Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Responses to Lee

Below are two letters and an editorial reply printed by Moving Picture World in response to Van C. Lee's The Value of a Lecture. The first letter sees the lecture as a preferable alternative to adding cheap vaudeville to the show. Note again the concern for declining attendance and for the difficulty in understanding the films.

The second letter also expresses concern that films are hard to follow and suggests, as a remedy, that filmmakers make more frequent use of intertitles. This is, of course, a solution that will eventually be adopted, but filmmakers and exhibitors were initially resistant because they saw it as a "waste" of film. The resistance also makes more sense once we recognize that most films of the time were a reel or less and that, as the editorial reply makes clear, film was rented by the foot rather than the title.

The editorial reply also notes that Kalem had already attempted the distribution of a lecture text with their film. The company would try again the following month, with the release of "The Scarlet Letter" (see “Trade Notes,” Moving Picture World 21 March 1908, 233). By 1909, Kalem would be publishing full lecture texts for one film a week in the trade press.

Dear Sir:— Permit me to say how pleased I was to read Mr. Lee’s article in your issue of February 8, on “The Value of a Lecture.” For some time I have been trying to convince the picture show managers here of the desirability, nay, necessity, of such an addition to their attractions. In most instances, while admitting the value in an artistic way of such a combination, they contend that while the public is willing to accept the pictures without the lectures, stories, dramas or poems, they (the managers) would be foolish to increase their expenses by the addition of the lecture. Yet the business here is beginning to languish. Various expedients are being tried to bolster it up, cheap vaudeville and drama, chiefly.

One reason, perhaps, for the non-use of the lecture or story is that all managers do not take your paper, in which they can find the story of the films, and supply houses do not send printed descriptions with the films; another reason is that qualified lecturers and readers are scarce. Lastly, because it is more or less of an innovation. But doubtless the first reason is the true one. The managers seem to think the public will not pay more than ten cents no matter what they put on and do not seem to realize that people grow weary of what they do not understand.

It is a pity that so many of the managers of the moving picture shows look at the business only from the commercial side and not from the artistic and educational. It is a business that can be made a tremendous force for good if rightly used, but if not it will soon run its course like other “fads” and become a thing of the past.
I am glad that you are putting things in the right light and hope that your efforts will meet the success they deserve.

Mr. B.R. Mitchell, of Augusta, called my attention to Mr. Lee’s article on the subject and I then showed it to several local managers.
Source: E. Esther Owen, Letter to the Editor, “The Value of a Lecture with the Show,” Moving Picture World 22 February 1908, 143.

Dear Sir:—I have been quite interested in reading your article in last issue of Moving Picture World wherein Van C. Lee suggests that the moving picture theater add a lecturer to the theater. Many a time I have watched a new film subject projected on the screen and though[t] to myself: If I only knew what this or that part of the picture meant, then I could get very much more enjoyment out of the entertainment. But how would it be possible for the theater manager to explain the film subjects unless the film manufacturer furnishes a printed description of each picture when they are sent out? I think that half of the time the theater manager himself does not understand the picture as it is projected on the canvas. If some film manufacturer would make every one of his film subjects explain themselves as they pass through the machine he would soon have all the business he could attend to. If instead of having a few words of explanation on his film about every 100 feet, as most of them do, they would have these explanations come in at ever 20 or 30 feet (or at every place on film wherein an explanation was necessary), then the theater manager would have no use for a lecturer.
W.M. Rhoads, Letter to the Editor, Moving Picture World 22 February 1908, 143.

The idea of a lecturette is a good one, but one that few proprietors will take the trouble to arrange. For instance, Kalem Company arranged a lecturette or resume of the story of Evangeline to go with that film; we understand that so few exhibitors applied for it that the company abandoned the idea of reprinting.

To issue titles every 100 feet would unnecessarily add to the cost of the film and is a little too much to ask renters to pay 12 cents a foot for title. We would blame the actors inasmuch as they did not render the story intelligently. A perfectly thought out plot, well put together, should tell its own story.
“Editorial Reply,” Moving Picture World 22 February 1908, 143.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Quiz bank available

I have compiled a Quiz Bank that has been posted, as a Word file, on the "Classroom Resources" page of the HtM website: Classroom Resources. The file contains two versions each for six quizzes and one version of a seventh quiz geared to successive chapters in Hearing the Movies. Students during a summer-session course in 2009 were expected to memorize the glossary entries for selected terms for each quiz.

