Friday Facts: The Monstrous Movies

The Monstrous MoviesWelcome 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

 

Theatre Gallery“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?”

 

Old Theatre“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.”

 

Actress Lillian Gish

Actress Lillian Gish (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

“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

 

 

 

Advertisements

Friday Facts

Vanity Fair Frontispiece Facsimile

Vanity Fair Frontispiece Facsimile (Photo credit: Nils Geylen)

This week’s factual article was originally way back in 1921 in the publication titled Vanity Fair, no less. Written by Charles Hanson Towne, the article was called The Monstrous Movies and it looks at the growing new culture of Hollywood and film, but what it gives a modern audience is a forthright insight at what life was like way back in the silent era. This week I’ve the first of three parts of this fantastic article, with the following two parts appearing right here at Friday Facts over the coming weeks, so now, do enjoy:

 

Vanity Fair - August 2009Vanity Fair – August 2009

 

The Monstrous Movies

 

Caricature of Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936). ...

Caricature of Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936). Caption read “Mr Dooley”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“There is a delightful story to the effect that when a young woman disappeared from New York some years ago, and every corner of the earth, seemingly, had been searched for her, Finley Peter Dunne suggested: Has anyone thought of looking in the gallery of the Century Theatre?'”

 

“Certain actor friends of mine have similarly disappeared from time to time. A deep, abysmal silence has followed their strange absence from the usual haunts of the metropolis. But now, at last, the mystery is solved. I know where they all are. They are in the movies – and most of them are in California, in a spot called Hollywood. I have prepared, on my first visit to the Coast, for the giant trees, the giant flowers, the colossal foliage and fruit that cause one to think he is living in a fairy-tale; I was certain of the great, wide-open hospitality – the big hearts and the abundant beauty I should see. But I was not prepared for the giant fungus growth, the monstrous mushroom that has sprung up overnight, as it were, in California – the most amazing and startling manifestation of the age: the movies.”

 

“Nothing can be small in California. Everything is magnified ten-fold or more; but the motion-picture industry has gone Nature one better; and the overwhelming scale on which it is run is something that the imagination cannot grasp at once.”

 

 

The New El Dorado

 

English: Nestor Studios, the first film studio...

English: Nestor Studios, the first film studio in Hollywood, 1913. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“As the old Forty-niners rushed to the gold fields in search of El Dorado, so now actors, actresses and managers, cameraman and directors, writers, artists and continuity folk, flock to that same section of the country; and they have built cities overnight, just as the gold-seekers did, and camped on the Coast. But with this definite difference: they have gone there to stay. They may rear a Spanish town this afternoon and demolish it next week; but something else will take its place within another twenty-four hours. A pavilion which is an exact replica of the one in Italy, let us say, may be erected for one scene in a play, and be absolutely valueless tomorrow. Money is thrown away as chaff before the wind. Almost it would seem that it would be more sensible to send a whole company to Italy than thus to toss gold into the Pacific. But no – all the paraphernalia is here – including the light that Nature has so thoughtfully and lavishly bestowed. Instead of actors being transported to Italy, therefore, Italy is brought to America – for a week or two; and nothing is thought of the miracle. next to it, a Greek village may be in the process of construction.”

 

Hollywood Studios 1922

Hollywood Studios 1922 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“‘The world is too much with us.’ one might say of Hollywood; and indeed the whole world seems literally to be here, concentrated in one tiny corner of the Earth. So many assortments are here that it reminds one of those ingenious prisoners who, with nothing else to do, crowd the words of the Lord’s Prayer on a pin-head. Hollywood is a contracted dance floor, on which everyone in the world is dancing; and the jazz goes on incessantly. There seems no rhyme or reason here, no method, no system, no direction; it appears a madhouse – as it is, and isn’t; and a visitor finds it difficult to adjust himself at first, to fall into step on the crowded, nervous floor.”

 

“Is it any wonder? For hodge-podge is Hollywood’s first, middle and last name. Confusion is the god that in some mysterious way runs this crazy universe.”

 

A Night at the Movies (film)

A Night at the Movies (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“What shall be said of a judgement that exploits the so-called “personalities” of little girls with weak chins but big black  eyes that “film” well, in stories dashed off like penny-dreadfuls, with ungrammatical captions and incoherent “continuity?” Of actors who care only for the money that they earn, and wouldn’t give tuppence for the studios unless their pay-envelope bulged at the end of the week and they could ride back and forth in a ten-thousand-dollar car? Of the younger group of perfect cameo-like profiles who leave shops and offices to go into the films, with no knowledge of the technique of acting, and who, when they have a priceless opportunity to watch a really great artist before the camera (for there are such), sit behind clumps of scenery and smoke innumerable cigarettes?”

 

And that’s that from Friday Facts for this week; See ya next week for part two of this wonderful article, so adios amigo!

 

Posted by Michael ‘Charlie’ McGee