The Photoplay Part 1

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The Photoplay is a Webnovel created by Hugo Munsterberg.
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The Photoplay.

by Hugo Munsterberg.



It is arbitrary to say where the development of the moving pictures began and it is impossible to foresee where it will lead. What invention marked the beginning? Was it the first device to introduce movement into the pictures on a screen? Or did the development begin with the first photographing of various phases of moving objects? Or did it start with the first presentation of successive pictures at such a speed that the impression of movement resulted? Or was the birthday of the new art when the experimenters for the first time succeeded in projecting such rapidly pa.s.sing pictures on a wall? If we think of the moving pictures as a source of entertainment and esthetic enjoyment, we may see the germ in that camera obscura which allowed one gla.s.s slide to pa.s.s before another and thus showed the railway train on one slide moving over the bridge on the other gla.s.s plate. They were popular half a century ago.

On the other hand if the essential feature of the moving pictures is the combination of various views into one connected impression, we must look back to the days of the phenakistoscope which had scientific interest only; it is more than eighty years since it was invented. In America, which in most recent times has become the cla.s.sical land of the moving picture production, the history may be said to begin with the days of the Chicago Exposition, 1893, when Edison exhibited his kinetoscope. The visitor dropped his nickel into a slot, the little motor started, and for half a minute he saw through the magnifying gla.s.s a girl dancing or some street boys fighting. Less than a quarter of a century later twenty thousand theaters for moving pictures are open daily in the United States and the millions get for their nickel long hours of enjoyment. In Edison’s small box into which only one at a time could peep through the hole, nothing but a few trite scenes were exhibited. In those twenty thousand theaters which grew from it all human pa.s.sions and emotions find their stage, and whatever history reports or science demonstrates or imagination invents comes to life on the screen of the picture palace.

Yet this development from Edison’s half-minute show to the “Birth of a Nation” did not proceed on American soil. That slot box, after all, had little chance for popular success. The decisive step was taken when pictures of the Edison type were for the first time thrown on a screen and thus made visible to a large audience. That step was taken 1895 in London. The moving picture theater certainly began in England. But there was one source of the stream springing up in America, which long preceded Edison: the photographic efforts of the Englishman Muybridge, who made his experiments in California as early as 1872. His aim was to have photographs of various phases of a continuous movement, for instance of the different positions which a trotting horse is pa.s.sing through. His purpose was the a.n.a.lysis of the movement into its component parts, not the synthesis of a moving picture from such parts. Yet it is evident that this too was a necessary step which made the later triumphs possible.

If we combine the scientific and the artistic efforts of the new and the old world, we may tell the history of the moving pictures by the following dates and achievements. In the year 1825 a Doctor Roget described in the “Philosophical Transactions” an interesting optical illusion of movement, resulting, for instance, when a wheel is moving along behind a fence of upright bars. The discussion was carried much further when it was taken up a few years later by a master of the craft, by Faraday. In the _Journal of the Royal Inst.i.tute of Great Britain_ he writes in 1831 “on a peculiar cla.s.s of optical deceptions.” He describes there a large number of subtle experiments in which cogwheels of different forms and sizes were revolving with different degrees of rapidity and in different directions. The eye saw the cogs of the moving rear wheel through the pa.s.sing cogs of the front wheel. The result is the appearance of movement effects which do not correspond to an objective motion. The impression of backward movement can arise from forward motions, quick movement from slow, complete rest from combinations of movements. For the first time the impression of movement was synthetically produced from different elements. For those who fancy that the “new psychology” with its experimental a.n.a.lysis of psychological experiences began only in the second half of the nineteenth century or perhaps even with the foundation of the psychological laboratories, it might be enlightening to study those discussions of the early thirties.

