and 'how the delicate drawing high upon the walls shall be traced in tender tones of orpiment, and repeated by the base in notes of graver hue.'

But these things are written in boo lis, and hung in galleries, and can be taught more quickly there? They cannot be taught at all there. Nature keeps no school. She teaches her pupils singly, revealing to each what is for him alone. He can learn many things in school, but not authority — not how to paint Whistler's Mother, or how to write Wordsworth's 'Stepping Westward,' or how to cut a single marble of the Parthenon.

'By what authority doest thou these things?'

The poet answers: 'Nature is my authority,

'And that auxiliar light
Which on the setting sun bestows new splendor.'

Yet the schools overflow, as if authority were there! Students come to paint and to play, before they learn to see and hear; they come to write, before experience has given them anything to say. They must come to school, the prophet from the wilderness, the poet from the fields and hills, when twice ten summers have stamped their minds forever with

The faces of the moving year.

The first Monday of September, labor is on parade. The Tuesday after, and the school-children of America are on the march — a greater host than labor's, as its work is greater. This is the vastest thing we Americans do, this mighty making of the democratic mind

— the average mind. But it is not a poetic-prophetic mind we are making

— not educated for authority.

Too, too few of all this marching multitude are coming to their little books well read in the Book of Nature; and to their little teachers from earlier, ele

mental lessons with the thoughtful hills, with the winds, and the watchful stars.

Earth and the common face of nature

have not spoken to them

. . . rememberable things.

This is not for the schools to do; this is beyond the schools to do; and besides, it is then too late; for Derwent, or some other winding stream, should murmur to the poet-babe while still in arms, and give him

Amid the fretful dwellings of mankind,

A foretaste, a dim earnest of the calm

That Nature breathes among the hills and groves.

We Americans do not give beauty and joy to our children. We are not a happy-hearted, imaginative people. It is the foreign children who steal the flowers from our parks; who dance to the hurdy-gurdy; who haunt our picture galleries — little lovers of warmth, and tone, and color!

Every worker bee in the hive might have been a queen, had not the pitiless economy of the colony cramped her growing body into a worker cell, till, pinched and perverted, she takes her place in the fearful communism of the tribe, an unsexed thing, the normal mother in her starved into an abnormal worker, her very ovipositor turned from its natural use into a poison-tipped sting.

Theoretically, we are not communistic, but in industry and education we have put the worker-cell theory into operation, cramping the growing child into practically a uniform vocational system, intellectually overfeeding, and spiritually underfeeding the creator in him into a worker — a money-maker.

Some fathers of us, more mothers, perhaps, might ask prophets and poets of the Lord; but who of us would have the courage to educate such children for poetry and prophecy?



Let me begin by saying that I am not a movie fan. Therefore there is a lot about movies that I do not know. Most of my friends honestly dislike them. But now and then I find one, equally intelligent, equally educated, who attends regularly. I go very seldom, myself; but I should undoubtedly, during the last year, have seen more movies, if good ones had been accessible. I have not great experience, but I have at least overcome certain initial prejudices.

It is certain that the movies have come to stay — for a time. What form the theatrical art of the twenty-first century will take, we do not know. It may be that movies will be superseded by something that even Mr. Wells cannot guess at. At present, we are confronted with something universally popular. Our best legitimate actors have condescended to the screen, and Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin are known to yellow folk in kimonos, brown folk in sarongs, and Paraguayans of the plain.

The movies have had to bear a great deal of criticism of late, as corrupters of the public morals. I have never seen one of the 'unclean' movies they talk about. I do not doubt they exist. But I should say that the danger of the filmplay is due rather to its wide dispersion than to its actual badness. That is: if one bad picture is released, a million people will see it; whereas a dozen bad plays reach only a very few spectators in comparison. According to all that I

can learn, motion-picture producers are much more scrupulous than theatrical managers. Moreover, I believe that you actually could go further in a moving picture, without legitimate shock, than you could on the stage. There is something very shadowy and unreal still in the film presentment of life. I never saw Zaza — except played by a German stock company, when Zaza, in her most vivid scene, was swathed to the neck in a red flannel dressing-gown. But I had Zaza described to me in its day, and I have never seen anything like that on the screen. Say what you will, people who are looking for the 'suggestive' will get much more of what they want for their money by looking at half-dressed flesh and blood than they will by looking at one-quarterdressed photographs. The movies are a two-dimensional world, and crimes are committed in three dimensions. Personally, I have seen only decent movies. I incline, in any case, to believe that the movie peril lies elsewhere.

