Thursday, February 18, 2010

Music and Features

At the end of March 1913, James McQuade, contributing editor of Moving Picture World in the Chicago office, printed a letter from the manager of a film exchange in St. Louis that argued many exhibitors were not treating their features in a suitable fashion. In particular, the letter argues that features should be handled more like theatrical productions, with careful selection and rehearsal of appropriate music for the dramas. The letter is interesting not only for its advocacy of better music for features but also with its account of what constituted normal musical practice for live theater: "nearly every theater devoted to the spoken drama has an adequate orchestra for the enhancement of the play." For the author adding music, then, was akin to treating the feature film in line with the expectations of a theatrical presentation.
The following article, contributed by Mr. Cotter, manager of the Universal Film Exchange of St. Louis, is timely and shows a careful study of present conditions in the film industry, especially in the Independent field:

“In the history of the film business, there has never been a time when the public demand for high-class subjects was so imperious and persistent as the present. Several years ago, one feature a week was welcomed by the exhibitor. Times have changed. With the fierce competition of the various manufacturing companies, there has come into the field a persistent demand for features. This demand has become so insistent, that it behooves manufacturers, who are striving for the betterment of the business, to take cognizance of this condition, and produce pictures which are up to the standard created by the advanced artistry and perfection of detail, which distinguish the productions of the best producers.

“That good features pay, has been demonstrated time and again; still the mass of exhibitors seem oblivious of the tremendous possibilities presented when a great feature is shown. In this respect the value of appropriate music cannot be too strongly emphasized. For instance, nearly every theater devoted to the spoken drama has an adequate orchestra for the enhancement of the play. Why cannot exhibitors see the advantage of having correct and appropriate music, rehearsed with the same care and attention that is bestowed upon the melodic accompaniment of the spoken drama? The value of appropriate music can scarcely be estimated in, for instance, such photoplays as “Dante’s Inferno” or “Satan,” or in great plays like “As in a Looking Glass,” with Marion Leonard, which, by the way, broke all records for a feature in this city last week. Of course the exhibitor will say that this will entail more expense. But will not increased patronage more than offset this condition? In other words: make the feature picture a FEATURE in every sense. It is time for exhibitors to realize that the feature in the world of entertainment, has attained a rank of rivaling in importance the great productions of the dramatic world, and they should endeavor to enhance their offerings with the same care as to detail and musical accompaniment that is bestowed upon their more ancient rival. As to the manufacturers, the sooner they realize that the day of the wild and woolly, and the insipid has passed, and that real, vital subjects are the demand of the hour, the sooner the film will cease to be an adjunct to cheap vaudeville, and will be regarded as sufficient in itself and command the patronage it deserves.

“Another thing: the manufacturers who are now releasing films of one-reel subjects to the various exchanges throughout the country, are doubtless equipped and furnished with the material to produce really high-class subjects, such as are in urgent demand. Why not a feature each day in their daily program, thus saving the exhibitor an inordinate amount of trouble, and anxiety, in securing his daily feature program from two or more exchanges? The insistent demand for the BEST subjects shows the healthy trend of public taste; but a high standard can only be maintained by the intelligent co-operation of both manufacturers and exhibitors.”

Source: Ja[me]s S. McQuade, “Chicago Letter,” Moving Picture World 29 March 1913, 1322.