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Art of the Moving Picture, The

CHAPTER XVIII

ARCHITECTS AS CRUSADERS

Many a worker sees his future America as a Utopia, in which his own profession, achieving dictatorship, alleviates the ills of men. The militarist grows dithyrambic in showing how war makes for the blessings of peace. The economic teacher argues that if we follow his political economy, none of us will have to economize. The church-fanatic says if all churches will merge with his organization, none of them will have to try to behave again. They will just naturally be good. The physician hopes to abolish the devil by sanitation. We have our Utopias. Despite levity, the present writer thinks that such hopes are among the most useful things the earth possesses.

A normal man in the full tide of his activities finds that a world-machinery could logically be built up by his profession. At least in the heyday of his working hours his vocation satisfies his heart. So he wants the entire human race to taste that satisfaction. Approximate Utopias have been built from the beginning. Many civilizations have had some dominant craft to carry them the major part of the way. The priests have made India. The classical student has preserved Old China to its present hour of new life. The samurai knights have made Japan. Sailors have evolved the British Empire. One of the enticing future Americas is that of the architect. Let the architect appropriate the photoplay as his means of propaganda and begin. From its intrinsic genius it can give his profession a start beyond all others in dominating this land. Or such is one of many speculations of the present writer.

The photoplay can speak the language of the man who has a mind World's Fair size. That we are going to have successive generations of such builders may be reasonably implied from past expositions. Beginning with Philadelphia in 1876, and going on to San Francisco and San Diego in 1915, nothing seems to stop us from the habit. Let us enlarge this proclivity into a national mission in as definite a movement, as thoroughly thought out as the evolution of the public school system, the formation of the Steel Trust, and the like. After duly weighing all the world's fairs, let our architects set about making the whole of the United States into a permanent one. Supposing the date to begin the erection be 1930. Till that time there should be tireless if indirect propaganda that will further the architectural state of mind, and later bring about the elucidation of the plans while they are being perfected. For many years this America, founded on the psychology of the Splendor Photoplay, will be evolving. It might be conceived as a going concern at a certain date within the lives of men now living, but it should never cease to develop.

To make films of a more beautiful United States is as practical and worth while a custom as to make military spy maps of every inch of a neighbor's territory, putting in each fence and cross-roads. Those who would satisfy the national pride with something besides battle flags must give our people an objective as shining and splendid as war when it is most glittering, something Napoleonic, and with no outward pretence of excessive virtue. We want a substitute as dramatic internationally, yet world-winning, friend making. If America is to become the financial centre through no fault of her own, that fact must have a symbol other than guns on the sea-coast.

If it is inexpedient for the architectural patriarchs and their young hopefuls to take over the films bodily, let a board of strategy be formed who make it their business to eat dinner with the scenario writers, producers, and owners, conspiring with them in some practical way.

Why should we not consider ourselves a deathless Panama-Pacific Exposition on a coast-to-coast scale? Let Chicago be the transportation building, Denver the mining building. Let Kansas City be the agricultural building and Jacksonville, Florida, the horticultural building, and so around the states.

Even as in mediæval times men rode for hundreds of miles through perils to the permanent fairs of the free cities, the world-travellers will attend this exhibit, and many of them will in the end become citizens. Our immigration will be something more than tide upon tide of raw labor. The Architects would send forth publicity films which are not only delineations of a future Cincinnati, Cleveland, or St. Louis, but whole counties and states and groups of states could be planned at one time, with the development of their natural fauna, flora, and forestry. Wherever nature has been rendered desolate by industry or mere haste, there let the architect and park-architect proclaim the plan. Wherever she is still splendid and untamed, let her not be violated.

America is in the state of mind where she must visualize herself again. If it is not possible to bring in the New Jerusalem to-day, by public act, with every citizen eating bread and honey under his vine and fig-tree, owning forty acres and a mule, singing hymns and saying prayers all his leisure hours, it is still reasonable to think out tremendous things the American people can do, in the light of what they have done, without sacrificing any of their native cussedness or kick. It was sprawling Chicago that in 1893 achieved the White City. The automobile routes bind the states together closer than muddy counties were held in 1893. A "Permanent World's Fair" may be a phrase distressing to the literal mind. Perhaps it would be better to say "An Architect's America."

Let each city take expert counsel from the architectural demigods how to tear out the dirty core of its principal business square and erect a combination of civic centre and permanent and glorious bazaar. Let the public debate the types of state flower, tree, and shrub that are expedient, the varieties of villages and middle-sized towns, farm-homes, and connecting parkways.

Sometimes it seems to me the American expositions are as characteristic things as our land has achieved. They went through without hesitation. The difficulties of one did not deter the erection of the next. The United States may be in many things slack. Often the democracy looks hopelessly shoddy. But it cannot be denied that our people have always risen to the dignity of these great architectural projects.

Once the population understand they are dealing with the same type of idea on a grander scale, they will follow to the end. We are not proposing an economic revolution, or that human nature be suddenly altered. If California can remain in the World's Fair state of mind for four or five years, and finally achieve such a splendid result, all the states can undertake a similar project conjointly, and because of the momentum of a nation moving together, remain in that mind for the length of the life of a man.

Here we have this great instrument, the motion picture, the fourth largest industry in the United States, attended daily by ten million people, and in ten days by a hundred million, capable of interpreting the largest conceivable ideas that come within the range of the plastic arts, and those ideas have not been supplied. It is still the plaything of newly rich vaudeville managers. The nation goes daily, through intrinsic interest in the device, and is dosed with such continued stories as the Adventures of Kathlyn, What Happened to Mary, and the Million Dollar Mystery, stretched on through reel after reel, week after week. Kathlyn had no especial adventures. Nothing in particular happened to Mary. The million dollar mystery was: why did the millionaires who owned such a magnificent instrument descend to such silliness and impose it on the people? Why cannot our weekly story be henceforth some great plan that is being worked out, whose history will delight us? For instance, every stage of the building of the Panama Canal was followed with the greatest interest in the films. But there was not enough of it to keep the films busy.

The great material projects are often easier to realize than the little moral reforms. Beautiful architectural undertakings, while appearing to be material, and succeeding by the laws of American enterprise, bring with them the healing hand of beauty. Beauty is not directly pious, but does more civilizing in its proper hour than many sermons or laws.

The world seems to be in the hands of adventurers. Why not this for the adventure of the American architects? If something akin to this plan does not come to pass through photoplay propaganda, it means there is no American builder with the blood of Julius Cæsar in his veins. If there is the old brute lust for empire left in any builder, let him awake. The world is before him.

As for the other Utopians, the economist, the physician, the puritan, as soon as the architects have won over the photoplay people, let these others take sage counsel and ensnare the architects. Is there a reform worth while that cannot be embodied and enforced by a builder's invention? A mere city plan, carried out, or the name or intent of a quasi-public building and the list of offices within it may bring about more salutary economic change than all the debating and voting imaginable. So without too much theorizing, why not erect our new America and move into it?



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