The next step leads us much further. In the fall of 1832 Stampfer in Germany and Plateau in France, independent of each other, at the same time designed a device by which pictures of objects in various phases of movement give the impression of continued motion. Both secured the effect by cutting fine slits in a black disk in the direction of the radius. When the disk is revolved around its center, these slits pa.s.s the eye of the observer. If he holds it before a mirror and on the rear side of the disk pictures are drawn corresponding to the various slits, the eye will see one picture after another in rapid succession at the same place. If these little pictures give us the various stages of a movement, for instance a wheel with its spokes in different positions, the whole series of impressions will be combined into the perception of a revolving wheel. Stampfer called them the stroboscopic disks, Plateau the phenakistoscope. The smaller the slits, the sharper the pictures.

Uchatius in Vienna constructed an apparatus as early as 1853 to throw these pictures of the stroboscopic disks on the wall. Horner followed with the daedaleum, in which the disk was replaced by a hollow cylinder which had the pictures on the inside and holes to watch them from without while the cylinder was in rotation. From this was developed the popular toy which as the zootrope or bioscope became familiar everywhere. It was a revolving black cylinder with vertical slits, on the inside of which paper strips with pictures of moving objects in successive phases were placed. The clowns sprang through the hoop and repeated this whole movement with every new revolution of the cylinder.

In more complex instruments three sets of slits were arranged above one another. One set corresponded exactly to the distances of the pictures and the result was that the moving object appeared to remain on the same spot. The second brought the slits nearer together; then the pictures necessarily produced an effect as if the man were really moving forward while he performed his tricks. In the third set the slits were further distant from one another than the pictures, and the result was that the picture moved backward.

The scientific principle which controls the moving picture world of today was established with these early devices. Isolated pictures presented to the eye in rapid succession but separated by interruptions are perceived not as single impressions of different positions, but as a continuous movement. But the pictures of movements used so far were drawn by the pen of the artist. Life showed to him everywhere continuous movements; his imagination had to resolve them into various instantaneous positions. He drew the horse race for the zootrope, but while the horses moved forward, n.o.body was able to say whether the various pictures of their legs really corresponded to the stages of the actual movements. Thus a true development of the stroboscopic effects appeared dependent upon the fixation of the successive stages. This was secured in the early seventies, but to make this progress possible the whole wonderful unfolding of the photographer’s art was needed, from the early daguerreotype, which presupposed hours of exposure, to the instantaneous photograph which fixes the picture of the outer world in a small fraction of a second. We are not concerned here with this technical advance, with the perfection of the sensitive surface of the photographic plate. In 1872 the photographer’s camera had reached a stage at which it was possible to take snapshot pictures. But this alone would not have allowed the photographing of a real movement with one camera, as the plates could not have been exchanged quickly enough to catch the various phases of a short motion.

Here the work of Muybridge sets in. He had a black horse trot or gallop or walk before a white wall, pa.s.sing twenty-four cameras. On the path of the horse were twenty-four threads which the horse broke one after another and each one released the spring which opened the shutter of an instrument. The movement of the horse was thus a.n.a.lyzed into twenty-four pictures of successive phases; and for the first time the human eye saw the actual positions of a horse’s legs during the gallop or trot. It is not surprising that these pictures of Muybridge interested the French painters when he came to Paris, but fascinated still more the great student of animal movements, the physiologist Marey. He had contributed to science many an intricate apparatus for the registration of movement processes. “Marey’s tambour” is still the most useful instrument in every physiological and psychological laboratory, whenever slight delicate movements are to be recorded. The movement of a bird’s wings interested him especially, and at his suggestion Muybridge turned to the study of the flight of birds. Flying pigeons were photographed in different positions, each picture taken in a five-hundredth part of a second.

But Marey himself improved the method. He made use of an idea which the astronomer Jannsen had applied to the photographing of astronomical processes. Jannsen photographed, for instance, the transit of the planet Venus across the sun in December, 1874, on a circular sensitized plate which revolved in the camera. The plate moved forward a few degrees every minute. There was room in this way to have eighteen pictures of different phases of the transit on the marginal part of the one plate.

Marey constructed the apparatus for the revolving disk so that the intervals instead of a full minute became only one-twelfth of a second.

