The Art Of The Moving Picture
Part 3 out of 4
Dictionary. The last letter in this list is a lasso: [Illustration]. The
equivalent of the lasso in the Roman alphabet is the letter T. The crude
and facetious would be apt to suggest that the equivalent of the lasso in
the photoplay is the word trouble, possibly for the hero, but probably
for the villain. We turn to the other side of the symbol. The noose may
stand for solemn judgment and the hangman, it may also symbolize the
snare of the fowler, temptation. Then there is the spider web, close kin,
representing the cruelty of evolution, in The Avenging Conscience.
This list is based on the rows of hieroglyphics most readily at hand. Any
volume on Egypt, such as one of those by Maspero, has a multitude of
suggestions for the man inclined to the idea.
If this system of pasteboard scenarios is taken literally, I would like
to suggest as a beginning rule that in a play based on twenty
hieroglyphics, nineteen should be the black realistic signs with obvious
meanings, and only one of them white and inexplicably strange. It has
been proclaimed further back in this treatise that there is only one
witch in every wood. And to illustrate further, there is but one scarlet
letter in Hawthorne's story of that name, but one wine-cup in all of
Omar, one Bluebird in Maeterlinck's play.
I do not insist that the prospective author-producer adopt the
hieroglyphic method as a routine, if he but consents in his meditative
hours to the point of view that it implies.
The more fastidious photoplay audience that uses the hieroglyphic
hypothesis in analyzing the film before it, will acquire a new tolerance
and understanding of the avalanche of photoplay conceptions, and find a
promise of beauty in what have been properly classed as mediocre and
The nineteenth chapter has a discourse on the Book of the Dead. As a
connecting link with that chapter the reader will note that one of the
marked things about the Egyptian wall-paintings, pictures on the
mummy-case wrappings, papyrus inscriptions, and architectural
conceptions, is that they are but enlarged hieroglyphics, while the
hieroglyphics are but reduced fac-similes of these. So when a few
characters are once understood, the highly colored Egyptian
wall-paintings of the same things are understood. The hieroglyphic of
Osiris is enlarged when they desire to represent him in state. The
hieroglyphic of the soul as a human-headed hawk may be in a line of
writing no taller than the capitals of this book. Immediately above may
be a big painting of the soul, the same hawk placed with the proper care
with reference to its composition on the wall, a pure decoration.
The transition from reduction to enlargement and back again is as rapid
in Egypt as in the photoplay. It follows, among other things, that in
Egypt, as in China and Japan, literary style and mere penmanship and
brushwork are to be conceived as inseparable. No doubt the Egyptian
scholar was the man who could not only compose a poem, but write it down
with a brush. Talent for poetry, deftness in inscribing, and skill in
mural painting were probably gifts of the same person. The photoplay goes
back to this primitive union in styles.
The stages from hieroglyphics through Phoenician and Greek letters to
ours, are of no particular interest here. But the fact that
hieroglyphics can evolve is important. Let us hope that our new
picture-alphabets can take on richness and significance, as time goes on,
without losing their literal values. They may develop into something more
all-pervading, yet more highly wrought, than any written speech.
Languages when they evolve produce stylists, and we will some day
distinguish the different photoplay masters as we now delight in the
separate tang of O. Henry and Mark Twain and Howells. When these are
ancient times, we will have scholars and critics learned in the flavors
of early moving picture traditions with their histories of movements and
schools, their grammars, and anthologies.
Now some words as to the Anglo-Saxon language and its relation to
pictures. In England and America our plastic arts are but beginning.
Yesterday we were preeminently a word-civilization. England built her
mediaeval cathedrals, but they left no legacy among craftsmen. Art had to
lean on imported favorites like Van Dyck till the days of Sir Joshua
Reynolds and the founding of the Royal Society. Consider that the friends
of Reynolds were of the circle of Doctor Johnson. Literary tradition had
grown old. Then England had her beginning of landscape gardening. Later
she saw the rise of Constable, Ruskin, and Turner, and their iridescent
successors. Still to-day in England the average leading citizen matches
word against word,--using them as algebraic formulas,--rather than
picture against picture, when he arranges his thoughts under the eaves of
his mind. To step into the Art world is to step out of the beaten path of
British dreams. Shakespeare is still king, not Rossetti, nor yet
Christopher Wren. Moreover, it was the book-reading colonial who led our
rebellion against the very royalty that founded the Academy. The
public-speaking American wrote the Declaration of Independence. It was
not the work of the painting or cathedral-building Englishman. We were
led by Patrick Henry, the orator, Benjamin Franklin, the printer.
The more characteristic America became, the less she had to do with the
plastic arts. The emigrant-train carried many a Bible and Dictionary
packed in beside the guns and axes. It carried the Elizabethan writers,
AEsop's Fables, Blackstone's Commentaries, the revised statutes of
Indiana, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Parson Weems' Life of Washington.
But, obviously, there was no place for the Elgin marbles. Giotto's tower
could not be loaded in with the dried apples and the seedcorn.
Yesterday morning, though our arts were growing every day, we were still
more of a word-civilization than the English. Our architectural,
painting, and sculptural history is concerned with men now living, or
their immediate predecessors. And even such work as we have is pretty
largely a cult by the wealthy. This is the more a cause for misgiving
because, in a democracy, the arts, like the political parties, are not
founded till they have touched the county chairman, the ward leader, the
individual voter. The museums in a democracy should go as far as the
public libraries. Every town has its library. There are not twenty Art
museums in the land.
Here then comes the romance of the photoplay. A tribe that has thought in
words since the days that it worshipped Thor and told legends of the
cunning of the tongue of Loki, suddenly begins to think in pictures. The
leaders of the people, and of culture, scarcely know the photoplay
exists. But in the remote villages the players mentioned in this work are
as well known and as fairly understood in their general psychology as any
candidates for president bearing political messages. There is many a
babe in the proletariat not over four years old who has received more
pictures into its eye than it has had words enter its ear. The young
couple go with their first-born and it sits gaping on its mother's knee.
Often the images are violent and unseemly, a chaos of rawness and squirm,
but scattered through the experience is a delineation of the world. Pekin
and China, Harvard and Massachusetts, Portland and Oregon, Benares and
India, become imaginary playgrounds. By the time the hopeful has reached
its geography lesson in the public school it has travelled indeed. Almost
any word that means a picture in the text of the geography or history or
third reader is apt to be translated unconsciously into moving picture
terms. In the next decade, simply from the development of the average
eye, cities akin to the beginnings of Florence will be born among us as
surely as Chaucer came, upon the first ripening of the English tongue,
after Caedmon and Beowulf. Sculptors, painters, architects, and park
gardeners who now have their followers by the hundreds will have admirers
by the hundred thousand. The voters will respond to the aspirations of
these artists as the back-woodsmen followed Poor Richard's Almanac, or
the trappers in their coon-skin caps were fired to patriotism by Patrick
* * * * *
This ends the second section of the book. Were it not for the passage on
The Battle Hymn of the Republic, the chapters thus far might be entitled:
"an open letter to Griffith and the producers and actors he has trained."
Contrary to my prudent inclinations, he is the star of the piece, except
on one page where he is the villain. This stardom came about slowly. In
making the final revision, looking up the producers of the important
reels, especially those from the beginning of the photoplay business,
numbers of times the photoplays have turned out to be the work of this
former leading man of Nance O'Neil.
No one can pretend to a full knowledge of the films. They come faster
than rain in April. It would take a man every day of the year, working
day and night, to see all that come to Springfield. But in the photoplay
world, as I understand it, D.W. Griffith is the king-figure.
So far, in this work I have endeavored to keep to the established dogmas
of Art. I hope that the main lines of the argument will appeal to the
people who have classified and related the beautiful works of man that
have preceded the moving pictures. Let the reader make his own essay on
the subject for the local papers and send the clipping to me. The next
photoplay book that may appear from this hand may be construed to meet
his point of view. It will try to agree or disagree in clear language.
Many a controversy must come before a method of criticism is fully
* * * * *
MORE PERSONAL SPECULATIONS AND AFTERTHOUGHTS NOT BROUGHT
FORWARD SO DOGMATICALLY
At this point I climb from the oracular platform and go down through my
own chosen underbrush for haphazard adventure. I renounce the platform.
Whatever it may be that I find, pawpaw or may-apple or spray of willow,
if you do not want it, throw it over the edge of the hill, without ado,
to the birds or squirrels or kine, and do not include it in your
controversial discourse. It is not a part of the dogmatic system of
THE ORCHESTRA, CONVERSATION, AND THE CENSORSHIP
Whenever the photoplay is mixed in the same programme with vaudeville,
the moving picture part of the show suffers. The film is rushed through,
it is battered, it flickers more than commonly, it is a little out of
focus. The house is not built for it. The owner of the place cannot
manage an art gallery with a circus on his hands. It takes more brains
than one man possesses to pick good vaudeville talent and bring good
films to the town at the same time. The best motion picture theatres are
built for photoplays alone. But they make one mistake.
Almost every motion picture theatre has its orchestra, pianist, or
mechanical piano. The perfect photoplay gathering-place would have no
sound but the hum of the conversing audience. If this is too ruthless a
theory, let the music be played at the intervals between programmes,
while the advertisements are being flung upon the screen, the lights are
on, and the people coming in.
If there is something more to be done on the part of the producer to make
the film a telling one, let it be a deeper study of the pictorial
arrangement, with the tones more carefully balanced, the sculpture
vitalized. This is certainly better than to have a raw thing bullied
through with a music-programme, furnished to bridge the weak places in
the construction. A picture should not be released till it is completely
thought out. A producer with this goal before him will not have the time
or brains to spare to write music that is as closely and delicately
related to the action as the action is to the background. And unless the
tunes are at one with the scheme they are an intrusion. Perhaps the
moving picture maker has a twin brother almost as able in music, who
possesses the faculty of subordinating his creations to the work of his
more brilliant coadjutor. How are they going to make a practical national
distribution of the accompaniment? In the metropolitan theatres Cabiria
carried its own musicians and programme with a rich if feverish result.
In The Birth of a Nation, music was used that approached imitative sound
devices. Also the orchestra produced a substitute for old-fashioned stage
suspense by long drawn-out syncopations. The finer photoplay values were
thrown askew. Perhaps these two performances could be successfully
vindicated in musical policy. But such a defence proves nothing in regard
to the typical film. Imagine either of these put on in Rochester,
Illinois, population one hundred souls. The reels run through as well as
on Broadway or Michigan Avenue, but the local orchestra cannot play the
music furnished in annotated sheets as skilfully as the local operator
can turn the reel (or watch the motor turn it!).
The big social fact about the moving picture is that it is scattered like
the newspaper. Any normal accompaniment thereof must likewise be adapted
to being distributed everywhere. The present writer has seen, here in his
home place, population sixty thousand, all the films discussed in this
book but Cabiria and The Birth of a Nation. It is a photoplay paradise,
the spoken theatre is practically banished. Unfortunately the local
moving picture managers think it necessary to have orchestras. The
musicians they can secure make tunes that are most squalid and horrible.
With fathomless imbecility, hoochey koochey strains are on the air while
heroes are dying. The Miserere is in our ears when the lovers are
reconciled. Ragtime is imposed upon us while the old mother prays for her
lost boy. Sometimes the musician with this variety of sympathy abandons
himself to thrilling improvisation.
My thoughts on this subject began to take form several years ago, when
the film this book has much praised, The Battle Hymn of the Republic,
came to town. The proprietor of one theatre put in front of his shop a
twenty-foot sign "The Battle Hymn of the Republic, by Harriet Beecher
Stowe, brought back by special request." He had probably read Julia Ward
Howe's name on the film forty times before the sign went up. His
assistant, I presume his daughter, played "In the Shade of the Old Apple
Tree" hour after hour, while the great film was rolling by. Many old
soldiers were coming to see it. I asked the assistant why she did not
play and sing the Battle Hymn. She said they "just couldn't find it." Are
the distributors willing to send out a musician with each film?