The peril of the movies, in other words, is vulgarity. By which I do not mean physical indecency, or even situations by implication risqws. I mean general cheapness of ideals, and sentimentalism, far more than salaciousness. I doubt if the adverse critics have put their fingers on the real reason for this vulgarity, or found the real analogy.

There is not much sense, for example, in comparing the moral effect of the movies with the moral effect of the legitimate stage. In most places, taking the country through, the admission fee is very small. The mass of the people who go to them constantly, year in and year out, are the people who never went, and never would go, year in and year out, to ordinary plays. The movie public is not — taking the country through, as I say — the theatre-going public. The movies are certainly a new substitute for something; but what they are a substitute for is not the legitimate stage. They are a substitute, rather, for cheap vaudeville (and they are much better for the public morals than cheap vaudeville) and for cheap literature. The girls who throng the movie theatres are the girls who used to read Laura Jean Libby and Mrs. Georgie Sheldon. The boys who throng them are the ones who used to read Nick Carter and Deadwood Dick. Chewing-gum was always included with both. The people who can afford Broadway plays, or who have Broadway theatres within their reach, are not the ones who create the dependable movie audience. It is the people who never could afford the first-class theatres, or who do not live where they could get at them, even if they had the money, who swell the film-corporations' dividends. When those people saw plays at all, they usually saw a 'ten-twent'-thirt" show: Bertha the Sewing-Machine Girl, or the Queen of the High-Binders. They did not go to the theatre much, anyway; they read cheap literature in pink and green covers, for which they paid the traditional dime. They do not read so much of it now. Less of it — far less — is produced. The demand has fallen off. The people who used to call for it now go to the movies. And if any of you were ever wicked enough, in childhood, to stalk the New York Fireside Companion (or whatever it was) to the kitchen coalhod (against orders) and read A

Little Wild Rose and the Bligld that Fell upon It or Was She His Lawful Wife? then you know that the movies are better for that public than the literature they have displaced. Even the not very clean movie is better than the works of Albert Ross. Any movie I have ever seen or heard described is not only good morals but great art, in comparison. You must chalk it up to the credit of the movies that they have actually displaced those books. They have closed up that literary red-light district.

Let me repeat, and then have done with this argument: the people who go to moving pictures would not, had there been no moving pictures, have been going to see Hamlet. They would have been going to see The Queen of the Opium Ring; they would have been reading Ten Buckets of Blood or The Applewoman's Revenge, or they would have been walking the streets with an eye out for personal adventure. The corruptible ones, I mean. The hardworked mothers of families — who are a large part of movie audiences in small towns — would have been sitting at home inventing, for sheer emptiness and weariness of mind, bitter little scandals about their neighbors. The men would have been — we have all been told — in the wicked, wicked corner saloon. We must get it firmly fixed in our minds that the movies represent a step up, not a step down, in popular amusement. Of course, you may be fancying that all these people, if deprived of movies, would be attending university extension lectures. But, if so, I think you are quite wrong.

The question of the very young, I admit, remains. There is no doubt that too many children go to the movies too frequently. In well-run theatres they are not admitted unless accompanied by an older person; but the necessary escort is usually forthcoming. Babes in arms, I know, are frequent spectators at the theatre I occasionally go to. I suppose it will not particularly hurt the babes in arms: the theatre is better ventilated, probably, than their own homes. The boys and girls from eight to sixteen are the real problem. Even so, I should want to be very sure how their parents would otherwise provide for their leisure, before I condemned this particular way. I do think that, for those of us who are trying to bring up our children sanely and wisely, the movies are an obstacle, especially in a small town where the posters are flamboyant and unavoidable. The children beg to go. You can deal with the circus and the Hippodrome — things that have to be succumbed to only once a year. But with three different matinees a week, all the twelve months, it is harder. Every now and then there is a picture that they may as well see: something spectacular in the right sense, traveland-animal things, Alice in Wonderland or Treasure Island. When once they have been, they want to go again. But that is up to the careful parent.

