The Photoplay Part 3

If you are looking for The Photoplay Part 3 you are coming to the right place.
The Photoplay is a Webnovel created by Hugo Munsterberg.
This lightnovel is currently completed.

The feeling of the soul emanates into the surroundings and the impression which we get of our neighbor’s emotional att.i.tude may be derived from this external frame of the personality as much as from the gestures and the face.

This effect of the surrounding surely can and must be much heightened in the artistic theater play. All the stage settings of the scene ought to be in harmony with the fundamental emotions of the play, and many an act owes its success to the unity of emotional impression which results from the perfect painting of the background; it reverberates to the pa.s.sions of the mind. From the highest artistic color and form effects of the stage in the Reinhardt style down to the cheapest melodrama with soft blue lights and tender music for the closing scene, the stage arrangements tell the story of the intimate emotion. But just this additional expression of the feeling through the medium of the surrounding scene, through background and setting, through lines and forms and movements, is very much more at the disposal of the photoartist. He alone can change the background and all the surroundings of the acting person from instant to instant. He is not bound to one setting, he has no technical difficulty in altering the whole scene with every smile and every frown. To be sure, the theater can give us changing sunshine and thunderclouds too. But it must go on at the slow pace and with the clumsiness with which the events in nature pa.s.s. The photoplay can flit from one to the other. Not more than one sixteenth of a second is needed to carry us from one corner of the globe to the other, from a jubilant setting to a mourning scene. The whole keyboard of the imagination may be used to serve this emotionalizing of nature.

There is a girl in her little room, and she opens a letter and reads it.

There is no need of showing us in a close-up the letter page with the male handwriting and the words of love and the request for her hand. We see it in her radiant visage, we read it from her fascinated arms and hands; and yet how much more can the photoartist tell us about the storm of emotions in her soul. The walls of her little room fade away.

Beautiful hedges of hawthorn blossom around her, rose bushes in wonderful glory arise and the whole ground is alive with exotic flowers.

Or the young artist sits in his attic playing his violin; we see the bow moving over the strings but the dreamy face of the player does not change with his music. Under the spell of his tones his features are immovable as if they were staring at a vision. They do not speak of the changing emotions which his melodies awake. We cannot hear those tones.

And yet we do hear them: a lovely spring landscape widens behind his head, we see the valleys of May and the bubbling brooks and the young wild beeches. And slowly it changes into the sadness of the autumn, the sere leaves are falling around the player, heavy clouds hang low over his head. Suddenly at a sharp accent of his bow the storm breaks, we are carried to the wildness of rugged rocks or to the raging sea; and again comes tranquillity over the world, the little country village of his youth fills the background, the harvest is brought from the fields, the sun sets upon a scene of happiness, and while the bow slowly sinks, the walls and ceiling of his attic close in again. No shade, no tint, no hue of his emotions has escaped us; we followed them as if we had heard the rejoicing and the sadness, the storm and the peace of his melodious tones. Such imaginative settings can be only the extreme; they would not be fit for the routine play. But, however much weaker and fainter the echo of the surroundings may be in the realistic pictures of the standard photoplay, the chances are abundant everywhere and no skillful playwright will ever disregard them entirely. Not the portrait of the man but the picture as a whole has to be filled with emotional exuberance.

Everything so far has referred to the emotions of the persons in the play, but this cannot be sufficient. When we were interested in attention and memory we did not ask about the act of attention and memory in the persons of the play, but in the spectator, and we recognized that these mental activities and excitements in the audience were projected into the moving pictures. Just here was the center of our interest, because it showed that uniqueness of the means with which the photoplaywright can work. If we want to shape the question now in the same way, we ought to ask how it is with the emotions of the spectator. But then two different groups of cases must be distinguished.

On the one side we have those emotions in which the feelings of the persons in the play are transmitted to our own soul. On the other side, we find those feelings with which we respond to the scenes in the play, feelings which may be entirely different, perhaps exactly opposite to those which the figures in the play express.

