Cinema

This is a special commentary on chapter five, The Picture of Crowd Splendor. It refers as well to every other type of moving picture that gets into the slum. But the masses have an extraordinary affinity for the Crowd Photoplay. As has been said before, the mob comes nightly to behold its natural face in the glass. Politicians on the platform have swayed the mass below them. But now, to speak in an Irish way, the crowd takes the platform, and looking down, sees itself swaying.

The Art of the Moving Picture, as it appeared six years ago, possessed among many elements of beauty at least one peculiarity. It viewed art as a reality, and one of our most familiar and popular realities as an art. This should have made the book either a revelation or utter Greek to most of us, and those who read it probably dropped it easily into one or the other of the two categories.

The moving picture captains of industry, like the California gold finders of 1849, making colossal fortunes in two or three years, have the same glorious irresponsibility and occasional need of the sheriff. They are Californians more literally than this. Around Los Angeles the greatest and most characteristic moving picture colonies are being built. Each photoplay magazine has its California letter, telling of the putting-up of new studios, and the transfer of actors, with much slap-you-on-the-back personal gossip.

While there is a great deal of literary reference in all the following argument, I realize, looking back over many attempts to paraphrase it for various audiences, that its appeal is to those who spend the best part of their student life in classifying, and judging, and producing works of sculpture, painting, and architecture. I find the eyes of all others wandering when I make talks upon the plastic artist's point of view.

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.

Let us assume, friendly reader, that it is eight o'clock in the evening when you make yourself comfortable in your den, to peruse this chapter. I want to tell you about the Action Film, the simplest, the type most often seen. In the mind of the habitué of the cheaper theatre it is the only sort in existence. It dominates the slums, is announced there by red and green posters of the melodrama sort, and retains its original elements, more deftly handled, in places more expensive. The story goes at the highest possible speed to be still credible.

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.

Let us take for our platform this sentence: THE MOTION PICTURE ART IS A GREAT HIGH ART, NOT A PROCESS OF COMMERCIAL MANUFACTURE.

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.

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