Study guides for each quiz list the terms taken from the Glossary and supply a small number of additional questions to answer or statements to explain. The guides are in the file Quiz_guides.doc.

Early film in the classroom (HtM, ch. 10)

I have been very pleased with students' responses to early film repertoires over the past two or three years. For some time prior to that, students had seemed increasingly disinterested in almost any films released earlier than their own generation and it was often a challenge to teach those sections of the course. It is true that the available DVD materials have improved considerably and undoubtedly have made the experience better.

In connection with HtM, ch. 10, I show Princess Nicotine (1905), a short, humorous special-effects film included in the first NFPF Treasures set: go to NFPF site. Martin Marks provides a historically sensitive piano accompaniment that "plays the picture." I also use the film to demonstrate at least a minute or two of indifferent performance of the kind that readers of this blog will know was a common source of complaint after 1910. (I literally play the piano with my back to the screen and make no attempt to synchronize rhythms or mood -- students typically find it quite disconcerting.)

I also use The Wizard of Oz (1910) from Treasures II. Students know the story so well (in its MGM version) that the film keeps their interest for its entire one-reel duration and gives them a good example of early narrative film and relationships to small-scale theatrical practices.

Chapter 2, musical qualities of the sound track, and Tilsit

The basic pedagogical strategy of HtM, ch. 2, is to promote a sense of the musicality of the sound track by introducing musical terms that can also be used to describe speech, sound effects, or the sound track as a whole. I have found that students absorb the comparisons well, especially with examples. I use the voice rather than music for this purpose, in part because non-music students usually find it intimidating to try to analyze aural musical examples. With my voice alone, I can easily demonstrate frequency, loudness, tempo, and other qualities -- even texture when I enlist the students' help.

Attempting analysis of the sound track on these terms can be a challenge, nevertheless, because of the number of terms and concepts introduced in the chapter. For this reason, I have distilled the terms down to four sets in what I call the TiLSiT model (for Time, Loudness, Sound qualities, and Texture):

time -- speed and temporal articulation (tempo/rhythm/meter)

loudness (volume)

sound qualities (timbre, pitch, orchestration)

texture (density, liveliness)

With this list in hand (literally), students can learn to analyze sound tracks for their musical qualities efficiently.

(TiLSIT as an acronym, on the other hand, turned out to be a bust. No one in two semesters has known the reference to the Prussian city (famous for a treaty signing during the Napoleonic wars) or to the cheese from the same region, and I was unable to get hold of any of the cheese to use as a tasty prop, either -- apparently it doesn't travel well and so is rarely sold in the US.)

Thematic association and Casablanca

As the final, summarizing example for style topics (HtM, Ch. 8), specifically for theme, leitmotive, and thematic association, I used these four sequences from Casablanca: Rick and Ilsa meet again -- DVD ch. 13; after hours (first night) -- DVD ch. 15; after hours (second night) -- DVD ch. 29; and the ending -- DVD ch. 34. The first three all make use of the signature stinger chord (in fact, these are the only three places it occurs in the film), and the second and third have some close relationships of other musical material (to the point that the third can virtually be considered a "variation" of the second). Students have no difficulty with the leitmotive (the opening of the chorus for "As Time Goes By"), given the way it is first introduced (in ch. 13), and the treatments of the theme in the four sequences offer opportunity for discussion of reinterpreted contexts.

Obviously, many other examples might work as well, but this was relatively compact (useful for a compressed summer semester course) yet gave a good sense of musical strategies in the film as a whole.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Value of a Lecture

In this article from early in 1908, Van C. Lee advocates for adding a lecturer to the program. Interestingly, his initial line of argument is that a lecturer "adds much to the realism of a moving picture." Evidently, this impression of realism rests on comprehensibility, as he immediately pivots after this statement, asking at the beginning of the next paragraph: “Of what interest is a picture at all if it is not understood?” He then makes the strong claim that few films are understood without the intervention of a lecturer to describe the action. For Lee at least, moving pictures evidently are not a universal language; the pictures do not, in fact, speak for themselves.