The first group is by far the larger one. Our imitation of the emotions which we see expressed brings vividness and affective tone into our grasping of the play’s action. We sympathize with the sufferer and that means that the pain which he expresses becomes our own pain. We share the joy of the happy lover and the grief of the despondent mourner, we feel the indignation of the betrayed wife and the fear of the man in danger. The visual perception of the various forms of expression of these emotions fuses in our mind with the conscious awareness of the emotion expressed; we feel as if we were directly seeing and observing the emotion itself. Moreover the idea awakens in us the appropriate reactions. The horror which we see makes us really shrink, the happiness which we witness makes us relax, the pain which we observe brings contractions in our muscles; and all the resulting sensations from muscles, joints, tendons, from skin and viscera, from blood circulation and breathing, give the color of living experience to the emotional reflection in our mind. It is obvious that for this leading group of emotions the relation of the pictures to the feelings of the persons in the play and to the feelings of the spectator is exactly the same. If we start from the emotions of the audience, we can say that the pain and the joy which the spectator feels are really projected to the screen, projected both into the portraits of the persons and into the pictures of the scenery and background into which the personal emotions radiate.

The fundamental principle which we recognized for all the other mental states is accordingly no less efficient in the case of the spectator’s emotions.

The a.n.a.lysis of the mind of the audience must lead, however, to that second group of emotions, those in which the spectator responds to the scenes on the film from the standpoint of his independent affective life. We see an overbearing pompous person who is filled with the emotion of solemnity, and yet he awakens in us the emotion of humor. We answer by our ridicule. We see the scoundrel who in the melodramatic photoplay is filled with fiendish malice, and yet we do not respond by imitating his emotion; we feel moral indignation toward his personality.

We see the laughing, rejoicing child who, while he picks the berries from the edge of the precipice, is not aware that he must fall down if the hero does not s.n.a.t.c.h him back at the last moment. Of course, we feel the child’s joy with him. Otherwise we should not even understand his behaviour, but we feel more strongly the fear and the horror of which the child himself does not know anything. The photoplaywrights have so far hardly ventured to project this second cla.s.s of emotion, which the spectator superadds to the events, into the show on the screen. Only tentative suggestions can be found. The enthusiasm or the disapproval or indignation of the spectator is sometimes released in the lights and shades and in the setting of the landscape. There are still rich possibilities along this line. The photoplay has hardly come to its own with regard to these secondary emotions. Here it has not emanc.i.p.ated itself sufficiently from the model of the stage. Those emotions arise, of course, in the audience of a theater too, but the dramatic stage cannot embody them. In the opera the orchestra may symbolize them. For the photoplay, which is not bound to the physical succession of events but gives us only the pictorial reflection, there is an unlimited field for the expression of these att.i.tudes in ourselves.

But the wide expansion of this field and of the whole manifoldness of emotional possibilities in the moving pictures is not sufficiently characterized as long as we think only of the optical representation in the actual outer world. The camera men of the moving pictures have photographed the happenings of the world and all its wonders, have gone to the bottom of the sea and up to the clouds; they have surprised the beasts in the jungles and in the Arctic ice; they have dwelt with the lowest races and have captured the greatest men of our time: and they are always haunted by the fear that the supply of new sensations may be exhausted. Curiously enough, they have so far ignored the fact that an inexhaustible wealth of new impressions is at their disposal, which has hardly been touched as yet. There is a material and a formal side to the pictures which we see in their rapid succession. The material side is controlled by the content of what is shown to us. But the formal side depends upon the outer conditions under which this content is exhibited.

Even with ordinary photographs we are accustomed to discriminate between those in which every detail is very sharp and others, often much more artistic, in which everything looks somewhat misty and blurring and in which sharp outlines are avoided. We have this formal aspect, of course, still more prominently if we see the same landscape or the same person painted by a dozen different artists. Each one has his own style. Or, to point to another elementary factor, the same series of moving pictures may be given to us with a very slow or with a rapid turning of the crank. It is the same street scene, and yet in the one case everyone on the street seems leisurely to saunter along, while in the other case there is a general rush and hurry. Nothing is changed but the temporal form; and in going over from the sharp image to the blurring one, nothing is changed but a certain spatial form: the content remains the same.