Many of the Springfield producers are quite able and enterprising, but
to ask for music with photoplays is like asking the man at the news stand
to write an editorial while he sells you the paper. The picture with a
great orchestra in a far-off metropolitan Opera House, may be classed by
fanatic partisanship with Grand Opera. But few can get at it. It has
nothing to do with Democracy.
Of course people with a mechanical imagination, and no other kind, begin
to suggest the talking moving picture at this point, or the phonograph or
the mechanical piano. Let us discuss the talking moving picture only.
That disposes of the others.
If the talking moving picture becomes a reliable mirror of the human
voice and frame, it will be the basis of such a separate art that none of
the photoplay precedents will apply. It will be the _phonoplay_, not the
photoplay. It will be unpleasant for a long time. This book is a struggle
against the non-humanness of the undisciplined photograph. Any film is
correct, realistic, forceful, many times before it is charming. The
actual physical storage-battery of the actor is many hundred miles away.
As a substitute, the human quality must come in the marks of the presence
of the producer. The entire painting must have his brushwork. If we
compare it to a love-letter it must be in his handwriting rather than
worked on a typewriter. If he puts his autograph into the film, it is
after a fierce struggle with the uncanny scientific quality of the
camera's work. His genius and that of the whole company of actors is
exhausted in the task.
The raw phonograph is likewise unmagnetic. Would you set upon the
shoulders of the troupe of actors the additional responsibility of
putting an adequate substitute for human magnetism in the phonographic
disk? The voice that does not actually bleed, that contains no
heart-beats, fails to meet the emergency. Few people have wept over a
phonographic selection from Tristan and Isolde. They are moved at the
actual performance. Why? Look at the opera singer after the last act. His
eyes are burning. His face is flushed. His pulse is high. Reaching his
hotel room, he is far more weary than if he had sung the opera alone
there. He has given out of his brain-fire and blood-beat the same
magnetism that leads men in battle. To speak of it in the crassest terms,
this resource brings him a hundred times more salary than another man
with just as good a voice can command. The output that leaves him
drained at the end of the show cannot be stored in the phonograph
machine. That device is as good in the morning as at noon. It ticks like
To perfect the talking moving picture, human magnetism must be put into
the mirror-screen and into the clock. Not only is this imperative, but
clock and mirror must be harmonized, one gently subordinated to the
other. Both cannot rule. In the present talking moving picture the more
highly developed photoplay is dragged by the hair in a dead faint, in the
wake of the screaming savage phonograph. No talking machine on the market
reproduces conversation clearly unless it be elaborately articulated in
unnatural tones with a stiff interval between each question and answer.
Real dialogue goes to ruin.
The talking moving picture came to our town. We were given for one show a
line of minstrels facing the audience, with the interlocutor repeating
his immemorial question, and the end-man giving the immemorial answer.
Then came a scene in a blacksmith shop where certain well-differentiated
rackets were carried over the footlights. No one heard the blacksmith,
unless he stopped to shout straight at us.
The _phonoplay_ can quite possibly reach some divine goal, but it will be
after the speaking powers of the phonograph excel the photographing
powers of the reel, and then the pictures will be brought in as comment
and ornament to the speech. The pictures will be held back by the
phonograph as long as it is more limited in its range. The pictures are
at present freer and more versatile without it. If the _phonoplay_ is
ever established, since it will double the machinery, it must needs
double its prices. It will be the illustrated phonograph, in a more
The orchestra is in part a blundering effort by the local manager to
supply the human-magnetic element which he feels lacking in the pictures
on which the producer has not left his autograph. But there is a much
more economic and magnetic accompaniment, the before-mentioned buzzing
commentary of the audience. There will be some people who disturb the
neighbors in front, but the average crowd has developed its manners in
this particular, and when the orchestra is silent, murmurs like a
Local manager, why not an advertising campaign in your town that says:
"Beginning Monday and henceforth, ours shall be known as the
Conversational Theatre"? At the door let each person be handed the
"You are encouraged to discuss the picture with the friend who
accompanies you to this place. Conversation, of course, must be
sufficiently subdued not to disturb the stranger who did not come with
you to the theatre. If you are so disposed, consider your answers to
these questions: What play or part of a play given in this theatre did
you like most to-day? What the least? What is the best picture you have
ever seen anywhere? What pictures, seen here this month, shall we bring
back?" Here give a list of the recent productions, with squares to mark
by the Australian ballot system: approved or disapproved. The cards with
their answers could be slipped into the ballot-box at the door as the
crowd goes out.
It may be these questions are for the exceptional audiences in residence
districts. Perhaps with most crowds the last interrogation is the only
one worth while. But by gathering habitually the answers to that alone
the place would get the drift of its public, realize its genius, and
become an art-gallery, the people bestowing the blue ribbons. The
photoplay theatres have coupon contests and balloting already: the most
popular young lady, money prizes to the best vote-getter in the audience,
etc. Why not ballot on the matter in hand?
If the cards are sent out by the big producers, a referendum could be
secured that would be invaluable in arguing down to rigid censorship, and
enable them to make their own private censorship more intelligent.
Various styles of experimental cards could be tried till the vital one is
There is growing up in this country a clan of half-formed moving picture
critics. The present stage of their work is indicated by the eloquent
notice describing Your Girl and Mine, in the chapter on "Progress and
Endowment." The metropolitan papers give their photoplay reporters as
much space as the theatrical critics. Here in my home town the twelve
moving picture places take one half a page of chaotic notices daily. The
country is being badly led by professional photoplay news-writers who do
not know where they are going, but are on the way.
But they aptly describe the habitual attendants as moving picture fans.
The fan at the photoplay, as at the baseball grounds, is neither a
low-brow nor a high-brow. He is an enthusiast who is as stirred by the
charge of the photographic cavalry as by the home runs that he watches
from the bleachers. In both places he has the privilege of comment while
the game goes on. In the photoplay theatre it is not so vociferous, but
as keenly felt. Each person roots by himself. He has his own judgment,
and roasts the umpire: who is the keeper of the local theatre: or the
producer, as the case may be. If these opinions of the fan can be
collected and classified, an informal censorship is at once established.
The photoplay reporters can then take the enthusiasts in hand and lead
them to a realization of the finer points in awarding praise and blame.
Even the sporting pages have their expert opinions with due influence on
the betting odds. Out of the work of the photoplay reporters let a
superstructure of art criticism be reared in periodicals like The
Century, Harper's, Scribner's, The Atlantic, The Craftsman, and the
architectural magazines. These are our natural custodians of art. They
should reproduce the most exquisite tableaus, and be as fastidious in
their selection of them as they are in the current examples of the other
arts. Let them spread the news when photoplays keyed to the Rembrandt
mood arrive. The reporters for the newspapers should get their ideas and
refreshment in such places as the Ryerson Art Library of the Chicago Art
Institute. They should begin with such books as Richard Muther's History
of Modern Painting, John C. Van Dyke's Art for Art's Sake, Marquand and
Frothingham's History of Sculpture, A.D.F. Hamlin's History of
Architecture. They should take the business of guidance in this new world
as a sacred trust, knowing they have the power to influence an enormous
The moving picture journals and the literati are in straits over the
censorship question. The literati side with the managers, on the
principles of free speech and a free press. But few of the aesthetically
super-wise are persistent fans. They rave for freedom, but are not, as a
general thing, living back in the home town. They do not face the
exigency of having their summer and winter amusement spoiled day after
Extremists among the pious are railing against the moving pictures as
once they railed against novels. They have no notion that this
institution is penetrating to the last backwoods of our civilization,
where its presence is as hard to prevent as the rain. But some of us are
destined to a reaction, almost as strong as the obsession. The
religionists will think they lead it. They will be self-deceived. Moving
picture nausea is already taking hold of numberless people, even when
they are in the purely pagan mood. Forced by their limited purses, their
inability to buy a Ford car, and the like, they go in their loneliness to
film after film till the whole world seems to turn on a reel. When they
are again at home, they see in the dark an imaginary screen with
tremendous pictures, whirling by at a horribly accelerated pace, a
photoplay delirium tremens. Faster and faster the reel turns in the back
of their heads. When the moving picture sea-sickness is upon one, nothing
satisfies but the quietest out of doors, the companionship of the
gentlest of real people. The non-movie-life has charms such as one never
before conceived. The worn citizen feels that the cranks and legislators
can do what they please to the producers. He is through with them.
The moving picture business men do not realize that they have to face
these nervous conditions in their erstwhile friends. They flatter
themselves they are being pursued by some reincarnations of Anthony
Comstock. There are several reasons why photoplay corporations are
callous, along with the sufficient one that they are corporations.
First, they are engaged in a financial orgy. Fortunes are being found by
actors and managers faster than they were dug up in 1849 and 1850 in
California. Forty-niner lawlessness of soul prevails. They talk each
other into a lordly state of mind. All is dash and experiment. Look at
the advertisements in the leading moving picture magazines. They are like
the praise of oil stock or Peruna. They bawl about films founded upon
little classics. They howl about plots that are ostensibly from the
soberest of novels, whose authors they blasphemously invoke. They boo and
blow about twisted, callous scenarios that are bad imitations of the
world's most beloved lyrics.
The producers do not realize the mass effect of the output of the
business. It appears to many as a sea of unharnessed photography: sloppy
conceptions set forth with sharp edges and irrelevant realism. The
jumping, twitching, cold-blooded devices, day after day, create the
aforesaid sea-sickness, that has nothing to do with the questionable
subject. When on top of this we come to the picture that is actually
insulting, we are up in arms indeed. It is supplied by a corporation
magnate removed from his audience in location, fortune, interest, and
mood: an absentee landlord. I was trying to convert a talented and noble
friend to the films. The first time we went there was a prize-fight
between a black and a white man, not advertised, used for a filler. I
said it was queer, and would not happen again. The next time my noble
friend was persuaded to go, there was a cock-fight, incidental to a Cuban
romance. The third visit we beheld a lady who was dying for five minutes,
rolling her eyes about in a way that was fearful to see. The convert was
It is too easy to produce an unprovoked murder, an inexplicable arson,
neither led up to nor followed by the ordinary human history of such
acts, and therefore as arbitrary as the deeds of idiots or the insane. A
villainous hate, an alleged love, a violent death, are flashed at us,
without being in any sort of tableau logic. The public is ceaselessly
played upon by tactless devices. Therefore it howls, just as children in
the nursery do when the awkward governess tries the very thing the
diplomatic governess, in reasonable time, may bring about.
The producer has the man in the audience who cares for the art peculiarly
at his mercy. Compare him with the person who wants to read a magazine
for an evening. He can look over all the periodicals in the local
book-store in fifteen minutes. He can select the one he wants, take this
bit of printed matter home, go through the contents, find the three
articles he prefers, get an evening of reading out of them, and be happy.
Every day as many photoplays come to our town as magazines come to the
book-store in a week or a month. There are good ones and bad ones buried
in the list. There is no way to sample the films. One has to wait through
the first third of a reel before he has an idea of the merits of a
production, his ten cents is spent, and much of his time is gone. It
would take five hours at least to find the best film in our town for one
day. Meanwhile, nibbling and sampling, the seeker would run such a
gantlet of plot and dash and chase that his eyes and patience would be
exhausted. Recently there returned to the city for a day one of
Griffith's best Biographs, The Last Drop of Water. It was good to see
again. In order to watch this one reel twice I had to wait through five
others of unutterable miscellany.