In the remainder of the article, there are hints that the nickelodeon craze is dying down and that many theaters are having difficulty drawing a sufficient number of patrons. Lee thinks films have lost much of their novelty and so it is no longer enough for films simply to show moving pictures; people now attend motion picture theaters for the content of the shows and audiences expect the film portion of the program to make sense. He is also seemingly dubious of fiction film, arguing that those subjects are generally better suited to the stage. "Let the picture theater, therefore, keep in its place; not show what is being shown every day on the stage." Lee seems to envision film as most suitable for a lyceum-type entertainment and, like many other writers at the time, Lee points to the practices of Lyman H. Howe, who combined lecturing with elaborate sound effects, as a model for exhibitors to emulate.

The following paragraph appeared in a recent issue of a theatrical magazine:

“Many moving picture theaters are adding a lecturer to their theater. The explanation of the pictures by an efficient talker adds much to their realism.”

It is indeed surprising that the managers are just awakening to the fact that a lecture adds much to the realism of a moving picture.

We might ask: “Of what interest is a picture at all if it is not understood?” And it may correctly be stated that the story of not more than one out of every fifty feature films is properly understood by the audience to whom it is shown unless it is adequately described.

In former articles, I have repeatedly urged, perhaps I should say suggested, that the managers of picture theaters demand of their renters a class of pictures which draw the crowds. The present-day subjects of drama, melodrama and tragedies, etc., are not a drawing card.

The demand of the public is now for the picture machine to bring to them its immense possibilities. Show to the patrons what they cannot see or realize in any other way except by attending these theaters.

Only a limited number can enjoy the advantage of having unlimited means with which to fully enjoy the pleasure of traveling, while unlimited is the vast majority who would like to see and realize what other parts of the world are like, if the opportunity was only theirs.

But it is theirs, and the picture machine is the instrument which makes it such, and which only a miraculous invention can ever put out of existence. Unlimited are the possibilities of this machine, and it can bring before the public what they cannot possibly see otherwise.

The majority will still go to the theater to see the stage enactments, but the stage cannot show what the picture machine is capable of producing.

Let the picture theater, therefore, keep in its place; not show what is being shown every day on the stage, but entertain its patrons with pictures which will hold their interest from the time they enter until they leave. But also, let them understand what they see; let them fully comprehend the meaning of every link of the film as it is being shown, and this can only be accomplished by the aid of a lecture.

Look, for instance, at Lyman H. Howe and other traveling moving picture exhibitors of note. Did you ever stop to think and wonder why it is that they can fill a large hall at high prices, right in cities and towns crowded with picture theaters, while these same theaters are almost begging for patrons at five cents admission?

There is only one answer. They show the kind of pictures people want to see, and those assembled are satisfied because they fully understand the subjects they are looking at.

Think of such subjects as “A Trip Through Switzerland,” “Daniel Boone,” or even “The Passion Play,” being thrown on the screen with not one word of explanation. Might just as well imagine that the public was invited to pay nickels to see merely an “invention” via a machine that can throw upon a sheet pictures which can actually move with life-like motion, as certainly the majority would not, any further than that, understand what they see.

Some time ago, in a theater in which I was employed, the subject of the pictures was “Napoleon Bonaparte.” Getting the printed description a few days in advance, I studied it out, changed it around to where I thought it would best suit the picture, and during the three nights it was shown described the life and history of Bonaparte as it was being portrayed upon the screen. And my lecture was quite lengthy, starting with an introduction preceding the exposure of the first scene and continuing throughout the length of the entire film.

On the second night, the management had invited the entire high school to attend in a body, free. The superintendent paid a visit to the management and he stated that the lecture, combined with the pictures, accomplished more by way of impressing upon the minds of his students the important phases in the life and history of Bonaparte than the best books on the subject in the library contained. The same may be said of a lecture combined with any moving picture.

Managers will do well to give it a trial. Note the difference in the interests shown by the audience. Watch, for example, some well-known peanut fiend, and notice how quick he forgets his peanuts as he watches the pictures with an interest never before shown.

