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Art of the Moving Picture, The

CHAPTER XXI

THE ACCEPTABLE YEAR OF THE LORD

Without airing my private theology I earnestly request the most sceptical reader of this book to assume that miracles in a Biblical sense have occurred. Let him take it for granted in the fashion of the strictly æsthetic commentator who writes in sympathy with a Fra Angelico painting, or as that great modernist, Paul Sabatier, does as he approaches the problems of faith in the life of St. Francis. Let him also assume, for the length of time that he is reading this chapter if no longer, that miracles, in a Biblical sense, as vivid and as real to the body of the Church, will again occur two thousand years in the future: events as wonderful as those others, twenty centuries back. Let us anticipate that many of these will be upon American soil. Particularly as sons and daughters of a new country it is a spiritual necessity for us to look forward to traditions, because we have so few from the past identified with the six feet of black earth beneath us.

The functions of the prophet whereby he definitely painted future sublimities have been too soon abolished in the minds of the wise. Mere forecasting is left to the weather bureau so far as a great section of the purely literary and cultured are concerned. The term prophet has survived in literature to be applied to men like Carlyle: fiery spiritual leaders who speak with little pretence of revealing to-morrow.

But in the street, definite forecasting of future events is still the vulgar use of the term. Dozens of sober historians predicted the present war with a clean-cut story that was carried out with much faithfulness of detail, considering the thousand interests involved. They have been called prophets in a congratulatory secular tone by the man in the street. These felicitations come because well-authorized merchants in futures have been put out of countenance from the days of Jonah and Balaam till now. It is indeed a risky vocation. Yet there is an undeniable line of successful forecasting by the hardy, to be found in the Scripture and in history. In direct proportion as these men of fiery speech were free from sheer silliness, their outlook has been considered and debated by the gravest people round them. The heart of man craves the seer. Take, for instance, the promise of the restoration of Jerusalem in glory that fills the latter part of the Old Testament. It moves the Jewish Zionist, the true race-Jew, to this hour. He is even now endeavoring to fulfil the prophecy.

Consider the words of John the Baptist, "One mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire." A magnificent foreshadowing, being both a spiritual insight and the statement of a great definite event.

The heeded seers of the civilization of this our day have been secular in their outlook. Perhaps the most striking was Karl Marx, in the middle of the capitalistic system tracing its development from feudalism and pointing out as inevitable, long before they came, such modern institutions as the Steel Trust and the Standard Oil Company. It remains to be seen whether the Marxian prophecy of the international alliance of workingmen that is obscured by the present conflict in Europe, and other of his forecastings, will be ultimately verified.

There have been secular teachers like Darwin, who, by a scientific reconstruction of the past, have implied an evolutionary future based on the biological outlook. Deductions from the teachings of Darwin are said to control those who mould the international doings of Germany and Japan.

There have been inventor-seers like Jules Verne. In Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea he dimly discerned the submarine. There is a type of social prophet allied to Verne. Edward Bellamy, in Looking Backward, reduced the world to a matter of pressing the button, turning on the phonograph. It was a combination of glorified department-store and Coney Island, on a cooperative basis. A seventeen-year-old boy from the country, making his first visit to the Woolworth building in New York, and riding in the subway when it is not too crowded, might be persuaded by an eloquent city relative that this is Bellamy's New Jerusalem.

A soul with a greater insight is H.G. Wells. But he too, in spite of his humanitarian heart, has, in a great mass of his work, the laboratory imagination. Serious Americans pronounce themselves beneficiaries of Wells' works, and I confess myself edified and thoroughly grateful. Nevertheless, one smells chemicals in the next room when he reads most of Wells' prophecies. The X-ray has moved that Englishman's mind more dangerously than moonlight touches the brain of the chanting witch. One striking and typical story is The Food of the Gods. It is not only a fine speculation, but a great parable. The reader may prefer other tales. Many times Wells has gone into his laboratory to invent our future, in the same state of mind in which an automobile manufacturer works out an improvement in his car. His disposition has greatly mellowed of late, in this respect, but underneath he is the same Wells.

Citizens of America, wise or foolish, when they look into the coming days, have the submarine mood of Verne, the press-the-button complacency of Bellamy, the wireless telegraph enthusiasm of Wells. If they express hopes that can be put into pictures with definite edges, they order machinery piled to the skies. They see the redeemed United States running deftly in its jewelled sockets, ticking like a watch.

This, their own chosen outlook, wearies the imaginations of our people, they do not know why. It gives no full-orbed apocalyptic joy. Only to the young mechanical engineer does such a hope express real Utopia. He can always keep ahead of the devices that herald its approach. No matter what day we attain and how busy we are adjusting ourselves, he can be moving on, inventing more to-morrows; ruling the age, not being ruled by it.

Because this Utopia is in the air, a goodly portion of the precocious boys turn to mechanical engineering. Youths with this bent are the most healthful and inspiring young citizens we have. They and their like will fulfil a multitude of the hopes of men like Verne, Bellamy, and Wells.

But if every mechanical inventor on earth voiced his dearest wish and lived to see it worked out, the real drama of prophecy and fulfilment, as written in the imagination of the human race, would remain uncompleted.

As Mrs. Browning says in Lady Geraldine's Courtship:—

If we trod the deeps of ocean, if we struck the stars in rising,
If we wrapped the globe intensely with one hot electric breath,
'Twere but power within our tether, no new spirit-power comprising,
And in life we were not greater men, nor bolder men in death.