Since the producers and theatre-managers have us at their mercy,
they are under every obligation to consider our delicate
susceptibilities--granting the proposition that in an ideal world we will
have no legal censorship. As to what to do in this actual nation, let the
reader follow what John Collier has recently written in The Survey.
Collier was the leading force in founding the National Board of
Censorship. As a member of that volunteer extra-legal board which is
independent and high minded, yet accepted by the leading picture
companies, he is able to discuss legislation in a manner which the
present writer cannot hope to match. Read John Collier. But I wish to
suggest that the ideal censorship is that to which the daily press is
subject, the elastic hand of public opinion, if the photoplay can be
brought as near to newspaper conditions in this matter as it is in some
How does public opinion grip the journalist? The editor has a constant
report from his constituency. A popular scoop sells an extra at once. An
attack on the wrong idol cancels fifty subscriptions. People come to the
office to do it, and say why. If there is a piece of real news on the
second page, and fifty letters come in about it that night, next month
when that character of news reappears it gets the front page. Some human
peculiarities are not mentioned, some phrases not used. The total
attribute of the blue-pencil man is diplomacy. But while the motion
pictures come out every day, they get their discipline months afterwards
in the legislation that insists on everything but tact. A tentative
substitute for the letters that come to the editor, the personal call and
cancelled subscription, and the rest, is the system of balloting on the
picture, especially the answer to the question, "What picture seen here
this month, or this week, shall we bring back?" Experience will teach how
to put the queries. By the same system the public might dictate its own
cut-outs. Let us have a democracy and a photoplay business working in
THE SUBSTITUTE FOR THE SALOON
This is a special commentary on chapter five, The Picture of Crowd
Splendor. It refers as well to every other type of moving picture that
gets into the slum. But the masses have an extraordinary affinity for the
Crowd Photoplay. As has been said before, the mob comes nightly to behold
its natural face in the glass. Politicians on the platform have swayed
the mass below them. But now, to speak in an Irish way, the crowd takes
the platform, and looking down, sees itself swaying. The slums are an
astonishing assembly of cave-men crawling out of their shelters to
exhibit for the first time in history a common interest on a tremendous
scale in an art form. Below the cliff caves were bar rooms in endless
lines. There are almost as many bar rooms to-day, yet this new thing
breaks the lines as nothing else ever did. Often when a moving picture
house is set up, the saloon on the right hand or the left declares
Why do men prefer the photoplay to the drinking place? For no pious
reason, surely. Now they have fire pouring into their eyes instead of
into their bellies. Blood is drawn from the guts to the brain. Though the
picture be the veriest mess, the light and movement cause the beholder to
do a little reptilian thinking. After a day's work a street-sweeper
enters the place, heavy as King Log. A ditch-digger goes in, sick and
surly. It is the state of the body when many men drink themselves into
insensibility. But here the light is as strong in the eye as whiskey in
the throat. Along with the flare, shadow, and mystery, they face the
existence of people, places, costumes, utterly novel. Immigrants are
prodded by these swords of darkness and light to guess at the meaning of
the catch-phrases and headlines that punctuate the play. They strain to
hear their neighbors whisper or spell them out.
The photoplays have done something to reunite the lower-class families.
No longer is the fire-escape the only summer resort for big and little
folks. Here is more fancy and whim than ever before blessed a hot night.
Here, under the wind of an electric fan, they witness everything, from a
burial in Westminster to the birthday parade of the ruler of the land of
The usual saloon equipment to delight the eye is one so-called "leg"
picture of a woman, a photograph of a prize-fighter, and some colored
portraits of goats to advertise various brands of beer. Many times, no
doubt, these boys and young men have found visions of a sordid kind while
gazing on the actress, the fighter, or the goats. But what poor material
they had in the wardrobes of memory for the trimmings and habiliments of
vision, to make this lady into Freya, this prize-fighter into Thor, these
goats into the harnessed steeds that drew his chariot! Man's dreams are
rearranged and glorified memories. How could these people reconstruct the
torn carpets and tin cans and waste-paper of their lives into mythology?
How could memories of Ladies' Entrance squalor be made into Castles in
Granada or Carcassonne? The things they drank to see, and saw but
grotesquely, and paid for terribly, now roll before them with no after
pain or punishment. The mumbled conversation, the sociability for which
they leaned over the tables, they have here in the same manner with far
more to talk about. They come, they go home, men and women together, as
casually and impulsively as the men alone ever entered a drinking-place,
but discoursing now of far-off mountains and star-crossed lovers. As
Padraic Colum says in his poem on the herdsman:--
"With thoughts on white ships
And the King of Spain's Daughter."
This is why the saloon on the right hand and on the left in the slum is
apt to move out when the photoplay moves in.
But let us go to the other end of the temperance argument. I beg to be
allowed to relate a personal matter. For some time I was a field-worker
for the Anti-Saloon League of Illinois, being sent every Sunday to a new
region to make the yearly visit on behalf of the league. Such a visitor
is apt to speak to one church in a village, and two in the country, on
each excursion, being met at the station by some leading farmer-citizen
of the section, and driven to these points by him. The talk with this man
was worth it all to me.
The agricultural territory of the United States is naturally dry. This is
because the cross-roads church is the only communal institution, and the
voice of the cross-roads pastor is for teetotalism. The routine of the
farm-hand, while by no means ideal in other respects, keeps him from
craving drink as intensely as other toilers do. A day's work in the open
air fills his veins at nightfall with an opiate of weariness instead of a
high-strung nervousness. The strong men of the community are church
elders, not through fanaticism, but by right of leadership. Through their
office they are committed to prohibition. So opposition to the temperance
movement is scattering. The Anti-Saloon League has organized these
leaders into a nation-wide machine. It sees that they get their weekly
paper, instructing them in the tactics whereby local fights have been
won. A subscription financing the State League is taken once a year. It
counts on the regular list of church benevolences. The state officers
come in to help on the critical local fights. Any country politician
fears their non-partisan denunciation as he does political death. The
local machines thus backed are incurable mugwumps, hold the balance of
power, work in both parties, and have voted dry the agricultural
territory of the United States everywhere, by the township, county, or
The only institutions that touch the same territory in a similar way are
the Chautauquas in the prosperous agricultural centres. These, too, by
the same sign are emphatically anti-saloon in their propaganda, serving
to intellectualize and secularize the dry sentiment without taking it out
of the agricultural caste.
There is a definite line between our farm-civilization and the rest. When
a county goes dry, it is generally in spite of the county-seat. Such
temperance people as are in the court-house town represent the
church-vote, which is even then in goodly proportion a retired-farmer
vote. The larger the county-seat, the larger the non-church-going
population and the more stubborn the fight. The majority of miners and
factory workers are on the wet side everywhere. The irritation caused by
the gases in the mines, by the dirty work in the blackness, by the
squalor in which the company houses are built, turns men to drink for
reaction and lamplight and comradeship. The similar fevers and
exasperations of factory life lead the workers to unstring their tense
nerves with liquor. The habit of snuggling up close in factories,
conversing often, bench by bench, machine by machine, inclines them to
get together for their pleasures at the bar. In industrial America there
is an anti-saloon minority in moral sympathy with the temperance wave
brought in by the farmers. But they are outstanding groups. Their
leadership seldom dries up a factory town or a mining region, with all
the help the Anti-Saloon League can give.
In the big cities the temperance movement is scarcely understood. The
choice residential districts are voted dry for real estate reasons. The
men who do this, drink freely at their own clubs or parties. The
temperance question would be fruitlessly argued to the end of time were
it not for the massive agricultural vote rolling and roaring round each
metropolis, reawakening the town churches whose vote is a pitiful
minority but whose spokesmen are occasionally strident.
There is a prophecy abroad that prohibition will be the issue of a
national election. If the question is squarely put, there are enough
farmers and church-people to drive the saloon out of legal existence. The
women's vote, a little more puritanical than the men's vote, will make
the result sure. As one anxious for this victory, I have often speculated
on the situation when all America is nominally dry, at the behest of the
American farmer, the American preacher, and the American woman. When the
use of alcohol is treason, what will become of those all but unbroken
lines of slum saloons? No lesser force than regular troops could dislodge
them, with yesterday's intrenchment.
The entrance of the motion picture house into the arena is indeed
striking, the first enemy of King Alcohol with real power where that king
has deepest hold. If every one of those saloon doors is nailed up by the
Chautauqua orators, the photoplay archway will remain open. The people
will have a shelter where they can readjust themselves, that offers a
substitute for many of the lines of pleasure in the groggery. And a whole
evening costs but a dime apiece. Several rounds of drinks are expensive,
but the people can sit through as many repetitions of this programme as
they desire, for one entrance fee. The dominant genius of the moving
picture place is not a gentleman with a red nose and an eye like a dead
fish, but some producer who, with all his faults, has given every person
in the audience a seven-leagued angel-and-demon telescope.
Since I have announced myself a farmer and a puritan, let me here list
the saloon evils not yet recorded in this chapter. They are separate from
the catalogue of the individualistic woes of the drunkard that are given
in the Scripture. The shame of the American drinking place is the
bar-tender who dominates its thinking. His cynical and hardened soul
wipes out a portion of the influence of the public school, the library,
the self-respecting newspaper. A stream rises no higher than its source,
and through his dead-fish eye and dead-fish brain the group of tired men
look upon all the statesmen and wise ones of the land. Though he says
worse than nothing, his furry tongue, by endless reiteration, is the
American slum oracle. At the present the bar-tender handles the
neighborhood group, the ultimate unit in city politics.
So, good citizen, welcome the coming of the moving picture man as a local
social force. Whatever his private character, the mere formula of his
activities makes him a better type. He may not at first sway his group in
a directly political way, but he will make himself the centre of more
social ideals than the bar-tender ever entertained. And he is beginning
to have as intimate a relation to his public as the bar-tender. In many
cases he stands under his arch in the sheltered lobby and is on
conversing terms with his habitual customers, the length of the afternoon
Voting the saloon out of the slums by voting America dry, does not, as of
old, promise to be a successful operation that kills the patient. In the
past some of the photoplay magazines have contained denunciations of the
temperance people for refusing to say anything in behalf of the greatest
practical enemy of the saloon. But it is not too late for the dry forces
to repent. The Anti-Saloon League officers and the photoplay men should
ask each other to dinner. More moving picture theatres in doubtful
territory will help make dry voters. And wet territory voted dry will
bring about a greatly accelerated patronage of the photoplay houses.
There is every strategic reason why these two forces should patch up a
Meanwhile, the cave-man, reader of picture-writing, is given a chance to
admit light into his mind, whatever he puts to his lips. Let us look for
the day, be it a puritan triumph or not, when the sons and the daughters
of the slums shall prophesy, the young men shall see visions, the old men
CALIFORNIA AND AMERICA
The moving picture captains of industry, like the California gold finders
of 1849, making colossal fortunes in two or three years, have the same
glorious irresponsibility and occasional need of the sheriff. They are
Californians more literally than this. Around Los Angeles the greatest
and most characteristic moving picture colonies are being built. Each
photoplay magazine has its California letter, telling of the
putting-up of new studios, and the transfer of actors, with much
slap-you-on-the-back personal gossip. This is the outgrowth of the fact
that every type of the photoplay but the intimate is founded on some
phase of the out-of-doors. Being thus dependent, the plant can best be
set up where there is no winter. Besides this, the Los Angeles region has
the sea, the mountains, the desert, and many kinds of grove and field.
Landscape and architecture are sub-tropical. But for a description of
California, ask any traveller or study the background of almost any
If the photoplay is the consistent utterance of its scenes, if the actors
are incarnations of the land they walk upon, as they should be,
California indeed stands a chance to achieve through the films an
utterance of her own. Will this land furthest west be the first to
capture the inner spirit of this newest and most curious of the arts? It
certainly has the opportunity that comes with the actors, producers, and
equipment. Let us hope that every region will develop the silent
photographic pageant in a local form as outlined in the chapter on
Progress and Endowment. Already the California sort, in the commercial
channels, has become the broadly accepted if mediocre national form.
