THE ART OF THE MOVING PICTURE
Intended, First of All, for the New Art Museums Springing Up All over the Country. But the Book Is for Our Universities and Institutions of Learning. It Contains an Appeal to Our Whole Critical and Literary World, and to Our Creators of Sculpture, Architecture, Painting, and the American Cities They Are Building. Being the 1922 Revision of the Book First Issued in 1915, and Beginning With an Ample Discourse on the Great New Prospects of 1922
"Hail, all ye gods in the house of the soul, who weigh Heaven and Earth in a balance, and who give celestial food."
From the book of the scribe Ani, translated from the original Egyptian hieroglyphics by Professor E.A. Wallis Budge
TO GEORGE MATHER RICHARDS IN MEMORY OF THE ART STUDENT DAYS WE SPENT TOGETHER WHEN THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM WAS OUR PICTURE-DRAMA
A WORD FROM THE DIRECTOR OF THE DENVER ART ASSOCIATION
THE GENERAL PHOTOPLAY SITUATION IN AMERICA, JANUARY 1, 1922, ESPECIALLY AS VIEWED FROM THE HEIGHTS OF THE CIVIC CENTRE AT DENVER, COLORADO, AND THE DENVER ART MUSEUM, WHICH IS TO BE A LEADING FEATURE OF THIS CIVIC CENTRE
THE OUTLINE WHICH HAS BEEN ACCEPTED AS THE BASIS OF PHOTOPLAY CRITICISM IN AMERICA, BOTH IN THE STUDIOS OF THE LOS ANGELES REGION, AND ALL THE SERIOUS CRITICISM WHICH HAS APPEARED IN THE DAILY PRESS AND THE MAGAZINES
I. THE POINT OF VIEW
II. THE PHOTOPLAY OF ACTION
III. THE INTIMATE PHOTOPLAY
IV. THE MOTION PICTURE OF FAIRY SPLENDOR
V. THE PICTURE OF CROWD SPLENDOR
VI. THE PICTURE OF PATRIOTIC SPLENDOR
VII. THE PICTURE OF RELIGIOUS SPLENDOR
X. FURNITURE, TRAPPINGS, AND INVENTIONS IN MOTION
XII. THIRTY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE PHOTOPLAYS AND THE STAGE
MORE PERSONAL SPECULATIONS AND AFTERTHOUGHTS NOT BROUGHT FORWARD SO DOGMATICALLY
XIV. THE ORCHESTRA, CONVERSATION, AND THE CENSORSHIP
XV. THE SUBSTITUTE FOR THE SALOON
XVI. CALIFORNIA AND AMERICA
XVII. PROGRESS AND ENDOWMENT
XVIII. ARCHITECTS AS CRUSADERS
XIX. ON COMING FORTH BY DAY
XX. THE PROPHET-WIZARD
XXI. THE ACCEPTABLE YEAR OF THE LORD
A WORD FROM THE DIRECTOR OF THE DENVER ART ASSOCIATION
The Art of the Moving Picture, as it appeared six years ago, possessed among many elements of beauty at least one peculiarity. It viewed art as a reality, and one of our most familiar and popular realities as an art. This should have made the book either a revelation or utter Greek to most of us, and those who read it probably dropped it easily into one or the other of the two categories.
For myself, long a propagandist for its doctrines in another but related field, the book came as a great solace. In it I found, not an appeal to have the art museum used—which would have been an old though welcome story—not this, but much to my surprise, the art museum actually at work, one of the very wheels on which our culture rolled forward upon its hopeful way. I saw among other museums the one whose destinies I was tenderly guiding, playing in Lindsay's book the part that is played by the classic myths in Milton, or by the dictionary in the writings of the rest of us. For once the museum and its contents appeared, not as a lovely curiosity, but as one of the basic, and in a sense humble necessities of life. To paraphrase the author's own text, the art museum, like the furniture in a good movie, was actually "in motion"—a character in the play. On this point of view as on a pivot turns the whole book.
In The Art of the Moving Picture the nature and domain of a new Muse is defined. She is the first legitimate addition to the family since classic times. And as it required trained painters of pictures like Fulton and Morse to visualize the possibility of the steamboat and the telegraph, so the bold seer who perceived the true nature of this new star in our nightly heavens, it should here be recorded, acquired much of the vision of his seeing eye through an early training in art. Vachel Lindsay (as he himself proudly asserts) was a student at the Institute in Chicago for four years, spent one more at the League and at Chase's in New York, and for four more haunted the Metropolitan Museum, lecturing to his fellows on every art there shown from the Egyptian to that of Arthur B. Davies.
Only such a background as this could have evolved the conception of "Architecture, sculpture, and painting in motion" and given authenticity to its presentation. The validity of Lindsay's analysis is attested by Freeburg's helpful characterization, "Composition in fluid forms," which it seems to have suggested. To Lindsay's category one would be tempted to add, "pattern in motion," applying it to such a film as the "Caligari" which he and I have seen together and discussed during these past few days. Pattern in this connection would imply an emphasis on the intrinsic suggestion of the spot and shape apart from their immediate relation to the appearance of natural objects. But this is a digression. It simply serves to show the breadth and adaptability of Lindsay's method.
The book was written for a visual-minded public and for those who would be its leaders. A long, long line of picture-readers trailing from the dawn of history, stimulated all the masterpieces of pictorial art from Altamira to Michelangelo. For less than five centuries now Gutenberg has had them scurrying to learn their A, B, C's, but they are drifting back to their old ways again, and nightly are forming themselves in cues at the doorways of the "Isis," the "Tivoli," and the "Riviera," the while it is sadly noted that "'the pictures' are driving literature off the parlor table."
With the creative implications of this new pictorial art, with the whole visual-minded race clamoring for more, what may we not dream in the way of a new renaissance? How are we to step in to the possession of such a destiny? Are the institutions with a purely literary theory of life going to meet the need? Are the art schools and the art museums making themselves ready to assimilate a new art form? Or what is the type of institution that will ultimately take the position of leadership in culture through this new universal instrument?
What possibilities lie in this art, once it is understood and developed, to plant new conceptions of civic and national idealism? How far may it go in cultivating concerted emotion in the now ungoverned crowd? Such questions as these can be answered only by minds with the imagination to see art as a reality; with faith to visualize for the little mid-western "home town" a new and living Pallas Athena; with courage to raze the very houses of the city to make new and greater forums and "civic centres."
For ourselves in Denver, we shall try to do justice to the new Muse. In the museum which we build we shall provide a shrine for her. We shall first endeavor by those simple means which lie to our hands, to know the areas of charm and imagination which remain as yet an untilled field of her domain. Plowing is a simple art, but it requires much sweat. This at least we know—to the expenditure we cheerfully consent. So much for the beginning. It would be boastful to describe plans to keep pace with the enlarging of the motion picture field before a real beginning is made. But with youth in its favor, the Denver Art Museum hopes yet to see this art set in its rightful place with painting, sculpture, architecture, and the handicrafts—hopes yet to be an instrument in the great work of making this art real as those others are being even now made real, to the expanding vision of an eager people.
GEORGE WILLIAM EGGERS Director The Denver Art Association
DENVER, COLORADO, New Year's Day, 1922.
BOOK I—THE GENERAL PHOTOPLAY SITUATION IN AMERICA, JANUARY 1, 1922
Especially as Viewed from the Heights of the Civic Centre at Denver, Colorado, and the Denver Art Museum, Which Is to Be a Leading Feature of This Civic Centre
In the second chapter of book two, on page 8, the theoretical outline begins, with a discussion of the Photoplay of Action. I put there on record the first crude commercial films that in any way establish the principle. There can never be but one first of anything, and if the negatives of these films survive the shrinking and the warping that comes with time, they will still be, in a certain sense, classic, and ten years hence or two years hence will still be better remembered than any films of the current releases, which come on like newspapers, and as George Ade says:—"Nothing is so dead as yesterday's newspaper." But the first newspapers, and the first imprints of Addison's Spectator, and the first Almanacs of Benjamin Franklin, and the first broadside ballads and the like, are ever collected and remembered. And the lists of films given in books two and three of this work are the only critical and carefully sorted lists of the early motion pictures that I happen to know anything about. I hope to be corrected if I am too boastful, but I boast that my lists must be referred to by all those who desire to study these experiments in their beginnings. So I let them remain, as still vivid in the memory of all true lovers of the photoplay who have watched its growth, fascinated from the first. But I would add to the list of Action Films of chapter two the recent popular example, Douglas Fairbanks in The Three Musketeers. That is perhaps the most literal "Chase-Picture" that was ever really successful in the commercial world. The story is cut to one episode. The whole task of the four famous swordsmen of Dumas is to get the Queen's token that is in the hands of Buckingham in England, and return with it to Paris in time for the great ball. It is one long race with the Cardinal's guards who are at last left behind. It is the same plot as Reynard the Fox, John Masefield's poem—Reynard successfully eluding the huntsmen and the dogs. If that poem is ever put on in an Art Museum film, it will have to be staged like one of AEsop's Fables, with a man acting the Fox, for the children's delight. And I earnestly urge all who would understand the deeper significance of the "chase-picture" or the "Action Picture" to give more thought to Masefield's poem than to Fairbanks' marvellous acting in the school of the younger Salvini. The Mood of the intimate photoplay, chapter three, still remains indicated in the current films by the acting of Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford, when they are not roused up by their directors to turn handsprings to keep the people staring. Mary Pickford in particular has been stimulated to be over-athletic, and in all her career she has been given just one chance to be her more delicate self, and that was in the almost forgotten film:—A Romance of the Redwoods. This is one of the serious commercial attempts that should be revived and studied, in spite of its crudities of plot, by our Art Museums. There is something of the grandeur of the redwoods in it, in contrast to the sustained Botticelli grace of "Our Mary."
