatever chapters it illustrates.
An austere and cranky bachelor (well impersonated by Spottiswoode Aitken)
brings up his orphan nephew with an awkward affection. The nephew is
impersonated by Henry B. Walthall. The uncle has an ambition that the boy
will become a man of letters. In his attempts at literature the youth is
influenced by Poe. This brings about the Poe quality of his dreams at the
crisis. The uncle is silently exasperated when he sees his boy's
writing-time broken into, and wasted, as he thinks, by an affair with a
lovely Annabel (Blanche Sweet). The intimacy and confidence of the lovers
has progressed so far that it is a natural thing for the artless girl to
cross the gardens and after hesitation knock at the door. She wants to
know what has delayed her boy. She is all in a flutter on account of the
overdue appointment to go to a party together. The scene of the pretty
hesitancy on the step, her knocking, and the final impatient tapping with
her foot is one of the best illustrations of the intimate mood in
photoplay episodes. On the girl's entrance the uncle overwhelms her and
the boy by saying she is pursuing his nephew like a common woman of the
town. The words actually burst through the film, not as a melodramatic,
but as an actual insult. This is a thing almost impossible to do in the
photoplay. This outrage in the midst of an atmosphere of chivalry is one
of Griffith's master-moments. It accounts for the volcanic fury of the
nephew that takes such trouble to burn itself out afterwards. It is not
easy for the young to learn that they must let those people flay them for
an hour who have made every sacrifice for them through a life-time.
This scene of insult and the confession scene, later in this film, moved
me as similar passages in high drama would do; and their very rareness,
even in the hands of photoplay masters, indicates that such purely
dramatic climaxes cannot be the main asset of the moving picture. Over
and over, with the best talent and producers, they fail.
The boy and girl go to the party in spite of the uncle. It is while on
the way that the boy looks on the face of a stranger who afterwards mixes
up in his dream as the detective. There is a mistake in the printing
here. There are several minutes of a worldly-wise oriental dance to amuse
the guests, while the lovers are alone at another end of the garden. It
is, possibly, the aptest contrast with the seriousness of our hero and
heroine. But the social affair could have had a better title than the one
that is printed on the film "An Old-fashioned Sweetheart Party." Possibly
the dance was put in after the title.
The lovers part forever. The girl's pride has had a mortal wound. About
this time is thrown on the screen the kind of a climax quite surely
possible to the photoplay. It reminds one, not of the mood of Poe's
verse, but of the spirit of the paintings of George Frederick Watts. It
is allied in some way, in my mind, with his "Love and Life," though but a
single draped figure within doors, and "Love and Life" are undraped
figures, climbing a mountain.
The boy, having said good-by, remembers the lady Annabel. It is a crisis
after the event. In his vision she is shown in a darkened passageway, all
in white, looking out of the window upon the moonlit sky. Simple enough
in its elements, this vision is shown twice in glory. The third replica
has not the same glamour. The first two are transfigurations into
divinity. The phrase thrown on the screen is "The moon never beams
without bringing me dreams of the beautiful Annabel Lee." And the sense
of loss goes through and through one like a flight of arrows. Another
noble picture, more realistic, more sculpturesque, is of Annabel mourning
on her knees in her room. Her bended head makes her akin to "Niobe, all
The boy meditating on a park-path is meanwhile watching the spider in his
web devour the fly. Then he sees the ants in turn destroy the spider.
These pictures are shown on so large a scale that the spiderweb fills the
end of the theatre. Then the ant-tragedy does the same. They can be
classed as particularly apt hieroglyphics in the sense of chapter
thirteen. Their horror and decorative iridescence are of the Poe sort.
It is the first hint of the Poe hieroglyphic we have had except the black
patch over the eye of the uncle, along with his jaundiced, cadaverous
face. The boy meditates on how all nature turns on cruelty and the
survival of the fittest.
He passes just now an Italian laborer (impersonated by George Seigmann).
This laborer enters later into his dream. He finally goes to sleep in his
chair, the resolve to kill his uncle rankling in his heart.
The audience is not told that a dream begins. To understand that, one
must see the film through twice. But it is perfectly legitimate to
deceive us. Through our ignorance we share the young man's
hallucinations, entering into them as imperceptibly as he does. We think
it is the next morning. Poe would start the story just here, and here the
veritable Poe-esque quality begins.
After debate within himself as to means, the nephew murders his uncle and
buries him in the thick wall of the chimney. The Italian laborer
witnesses the death-struggle through the window. While our consciences
are aching and the world crashes round us, he levies black-mail. Then
for due compensation the Italian becomes an armed sentinel. The boy fears
Yet the foolish youth thinks he will be happy. But every time he runs to
meet his sweetheart he is appalled by hallucinations over her shoulder.
The cadaverous ghost of the uncle is shown on the screen several times.
It is an appearance visible to the young man and the audience only. Later
the ghost is implied by the actions of the guilty one. We merely imagine
it. This is a piece of sound technique. We no more need a dray full of
ghosts than a dray full of jumping furniture.
The village in general has never suspected the nephew. Only two people
suspect him: the broken-hearted girl and an old friend of his father.
This gentleman puts a detective on the trail. (The detective is
impersonated by Ralph Lewis.) The gradual breakdown of the victim is
traced by dramatic degrees. This is the second case of the thing I have
argued as being generally impossible in a photoplay chronicle of a
private person, and which the considerations of chapter twelve indicate
as exceptional. We trace the innermost psychology of one special citizen
step by step to the crisis, and that path is actually the primary
interest of the story. The climax is the confession to the detective.
With this self-exposure the direct Poe-quality of the technique comes to
an end. Moreover, Poe would end the story here. But the Poe-dream is set
like a dark jewel in a gold ring, of which more anon.
Let us dwell upon the confession. The first stage of this
conscience-climax is reached by the dramatization of The Tell-tale Heart
reminiscence in the memory of the dreaming man. The episode makes a
singular application of the theories with which this chapter begins. For
furniture-in-motion we have the detective's pencil. For trappings and
inventions in motion we have his tapping shoe and the busy clock
pendulum. Because this scene is so powerful the photoplay is described in
this chapter rather than any other, though the application is more
spiritual than literal. The half-mad boy begins to divulge that he thinks
that the habitual ticking of the clock is satanically timed to the
beating of the dead man's heart. Here more unearthliness hovers round a
pendulum than any merely mechanical trick-movements could impart. Then
the merest commonplace of the detective tapping his pencil in the same
time--the boy trying in vain to ignore it--increases the strain, till the
audience has well-nigh the hallucinations of the victim. Then the bold
tapping of the detective's foot, who would do all his accusing without
saying a word, and the startling coincidence of the owl hoot-hooting
outside the window to the same measure, bring us close to the final
breakdown. These realistic material actors are as potent as the actual
apparitions of the dead man that preceded them. Those visions prepared
the mind to invest trifles with significance. The pencil and the pendulum
conducting themselves in an apparently everyday fashion, satisfy in a far
nobler way the thing in the cave-man attending the show that made him
take note in other centuries of the rope that began to hang the butcher,
the fire that began to burn the stick, and the stick that began to beat
Now the play takes a higher demoniacal plane reminiscent of Poe's Bells.