People who revere the Pilgrim Fathers of 1620 have often wished those
gentlemen had moored their bark in the region of Los Angeles rather than
Plymouth Rock, that Boston had been founded there. At last that landing
Patriotic art students have discussed with mingled irony and admiration
the Boston domination of the only American culture of the nineteenth
century, namely, literature. Indianapolis has had her day since then,
Chicago is lifting her head. Nevertheless Boston still controls the
text-book in English and dominates our high schools. Ironic feelings in
this matter on the part of western men are based somewhat on envy and
illegitimate cussedness, but are also grounded in the honest hope of a
healthful rivalry. They want new romanticists and artists as indigenous
to their soil as was Hawthorne to witch-haunted Salem or Longfellow to
the chestnuts of his native heath. Whatever may be said of the
patriarchs, from Oliver Wendell Holmes to Amos Bronson Alcott, they were
true sons of the New England stone fences and meeting houses. They could
not have been born or nurtured anywhere else on the face of the earth.
Some of us view with a peculiar thrill the prospect that Los Angeles may
become the Boston of the photoplay. Perhaps it would be better to say the
Florence, because California reminds one of colorful Italy more than of
any part of the United States. Yet there is a difference.
The present-day man-in-the-street, man-about-town Californian has an
obvious magnificence about him that is allied to the eucalyptus tree,
the pomegranate. California is a gilded state. It has not the sordidness
of gold, as has Wall Street, but it is the embodiment of the natural ore
that the ragged prospector finds. The gold of California is the color of
the orange, the glitter of dawn in the Yosemite, the hue of the golden
gate that opens the sunset way to mystic and terrible Cathay and
The enemy of California says the state is magnificent but thin. He
declares it is as though it were painted on a Brobdingnagian piece of
gilt paper, and he who dampens his finger and thrusts it through finds an
alkali valley on the other side, the lonely prickly pear, and a heap of
ashes from a deserted camp-fire. He says the citizens of this state lack
the richness of an aesthetic and religious tradition. He says there is no
substitute for time. But even these things make for coincidence. This
apparent thinness California has in common with the routine photoplay,
which is at times as shallow in its thought as the shadow it throws upon
the screen. This newness California has in common with all photoplays. It
is thrillingly possible for the state and the art to acquire spiritual
tradition and depth together.
Part of the thinness of California is not only its youth, but the result
of the physical fact that the human race is there spread over so many
acres of land. They try not only to count their mines and enumerate their
palm trees, but they count the miles of their sea-coast, and the acres
under cultivation and the height of the peaks, and revel in large
statistics and the bigness generally, and forget how a few men rattle
around in a great deal of scenery. They shout their statistics across the
Rockies and the deserts to New York. The Mississippi Valley is
non-existent to the Californian. His fellow-feeling is for the opposite
coast-line. Through the geographical accident of separation by mountain
and desert from the rest of the country, he becomes a mere shouter,
hurrahing so assiduously that all variety in the voice is lost. Then he
tries gestures, and becomes flamboyant, rococo.
These are the defects of the motion picture qualities also. Its panoramic
tendency runs wild. As an institution it advertises itself with the
sweeping gesture. It has the same passion for coast-line. These are not
the sins of New England. When, in the hands of masters, they become
sources of strength, they will be a different set of virtues from those
of New England.
There is no more natural place for the scattering of confetti than this
state, except the moving picture scene itself. Both have a genius for
gardens and dancing and carnival.
When the Californian relegates the dramatic to secondary scenes, both in
his life and his photoplay, and turns to the genuinely epic and lyric, he
and this instrument may find their immortality together as New England
found its soul in the essays of Emerson. Tide upon tide of Spring comes
into California through all four seasons. Fairy beauty overwhelms the
lumbering grand-stand players. The tiniest garden is a jewelled pathway
of wonder. But the Californian cannot shout "orange blossoms, orange
blossoms; heliotrope, heliotrope!" He cannot boom forth "roseleaves,
roseleaves" so that he does their beauties justice. Here is where the
photoplay can begin to give him a more delicate utterance. And he can go
on into stranger things and evolve all the Splendor Films into higher
types, for the very name of California is splendor. The California
photo-playwright can base his Crowd Picture upon the city-worshipping
mobs of San Francisco. He can derive his Patriotic and Religious
Splendors from something older and more magnificent than the aisles of
the Romanesque, namely: the groves of the giant redwoods.
The campaign for a beautiful nation could very well emanate from the west
coast, where with the slightest care grow up models for all the world of
plant arrangement and tree-luxury. Our mechanical East is reproved, our
tension is relaxed, our ugliness is challenged every time we look upon
those garden paths and forests.
It is possible for Los Angeles to lay hold of the motion picture as our
national text-book in Art as Boston appropriated to herself the
guardianship of the national text-books of Literature. If California has
a shining soul, and not merely a golden body, let her forget her
seventeen-year-old melodramatics, and turn to her poets who understand
the heart underneath the glory. Edwin Markham, the dean of American
singers, Clark Ashton Smith, the young star treader, George Sterling,
that son of Ancient Merlin, have in their songs the seeds of better
scenarios than California has sent us. There are two poems by George
Sterling that I have had in mind for many a day as conceptions that
should inspire mystic films akin to them. These poems are The Night
Sentries and Tidal King of Nations.
But California can tell us stories that are grim children of the tales of
the wild Ambrose Bierce. Then there is the lovely unforgotten Nora May
French and the austere Edward Rowland Sill.
Edison is the new Gutenberg. He has invented the new printing. The state
that realizes this may lead the soul of America, day after to-morrow.
PROGRESS AND ENDOWMENT
The moving picture goes almost as far as journalism into the social
fabric in some ways, further in others. Soon, no doubt, many a little
town will have its photographic news-press. We have already the weekly
world-news films from the big centres.
With local journalism will come devices for advertising home enterprises.
Some staple products will be made attractive by having film-actors show
their uses. The motion pictures will be in the public schools to stay.
Text-books in geography, history, zoology, botany, physiology, and other
sciences will be illustrated by standardized films. Along with these
changes, there will be available at certain centres collections of films
equivalent to the Standard Dictionary and the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
And sooner or later we will have a straight-out capture of a complete
film expression by the serious forces of civilization. The merely
impudent motion picture will be relegated to the leisure hours with
yellow journalism. Photoplay libraries are inevitable, as active if not
as multitudinous as the book-circulating libraries. The oncoming
machinery and expense of the motion picture is immense. Where will the
money come from? No one knows. What the people want they will get. The
race of man cannot afford automobiles, but has them nevertheless. We
cannot run away into non-automobile existence or non-steam-engine or
non-movie life long at a time. We must conquer this thing. While the more
stately scientific and educational aspects just enumerated are slowly on
their way, the artists must be up and about their ameliorative work.
Every considerable effort to develop a noble idiom will count in the
final result, as the writers of early English made possible the language
of the Bible, Shakespeare, and Milton. We are perfecting a medium to be
used as long as Chinese ideographs have been. It will no doubt, like the
Chinese language, record in the end massive and classical treatises,
imperial chronicles, law-codes, traditions, and religious admonitions.
All this by the _motion picture_ as a recording instrument, not
necessarily the _photoplay_, a much more limited thing, a form of art.
What shall be done in especial by this generation of idealists, whose
flags rise and go down, whose battle line wavers and breaks a thousand
times? What is the high quixotic splendid call? We know of a group of
public-spirited people who advocate, in endowed films, "safety first,"
another that champions total abstinence. Often their work seems lost in
the mass of commercial production, but it is a good beginning. Such
citizens take an established studio for a specified time and at the end
put on the market a production that backs up their particular idea. There
are certain terms between the owners of the film and the proprietors of
the studio for the division of the income, the profits of the cult being
spent on further propaganda. The product need not necessarily be the type
outlined in chapter two, The Photoplay of Action. Often some other sort
might establish the cause more deeply. But most of the propaganda films
are of the action variety, because of the dynamic character of the people
who produce them. Fired by fanatic zeal, the auto speeds faster, the
rescuing hero runs harder, the stern policeman and sheriff become more
jumpy, all that the audience may be converted. Here if anywhere
meditation on the actual resources of charm and force in the art is a
fitting thing. The crusader should realize that it is not a good Action
Play nor even a good argument unless it is indeed the Winged Victory
sort. The gods are not always on the side of those who throw fits.
There is here appended a newspaper description of a crusading film, that,
despite the implications of the notice, has many passages of charm. It is
two-thirds Action Photoplay, one-third Intimate-and-friendly. The notice
does not imply that at times the story takes pains to be gentle. This bit
of writing is all too typical of film journalism.
"Not only as an argument for suffrage but as a play with a story, a
punch, and a mission, 'Your Girl and Mine' is produced under the
direction of the National Woman's Suffrage Association at the Capitol
"Olive Wyndham forsook the legitimate stage for the time to pose as the
heroine of the play. Katherine Kaelred, leading lady of 'Joseph and his
Brethren,' took the part of a woman lawyer battling for the right.
Sydney Booth, of the 'Yellow Ticket' company posed as the hero of the
experiment. John Charles and Katharine Henry played the villain and the
honest working girl. About three hundred secondaries were engaged along
with the principals.
"It is melodrama of the most thrilling sort, in spite of the fact that
there is a moral concealed in the very title of the play. But who is
worried by a moral in a play which has an exciting hand-to-hand fight
between a man and a woman in one of the earliest acts, when the quick
march of events ranges from a wedding to a murder and an automobile
abduction scene that breaks all former speed-records. 'The Cause' comes
in most symbolically and poetically, a symbolic figure that 'fades out'
at critical periods in the plot. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, the famous
suffrage leader, appears personally in the film.
"'Your Girl and Mine' is a big play with a big mission built on a big
scale. It is a whole evening's entertainment, and a very interesting
evening at that." Here endeth the newspaper notice. Compare it with the
Biograph advertisement of Judith in chapter six.
There is nothing in the film that rasps like this account of it. The
clipping serves to give the street-atmosphere through which our Woman's
Suffrage Joan of Arcs move to conquest and glory with unstained banners.
The obvious amendments to the production as an instrument of persuasion
are two. Firstly there should be five reels instead of six, every scene
shortened a bit to bring this result. Secondly, the lieutenant governor
of the state, who is the Rudolf Rassendyll of the production, does not
enter the story soon enough, and is too James K. Hacketty all at once. We
are jerked into admiration of him, rather than ensnared. But after that
the gentleman behaves more handsomely than any of the distinguished
lieutenant governors in real life the present writer happens to remember.
The figure of Aunt Jane, the queenly serious woman of affairs, is one to
admire and love. Her effectiveness without excess or strain is in itself
an argument for giving woman the vote. The newspaper notice does not
state the facts in saying the symbolical figure "fades out" at critical
periods in the plot. On the contrary, she appears at critical periods,
clothed in white, solemn and royal. She comes into the groups with an
adequate allurement, pointing the moral of each situation while she
shines brightest. The two children for whom the contest is fought are
winsome little girls. By the side of their mother in the garden or in the
nursery they are a potent argument for the natural rights of femininity.