On the one revolving disk twenty-five views of the bird in motion could be taken. This brings us to the time of the early eighties. Marey remained indefatigable in improving the means for quick successive snapshots with the same camera. Human beings were photographed by him in white clothes on a black background. When ten pictures were taken in a second the subtlest motions in their jumping or running could be disentangled. The leading aim was still decidedly a scientific understanding of the motions, and the combination of the pictures into a unified impression of movement was not the purpose. Least of all was mere amus.e.m.e.nt intended.

About that time Anschutz in Germany followed the Muybridge suggestions with much success and gave to this art of photographing the movement of animals and men a new turn. He not only photographed the successive stages, but printed them on a long strip which was laid around a horizontal wheel. This wheel is in a dark box and the eye can see the pictures on the paper strip only at the moment when the light of a Geissler’s tube flashes up. The wheel itself has such electric contacts that the intervals between two flashes correspond to the time which is necessary to move the wheel from one picture to the next. However quickly the wheel may be revolved the lights follow one another with the same rapidity with which the pictures replace one another. During the movement when one picture moves away and another approaches the center of vision all is dark. Hence the eye does not see the changes but gets an impression as if the picture remained at the same spot, only moving.

The bird flaps its wings and the horse trots. It was really a perfect kinetoscopic instrument. Yet its limitations were evident. No movements could be presented but simple rhythmical ones, inasmuch as after one revolution of the wheel the old pictures returned. The marching men appeared very lifelike; yet they could not do anything but march on and on, the circ.u.mference of the wheel not allowing more room than was needed for about forty stages of the moving legs from the beginning to the end of the step.

If the picture of a motion was to go beyond these simplest rhythmical movements, if persons in action were really to be shown, it would be necessary to have a much larger number of pictures in instantaneous illumination. The wheel principle would have to be given up and a long strip with pictures would be needed. That presupposed a correspondingly long set of exposures and this demand could not be realized as long as the pictures were taken on gla.s.s plates. But in that period experiments were undertaken on many sides to subst.i.tute a more flexible transparent material for the gla.s.s. Translucent papers, gelatine, celluloid, and other substances were tried. It is well known that the invention which was decisive was the film which Eastman in Rochester produced. With it came the great mechanical improvement, the use of the two rollers. One roller holds the long strip of film which is slowly wound over the second, the device familiar to every amateur photographer today. With film photography was gained the possibility not only of securing a much larger number of pictures than Marey or Anschutz made with their circular arrangements, but of having these pictures pa.s.s before the eye illumined by quickly succeeding flashlights for any length of time.

Moreover, instead of the quick illumination the pa.s.sing pictures might be constantly lighted. In that case slits must pa.s.s by in the opposite direction so that each picture is seen for a moment only, as if it were at rest. This idea is perfectly realized in Edison’s machine.

In Edison’s kinetoscope a strip of celluloid film forty-five feet in length with a series of pictures each three-quarters of an inch long moved continuously over a series of rolls. The pictures pa.s.sed a magnifying lens, but between the lens and the picture was a revolving shutter which moved with a speed carefully adjusted to the film. The opening in the shutter was opposite the lens at the moment when the film had moved on three-quarters of an inch. Hence the eye saw not the pa.s.sing of the pictures but one picture after another at the same spot.

Pretty little scenes could now be acted in half a minute’s time, as more than six hundred pictures could be used. The first instrument was built in 1890, and soon after the Chicago World’s Fair it was used for entertainment all over the world. The wheel of Anschutz had been widespread too; yet it was considered only as a half-scientific apparatus. With Edison’s kinetoscope the moving pictures had become a means for popular amus.e.m.e.nt and entertainment, and the appet.i.te of commercialism was whetted. At once efforts to improve on the Edison machine were starting everywhere, and the adjustment to the needs of the wide public was in the foreground.