The boy opens the door. He peers into the darkness. There he sees them.
They are the nearest to the sinister Poe quality of any illustrations I
recall that attempt it. "They are neither man nor woman, they are neither
brute nor human; they are ghouls." The scenes are designed with the
architectural dignity that the first part of this chapter has insisted
wizard trappings should take on. Now it is that the boy confesses and the
Poe story ends.
Then comes what the photoplay people call the punch. It is discussed at
the end of chapter nine. It is a kind of solar plexus blow to the
sensibilities, certainly by this time an unnecessary part of the film.
Usually every soul movement carefully built up to where the punch begins
is forgotten in the material smash or rescue. It is not so bad in this
case, but it is a too conventional proceeding for Griffith.
The boy flees interminably to a barn too far away. There is a siege by a
posse, led by the detective. It is veritable border warfare. The Italian
leads an unsuccessful rescue party. The unfortunate youth finally hangs
himself. The beautiful Annabel bursts through the siege a moment too
late; then, heart broken, kills herself. These things are carried out by
good technicians. But it would have been better to have had the suicide
with but a tiny part of the battle, and the story five reels long instead
of six. This physical turmoil is carried into the spiritual world only
by the psychic momentum acquired through the previous confession scene.
The one thing with intrinsic pictorial heart-power is the death of
Annabel by jumping off the sea cliff.
Then comes the awakening. To every one who sees the film for the first
time it is like the forgiveness of sins. The boy finds his uncle still
alive. In revulsion from himself, he takes the old man into his arms. The
uncle has already begun to be ashamed of his terrible words, and has
prayed for a contrite heart. The radiant Annabel is shown in the early
dawn rising and hurrying to her lover in spite of her pride. She will
bravely take back her last night's final word. She cannot live without
him. The uncle makes amends to the girl. The three are in the
inconsistent but very human mood of sweet forgiveness for love's sake,
that sometimes overtakes the bitterest of us after some crisis in our
The happy pair are shown, walking through the hills. Thrown upon the
clouds for them are the moods of the poet-lover's heart. They look into
the woods and see his fancies of Spring, the things that he will some day
write. These pageants might be longer. They furnish the great climax.
They make a consistent parallel and contrast with the ghoul-visions that
end with the confession to the detective. They wipe that terror from the
mind. They do not represent Poe. The rabbits, the leopard, the fairies,
Cupid and Psyche in the clouds, and the little loves from the hollow
trees are contributions to the original poetry of the eye.
Finally, the central part of this production of the Avenging Conscience
is no dilution of Poe, but an adequate interpretation, a story he might
have written. Those who have the European respect for Poe's work will be
most apt to be satisfied with this section, including the photographic
texture which may be said to be an authentic equivalent of his prose. How
often Poe has been primly patronized for his majestic quality, the wizard
power which looms above all his method and subject-matter and furnishes
the only reason for its existence!
For Griffith to embroider this Poe Interpretation in the centre of a
fairly consistent fabric, and move on into a radiant climax of his own
that is in organic relation to the whole, is an achievement indeed. The
final criticism is that the play is derivative. It is not built from new
material in all its parts, as was the original story. One must be a
student of Poe to get its ultimate flavor. But in reading Poe's own
stories, one need not be a reader of any one special preceding writer to
get the strange and solemn exultation of that literary enchanter. He is
the quintessence of his own lonely soul.
Though the wizard element is paramount in the Poe episode of this film,
the appeal to the conscience is only secondary to this. It is keener than
in Poe, owing to the human elements before and after. The Chameleon
producer approximates in The Avenging Conscience the type of mystic
teacher, discussed in the twentieth chapter: "The Prophet-Wizard."
This chapter is a superstructure upon the foundations of chapters five,
six, and seven.
I have said that it is a quality, not a defect, of the photoplays that
while the actors tend to become types and hieroglyphics and dolls, on the
other hand, dolls and hieroglyphics and mechanisms tend to become human.
By an extension of this principle, non-human tones, textures, lines, and
spaces take on a vitality almost like that of flesh and blood. It is
partly for this reason that some energy is hereby given to the matter of
reenforcing the idea that the people with the proper training to take the
higher photoplays in hand are not veteran managers of vaudeville
circuits, but rather painters, sculptors, and architects, preferably
those who are in the flush of their first reputation in these crafts. Let
us imagine the centres of the experimental drama, such as the Drama
League, the Universities, and the stage societies, calling in people of
these professions and starting photoplay competitions and enterprises.
Let the thesis be here emphasized that the architects, above all, are the
men to advance the work in the ultra-creative photoplay. "But few
architects," you say, "are creative, even in their own profession."
Let us begin with the point of view of the highly trained pedantic young
builder, the type that, in the past few years, has honored our landscape
with those paradoxical memorials of Abraham Lincoln the railsplitter,
memorials whose Ionic columns are straight from Paris. Pericles is the
real hero of such a man, not Lincoln. So let him for the time surrender
completely to that great Greek. He is worthy of a monument nobler than
any America has set up to any one. The final pictures may be taken in
front of buildings with which the architect or his favorite master has
already edified this republic, or if the war is over, before some
surviving old-world models. But whatever the method, let him study to
express at last the thing that moves within him as a creeping fire, which
Americans do not yet understand and the loss of which makes the classic
in our architecture a mere piling of elegant stones upon one another. In
the arrangement of crowds and flow of costuming and study of tableau
climaxes, let the architect bring an illusion of that delicate flowering,
that brilliant instant of time before the Peloponnesian war. It does not
seem impossible when one remembers the achievements of the author of
Cabiria in approximating Rome and Carthage.
Let the principal figure of the pageant be the virgin Athena, walking as
a presence visible only to us, yet among her own people, and robed and
armed and panoplied, the guardian of Pericles, appearing in those streets
that were herself. Let the architect show her as she came only in a
vision to Phidias, while the dramatic writers and mathematicians and
poets and philosophers go by. The crowds should be like pillars of
Athens, and she like a great pillar. The crowds should be like the
tossing waves of the Ionic Sea and Athena like the white ship upon the
waves. The audiences in the tragedies should be shown like wheat-fields
on the hill-sides, always stately yet blown by the wind, and Athena the
one sower and reaper. Crowds should descend the steps of the Acropolis,
nymphs and fauns and Olympians, carved as it were from the marble, yet
flowing like a white cataract down into the town, bearing with them
Athena, their soul. All this in the Photoplay of Pericles.