The film is by no means ultra-aesthetic. The implications of the clipping
are correct to that degree. But the resources of beauty within the ready
command of the advising professional producer are used by the women for
all they are worth. It could not be asked of them that they evolve
Yet the figures of Aunt Jane and the Goddess of Suffrage are something
new in their fashion. Aunt Jane is a spiritual sister to that
unprecedented woman, Jane Addams, who went to the Hague conference for
Peace in the midst of war, which heroic action the future will not
forget. Aunt Jane does justice to that breed of women amid the sweetness
and flowers and mere scenario perils of the photoplay story. The presence
of the "Votes for Women" figure is the beginning of a line of photoplay
goddesses that serious propaganda in the new medium will make part of the
American Spiritual Hierarchy. In the imaginary film of Our Lady
Springfield, described in the chapter on Architecture-in-Motion, a
kindred divinity is presumed to stand by the side of the statue when it
first reaches the earth.
High-minded graduates of university courses in sociology and schools of
philanthropy, devout readers of The Survey, The Chicago Public, The
Masses, The New Republic, La Follette's, are going to advocate
increasingly, their varied and sometimes contradictory causes, in films.
These will generally be produced by heroic exertions in the studio, and
much passing of the subscription paper outside.
Then there are endowments already in existence that will no doubt be
diverted to the photoplay channel. In every state house, and in
Washington, D.C., increasing quantities of dead printed matter have been
turned out year after year. They have served to kindle various furnaces
and feed the paper-mills a second time. Many of these routine reports
will remain in innocuous desuetude. But one-fourth of them, perhaps, are
capable of being embodied in films. If they are scientific
demonstrations, they can be made into realistic motion picture records.
If they are exhortations, they can be transformed into plays with a
moral, brothers of the film Your Girl and Mine. The appropriations for
public printing should include such work hereafter.
The scientific museums distribute routine pamphlets that would set the
whole world right on certain points if they were but read by said world.
Let them be filmed and started. Whatever the congressman is permitted to
frank to his constituency, let him send in the motion picture form when
it is the expedient and expressive way.
When men work for the high degrees in the universities, they labor on a
piece of literary conspiracy called a thesis which no one outside the
university hears of again. The gist of this research work that is dead to
the democracy, through the university merits of thoroughness, moderation
of statement, and final touch of discovery, would have a chance to live
and grip the people in a motion picture transcript, if not a photoplay.
It would be University Extension. The relentless fire of criticism which
the heads of the departments would pour on the production before they
allowed it to pass would result in a standardization of the sense of
scientific fact over the land. Suppose the film has the coat of arms of
the University of Chicago along with the name of the young graduate whose
thesis it is. He would have a chance to reflect credit on the university
even as much as a foot-ball player.
Large undertakings might be under way, like those described in the
chapter on Architecture-in-Motion. But these would require much more than
the ordinary outlay for thesis work, less, perhaps, than is taken for
Athletics. Lyman Howe and several other world-explorers have already set
the pace in the more human side of the educative film. The list of Mr.
Howe's offerings from the first would reveal many a one that would have
run the gantlet of a university department. He points out a new direction
for old energies, whereby professors may become citizens.
Let the cave-man, reader of picture-writing, be allowed to ponder over
scientific truth. He is at present the victim of the alleged truth of the
specious and sentimental variety of photograph. It gives the precise
edges of the coat or collar of the smirking masher and the exact fibre in
the dress of the jumping-jack. The eye grows weary of sharp points and
hard edges that mean nothing. All this idiotic precision is going to
waste. It should be enlisted in the cause of science and abated
everywhere else. The edges in art are as mysterious as in science they
Some of the higher forms of the Intimate Moving Picture play should be
endowed by local coteries representing their particular region. Every
community of fifty thousand has its group of the cultured who have
heretofore studied and imitated things done in the big cities. Some of
these coteries will in exceptional cases become creative and begin to
express their habitation and name. The Intimate Photoplay is capable of
that delicacy and that informality which should characterize neighborhood
The plays could be acted by the group who, season after season, have
secured the opera house for the annual amateur show. Other dramatic
ability could be found in the high-schools. There is enough talent in any
place to make an artistic revolution, if once that region is aflame with
a common vision. The spirit that made the Irish Players, all so racy of
the soil, can also move the company of local photoplayers in Topeka, or
Indianapolis, or Denver. Then let them speak for their town, not only in
great occasional enterprises, but steadily, in little fancies, genre
pictures, developing a technique that will finally make magnificence
There was given not long ago, at the Illinois Country Club here, a
performance of The Yellow Jacket by the Coburn Players. It at once seemed
an integral part of this chapter.
The two flags used for a chariot, the bamboo poles for oars, the red sack
for a decapitated head, etc., were all convincing, through a direct
resemblance as well as the passionate acting. They suggest a possible
type of hieroglyphics to be developed by the leader of the local group.
Let the enthusiast study this westernized Chinese play for primitive
representative methods. It can be found in book form, a most readable
work. It is by G.C. Hazelton, Jr., and J.H. Benrimo. The resemblance
between the stage property and the thing represented is fairly close. The
moving flags on each side of the actor suggest the actual color and
progress of the chariot, and abstractly suggest its magnificence. The red
sack used for a bloody head has at least the color and size of one. The
dressed-up block of wood used for a child is the length of an infant of
the age described and wears the general costume thereof. The farmer's
hoe, though exaggerated, is still an agricultural implement.
The evening's list of properties is economical, filling one wagon, rather
than three. Photographic realism is splendidly put to rout by powerful
representation. When the villager desires to embody some episode that if
realistically given would require a setting beyond the means of the
available endowment, and does not like the near-Egyptian method, let him
evolve his near-Chinese set of symbols.
The Yellow Jacket was written after long familiarity with the Chinese
Theatre in San Francisco. The play is a glory to that city as well as to
Hazelton and Benrimo. But every town in the United States has something
as striking as the Chinese Theatre, to the man who keeps the eye of his
soul open. It has its Ministerial Association, its boys' secret society,
its red-eyed political gang, its grubby Justice of the Peace court, its
free school for the teaching of Hebrew, its snobbish chapel, its
fire-engine house, its milliner's shop. All these could be made visible
in photoplays as flies are preserved in amber.
Edgar Lee Masters looked about him and discovered the village graveyard,
and made it as wonderful as Noah's Ark, or Adam naming the animals, by
supplying honest inscriptions to the headstones. Such stories can be told
by the Chinese theatrical system as well. As many different films could
be included under the general title: "Seven Old Families, and Why they
Went to Smash." Or a less ominous series would be "Seven Victorious
Souls." For there are triumphs every day under the drab monotony of an
apparently defeated town: conquests worthy of the waving of sun-banners.
Above all, The Yellow Jacket points a moral for this chapter because
there was conscience behind it. First: the rectitude of the Chinese
actors of San Francisco who kept the dramatic tradition alive, a
tradition that was bequeathed from the ancient generations. Then the
artistic integrity of the men who readapted the tradition for western
consumption, and their religious attitude that kept the high teaching and
devout feeling for human life intact in the play. Then the zeal of the
Drama League that indorsed it for the country. Then the earnest work of
the Coburn Players who embodied it devoutly, so that the whole company
became dear friends forever.
By some such ladder of conscience as this can the local scenario be
endowed, written, acted, filmed, and made a real part of the community
life. The Yellow Jacket was a drama, not a photoplay. This chapter does
not urge that it be readapted for a photoplay in San Francisco or
anywhere else. But a kindred painting-in-motion, something as beautiful
and worthy and intimate, in strictly photoplay terms, might well be the
flower of the work of the local groups of film actors.
Harriet Monroe's magazine, "Poetry" (Chicago), has given us a new sect,
the Imagists:--Ezra Pound, Richard Aldington, John Gould Fletcher, Amy
Lowell, F.S. Flint, D.H. Lawrence, and others. They are gathering
followers and imitators. To these followers I would say: the Imagist
impulse need not be confined to verse. Why would you be imitators of
these leaders when you might be creators in a new medium? There is a
clear parallelism between their point of view in verse and the
Intimate-and-friendly Photoplay, especially when it is developed from the
standpoint of the last part of chapter nine, _space measured without
sound plus time measured without sound_.
There is no clan to-day more purely devoted to art for art's sake than
the Imagist clan. An Imagist film would offer a noble challenge to the
overstrained emotion, the over-loaded splendor, the mere repetition of
what are at present the finest photoplays. Now even the masterpieces are
incontinent. Except for some of the old one-reel Biographs of Griffith's
beginning, there is nothing of Doric restraint from the best to the
worst. Read some of the poems of the people listed above, then imagine
the same moods in the films. Imagist photoplays would be Japanese prints
taking on life, animated Japanese paintings, Pompeian mosaics in
kaleidoscopic but logical succession, Beardsley drawings made into actors
and scenery, Greek vase-paintings in motion.
Scarcely a photoplay but hints at the Imagists in one scene. Then the
illusion is lost in the next turn of the reel. Perhaps it would be a
sound observance to confine this form of motion picture to a half reel or
quarter reel, just as the Imagist poem is generally a half or quarter
page. A series of them could fill a special evening.
The Imagists are colorists. Some people do not consider that photographic
black, white, and gray are color. But here for instance are seven colors
which the Imagists might use: (1) The whiteness of swans in the light.
(2) The whiteness of swans in a gentle shadow. (3) The color of a
sunburned man in the light. (4) His color in a gentle shadow. (5) His
color in a deeper shadow. (6) The blackness of black velvet in the light.
(7) The blackness of black velvet in a deep shadow. And to use these
colors with definite steps from one to the other does not militate
against an artistic mystery of edge and softness in the flow of line.
There is a list of possible Imagist textures which is only limited by the
number of things to be seen in the world. Probably only seven or ten
would be used in one scheme and the same list kept through one
The Imagist photoplay will put discipline into the inner ranks of the
enlightened and remind the sculptors, painters, and architects of the
movies that there is a continence even beyond sculpture and that seas of
realism may not have the power of a little well-considered elimination.
The use of the scientific film by established institutions like schools
and state governments has been discussed. Let the Church also, in her own
way, avail herself of the motion picture, whole-heartedly, as in
mediaeval time she took over the marvel of Italian painting. There was a
stage in her history when religious representation was by Byzantine
mosaics, noble in color, having an architectural use, but curious indeed
to behold from the standpoint of those who crave a sensitive emotional
record. The first paintings of Cimabue and Giotto, giving these formulas
a touch of life, were hailed with joy by all Italy. Now the Church
Universal has an opportunity to establish her new painters if she will.
She has taken over in the course of history, for her glory, miracle
plays, Romanesque and Gothic architecture, stained glass windows, and the
music of St. Cecilia's organ. Why not this new splendor? The Cathedral of
St. John the Divine, on Morningside Heights, should establish in its
crypt motion pictures as thoroughly considered as the lines of that
building, if possible designed by the architects thereof, with the same
sense of permanency.
This chapter does not advocate that the Church lay hold of the photoplays
as one more medium for reillustrating the stories of the Bible as they
are given in the Sunday-school papers. It is not pietistic simpering that
will feed the spirit of Christendom, but a steady church-patronage of
the most skilful and original motion picture artists. Let the Church
follow the precedent which finally gave us Fra Angelico, Botticelli,
Andrea del Sarto, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Correggio,
Titian, Paul Veronese, Tintoretto, and the rest.
Who will endow the successors of the present woman's suffrage film, and
other great crusading films? Who will see that the public documents and
university researches take on the form of motion pictures? Who will endow
the local photoplay and the Imagist photoplay? Who will take the first
great measures to insure motion picture splendors in the church?
Things such as these come on the winds of to-morrow. But let the crusader
look about him, and where it is possible, put in the diplomatic word, and
cooeperate with the Gray Norns.
ARCHITECTS AS CRUSADERS
Many a worker sees his future America as a Utopia, in which his own
profession, achieving dictatorship, alleviates the ills of men. The
militarist grows dithyrambic in showing how war makes for the blessings
of peace. The economic teacher argues that if we follow his political
economy, none of us will have to economize. The church-fanatic says if
all churches will merge with his organization, none of them will have to
try to behave again. They will just naturally be good. The physician
hopes to abolish the devil by sanitation. We have our Utopias. Despite
levity, the present writer thinks that such hopes are among the most
useful things the earth possesses.