I am the one poet who has a right to claim for his muses Blanche Sweet, Mary Pickford, and Mae Marsh. I am the one poet who wrote them songs when they were Biograph heroines, before their names were put on the screen, or the name of their director. Woman's clubs are always asking me for bits of delicious gossip about myself to fill up literary essays. Now there's a bit. There are two things to be said for those poems. First, they were heartfelt. Second, any one could improve on them.
In the fourth chapter of book two I discourse elaborately and formally on The Motion Picture of Fairy Splendor. And to this carefully balanced technical discourse I would add the informal word, this New Year's Day, that this type is best illustrated by such fairy-tales as have been most ingratiatingly retold in the books of Padraic Colum, and dazzlingly illustrated by Willy Pogany. The Colum-Pogany School of Thought is one which the commercial producers have not yet condescended to illustrate in celluloid, and it remains a special province for the Art Museum Film. Fairy-tales need not be more than one-tenth of a reel long. Some of the best fairy-tales in the whole history of man can be told in a breath. And the best motion picture story for fifty years may turn out to be a reel ten minutes long. Do not let the length of the commercial film tyrannize over your mind, O young art museum photoplay director. Remember the brevity of Lincoln's Gettysburg address....
And so my commentary, New Year's Day, 1922, proceeds, using for points of more and more extensive departure the refrains and old catch-phrases of books two and three.
Chapter V—The Picture of Crowd Splendor, being the type illustrated by Griffith's Intolerance.
Chapter VI—The Picture of Patriotic Splendor, which was illustrated by all the War Films, the one most recently approved and accepted by the public being The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Chapter VII—The Picture of Religious Splendor, which has no examples, that remain in the memory with any sharpness in 1922, except The Faith Healer, founded on the play by William Vaughn Moody, the poet, with much of the directing and scenario by Mrs. William Vaughn Moody, and a more talked-of commercial film, The Miracle Man. But not until the religious film is taken out of the commercial field, and allowed to develop unhampered under the Church and the Art Museum, will the splendid religious and ritualistic opportunity be realized.
Chapter VIII—Sculpture-in-Motion, being a continuation of the argument of chapter two. The Photoplay of Action. Like the Action Film, this aspect of composition is much better understood by the commercial people than some other sides of the art. Some of the best of the William S. Hart productions show appreciation of this quality by the director, the photographer, and the public. Not only is the man but the horse allowed to be moving bronze, and not mere cowboy pasteboard. Many of the pictures of Charles Ray make the hero quite a bronze-looking sculpturesque person, despite his yokel raiment.
Chapter IX—Painting-in-Motion, being a continuation on a higher terrace of chapter three, The Intimate Photoplay. Charlie Chaplin has intimate and painter's qualities in his acting, and he makes himself into a painting or an etching in the midst of furious slapstick. But he has been in no films that were themselves paintings. The argument of this chapter has been carried much further in Freeburg's book, The Art of Photoplay Making.
Chapter X—Furniture, Trappings, and Inventions in Motion, being a continuation of the chapter on Fairy Splendor. In this field we find one of the worst failures of the commercial films, and their utterly unimaginative corporation promoters. Again I must refer them to such fairy books as those of Padraic Colum, where neither sword nor wing nor boat is found to move, except for a fairy reason.
I have just returned this very afternoon from a special showing of the famous imported film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Some of the earnest spirits of the Denver Art Association, finding it was in storage in the town, had it privately brought forth to study it with reference to its bearing on their new policies. What influence it will have in that most vital group, time will show.
Meanwhile it is a marvellous illustration of the meaning of this chapter and the chapter on Fairy Splendor, though it is a diabolical not a beneficent vitality that is given to inanimate things. The furniture, trappings, and inventions are in motion to express the haunted mind, as in Griffith's Avenging Conscience, described pages 121 through 132. The two should be shown together in the same afternoon, in the Art Museum study rooms. Caligari is undoubtedly the most important imported film since that work of D'Annunzio, Cabiria, described pages 55 through 57. But it is the opposite type of film. Cabiria is all out-doors and splendor on the Mediterranean scale. In general, imported films do not concern Americans, for we have now a vast range of technique. All we lack is the sense to use it.
The cabinet of Caligari is indeed a cabinet, and the feeling of being in a cell, and smothered by all the oppressions of a weary mind, does not desert the spectator for a minute.
The play is more important, technically, than in its subject-matter and mood. It proves in a hundred new ways the resources of the film in making all the inanimate things which, on the spoken stage, cannot act at all, the leading actors in the films. But they need not necessarily act to a diabolical end. An angel could have as well been brought from the cabinet as a murderous somnambulist, and every act of his could have been a work of beneficence and health and healing. I could not help but think that the ancient miracle play of the resurrection of Osiris could have been acted out with similar simple means, with a mummy case and great sarcophagus. The wings of Isis and Nephthys could have been spread over the sky instead of the oppressive walls of the crooked city. Lights instead of shadows could have been made actors and real hieroglyphic inscriptions instead of scrawls.
As it was, the alleged insane man was more sensible than most motion picture directors, for his scenery acted with him, and not according to accident or silly formula. I make these points as an antidote to the general description of this production by those who praise it.
They speak of the scenery as grotesque, strained, and experimental, and the plot as sinister. But this does not get to the root of the matter. There is rather the implication in most of the criticisms and praises that the scenery is abstract. Quite the contrary is the case. Indoors looks like indoors. Streets are always streets, roofs are always roofs. The actors do not move about in a kind of crazy geometry as I was led to believe. The scenery is oppressive, but sane, and the obsession is for the most part expressed in the acting and plot. The fair looks like a fair and the library looks like a library. There is nothing experimental about any of the setting, nothing unconsidered or strained or over-considered. It seems experimental because it is thrown into contrast with extreme commercial formulas in the regular line of the "movie trade." But compare The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with a book of Rackham or Du Lac or Duerer, or Rembrandt's etchings, and Dr. Caligari is more realistic. And Eggers insists the whole film is replete with suggestions of the work of Pieter Breughel, the painter. Hundreds of indoor stories will be along such lines, once the merely commercial motive is eliminated, and the artist is set free. This film is an extraordinary variation of the intimate, as expounded in chapter three. It is drawing-in-motion, instead of painting-in-motion. Because it was drawing instead of painting, literary-minded people stepped to the hasty conclusion it was experimental. Half-tone effects are, for the most part, eliminated. Line is dominant everywhere. It is the opposite of vast conceptions like Theodora—which are architecture-in-motion. All the architecture of the Caligari film seems pasteboard. The whole thing happens in a cabinet.
It is the most overwhelming contrast to Griffith's Intolerance that could be in any way imagined. It contains, one may say, all the effects left out of Intolerance. The word cabinet is a quadruple pun. Not only does it mean a mystery box and a box holding a somnambulist, but a kind of treasury of tiny twisted thoughts. There is not one line or conception in it on the grand scale, or even the grandiose. It is a devil's toy-house. One feels like a mouse in a mouse-trap so small one cannot turn around. In Intolerance, Griffith hurls nation at nation, race at race, century against century, and his camera is not only a telescope across the plains of Babylon, but across the ages. Griffith is, in Intolerance, the ungrammatical Byron of the films, but certainly as magnificent as Byron, and since he is the first of his kind I, for one, am willing to name him with Marlowe.
But for technical study for Art Schools, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is more profitable. It shows how masterpieces can be made, with the second-hand furniture of any attic. But I hope fairy-tales, not diabolical stories, will come from these attics. Fairy-tales are inherent in the genius of the motion picture and are a thousand times hinted at in the commercial films, though the commercial films are not willing to stop to tell them. Lillian Gish could be given wings and a wand if she only had directors and scenario writers who believed in fairies. And the same can most heartily be said of Mae Marsh.
Chapter XI—Architecture-in-Motion, being a continuation of the argument about the Splendor Pictures, in chapters five, six, and seven. This is an element constantly re-illustrated in a magnificent but fragmentary way by the News Films. Any picture of a seagull flying so close to the camera that it becomes as large as a flying machine, or any flying machine made by man and photographed in epic flight captures the eye because it is architecture and in motion, motion which is the mysterious fourth dimension of its grace and glory. So likewise, and in kind, any picture of a tossing ship. The most superb example of architecture-in-motion in the commercial history of the films is the march of the moving war-towers against the walls of Babylon in Griffith's Intolerance. But Griffith is the only person so far who has known how to put a fighting soul into a moving tower.
The only real war that has occurred in the films with the world's greatest war going on outside was Griffith's War Against Babylon. The rest was news.
Chapter XII—Thirty Differences between the Photoplays and the Stage. The argument of the whole of the 1915 edition has been accepted by the studios, the motion picture magazines, and the daily motion picture columns throughout the land. I have read hundreds of editorials and magazines, and scarcely one that differed from it in theory. Most of them read like paraphrases of this work. And of all arguments made, the one in this chapter is the one oftenest accepted in its entirety. The people who dominate the films are obviously those who grew up with them from the very beginning, and the merely stage actors who rushed in with the highest tide of prosperity now have to take second rank if they remain in the films. But most of these have gone back to the stage by this time, with their managers as well, and certainly this chapter is abundantly proved out.