As soon as we give any interest to this formal aspect of the presentation, we must recognize that the photoplaywright has here possibilities to which nothing corresponds in the world of the stage.

Take the case that we want to produce an effect of trembling. We might use the pictures as the camera has taken them, sixteen in a second. But in reproducing them on the screen we change their order. After giving the first four pictures we go back to picture 3, then give 4, 5, 6, and return to 5, then 6, 7, 8, and go back to 7, and so on. Any other rhythm, of course, is equally possible. The effect is one which never occurs in nature and which could not be produced on the stage. The events for a moment go backward. A certain vibration goes through the world like the tremolo of the orchestra. Or we demand from our camera a still more complex service. We put the camera itself on a slightly rocking support and then every point must move in strange curves and every motion takes an uncanny whirling character. The content still remains the same as under normal conditions, but the changes in the formal presentation give to the mind of the spectator unusual sensations which produce a new shading of the emotional background.

Of course, impressions which come to our eye can at first awaken only sensations, and a sensation is not an emotion. But it is well known that in the view of modern physiological psychology our consciousness of the emotion itself is shaped and marked by the sensations which arise from our bodily organs. As soon as such abnormal visual impressions stream into our consciousness, our whole background of fusing bodily sensations becomes altered and new emotions seem to take hold of us. If we see on the screen a man hypnotized in the doctor’s office, the patient himself may lie there with closed eyes, nothing in his features expressing his emotional setting and nothing radiating to us. But if now only the doctor and the patient remain unchanged and steady, while everything in the whole room begins at first to tremble and then to wave and to change its form more and more rapidly so that a feeling of dizziness comes over us and an uncanny, ghastly unnaturalness overcomes the whole surrounding of the hypnotized person, we ourselves become seized by the strange emotion. It is not worth while to go into further ill.u.s.trations here, as this possibility of the camera work still belongs entirely to the future. It could not be otherwise as we remember that the whole moving picture play arose from the slavish imitation of the drama and began only slowly to find its own artistic methods. But there is no doubt that the formal changes of the pictorial presentation will be legion as soon as the photoartists give their attention to this neglected aspect.

The value of these formal changes for the expression of the emotions may become remarkable. The characteristic features of many an att.i.tude and feeling which cannot be expressed without words today will then be aroused in the mind of the spectator through the subtle art of the camera.





We have a.n.a.lyzed the mental functions which are most powerful in the audience of the photoplay. We studied the mere act of perceiving the pictures on the screen, of perceiving their apparently plastic character, their depth, and their apparent movements. We turned then to those psychical acts by which we respond to the perceived impressions.

In the foreground stood the act of attention, but then we followed the play of a.s.sociations, of memory, of imagination, of suggestion, and, most important of all, we traced the distribution of interest. Finally we spoke of the feelings and emotions with which we accompany the play.

Certainly all this does not exhaust the mental reactions which arise in our mind when we witness a drama of the film. We have not spoken, for instance, of the action which the plot of the story or its social background may start in our soul. The suffering of the poor, the injustice by which the weak may be forced into the path of crime, and a hundred other social motives may be impressed on us by the photoplay; thoughts about human society, about laws and reforms, about human differences and human fates, may fill our mind. Yet this is not one of the characteristic functions of the moving pictures. It is a side effect which may set in just as it may result from reading the newspapers or from hearing of practical affairs in life. But in all our discussions we have also left out another mental process, namely, esthetic emotion. We did speak about the emotions which the plot of the play stirs up. We discussed the feelings in which we sympathize with the characters of the scene, in which we share their suffering and their joy; and we also spoke about that other group of emotions by which we take a mental att.i.tude toward the behaviour of the persons in the play. But there is surely a third group of feelings and emotions which we have not yet considered, namely, those of our joy in the play, our esthetic satisfaction or dissatisfaction. We have omitted them intentionally, because the study of this group of feelings involves a discussion of the esthetic process as such, and we have left all the esthetic problems for this second part of our investigation.