A normal man in the full tide of his activities finds that a
world-machinery could logically be built up by his profession. At least
in the heyday of his working hours his vocation satisfies his heart. So
he wants the entire human race to taste that satisfaction. Approximate
Utopias have been built from the beginning. Many civilizations have had
some dominant craft to carry them the major part of the way. The priests
have made India. The classical student has preserved Old China to its
present hour of new life. The samurai knights have made Japan. Sailors
have evolved the British Empire. One of the enticing future Americas is
that of the architect. Let the architect appropriate the photoplay as his
means of propaganda and begin. From its intrinsic genius it can give his
profession a start beyond all others in dominating this land. Or such is
one of many speculations of the present writer.
The photoplay can speak the language of the man who has a mind World's
Fair size. That we are going to have successive generations of such
builders may be reasonably implied from past expositions. Beginning with
Philadelphia in 1876, and going on to San Francisco and San Diego in
1915, nothing seems to stop us from the habit. Let us enlarge this
proclivity into a national mission in as definite a movement, as
thoroughly thought out as the evolution of the public school system, the
formation of the Steel Trust, and the like. After duly weighing all the
world's fairs, let our architects set about making the whole of the
United States into a permanent one. Supposing the date to begin the
erection be 1930. Till that time there should be tireless if indirect
propaganda that will further the architectural state of mind, and later
bring about the elucidation of the plans while they are being perfected.
For many years this America, founded on the psychology of the Splendor
Photoplay, will be evolving. It might be conceived as a going concern at
a certain date within the lives of men now living, but it should never
cease to develop.
To make films of a more beautiful United States is as practical and worth
while a custom as to make military spy maps of every inch of a neighbor's
territory, putting in each fence and cross-roads. Those who would satisfy
the national pride with something besides battle flags must give our
people an objective as shining and splendid as war when it is most
glittering, something Napoleonic, and with no outward pretence of
excessive virtue. We want a substitute as dramatic internationally, yet
world-winning, friend making. If America is to become the financial
centre through no fault of her own, that fact must have a symbol other
than guns on the sea-coast.
If it is inexpedient for the architectural patriarchs and their young
hopefuls to take over the films bodily, let a board of strategy be formed
who make it their business to eat dinner with the scenario writers,
producers, and owners, conspiring with them in some practical way.
Why should we not consider ourselves a deathless Panama-Pacific
Exposition on a coast-to-coast scale? Let Chicago be the transportation
building, Denver the mining building. Let Kansas City be the agricultural
building and Jacksonville, Florida, the horticultural building, and so
around the states.
Even as in mediaeval times men rode for hundreds of miles through perils
to the permanent fairs of the free cities, the world-travellers will
attend this exhibit, and many of them will in the end become citizens.
Our immigration will be something more than tide upon tide of raw labor.
The Architects would send forth publicity films which are not only
delineations of a future Cincinnati, Cleveland, or St. Louis, but whole
counties and states and groups of states could be planned at one time,
with the development of their natural fauna, flora, and forestry.
Wherever nature has been rendered desolate by industry or mere haste,
there let the architect and park-architect proclaim the plan. Wherever
she is still splendid and untamed, let her not be violated.
America is in the state of mind where she must visualize herself again.
If it is not possible to bring in the New Jerusalem to-day, by public
act, with every citizen eating bread and honey under his vine and
fig-tree, owning forty acres and a mule, singing hymns and saying prayers
all his leisure hours, it is still reasonable to think out tremendous
things the American people can do, in the light of what they have done,
without sacrificing any of their native cussedness or kick. It was
sprawling Chicago that in 1893 achieved the White City. The automobile
routes bind the states together closer than muddy counties were held in
1893. A "Permanent World's Fair" may be a phrase distressing to the
literal mind. Perhaps it would be better to say "An Architect's America."
Let each city take expert counsel from the architectural demigods how to
tear out the dirty core of its principal business square and erect a
combination of civic centre and permanent and glorious bazaar. Let the
public debate the types of state flower, tree, and shrub that are
expedient, the varieties of villages and middle-sized towns, farm-homes,
and connecting parkways.
Sometimes it seems to me the American expositions are as characteristic
things as our land has achieved. They went through without hesitation.
The difficulties of one did not deter the erection of the next. The
United States may be in many things slack. Often the democracy looks
hopelessly shoddy. But it cannot be denied that our people have always
risen to the dignity of these great architectural projects.
Once the population understand they are dealing with the same type of
idea on a grander scale, they will follow to the end. We are not
proposing an economic revolution, or that human nature be suddenly
altered. If California can remain in the World's Fair state of mind for
four or five years, and finally achieve such a splendid result, all the
states can undertake a similar project conjointly, and because of the
momentum of a nation moving together, remain in that mind for the length
of the life of a man.
Here we have this great instrument, the motion picture, the fourth
largest industry in the United States, attended daily by ten million
people, and in ten days by a hundred million, capable of interpreting the
largest conceivable ideas that come within the range of the plastic arts,
and those ideas have not been supplied. It is still the plaything of
newly rich vaudeville managers. The nation goes daily, through intrinsic
interest in the device, and is dosed with such continued stories as the
Adventures of Kathlyn, What Happened to Mary, and the Million Dollar
Mystery, stretched on through reel after reel, week after week. Kathlyn
had no especial adventures. Nothing in particular happened to Mary. The
million dollar mystery was: why did the millionaires who owned such a
magnificent instrument descend to such silliness and impose it on the
people? Why cannot our weekly story be henceforth some great plan that is
being worked out, whose history will delight us? For instance, every
stage of the building of the Panama Canal was followed with the greatest
interest in the films. But there was not enough of it to keep the films
The great material projects are often easier to realize than the little
moral reforms. Beautiful architectural undertakings, while appearing to
be material, and succeeding by the laws of American enterprise, bring
with them the healing hand of beauty. Beauty is not directly pious, but
does more civilizing in its proper hour than many sermons or laws.
The world seems to be in the hands of adventurers. Why not this for the
adventure of the American architects? If something akin to this plan does
not come to pass through photoplay propaganda, it means there is no
American builder with the blood of Julius Caesar in his veins. If there is
the old brute lust for empire left in any builder, let him awake. The
world is before him.
As for the other Utopians, the economist, the physician, the puritan, as
soon as the architects have won over the photoplay people, let these
others take sage counsel and ensnare the architects. Is there a reform
worth while that cannot be embodied and enforced by a builder's
invention? A mere city plan, carried out, or the name or intent of a
quasi-public building and the list of offices within it may bring about
more salutary economic change than all the debating and voting
imaginable. So without too much theorizing, why not erect our new America
and move into it?
ON COMING FORTH BY DAY
If he will be so indulgent with his author, let the reader approach the
photoplay theatre as though for the first time, having again a new point
of view. Here the poorest can pay and enter from the glaring afternoon
into the twilight of an Ali Baba's cave. The dime is the single
open-sesame required. The half-light wherein the audience is seated, by
which they can read in an emergency, is as bright and dark as that of
some candle-lit churches. It reveals much in the faces and figures of the
audience that cannot be seen by common day. Hard edges are the main
things that we lose. The gain is in all the delicacies of modelling,
tone-relations, form, and color. A hundred evanescent impressions come
and go. There is often a tenderness of appeal about the most rugged face
in the assembly. Humanity takes on its sacred aspect. It is a crude mind
that would insist that these appearances are not real, that the eye does
not see them when all eyes behold them. To say dogmatically that any new
thing seen by half-light is an illusion, is like arguing that a discovery
by the telescope or microscope is unreal. If the appearances are
beautiful besides, they are not only facts, but assets in our lives.
Book-reading is not done in the direct noon-sunlight. We retire to the
shaded porch. It takes two more steps toward quietness of light to read
the human face and figure. Many great paintings and poems are records of
things discovered in this quietness of light.
It is indeed ironical in our Ali Baba's cave to see sheer everydayness
and hardness upon the screen, the audience dragged back to the street
they have escaped. One of the inventions to bring the twilight of the
gathering into brotherhood with the shadows on the screen is a simple
thing known to the trade as the fadeaway, that had its rise in a
commonplace fashion as a method of keeping the story from ending with the
white glare of the empty screen. As a result of the device the figures in
the first episode emerge from the dimness and in the last one go back
into the shadow whence they came, as foam returns to the darkness of an
evening sea. In the imaginative pictures the principle begins to be
applied more largely, till throughout the fairy story the figures float
in and out from the unknown, as fancies should. This method in its
simplicity counts more to keep the place an Ali Baba's cave than many a
more complicated procedure. In luxurious scenes it brings the soft edges
of Correggio, and in solemn ones a light and shadow akin to the effects
Now we have a darkness on which we can paint, an unspoiled twilight. We
need not call it the Arabian's cave. There is a tomb we might have
definitely in mind, an Egyptian burying-place where with a torch we might
enter, read the inscriptions, and see the illustrations from the Book of
the Dead on the wall, or finding that ancient papyrus in the mummy-case,
unroll it and show it to the eager assembly, and have the feeling of
return. Man is an Egyptian first, before he is any other type of
civilized being. The Nile flows through his heart. So let this cave be
Egypt, let us incline ourselves to revere the unconscious memories that
echo within us when we see the hieroglyphics of Osiris, and Isis. Egypt
was our long brooding youth. We built the mysteriousness of the Universe
into the Pyramids, carved it into every line of the Sphinx. We thought
always of the immemorial.
The reel now before us is the mighty judgment roll dealing with the
question of our departure in such a way that any man who beholds it will
bear the impress of the admonition upon his heart forever. Those Egyptian
priests did no little thing, when amid their superstitions they still
proclaimed the Judgment. Let no one consider himself ready for death,
till like the men by the Nile he can call up every scene, face with
courage every exigency of the ordeal.
There is one copy of the Book of the Dead of especial interest, made for
the Scribe Ani, with exquisite marginal drawings. Copies may be found in
our large libraries. The particular fac-simile I had the honor to see was
in the Lenox Library, New York, several years ago. Ani, according to the
formula of the priesthood, goes through the adventures required of a
shade before he reaches the court of Osiris. All the Egyptian pictures on
tomb-wall and temple are but enlarged picture-writing made into tableaus.
Through such tableaus Ani moves. The Ani manuscript has so fascinated
some of the Egyptologists that it is copied in figures fifteen feet high
on the walls of two of the rooms of the British Museum. And you can read
the story eloquently told in Maspero.
Ani knocks at many doors in the underworld. Monstrous gatekeepers are
squatting on their haunches with huge knives to slice him if he cannot
remember their names or give the right password, or by spells the priests
have taught him, convince the sentinels that he is Osiris himself. To
further the illusion the name of Osiris is inscribed on his breast. While
he is passing these perils his little wife is looking on by a sort of
clairvoyant sympathy, though she is still alive. She is depicted mourning
him and embracing his mummy on earth at the same time she accompanies him
through the shadows.
Ani ploughs and sows and reaps in the fields of the underworld. He is
carried past a dreadful place on the back of the cow Hathor. After as
many adventures as Browning's Childe Roland he steps into the
judgment-hall of the gods. They sit in majestic rows. He makes the proper
sacrifices, and advances to the scales of justice. There he sees his own
heart weighed against the ostrich-feather of Truth, by the jackal-god
Anubis, who has already presided at his embalming. His own soul, in the
form of a human-headed hawk, watches the ceremony. His ghost, which is
another entity, looks through the door with his little wife. Both of them
watch with tense anxiety. The fate of every phase of his personality
depends upon the purity of his heart.