Chapter XIII—Hieroglyphics. One of the implications of this chapter and the one preceding is that the fewer words printed on the screen the better, and that the ideal film has no words printed on it at all, but is one unbroken sheet of photography. This is admitted in theory in all the studios now, though the only film of the kind ever produced of general popular success was The Old Swimmin' Hole, acted by Charles Ray. If I remember, there was not one word on the screen, after the cast of characters was given. The whole story was clearly and beautifully told by Photoplay Hieroglyphics. For this feature alone, despite many defects of the film, it should be studied in every art school in America.
Meanwhile "Title writing" remains a commercial necessity. In this field there is but one person who has won distinction—Anita Loos. She is one of the four or five important and thoroughly artistic brains in the photoplay game. Among them is the distinguished John Emerson. In combination with John Emerson, director, producer, etc., she has done so many other things well, her talents as a title writer are incidental, but certainly to be mentioned in this place.
The outline we are discussing continues through
Book III—More Personal Speculations and Afterthoughts Not Brought Forward so Dogmatically.
Chapter XIV—The Orchestra, Conversation, and the Censorship. In this chapter, on page 189, I suggest suppressing the orchestra entirely and encouraging the audience to talk about the film. No photoplay people have risen to contradict this theory, but it is a chapter that once caused me great embarrassment. With Christopher Morley, the well-known author of Shandygaff and other temperance literature, I was trying to prove out this chapter. As soon as the orchestra stopped, while the show rolled on in glory, I talked about the main points in this book, illustrating it by the film before us. Almost everything that happened was a happy illustration of my ideas. But there were two shop girls in front of us awfully in love with a certain second-rate actor who insisted on kissing the heroine every so often, and with her apparent approval. Every time we talked about that those shop girls glared at us as though we were robbing them of their time and money. Finally one of them dragged the other out into the aisle, and dashed out of the house with her dear chum, saying, so all could hear: "Well, come on, Terasa, we might as well go, if these two talking pests are going to keep this up behind us." The poor girl's voice trembled. She was in tears. She was gone before we could apologize or offer flowers. So I say in applying this chapter, in our present stage of civilization, sit on the front seat, where no one can hear your whisperings but Mary Pickford on the screen. She is but a shadow there, and will not mind.
Chapter XV—The Substitute for the Saloon. I leave this argument as a monument, just as it was written, in 1914 and '15. It indicates a certain power of forecasting on the part of the writer. We drys have certainly won a great victory. Some of the photoplay people agree with this temperance sermon, and some of them do not. The wets make one mistake above all. They do not realize that the drys can still keep on voting dry, with intense conviction, and great battle cries, and still have a sense of humor.
Chapter XVI—California and America. This chapter was quoted and paraphrased almost bodily as the preface to my volume of verses, The Golden Whales of California. "I Know All This When Gipsy Fiddles Cry," a song of some length recently published in the New Republic and the London Nation, further expresses the sentiment of this chapter in what I hope is a fraternal way, and I hope suggests the day when California will have power over India, Asia, and all the world, and plant giant redwood trees of the spirit the world around.
Chapter XVII—Progress and Endowment. I allow this discourse, also, to stand as written in 1914 and '15. It shows the condition just before the war, better than any new words of mine could do it. The main change now is the growing hope of a backing, not only from Universities, but great Art Museums.
Chapter XVIII—Architects as Crusaders. The sermon in this chapter has been carried out on a limited scale, and as a result of the suggestion, or from pure American instinct, we now have handsome gasoline filling stations from one end of America to the other, and really gorgeous Ford garages. Our Union depots and our magazine stands in the leading hotels, and our big Soda fountains are more and more attractive all the time. Having recited of late about twice around the United States and, continuing the pilgrimage, I can testify that they are all alike from New York to San Francisco. One has to ask the hotel clerk to find out whether it is New York or ——. And the motion picture discipline of the American eye has had a deal to do with this increasing tendency to news-stand and architectural standardization and architectural thinking, such as it is. But I meant this suggestion to go further, and to be taken in a higher sense, so I ask these people to read this chapter again. I have carried out the idea, in a parable, perhaps more clearly in The Golden Book of Springfield, when I speak of the World's Fair of the University of Springfield, to be built one hundred years hence. And I would recommend to those who have already taken seriously chapter eighteen, to reread it in two towns, amply worth the car fare it costs to go to both of them. First, Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the end of the Santa Fe Trail, the oldest city in the United States, the richest in living traditions, and with the oldest and the newest architecture in the United States; not a stone or a stick of it standardized, a city with a soul, Jerusalem and Mecca and Benares and Thebes for any artist or any poet of America's future, or any one who would dream of great cities born of great architectural photoplays, or great photoplays born of great cities. And the other city, symbolized by The Golden Rain Tree in The Golden Book of Springfield, is New Harmony, Indiana. That was the Greenwich Village of America more than one hundred years ago, when it was yet in the heart of the wilderness, millions of miles from the sea. It has a tradition already as dusty and wonderful as Abydos and Gem Aten. And every stone is still eloquent of individualism, and standardization has not yet set its foot there. Is it not possible for the architects to brood in such places and then say to one another:—"Build from your hearts buildings and films which shall be your individual Hieroglyphics, each according to his own loves and fancies?"
Chapter XIX—On Coming Forth by Day. This is the second Egyptian chapter. It has its direct relation to the Hieroglyphic chapter, page 171. I note that I say here it costs a dime to go to the show. Well, now it costs around thirty cents to go to a good show in a respectable suburb, sometimes fifty cents. But we will let that dime remain there, as a matter of historic interest, and pass on, to higher themes.
Certainly the Hieroglyphic chapter is in words of one syllable and any kindergarten teacher can understand it. Chapter nineteen adds a bit to the idea. I do not know how warranted I am in displaying Egyptian learning. Newspaper reporters never tire of getting me to talk about hieroglyphics in their relation to the photoplays, and always give me respectful headlines on the theme. I can only say that up to this hour, every time I have toured art museums, I have begun with the Egyptian exhibit, and if my patient guest was willing, lectured on every period on to the present time, giving a little time to the principal exhibits in each room, but I have always found myself returning to Egypt as a standard. It seems my natural classic land of art. So when I took up hieroglyphics more seriously last summer, I found them extraordinarily easy as though I were looking at a "movie" in a book. I think Egyptian picture-writing came easy because I have analyzed so many hundreds of photoplay films, merely for recreation, and the same style of composition is in both. Any child who reads one can read the other. But of course the literal translation must be there at hand to correct all wrong guesses. I figure that in just one thousand years I can read hieroglyphics without a pony. But meanwhile, I tour museums and I ride Pharaoh's "horse," and suggest to all photoplay enthusiasts they do the same. I recommend these two books most heartily: Elementary Egyptian Grammar, by Margaret A. Murray, London, Bernard Quaritch, 11 Grafton Street, Bond Street, W., and the three volumes of the Book of the Dead, which are, indeed, the Papyrus of Ani, referred to in this chapter, pages 255-258. It is edited, translated, and reproduced in fac-simile by the keeper of the Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities in the British Museum, Professor E.A. Wallis Budge; published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, and Philip Lee Warner, London. This book is certainly the greatest motion picture I ever attended. I have gone through it several times, and it is the only book one can read twelve hours at a stretch, on the Pullman, when he is making thirty-six hour and forty-eight hour jumps from town to town.
American civilization grows more hieroglyphic every day. The cartoons of Darling, the advertisements in the back of the magazines and on the bill-boards and in the street-cars, the acres of photographs in the Sunday newspapers, make us into a hieroglyphic civilization far nearer to Egypt than to England. Let us then accept for our classic land, for our standard of form, the country naturally our own. Hieroglyphics are so much nearer to the American mood than the rest of the Egyptian legacy, that Americans seldom get as far as the Hieroglyphics to discover how congenial they are. Seeing the mummies, good Americans flee. But there is not a man in America writing advertisements or making cartoons or films but would find delightful the standard books of Hieroglyphics sent out by the British Museum, once he gave them a chance. They represent that very aspect of visual life which Europe understands so little in America, and which has been expanding so enormously even the last year. Hallowe'en, for instance, lasts a whole week now, with mummers on the streets every night, October 25-31.
Chapter XX—The Prophet-Wizard. Who do we mean by The Prophet-Wizard? We mean not only artists, such as are named in this chapter, but dreamers and workers like Johnny Appleseed, or Abraham Lincoln. The best account of Johnny Appleseed is in Harper's Monthly for November, 1871. People do not know Abraham Lincoln till they have visited the grave of Anne Rutledge, at Petersburg, Illinois, then New Old Salem a mile away. New Old Salem is a prophet's hill, on the edge of the Sangamon, with lovely woods all around. Here a brooding soul could be born, and here the dreamer Abraham Lincoln spent his real youth. I do not call him a dreamer in a cheap and sentimental effort to describe a man of aspiration. Lincoln told and interpreted his visions like Joseph and Daniel in the Old Testament, revealing them to the members of his cabinet, in great trials of the Civil War. People who do not see visions and dream dreams in the good Old Testament sense have no right to leadership in America. I would prefer photoplays filled with such visions and oracles to the state papers written by "practical men." As it is, we are ruled indirectly by photoplays owned and controlled by men who should be in the shoe-string and hook-and-eye trade. Apparently their digestions are good, they are in excellent health, and they keep out of jail.