[94] When managers will have awakened to the fact that they must first meet the demand of the people in the kind of pictures shown, and, secondly, interest their audiences by seeing to it that they fully understand what they see, they will have taken a decided step in advance, because the value of a lecture is incomparable and even though the speaker may not be a fluent talker, it is just as much of a necessity to show the pictures so that they are understood as it is to print a book for Americans to read in the English language.
Van C. Lee, “The Value of a Lecture,” Moving Picture World 8 February 1908, 93-94.

Friday, August 14, 2009

When Effects Are Unnecessary Noises

This 1911 article by W. Stephen Bush argues for a much more limited use of effects. In fact, Bush's suggestions, especially that effects be used only if they "have a psychological bearing on the situation," is quite similar to recommendations that he and other writers were making for music at the time.

Originally based in Philadelphia, Bush broke into the business as a lecturer and wrote frequently for Moving Picture World especially on the topics of lecturing, music and ways to improve the cultural standing of the entertainment. He has strong ideas about the aesthetic possibilities of cinema, and I have always found him to be one of the most insightful writers of the period. Besides the many essays he contributed to the paper, he wrote many reviews and later became a contributing editor. He left at the end of 1916 to become the founding editor of Exhibitor's Trade Review.

As a friend of the moving picture and jealous of its reputation with the public, I confess I stand in fear of the average "effects man." Zeal is a most admirable quality, but in the case of the man behind the screen it needs to be tempered with judgment and discretion. As a matter of fact, such tempering of enthusiasm with common sense is rare in the extreme. While the general opinion among intelligent exhibitors holds that the effects were made for the picture, the worker behind the screen believes, that the picture was made for the effects. His desire is, above all things, to be heard, to make as much noise as possible. If the picture shows a man in the throes of death on his bed, he rises to the occasion by making the bed creak. If by any chance, a horse appears on the screen he feels in duty bound to make us believe that a troop of cavalry is riding at full gallop over a hundred blocks of macadamized pavement. At the sight of water, no matter how quiet, he at once lets go of the Niagara Falls effect.

Now effects to help the picture must be few, simple and well rehearsed for each separate and particular picture. The idea, that a set of mechanical contrivances for the production of a limited number of sounds, can be made to fit most pictures or even a small percentage of them, is utterly absurd. The moment an effect is repeated too often, it becomes monotonous, then tires one and at last is ridiculous. Each picture must be studied by itself and only such effects introduced as have a psychological bearing on the situation as depicted on the screen. The imitation of common and obvious sounds has long ago been abandoned by nine out of every ten exhibitors, who, quite wisely will rather dispense with effects altogether than risk monotonous or misplaced or ill-judged effects.

Nevertheless, it is an undoubted fact, that the introduction of suitable effects will at times help a picture immensely. There are scores of pictures that without effects are dull, insipid and meaningless and with effects, thrill, delight and please an audience. Powerful effects may be introduced with equal success in comic or dramatic pictures, even in scenic and educational subjects. At all times, effects must be original, novel, simple, quickly understood and appreciated by the audience. The proper moment for introducing them must be judged from picture to picture and no set of stereotyped rules can be laid down. The dramatic instinct, which resides in the heart of every man and woman, must be the guide and determining factor.

When once a good opportunity for a powerful effect has been discovered, the effect must be carefully rehearsed. A trained monkey can “work” the machine-made effects, but it takes a man with some intelligence to secure correctness and accuracy in original and special effects.

A few examples may help to make my meaning clearer. Let us assume, that we are dealing with a scene immediately preceding a dramatic climax. The climax depends on the coming of a certain hour. Anxiety and suspense are the dominant emotions of the central figure in the scene. At such a moment the slow and measured ticking of a clock may send a thrill or a shudder through the blood of the spectator. It is a very simple thing, an apparent trifle and yet its effect may be overpowering. The sound of musical instruments, played with a special meaning, connected with the action on the screen, may always be imitated with great advantage.

On occasions the fall of a human body or a heavy object may be indicated by proper effects back of the screen, but not every such fall is to be thus marked. Discrimination should be the saving grace of the man with the effects and if he lacks discrimination, as he often does, he should be held strictly subject to orders and given no latitude whatever. Obvious effects, such as shooting, thunder, rain, etc., are, except on rare occasions, to be omitted. The public is tired of them.

Greater license may be given to effects in comic reels, but the vulgarity, which is especially in vogue in New York, should be carefully avoided.