I admit, too, that boys and girls, young people in general, who never did read the literature I have referred to, are now movie fans. The picture palace is not the haunt of the proletariat simply. By no means. The taste of the young is likely to be to some extent corrupted. But again, what would they be doing if they did not go? We must not be foolish enough to think that the movies are the only difference between our generation and theirs, or that the well-brought-up young thing, if movies were out of the way, would be cultivating his taste in the fashion his grandparents would have approved. The film-play may be a step down for some, where it is a step up for others; but I am cynical enough to believe that, if a generation feels like stepping down, it will do so. The undergraduates of Princeton, for example (so I have been

told), all go to the movies every evening at seven o'clock. I think that is a little exaggerated, perhaps, but there is no doubt that they go very regularly. Perhaps it is unfortunate. Perhaps the undergraduates of fifteen years ago were better off. But before I admitted that, I should like to be sure that the undergraduates of fifteen years ago read Shakespeare or discussed metaphysics at seven o'clock in the evening. I am very much from Missouri in this matter.


All this sounds like defense of the movies, which I have admitted to be vulgar. Let us look at this special vulgarity a little. When a good novel, say, is dramatized, it is practically always vulgarized. You cannot put a work of art into a different medium without, to a large extent, spoiling it. Especially a work of art which has been wrought out of words cannot be put into a wordless medium without losing a great deal. The great faults of the picture play, I seem to make out, are two: sensationalism and sentimentalism. I read, the other day, in a motion-picture magazine (two weeks' allowance for that, alas!) the following statement, made by a big producer: 'We would not have dared, five years ago, to use one hundred and fifty feet of film with only mental movement in it.' I take it that they are stressing 'mental movement' increasingly. Even so, you cannot photograph mere psychology indefinitely.

When I hear that Joseph Conrad is going to devote himself to writing for the movies, I wonder greatly. Lord Jim in the pictures would not be precisely Lord Jim, would it? But I have gathered also from the magazine for which son's allowance was spent, that the cry is more and more for original plays, not for dramatizations. On the whole, that may be a good thing. Now and then a particular novel lends itself specially to the filming process: as you read the novel itself, you can see its manifest destiny. But, generally speaking, a good novel loses immensely. A large part of the work of the novelist consists of creating human beings. What they say and what they think are as important as what they physically do. And there is a limit to the mental movement that can be conveniently or even wisely registered. But to say that novels are usually vulgarized in screen-versions is not necessarily to damn screen-plays. The dramatized novel does not, for that matter, usually make a good play on the real stage. The technique is other; the same points must be differently made and differently led up to. There are exceptions, of course; but certainly the best plays are those that were written as plays. And I fancy the best movies will be those that were written as movie-scenarios. Certainly, if Mr. Conrad is to devote himself to film-making, I hope it will be by writing new scenarios, not by helping them to adapt Victory or The Rescue.

This vulgarization of books in the process of making films of them is, I dare say, pretty nearly inevitable. In any novel that tempts the producers there are sure to be one or two big scenes that are admirably adapted to pictorial presentment. (The rare novel of the picaresque type — alas, that we have so few! — really cries out for the screen.) But most of the preparation for those scenes, most of the preliminary stuff that gives them their significance, is not transferable to celluloid. Something has to be substituted for the unpictorial bulk of the book. The natural way is to stress minor episodes, make striking scenes out of quiet ones, exaggerate mental movement into physical movement. Often sauce piquante has to be added out of hand. At times a delicate situation lias to be made crude.

Henry James is an extreme instance; but imagining The Awkward Age on the screen will give you an idea of the difficulties of filming any book whatsoever that depends to any extent on slow and subtle delineation of character. For the sake of the argument, suppose The Awkward Age to be taken over by a producer: Mrs. Brook and Vanderbank would have to be sacrificed at once; you would have to give them at least one scene which showed them to be lovers. Mrs. Brook's wail, 'To think that it's all been justtaZfe/' could hardly be got across to a movie audience. The scene at Tishy Grendon's, where Mrs. Brook 'pulls the walls of the house down' — what could you do but show little Aggie as a definitely abandoned creature? The close-up of a French novel would not turn the trick. How on earth could you explain Vanderbank — in a movie — without sacrificing Nanda? The Awkward Age is perhaps the extremest possible case, but any producer who dramatizes a serious novel is confronted with some of these problems. Even the concession of 'a hundred feet of mental movement' will not atone for the necessary violence done to psychology. There are books where psychology bears, at almost every turn, visible fruit; so that, going from scene to scene, the spectator can make out for himself the underlying shifts of mood. But these books should be sifted from those that pursue a different method.

On the other hand, some great novels would lend themselves better to the screen than to the stage. Vanity Fair, for example — or so I imagine. Exceeding violence was done to Vanity Fair when it was turned into the play Becky Sharp. It was not Becky, it was not Thackeray, it was not Vanity Fair, it was not anything. But I can imagine a film version of the book that would be something — if the producer were willing to spend enough money on

« ElőzőTovább »