No civic or national incarnation since that time appeals to the poets
like the French worship of the Maid of Orleans. In Percy MacKaye's book,
The Present Hour, he says on the French attitude toward the war:--
"Half artist and half anchorite,
Part siren and part Socrates,
Her face--alluring fair, yet recondite--
Smiled through her salons and academies.
"Lightly she wore her double mask,
Till sudden, at war's kindling spark,
Her inmost self, in shining mail and casque,
Blazed to the world her single soul--Jeanne d'Arc!"
To make a more elaborate showing of what is meant by
architecture-in-motion, let us progress through the centuries and suppose
that the builder has this enthusiasm for France, that he is slowly
setting about to build a photoplay around the idea of the Maid.
First let him take the mural painting point of view. Bear in mind these
characteristics of that art: it is wall-painting that is an organic part
of the surface on which it appears: it is on the same lines as the
building and adapted to the colors and forms of the structure of which it
is a part.
The wall-splendors of America that are the most scattered about in
inexpensive copies are the decorations of the Boston Public Library. Note
the pillar-like quality of Sargent's prophets, the solemn dignity of
Abbey's Holy Grail series, the grand horizontals and perpendiculars of
the work of Puvis de Chavannes. The last is the orthodox mural painter of
the world, but the other two will serve the present purpose also. These
architectural paintings if they were dramatized, still retaining their
powerful lines, would be three exceedingly varied examples of what is
meant by architecture-in-motion. The visions that appear to Jeanne d'Arc
might be delineated in the mood of some one of these three painters. The
styles will not mix in the same episode.
A painter from old time we mention here, not because he was orthodox, but
because of his genius for the drawing of action, and because he covered
tremendous wall-spaces with Venetian tone and color, is Tintoretto. If
there is a mistrust that the mural painting standard will tend to destroy
the sense of action, Tintoretto will restore confidence in that regard.
As the Winged Victory represents flying in sculpture, so his work is the
extreme example of action with the brush. The Venetians called him the
furious painter. One must understand a man through his admirers. So
explore Ruskin's sayings on Tintoretto.
I have a dozen moving picture magazine clippings, which are in their
humble way first or second cousins of mural paintings. I will describe
but two, since the method of selection has already been amply indicated,
and the reader can find his own examples. For a Crowd Picture, for
instance, here is a scene at a masquerade ball. The glitter of the
costumes is an extension of the glitter of the candelabra overhead. The
people are as it were chandeliers, hung lower down. The lines of the
candelabra relate to the very ribbon streamers of the heroine, and the
massive wood-work is the big brother of the square-shouldered heroes in
the foreground, though one is a clown, one is a Russian Duke, and one is
Don Caesar De Bazan. The building is the father of the people. These
relations can be kept in the court scenes of the production of Jeanne
Here is a night picture from a war story in which the light is furnished
by two fires whose coals and brands are hidden by earth heaped in front.
The sentiment of tenting on the old camp-ground pervades the scene. The
far end of the line of those keeping bivouac disappears into the
distance, and the depths of the ranks behind them fade into the thick
shadows. The flag, a little above the line, catches the light. One great
tree overhead spreads its leafless half-lit arms through the gloom.
Behind all this is unmitigated black. The composition reminds one of a
Hiroshige study of midnight. These men are certainly a part of the
architecture of out of doors, and mysterious as the vault of Heaven. This
type of a camp-fire is possible in our Jeanne d'Arc.
These pictures, new and old, great and unknown, indicate some of the
standards of judgment and types of vision whereby our conception of the
play is to be evolved.
By what means shall we block it in? Our friend Tintoretto made use of
methods which are here described from one of his biographers, W. Roscoe
Osler: "They have been much enlarged upon in the different biographies as
the means whereby Tintoretto obtained his power. They constituted,
however, his habitual method of determining the effect and general
grouping of his compositions. He moulded with extreme care small models
of his figures in wax and clay. Titian and other painters as well as
Tintoretto employed this method as the means of determining the light and
shade of their design. Afterwards the later stages of their work were
painted from the life. But in Tintoretto's compositions the position and
arrangement of his figures as he began to dwell upon his great
conceptions were such as to render the study from the living model a
matter of great difficulty and at times an impossibility.... He ...
modelled his sculptures ... imparting to his models a far more complete
character than had been customary. These firmly moulded figures,
sometimes draped, sometimes free, he suspended in a box made of wood, or
of cardboard for his smaller work, in whose walls he made an aperture to
admit a lighted candle.... He sits moving the light about amidst his
assemblage of figures. Every aspect of sublimity of light suitable to a
Madonna surrounded with angels, or a heavenly choir, finds its miniature
response among the figures as the light moves.
"This was the method by which, in conjunction with a profound study of
outward nature, sympathy with the beauty of different types of face and
varieties of form, with the many changing hues of the Venetian scene,
with the great laws of color and a knowledge of literature and history,
he was able to shadow forth his great imagery of the intuitional world."
This method of Tintoretto suggests several possible derivatives in the
preparation of motion pictures. Let the painters and sculptors be now
called upon for painting models and sculptural models, while the
architect, already present, supplies the architectural models, all three
giving us visible scenarios to furnish the cardinal motives for the
acting, from which the amateur photoplay company of the university can
begin their interpretation.
For episodes that follow the precedent of the simple Action Film tiny wax
models of the figures, toned and costumed to the heart's delight, would
tell the high points of the story. Let them represent, perhaps, seven
crucial situations from the proposed photoplay. Let them be designed as
uniquely in their dresses as are the Russian dancers' dresses, by Leon
Bakst. Then to alternate with these, seven little paintings of episodes,
designed in blacks, whites, and grays, each representing some elusive
point in the intimate aspects of the story. Let there be a definite
system of space and texture relations retained throughout the set.
The models for the splendor scenes would, of course, be designed by the
architect, and these other scenes alternated with and subordinated to his
work. The effects which he would conceive would be on a grander scale.
The models for these might be mere extensions of the methods of those
others, but in the typical and highest let us imagine ourselves going
beyond Tintoretto in preparation.
Let the principal splendor moods and effects be indicated by actual
structures, such miniatures as architects offer along with their plans of
public buildings, but transfigured beyond that standard by the light of
inspiration combined with experimental candle-light, spot-light,
sunlight, or torchlight. They must not be conceived as stage arrangements
of wax figures with harmonious and fitting backgrounds, but as
backgrounds that clamor for utterance through the figures in front of
them, as Athens finds her soul in the Athena with which we began. These
three sorts of models, properly harmonized, should have with them a
written scenario constructed to indicate all the scenes between. The
scenario will lead up to these models for climaxes and hold them together
in the celestial hurdle-race.