I conclude with a notable contrast between a proper and improper effect and select as an example two scenes from the Milano production of Dante’s Inferno. No scene in that remarkable film is more impressive than the meeting of Cerberus, the three-throated monster by the poets, Dante and Virgil. “Not a limb of him, but trembled,” say Dante in his masterfully descriptive way. Now, to make this mysterious monster bark like a dog in a backyard is laughable and betrays a deplorable lack of the sense of the fitting. The moment the “effects man” converts the fear-inspiring creation of Dante into a common bow-wow, every illusion is destroyed and the thin line, dividing the sublime from the ridiculous is crossed amidst the justly derisive laughter of the audience. Contrast this with an effect in the scene, where the poets enter the circle of the giants, the first of whom is Nimrod, the mighty hunter. In the poem, the sound of a horn is described, as the poets near the circle. If such an effect is introduced, if a horn is sounded, just before the title, introducing the giants is ended, the effect is suitable and impressive, as in the next moment the huge body of Nimrod with a hunting horn around his waist, becomes visible.

There is but one general rule that may be followed with uniform advantage in the matter of effects.

To paraphrase the immortal bard: “Discrimination is the best part of strenuousness.”
Source: W. Stephen Bush, “When ‘Effects’ Are Unnecessary Noises,” Moving Picture World 9 September 1911, 690.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Illustrated Songs

This editorial appeared in Moving Picture World at the end of 1908. The item notes that the illustrated song is an important part of the program and urges better coordination between the slides and the song. The final paragraph offers advice on hiring singers.
As an adjunct to the moving picture exhibition, illustrated songs are becoming of increased importance. Perhaps this assertion does not apply with equal force to every illustrated song. But if the intentions of those who illustrate songs are carried out, there is no reason why they shouldn’t become an important department of the picture show business.

Perhaps the most important criticism is that the slides frequently used do not illustrate the songs. Often they bear no apparent relation to the words or the sentiment of the song, and this is noticed in some of the higher priced places.

Slides bearing the trade-mark of well-known makers are quite as derelict in this as are those which bear the trade-mark of makers less known. Some which have evidently been prepared at heavy expense are not by any means suitable illustrations for the songs with which they are shown.

A beautifully colored slide, in which the posing of the figures and the general arrangement is beyond criticism, but which bears little relation to the song, will not attract. The two must go together. Slide makers can improve upon this if they will. The sentiment of the songs is too strongly marked to permit such wretched attempts at illustration as have passed through the hands of some slide makers recently.

The singer should be as good as can be afforded. Of course, it is understood that the audiences which attend moving picture shows are not looking for Pattis or Carusos, but, after all, singers can be obtained who have good voices and who can interpret a song reasonably well. Inasmuch as the songs are sung in the dark the action of the singer makes little difference. The voice and the slides should both be good.
“Editorial: Illustrated Songs,” Moving Picture World 12 December 1908: 472.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Successful Exhibitor

If reports in the trade papers are any indication, the spring of 1908 was a tough season for the motion picture business. The initial craze of the nickelodeon was wearing off, more theaters were closing than opening, and exhibitors were looking for ways to retain if not increase their patronage. One issue was the lack of sufficient film titles—theaters on the same block often ended up with the same film on the bill. This situation forced exhibitors to look at their whole show in order to make it as attractive as possible.

In this editorial, Moving Picture World advocates in favor of adding sound effects, talking pictures (actors saying lines behind the screen), and a"lecturette" to the program.

Among the news of the week we gather that several shows throughout the country have been compelled to close on account of lack of patronage. In some cases competition is given as the reason, especially where the peculiarities of the service or bad management accounts for similar subjects being shown during one week in two theatres on the same block. Certain managers have complained that there is not sufficient variety in the film subjects or not enough snap in them to hold the interest of the people. We do not agree with this explanation and are still inclined to the belief that incompetent management, bad judgment in choice of location, or poor taste in the selection of subjects are the only reasons why any theatre should be compelled to close.

