Art of the Moving Picture, The



The outline is complete. Now to reënforce it. Pictures of Action Intimacy and Splendor are the foundation colors in the photoplay, as red, blue, and yellow are the basis of the rainbow. Action Films might be called the red section; Intimate Motion Pictures, being colder and quieter, might be called blue; and Splendor Photoplays called yellow, since that is the hue of pageants and sunshine.

Another way of showing the distinction is to review the types of gesture. The Action Photoplay deals with generalized pantomime: the gesture of the conventional policeman in contrast with the mannerism of the stereotyped preacher. The Intimate Film gives us more elusive personal gestures: the difference between the table manners of two preachers in the same restaurant, or two policemen. A mark of the Fairy Play is the gesture of incantation, the sweep of the arm whereby Mab would transform a prince into a hawk. The other Splendor Films deal with the total gestures of crowds: the pantomime of a torch-waving mass of men, the drill of an army on the march, or the bending of the heads of a congregation receiving the benediction.

Another way to demonstrate the thesis is to use the old classification of poetry: dramatic, lyric, epic. The Action Play is a narrow form of the dramatic. The Intimate Motion Picture is an equivalent of the lyric. In the seventeenth chapter it is shown that one type of the Intimate might be classed as imagist. And obviously the Splendor Pictures are the equivalent of the epic.

But perhaps the most adequate way of showing the meaning of this outline is to say that the Action Film is sculpture-in-motion, the Intimate Photoplay is painting-in-motion, and the Fairy Pageant, along with the rest of the Splendor Pictures, may be described as architecture-in-motion. This chapter will discuss the bearing of the phrase sculpture-in-motion. It will relate directly to chapter two.

First, gentle and kindly reader, let us discuss sculpture in its most literal sense: after that, less realistically, but perhaps more adequately. Let us begin with Annette Kellerman in Neptune's Daughter. This film has a crude plot constructed to show off Annette's various athletic resources. It is good photography, and a big idea so far as the swimming episodes are concerned. An artist haunted by picture-conceptions equivalent to the musical thoughts back of Wagner's Rhine-maidens could have made of Annette, in her mermaid's dress, a notable figure. Or a story akin to the mermaid tale of Hans Christian Andersen, or Matthew Arnold's poem of the forsaken merman, could have made this picturesque witch of the salt water truly significant, and still retained the most beautiful parts of the photoplay as it was exhibited. It is an exceedingly irrelevant imagination that shows her in other scenes as a duellist, for instance, because forsooth she can fence. As a child of the ocean, half fish, half woman, she is indeed convincing. Such mermaids as this have haunted sailors, and lured them on the rocks to their doom, from the day the siren sang till the hour the Lorelei sang no more. The scene with the baby mermaid, when she swims with the pretty creature on her back, is irresistible. Why are our managers so mechanical? Why do they flatten out at the moment the fancy of the tiniest reader of fairy-tales begins to be alive? Most of Annette's support were stage dummies. Neptune was a lame Santa Claus with cotton whiskers.

But as for the bearing of the film on this chapter: the human figure is within its rights whenever it is as free from self-consciousness as was the life-radiating Annette in the heavenly clear waters of Bermuda. On the other hand, Neptune and his pasteboard diadem and wooden-pointed pitchfork, should have put on his dressing-gown and retired. As a toe dancer in an alleged court scene, on land, Annette was a mere simperer. Possibly Pavlowa as a swimmer in Bermuda waters would have been as much of a mistake. Each queen to her kingdom.

For living, moving sculpture, the human eye requires a costume and a part in unity with the meaning of that particular figure. There is the Greek dress of Mordkin in the arrow dance. There is Annette's breast covering of shells, and wonderful flowing mermaid hair, clothing her as the midnight does the moon. The new costume freedom of the photoplay allows such limitation of clothing as would be probable when one is honestly in touch with wild nature and preoccupied with vigorous exercise. Thus the cave-man and desert island narratives, though seldom well done, when produced with verisimilitude, give an opportunity for the native human frame in the logical wrappings of reeds and skins. But those who in a silly hurry seek excuses, are generally merely ridiculous, like the barefoot man who is terribly tender about walking on the pebbles, or the wild man who is white as celery or grass under a board. There is no short cut to vitality.