We have in our museums some definite architectural suggestions as to the
style of these models. There are in Blackstone Hall in the Chicago Art
Institute several great Romanesque and Gothic portals, pillars, and
statues that might tell directly upon certain settings of our Jeanne
d'Arc pageant. They are from Notre Dame du Port at Clermont-Ferrand, the
Abbey church of St. Gilles, the Abbey of Charlieu, the Cathedral of
Amiens, Notre Dame at Paris, the Cathedral of Bordeaux, and the Cathedral
of Rheims. Perhaps the object I care for most in the Metropolitan Museum,
New York, is the complete model of Notre Dame, Paris, by M. Joly. Why was
this model of Notre Dame made with such exquisite pains? Certainly not as
a matter of mere information or cultivation. I venture the first right
these things have to be taken care of in museums is to stimulate to new
I went to look over the Chicago collection with a friend and poet Arthur
Davison Ficke. He said something to this effect: "The first thing I see
when I look at these fragments is the whole cathedral in all its original
proportions. Then I behold the mediaeval marketplace hunched against the
building, burying the foundations, the life of man growing rank and
weedlike around it. Then I see the bishop coming from the door with his
impressive train. But a crusade may go by on the way to the Holy Land. A
crusade may come home battered and in rags. I get the sense of life, as
of a rapid in a river flowing round a great rock."
The cathedral stands for the age-long meditation of the ascetics in the
midst of battling tribes. This brooding architecture has a
blood-brotherhood with the meditating, saint-seeing Jeanne d'Arc.
There is in the Metropolitan Museum a large and famous canvas painted by
the dying Bastien-Lepage;--Jeanne Listening to the Voices. It is a
picture of which the technicians and the poets are equally enamored. The
tale of Jeanne d'Arc could be told, carrying this particular peasant girl
through the story. And for a piece of architectural pageantry akin to the
photoplay ballroom scene already described, yet far above it, there is
nothing more apt for our purpose than the painting by Boutet de Monvel
filling the space at the top of the stair at the Chicago Art Institute.
Though the Bastien-Lepage is a large painting, this is many times the
size. It shows Joan's visit at the court of Chinon. It is big without
being empty. It conveys a glitter which expresses one of the things that
is meant by the phrase: Splendor Photoplay. But for moving picture
purposes it is the Bastien-Lepage Joan that should appear here, set in
dramatic contrast to the Boutet de Monvel Court. Two valuable neighbors
to whom I have read this chapter suggest that the whole Boutet de Monvel
illustrated child's book about our heroine could be used on this grand
scale, for a background.
The Inness room at the Chicago Art Institute is another school for the
meditative producer, if he would evolve his tribute to France on American
soil. Though no photoplay tableau has yet approximated the brush of
Inness, why not attempt to lead Jeanne through an Inness landscape? The
Bastien-Lepage trees are in France. But here is an American world in
which one could see visions and hear voices. Where is the inspired camera
that will record something of what Inness beheld?
Thus much for the atmosphere and trappings of our Jeanne d'Arc scenario.
Where will we get our story? It should, of course, be written from the
ground up for this production, but as good Americans we would probably
find a mass of suggestions in Mark Twain's Joan of Arc.
Quite recently a moving picture company sent its photographers to
Springfield, Illinois, and produced a story with our city for a
background, using our social set for actors. Backed by the local
commercial association for whose benefit the thing was made, the
resources of the place were at the command of routine producers.
Springfield dressed its best, and acted with fair skill. The heroine was
a charming debutante, the hero the son of Governor Dunne. The Mine
Owner's Daughter was at best a mediocre photoplay. But this type of
social-artistic event, that happened once, may be attempted a hundred
times, each time slowly improving. Which brings us to something that is
in the end very far from The Mine Owner's Daughter. By what scenario
method the following film or series of films is to be produced I will not
venture to say. No doubt the way will come if once the dream has a
I have long maintained that my home-town should have a goddess like
Athena. The legend should be forthcoming. The producer, while not
employing armies, should use many actors and the tale be told with the
same power with which the productions of Judith of Bethulia and The
Battle Hymn of the Republic were evolved. While the following story may
not be the form which Springfield civic religion will ultimately take, it
is here recorded as a second cousin of the dream that I hope will some
day be set forth.
Late in an afternoon in October, a light is seen in the zenith like a
dancing star. The clouds form round it in the approximation of a circle.
Now there becomes visible a group of heads and shoulders of presences
that are looking down through the ring of clouds, watching the star, like
giant children that peep down a well. The jewel descends by four
sparkling chains, so far away they look to be dewy threads of silk. As
the bright mystery grows larger it appears to be approaching the treeless
hill of Washington Park, a hill that is surrounded by many wooded ridges.
The people come running from everywhere to watch. Here indeed will be a
Crowd Picture with as many phases as a stormy ocean. Flying machines
appear from the Fair Ground north of the city, and circle round and round
as they go up, trying to reach the slowly descending plummet.
* * * * *
At last, while the throng cheers, one bird-man has attained it. He brings
back his message that the gift is an image, covered loosely with a
wrapping that seems to be of spun gold. Now the many aviators whirl round
the descending wonder, like seagulls playing about a ship's mast. Soon,
amid an awestruck throng, the image is on the hillock. The golden chains,
and the giant children holding them there above, have melted into threads
of mist and nothingness. The shining wrapping falls away. The people look
upon a seated statue of marble and gold. There is a branch of
wrought-gold maple leaves in her hands. Then beside the image is a
fluttering transfigured presence of which the image seems to be a
representation. This spirit, carrying a living maple branch in her hand,
says to the people: "Men and Women of Springfield, this carving is the
Lady Springfield sent by your Lord from Heaven. Build no canopy over her.
Let her ever be under the prairie-sky. Do her perpetual honor." The
messenger, who is the soul and voice of Springfield, fades into the
crowd, to emerge on great and terrible occasions.
This is only one story. Round this public event let the photoplay
romancer weave what tales of private fortune he will, narratives bound up
with the events of that October day, as the story of Nathan and Naomi is
woven into Judith of Bethulia.
Henceforth the city officers are secular priests of Our Lady Springfield.
Their failure in duty is a profanation of her name. A yearly pledge of
the first voters is taken in her presence like the old Athenian oath of
citizenship. The seasonal pageants march to the statue's feet, scattering
flowers. The important outdoor festivals are given on the edge of her
hill. All the roads lead to her footstool. Pilgrims come from the Seven
Seas to look upon her face that is carved by Invisible Powers. Moreover,
the living messenger that is her actual soul appears in dreams, or
visions of the open day, when the days are dark for the city, when her
patriots are irresolute, and her children are put to shame. This spirit
with the maple branch rallies them, leads them to victories like those
that were won of old in the name of Jeanne d'Arc or Pallas Athena
THIRTY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE PHOTOPLAYS AND THE STAGE
The stage is dependent upon three lines of tradition: first, that of
Greece and Rome that came down through the French. Second, the English
style, ripened from the miracle play and the Shakespearian stage. And
third, the Ibsen precedent from Norway, now so firmly established it is
classic. These methods are obscured by the commercialized dramas, but
they are behind them all. Let us discuss for illustration the Ibsen
Ibsen is generally the vitriolic foe of pageant. He must be read aloud.