Chapter XXI—The Acceptable Year of the Lord. If I may be pardoned for referring again to the same book, I assumed, in The Golden Book of Springfield, Illinois, that the Acceptable Year of the Lord would come for my city beginning November 1, 2018, and that up to that time, amid much of joy, there would also be much of thwarting and tribulation. But in the beginning of that mystic November, the Soul of My City, named Avanel, would become as much a part of the city as Pallas Athena was Athens, and indeed I wrote into the book much of the spirit of the photoplay outlined, pages 147 through 150. But in The Golden Book I changed the lady the city worshipped from a golden image into a living, breathing young girl, descendant of that great American, Daniel Boone, and her name, obviously, Avanel Boone. With her tribe she incarnates all the mystic ideals of the Boones of Kentucky.
All this but a prelude to saying that I have just passed through the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is a Santa Fe full of the glory of the New Architecture of which I have spoken, and the issuing of a book of cowboy songs collected, and many of them written, by N. Howard Thorp, a citizen of Santa Fe, and thrilling with the issuing of a book of poems about the Glory of New Mexico. This book is called Red Earth. It is by Alice Corbin Henderson. And Santa Fe is full of the glory of a magnificent State Capitol that is an art gallery of the whole southwest, and the glories of the studio of William Penhallow Henderson, who has painted our New Arabia more splendidly than it was ever painted before, with the real character thereof, and no theatricals. This is just the kind of a town I hoped for when I wrote my first draft of The Art of the Moving Picture. Here now is literature and art. When they become one art as of old in Egypt, we will have New Mexico Hieroglyphics from the Hendersons and their kind, and their surrounding Indian pupils, a basis for the American Motion Picture more acceptable, and more patriotic, and more organic for us than the Egyptian.
And I come the same month to Denver, and find a New Art Museum projected, which I hope has much indeed to do with the Acceptable Year of the Lord, when films as vital as the Santa Fe songs and pictures and architecture can be made, and in common spirit with them, in this New Arabia. George W. Eggers, the director of the newly projected Denver Art Museum, assures me that a photoplay policy can be formulated, amid the problems of such an all around undertaking as building a great Art Museum in Denver. He expects to give the photoplay the attention a new art deserves, especially when it affects almost every person in the whole country. So I prophesy Denver to be the Museum and Art-school capital of New Arabia, as Santa Fe is the artistic, architectural, and song capital at this hour. And I hope it may become the motion picture capital of America from the standpoint of pure art, not manufacture.
What do I mean by New Arabia?
When I was in London in the fall of 1920 the editor of The Landmark, the organ of The English Speaking Union, asked me to draw my map of the United States. I marked out the various regions under various names. For instance I called the coast states, Washington, Oregon, and California, New Italy. The reasons may be found in the chapter in this book on California. Then I named the states just west of the Middle West, and east of New Italy, New Arabia. These states are New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. These are the states which carry the Rocky Mountains north toward the Aurora Borealis, and south toward the tropics. Here individualism, Andrew Jacksonism, will forever prevail, and American standardization can never prevail. In cabins that cannot be reached by automobile and deserts that cannot be crossed by boulevards, the John the Baptists, the hermits and the prophets can strengthen their souls. Here are lonely places as sweet for the spirit as was little old New Salem, Illinois, one hundred years ago, or the wilderness in which walked Johnny Appleseed.
Now it is the independence of Spirit of this New Arabia that I hope the Denver Art Museum can interpret in its photoplay films, and send them on circuits to the Art Museums springing up all over America, where sculpture, architecture, and painting are now constantly sent on circuit. Let that already established convention—the "circuit-exhibition"—be applied to this new art.
And after Denver has shown the way, I devoutly hope that Great City of Los Angeles may follow her example. Consider, O Great City of Los Angeles, now almost the equal of New York in power and splendor, consider what it would do for the souls of all your film artists if you projected just such a museum as Denver is now projecting. Your fate is coming toward you. Denver is halfway between Chicago, with the greatest art institute in the country, and Los Angeles, the natural capital of the photoplay. The art museums of America should rule the universities, and the photoplay studios as well. In the art museums should be set the final standards of civic life, rather than in any musty libraries or routine classrooms. And the great weapon of the art museums of all the land should be the hieroglyphic of the future, the truly artistic photoplay.
And now for book two, at length. It is a detailed analysis of the films, first proclaimed in 1915, and never challenged or overthrown, and, for the most part, accepted intact by the photoplay people, and the critics and the theorists, as well.
BOOK II—THE UNCHALLENGED OUTLINE OF PHOTOPLAY CRITICAL METHOD
THE POINT OF VIEW
While there is a great deal of literary reference in all the following argument, I realize, looking back over many attempts to paraphrase it for various audiences, that its appeal is to those who spend the best part of their student life in classifying, and judging, and producing works of sculpture, painting, and architecture. I find the eyes of all others wandering when I make talks upon the plastic artist's point of view.
This book tries to find that fourth dimension of architecture, painting, and sculpture, which is the human soul in action, that arrow with wings which is the flash of fire from the film, or the heart of man, or Pygmalion's image, when it becomes a woman.
The 1915 edition was used by Victor O. Freeburg as one of the text-books in the Columbia University School of Journalism, in his classes in photoplay writing. I was invited several times to address those classes on my yearly visits to New York. I have addressed many other academic classes, the invitation being based on this book. Now I realize that those who approach the theory from the general University standpoint, or from the history of the drama, had best begin with Freeburg's book, for he is not only learned in both matters, but presents the special analogies with skill. Freeburg has an excellent education in the history of music, and some of the happiest passages in his work relate the photoplay to the musical theory of the world, as my book relates it to the general Art Museum point of view of the world. Emphatically, my book belongs in the Art Institutes as a beginning, or in such religious and civic bodies as think architecturally. From there it must work its way out. Of course those bodies touch on a thousand others.
The work is being used as one basis of the campaign for the New Denver Art Museum, and I like to tell the story of how George W. Eggers of Denver first began to apply the book when the Director of the Art Institute, Chicago, that it may not seem to the merely University type of mind a work of lost abstractions. One of the most gratifying recognitions I ever received was the invitation to talk on the films in Fullerton Hall, Chicago Art Institute. Then there came invitations to speak at Chicago University, and before the Fortnightly Club, Chicago, all around 1916-17. One difficulty was getting the film to prove my case from out the commercial whirl. I talked at these three and other places, but hardly knew how to go about crossing the commercial bridge. At last, with the cooperation of Director Eggers, we staged, in the sacred precincts of Fullerton Hall, Mae Marsh in The Wild Girl of the Sierras. The film was in battered condition, and was turned so fast I could not talk with it satisfactorily and fulfil the well-known principles of chapter fourteen. But at least I had converted one Art Institute Director to the idea that an ex-student of the Institute could not only write a book about painting-in-motion, but the painting could be shown in an Art Museum as promise of greater things in this world. It took a deal of will and breaking of precedent, on the part of all concerned, to show this film, The Wild Girl of the Sierras, and I retired from the field a long time. But now this same Eggers is starting, in Denver, an Art Museum from its very foundations, but on the same constructive scale. So this enterprise, in my fond and fatuous fancy, is associated with the sweet Mae Marsh as The Wild Girl of the Sierras—one of the loveliest bits of poetry ever put into screen or fable.
For about one year, off and on, I had the honor to be the photoplay critic of The New Republic, this invitation also based on the first edition of this book. Looking back upon that experience I am delighted to affirm that not only The New Republic constituency but the world of the college and the university where I moved at that time, while at loss for a policy, were not only willing but eager to take the films with seriousness.
But when I was through with all these dashes into the field, and went back to reciting verses again, no one had given me any light as to who should make the disinterested, non-commercial film for these immediate times, the film that would class, in our civilization, with The New Republic or The Atlantic Monthly or the poems of Edwin Arlington Robinson. That is, the production not for the trade, but for the soul. Anita Loos, that good crusader, came out several years ago with the flaming announcement that there was now hope, since a school of films had been heavily endowed for the University of Rochester. The school was to be largely devoted to producing music for the photoplay, in defiance of chapter fourteen. But incidentally there were to be motion pictures made to fit good music. Neither music nor films have as yet shaken the world.
I liked this Rochester idea. I felt that once it was started the films would take their proper place and dominate the project, disinterested non-commercial films to be classed with the dramas so well stimulated by the great drama department under Professor Baker of Harvard.
As I look back over this history I see that the printed page had counted too much, and the real forces of the visible arts in America had not been definitely enlisted. They should take the lead. I would suggest as the three people to interview first on building any Art Museum Photoplay project: Victor Freeburg, with his long experience of teaching the subject in Columbia, and John Emerson and Anita Loos, who are as brainy as people dare to be and still remain in the department store film business. No three people would more welcome opportunities to outline the idealistic possibilities of this future art. And a well-known American painter was talking to me of a midnight scolding Charlie Chaplin gave to some Los Angeles producer, in a little restaurant, preaching the really beautiful film, and denouncing commerce like a member of Coxey's illustrious army. And I have heard rumors from all sides that Charlie Chaplin has a soul. He is the comedian most often proclaimed an artist by the fastidious, and most often forgiven for his slapstick. He is praised for a kind of O. Henry double meaning to his antics. He is said to be like one of O. Henry's misquotations of the classics. He looks to me like that artist Edgar Poe, if Poe had been obliged to make millions laugh. I do not like Chaplin's work, but I have to admit the good intentions and the enviable laurels. Let all the Art Museums invite him in, as tentative adviser, if not a chastened performer. Let him be given as good a chance as Mae Marsh was given by Eggers in Fullerton Hall. Only let him come in person, not in film, till we hear him speak, and consider his suggestions, and make sure he has eaten of the mystic Amaranth Apples of Johnny Appleseed.