If we disregard this pleasure or displeasure in the beauty of the photoplay and reflect only on the processes of perception, attention, interest, memory, imagination, suggestion, and emotion which we have a.n.a.lyzed, we see that we everywhere come to the same result. One general principle seemed to control the whole mental mechanism of the spectator, or rather the relation between the mental mechanism and the pictures on the screen. We recognized that in every case the objective world of outer events had been shaped and molded until it became adjusted to the subjective movements of the mind. The mind develops memory ideas and imaginative ideas; in the moving pictures they become reality. The mind concentrates itself on a special detail in its act of attention; and in the close-up of the moving pictures this inner state is objectified. The mind is filled with emotions; and by means of the camera the whole scenery echoes them. Even in the most objective factor of the mind, the perception, we find this peculiar oscillation. We perceive the movement; and yet we perceive it as something which has not its independent character as an outer world process, because our mind has built it up from single pictures rapidly following one another. We perceive things in their plastic depth; and yet again the depth is not that of the outer world. We are aware of its unreality and of the pictorial flatness of the impressions.

In every one of these features the contrast to the mental impressions from the real stage is obvious. There in the theater we know at every moment that we see real plastic men before us, that they are really in motion when they walk and talk and that, on the other hand, it is our own doing and not a part of the play when our attention turns to this or that detail, when our memory brings back events of the past, when our imagination surrounds them with fancies and emotions. And here, it seems, we have a definite starting point for an esthetic comparison. If we raise the unavoidable question–how does the photoplay compare with the drama?–we seem to have sufficient material on hand to form an esthetic judgment. The verdict, it appears, can hardly be doubtful. Must we not say art is imitation of nature? The drama can show us on the stage a true imitation of real life. The scenes proceed just as they would happen anywhere in the outer world. Men of flesh and blood with really plastic bodies stand before us. They move like any moving body in our surroundings. Moreover those happenings on the stage, just like the events in life, are independent of our subjective attention and memory and imagination. They go their objective course. Thus the theater comes so near to its purpose of imitating the world of men that the comparison with the photoplay suggests almost a disastrous failure of the art of the film. The color of the world has disappeared, the persons are dumb, no sound reaches our ear. The depth of the scene appears unreal, the motion has lost its natural character. Worst of all, the objective course of events is falsified; our own attention and memory and imagination have shifted and remodeled the events until they look as nature could never show them. What we really see can hardly be called any longer an imitation of the world, such as the theater gives us.

When the graphophone repeats a Beethoven symphony, the voluminousness of the orchestra is reduced to a thin feeble surface sound, and no one would accept this product of the disk and the diaphragm as a full subst.i.tute for the performance of the real orchestra. But, after all, every instrument is actually represented, and we can still discriminate the violins and the celli and the flutes in exactly the same order and tonal and rhythmic relation in which they appear in the original. The graphophone music appears, therefore, much better fitted for replacing the orchestra than the moving pictures are to be a subst.i.tute for the theater. There all the essential elements seem conserved; here just the essentials seem to be lost and the aim of the drama to imitate life with the greatest possible reality seems hopelessly beyond the flat, colorless pictures of the photoplay. Still more might we say that the plaster of Paris cast is a fair subst.i.tute for the marble statue. It shares with the beautiful marble work the same form and imitates the body of the living man just as well as the marble statue. Moreover, this product of the mechanical process has the same white color which the original work of the sculptor possesses. Hence we must acknowledge it as a fair approach to the plastic work of art. In the same way the chromo print gives the essentials of the oil painting. Everywhere the technical process has secured a reproduction of the work of art which sounds or looks almost like the work of the great artist, and only the technique of the moving pictures, which so clearly tries to reproduce the theater performance, stands so utterly far behind the art of the actor. Is not an esthetic judgment of rejection demanded by good taste and sober criticism? We may tolerate the photoplay because, by the inexpensive technical method which allows an unlimited multiplication of the performances, it brings at least a shadow of the theater to the who cannot afford to see real actors. But the cultivated mind might better enjoy plaster of Paris casts and chromo prints and graphophone music than the moving pictures with their complete failure to give us the essentials of the real stage.