A successful literal use of sculpture is in the film Oil and Water. Blanche Sweet is the leader of the play within a play which occupies the first reel. Here the Olympians and the Muses, with a grace that we fancy was Greek, lead a dance that traces the story of the spring, summer, and autumn of life. Finally the supple dancers turn gray and old and die, but not before they have given us a vision from the Ionian islands. The play might have been inspired from reading Keats' Lamia, but is probably derived from the work of Isadora Duncan. This chapter has hereafter only a passing word or two on literal sculptural effects. It has more in mind the carver's attitude toward all that passes before the eye.

The sculptor George Gray Barnard is responsible for none of the views in this discourse, but he has talked to me at length about his sense of discovery in watching the most ordinary motion pictures, and his delight in following them with their endless combinations of masses and flowing surfaces.

The little far-away people on the old-fashioned speaking stage do not appeal to the plastic sense in this way. They are, by comparison, mere bits of pasteboard with sweet voices, while, on the other hand, the photoplay foreground is full of dumb giants. The bodies of these giants are in high sculptural relief. Where the lights are quite glaring and the photography is bad, many of the figures are as hard in their impact on the eye as lime-white plaster-casts, no matter what the clothing. There are several passages of this sort in the otherwise beautiful Enoch Arden, where the shipwrecked sailor is depicted on his desert island in the glaring sun.

What materials should the photoplay figures suggest? There are as many possible materials as there are subjects for pictures and tone schemes to be considered. But we will take for illustration wood, bronze, and marble, since they have been used in the old sculptural art.

There is found in most art shows a type of carved wood gargoyle where the work and the subject are at one, not only in the color of the wood, but in the way the material masses itself, in bulk betrays its qualities. We will suppose a moving picture humorist who is in the same mood as the carver. He chooses a story of quaint old ladies, street gamins, and fat aldermen. Imagine the figures with the same massing and interplay suddenly invested with life, yet giving to the eye a pleasure kindred to that which is found in carved wood, and bringing to the fancy a similar humor.

Or there is a type of Action Story where the mood of the figures is that of bronze, with the æsthetic resources of that metal: its elasticity; its emphasis on the tendon, ligament, and bone, rather than on the muscle; and an attribute that we will call the panther-like quality. Hermon A. MacNeil has a memorable piece of work in the yard of the architect Shaw, at Lake Forest, Illinois. It is called "The Sun Vow." A little Indian is shooting toward the sun, while the old warrior, crouching immediately behind him, follows with his eye the direction of the arrow. Few pieces of sculpture come readily to mind that show more happily the qualities of bronze as distinguished from other materials. To imagine such a group done in marble, carved wood, or Della Robbia ware is to destroy the very image in the fancy.

The photoplay of the American Indian should in most instances be planned as bronze in action. The tribes should not move so rapidly that the panther-like elasticity is lost in the riding, running, and scalping. On the other hand, the aborigines should be far from the temperateness of marble.

Mr. Edward S. Curtis, the super-photographer, has made an Ethnological collection of photographs of our American Indians. This work of a life-time, a supreme art achievement, shows the native as a figure in bronze. Mr. Curtis' photoplay, The Land of the Head Hunters (World Film Corporation), a romance of the Indians of the North-West, abounds in noble bronzes.

I have gone through my old territories as an art student, in the Chicago Art Institute and the Metropolitan Museum, of late, in special excursions, looking for sculpture, painting, and architecture that might be the basis for the photoplays of the future.

The Bacchante of Frederick MacMonnies is in bronze in the Metropolitan Museum and in bronze replica in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. There is probably no work that more rejoices the hearts of the young art students in either city. The youthful creature illustrates a most joyous leap into the air. She is high on one foot with the other knee lifted. She holds a bunch of grapes full-arm's length. Her baby, clutched in the other hand, is reaching up with greedy mouth toward the fruit. The bacchante body is glistening in the light. This is joy-in-bronze as the Sun Vow is power-in-bronze. This special story could not be told in another medium. I have seen in Paris a marble copy of this Bacchante. It is as though it were done in soap. On the other hand, many of the renaissance Italian sculptors have given us children in marble in low relief, dancing like lilies in the wind. They could not be put into bronze.

