THE GENERAL PHOTOPLAY SITUATION IN AMERICA, JANUARY 1, 1922

Especially as Viewed from the Heights of the Civic Centre at Denver, Colorado, and the Denver Art Museum, Which Is to Be a Leading Feature of This Civic Centre

In the second chapter of book two, on page 8, the theoretical outline begins, with a discussion of the Photoplay of Action. I put there on record the first crude commercial films that in any way establish the principle. There can never be but one first of anything, and if the negatives of these films survive the shrinking and the warping that comes with time, they will still be, in a certain sense, classic, and ten years hence or two years hence will still be better remembered than any films of the current releases, which come on like newspapers, and as George Ade says:—"Nothing is so dead as yesterday's newspaper." But the first newspapers, and the first imprints of Addison's Spectator, and the first Almanacs of Benjamin Franklin, and the first broadside ballads and the like, are ever collected and remembered. And the lists of films given in books two and three of this work are the only critical and carefully sorted lists of the early motion pictures that I happen to know anything about. I hope to be corrected if I am too boastful, but I boast that my lists must be referred to by all those who desire to study these experiments in their beginnings. So I let them remain, as still vivid in the memory of all true lovers of the photoplay who have watched its growth, fascinated from the first. But I would add to the list of Action Films of chapter two the recent popular example, Douglas Fairbanks in The Three Musketeers. That is perhaps the most literal "Chase-Picture" that was ever really successful in the commercial world. The story is cut to one episode. The whole task of the four famous swordsmen of Dumas is to get the Queen's token that is in the hands of Buckingham in England, and return with it to Paris in time for the great ball. It is one long race with the Cardinal's guards who are at last left behind. It is the same plot as Reynard the Fox, John Masefield's poem—Reynard successfully eluding the huntsmen and the dogs. If that poem is ever put on in an Art Museum film, it will have to be staged like one of Æsop's Fables, with a man acting the Fox, for the children's delight. And I earnestly urge all who would understand the deeper significance of the "chase-picture" or the "Action Picture" to give more thought to Masefield's poem than to Fairbanks' marvellous acting in the school of the younger Salvini. The Mood of the intimate photoplay, chapter three, still remains indicated in the current films by the acting of Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford, when they are not roused up by their directors to turn handsprings to keep the people staring. Mary Pickford in particular has been stimulated to be over-athletic, and in all her career she has been given just one chance to be her more delicate self, and that was in the almost forgotten film:—A Romance of the Redwoods. This is one of the serious commercial attempts that should be revived and studied, in spite of its crudities of plot, by our Art Museums. There is something of the grandeur of the redwoods in it, in contrast to the sustained Botticelli grace of "Our Mary."

I am the one poet who has a right to claim for his muses Blanche Sweet, Mary Pickford, and Mae Marsh. I am the one poet who wrote them songs when they were Biograph heroines, before their names were put on the screen, or the name of their director. Woman's clubs are always asking me for bits of delicious gossip about myself to fill up literary essays. Now there's a bit. There are two things to be said for those poems. First, they were heartfelt. Second, any one could improve on them.

In the fourth chapter of book two I discourse elaborately and formally on The Motion Picture of Fairy Splendor. And to this carefully balanced technical discourse I would add the informal word, this New Year's Day, that this type is best illustrated by such fairy-tales as have been most ingratiatingly retold in the books of Padraic Colum, and dazzlingly illustrated by Willy Pogany. The Colum-Pogany School of Thought is one which the commercial producers have not yet condescended to illustrate in celluloid, and it remains a special province for the Art Museum Film. Fairy-tales need not be more than one-tenth of a reel long. Some of the best fairy-tales in the whole history of man can be told in a breath. And the best motion picture story for fifty years may turn out to be a reel ten minutes long. Do not let the length of the commercial film tyrannize over your mind, O young art museum photoplay director. Remember the brevity of Lincoln's Gettysburg address....

And so my commentary, New Year's Day, 1922, proceeds, using for points of more and more extensive departure the refrains and old catch-phrases of books two and three.

Chapter V—The Picture of Crowd Splendor, being the type illustrated by Griffith's Intolerance.

Chapter VI—The Picture of Patriotic Splendor, which was illustrated by all the War Films, the one most recently approved and accepted by the public being The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Chapter VII—The Picture of Religious Splendor, which has no examples, that remain in the memory with any sharpness in 1922, except The Faith Healer, founded on the play by William Vaughn Moody, the poet, with much of the directing and scenario by Mrs. William Vaughn Moody, and a more talked-of commercial film, The Miracle Man. But not until the religious film is taken out of the commercial field, and allowed to develop unhampered under the Church and the Art Museum, will the splendid religious and ritualistic opportunity be realized.