Art of the Moving Picture, The




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.

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