We have taken the time to visit many theatres in this and other cities so as to be able to form a just opinion of the situation, and, if possible, offer some suggestions to exhibitors. We find that public demand for this class of entertainment is on the increase, rather than on the wane, but the public will not continue paying its money to be fooled. The manager who puts on the best show will draw the crowd, of course; but, to hold their patronage, he must use his own brain as well. It is not enough to rent a few reels of film each week and leave his place in the hands of a ticket-taker, operator and usher and come around occasionally himself to carry away the receipts. He must plan and execute. The successful show manager is always on the lookout for new ideas and schemes that will attract and please the public. Many have taken up this business thinking that it is an automatic coin-getting project which does not require attention. Those are the ones that fail.

“Props” as a Feature

In several theatres we have noted that the intelligent use of “props” materially adds to the attraction of a poor film subject, while there are none, however good, that can not be made more attractive by the “man behind the screen.” It is only necessary to mention the large and appreciative audiences such men as Lyman H. Howe draws, to substantiate this. His success is largely due to his well trained assistants who render the dialogue behind the screen, but no less so to the fact that his large experience has taught him what kind of pictures the public cares to see.

Pictures that Talk

When the Park Theatre, in Brooklyn, was given over to motion pictures a few weeks ago, the management wisely decided on this added feature, and, to their credit, we must say that the effect is well carried out. It is a common remark among the audience that “it is as good as a real play.” The dialogue helps the less intelligent to fully understand the plot, for, no matter how skilfully worked out, there are always passages which require something more than mere pantomime to fully explain the situation.

Satisfy your patrons and they will come again. Make them feel that you are giving thme the best show you know how and that you hope to see them often. There is one theatre on a busy thoroughfare in this city where we frequently go just to see how poor a show can be put on. Here, of course, the proprietor depends upon transient trade which he gets by the aid of a leather-lunged barker and a phonograph which grinds out the same old song without intermission. The pictures are as unsteady as a defective machine can make them, and the rate at which the films are run makes the movements of the actors ridiculous. It is this kind of places that fail and, moreover, they do more than anything else to make the public lose interest in this class of entertainment.
This is an age of education. There are no doubt intelligent people among your audiences and they want to be educated as well as amused. The show which leaves the best impression, that will make the patron feel that his time has not been wated is the one which runs an educational subject at each show. Not all comedy—and, very rarely, tragedy.

This leads us to the feature of

The Illustrated Lecture

Lecturettes, or “travelogues” as they are sometimes called, given between the reels, are now a feature in many successful theatres. Keith’s theatres often announce them as headliners, and what Keith adopts is a safe rule for less experienced managers to follow. At Keith’s 14th Street theatre, the other evening, we were only able to get a box seat. Every other seat in the house was filled and standing room besides. The lecture subject was “China.” It was brief and to the point, well illustrated by some very interesting slides and received the applause of the audience. This, with two reels and a song (by a good singer) illustrated by the original slides of a good maker was a program well calculated to bring the same people back on another evening.
For nickel theatres, where the management cannot afford a two-reel show, the “travelogue” feature recommends itself. Sets of slides, with brief lectures, are no obtainable on rental and at very low rates. The services of a lecturer or reader may be beyond the means of some, but it is a poor ensemble if there is not some attache of the show that is qualified to intelligently read the lecture while the slides are shown. In college towns, it should be easy to get some student who is working his way through college, who would be glad of the opportunity to earn an honest dollar and at the same time exercise his elocutionary powers.

Managers and proprietors, you who complain of waning patronage, get wise to the situation. Adopt such simple methods as the above to make the public feel that taking their money is not your sole aim. Do not tell us that you have to close because the public is losing interest in motion picture shows, for we will not believe you.
Source: “Editorial: The Successful Exhibitor,” Moving Picture World 16 May 1908, 431.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Looking for Silent Film?

If you are looking for posts on silent film, check out the tag for early cinema, here or in the sidebar. Also, check out a list of source readings from the era sorted in chronological order, here.

Did They Mention the Music?

Michael Bérubé did:
On the one hand, The Third Man has a great plot and some great performances and some great shiny-wet cobblestones in the Vienna night and a great ferris-wheel scene. Thanks, many commenters, for insisting that I see it next!

On the other hand, The Third Man has The. Most. Annoying. Zither. Soundtrack. Ever. Heavenly Ba’al, people, it’s your job to warn me about such things. What do you think the comment section is for? “Michael,” you’re supposed to say, “definitely check out The Third Man—but watch out for that maniac zither!!!” Please don’t let me down again.

