Art of the Moving Picture, The



The moving picture goes almost as far as journalism into the social fabric in some ways, further in others. Soon, no doubt, many a little town will have its photographic news-press. We have already the weekly world-news films from the big centres.

With local journalism will come devices for advertising home enterprises. Some staple products will be made attractive by having film-actors show their uses. The motion pictures will be in the public schools to stay. Text-books in geography, history, zoõlogy, botany, physiology, and other sciences will be illustrated by standardized films. Along with these changes, there will be available at certain centres collections of films equivalent to the Standard Dictionary and the Encyclopædia Britannica.

And sooner or later we will have a straight-out capture of a complete film expression by the serious forces of civilization. The merely impudent motion picture will be relegated to the leisure hours with yellow journalism. Photoplay libraries are inevitable, as active if not as multitudinous as the book-circulating libraries. The oncoming machinery and expense of the motion picture is immense. Where will the money come from? No one knows. What the people want they will get. The race of man cannot afford automobiles, but has them nevertheless. We cannot run away into non-automobile existence or non-steam-engine or non-movie life long at a time. We must conquer this thing. While the more stately scientific and educational aspects just enumerated are slowly on their way, the artists must be up and about their ameliorative work.

Every considerable effort to develop a noble idiom will count in the final result, as the writers of early English made possible the language of the Bible, Shakespeare, and Milton. We are perfecting a medium to be used as long as Chinese ideographs have been. It will no doubt, like the Chinese language, record in the end massive and classical treatises, imperial chronicles, law-codes, traditions, and religious admonitions. All this by the motion picture as a recording instrument, not necessarily the photoplay, a much more limited thing, a form of art.

What shall be done in especial by this generation of idealists, whose flags rise and go down, whose battle line wavers and breaks a thousand times? What is the high quixotic splendid call? We know of a group of public-spirited people who advocate, in endowed films, "safety first," another that champions total abstinence. Often their work seems lost in the mass of commercial production, but it is a good beginning. Such citizens take an established studio for a specified time and at the end put on the market a production that backs up their particular idea. There are certain terms between the owners of the film and the proprietors of the studio for the division of the income, the profits of the cult being spent on further propaganda. The product need not necessarily be the type outlined in chapter two, The Photoplay of Action. Often some other sort might establish the cause more deeply. But most of the propaganda films are of the action variety, because of the dynamic character of the people who produce them. Fired by fanatic zeal, the auto speeds faster, the rescuing hero runs harder, the stern policeman and sheriff become more jumpy, all that the audience may be converted. Here if anywhere meditation on the actual resources of charm and force in the art is a fitting thing. The crusader should realize that it is not a good Action Play nor even a good argument unless it is indeed the Winged Victory sort. The gods are not always on the side of those who throw fits.

There is here appended a newspaper description of a crusading film, that, despite the implications of the notice, has many passages of charm. It is two-thirds Action Photoplay, one-third Intimate-and-friendly. The notice does not imply that at times the story takes pains to be gentle. This bit of writing is all too typical of film journalism.

"Not only as an argument for suffrage but as a play with a story, a punch, and a mission, 'Your Girl and Mine' is produced under the direction of the National Woman's Suffrage Association at the Capitol to-day.

"Olive Wyndham forsook the legitimate stage for the time to pose as the heroine of the play. Katherine Kaelred, leading lady of 'Joseph and his Brethren,' took the part of a woman lawyer battling for the right. Sydney Booth, of the 'Yellow Ticket' company posed as the hero of the experiment. John Charles and Katharine Henry played the villain and the honest working girl. About three hundred secondaries were engaged along with the principals.

"It is melodrama of the most thrilling sort, in spite of the fact that there is a moral concealed in the very title of the play. But who is worried by a moral in a play which has an exciting hand-to-hand fight between a man and a woman in one of the earliest acts, when the quick march of events ranges from a wedding to a murder and an automobile abduction scene that breaks all former speed-records. 'The Cause' comes in most symbolically and poetically, a symbolic figure that 'fades out' at critical periods in the plot. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, the famous suffrage leader, appears personally in the film.

"'Your Girl and Mine' is a big play with a big mission built on a big scale. It is a whole evening's entertainment, and a very interesting evening at that." Here endeth the newspaper notice. Compare it with the Biograph advertisement of Judith in chapter six.