The plot of the Action Photoplay is literally or metaphorically a chase down the road or a hurdle-race. It might be well to consider how typical figures for such have been put into carved material. There are two bronze statues that have their replicas in all museums. They are generally one on either side of the main hall, towering above the second-story balustrade. First, the statue of Gattamelata, a Venetian general, by Donatello. The original is in Padua. Then there is the figure of Bartolommeo Colleoni. The original is in Venice. It is by Verrocchio and Leopardi. These equestrians radiate authority. There is more action in them than in any cowboy hordes I have ever beheld zipping across the screen. Look upon them and ponder long, prospective author-producer. Even in a simple chase-picture, the speed must not destroy the chance to enjoy the modelling. If you would give us mounted legions, destined to conquer, let any one section of the film, if it is stopped and studied, be grounded in the same bronze conception. The Assyrian commanders in Griffith's Judith would, without great embarrassment, stand this test.

But it may not be the pursuit of an enemy we have in mind. It may be a spring celebration, horsemen in Arcadia, going to some happy tournament. Where will we find our precedents for such a cavalcade? Go to any museum. Find the Parthenon room. High on the wall is the copy of the famous marble frieze of the young citizens who are in the procession in praise of Athena. Such a rhythm of bodies and heads and the feet of proud steeds, and above all the profiles of thoroughbred youths, no city has seen since that day. The delicate composition relations, ever varying, ever refreshing, amid the seeming sameness of formula of rider behind rider, have been the delight of art students the world over, and shall so remain. No serious observer escapes the exhilaration of this company. Let it be studied by the author-producer though it be but an idyl in disguise that his scenario calls for: merry young farmers hurrying to the State Fair parade, boys making all speed to the political rally.

Buy any three moving picture magazines you please. Mark the illustrations that are massive, in high relief, with long lines in their edges. Cut out and sort some of these. I have done it on the table where I write. After throwing away all but the best specimens, I have four different kinds of sculpture. First, behold the inevitable cowboy. He is on a ramping horse, filling the entire outlook. The steed rears, while facing us. The cowboy waves his hat. There is quite such an animal by Frederick MacMonnies, wrought in bronze, set up on a gate to a park in Brooklyn. It is not the identical color of the photoplay animal, but the bronze elasticity is the joy in both.

Here is a scene of a masked monk, carrying off a fainting girl. The hero intercepts him. The figures of the lady and the monk are in sufficient sculptural harmony to make a formal sculptural group for an art exhibition. The picture of the hero, strong, with well-massed surfaces, is related to both. The fact that he is in evening dress does not alter his monumental quality. All three are on a stone balcony that relates itself to the general largeness of spirit in the group, and the semi-classic dress of the maiden. No doubt the title is: The Morning Following the Masquerade Ball. This group could be made in unglazed clay, in four colors.

Here is an American lieutenant with two ladies. The three are suddenly alert over the approach of the villain, who is not yet in the picture. In costume it is an everyday group, but those three figures are related to one another, and the trees behind them, in simple sculptural terms. The lieutenant, as is to be expected, looks forth in fierce readiness. One girl stands with clasped hands. The other points to the danger. The relations of these people to one another may seem merely dramatic to the superficial observer, but the power of the group is in the fact that it is monumental. I could imagine it done in four different kinds of rare tropical wood, carved unpolished.

Here is a scene of storm and stress in an office where the hero is caught with seemingly incriminating papers. The table is in confusion. The room is filling with people, led by one accusing woman. Is this also sculpture? Yes. The figures are in high relief. Even the surfaces of the chairs and the littered table are massive, and the eye travels without weariness, as it should do in sculpture, from the hero to the furious woman, then to the attorney behind her, then to the two other revilers, then to the crowd in three loose rhythmic ranks. The eye makes this journey, not from space to space, or fabric to fabric, but first of all from mass to mass. It is sculpture, but it is the sort that can be done in no medium but the moving picture itself, and therefore it is one goal of this argument.

But there are several other goals. One of the sculpturesque resources of the photoplay is that the human countenance can be magnified many times, till it fills the entire screen. Some examples are in rather low relief, portraits approximating certain painters. But if they are on sculptural terms, and are studies of the faces of thinking men, let the producer make a pilgrimage to Washington for his precedent. There, in the rotunda of the capitol, is the face of Lincoln by Gutzon Borglum. It is one of the eminently successful attempts to get at the secret of the countenance by enlarging it much, and concentrating the whole consideration there.