He stands for the spoken word, for the iron power of life that may be
concentrated in a phrase like the "All or nothing" of Brand. Though Peer
Gynt has its spectacular side, Ibsen generally comes in through the ear
alone. He can be acted in essentials from end to end with one table and
four chairs in any parlor. The alleged punch with which the "movie"
culminates has occurred three or ten years before the Ibsen curtain goes
up. At the close of every act of the dramas of this Norwegian one might
inscribe on the curtain "This the magnificent moving picture cannot
achieve." Likewise after every successful film described in this book
could be inscribed "This the trenchant Ibsen cannot do."
But a photoplay of Ghosts came to our town. The humor of the prospect was
the sort too deep for tears. My pastor and I reread the William Archer
translation that we might be alert for every antithesis. Together we went
to the services. Since then the film has been furiously denounced by the
literati. Floyd Dell's discriminating assault upon it is quoted in
Current Opinion, October, 1915, and Margaret Anderson prints a
denunciation of it in a recent number of The Little Review. But it is not
such a bad film in itself. It is not Ibsen. It should be advertised "The
Iniquities of the Fathers, an American drama of Eugenics, in a Palatial
Henry Walthall as Alving, afterward as his son, shows the men much as
Ibsen outlines their characters. Of course the only way to be Ibsen is to
be so precisely. In the new plot all is open as the day. The world is
welcome, and generally present when the man or his son go forth to see
the elephant and hear the owl. Provincial hypocrisy is not implied. But
Ibsen can scarcely exist without an atmosphere of secrecy for his human
volcanoes to burst through in the end.
Mary Alden as Mrs. Alving shows in her intelligent and sensitive
countenance that she has a conception of that character. She does not
always have the chance to act the woman written in her face, the tart,
thinking, handsome creature that Ibsen prefers. Nigel Debrullier looks
the buttoned-up Pastor Manders, even to caricature. But the crawling,
bootlicking carpenter, Jacob Engstrand, is changed into a respectable,
guileless man with an income. And his wife and daughter are helpless,
conventional, upper-class rabbits. They do not remind one of the saucy
The original Ibsen drama is the result of mixing up five particular
characters through three acts. There is not a situation but would go to
pieces if one personality were altered. Here are two, sadly tampered
with: Engstrand and his daughter. Here is the mother, who is only
referred to in Ibsen. Here is the elder Alving, who disappears before
the original play starts. So the twenty great Ibsen situations in the
stage production are gone. One new crisis has an Ibsen irony and psychic
tension. The boy is taken with the dreaded intermittent pains in the back
of his head. He is painting the order that is to make him famous: the
King's portrait. While the room empties of people he writhes on the
floor. If this were all, it would have been one more moving picture
failure to put through a tragic scene. But the thing is reiterated in
tableau-symbol. He is looking sideways in terror. A hairy arm with
clutching demon claws comes thrusting in toward the back of his neck. He
writhes in deadly fear. The audience is appalled for him.
This visible clutch of heredity is the nearest equivalent that is offered
for the whispered refrain: "Ghosts," in the original masterpiece. This
hand should also be reiterated as a refrain, three times at least, before
this tableau, each time more dreadful and threatening. It appears but the
once, and has no chance to become a part of the accepted hieroglyphics of
the piece, as it should be, to realize its full power.
The father's previous sins have been acted out. The boy's consequent
struggle with the malady has been traced step by step, so the play should
end here. It would then be a rough equivalent of the Ibsen irony in a
contrary medium. Instead of that, it wanders on through paraphrases of
scraps of the play, sometimes literal, then quite alien, on to the
alleged motion picture punch, when the Doctor is the god from the
machine. There is no doctor on the stage in the original Ghosts. But
there is a physician in the Doll's House, a scientific, quietly moving
oracle, crisp, Spartan, sophisticated.
Is this photoplay physician such a one? The boy and his half-sister are
in their wedding-clothes in the big church. Pastor Manders is saying the
ceremony. The audience and building are indeed showy. The doctor charges
up the aisle at the moment people are told to speak or forever hold their
peace. He has tact. He simply breaks up the marriage right there. He does
not tell the guests why. But he takes the wedding party into the pastor's
study and there blazes at the bride and groom the long-suppressed truth
that they are brother and sister. Always an orotund man, he has the
Chautauqua manner indeed in this exigency.
He brings to one's mind the tearful book, much loved in childhood, Parted
at the Altar, or Why Was it Thus? And four able actors have the task of
telling the audience by facial expression only, that they have been
struck by moral lightning. They stand in a row, facing the people,
endeavoring to make the crisis of an alleged Ibsen play out of a crashing
The final death of young Alving is depicted with an approximation of
Ibsen's mood. But the only ways to suggest such feelings in silence, do
not convey them in full to the audience, but merely narrate them.
Wherever in Ghosts we have quiet voices that are like the slow drip of
hydrochloric acid, in the photoplay we have no quiet gestures that will
do trenchant work. Instead there are endless writhings and rushings
about, done with a deal of skill, but destructive of the last remnants of
Up past the point of the clutching hand this film is the prime example
for study for the person who would know once for all the differences
between the photoplays and the stage dramas. Along with it might be
classed Mrs. Fiske's decorative moving picture Tess, in which there is
every determination to convey the original Mrs. Fiske illusion without
her voice and breathing presence. To people who know her well it is a
surprisingly good tintype of our beloved friend, for the family album.
The relentless Thomas Hardy is nowhere to be found. There are two moments
of dramatic life set among many of delicious pictorial quality: when Tess
baptizes her child, and when she smooths its little grave with a wavering
hand. But in the stage-version the dramatic poignancy begins with the
going up of the curtain, and lasts till it descends.
The prime example of complete failure is Sarah Bernhardt's Camille. It is
indeed a tintype of the consumptive heroine, with every group entire, and
taken at full length. Much space is occupied by the floor and the
overhead portions of the stage setting. It lasts as long as would the
spoken performance, and wherever there is a dialogue we must imagine said
conversation if we can. It might be compared to watching Camille from the
top gallery through smoked glass, with one's ears stopped with cotton.
It would be well for the beginning student to find some way to see the
first two of these three, or some other attempts to revamp the classic,
for instance Mrs. Fiske's painstaking reproduction of Vanity Fair,
bearing in mind the list of differences which this chapter now furnishes.