There is nothing in the film that rasps like this account of it. The clipping serves to give the street-atmosphere through which our Woman's Suffrage Joan of Arcs move to conquest and glory with unstained banners.

The obvious amendments to the production as an instrument of persuasion are two. Firstly there should be five reels instead of six, every scene shortened a bit to bring this result. Secondly, the lieutenant governor of the state, who is the Rudolf Rassendyll of the production, does not enter the story soon enough, and is too James K. Hacketty all at once. We are jerked into admiration of him, rather than ensnared. But after that the gentleman behaves more handsomely than any of the distinguished lieutenant governors in real life the present writer happens to remember. The figure of Aunt Jane, the queenly serious woman of affairs, is one to admire and love. Her effectiveness without excess or strain is in itself an argument for giving woman the vote. The newspaper notice does not state the facts in saying the symbolical figure "fades out" at critical periods in the plot. On the contrary, she appears at critical periods, clothed in white, solemn and royal. She comes into the groups with an adequate allurement, pointing the moral of each situation while she shines brightest. The two children for whom the contest is fought are winsome little girls. By the side of their mother in the garden or in the nursery they are a potent argument for the natural rights of femininity. The film is by no means ultra-æsthetic. The implications of the clipping are correct to that degree. But the resources of beauty within the ready command of the advising professional producer are used by the women for all they are worth. It could not be asked of them that they evolve technical novelties.

Yet the figures of Aunt Jane and the Goddess of Suffrage are something new in their fashion. Aunt Jane is a spiritual sister to that unprecedented woman, Jane Addams, who went to the Hague conference for Peace in the midst of war, which heroic action the future will not forget. Aunt Jane does justice to that breed of women amid the sweetness and flowers and mere scenario perils of the photoplay story. The presence of the "Votes for Women" figure is the beginning of a line of photoplay goddesses that serious propaganda in the new medium will make part of the American Spiritual Hierarchy. In the imaginary film of Our Lady Springfield, described in the chapter on Architecture-in-Motion, a kindred divinity is presumed to stand by the side of the statue when it first reaches the earth.

High-minded graduates of university courses in sociology and schools of philanthropy, devout readers of The Survey, The Chicago Public, The Masses, The New Republic, La Follette's, are going to advocate increasingly, their varied and sometimes contradictory causes, in films. These will generally be produced by heroic exertions in the studio, and much passing of the subscription paper outside.

Then there are endowments already in existence that will no doubt be diverted to the photoplay channel. In every state house, and in Washington, D.C., increasing quantities of dead printed matter have been turned out year after year. They have served to kindle various furnaces and feed the paper-mills a second time. Many of these routine reports will remain in innocuous desuetude. But one-fourth of them, perhaps, are capable of being embodied in films. If they are scientific demonstrations, they can be made into realistic motion picture records. If they are exhortations, they can be transformed into plays with a moral, brothers of the film Your Girl and Mine. The appropriations for public printing should include such work hereafter.

The scientific museums distribute routine pamphlets that would set the whole world right on certain points if they were but read by said world. Let them be filmed and started. Whatever the congressman is permitted to frank to his constituency, let him send in the motion picture form when it is the expedient and expressive way.

When men work for the high degrees in the universities, they labor on a piece of literary conspiracy called a thesis which no one outside the university hears of again. The gist of this research work that is dead to the democracy, through the university merits of thoroughness, moderation of statement, and final touch of discovery, would have a chance to live and grip the people in a motion picture transcript, if not a photoplay. It would be University Extension. The relentless fire of criticism which the heads of the departments would pour on the production before they allowed it to pass would result in a standardization of the sense of scientific fact over the land. Suppose the film has the coat of arms of the University of Chicago along with the name of the young graduate whose thesis it is. He would have a chance to reflect credit on the university even as much as a foot-ball player.

Large undertakings might be under way, like those described in the chapter on Architecture-in-Motion. But these would require much more than the ordinary outlay for thesis work, less, perhaps, than is taken for Athletics. Lyman Howe and several other world-explorers have already set the pace in the more human side of the educative film. The list of Mr. Howe's offerings from the first would reveal many a one that would have run the gantlet of a university department. He points out a new direction for old energies, whereby professors may become citizens.