St. John beheld the New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, not equipped as a touring car varnished for its owner.

It is my hope that the moving picture prophet-wizards will set before the world a new group of pictures of the future. The chapter on The Architect as a Crusader endeavors to show how, by proclaiming that America will become a permanent World's Fair, she can be made so within the lives of men now living, if courageous architects have the campaign in hand. There are other hopes that look a long way further. They peer as far into the coming day as the Chinese historian looks into the past. And then they are but halfway to the millennium.

Any standard illustrator could give us Verne or Bellamy or Wells if he did his best. But we want pictures beyond the skill of any delineator in the old mediums, yet within the power of the wizard photoplay producer. Oh you who are coming to-morrow, show us everyday America as it will be when we are only halfway to the millennium yet thousands of years in the future! Tell what type of honors men will covet, what property they will still be apt to steal, what murders they will commit, what the law court and the jail will be or what will be the substitutes, how the newspaper will appear, the office, the busy street.

Picture to America the lovers in her half-millennium, when usage shall have become iron-handed once again, when noble sweethearts must break beautiful customs for the sake of their dreams. Show us the gantlet of strange courtliness they must pass through before they reach one another, obstacles brought about by the immemorial distinctions of scholarship gowns or service badges.

Make a picture of a world where machinery is so highly developed it utterly disappeared long ago. Show us the antique United States, with ivy vines upon the popular socialist churches, and weather-beaten images of socialist saints in the niches of the doors. Show us the battered fountains, the brooding universities, the dusty libraries. Show us houses of administration with statues of heroes in front of them and gentle banners flowing from their pinnacles. Then paint pictures of the oldest trees of the time, and tree-revering ceremonies, with unique costumes and a special priesthood.

Show us the marriage procession, the christening, the consecration of the boy and girl to the state. Show us the political processions and election riots. Show us the people with their graceful games, their religious pantomimes. Show us impartially the memorial scenes to celebrate the great men and women, and the funerals of the poor. And then moving on toward the millennium itself, show America after her victories have been won, and she has grown old, as old as the Sphinx. Then give us the Dragon and Armageddon and the Lake of Fire.

Author-producer-photographer, who would prophesy, read the last book in the Bible, not to copy it in form and color, but that its power and grace and terror may enter into you. Delineate in your own way, as you are led on your own Patmos, the picture of our land redeemed. After fasting and prayer, let the Spirit conduct you till you see in definite line and form the throngs of the brotherhood of man, the colonnades where the arts are expounded, the gardens where the children dance.

That which man desires, that will man become. He largely fulfils his own prediction and vision. Let him therefore have a care how he prophesies and prays. We shall have a tin heaven and a tin earth, if the scientists are allowed exclusive command of our highest hours.

Let us turn to Luke iv. 17.

"And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book he found the place where it was written:—

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

"And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them: 'This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears.'

"And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said: 'Is not this Joseph's son?'"

I am moved to think Christ fulfilled that prophecy because he had read it from childhood. It is my entirely personal speculation, not brought forth dogmatically, that Scripture is not so much inspired as it is curiously and miraculously inspiring.

If the New Isaiahs of this time will write their forecastings in photoplay hieroglyphics, the children in times to come, having seen those films from infancy, or their later paraphrases in more perfect form, can rise and say, "This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears." But without prophecy there is no fulfilment, without Isaiah there is no Christ.

America is often shallow in her dreams because she has no past in the European and Asiatic sense. Our soil has no Roman coin or buried altar or Buddhist tope. For this reason multitudes of American artists have moved to Europe, and only the most universal of wars has driven them home. Year after year Europe drained us of our beauty-lovers, our highest painters and sculptors and the like. They have come pouring home, confused expatriates, trying to adjust themselves. It is time for the American craftsman and artist to grasp the fact that we must be men enough to construct a to-morrow that grows rich in forecastings in the same way that the past of Europe grows rich in sweet or terrible legends as men go back into it.


Scenario writers, producers, photoplay actors, endowers of exquisite films, sects using special motion pictures for a predetermined end, all you who are taking the work as a sacred trust, I bid you God-speed. Let us resolve that whatever America's to-morrow may be, she shall have a day that is beautiful and not crass, spiritual, not material. Let us resolve that she shall dream dreams deeper than the sea and higher than the clouds of heaven, that she shall come forth crowned and transfigured with her statesmen and wizards and saints and sages about her, with magic behind her and miracle before her.

Pray that you be delivered from the temptation to cynicism and the timidities of orthodoxy. Pray that the workers in this your glorious new art be delivered from the mere lust of the flesh and pride of life. Let your spirits outflame your burning bodies.

Consider what it will do to your souls, if you are true to your trust. Every year, despite earthly sorrow and the punishment of your mortal sins, despite all weakness and all of Time's revenges upon you, despite Nature's reproofs and the whips of the angels, new visions will come, new prophecies will come. You will be seasoned spirits in the eyes of the wise. The record of your ripeness will be found in your craftsmanship. You will be God's thoroughbreds.


It has come then, this new weapon of men, and the face of the whole earth changes. In after centuries its beginning will be indeed remembered.

It has come, this new weapon of men, and by faith and a study of the signs we proclaim that it will go on and on in immemorial wonder.

VACHEL LINDSAY.

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS,

Nov. 1, 1915.


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