Lying in wait behind Anubis is a monster, part crocodile, part lion, part
hippopotamus. This terror will eat the heart of Ani if it is found
corrupt. At last he is declared justified. Thoth, the ibis-headed God of
Writing, records the verdict on his tablet. The justified Ani moves on
past the baffled devourer, with the mystic presence of his little wife
rejoicing at his side. They go to the awful court of Osiris. She makes
sacrifice with him there. The God of the Dead is indeed a strange deity,
a seated semi-animated mummy, with all the appurtenances of royalty, and
with the four sons of Horus on a lotus before him, and his two wives,
Isis and Nephthys, standing behind his throne with their hands on his
The justified soul now boards the boat in which the sun rides as it
journeys through the night. He rises a glorious boatman in the morning,
working an oar to speed the craft through the high ocean of the noon sky.
Henceforth he makes the eternal round with the sun. Therefore in Ancient
Egypt the roll was called, not the Book of the Dead, but _The Chapters on
Coming Forth by Day_.
This book on motion pictures does not profess to be an expert treatise on
Egyptology as well. The learned folk are welcome to amend the modernisms
that have crept into it. But the fact remains that something like this
story in one form or another held Egypt spell-bound for many hundred
years. It was the force behind every mummification. It was the reason for
the whole Egyptian system of life, death, and entombment, for the man not
embalmed could not make the journey. So the explorer finds the Egyptian
with a roll of this papyrus as a guide-book on his mummy breast. The soul
needed to return for refreshment periodically to the stone chamber, and
the mummy mutilated or destroyed could not entertain the guest. Egypt
cried out through thousands of years for the ultimate resurrection of the
whole man, his _coming forth by day_.
We need not fear that a story that so dominated a race will be lost on
modern souls when vividly set forth. Is it too much to expect that some
American prophet-wizard of the future will give us this film in the
spirit of an Egyptian priest?
The Greeks, the wisest people in our limited system of classics, bowed
down before the Egyptian hierarchy. That cult must have had a fine
personal authority and glamour to master such men. The unseen mysteries
were always on the Egyptian heart as a burden and a consolation, and
though there may have been jugglers in the outer courts of these temples,
as there have been in the courts of all temples, no mere actor could make
an Egyptian priest of himself. Their very alphabet has a regal
enchantment in its lines, and the same aesthetic-mystical power remains in
their pylons and images under the blaze of the all-revealing noonday sun.
Here is a nation, America, going for dreams into caves as shadowy as the
tomb of Queen Thi. There they find too often, not that ancient priestess
and ruler, nor any of her kin, nor yet Ani the scribe, nor yet any of the
kings, but shabby rags of fancy, or circuses that were better in the
Because ten million people daily enter into the cave, something akin to
Egyptian wizardry, certain national rituals, will be born. By studying
the matter of being an Egyptian priest for a little while, the
author-producer may learn in the end how best to express and satisfy the
spirit-hungers that are peculiarly American. It is sometimes out of the
oldest dream that the youngest vision is born.
The whirlwind of cowboys and Indians with which the photoplay began, came
about because this instrument, in asserting its genius, was feeling its
way toward the most primitive forms of life it could find.
Now there is a tendency for even wilder things. We behold the half-draped
figures living in tropical islands or our hairy fore-fathers acting out
narratives of the stone age. The moving picture conventionality permits
an abbreviation of drapery. If the primitive setting is convincing, the
figure in the grass-robe or buffalo hide at once has its rights over the
There is in this nation of moving-picture-goers a hunger for tales of
fundamental life that are not yet told. The cave-man longs with an
incurable homesickness for his ancient day. One of the fine photoplays of
primeval life is the story called Man's Genesis, described in chapter
We face the exigency the world over of vast instruments like national
armies being played against each other as idly and aimlessly as the
checker-men on the cracker-barrels of corner groceries. And this
invention, the kinetoscope, which affects or will affect as many people
as the guns of Europe, is not yet understood in its powers, particularly
those of bringing back the primitive in a big rich way. The primitive is
always a new and higher beginning to the man who understands it. Not yet
has the producer learned that the feeling of the crowd is patriarchal,
splendid. He imagines the people want nothing but a silly lark.
All this apparatus and opportunity, and no immortal soul! Yet by faith
and a study of the signs we proclaim that this lantern of wizard-drama is
going to give us in time the visible things in the fulness of their
primeval force, and some that have been for a long time invisible. To
speak in a metaphor, we are going to have the primitive life of Genesis,
then all that evolution after: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy,
Joshua, Judges, and on to a new revelation of St. John. In this
adolescence of Democracy the history of man is to be retraced, the same
round on a higher spiral of life.
Our democratic dream has been a middle-class aspiration built on a bog of
toil-soddened minds. The piles beneath the castle of our near-democratic
arts were rotting for lack of folk-imagination. The Man with the Hoe had
no spark in his brain. But now a light is blazing. We can build the
American soul broad-based from the foundations. We can begin with dreams
the veriest stone-club warrior can understand, and as far as an appeal to
the eye can do it, lead him in fancy through every phase of life to the
This progress, according to the metaphor of this chapter, will be led by
prophet-wizards. These were the people that dominated the cave-men of
old. But what, more specifically, are prophet-wizards?
Let us consider two kinds of present-day people: scientific inventors, on
the one hand, and makers of art and poetry and the like, on the other.
The especial producers of art and poetry that we are concerned with in
this chapter we will call prophet-wizards: men like Albert Duerer,
Rembrandt, Blake, Elihu Vedder, Watts, Rossetti, Tennyson, Coleridge,
Poe, Maeterlinck, Yeats, Francis Thompson.
They have a certain unearthly fascination in some one or many of their
works. A few other men might be added to the list. Most great names are
better described under other categories, though as much beloved in their
own way. But these are especially adapted to being set in opposition to a
list of mechanical inventors that might be called realists by contrast:
the Wright brothers, and H. Pierpont Langley, Thomas A. Edison, Charles
Steinmetz, John Hays Hammond, Hudson Maxim, Graham Bell.
The prophet-wizards are of various schools. But they have a common
tendency and character in bringing forth a type of art peculiarly at war
with the realistic civilization science has evolved. It is one object of
this chapter to show that, when it comes to a clash between the two
forces, the wizards should rule, and the realists should serve them.
The two functions go back through history, sometimes at war, other days
in alliance. The poet and the scientist were brethren in the centuries of
alchemy. Tennyson, bearing in mind such a period, took the title of
Merlin in his veiled autobiography, Merlin and the Gleam.
Wizards and astronomers were one when the angels sang in Bethlehem,
"Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men." There came magicians, saying, "Where
is he that is born king of the Jews, for we have seen his star in the
east and have come to worship him?" The modern world in its gentler
moments seems to take a peculiar thrill of delight from these travellers,
perhaps realizing what has been lost from parting with such gentle seers
and secular diviners. Every Christmas half the magazines set them forth
in richest colors, riding across the desert, following the star to the
same manger where the shepherds are depicted.
Those wizard kings, whatever useless charms and talismans they wore,
stood for the unknown quantity in spiritual life. A magician is a man who
lays hold on the unseen for the mere joy of it, who steals, if necessary,
the holy bread and the sacred fire. He is often of the remnant of an
ostracized and disestablished priesthood. He is a free-lance in the
soul-world, owing final allegiance to no established sect. The fires of
prophecy are as apt to descend upon him as upon members of the
established faith. He loves the mysterious for the beauty of it, the
wildness and the glory of it, and not always to compel stiff-necked
people to do right.
It seems to me that the scientific and poetic functions of society should
make common cause again, if they are not, as in Merlin's time, combined
in one personality. They must recognize that they serve the same society,
but with the understanding that the prophetic function is the most
important, the wizard vocation the next, and the inventors' and realists'
genius important indeed, but the third consideration. The war between the
scientists and the prophet-wizards has come about because of the
half-defined ambition of the scientists to rule or ruin. They give us the
steam-engine, the skyscraper, the steam-heat, the flying machine, the
elevated railroad, the apartment house, the newspaper, the breakfast
food, the weapons of the army, the weapons of the navy, and think that
they have beautified our existence.
Moreover some one rises at this point to make a plea for the scientific
imagination. He says the inventor-scientists have brought us the mystery
of electricity, which is no hocus-pocus, but a special manifestation of
the Immanent God within us and about us. He says the student in the
laboratory brought us the X-ray, the wireless telegraph, the mystery of
radium, the mystery of all the formerly unharnessed power of God which
man is beginning to gather into the hollow of his hand.
The one who pleads for the scientific imagination points out that Edison
has been called the American Wizard. All honor to Edison and his kind.
And I admit specifically that Edison took the first great mechanical step
to give us the practical kinetoscope and make it possible that the
photographs, even of inanimate objects thrown upon the mirror-screen, may
become celestial actors. But the final phase of the transfiguration is
not the work of this inventor or any other. As long as the photoplays are
in the hands of men like Edison they are mere voodooism. We have nothing
but Moving Day, as heretofore described. It is only in the hands of the
prophetic photo-playwright and allied artists that the kinetoscope reels
become as mysterious and dazzling to the thinking spirit as the wheels of
Ezekiel in the first chapter of his prophecy. One can climb into the
operator's box and watch the sword-like stream of light till he is as
dazzled in flesh and spirit as the moth that burns its wings in the
lamp. But this is while a glittering vision and not a mere invention is
being thrown upon the screen.
The scientific man can explain away the vision as a matter of the
technique of double exposure, double printing, trick-turning, or stopping
down. And having reduced it to terms and shown the process, he expects us
to become secular and casual again. But of course the sun itself is a
mere trick of heat and light, a dynamo, an incandescent globe, to the man
in the laboratory. To us it must be a fire upon the altar.
Transubstantiation must begin. Our young magicians must derive strange
new pulse-beats from the veins of the earth, from the sap of the trees,
from the lightning of the sky, as well as the alchemical acids, metals,
and flames. Then they will kindle the beginning mysteries for our cause.
They will build up a priesthood that is free, yet authorized to freedom.
It will be established and disestablished according to the intrinsic
authority of the light revealed.
Now for a closer view of this vocation.
The picture of Religious Splendor has its obvious form in the
delineation of Biblical scenes, which, in the hands of the best
commercial producers, can be made as worth while as the work of men like
Tissot. Such films are by no means to be thought of lightly. This sort of
work will remain in the minds of many of the severely orthodox as the
only kind of a religious picture worthy of classification. But there are
many further fields.
Just as the wireless receiving station or the telephone switchboard
become heroes in the photoplay, so Aaron's rod that confounded the
Egyptians, the brazen serpent that Moses up-lifted in the wilderness, the
ram's horn that caused the fall of Jericho, the mantle of Elijah
descending upon the shoulders of Elisha from the chariot of fire, can
take on a physical electrical power and a hundred times spiritual meaning
that they could not have in the dead stage properties of the old miracle
play or the realism of the Tissot school. The waterfall and the tossing
sea are dramatis personae in the ordinary film romance. So the Red Sea
overwhelming Pharaoh, the fires of Nebuchadnezzar's furnace sparing and
sheltering the three holy children, can become celestial actors. And
winged couriers can appear, in the pictures, with missions of import,
just as an angel descended to Joshua, saying, "As captain of the host of
the Lord am I now come."
The pure mechanic does not accept the doctrine. "Your alleged
supernatural appearance," he says, "is based on such a simple fact as
this: two pictures can be taken on one film."
But the analogy holds. Many primitive peoples are endowed with memories
that are double photographs. The world faiths, based upon centuries of
these appearances, are none the less to be revered because machine-ridden
men have temporarily lost the power of seeing their thoughts as pictures
in the air, and for the time abandoned the task of adding to tradition.