Crowning success came almost at the same time to Lumiere and Son in Paris and to Paul in London. They recognized clearly that the new scheme could not become really profitable on a large scale as long as only one person at a time could see the pictures. Both the well-known French manufacturers of photographic supplies and the English engineer considered the next step necessary to be the projection of the films upon a large screen. Yet this involved another fundamental change. In the kinetoscope the films pa.s.sed by continuously. The time of the exposure through the opening in the revolving shutter had to be extremely short in order to give distinct pictures. The slightest lengthening would make the movement of the film itself visible and produce a blurring effect. This time was sufficient for the seeing of the picture; it could not be sufficient for the greatly enlarged view on the wall. Too little light pa.s.sed through to give a distinct image.

Hence it became essential to transform the continuous movement of the film into an intermittent one. The strip of film must be drawn before the lens by jerking movements so that the real motion of the strip would occur in the periods in which the shutter was closed, while it was at rest for the fraction of time in which the light of the projection apparatus pa.s.sed through.

Both Lumiere and Paul overcame this difficulty and secured an intermittent pushing forward of the pictures for three-quarters of an inch, that is for the length of the single photograph. In the spring of 1895 Paul’s theatrograph or animatograph was completed, and in the following year he began his engagement at the Alhambra Theater, where the novelty was planned as a vaudeville show for a few days but stayed for many a year, since it proved at once an unprecedented success. The American field was conquered by the Lumiere camera. The Eden Musee was the first place where this French kinematograph was installed. The enjoyment which today one hundred and twenty-five thousand moving picture theaters all over the globe bring to thirty million people daily is dependent upon Lumiere’s and Paul’s invention. The improvements in the technique of taking the pictures and of projecting them on the screen are legion, but the fundamental features have not been changed.

Yes; on the whole the development of the last two decades has been a conservative one. The fact that every producer tries to distribute his films to every country forces a far-reaching standardization on the entire moving picture world. The little pictures on the film are still today exactly the same size as those which Edison used for his kinetoscope and the long strips of film are still gauged by four round perforations at the side of each to catch the sprockets which guide the film.

As soon as the moving picture show had become a feature of the vaudeville theater, the longing of the crowd for ever new entertainments and sensations had to be satisfied if the success was to last. The mere enjoyment of the technical wonder as such necessarily faded away and the interest could be kept up only if the scenes presented on the screen became themselves more and more enthralling. The trivial acts played in less than a minute without any artistic setting and without any rehearsal or preparation soon became unsatisfactory. The grandmother who washes the baby and even the street boy who plays a prank had to be replaced by quick little comedies. Stages were set up; more and more elaborate scenes were created; the film grew and grew in length.

Competing companies in France and later in the United States, England, Germany and notably in Italy developed more and more ambitious productions. As early as 1898 the Eden Musee in New York produced an elaborate setting of the Pa.s.sion Play in nearly fifty thousand pictures, which needed almost an hour for production. The personnel on the stage increased rapidly, huge establishments in which any scenery could be built up sprang into being. But the inclosed scene was often not a sufficient background; the kinematographic camera was brought to mountains and seash.o.r.e, and soon to the jungles of Africa or to Central Asia if the photoplay demanded exciting scenes on picturesque backgrounds. Thousands of people entered into the battle scenes which the historical drama demanded. We stand today in the midst of this external growth of which no one dreamed in the days of the kinetoscope.

Yet this technical progress and this tremendous increase of the mechanical devices for production have their true meaning in the inner growth which led from trite episodes to the height of tremendous action, from trivial routine to a new and most promising art.



It was indeed not an external technical advance only which led from Edison’s half a minute show of the little boy who turns on the hose to the “Daughter of Neptune,” or “Quo Vadis,” or “Cabiria,” and many another performance which fills an evening. The advance was first of all internal; it was an esthetic idea. Yet even this does not tell the whole story of the inner growth of the moving pictures, as it points only to the progress of the photoplay. It leaves out of account the fact that the moving pictures appeal not merely to the imagination, but that they bring their message also to the intellect. They aim toward instruction and information. Just as between the two covers of a magazine artistic stories stand side by side with instructive essays, scientific articles, or discussions of the events of the day, the photoplay is accompanied by a kinematoscopic rendering of reality in all its aspects.