There is no denying that many stage managers who have taken up photoplays
are struggling with the Shakespearian French and Norwegian traditions in
the new medium. Many of the moving pictures discussed in this book are
rewritten stage dramas, and one, Judith of Bethulia, is a pronounced
success. But in order to be real photoplays the stage dramas must be
overhauled indeed, turned inside out and upside down. The successful
motion picture expresses itself through mechanical devices that are being
evolved every hour. Upon those many new bits of machinery are founded
novel methods of combination in another field of logic, not dramatic
logic, but tableau logic. But the old-line managers, taking up
photoplays, begin by making curious miniatures of stage presentations.
They try to have most things as before. Later they take on the moving
picture technique in a superficial way, but they, and the host of
talented actors in the prime of life and Broadway success, retain the
dramatic state of mind.
It is a principle of criticism, the world over, that the distinctions
between the arts must be clearly marked, even by those who afterwards mix
those arts. Take, for instance, the perpetual quarrel between the artists
and the half-educated about literary painting. Whistler fought that
battle in England. He tried to beat it into the head of John Bull that a
painting is one thing, a mere illustration for a story another thing. But
the novice is always stubborn. To him Hindu and Arabic are both foreign
languages, therefore just alike. The book illustration may be said to
come in through the ear, by reading the title aloud in imagination. And
the other is effective with no title at all. The scenario writer who will
study to the bottom of the matter in Whistler's Gentle Art of Making
Enemies will be equipped to welcome the distinction between the
old-fashioned stage, where the word rules, and the photoplay, where
splendor and ritual are all. It is not the same distinction, but a
* * * * *
But let us consider the details of the matter. The stage has its exits
and entrances at the side and back. The standard photoplays have their
exits and entrances across the imaginary footlight line, even in the
most stirring mob and battle scenes. In Judith of Bethulia, though the
people seem to be coming from everywhere and going everywhere, when we
watch close, we see that the individuals enter at the near right-hand
corner and exit at the near left-hand corner, or enter at the near
left-hand corner and exit at the near right-hand corner.
Consider the devices whereby the stage actor holds the audience as he
goes out at the side and back. He sighs, gestures, howls, and strides.
With what studious preparation he ripens his quietness, if he goes out
that way. In the new contraption, the moving picture, the hero or villain
in exit strides past the nose of the camera, growing much bigger than a
human being, marching toward us as though he would step on our heads,
disappearing when largest. There is an explosive power about the mildest
motion picture exit, be the actor skilful or the reverse. The people left
in the scene are pygmies compared with each disappearing cyclops.
Likewise, when the actor enters again, his mechanical importance is
overwhelming. Therefore, for his first entrance the motion picture star
does not require the preparations that are made on the stage. The
support does not need to warm the spectators to the problem, then talk
them into surrender.
When the veteran stage-producer as a beginning photoplay producer tries
to give us a dialogue in the motion pictures, he makes it so dull no one
follows. He does not realize that his camera-born opportunity to magnify
persons and things instantly, to interweave them as actors on one level,
to alternate scenes at the slightest whim, are the big substitutes for
dialogue. By alternating scenes rapidly, flash after flash: cottage,
field, mountain-top, field, mountain-top, cottage, we have a conversation
between three places rather than three persons. By alternating the
picture of a man and the check he is forging, we have his soliloquy. When
two people talk to each other, it is by lifting and lowering objects
rather than their voices. The collector presents a bill: the adventurer
shows him the door. The boy plucks a rose: the girl accepts it. Moving
objects, not moving lips, make the words of the photoplay.
The old-fashioned stage producer, feeling he is getting nowhere, but
still helpless, puts the climax of some puzzling lip-debate, often the
climax of the whole film, as a sentence on the screen. Sentences should
be used to show changes of time and place and a few such elementary
matters before the episode is fully started. The climax of a motion
picture scene cannot be one word or fifty words. As has been discussed in
connection with Cabiria, the crisis must be an action sharper than any
that has gone before in organic union with a tableau more beautiful than
any that has preceded: the breaking of the tenth wave upon the sand. Such
remnants of pantomimic dialogue as remain in the main chase of the
photoplay film are but guide-posts in the race toward the goal. They
should not be elaborate toll-gates of plot, to be laboriously lifted and
lowered while the horses stop, mid-career.
The Venus of Milo, that comes directly to the soul through the silence,
requires no quotation from Keats to explain her, though Keats is the
equivalent in verse. Her setting in the great French Museum is enough. We
do not know that her name is Venus. She is thought by many to be another
statue of Victory. We may some day evolve scenarios that will require
nothing more than a title thrown upon the screen at the beginning, they
come to the eye so perfectly. This is not the only possible sort, but
the self-imposed limitation in certain films might give them a charm akin
to that of the Songs without Words.
The stage audience is a unit of three hundred or a thousand. In the
beginning of the first act there is much moving about and extra talk on
the part of the actors, to hold the crowd while it is settling down, and
enable the late-comer to be in his seat before the vital part of the
story starts. If he appears later, he is glared at. In the motion picture
art gallery, on the other hand, the audience is around two hundred, and
these are not a unit, and the only crime is to obstruct the line of
vision. The high-school girls can do a moderate amount of giggling
without breaking the spell. There is no spell, in the stage sense, to
break. People can climb over each other's knees to get in or out. If the
picture is political, they murmur war-cries to one another. If the film
suggests what some of the neighbors have been doing, they can regale each
other with the richest sewing society report.
The people in the motion picture audience total about two hundred, any
time, but they come in groups of two or three at no specified hour. The
newcomers do not, as in Vaudeville, make themselves part of a jocular
army. Strictly as individuals they judge the panorama. If they
disapprove, there is grumbling under their breath, but no hissing. I have
never heard an audience in a photoplay theatre clap its hands even when
the house was bursting with people. Yet they often see the film through
twice. When they have had enough, they stroll home. They manifest their
favorable verdict by sending some other member of the family to "see the
picture." If the people so delegated are likewise satisfied, they may ask
the man at the door if he is going to bring it back. That is the moving
picture kind of cheering.
It was a theatrical sin when the old-fashioned stage actor was rendered
unimportant by his scenery. But the motion picture actor is but the mood
of the mob or the landscape or the department store behind him, reduced
to a single hieroglyphic.
The stage-interior is large. The motion-picture interior is small. The
stage out-of-door scene is at best artificial and little and is generally
at rest, or its movement is tainted with artificiality. The waves dash,
but not dashingly, the water flows, but not flowingly. The motion
picture out-of-door scene is as big as the universe. And only pictures of
the Sahara are without magnificent motion.