Man will not only see visions again, but machines themselves, in the
hands of prophets, will see visions. In the hands of commercial men they
are seeing alleged visions, and the term "_vision_" is a part of
moving-picture studio slang, unutterably cheapening religion and
tradition. When Confucius came, he said one of his tasks was the
rectification of names. The leaders of this age should see that this word
"_vision_" comes to mean something more than a piece of studio slang. If
it is the conviction of serious minds that the mass of men shall never
again see pictures out of Heaven except through such mediums as the
kinetoscope lens, let all the higher forces of our land courageously lay
hold upon this thing that saves us from perpetual spiritual blindness.
When the thought of primitive man, embodied in misty forms on the
landscape, reached epic proportions in the Greek, he saw the Olympians
more plainly than he beheld the Acropolis. Myron, Polykleitos, Phidias,
Scopas, Lysippus, Praxiteles, discerned the gods and demigods so clearly
they afterward cut them from the hard marble without wavering. Our
guardian angels of to-day must be as clearly seen and nobly hewn.
A double mental vision is as fundamental in human nature as the double
necessity for air and light. It is as obvious as that a thing can be both
written and spoken. We have maintained that the kinetoscope in the hands
of artists is a higher form of picture writing. In the hands of
prophet-wizards it will be a higher form of vision-seeing.
I have said that the commercial men are seeing alleged visions. Take, for
instance, the large Italian film that attempts to popularize Dante.
Though it has a scattering of noble passages, and in some brief episodes
it is an enhancement of Gustave Dore, taking it as a whole, it is a false
thing. It is full of apparitions worked out with mechanical skill, yet
Dante's soul is not back of the fires and swords of light. It gives to
the uninitiated an outline of the stage paraphernalia of the Inferno. It
has an encyclopaedic value. If Dante himself had been the high director in
the plenitude of his resources, it might still have had that hollowness.
A list of words making a poem and a set of apparently equivalent pictures
forming a photoplay may have an entirely different outcome. It may be
like trying to see a perfume or listen to a taste. Religion that comes in
wholly through the eye has a new world in the films, whose relation to
the old is only discovered by experiment and intuition, patience and
But let us imagine the grandson of an Italian immigrant to America, a
young seer, trained in the photoplay technique by the high American
masters, knowing all the moving picture resources as Dante knew Italian
song and mediaeval learning. Assume that he has a genius akin to that of
the Florentine. Let him be a Modernist Catholic if you will. Let him
begin his message in the timber lands of Minnesota or the forests of
Alaska. "In midway of this our mortal life I found me in a gloomy wood
astray." Then let him paint new pictures of just punishment beyond the
grave, and merciful rehabilitation and great reward. Let his Hell,
Purgatory, and Paradise be built of those things which are deepest and
highest in the modern mind, yet capable of emerging in picture-writing
Men are needed, therefore they will come. And lest they come weeping,
accursed, and alone, let us ask, how shall we recognize them? There is no
standard by which to discern the true from the false prophet, except the
mood that is engendered by contemplating the messengers of the past.
Every man has his own roll call of noble magicians selected from the
larger group. But here are the names with which this chapter began, with
some words on their work.
Albert Duerer is classed as a Renaissance painter. Yet his art has its
dwelling-place in the early Romanesque savageness and strangeness. And
the reader remembers Duerer's brooding muse called Melancholia that so
obsessed Kipling in The Light that Failed. But the wonder-quality went
into nearly all the Duerer wood-cuts and etchings. Rembrandt is a
prophet-wizard, not only in his shadowy portraits, but in his etchings of
holy scenes even his simplest cobweb lines become incantations. Other
artists in the high tides of history have had kindred qualities, but
coming close to our day, Elihu Vedder, the American, the illustrator of
the Rubaiyat, found it a poem questioning all things, and his very
illustrations answer in a certain fashion with winds of infinity, and
bring the songs of Omar near to the Book of Job. Vedder's portraits of
Lazarus and Samson are conceptions that touch the hem of the unknown.
George Frederick Watts was a painter of portraits of the soul itself, as
in his delineations of Burne-Jones and Morris and Tennyson.
It is a curious thing that two prophet-wizards have combined pictures and
song. Blake and Rossetti, whatever the failure of their technique, never
lacked in enchantment. Students of the motion picture side of poetry
would naturally turn to such men for spiritual precedents. Blake, that
strange Londoner, in his book of Job, is the paramount example of the
enchanter doing his work with the engraving tool in his hand.
Rossetti's Dante's Dream is a painting on the edge of every poet's
paradise. As for the poetry of these two men, there are Blake's Songs of
Innocence, and Rossetti's Blessed Damozel and his Burden of Nineveh.
As for the other poets, we have Coleridge, the author of Christabel, that
piece of winter witchcraft, Kubla Khan, that oriental dazzlement, and the
Ancient Mariner, that most English of all this list of enchantments. Of
Tennyson's work, besides Merlin and the Gleam, there are the poems when
the mantle was surely on his shoulders: The Lady of Shalott, The Lotus
Eaters, Sir Galahad, and St. Agnes' Eve.
Edgar Poe, always a magician, blends this power with the prophetical note
in the poem, The Haunted Palace, and in the stories of William Wilson,
The Black Cat and The Tell-tale Heart. This prophet-wizard side of a man
otherwise a wizard only, has been well illustrated in The Avenging
From Maeterlinck we have The Bluebird and many another dream. I devoutly
hope I will never see in the films an attempt to paraphrase this master.
But some disciple of his should conquer the photoplay medium, giving us
great original works.
Yeats has bestowed upon us The Land of Heart's Desire, The Secret Rose,
and many another piece of imaginative glory. Let us hope that we may be
spared any attempts to hastily paraphrase his wonders for the motion
pictures. But the man that reads Yeats will be better prepared to do his
own work in the films, or to greet the young new masters when they come.
Finally, Francis Thompson, in The Hound of Heaven, has written a song
that the young wizard may lean upon forevermore for private guidance. It
is composed of equal parts of wonder and conscience. With this poem in
his heart, the roar of the elevated railroad will be no more in his ears,
and he will dream of palaces of righteousness, and lead other men to
dream of them till the houses of mammon fade away.
THE ACCEPTABLE YEAR OF THE LORD
Without airing my private theology I earnestly request the most sceptical
reader of this book to assume that miracles in a Biblical sense have
occurred. Let him take it for granted in the fashion of the strictly
aesthetic commentator who writes in sympathy with a Fra Angelico painting,
or as that great modernist, Paul Sabatier, does as he approaches the
problems of faith in the life of St. Francis. Let him also assume, for
the length of time that he is reading this chapter if no longer, that
miracles, in a Biblical sense, as vivid and as real to the body of the
Church, will again occur two thousand years in the future: events as
wonderful as those others, twenty centuries back. Let us anticipate that
many of these will be upon American soil. Particularly as sons and
daughters of a new country it is a spiritual necessity for us to look
forward to traditions, because we have so few from the past identified
with the six feet of black earth beneath us.
The functions of the prophet whereby he definitely painted future
sublimities have been too soon abolished in the minds of the wise. Mere
forecasting is left to the weather bureau so far as a great section of
the purely literary and cultured are concerned. The term prophet has
survived in literature to be applied to men like Carlyle: fiery spiritual
leaders who speak with little pretence of revealing to-morrow.
But in the street, definite forecasting of future events is still the
vulgar use of the term. Dozens of sober historians predicted the present
war with a clean-cut story that was carried out with much faithfulness of
detail, considering the thousand interests involved. They have been
called prophets in a congratulatory secular tone by the man in the
street. These felicitations come because well-authorized merchants in
futures have been put out of countenance from the days of Jonah and
Balaam till now. It is indeed a risky vocation. Yet there is an
undeniable line of successful forecasting by the hardy, to be found in
the Scripture and in history. In direct proportion as these men of fiery
speech were free from sheer silliness, their outlook has been considered
and debated by the gravest people round them. The heart of man craves the
seer. Take, for instance, the promise of the restoration of Jerusalem in
glory that fills the latter part of the Old Testament. It moves the
Jewish Zionist, the true race-Jew, to this hour. He is even now
endeavoring to fulfil the prophecy.
Consider the words of John the Baptist, "One mightier than I cometh, the
latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you
with the Holy Ghost and with fire." A magnificent foreshadowing, being
both a spiritual insight and the statement of a great definite event.
The heeded seers of the civilization of this our day have been secular in
their outlook. Perhaps the most striking was Karl Marx, in the middle of
the capitalistic system tracing its development from feudalism and
pointing out as inevitable, long before they came, such modern
institutions as the Steel Trust and the Standard Oil Company. It remains
to be seen whether the Marxian prophecy of the international alliance of
workingmen that is obscured by the present conflict in Europe, and other
of his forecastings, will be ultimately verified.
There have been secular teachers like Darwin, who, by a scientific
reconstruction of the past, have implied an evolutionary future based on
the biological outlook. Deductions from the teachings of Darwin are said
to control those who mould the international doings of Germany and Japan.
There have been inventor-seers like Jules Verne. In Twenty Thousand
Leagues under the Sea he dimly discerned the submarine. There is a type
of social prophet allied to Verne. Edward Bellamy, in Looking Backward,
reduced the world to a matter of pressing the button, turning on the
phonograph. It was a combination of glorified department-store and Coney
Island, on a cooperative basis. A seventeen-year-old boy from the
country, making his first visit to the Woolworth building in New York,
and riding in the subway when it is not too crowded, might be persuaded
by an eloquent city relative that this is Bellamy's New Jerusalem.
A soul with a greater insight is H.G. Wells. But he too, in spite of his
humanitarian heart, has, in a great mass of his work, the laboratory
imagination. Serious Americans pronounce themselves beneficiaries of
Wells' works, and I confess myself edified and thoroughly grateful.
Nevertheless, one smells chemicals in the next room when he reads most of
Wells' prophecies. The X-ray has moved that Englishman's mind more
dangerously than moonlight touches the brain of the chanting witch. One
striking and typical story is The Food of the Gods. It is not only a fine
speculation, but a great parable. The reader may prefer other tales. Many
times Wells has gone into his laboratory to invent our future, in the
same state of mind in which an automobile manufacturer works out an
improvement in his car. His disposition has greatly mellowed of late, in
this respect, but underneath he is the same Wells.
Citizens of America, wise or foolish, when they look into the coming
days, have the submarine mood of Verne, the press-the-button complacency
of Bellamy, the wireless telegraph enthusiasm of Wells. If they express
hopes that can be put into pictures with definite edges, they order
machinery piled to the skies. They see the redeemed United States running
deftly in its jewelled sockets, ticking like a watch.
This, their own chosen outlook, wearies the imaginations of our people,
they do not know why. It gives no full-orbed apocalyptic joy. Only to the
young mechanical engineer does such a hope express real Utopia. He can
always keep ahead of the devices that herald its approach. No matter what
day we attain and how busy we are adjusting ourselves, he can be moving
on, inventing more to-morrows; ruling the age, not being ruled by it.
Because this Utopia is in the air, a goodly portion of the precocious
boys turn to mechanical engineering. Youths with this bent are the most
healthful and inspiring young citizens we have. They and their like will
fulfil a multitude of the hopes of men like Verne, Bellamy, and Wells.
But if every mechanical inventor on earth voiced his dearest wish and
lived to see it worked out, the real drama of prophecy and fulfilment, as
written in the imagination of the human race, would remain uncompleted.
As Mrs. Browning says in Lady Geraldine's Courtship:--
If we trod the deeps of ocean, if we struck the stars in rising,
If we wrapped the globe intensely with one hot electric breath,
'Twere but power within our tether, no new spirit-power comprising,
And in life we were not greater men, nor bolder men in death.
St. John beheld the New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven prepared as a
bride adorned for her husband, not equipped as a touring car varnished
for its owner.
Back to Full Books