Whatever in nature or in social life interests the human understanding or human curiosity comes to the mind of the spectator with an incomparable intensity when not a lifeless photograph but a moving picture brings it to the screen.

The happenings of the day afford the most convenient material, as they offer the chance for constantly changing programmes and hence the ideal conditions for a novelty seeking public. No actors are needed; the dramatic interest is furnished by the political and social importance of the events. In the early days when the great stages for the production of photoplays had not been built, the moving picture industry relied in a much higher degree than today on this supply from the surrounding public life. But while the material was abundant, it soon became rather insipid to see parades and processions and orators, and even where the immediate interest seemed to give value to the pictures it was for the most part only a local interest and faded away after a time. The coronation of the king or the inauguration of the president, the earthquake in Sicily, the great Derby, come, after all, too seldom.

Moreover through the strong compet.i.tion only the first comer gained the profits and only the most sensational dashes of kinematographers with the reporter’s instinct could lead to success in the eyes of the spoiled moving picture audiences.

Certainly the history of these enterprises is full of adventures worthy to rank with the most daring feats in the newspaper world. We hear that when the invest.i.ture of the Prince of Wales was performed at Carnarvon at four o’clock in the afternoon, the public of London at ten o’clock of the same day saw the ceremony on the screen in a moving picture twelve minutes in length. The distance between the two places is two hundred miles. The film was seven hundred and fifty feet long. It had been developed and printed in a special express train made up of long freight cars transformed into dark rooms and fitted with tanks for the developing and washing and with a machine for printing and drying. Yet on the whole the current events were slowly losing ground even in Europe, while America had never given such a large share of interest to this rival of the newspaper. It is claimed that the producers in America disliked these topical pictures because the accidental character of the events makes the production irregular and interferes too much with the steady preparation of the photoplays. Only when the war broke out, the great wave of excitement swept away this apathy. The pictures from the trenches, the marches of the troops, the life of the prisoners, the movements of the leaders, the busy life behind the front, and the action of the big guns absorbed the popular interest in every corner of the world. While the picturesque old-time war reporter has almost disappeared, the moving picture man has inherited all his courage, patience, sensationalism, and spirit of adventure.

A greater photographic achievement, however, than the picturing of the social and historic events was the marvelous success of the kinematograph with the life of nature. No explorer in recent years has crossed distant lands and seas without a kinematographic outfit. We suddenly looked into the most intimate life of the African wilderness.

There the elephants and giraffes and monkeys pa.s.sed to the waterhole, not knowing that the moving picture man was turning his crank in the top of a tree. We followed Scott and Shackleton into the regions of eternal ice, we climbed the Himalayas, we saw the world from the height of the aeroplane, and every child in Europe knows now the wonders of Niagara.

But the kinematographer has not sought nature only where it is gigantic or strange; he follows its path with no less admirable effect when it is idyllic. The brook in the woods, the birds in their nest, the flowers trembling in the wind have brought their charm to the delighted eye more and more with the progress of the new art.

But the wonders of nature which the camera unveils to us are not limited to those which the naked eye can follow. The technical progress led to the attachment of the microscope. After overcoming tremendous difficulties, the scientists succeeded in developing a microscope kinematography which multiplies the dimensions a hundred thousand times.

We may see on the screen the fight of the bacteria with the microscopically small blood corpuscles in the blood stream of a diseased animal. Yes, by the miracles of the camera we may trace the life of nature even in forms which no human observation really finds in the outer world. Out there it may take weeks for the orchid to bud and blossom and fade; in the picture the process before us in a few seconds. We see how the caterpillar spins its coc.o.o.n and how it breaks it and how the b.u.t.terfly unfolds its wings; and all which needed days and months goes on in a fraction of a minute. New interest for geography and botany and zoology has thus been aroused by these developments, undreamed of in the early days of the kinematograph, and the scientists themselves have through this new means of technique gained unexpected help for their labors.