We have heard this message, or if it was not expressed in clear words it surely lingered for a long while in the minds of all those who had a serious relation to art. It probably still prevails today among many, even if they appreciate the more ambitious efforts of the photoplaywrights in the most recent years. The philanthropic pleasure in the furnishing of cheap entertainment and the recognition that a certain advance has recently been made seem to alleviate the esthetic situation, but the core of public opinion remains the same; the moving pictures are no real art.

And yet all this arguing and all this hasty settling of a most complex problem is fundamentally wrong. It is based on entirely mistaken ideas concerning the aims and purposes of art. If those errors were given up and if the right understanding of the moving pictures were to take hold of the community, n.o.body would doubt that the chromo print and the graphophone and the plaster cast are indeed nothing but inexpensive subst.i.tutes for art with many essential artistic elements left out, and therefore ultimately unsatisfactory to a truly artistic taste. But everybody would recognize at the same time that the relation of the photoplay to the theater is a completely different one and that the difference counts entirely in favor of the moving pictures. _They are not and ought never to be imitations of the theater. They can never give the esthetic values of the theater; but no more can the theater give the esthetic values of the photoplay._ With the rise of the moving pictures has come an entirely new independent art which must develop its own life conditions. The moving pictures would indeed be a complete failure if that popular theory of art which we suggested were right. But that theory is wrong from beginning to end, and it must not obstruct the way to a better insight which recognizes that the stage and the screen are as fundamentally different as sculpture and painting, or as lyrics and music. _The drama and the photoplay are two coordinated arts, each perfectly valuable in itself._ The one cannot replace the other; and the shortcomings of the one as against the other reflect only the fact that the one has a history of fifteen years while the other has one of five thousand. This is the thesis which we want to prove, and the first step to it must be to ask: what is the aim of art if not the imitation of reality?

But can the claim that art imitates nature or rather that imitation is the essence of art be upheld if we seriously look over the field of artistic creations? Would it not involve the expectation that the artistic value would be the greater, the more the ideal of imitation is approached? A perfect imitation which looks exactly like the original would give us the highest art. Yet every page in the history of art tells us the opposite. We admire the marble statue and we despise as inartistic the colored wax figures. There is no difficulty in producing colored wax figures which look so completely like real persons that the visitor at an exhibit may easily be deceived and may ask information from the wax man leaning over the railing. On the other hand what a tremendous distance between reality and the marble statue with its uniform white surface! It could never deceive us and as an imitation it would certainly be a failure. Is it different with a painting? Here the color may be quite similar to the original, but unlike the marble it has lost its depth and shows us nature on a flat surface. Again we could never be deceived, and it is not the painter’s ambition to make us believe for a moment that reality is before us. Moreover neither the sculptor nor the painter gives us less valuable work when they offer us a bust or a painted head only instead of the whole figure; and yet we have never seen in reality a human body ending at the chest. We admire a fine etching hardly less than a painting. Here we have neither the plastic effect of the sculpture nor the color of the painting. The essential features of the real model are left out. As an imitation it would fail disastrously. What is imitated in a lyric poem? Through more than two thousand years we have appreciated the works of the great dramatists who had their personages speak in the rhythms of metrical language. Every iambic verse is a deviation from reality. If they had tried to imitate nature Antigone and Hamlet would have spoken the prose of daily life. Does a beautiful arch or dome or tower of a building imitate any part of reality? Is its architectural value dependent upon the similarity to nature? Or does the melody or harmony in music offer an imitation of the surrounding world?

Wherever we examine without prejudice the mental effects of true works of art in literature or music, in painting or sculpture, in decorative arts or architecture, we find that the central esthetic value is directly opposed to the spirit of imitation. A work of art may and must start from something which awakens in us the interests of reality and which contains traits of reality, and to that extent it cannot avoid some imitation. But _it becomes art just in so far as it overcomes reality, stops imitating and leaves the imitated reality behind it_. It is artistic just in so far as it does not imitate reality but changes the world, selects from it special features for new purposes, remodels the world and is through this truly creative. To imitate the world is a mechanical process; to transform the world so that it becomes a thing of beauty is the purpose of art. The highest art may be furthest removed from reality.

