Welcome back to the article The Monstrous Movies by Charles Hanson Towne, which was originally published in Vanity Fair in September, 1921. Today I’m re-publishing Part II of a III part look at this wonderful piece of writing, which gives us a taste of life during the golden silent era of the very early 1920’s. Last week this article looked at the ever-growing popularity of becoming an actor on the silver screen, because it was noticeable as a good path to quick riches and wealth. Of course in reality most actors, or wanna be movie-stars, were left looking on with envy as a select few fellow thespians did make it to the top, if even momentarily. Do enjoy this weeks installment:
A Critical Close-up
“It is the movies themselves which have invented and invited the close-up. They must not complain, then, if we tear down all obstructing barriers, and seek to view them as they are, through a microscope; revealing every wrinkle as a crevasse, every shadow as a mountain, every least gesture as a tempestous orgy of emotion.”
“Yet I repeat that this phenomenon of the movies must be taken seriously. When one goes, as I did recently, to a city like Chicago and finds on the South Side, a district equivalent to New York’s Harlem, a two-million-dollar building of a magnificence housing nothing but photoplays, and sees over four thousand people packed in, watching and listening and obviously amused and thrilled, he asks what all this means, and admits, unless he is a Dumbkopf, the coming in of a new order. Particularly is he amazed and bewildered when, in the same city, he witnesses a brilliant spoken farce-comedy, deftly played by distinguished actors, given before half-empty benches – yet in the very heart of the town. What is one to say in the light of such over-whelming evidence? Simply that something has entered the world, suddenly, which grips the people, appeals to them, rivets their attention, and drives them out of the old established theatres. The galleries went long ago. Perhaps the balconies and orchestras will leave next. Then what?”
“One explanation comes, of course, instantly to the observer’s rescue. That farce-comedy cost $3.30 to see; the movie house asked only fifty-five cents for the best seat in a gorgeous auditorium. And not only was a good picture revealed, but operatic music was charmingly sung, and an orchestra of over sixty pieces, led by a trained director, rendered excellent music. The seats, I may add, were the last word in comfort, better than those in the ‘legitimate’ house, and the sense of charm and barbaric glory was all about – too much of the latter to suit my taste, but there, nevertheless, for the multitude that drinks in such surroundings and takes home the memory of a palace hitherto undreamed of.”
“It is disillusioning and sometimes disheartening to see a picture in the process of making; to hear hammers sounding in some great studio while an actress behind a pasteboard set registers all the deeper emotions and permits her beautiful face – yes, beautiful at even eight in the morning! – to be daubed with glycerine tears, and, to the plaintive tune of a cheap violin, falls back on her couch of pain, while the camera inexorably turns, and men from the wings and ceiling pour merciless rays of light on her lovely head. I should think t would be anything but fun to “emote” like this, with no applause at the end of the scene. Wasn’t it Whitman who said that if we are to have great poets, we must have great audiences, too? How much more applies to actors!”
And that’s all for this week, but not to worry, I’ll be back next week with the third and final installment of The Monstrous Movies. Okay, so you want to be in the movies!
Posted by Michael ‘Charlie’ McGee