The last achievement in this universe of photoknowledge is “the magazine on the screen.” It is a bold step which yet seemed necessary in our day of rapid kinematoscopic progress. The popular printed magazines in America had their heydey in the muckraking period about ten years ago.

Their hold on the imagination of the public which wants to be informed and entertained at the same time has steadily decreased, while the power of the moving picture houses has increased. The picture house ought therefore to take up the task of the magazines which it has partly displaced. The magazines give only a small place to the news of the day, a larger place to articles in which scholars and men of public life discuss significant problems. Much American history in the last two decades was deeply influenced by the columns of the ill.u.s.trated magazines. Those men who reached the millions by such articles cannot overlook the fact–they may approve or condemn it–that the of today prefer to be taught by pictures rather than by words. The audiences are a.s.sembled anyhow. Instead of feeding them with mere entertainment, why not give them food for serious thought? It seemed therefore a most fertile idea when the “Paramount Pictograph” was founded to carry intellectual messages and ambitious discussions into the film houses. Political and economic, social and hygienic, technical and industrial, esthetic and scientific questions can in no way be brought nearer to the grasp of millions. The editors will have to take care that the discussions do not degenerate into one-sided propaganda, but so must the editors of a printed magazine. Among the scientists the psychologist may have a particular interest in this latest venture of the film world. The screen ought to offer a unique opportunity to interest wide circles in psychological experiments and mental tests and in this way to spread the knowledge of their importance for vocational guidance and the practical affairs of life.

Yet that power of the moving pictures to supplement the school room and the newspaper and the library by spreading information and knowledge is, after all, secondary to their general task, to bring entertainment and amus.e.m.e.nt to the This is the chief road on which the forward march of the last twenty years has been most rapid. The theater and the vaudeville and the novel had to yield room and ample room to the play of the flitting pictures. What was the real principle of the inner development on this artistic side? The little scenes which the first pictures offered could hardly have been called plays. They would have been unable to hold the attention by their own contents. Their only charm was really the pleasure in the perfection with which the apparatus rendered the actual movements. But soon touching episodes were staged, little humorous scenes or melodramatic actions were played before the camera, and the same emotions stirred which up to that time only the true theater play had awakened. The aim seemed to be to have a real subst.i.tute for the stage. The most evident gain of this new scheme was the reduction of expenses. One actor is now able to entertain many thousand audiences at the same time, one stage setting is sufficient to give pleasure to millions. The theater can thus be democratized.

Everybody’s purse allows him to see the greatest artists and in every village a stage can be set up and the joy of a true theater performance can be spread to the remotest corner of the lands. Just as the graphophone can multiply without limit the music of the concert hall, the singer, and the orchestra, so, it seemed, would the photoplay reproduce the theater performance without end.

Of course, the subst.i.tute could not be equal to the original. The color was lacking, the real depth of the objective stage was missing, and above all the spoken word had been silenced. The few interspersed descriptive texts, the so-called “leaders,” had to hint at that which in the real drama the speeches of the actors explain and elaborate. It was thus surely only the shadow of a true theater, different not only as a photograph is compared with a painting, but different as a photograph is compared with the original man. And yet, however meager and shadowlike the moving picture play appeared compared with the performance of living actors, the advantage of the cheap multiplication was so great that the ambition of the producers was natural, to go forward from the little playlets to great dramas which held the attention for hours. The kinematographic theater soon had its Shakespeare repertoire; Ibsen has been played and the dramatized novels on the screen became legion. Victor Hugo and d.i.c.kens scored new triumphs. In a few years the way from the silly trite practical joke to Hamlet and Peer Gynt was covered with such thoroughness that the possibility of giving a photographic rendering of any thinkable theater performance was proven for all time.

