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.