The photoplay is as far from the stage on the one hand as it is from the
novel on the other. Its nearest analogy in literature is, perhaps, the
short story, or the lyric poem. The key-words of the stage are _passion_
and _character_; of the photoplay, _splendor_ and _speed_. The stage in
its greatest power deals with pity for some one especially unfortunate,
with whom we grow well acquainted; with some private revenge against some
particular despoiler; traces the beginning and culmination of joy based
on the gratification of some preference, or love for some person, whose
charm is all his own. The drama is concerned with the slow, inevitable
approaches to these intensities. On the other hand, the motion picture,
though often appearing to deal with these things, as a matter of fact
uses substitutes, many of which have been listed. But to review: its
first substitute is the excitement of speed-mania stretched on the
framework of an obvious plot. Or it deals with delicate informal anecdote
as the short story does, or fairy legerdemain, or patriotic banners, or
great surging mobs of the proletariat, or big scenic outlooks, or
miraculous beings made visible. And the further it gets from Euripides,
Ibsen, Shakespeare, or Moliere--the more it becomes like a mural painting
from which flashes of lightning come--the more it realizes its genius.
Men like Gordon Craig and Granville Barker are almost wasting their
genius on the theatre. The Splendor Photoplays are the great outlet for
their type of imagination.
The typical stage performance is from two hours and a half upward. The
movie show generally lasts five reels, that is, an hour and forty
minutes. And it should last but three reels, that is, an hour. Edgar Poe
said there was no such thing as a long poem. There is certainly no such
thing as a long moving picture masterpiece.
The stage-production depends most largely upon the power of the actors,
the movie show upon the genius of the producer. The performers and the
dumb objects are on equal terms in his paint-buckets. The star-system is
bad for the stage because the minor parts are smothered and the
situations distorted to give the favorite an orbit. It is bad for the
motion pictures because it obscures the producer. While the leading actor
is entitled to his glory, as are all the actors, their mannerisms should
not overshadow the latest inspirations of the creator of the films.
The display of the name of the corporation is no substitute for giving
the glory to the producer. An artistic photoplay is not the result of a
military efficiency system. It is not a factory-made staple article, but
the product of the creative force of one soul, the flowering of a spirit
that has the habit of perpetually renewing itself.
Once I saw Mary Fuller in a classic. It was the life and death of Mary
Queen of Scots. Not only was the tense, fidgety, over-American Mary
Fuller transformed into a being who was a poppy and a tiger-lily and a
snow-queen and a rose, but she and her company, including Marc
Macdermott, radiated the old Scotch patriotism. They made the picture a
memorial. It reminded one of Maurice Hewlett's novel The Queen's Quair.
Evidently all the actors were fused by some noble managerial mood.
There can be no doubt that so able a group have evolved many good films
that have escaped me. But though I did go again and again, never did I
see them act with the same deliberation and distinction, and I laid the
difference to a change in the state of mind of the producer. Even
baseball players must have managers. A team cannot pick itself, or it
surely would. And this rule may apply to the stage. But by comparison to
motion picture performers, stage-actors are their own managers, for they
have an approximate notion of how they look in the eye of the audience,
which is but the human eye. They can hear and gauge their own voices.
They have the same ears as their listeners. But the picture producer
holds to his eyes the seven-leagued demon spy-glass called the
kinetoscope, as the audience will do later. The actors have not the least
notion of their appearance. Also the words in the motion picture are not
things whose force the actor can gauge. The book under the table is one
word, the dog behind the chair is another, the window curtain flying in
the breeze is another.
This chapter has implied that the performers were but paint on the
canvas. They are both paint and models. They are models in the sense that
the young Ellen Terry was the inspiration for Watts' Sir Galahad. They
resemble the persons in private life who furnish the basis for novels.
Dickens' mother was the original of Mrs. Nickleby. His father entered
into Wilkins Micawber. But these people are not perpetually thrust upon
us as Mr. and Mrs. Dickens. We are glad to find them in the Dickens
biographies. When the stories begin, it is Micawber and Mrs. Nickleby we
want, and the Charles Dickens atmosphere.
The photoplays of the future will be written from the foundations for the
films. The soundest actors, photographers, and producers will be those
who emphasize the points wherein the photoplay is unique. What is adapted
to complete expression in one art generally secures but half expression
in another. The supreme photoplay will give us things that have been but
half expressed in all other mediums allied to it.
Once this principle is grasped there is every reason why the same people
who have interested themselves in the advanced experimental drama should
take hold of the super-photoplay. The good citizens who can most easily
grasp the distinction should be there to perpetuate the higher welfare of
these institutions side by side. This parallel development should come,
if for no other reason, because the two arts are still roughly classed
together by the public. The elect cannot teach the public what the drama
is till they show them precisely what the photoplay is and is not. Just
as the university has departments of both History and English teaching in
amity, each one illuminating the work of the other, so these two forms
should live in each other's sight in fine and friendly contrast. At
present they are in blind and jealous warfare.
I have read this chapter to a pretty neighbor who has approved of the
preceding portions of the book, whose mind, therefore, I cannot but
respect. My neighbor classes this discussion of hieroglyphics as a
fanciful flight rather than a sober argument. I submit the verdict, then
struggle against it while you read.
The invention of the photoplay is as great a step as was the beginning of
picture-writing in the stone age. And the cave-men and women of our slums
seem to be the people most affected by this novelty, which is but an
expression of the old in that spiral of life which is going higher while
seeming to repeat the ancient phase.
There happens to be here on the table a book on Egypt by Rawlinson that I
used to thumb long ago. A footnote says: "The font of hieroglyphic type
used in this work contains eight hundred forms. But there are many other
forms beside." There is more light on Egypt in later works than in
Rawlinson, but the statement quoted will serve for our text.
Several complex methods of making visible scenarios are listed in this
work. Here is one that is mechanically simple. Let the man searching for
tableau combinations, even if he is of the practical commercial type,
prepare himself with eight hundred signs from Egypt. He can construct the
outlines of his scenarios by placing these little pictures in rows. It
may not be impractical to cut his hundreds of them from black cardboard
and shuffle them on his table every morning. The list will contain all
elementary and familiar things. Let him first give the most literal
meaning to the patterns. Then if he desires to rise above the commercial
field, let him turn over each cardboard, making the white undersurface
uppermost, and there write a more abstract meaning of the hieroglyphic,
one that has a fairly close relation to his way of thinking about the
primary form. From a proper balance of primary and secondary meanings
photoplays with souls could come. Not that he must needs become an expert
Egyptologist. Yet it would profit any photoplay man to study to think
like the Egyptians, the great picture-writing people. There is as much
reason for this course as for the Bible student's apprenticeship in
Hieroglyphics can prove their worth, even without the help of an Egyptian
history. Humorous and startling analogies can be pointed out by opening
the Standard Dictionary, page fifty-nine. Look under the word _alphabet_.
There is the diagram of the evolution of inscriptions from the Egyptian
and Phoenician idea of what letters should be, on through the Greek and
In the Egyptian row is the picture of a throne, [Illustration] that has
its equivalent in the Roman letter C. And a throne has as much place in
what might be called the moving-picture alphabet as the letter C has in
ours. There are sometimes three thrones in this small town of Springfield
in an evening. When you see one flashed on the screen, you know instantly
you are dealing with royalty or its implications. The last one I saw that
made any particular impression was when Mary Pickford acted in Such a
Little Queen. I only wished then that she had a more convincing throne.