But while this movement to reproduce stage performances went on, elements were superadded which the technique of the camera allowed but which would hardly be possible in a theater. Hence the development led slowly to a certain deviation from the path of the drama. The difference which strikes the observer first results from the chance of the camera man to set his scene in the real backgrounds of nature and culture. The stage manager of the theater can paint the ocean and, if need be, can move some colored cloth to look like rolling waves; and yet how far is his effect surpa.s.sed by the superb ocean pictures when the scene is played on the real cliffs and the waves are thundering at their foot and the surf is foaming about the actors. The theater has its painted villages and vistas, its city streets and its foreign landscape backgrounds. But here the theater, in spite of the reality of the actors, appears thoroughly unreal compared with the throbbing life of the street scenes and of the foreign crowds in which the camera man finds his local color.

But still more characteristic is the rapidity with which the whole background can be changed in the moving pictures. Reinhardt’s revolving stage had brought wonderful surprises to the theater-goer and had shifted the scene with a quickness which was unknown before. Yet how slow and clumsy does it remain compared with the routine changes of the photoplays. This changing of background is so easy for the camera that at a very early date this new feature of the plays was introduced. At first it served mostly humorous purposes. The public of the crude early shows enjoyed the flashlike quickness with which it could follow the eloper over the roofs of the town, upstairs and down, into cellar and attic, and jump into the auto and race over the country roads until the culprit fell over a bridge into the water and was caught by the police.

This slapstick humor has by no means disappeared, but the rapid change of scenes has meanwhile been put into the service of much higher aims.

The development of an artistic plot has been brought to possibilities which the real drama does not know, by allowing the eye to follow the hero and heroine continuously from place to place. Now he leaves his room, now we see him pa.s.sing along the street, now he enters the house of his beloved, now he is led into the parlor, now she is hurrying to the library of her father, now they all go to the garden: ever new stage settings sliding into one another. Technical difficulties do not stand in the way. A set of pictures taken by the camera man a thousand miles away can be inserted for a few feet in the film, and the audience sees now the clubroom in New York, and now the snows of Alaska and now the tropics, near each other in the same reel.

Moreover the ease with which the scenes are altered allows us not only to hurry on to ever new spots, but to be at the same time in two or three places. The scenes become intertwined. We see the soldier on the battlefield, and his beloved one at home, in such steady alternation that we are simultaneously here and there. We see the man speaking into the telephone in New York and at the same time the woman who receives his message in Washington. It is no difficulty at all for the photoplay to have the two alternate a score of times in the few minutes of the long distance conversation.

But with the quick change of background the photoartists also gained a rapidity of motion which leaves actual men behind. He needs only to turn the crank of the apparatus more quickly and the whole rhythm of the performance can be brought to a speed which may strikingly aid the farcical humor of the scene. And from here it was only a step to the performance of actions which could not be carried out in nature at all.

At first this idea was made serviceable to rather rough comic effects.

The policeman climbed up the solid stone front of a high building. The camera man had no difficulty in securing the effects, as it was only necessary to have the actor creep over a flat picture of the building spread on the floor. Every day brought us new tricks. We see how the magician breaks one egg after another and takes out of each egg a little fairy and puts one after another on his hand where they begin to dance a minuet. No theater could ever try to match such wonders, but for the camera they are not difficult; the little dancers were simply at a much further distance from the camera and therefore appeared in their Lilliputian size. Rich artistic effects have been secured, and while on the stage every fairy play is clumsy and hardly able to create an illusion, in the film we really see the man transformed into a beast and the flower into a girl. There is no limit to the trick pictures which the skill of the experts invent. The divers jump, feet first, out of the water to the springboard. It looks magical, and yet the camera man has simply to reverse his film and to run it from the end to the beginning of the action. Every dream becomes real, uncanny ghosts appear from nothing and disappear into nothing, mermaids swim through the waves and little elves climb out of the Easter lilies.