The photoplay producer, seemingly without taking thought, is apt to show a sculptural sense in giving us Newfoundland fishermen, clad in oilskins. The background may have an unconscious Winslow Homer reminiscence. In the foreground our hardy heroes fill the screen, and dripping with sea-water become wave-beaten granite, yet living creatures none the less. Imagine some one chapter from the story of Little Em'ly in David Copperfield, retold in the films. Show us Ham Peggotty and old Mr. Peggotty in colloquy over their nets. There are many powerful bronze groups to be had from these two, on to the heroic and unselfish death of Ham, rescuing his enemy in storm and lightning.

I have seen one rich picture of alleged cannibal tribes. It was a comedy about a missionary. But the aborigines were like living ebony and silver. That was long ago. Such things come too much by accident. The producer is not sufficiently aware that any artistic element in his list of productions that is allowed to go wild, that has not had full analysis, reanalysis, and final conservation, wastes his chance to attain supreme mastery.

Open your history of sculpture, and dwell upon those illustrations which are not the normal, reposeful statues, but the exceptional, such as have been listed for this chapter. Imagine that each dancing, galloping, or fighting figure comes down into the room life-size. Watch it against a dark curtain. Let it go through a series of gestures in harmony with the spirit of the original conception, and as rapidly as possible, not to lose nobility. If you have the necessary elasticity, imagine the figures wearing the costumes of another period, yet retaining in their motions the same essential spirit. Combine them in your mind with one or two kindred figures, enlarged till they fill the end of the room. You have now created the beginning of an Action Photoplay in your own fancy.

Do this with each most energetic classic till your imagination flags. I do not want to be too dogmatic, but it seems to me this is one way to evolve real Action Plays. It would, perhaps, be well to substitute this for the usual method of evolving them from old stage material or newspaper clippings.

There is in the Metropolitan Museum a noble modern group, the Mares of Diomedes, by the aforementioned Gutzon Borglum. It is full of material for the meditations of a man who wants to make a film of a stampede. The idea is that Hercules, riding his steed bareback, guides it in a circle. He is fascinating the horses he has been told to capture. They are held by the mesmerism of the circular path and follow him round and round till they finally fall from exhaustion. Thus the Indians of the West capture wild ponies, and Borglum, a far western man, imputes the method to Hercules. The bronze group shows a segment of this circle. The whirlwind is at its height. The mares are wild to taste the flesh of Hercules. Whoever is to photograph horses, let him study the play of light and color and muscle-texture in this bronze. And let no group of horses ever run faster than these of Borglum.

An occasional hint of a Michelangelo figure or gesture appears for a flash in the films. Young artist in the audience, does it pass you by? Open your history of sculpture again and look at the usual list of Michelangelo groups. Suppose the seated majesty of Moses should rise, what would be the quality of the action? Suppose the sleeping figures of the Medician tombs should wake, or those famous slaves should break their bands, or David again hurl the stone. Would not their action be as heroic as their quietness? Is it not possible to have a Michelangelo of photoplay sculpture? Should we not look for him in the fulness of time? His figures might come to us in the skins of the desert island solitary, or as cave men and women, or as mermaids and mermen, and yet have a force and grandeur akin to that of the old Italian.

Rodin's famous group of the citizens of Calais is an example of the expression of one particular idea by a special technical treatment. The producer who tells a kindred story to that of the siege of Calais, and the final going of these humble men to their doom, will have a hero-tale indeed. It will be not only sculpture-in-action, but a great Crowd Picture. It begins to be seen that the possibilities of monumental achievement in the films transcend the narrow boundaries of the Action Photoplay. Why not conceptions as heroic as Rodin's Hand of God, where the first pair are clasped in the gigantic fingers of their maker in the clay from which they came?

Finally, I desire in moving pictures, not the stillness, but the majesty of sculpture. I do not advocate for the photoplay the mood of the Venus of Milo. But let us turn to that sister of hers, the great Victory of Samothrace, that spreads her wings at the head of the steps of the Louvre, and in many an art gallery beside. When you are appraising a new film, ask yourself: "Is this motion as rapid, as godlike, as the sweep of the wings of the Samothracian?" Let her be the touchstone of the Action Drama, for nothing can be more swift than the winged Gods, nothing can be more powerful than the oncoming of the immortals.

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