THE PHOTOPLAY OF ACTION
Let us assume, friendly reader, that it is eight o'clock in the evening when you make yourself comfortable in your den, to peruse this chapter. I want to tell you about the Action Film, the simplest, the type most often seen. In the mind of the habitue of the cheaper theatre it is the only sort in existence. It dominates the slums, is announced there by red and green posters of the melodrama sort, and retains its original elements, more deftly handled, in places more expensive. The story goes at the highest possible speed to be still credible. When it is a poor thing, which is the case too often, the St. Vitus dance destroys the pleasure-value. The rhythmic quality of the picture-motions is twitched to death. In the bad photoplay even the picture of an express train more than exaggerates itself. Yet when the photoplay chooses to behave it can reproduce a race far more joyously than the stage. On that fact is based the opportunity of this form. Many Action Pictures are indoors, but the abstract theory of the Action Film is based on the out-of-door chase. You remember the first one you saw where the policeman pursues the comical tramp over hill and dale and across the town lots. You remember that other where the cowboy follows the horse thief across the desert, spies him at last and chases him faster, faster, faster, and faster, and finally catches him. If the film was made in the days before the National Board of Censorship, it ends with the cowboy cheerfully hanging the villain; all details given to the last kick of the deceased.
One of the best Action Pictures is an old Griffith Biograph, recently reissued, the story entitled "Man's Genesis." In the time when cave-men-gorillas had no weapons, Weak-Hands (impersonated by Robert Harron) invents the stone club. He vanquishes his gorilla-like rival, Brute-Force (impersonated by Wilfred Lucas). Strange but credible manners and customs of the cave-men are detailed. They live in picturesque caves. Their half-monkey gestures are wonderful to see. But these things are beheld on the fly. It is the chronicle of a race between the brain of Weak-Hands and the body of the other, symbolized by the chasing of poor Weak-Hands in and out among the rocks until the climax. Brain desperately triumphs. Weak-Hands slays Brute-Force with the startling invention. He wins back his stolen bride, Lily-White (impersonated by Mae Marsh). It is a Griffith masterpiece, and every actor does sound work. The audience, mechanical Americans, fond of crawling on their stomachs to tinker their automobiles, are eager over the evolution of the first weapon from a stick to a hammer. They are as full of curiosity as they could well be over the history of Langley or the Wright brothers.
The dire perils of the motion pictures provoke the ingenuity of the audience, not their passionate sympathy. When, in the minds of the deluded producers, the beholders should be weeping or sighing with desire, they are prophesying the next step to one another in worldly George Ade slang. This is illustrated in another good Action Photoplay: the dramatization of The Spoilers. The original novel was written by Rex Beach. The gallant William Farnum as Glenister dominates the play. He has excellent support. Their team-work makes them worthy of chronicle: Thomas Santschi as McNamara, Kathlyn Williams as Cherry Malotte, Bessie Eyton as Helen Chester, Frank Clark as Dextry, Wheeler Oakman as Bronco Kid, and Jack McDonald as Slapjack.
There are, in The Spoilers, inspiriting ocean scenes and mountain views. There are interesting sketches of mining-camp manners and customs. There is a well-acted love-interest in it, and the element of the comradeship of loyal pals. But the chase rushes past these things to the climax, as in a policeman picture it whirls past blossoming gardens and front lawns till the tramp is arrested. The difficulties are commented on by the people in the audience as rah-rah boys on the side lines comment on hurdles cleared or knocked over by the men running in college field-day. The sudden cut-backs into side branches of the story are but hurdles also, not plot complications in the stage sense. This is as it should be. The pursuit progresses without St. Vitus dance or hysteria to the end of the film. There the spoilers are discomfited, the gold mine is recaptured, the incidental girls are won, in a flash, by the rightful owners.
These shows work like the express elevators in the Metropolitan Tower. The ideal is the maximum of speed in descending or ascending, not to be jolted into insensibility. There are two girl parts as beautifully thought out as the parts of ladies in love can be expected to be in Action Films. But in the end the love is not much more romantic in the eye of the spectator than it would be to behold a man on a motorcycle with the girl of his choice riding on the same machine behind him. And the highest type of Action Picture romance is not attained by having Juliet triumph over the motorcycle handicap. It is not achieved by weaving in a Sherlock Holmes plot. Action Picture romance comes when each hurdle is a tableau, when there is indeed an art-gallery-beauty in each one of these swift glimpses: when it is a race, but with a proper and golden-linked grace from action to action, and the goal is the most beautiful glimpse in the whole reel.
In the Action Picture there is no adequate means for the development of any full grown personal passion. The distinguished character-study that makes genuine the personal emotions in the legitimate drama, has no chance. People are but types, swiftly moved chessmen. More elaborate discourse on this subject may be found in chapter twelve on the differences between the films and the stage. But here, briefly: the Action Pictures are falsely advertised as having heart-interest, or abounding in tragedy. But though the actors glower and wrestle and even if they are the most skilful lambasters in the profession, the audience gossips and chews gum.
Why does the audience keep coming to this type of photoplay if neither lust, love, hate, nor hunger is adequately conveyed? Simply because such spectacles gratify the incipient or rampant speed-mania in every American.
To make the elevator go faster than the one in the Metropolitan Tower is to destroy even this emotion. To elaborate unduly any of the agonies or seductions in the hope of arousing lust, love, hate, or hunger, is to produce on the screen a series of misplaced figures of the order Frankenstein.
How often we have been horrified by these galvanized and ogling corpses. These are the things that cause the outcry for more censors. It is not that our moral codes are insulted, but what is far worse, our nervous systems are temporarily racked to pieces. These wriggling half-dead men, these over-bloody burglars, are public nuisances, no worse and no better than dead cats being hurled about by street urchins.
The cry for more censors is but the cry for the man with the broom. Sometimes it is a matter as simple as when a child is scratching with a pin on a slate. While one would not have the child locked up by the chief of police, after five minutes of it almost every one wants to smack him till his little jaws ache. It is the very cold-bloodedness of the proceeding that ruins our kindness of heart. And the best Action Film is impersonal and unsympathetic even if it has no scratching pins. Because it is cold-blooded it must take extra pains to be tactful. Cold-blooded means that the hero as we see him on the screen is a variety of amiable or violent ghost. Nothing makes his lack of human charm plainer than when we as audience enter the theatre at the middle of what purports to be the most passionate of scenes when the goal of the chase is unknown to us and the alleged "situation" appeals on its magnetic merits. Here is neither the psychic telepathy of Forbes Robertson's Caesar, nor the fire-breath of E.H. Sothern's Don Quixote. The audience is not worked up into the deadly still mob-unity of the speaking theatre. We late comers wait for the whole reel to start over and the goal to be indicated in the preliminary, before we can get the least bit wrought up. The prize may be a lady's heart, the restoration of a lost reputation, or the ownership of the patent for a churn. In the more effective Action Plays it is often what would be secondary on the stage, the recovery of a certain glove, spade, bull-calf, or rock-quarry. And to begin, we are shown a clean-cut picture of said glove, spade, bull-calf, or rock-quarry. Then when these disappear from ownership or sight, the suspense continues till they are again visible on the screen in the hands of the rightful owner.
In brief, the actors hurry through what would be tremendous passions on the stage to recover something that can be really photographed. For instance, there came to our town long ago a film of a fight between Federals and Confederates, with the loss of many lives, all for the recapture of a steam-engine that took on more personality in the end than private or general on either side, alive or dead. It was based on the history of the very engine photographed, or else that engine was given in replica. The old locomotive was full of character and humor amidst the tragedy, leaking steam at every orifice. The original is in one of the Southern Civil War museums. This engine in its capacity as a principal actor is going to be referred to more than several times in this work.
The highest type of Action Picture gives us neither the quality of Macbeth or Henry Fifth, the Comedy of Errors, or the Taming of the Shrew. It gives us rather that fine and special quality that was in the ink-bottle of Robert Louis Stevenson, that brought about the limitations and the nobility of the stories of Kidnapped, Treasure Island, and the New Arabian Nights.
This discussion will be resumed on another plane in the eighth chapter: Sculpture-in-Motion.
Having read thus far, why not close the book and go round the corner to a photoplay theatre? Give the preference to the cheapest one. The Action Picture will be inevitable. Since this chapter was written, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks have given complete department store examples of the method, especially Chaplin in the brilliantly constructed Shoulder Arms, and Fairbanks in his one great piece of acting, in The Three Musketeers.