I don't know that I'd go quite as far as Bérubé (or rather I would, except, thank goodness!, there are not very many zither sound tracks, so I'm going with the spirit of the claim), but I do admit that this is a sound track that I've never really understood.

Roger Ebert, however, writes this:
Has there ever been a film where the music more perfectly suited the action than in Carol Reed's "The Third Man"? The score was performed on a zither by Anton Karas, who was playing in a Vienna beerhouse one night when Reed heard him. The sound is jaunty but without joy, like whistling in the dark. It sets the tone; the action begins like an undergraduate lark and then reveals vicious undertones.

I might be convinced if Ebert fleshed out his interpretation, but I still find the zither irritatingly intrusive throughout the film, so any effective critical interpretation would, I think, have to account for that quality of the score. (Ebert does in fact hint at the beginning of such an interpretation with the idea that the sound of the zither "is jaunty but without joy.")

Len. Spencer's Lyceum, ad, 1907

Here is an ad for an service bureau that provided an exchange for song slides and music as well as a booking agency for operators and musicians. The name of the agency "Len. Spencer's Lyceum" tells us that it had its origin in the lyceum circuit, which would book entertainments of lectures and other educational programming for theaters. That the agency was now branching out into motion pictures suggests that the lines between entertainments were not firm. Indeed, at the time (1907), lecturers had been regularly featuring motion pictures on their programs for almost a decade, and many moving picture houses featured short illustrated lectures as entr'actes between reels (as an alternative to the illustrated song) and had begun using lecturers to help explain the increasingly complicated stories of the films.

Click for a larger image.

Source: Moving Picture World 27 July 1907, 330.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Posing for Song Pictures

This article on the illustrated song was reprinted by Moving Picture World from the New York Sun. The article mostly concerns the difficulty in finding appropriate subjects, especially young men, to pose for the illustrated songs. Near the beginning of the article, however, there is a good description of a typical illustrated song set at the time:
For an illustrated song there are usually required seventeen slides. As to its words, the song is likely to consist of two verses, with a chorus repeated after each verse, thus giving the song four sections.

One of the lantern slides used with the song shows a reproduction of the title page of its sheet music, and this picture is first thrown on the screen: and then as the singer sings it the pictures in illustration of the words are shown.
Basically each of the four sections—that is, each chorus and each verse—would have four pictures, which works out basically to one picture for each line. In addition, the set would usually end with a slide containing the words of the chorus, so that the audience could join in.

In response to one advertisement recently printed for handsome young men to pose for pictures” there appeared young men to the number of five. Of these two could not have been by any stretch of the imagination considered handsome. The other three were well dressed and generally speaking, slightly appearing young men, though one of them was far enough from handsome to put him out of consideration, while of the other two neither was really handsome, though what with the other favoring qualifications both would answer for the purposes required. And so out of a bunch of five young men there were found but two who, though not coming up to the highest standard, would do.

What they were wanted for was to pose for pictures to be reproduced on lantern slides to be used on the stage with illustrated songs. For an illustrated song there are usually required seventeen slides. As to its words, the song is likely to consist of two verses, with a chorus repeated after each verse, thus giving the song four sections.

One of the lantern slides used with the song shows a reproduction of the title page of its sheet music, and this picture is first thrown on the screen: and then as the singer sings it the pictures in illustration of the words are shown.

Most of the illustrated songs are love songs, and so of the men required for the illustration of such songs the greater number must be young. It is easy to say what would be the ideal requirements of a man who would make a complete satisfactory picture of a lover.

He must be of good stature, anyway, and then he would need to be of good figure and bearing, a fine, manly, courageous young man, and withal handsome. As such a combination is tolerably hard to and in one young man, the lantern slide people have more or less difficulty in finding really suitable subjects. In search of theme they advertise in the newspapers, and have recourse to theatrical agencies, where they may find actors [245] engaged in minor parts or other young men who meet the requirements and are willing to pose.

Occasionally, from one or another of these sources, they get precisely what they want; more often, as happens in so many other pursuits, they must be satisfied to get as near to it as they can.