Let the cave-man, reader of picture-writing, be allowed to ponder over scientific truth. He is at present the victim of the alleged truth of the specious and sentimental variety of photograph. It gives the precise edges of the coat or collar of the smirking masher and the exact fibre in the dress of the jumping-jack. The eye grows weary of sharp points and hard edges that mean nothing. All this idiotic precision is going to waste. It should be enlisted in the cause of science and abated everywhere else. The edges in art are as mysterious as in science they are exact.

Some of the higher forms of the Intimate Moving Picture play should be endowed by local coteries representing their particular region. Every community of fifty thousand has its group of the cultured who have heretofore studied and imitated things done in the big cities. Some of these coteries will in exceptional cases become creative and begin to express their habitation and name. The Intimate Photoplay is capable of that delicacy and that informality which should characterize neighborhood enterprises.

The plays could be acted by the group who, season after season, have secured the opera house for the annual amateur show. Other dramatic ability could be found in the high-schools. There is enough talent in any place to make an artistic revolution, if once that region is aflame with a common vision. The spirit that made the Irish Players, all so racy of the soil, can also move the company of local photoplayers in Topeka, or Indianapolis, or Denver. Then let them speak for their town, not only in great occasional enterprises, but steadily, in little fancies, genre pictures, developing a technique that will finally make magnificence possible.

There was given not long ago, at the Illinois Country Club here, a performance of The Yellow Jacket by the Coburn Players. It at once seemed an integral part of this chapter.

The two flags used for a chariot, the bamboo poles for oars, the red sack for a decapitated head, etc., were all convincing, through a direct resemblance as well as the passionate acting. They suggest a possible type of hieroglyphics to be developed by the leader of the local group.

Let the enthusiast study this westernized Chinese play for primitive representative methods. It can be found in book form, a most readable work. It is by G.C. Hazelton, Jr., and J.H. Benrimo. The resemblance between the stage property and the thing represented is fairly close. The moving flags on each side of the actor suggest the actual color and progress of the chariot, and abstractly suggest its magnificence. The red sack used for a bloody head has at least the color and size of one. The dressed-up block of wood used for a child is the length of an infant of the age described and wears the general costume thereof. The farmer's hoe, though exaggerated, is still an agricultural implement.

The evening's list of properties is economical, filling one wagon, rather than three. Photographic realism is splendidly put to rout by powerful representation. When the villager desires to embody some episode that if realistically given would require a setting beyond the means of the available endowment, and does not like the near-Egyptian method, let him evolve his near-Chinese set of symbols.

The Yellow Jacket was written after long familiarity with the Chinese Theatre in San Francisco. The play is a glory to that city as well as to Hazelton and Benrimo. But every town in the United States has something as striking as the Chinese Theatre, to the man who keeps the eye of his soul open. It has its Ministerial Association, its boys' secret society, its red-eyed political gang, its grubby Justice of the Peace court, its free school for the teaching of Hebrew, its snobbish chapel, its fire-engine house, its milliner's shop. All these could be made visible in photoplays as flies are preserved in amber.

Edgar Lee Masters looked about him and discovered the village graveyard, and made it as wonderful as Noah's Ark, or Adam naming the animals, by supplying honest inscriptions to the headstones. Such stories can be told by the Chinese theatrical system as well. As many different films could be included under the general title: "Seven Old Families, and Why they Went to Smash." Or a less ominous series would be "Seven Victorious Souls." For there are triumphs every day under the drab monotony of an apparently defeated town: conquests worthy of the waving of sun-banners. Above all, The Yellow Jacket points a moral for this chapter because there was conscience behind it. First: the rectitude of the Chinese actors of San Francisco who kept the dramatic tradition alive, a tradition that was bequeathed from the ancient generations. Then the artistic integrity of the men who readapted the tradition for western consumption, and their religious attitude that kept the high teaching and devout feeling for human life intact in the play. Then the zeal of the Drama League that indorsed it for the country. Then the earnest work of the Coburn Players who embodied it devoutly, so that the whole company became dear friends forever.

By some such ladder of conscience as this can the local scenario be endowed, written, acted, filmed, and made a real part of the community life. The Yellow Jacket was a drama, not a photoplay. This chapter does not urge that it be readapted for a photoplay in San Francisco or anywhere else. But a kindred painting-in-motion, something as beautiful and worthy and intimate, in strictly photoplay terms, might well be the flower of the work of the local groups of film actors.

