Monday, April 13, 2009

How It Is Done at the Strand, Part III

No, you haven't missed parts I and II. I just haven't yet inputted the first two parts.

In any case, the item below is from a series of articles that Harold Edel, manager of the Strand Theater in New York City, wrote for Moving Picture World in 1918. Here, he is talking about how he uses singers on his program. This is further evidence that the illustrated song did not so much disappear as it was transformed into part of the "musical portion" of the show, with the emphasis now falling more on the musical performance than on the illustration. Interestingly, Edel suggests a strongly gendered aspect of the transformation, as female singers were apparently by 1918 generally given a simple "spotlight" treatment, whereas the men were more likely to be supplemented by visual aids (if not slides per se). That, at least, is Edel's view.

It has been noticed at the Strand Theater that usually, when a single male singer appears, his offering is enhanced with special effects in the way of drops and lighting, while in the case of the female artist this is not as a rule evident. The reason for this is about the same as that which prompts the editor of the newspaper to print the picture of a woman more readily than that of a man. An attractive female artist can keep the interest of an audience centered upon herself throughout the entire length of her offering as a result of her personal charm and with the aid of graceful gestures, which, of course, cannot be used by the man. In other words, we have accepted the statement that woman has more magnetism than man. Thus when it comes to a question of the rendition of a vocal number the female singer, as a rule, immediately has the advantage over the male, and to make up for this handicap we make special effort to enhance his presentation. It is for this reason also that we allow a woman to render one selection during the entire time she is on the stage, while a man usually presents two numbers in the same length of time. A change of numbers also tends to keep up, if not increase the audience’s interest in the artist.

If the audience of the Strand, or similar theaters, consisted entirely of dyed-in-the-wool music fans this would not be necessary to such an extent, for then a voice of merit would in itself satisfy. However, when an audience consists of strict motion picture fans, semi-music lovers and ardent patrons of high-class music, in order to satisfy all it is necessary to present more than a good voice. The rendition of a number must be made interesting to the person who comes to the theater only because Mary Pickford’s picture is there, as well as the patron who purchases a ticket chiefly to hear the Strand’s musical program. It is therefore necessary for an exhibitor to look upon the presentation of his musical program differently from the man who holds a musicale for lovers of music only.

As an illustration: Recently one of our beautiful female artists rendered one vocal number in the time allotted to her appearance on the stage. With merely a spotlight upon the young women throughout the entire number she presented her offering, enhancing her wonderful voice with a personality that was equally wonderful, and receiving a storm of applause. Later in the evening, even though he was a finished artist and a handsome man, one of our male singers, in the same length of time consumed by the young woman, presented two shorter numbers, each with special drops and lighting. Though he was personally just as talented an artist as the female singer, and despite the fact that his two numbers were exceptionally suited to his voice, the female singer received just as much applause without the stage effects as he did. This I have observed time and again.

It was some time ago when I noticed the applause given men did not average up to that accorded to women singers, and ever since I have tried to make up for this in the manner above described. As an illustration of just how we enhance the presentation of a male vocal offering I will cite the effects accorded Herbert Waterous, the prominent bass soloist, during his recent appearance at the Strand. As usual he was scheduled to sing two numbers, “Out on the Deep” and “There’s a Million Heroes,” the latter having been selected for its patriotic possibilities in presentation.

“Out on the Deep” was rendered before an appropriate drop, with the spotlight on the singer, suitable changing of lighting taking place on the drop, the house itself being semi-lighted. Then as direct contrast the house was thrown into darkness and on the stage appeared a drop of the White House, in the evening sky which appeared the faces of the various celebrities mentioned in the lively song. During the second chorus, at the psychological moment, the screen was lowered and motion pictures of marching troops from various parts of the country were projected. Applause punctuated the singing of this song every few seconds as different visualizations were offered. Thus the patriotic effect of the song was brought out to best advantage, and, to use the vernacular of the theater, it stopped the show at practically every performance.

Various exhibitors have failed to make their vocal selections popular because they have not analyzed their audience enough to learn that the presentation of these numbers is an art in itself, just as the presentation of the photoplay is. Another thing, it must always be kept in mind that the numbers rendered may be “high brow,” so to speak,” but they must be popular enough among the average American audience. In trying to give a high-class performance it is the natural tendency to present “high-brow” music even though it is foreign to the average high-class motion picture audience, which is a big mistake. To again fall into the stage vernacular, if it goes “over the heads” of the audience it does more harm than good. There is hardly a limit to the music which is regarded as “high brow” and yet is familiar to the layman, and it is such music, and only such music that the exhibiter should dare to offer to the mixed public comprising his audience.

Source: Harold Edel, “How It Is Done at the Strand,” Moving Picture World 19 January 1918, 369. Image of Edel from Moving Picture World 7 August 1915, 983.

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