The young man who finds himself selected to pose or a series of pictures for an illustrated song may be taken to be photographed a little distance into the country or perhaps to the seashore, there to be posed and pictured, for many of these song pictures are shown with a nature background, and it is sought to make this one to the song. If a city background were required the subject would be posed and photographed in city streets.

For some songs a figure in uniform may be required, as the man in the song might be a letter carrier, or perhaps a military officer. If uniforms are required they are supplied by the lantern supply people who make and supply the pictures, and they pay also all expenses where the figure is posed and the pictures taken out of the city.

For this work of posing for illustrated song pictures, the pay is $4 a day, which may not seem like very large pay, but it isn’t so bad when it is considered that the hours are sort and the work easy; and really it is likely to be so much velvet for those who can fill the requirements and who have the time for it.

Frequently there may be required one series of pictures more than one day’s settings, perhaps a day and a half, or it might be two days, making the work at the price paid fairly remunerative. It cannot, however, be followed as an occupation, but only as occasional work.

For if there were shown in the pictures displayed with illustrated songs always the same figures and faces the eye would quickly discover the sameness and it would destroy the illusion; the pictures must be made for and belong to one song only, and so not only must new pictures be made, but different figures must be posed for every song.

The lantern slide makers keep a catalogue of all the subjects that have posed for them, and in this catalogue are jotted down not only names and addresses, but such personal characteristics as might serve as a guide in the selection of subjects to be called upon to pose in the future as occasion might require, but commonly, to avoid repetition in the pictures, once in say six months would be as often as subjects would be called upon, and so posing for pictures for illustrated songs is an occasional employment only.

Woman are posed for pictures for illustrated songs as men, and, of course, handsome woman are far more numerous than handsome men: but still it is not so easy as it might seem it would be to find handsome young woman exactly suited to the requirements of this work. The young women required are found among artists’ models, and sometimes, as in the case of young men through theatrical agencies.

One might think that among the artists’ models a sufficient number of subjects might be found without trouble, but among these one might be especially admirable and in demand among artists because of her beautiful eyes and another because of her beautiful mouth but for song pictures the subject must fill a sort of all around requirement.

Still, it is easier to find handsome young women for song pictures than it is to find handsome young men, and to this work the young women may find somewhat more frequent employment, for their pictures may be used on the title pages of sheet music, and young women may be rather oftener pictured than young men in song pictures because of the greater variety that may be imparted to such pictures by woman’s more varied attire.
Source: "Posing for Song Pictures,” New York Sun, reprinted in Moving Picture World 22 June 1907, 244-45.

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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Female Pianists in the Nickelodeon

This is an interesting short item from an early issue of Moving Picture World suggesting that nickelodeons had begun to hire female pianists of a higher social class. The author claims that these pianists generally played a higher class of music and that their social status required that they not draw attention to themselves—indeed that they tried to remain as anonymous as possible so as not to jeopardize their social standing. It is worth pointing out that the "invisibility" imagined here would become the general model for film musicians in the silent era.

The nickelodeon shows have furnished occupation for young women, many of them girls, who, after they have practiced the piano for years, found they could not earn a living as well as the girl who had learned nothing but to wash dishes. There must be two score of the moving picture shows in Pittsburgh, not to speak of those in Allegheny and McKeesport, and every one of them has a piano player.

The piano players at the nickelodeons of a year or so ago furnished excruciating music, for they were usually girls who played at street carnivals and the attractions in the private parks. As the shows became known and people of taste learned that frequently very interesting scenes were represented, the managers sought for girls of another social class, with the result that the quality of music has improved and the higher class selections indicated as appropriate by the manufacturers of the more artistic films are played with taste and precision in many of the shows. With the coming of these girls facilities for withdrawal from the public eye had to be provided. Even now one sees, at a few shows, the girl piano player boldly face the incoming audience, with the lights turned up; flirting with the ushers and altogether comporting themselves with the same freedom as a member of a peripatetic German band; but at other places, as soon as the film has passed through the machine and a new audience is coming in, the piano player slips under [181] the stage and is not visible until the lights are turned down and the film starts again. It is said that some of the girls have a very good social standing, and that their friends do not dream that they are earning an honest living by playing the piano in a public place.
Source: “Trade Notes,” Moving Picture World 25 May 1907, 180-81.