THE INTIMATE PHOTOPLAY
Let us take for our platform this sentence: THE MOTION PICTURE ART IS A GREAT HIGH ART, NOT A PROCESS OF COMMERCIAL MANUFACTURE. The people I hope to convince of this are (1) The great art museums of America, including the people who support them in any way, the people who give the current exhibitions there or attend them, the art school students in the corridors below coming on in the same field; (2) the departments of English, of the history of the drama, of the practice of the drama, and the history and practice of "art" in that amazingly long list of our colleges and universities—to be found, for instance, in the World Almanac; (3) the critical and literary world generally. Somewhere in this enormous field, piled with endowments mountain high, it should be possible to establish the theory and practice of the photoplay as a fine art. Readers who do not care for the history of any art, readers who have neither curiosity nor aspiration in regard to any of the ten or eleven muses who now dance around Apollo, such shabby readers had best lay the book down now. Shabby readers do not like great issues. My poor little sermon is concerned with a great issue, the clearing of the way for a critical standard, whereby the ultimate photoplay may be judged. I cannot teach office-boys ways to make "quick money" in the "movies." That seems to be the delicately implied purpose of the mass of books on the photoplay subject. They are, indeed, a sickening array. Freeburg's book is one of the noble exceptions. And I have paid tribute elsewhere to John Emerson and Anita Loos. They have written a crusading book, and many crusading articles.
After five years of exceedingly lonely art study, in which I had always specialized in museum exhibits, prowling around like a lost dog, I began to intensify my museum study, and at the same time shout about what I was discovering. From nineteen hundred and five on I did orate my opinions to a group of advanced students. We assembled weekly for several winters in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, for the discussion of the masterpieces in historic order, from Egypt to America. From that standpoint, the work least often found, hardest to make, least popular in the street, may be in the end the one most treasured in a world-museum as a counsellor and stimulus of mankind. Throughout this book I try to bring to bear the same simple standards of form, composition, mood, and motive that we used in finding the fundamental exhibits; the standards which are taken for granted in art histories and schools, radical or conservative, anywhere.
Again we assume it is eight o'clock in the evening, friend reader, when the chapter begins.
Just as the Action Picture has its photographic basis or fundamental metaphor in the long chase down the highway, so the Intimate Film has its photographic basis in the fact that any photoplay interior has a very small ground plan, and the cosiest of enclosing walls. Many a worth-while scene is acted out in a space no bigger than that which is occupied by an office boy's stool and hat. If there is a table in this room, it is often so near it is half out of the picture or perhaps it is against the front line of the triangular ground-plan. Only the top of the table is seen, and nothing close up to us is pictured below that. We in the audience are privileged characters. Generally attending the show in bunches of two or three, we are members of the household on the screen. Sometimes we are sitting on the near side of the family board. Or we are gossiping whispering neighbors, of the shoemaker, we will say, with our noses pressed against the pane of a metaphoric window.
Take for contrast the old-fashioned stage production showing the room and work table of a shoemaker. As it were the whole side of the house has been removed. The shop is as big as a banquet hall. There is something essentially false in what we see, no matter how the stage manager fills in with old boxes, broken chairs, and the like. But the photoplay interior is the size such a work-room should be. And there the awl and pegs and bits of leather, speaking the silent language of picture writing, can be clearly shown. They are sometimes like the engine in chapter two, the principal actors.
Though the Intimate-and-friendly Photoplay may be carried out of doors to the row of loafers in front of the country store, or the gossiping streets of the village, it takes its origin and theory from the snugness of the interior.
The restless reader replies that he has seen photoplays that showed ballrooms that were grandiose, not the least cosy. These are to be classed as out-of-door scenery so far as theory goes, and are to be discussed under the head of Splendor Pictures. Masses of human beings pour by like waves, the personalities of none made plain. The only definite people are the hero and heroine in the foreground, and maybe one other. Though these three be in ball-costume, the little triangle they occupy next to the camera is in sort an interior, while the impersonal guests behind them conform to the pageant principles of out-of-doors, and the dancers are to the main actor as is the wind-shaken forest to the charcoal-burner, or the bending grain to the reaper.
The Intimate Motion Picture is the world's new medium for studying, not the great passions, such as black hate, transcendent love, devouring ambition, but rather the half relaxed or gently restrained moods of human creatures. It gives also our idiosyncrasies. It is gossip in extremis. It is apt to chronicle our petty little skirmishes, rather than our feuds. In it Colin Clout and his comrades return.
The Intimate Photoplay should not crowd its characters. It should not choke itself trying to dramatize the whole big bloody plot of Lorna Doone, or any other novel with a dozen leading people. Yet some gentle episode from the John Ridd farm, some half-chapter when Lorna and the Doones are almost forgotten, would be fitting. Let the duck-yard be parading its best, and Annie among the milk-pails, her work for the evening well nigh done. The Vicar of Wakefield has his place in this form. The Intimate-and-friendly Motion Picture might very well give humorous moments in the lives of the great, King Alfred burning the cakes, and other legendary incidents of him. Plato's writings give us glimpses of Socrates, in between the long dialogues. And there are intimate scraps in Plutarch.
Prospective author-producer, do you remember Landor's Imaginary Conversations, and Lang's Letters to Dead Authors? Can you not attain to that informal understanding in pictorial delineations of such people?
The photoplay has been unjust to itself in comedies. The late John Bunny's important place in my memory comes from the first picture in which I saw him. It is a story of high life below stairs. The hero is the butler at a governor's reception. John Bunny's work as this man is a delightful piece of acting. The servants are growing tipsier downstairs, but the more afraid of the chief functionary every time he appears, frozen into sobriety by his glance. At the last moment this god of the basement catches them at their worst and gives them a condescending but forgiving smile. The lid comes off completely. He himself has been imbibing. His surviving dignity in waiting on the governor's guests is worthy of the stage of Goldsmith and Sheridan. This film should be reissued in time as a Bunny memorial.
So far as my experience has gone, the best of the comedians is Sidney Drew. He could shine in the atmosphere of Pride and Prejudice or Cranford. But the best things I have seen of his are far from such. I beg the pardon of Miss Jane Austen and Mrs. Gaskell while I mention Who's Who in Hogg's Hollow, and A Regiment of Two. Over these I rejoiced like a yokel with a pocketful of butterscotch and peanuts. The opportunities to laugh on a higher plane than this, to laugh like Olympians, are seldom given us in this world.
The most successful motion picture drama of the intimate type ever placed before mine eyes was Enoch Arden, produced by Cabanne.
Lillian Gish takes the part of Annie, Alfred Paget impersonates Enoch Arden, and Wallace Reid takes the part of Philip Ray. The play is in four reels of twenty minutes each. It should have been made into three reels by shortening every scene just a bit. Otherwise it is satisfying, and I and my friends have watched it through many times as it has returned to Springfield.
The mood of the original poem is approximated. The story is told with fireside friendliness. The pale Lillian Gish surrounded by happy children gives us many a genre painting on the theme of domesticity. It is a photographic rendering in many ways as fastidious as Tennyson's versification. The scenes on the desert island are some of them commonplace. The shipwreck and the like remind one of other photoplays, but the rest of the production has a mood of its own. Seen several months ago it fills my eye-imagination and eye-memory more than that particular piece of Tennyson's fills word-imagination and word-memory. Perhaps this is because it is pleasing to me as a theorist. It is a sound example of the type of film to which this chapter is devoted. If you cannot get your local manager to bring Enoch Arden, reread that poem of Tennyson's and translate it in your own mind's eye into a gallery of six hundred delicately toned photographs hung in logical order, most of them cosy interior scenes, some of the faces five feet from chin to forehead in the more personal episodes, yet exquisitely fair. Fill in the out-of-door scenes and general gatherings with the appointments of an idyllic English fisher-village, and you will get an approximate conception of what we mean by the Intimate-and-friendly Motion Picture, or the Intimate Picture, as I generally call it, for convenience.
It is a quality, not a defect, of all photoplays that human beings tend to become dolls and mechanisms, and dolls and mechanisms tend to become human. But the haughty, who scorn the moving pictures, cannot rid themselves of the feeling that they are being seduced into going into some sort of a Punch-and-Judy show. And they think that of course one should not take seriously anything so cheap in price and so appealing to the cross-roads taste. But it is very well to begin in the Punch-and-Judy-show state of mind, and reconcile ourselves to it, and then like good democrats await discoveries. Punch and Judy is the simplest form of marionette performance, and the marionette has a place in every street in history just as the dolls' house has its corner in every palace and cottage. The French in particular have had their great periods of puppet shows; and the Italian tradition survived in America's Little Italy, in New York for many a day; and I will mention in passing that one of Pavlowa's unforgettable dance dramas is The Fairy Doll. Prospective author-producer, why not spend a deal of energy on the photoplay successors of the puppet-plays?
We have the queen of the marionettes already, without the play.
One description of the Intimate-and-friendly Comedy would be the Mary Pickford kind of a story. None has as yet appeared. But we know the Mary Pickford mood. When it is gentlest, most roguish, most exalted, it is a prophecy of what this type should be, not only in the actress, but in the scenario and setting.
Mary Pickford can be a doll, a village belle, or a church angel. Her powers as a doll are hinted at in the title of the production: Such a Little Queen. I remember her when she was a village belle in that film that came out before producers or actors were known by name. It was sugar-sweet. It was called: What the Daisy Said. If these productions had conformed to their titles sincerely, with the highest photoplay art we would have had two more examples for this chapter.
Why do the people love Mary? Not on account of the Daniel Frohman style of handling her appearances. He presents her to us in what are almost the old-fashioned stage terms: the productions energetic and full of painstaking detail but dominated by a dream that is a theatrical hybrid. It is neither good moving picture nor good stage play. Yet Mary could be cast as a cloudy Olympian or a church angel if her managers wanted her to be such. She herself was transfigured in the Dawn of Tomorrow, but the film-version of that play was merely a well mounted melodrama.