Let us cut one out of black cardboard. Turning the cardboard over to
write on it the spirit-meaning, we inscribe some such phrase as The
Throne of Wisdom or The Throne of Liberty.
Here is the hieroglyphic of a hand: [Illustration] Roman equivalent, the
letter D. The human hand, magnified till it is as big as the whole
screen, is as useful in the moving picture alphabet as the letter D in
the printed alphabet. This hand may open a lock. It may pour poison in a
bottle. It may work a telegraph key. Then turning the white side of the
cardboard uppermost we inscribe something to the effect that this hand
may write on the wall, as at the feast of Belshazzar. Or it may represent
some such conception as Rodin's Hand of God, discussed in the
Here is a duck: [Illustration] Roman equivalent, the letter Z. In the
motion pictures this bird, a somewhat z-shaped animal, suggests the
finality of Arcadian peace. It is the last and fittest ornament of the
mill-pond. Nothing very terrible can happen with a duck in the
foreground. There is no use turning it over. It would take Maeterlinck or
Swedenborg to find the mystic meaning of a duck. A duck looks to me like
a caricature of an alderman.
Here is a sieve: [Illustration] Roman equivalent, H. A sieve placed on
the kitchen-table, close-up, suggests domesticity, hired girl humors,
broad farce. We will expect the bride to make her first cake, or the
flour to begin to fly into the face of the intrusive ice-man. But, as to
the other side of the cardboard, the sieve has its place in higher
symbolism. It has been recorded by many a sage and singer that the
Almighty Powers sift men like wheat.
Here is the picture of a bowl: [Illustration] Roman equivalent, the
letter K. A bowl seen through the photoplay window on the cottage table
suggests Johnny's early supper of bread and milk. But as to the white
side of the cardboard, out of a bowl of kindred form Omar may take his
moonlit wine, or the higher gods may lift up the very wine of time to the
lips of men, as Swinburne sings in Atalanta in Calydon.
Here is a lioness: [Illustration] Roman equivalent, the letter L. The
lion or lioness creeps through the photoplay jungle to give the primary
picture-word of terror in this new universal alphabet. The present writer
has seen several valuable lions unmistakably shot and killed in the
motion pictures, and charged up to profit and loss, just as
steam-engines or houses are sometimes blown up or burned down. But of
late there is a disposition to use the trained lion (or lioness) for all
sorts of effects. No doubt the king and queen of beasts will become as
versatile and humbly useful as the letter L itself: that is, in the
commonplace routine photoplay. We turn the cardboard over and the lion
becomes a resource of glory and terror, a symbol of cruel persecutions or
deathless courage, sign of the zodiac that Poe in Ulalume calls the Lair
of the Lion.
Here is an owl: [Illustration] Roman equivalent, the letter M. The only
use of the owl I can record is to be inscribed on the white surface. In
The Avenging Conscience, as described in chapter ten, the murderer marks
the ticking of the heart of his victim while watching the swinging of the
pendulum of the old clock, then in watching the tapping of the
detective's pencil on the table, then in the tapping of his foot on the
floor. Finally a handsome owl is shown in the branches outside
hoot-hooting in time with the action of the pencil, and the pendulum, and
the dead man's heart.
But here is a wonderful thing, an actual picture that has lived on,
retaining its ancient imitative sound and form: [Illustration] the
letter N, the drawing of a wave, with the sound of a wave still within
it. One could well imagine the Nile in the winds of the dawn making such
a sound: "NN, N, N," lapping at the reeds upon its banks. Certainly the
glittering water scenes are a dominant part of moving picture Esperanto.
On the white reverse of the symbol, the spiritual meaning of water will
range from the metaphor of the purity of the dew to the sea as a sign of
Here is a window with closed shutters: [Illustration] Latin equivalent,
the letter P. It is a reminder of the technical outline of this book. The
Intimate Photoplay, as I have said, is but a window where we open the
shutters and peep into some one's cottage. As to the soul meaning in the
opening or closing of the shutters, it ranges from Noah's opening the
hatches to send forth the dove, to the promises of blessing when the
Windows of Heaven should be opened.
Here is the picture of an angle: [Illustration] Latin equivalent, Q.
This is another reminder of the technical outline. The photoplay
interior, as has been reiterated, is small and three-cornered. Here the
heroine does her plotting, flirting, and primping, etc. I will leave the
spiritual interpretation of the angle to Emerson, Swedenborg, or
Here is the picture of a mouth: [Illustration] Latin equivalent, the
letter R. If we turn from the dictionary to the monuments, we will see
that the Egyptians used all the human features in their pictures. We do
not separate the features as frequently as did that ancient people, but
we conventionalize them as often. Nine-tenths of the actors have faces as
fixed as the masks of the Greek chorus: they have the hero-mask with the
protruding chin, the villain-frown, the comedian-grin, the fixed
innocent-girl simper. These formulas have their place in the broad
effects of Crowd Pictures and in comedies. Then there are sudden
abandonments of the mask. Griffith's pupils, Henry Walthall and Blanche
Sweet, seem to me to be the greatest people in the photoplays: for one
reason their faces are as sensitive to changing emotion as the surfaces
of fair lakes in the wind. There is a passage in Enoch Arden where Annie,
impersonated by Lillian Gish, another pupil of Griffith, is waiting in
suspense for the return of her husband. She changes from lips of waiting,
with a touch of apprehension, to a delighted laugh of welcome, her head
making a half-turn toward the door. The audience is so moved by the
beauty of the slow change they do not know whether her face is the size
of the screen or the size of a postage-stamp. As a matter of fact it
fills the whole end of the theatre.
Thus much as to faces that are not hieroglyphics. Yet fixed facial
hieroglyphics have many legitimate uses. For instance in The Avenging
Conscience, as the play works toward the climax and the guilty man is
breaking down, the eye of the detective is thrown on the screen with all
else hid in shadow, a watching, relentless eye. And this suggests a
special talisman of the old Egyptians, a sign called the Eyes of Horus,
meaning the all-beholding sun.
Here is the picture of an inundated garden: [Illustration] Latin
equivalent, the letter S. In our photoplays the garden is an ever-present
resource, and at an instant's necessity suggests the glory of nature, or
sweet privacy, and kindred things. The Egyptian lotus garden had to be
inundated to be a success. Ours needs but the hired man with the hose,
who sometimes supplies broad comedy. But we turn over the cardboard, for
the deeper meaning of this hieroglyphic. Our gardens can, as of old, run
the solemn range from those of Babylon to those of the Resurrection.
If there is one sceptic left as to the hieroglyphic significance of the
photoplay, let him now be discomfited by page fifty-nine, Standard
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