As the crank of the camera which takes the pictures can be stopped at any moment and the turning renewed only after some complete change has been made on the stage any subst.i.tution can be carried out without the public knowing of the break in the events. We see a man walking to the edge of a steep rock, leaving no doubt that it is a real person, and then by a slip he is hurled down into the abyss below. The film does not indicate that at the instant before the fall the camera has been stopped and the actor replaced by a stuffed dummy which begins to tumble when the movement of the film is started again. But not only dummies of the same size can be introduced. A little model brought quite near to the camera may take the place of the large real object at a far distance. We see at first the real big ship and can convince ourselves of its reality by seeing actual men climbing up the rigging. But when it comes to the final shipwreck, the movement of the film is stopped and the camera brought near to a little tank where a miniature model of the ship takes up the role of the original and explodes and really sinks to its two-feet-deep watery grave.

While, through this power to make impossible actions possible, unheard of effects could be reached, all still remained in the outer framework of the stage. The photoplay showed a performance, however rapid or unusual, as it would go on in the outer world. An entirely new perspective was opened when the managers of the film play introduced the “close-up” and similar new methods. As every friend of the film knows, the close-up is a scheme by which a particular part of the picture, perhaps only the face of the hero or his hand or only a ring on his finger, is greatly enlarged and replaces for an instant the whole stage.

Even the most wonderful creations, the great historical plays where thousands fill the battlefields or the most fantastic caprices where fairies fly over the stage, could perhaps be performed in a theater, but this close-up leaves all stagecraft behind. Suddenly we see not Booth himself as he seeks to the president, but only his hand holding the revolver and the play of his excited fingers filling the whole field of vision. We no longer see at his desk the banker who opens the telegram, but the opened telegraphic message itself takes his place on the screen for a few seconds, and we read it over his shoulder.

It is not necessary to enumerate still more changes which the development of the art of the film has brought since the days of the kinetoscope. The use of natural backgrounds, the rapid change of scenes, the intertwining of the actions in different scenes, the changes of the rhythms of action, the pa.s.sing through physically impossible experiences, the linking of disconnected movements, the realization of supernatural effects, the gigantic enlargement of small details: these may be sufficient as characteristic ill.u.s.trations of the essential trend. They show that the progress of the photoplay did not lead to a more and more perfect photographic reproduction of the theater stage, but led away from the theater altogether. Superficial impressions suggest the opposite and still leave the esthetically careless observer in the belief that the photoplay is a cheap subst.i.tute for the real drama, a theater performance as good or as bad as a photographic reproduction allows. But this traditional idea has become utterly untrue. _The art of the photoplay has developed so many new features of its own, features which have not even any similarity to the technique of the stage that the question arises: is it not really a new art which long since left behind the mere film reproduction of the theater and which ought to be acknowledged in its own esthetic independence?_ This right to independent recognition has so far been ignored. Practically everybody who judged the photoplays from the esthetic point of view remained at the old comparison between the film and the graphophone. The photoplay is still something which simply imitates the true art of the drama on the stage. May it not be, on the contrary, that it does not imitate or replace anything, but is in itself an art as different from that of the theater as the painter’s art is different from that of the sculptor? And may it not be high time, in the interest of theory and of practice, to examine the esthetic conditions which would give independent rights to the new art? If this is really the situation, it must be a truly fascinating problem, as it would give the chance to watch the art in its first unfolding. A new esthetic coc.o.o.n is broken; where will the b.u.t.terfly’s wings carry him?

We have at last reached the real problem of this little book. We want to study the right of the photoplay, hitherto ignored by esthetics, to be cla.s.sed as an art in itself under entirely new mental life conditions.

What we need for this study is evidently, first, an insight into the means by which the moving pictures impress us and appeal to us. Not the physical means and technical devices are in question, but the mental means. What psychological factors are involved when we watch the happenings on the screen? But secondly, we must ask what characterizes the independence of an art, what const.i.tutes the conditions under which the works of a special art stand. The first inquiry is psychological, the second esthetic; the two belong intimately together. Hence we turn first to the psychological aspect of the moving pictures and later to the artistic one.

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