Why do the people love Mary? Because of a certain aspect of her face in her highest mood. Botticelli painted her portrait many centuries ago when by some necromancy she appeared to him in this phase of herself. There is in the Chicago Art Institute at the top of the stairs on the north wall a noble copy of a fresco by that painter, the copy by Mrs. MacMonnies. It is very near the Winged Victory of Samothrace. In the picture the muses sit enthroned. The loveliest of them all is a startling replica of Mary.
The people are hungry for this fine and spiritual thing that Botticelli painted in the faces of his muses and heavenly creatures. Because the mob catch the very glimpse of it in Mary's face, they follow her night after night in the films. They are never quite satisfied with the plays, because the managers are not artists enough to know they should sometimes put her into sacred pictures and not have her always the village hoyden, in plays not even hoydenish. But perhaps in this argument I have but betrayed myself as Mary's infatuated partisan.
So let there be recorded here the name of another actress who is always in the intimate-and-friendly mood and adapted to close-up interiors, Marguerite Clark. She is endowed by nature to act, in the same film, the eight-year-old village pet, the irrepressible sixteen-year-old, and finally the shining bride of twenty. But no production in which she acts that has happened to come under my eye has done justice to these possibilities. The transitions from one of these stages to the other are not marked by the producer with sufficient delicate graduation, emphasis, and contrast. Her plots have been but sugared nonsense, or swashbuckling ups and downs. She shines in a bevy of girls. She has sometimes been given the bevy.
But it is easier to find performers who fit this chapter, than to find films. Having read so far, it is probably not quite nine o'clock in the evening. Go around the corner to the nearest theatre. You will not be apt to find a pure example of the Intimate-and-friendly Moving Picture, but some one or two scenes will make plain the intent of the phrase. Imagine the most winsome tableau that passes before you, extended logically through one or three reels, with no melodramatic interruptions or awful smashes. For a further discussion of these smashes, and other items in this chapter, read the ninth chapter, entitled "Painting-in-Motion."
THE MOTION PICTURE OF FAIRY SPLENDOR
Again, kind reader, let us assume it is eight o'clock in the evening, for purposes of future climax which you no doubt anticipate.
Just as the Action Motion Picture has its photographic basis in the race down the high-road, just as the Intimate Motion Picture has its photographic basis in the close-up interior scene, so the Photoplay of Splendor, in its four forms, is based on the fact that the kinetoscope can take in the most varied of out-of-door landscapes. It can reproduce fairy dells. It can give every ripple of the lily-pond. It can show us cathedrals within and without. It can take in the panorama of cyclopaean cloud, bending forest, storm-hung mountain. In like manner it can put on the screen great impersonal mobs of men. It can give us tremendous armies, moving as oceans move. The pictures of Fairy Splendor, Crowd Splendor, Patriotic Splendor, and Religious Splendor are but the embodiments of these backgrounds.
And a photographic corollary quite useful in these four forms is that the camera has a kind of Hallowe'en witch-power. This power is the subject of this chapter.
The world-old legends and revelations of men in connection with the lovely out of doors, or lonely shrines, or derived from inspired crusading humanity moving in masses, can now be fitly retold. Also the fairy wand can do its work, the little dryad can come from the tree. And the spirits that guard the Republic can be seen walking on the clouds above the harvest-fields.
But we are concerned with the humblest voodooism at present.
Perhaps the world's oldest motion picture plot is a tale in Mother Goose. It ends somewhat in this fashion:—
The old lady said to the cat:— "Cat, cat, kill rat. Rat will not gnaw rope, Rope will not hang butcher, Butcher will not kill ox, Ox will not drink water, Water will not quench fire, Fire will not burn stick, Stick will not beat dog, Dog will not bite pig, Pig will not jump over the stile, And I cannot get home to-night."
By some means the present writer does not remember, the cat was persuaded to approach the rat. The rest was like a tale of European diplomacy:—
The rat began to gnaw the rope, The rope began to hang the butcher, The butcher began to kill the ox, The ox began to drink the water, The water began to quench the fire, The fire began to burn the stick, The stick began to beat the dog, The dog began to bite the pig, The frightened little pig jumped over the stile, And the old lady was able to get home that night.
Put yourself back to the state of mind in which you enjoyed this bit of verse.
Though the photoplay fairy-tale may rise to exquisite heights, it begins with pictures akin to this rhyme. Mankind in his childhood has always wanted his furniture to do such things. Arthur names his blade Excalibur. It becomes a person. The man in the Arabian tale speaks to the magic carpet. It carries him whithersoever he desires. This yearning for personality in furniture begins to be crudely worked upon in the so-called trick-scenes. The typical commercialized comedy of this sort is Moving Day. Lyman H. Howe, among many excellent reels of a different kind, has films allied to Moving Day.
But let us examine at this point, as even more typical, an old Pathe Film from France. The representatives of the moving-firm are sent for. They appear in the middle of the room with an astonishing jump. They are told that this household desires to have its goods and hearthstone gods transplanted two streets east. The agents salute. They disappear. Yet their wireless orders are obeyed with a military crispness. The books and newspapers climb out of the window. They go soberly down the street. In their wake are the dishes from the table. Then the more delicate porcelains climb down the shelves and follow. Then follow the hobble-de-hoy kitchen dishes, then the chairs, then the clothing, and the carpets from over the house. The most joyous and curious spectacle is to behold the shoes walking down the boulevard, from father's large boots to those of the youngest child. They form a complete satire of the family, yet have a masterful air of their own, as though they were the most important part of a human being.
The new apartment is shown. Everything enters in procession. In contrast to the general certainty of the rest, one or two pieces of furniture grow confused trying to find their places. A plate, in leaping upon a high shelf, misses and falls broken. The broom and dustpan sweep up the pieces, and consign them to the dustbin. Then the human family comes in, delighted to find everything in order. The moving agents appear and salute. They are paid their fee. They salute again and disappear with another gigantic leap.
The ability to do this kind of a thing is fundamental in the destinies of the art. Yet this resource is neglected because its special province is not understood. "People do not like to be tricked," the manager says. Certainly they become tired of mere contraptions. But they never grow weary of imagination. There is possible many a highly imaginative fairy-tale on this basis if we revert to the sound principles of the story of the old lady and the pig.
Moving Day is at present too crassly material. It has not the touch of the creative imagination. We are overwhelmed with a whole van of furniture. Now the mechanical or non-human object, beginning with the engine in the second chapter, is apt to be the hero in most any sort of photoplay while the producer remains utterly unconscious of the fact. Why not face this idiosyncrasy of the camera and make the non-human object the hero indeed? Not by filling the story with ropes, buckets, fire-brands, and sticks, but by having these four unique. Make the fire the loveliest of torches, the water the most graceful of springs. Let the rope be the humorist. Let the stick be the outstanding hero, the D'Artagnan of the group, full of queer gestures and hoppings about. Let him be both polite and obdurate. Finally let him beat the dog most heroically.
* * * * *
Then, after the purely trick-picture is disciplined till it has fewer tricks, and those more human and yet more fanciful, the producer can move on up into the higher realms of the fairy-tale, carrying with him this riper workmanship.
Mabel Taliaferro's Cinderella, seen long ago, is the best film fairy-tale the present writer remembers. It has more of the fireside wonder-spirit and Hallowe'en-witch-spirit than the Cinderella of Mary Pickford.
There is a Japanese actor, Sessue Hayakawa, who takes the leading part with Blanche Sweet in The Clew, and is the hero in the film version of The Typhoon. He looks like all the actors in the old Japanese prints. He has a general dramatic equipment which enables him to force through the stubborn screen such stagy plays as these, that are more worth while in the speaking theatre. But he has that atmosphere of pictorial romance which would make him a valuable man for the retelling of the old Japanese legends of Kwannon and other tales that are rich, unused moving picture material, tales such as have been hinted at in the gleaming English of Lafcadio Hearn. The Japanese genius is eminently pictorial. Rightly viewed, every Japanese screen or bit of lacquer is from the Ancient Asia Columbus set sail to find.
It would be a noble thing if American experts in the Japanese principles of decoration, of the school of Arthur W. Dow, should tell stories of old Japan with the assistance of such men as Sessue Hayakawa. Such things go further than peace treaties. Dooming a talent like that of Mr. Hayakawa to the task of interpreting the Japanese spy does not conduce to accord with Japan, however the technique may move us to admiration. Let such of us as are at peace get together, and tell the tales of our happy childhood to one another.
This chapter is ended. You will of course expect to be exhorted to visit some photoplay emporium. But you need not look for fairy-tales. They are much harder to find than they should be. But you can observe even in the advertisements and cartoons the technical elements of the story of the old lady and the pig. And you can note several other things that show how much more quickly than on the stage the borderline of All Saints' Day and Hallowe'en can be crossed. Note how easily memories are called up, and appear in the midst of the room. In any plays whatever, you will find these apparitions and recollections. The dullest hero is given glorious visualizing power. Note the "fadeaway" at the beginning and the end of the reel, whereby all things emerge from the twilight and sink back into the twilight at last. These are some of the indestructible least common denominators of folk stories old and new. When skilfully used, they can all exercise a power over the audience, such as the crystal has over the crystal-gazer.