Harriet Monroe's magazine, "Poetry" (Chicago), has given us a new sect, the Imagists:—Ezra Pound, Richard Aldington, John Gould Fletcher, Amy Lowell, F.S. Flint, D.H. Lawrence, and others. They are gathering followers and imitators. To these followers I would say: the Imagist impulse need not be confined to verse. Why would you be imitators of these leaders when you might be creators in a new medium? There is a clear parallelism between their point of view in verse and the Intimate-and-friendly Photoplay, especially when it is developed from the standpoint of the last part of chapter nine, space measured without sound plus time measured without sound.

There is no clan to-day more purely devoted to art for art's sake than the Imagist clan. An Imagist film would offer a noble challenge to the overstrained emotion, the over-loaded splendor, the mere repetition of what are at present the finest photoplays. Now even the masterpieces are incontinent. Except for some of the old one-reel Biographs of Griffith's beginning, there is nothing of Doric restraint from the best to the worst. Read some of the poems of the people listed above, then imagine the same moods in the films. Imagist photoplays would be Japanese prints taking on life, animated Japanese paintings, Pompeian mosaics in kaleidoscopic but logical succession, Beardsley drawings made into actors and scenery, Greek vase-paintings in motion.

Scarcely a photoplay but hints at the Imagists in one scene. Then the illusion is lost in the next turn of the reel. Perhaps it would be a sound observance to confine this form of motion picture to a half reel or quarter reel, just as the Imagist poem is generally a half or quarter page. A series of them could fill a special evening.

The Imagists are colorists. Some people do not consider that photographic black, white, and gray are color. But here for instance are seven colors which the Imagists might use: (1) The whiteness of swans in the light. (2) The whiteness of swans in a gentle shadow. (3) The color of a sunburned man in the light. (4) His color in a gentle shadow. (5) His color in a deeper shadow. (6) The blackness of black velvet in the light. (7) The blackness of black velvet in a deep shadow. And to use these colors with definite steps from one to the other does not militate against an artistic mystery of edge and softness in the flow of line. There is a list of possible Imagist textures which is only limited by the number of things to be seen in the world. Probably only seven or ten would be used in one scheme and the same list kept through one production.

The Imagist photoplay will put discipline into the inner ranks of the enlightened and remind the sculptors, painters, and architects of the movies that there is a continence even beyond sculpture and that seas of realism may not have the power of a little well-considered elimination.

The use of the scientific film by established institutions like schools and state governments has been discussed. Let the Church also, in her own way, avail herself of the motion picture, whole-heartedly, as in mediæval time she took over the marvel of Italian painting. There was a stage in her history when religious representation was by Byzantine mosaics, noble in color, having an architectural use, but curious indeed to behold from the standpoint of those who crave a sensitive emotional record. The first paintings of Cimabue and Giotto, giving these formulas a touch of life, were hailed with joy by all Italy. Now the Church Universal has an opportunity to establish her new painters if she will. She has taken over in the course of history, for her glory, miracle plays, Romanesque and Gothic architecture, stained glass windows, and the music of St. Cecilia's organ. Why not this new splendor? The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, on Morningside Heights, should establish in its crypt motion pictures as thoroughly considered as the lines of that building, if possible designed by the architects thereof, with the same sense of permanency.

This chapter does not advocate that the Church lay hold of the photoplays as one more medium for reillustrating the stories of the Bible as they are given in the Sunday-school papers. It is not pietistic simpering that will feed the spirit of Christendom, but a steady church-patronage of the most skilful and original motion picture artists. Let the Church follow the precedent which finally gave us Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Andrea del Sarto, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Correggio, Titian, Paul Veronese, Tintoretto, and the rest.

Who will endow the successors of the present woman's suffrage film, and other great crusading films? Who will see that the public documents and university researches take on the form of motion pictures? Who will endow the local photoplay and the Imagist photoplay? Who will take the first great measures to insure motion picture splendors in the church?

Things such as these come on the winds of to-morrow. But let the crusader look about him, and where it is possible, put in the diplomatic word, and coöperate with the Gray Norns.

1 of 2
2 of 2