If he will be so indulgent with his author, let the reader approach the photoplay theatre as though for the first time, having again a new point of view. Here the poorest can pay and enter from the glaring afternoon into the twilight of an Ali Baba's cave. The dime is the single open-sesame required. The half-light wherein the audience is seated, by which they can read in an emergency, is as bright and dark as that of some candle-lit churches. It reveals much in the faces and figures of the audience that cannot be seen by common day. Hard edges are the main things that we lose. The gain is in all the delicacies of modelling, tone-relations, form, and color. A hundred evanescent impressions come and go. There is often a tenderness of appeal about the most rugged face in the assembly. Humanity takes on its sacred aspect. It is a crude mind that would insist that these appearances are not real, that the eye does not see them when all eyes behold them. To say dogmatically that any new thing seen by half-light is an illusion, is like arguing that a discovery by the telescope or microscope is unreal. If the appearances are beautiful besides, they are not only facts, but assets in our lives.
Book-reading is not done in the direct noon-sunlight. We retire to the shaded porch. It takes two more steps toward quietness of light to read the human face and figure. Many great paintings and poems are records of things discovered in this quietness of light.
It is indeed ironical in our Ali Baba's cave to see sheer everydayness and hardness upon the screen, the audience dragged back to the street they have escaped. One of the inventions to bring the twilight of the gathering into brotherhood with the shadows on the screen is a simple thing known to the trade as the fadeaway, that had its rise in a commonplace fashion as a method of keeping the story from ending with the white glare of the empty screen. As a result of the device the figures in the first episode emerge from the dimness and in the last one go back into the shadow whence they came, as foam returns to the darkness of an evening sea. In the imaginative pictures the principle begins to be applied more largely, till throughout the fairy story the figures float in and out from the unknown, as fancies should. This method in its simplicity counts more to keep the place an Ali Baba's cave than many a more complicated procedure. In luxurious scenes it brings the soft edges of Correggio, and in solemn ones a light and shadow akin to the effects of Rembrandt.
Now we have a darkness on which we can paint, an unspoiled twilight. We need not call it the Arabian's cave. There is a tomb we might have definitely in mind, an Egyptian burying-place where with a torch we might enter, read the inscriptions, and see the illustrations from the Book of the Dead on the wall, or finding that ancient papyrus in the mummy-case, unroll it and show it to the eager assembly, and have the feeling of return. Man is an Egyptian first, before he is any other type of civilized being. The Nile flows through his heart. So let this cave be Egypt, let us incline ourselves to revere the unconscious memories that echo within us when we see the hieroglyphics of Osiris, and Isis. Egypt was our long brooding youth. We built the mysteriousness of the Universe into the Pyramids, carved it into every line of the Sphinx. We thought always of the immemorial.
The reel now before us is the mighty judgment roll dealing with the question of our departure in such a way that any man who beholds it will bear the impress of the admonition upon his heart forever. Those Egyptian priests did no little thing, when amid their superstitions they still proclaimed the Judgment. Let no one consider himself ready for death, till like the men by the Nile he can call up every scene, face with courage every exigency of the ordeal.
There is one copy of the Book of the Dead of especial interest, made for the Scribe Ani, with exquisite marginal drawings. Copies may be found in our large libraries. The particular fac-simile I had the honor to see was in the Lenox Library, New York, several years ago. Ani, according to the formula of the priesthood, goes through the adventures required of a shade before he reaches the court of Osiris. All the Egyptian pictures on tomb-wall and temple are but enlarged picture-writing made into tableaus. Through such tableaus Ani moves. The Ani manuscript has so fascinated some of the Egyptologists that it is copied in figures fifteen feet high on the walls of two of the rooms of the British Museum. And you can read the story eloquently told in Maspero.
Ani knocks at many doors in the underworld. Monstrous gatekeepers are squatting on their haunches with huge knives to slice him if he cannot remember their names or give the right password, or by spells the priests have taught him, convince the sentinels that he is Osiris himself. To further the illusion the name of Osiris is inscribed on his breast. While he is passing these perils his little wife is looking on by a sort of clairvoyant sympathy, though she is still alive. She is depicted mourning him and embracing his mummy on earth at the same time she accompanies him through the shadows.
Ani ploughs and sows and reaps in the fields of the underworld. He is carried past a dreadful place on the back of the cow Hathor. After as many adventures as Browning's Childe Roland he steps into the judgment-hall of the gods. They sit in majestic rows. He makes the proper sacrifices, and advances to the scales of justice. There he sees his own heart weighed against the ostrich-feather of Truth, by the jackal-god Anubis, who has already presided at his embalming. His own soul, in the form of a human-headed hawk, watches the ceremony. His ghost, which is another entity, looks through the door with his little wife. Both of them watch with tense anxiety. The fate of every phase of his personality depends upon the purity of his heart.
Lying in wait behind Anubis is a monster, part crocodile, part lion, part hippopotamus. This terror will eat the heart of Ani if it is found corrupt. At last he is declared justified. Thoth, the ibis-headed God of Writing, records the verdict on his tablet. The justified Ani moves on past the baffled devourer, with the mystic presence of his little wife rejoicing at his side. They go to the awful court of Osiris. She makes sacrifice with him there. The God of the Dead is indeed a strange deity, a seated semi-animated mummy, with all the appurtenances of royalty, and with the four sons of Horus on a lotus before him, and his two wives, Isis and Nephthys, standing behind his throne with their hands on his shoulders.
The justified soul now boards the boat in which the sun rides as it journeys through the night. He rises a glorious boatman in the morning, working an oar to speed the craft through the high ocean of the noon sky. Henceforth he makes the eternal round with the sun. Therefore in Ancient Egypt the roll was called, not the Book of the Dead, but The Chapters on Coming Forth by Day.
This book on motion pictures does not profess to be an expert treatise on Egyptology as well. The learned folk are welcome to amend the modernisms that have crept into it. But the fact remains that something like this story in one form or another held Egypt spell-bound for many hundred years. It was the force behind every mummification. It was the reason for the whole Egyptian system of life, death, and entombment, for the man not embalmed could not make the journey. So the explorer finds the Egyptian with a roll of this papyrus as a guide-book on his mummy breast. The soul needed to return for refreshment periodically to the stone chamber, and the mummy mutilated or destroyed could not entertain the guest. Egypt cried out through thousands of years for the ultimate resurrection of the whole man, his coming forth by day.
We need not fear that a story that so dominated a race will be lost on modern souls when vividly set forth. Is it too much to expect that some American prophet-wizard of the future will give us this film in the spirit of an Egyptian priest?
The Greeks, the wisest people in our limited system of classics, bowed down before the Egyptian hierarchy. That cult must have had a fine personal authority and glamour to master such men. The unseen mysteries were always on the Egyptian heart as a burden and a consolation, and though there may have been jugglers in the outer courts of these temples, as there have been in the courts of all temples, no mere actor could make an Egyptian priest of himself. Their very alphabet has a regal enchantment in its lines, and the same æsthetic-mystical power remains in their pylons and images under the blaze of the all-revealing noonday sun.
Here is a nation, America, going for dreams into caves as shadowy as the tomb of Queen Thi. There they find too often, not that ancient priestess and ruler, nor any of her kin, nor yet Ani the scribe, nor yet any of the kings, but shabby rags of fancy, or circuses that were better in the street.
Because ten million people daily enter into the cave, something akin to Egyptian wizardry, certain national rituals, will be born. By studying the matter of being an Egyptian priest for a little while, the author-producer may learn in the end how best to express and satisfy the spirit-hungers that are peculiarly American. It is sometimes out of the oldest dream that the youngest vision is born.