But this discussion will be resumed, on another plane, in the tenth chapter: "Furniture, Trappings, and Inventions in Motion."
THE PICTURE OF CROWD SPLENDOR
Henceforth the reader will use his discretion as to when he will read the chapter and when he will go to the picture show to verify it.
The shoddiest silent drama may contain noble views of the sea. This part is almost sure to be good. It is a fundamental resource.
A special development of this aptitude in the hands of an expert gives the sea of humanity, not metaphorically but literally: the whirling of dancers in ballrooms, handkerchief-waving masses of people in balconies, hat-waving political ratification meetings, ragged glowering strikers, and gossiping, dickering people in the marketplace. Only Griffith and his close disciples can do these as well as almost any manager can reproduce the ocean. Yet the sea of humanity is dramatically blood-brother to the Pacific, Atlantic, or Mediterranean. It takes this new invention, the kinetoscope, to bring us these panoramic drama-elements. By the law of compensation, while the motion picture is shallow in showing private passion, it is powerful in conveying the passions of masses of men. Bernard Shaw, in a recent number of the Metropolitan, answered several questions in regard to the photoplay. Here are two bits from his discourse:—
"Strike the dialogue from Moliere's Tartuffe, and what audience would bear its mere stage-business? Imagine the scene in which Iago poisons Othello's mind against Desdemona, conveyed in dumb show. What becomes of the difference between Shakespeare and Sheridan Knowles in the film? Or between Shakespeare's Lear and any one else's Lear? No, it seems to me that all the interest lies in the new opening for the mass of dramatic talent formerly disabled by incidental deficiencies of one sort or another that do not matter in the picture-theatre...."
"Failures of the spoken drama may become the stars of the picture palace. And there are the authors with imagination, visualization and first-rate verbal gifts who can write novels and epics, but cannot for the life of them write plays. Well, the film lends itself admirably to the succession of events proper to narrative and epic, but physically impracticable on the stage. Paradise Lost would make a far better film than Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman, though Borkman is a dramatic masterpiece, and Milton could not write an effective play."
Note in especial what Shaw says about narrative, epic, and Paradise Lost. He has in mind, no doubt, the pouring hosts of demons and angels. This is one kind of a Crowd Picture.
There is another sort to be seen where George Beban impersonates The Italian in a film of that title, by Thomas H. Ince and G. Gardener Sullivan. The first part, taken ostensibly in Venice, delineates the festival spirit of the people on the bridges and in gondolas. It gives out the atmosphere of town-crowd happiness. Then comes the vineyard, the crowd sentiment of a merry grape-harvest, then the massed emotion of many people embarking on an Atlantic liner telling good-by to their kindred on the piers, then the drama of arrival in New York. The wonder of the steerage people pouring down their proper gangway is contrasted with the conventional at-home-ness of the first-class passengers above. Then we behold the seething human cauldron of the East Side, then the jolly little wedding-dance, then the life of the East Side, from the policeman to the peanut-man, and including the bar tender, for the crowd is treated on two separate occasions.
It is hot weather. The mobs of children follow the ice-wagon for chips of ice. They besiege the fountain-end of the street-sprinkling wagon quite closely, rejoicing to have their clothes soaked. They gather round the fire-plug that is turned on for their benefit, and again become wet as drowned rats.
Passing through these crowds are George Beban and Clara Williams as The Italian and his sweetheart. They owe the force of their acting to the fact that they express each mass of humanity in turn. Their child is born. It does not flourish. It represents in an acuter way another phase of the same child-struggle with the heat that the gamins indicate in their pursuit of the water-cart.
Then a deeper matter. The hero represents in a fashion the adventures of the whole Italian race coming to America: its natural southern gayety set in contrast to the drab East Side. The gondolier becomes boot-black. The grape-gathering peasant girl becomes the suffering slum mother. They are not specialized characters like Pendennis or Becky Sharp in the Novels of Thackeray.
Omitting the last episode, the entrance into the house of Corrigan, The Italian is a strong piece of work.
Another kind of Crowd Picture is The Battle, an old Griffith Biograph, first issued in 1911, before Griffith's name or that of any actor in films was advertised. Blanche Sweet is the leading lady, and Charles H. West the leading man. The psychology of a bevy of village lovers is conveyed in a lively sweet-hearting dance. Then the boy and his comrades go forth to war. The lines pass between hand-waving crowds of friends from the entire neighborhood. These friends give the sense of patriotism in mass. Then as the consequence of this feeling, as the special agents to express it, the soldiers are in battle. By the fortunes of war the onset is unexpectedly near to the house where once was the dance.
The boy is at first a coward. He enters the old familiar door. He appeals to the girl to hide him, and for the time breaks her heart. He goes forth a fugitive not only from battle, but from her terrible girlish anger. But later he rallies. He brings a train of powder wagons through fires built in his path by the enemy's scouts. He loses every one of his men, and all but the last wagon, which he drives himself. His return with that ammunition saves the hard-fought day.
And through all this, glimpses of the battle are given with a splendor that only Griffith has attained.
Blanche Sweet stands as the representative of the bevy of girls in the house of the dance, and the whole body social of the village. How the costumes flash and the handkerchiefs wave around her! In the battle the hero represents the cowardice that all the men are resisting within themselves. When he returns, he is the incarnation of the hardihood they have all hoped to display. Only the girl knows he was first a failure. The wounded general honors him as the hero above all. Now she is radiant, she cannot help but be triumphant, though the side of the house is blown out by a shell and the dying are everywhere.
This one-reel work of art has been reissued of late by the Biograph Company. It should be kept in the libraries of the Universities as a standard. One-reel films are unfortunate in this sense that in order to see a favorite the student must wait through five other reels of a mixed programme that usually is bad. That is the reason one-reel masterpieces seldom appear now. The producer in a mood to make a special effort wants to feel that he has the entire evening, and that nothing before or after is going to be a bore or destroy the impression. So at present the painstaking films are apt to be five or six reels of twenty minutes each. These have the advantage that if they please at all, one can see them again at once without sitting through irrelevant slapstick work put there to fill out the time. But now, having the whole evening to work in, the producer takes too much time for his good ideas. I shall reiterate throughout this work the necessity for restraint. A one hour programme is long enough for any one. If the observer is pleased, he will sit it through again and take another hour. There is not a good film in the world but is the better for being seen in immediate succession to itself. Six-reel programmes are a weariness to the flesh. The best of the old one-reel Biographs of Griffith contained more in twenty minutes than these ambitious incontinent six-reel displays give us in two hours. It would pay a manager to hang out a sign: "This show is only twenty minutes long, but it is Griffith's great film 'The Battle.'"
But I am digressing. To continue the contrast between private passion in the theatre and crowd-passion in the photoplay, let us turn to Shaw again. Consider his illustration of Iago, Othello, and Lear. These parts, as he implies, would fall flat in motion pictures. The minor situations of dramatic intensity might in many cases be built up. The crisis would inevitably fail. Iago and Othello and Lear, whatever their offices in their governments, are essentially private persons, individuals in extremis. If you go to a motion picture and feel yourself suddenly gripped by the highest dramatic tension, as on the old stage, and reflect afterward that it was a fight between only two or three men in a room otherwise empty, stop to analyze what they stood for. They were probably representatives of groups or races that had been pursuing each other earlier in the film. Otherwise the conflict, however violent, appealed mainly to the sense of speed.
So, in The Birth of a Nation, which could better be called The Overthrow of Negro Rule, the Ku Klux Klan dashes down the road as powerfully as Niagara pours over the cliff. Finally the white girl Elsie Stoneman (impersonated by Lillian Gish) is rescued by the Ku Klux Klan from the mulatto politician, Silas Lynch (impersonated by George Seigmann). The lady is brought forward as a typical helpless white maiden. The white leader, Col. Ben Cameron (impersonated by Henry B. Walthall), enters not as an individual, but as representing the whole Anglo-Saxon Niagara. He has the mask of the Ku Klux Klan on his face till the crisis has passed. The wrath of the Southerner against the blacks and their Northern organizers has been piled up through many previous scenes. As a result this rescue is a real climax, something the photoplays that trace strictly personal hatreds cannot achieve.
The Birth of a Nation is a Crowd Picture in a triple sense. On the films, as in the audience, it turns the crowd into a mob that is either for or against the Reverend Thomas Dixon's poisonous hatred of the negro.
Griffith is a chameleon in interpreting his authors. Wherever the scenario shows traces of The Clansman, the original book, by Thomas Dixon, it is bad. Wherever it is unadulterated Griffith, which is half the time, it is good. The Reverend Thomas Dixon is a rather stagy Simon Legree: in his avowed views a deal like the gentleman with the spiritual hydrophobia in the latter end of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Unconsciously Mr. Dixon has done his best to prove that Legree was not a fictitious character.
* * * * *
Joel Chandler Harris, Harry Stillwell Edwards, George W. Cable, Thomas Nelson Page, James Lane Allen, and Mark Twain are Southern men in Mr. Griffith's class. I recommend their works to him as a better basis for future Southern scenarios.
The Birth of a Nation has been very properly denounced for its Simon Legree qualities by Francis Hackett, Jane Addams, and others. But it is still true that it is a wonder in its Griffith sections. In its handling of masses of men it further illustrates the principles that made notable the old one-reel Battle film described in the beginning of this chapter. The Battle in the end is greater, because of its self-possession and concentration: all packed into twenty minutes.