We have not even the right to say that this process of selection from reality means that we keep the beautiful elements of it and simply omit and eliminate the ugly ones. This again is not in the least characteristic of art, however often the popular mind may couple this superficial idea with that other one, that art consists of imitation. It is not true that the esthetic value depends upon the beauty of the selected material. The men and women whom Rembrandt painted were not beautiful persons. The ugliest woman may be the subject of a most beautiful painting. The so-called beautiful landscape may, of course, be material for a beautiful landscape painting, but the chances are great that such a pretty vista will attract the dilettante and not the real artist who knows that the true value of his painting is independent of the prettiness of the model. He knows that a muddy country road or a dirty city street or a trivial little pond may be the material for immortal pictures. He who writes literature does not select scenes of life which are beautiful in themselves, scenes which we would have liked to live through, full of radiant happiness and joy; he does not eliminate from his picture of life that which is disturbing to the peace of the soul, repellant and ugly and immoral. On the contrary, all the great works of literature have shown us dark shades of life beside the light ones. They have spoken of unhappiness and pain as often as of joy.

We have suffered with our poets, and in so far as the musical composer expresses the emotions of life the great symphonies have been full of pathos and tragedy. True art has always been selection, but never selection of the beautiful elements in outer reality.

But if the esthetic value is independent of the imitative approach to reality and independent of the elimination of unpleasant elements or of the collection and addition of pleasant traits, what does the artist really select and combine in his creation? How does he shape the world?

How does nature look when it has been remolded by the artistic temperament and imagination? What is left of the real landscape when the engraver’s needle has sketched it? What is left of the tragic events in real life when the lyric poet has reshaped them in a few rhymed stanzas?

Perhaps we may bring the characteristic features of the process most easily to recognition if we contrast them with another kind of reshaping process. The same landscape which the artist sketches, the same historic event which the lyric poet interprets in his verses, may be grasped by the human mind in a wholly different way. We need only think of the scientific work of the scholar. He too may have the greatest interest in the landscape which the engraver has rendered: the tree on the edge of the rock, torn by the storm, and at the foot of the cliff the sea with its whitecapped waves. He too is absorbed by the tragic death of a Lincoln. But what is the scholar’s att.i.tude? Is it his aim to reproduce the landscape or the historic event? Certainly not. The meaning of science and scholarship and of knowledge in general would be completely misunderstood if their aim were thought to be simply the repeating of the special facts in reality. The scientist tries to explain the facts, and even his description is meant to serve his explanation. He turns to that tree on the cliff with the interest of studying its anatomical structure. He examines with a microscope the cells of those tissues in the branches and leaves in order that he may explain the growth of the tree and its development from the germ. The storm which whips its branches is to him a physical process for which he seeks the causes, far removed. The sea is to him a substance which he resolves in his laboratory into its chemical elements and which he explains by tracing the geological changes on the surface of the earth.

In short, the scientist is not interested in that particular object only, but in its connections with the total universe. He explains the event by a reference to general laws which are effective everywhere.

Every single growth and movement is linked by him with the endless chain of causes and effects. He surely reshapes the experience in connecting every single impression with the totality of events, in finding the general in the particular, in transforming the given facts into the scientific scheme of an atomistic universe. It is not different from the historical event. To the scholarly historian the death of Lincoln is meaningless if it is not seen in its relation to and connection with the whole history of the Civil War and if this again is not understood as the result of the total development of the United States. And who can understand the growth of the United States, unless the whole of modern history is seen as a background and unless the ideas of state philosophy which have built up the American democracy are grasped in their connection with the whole story of European political thought in preceding centuries? The scholar may turn to natural or to social events, to waves or trees or men: every process and action in the world gains interest for him only by being connected with other things and events. Every point which he marks is the nodal point for numberless relations. To grasp a fact in the sense of scholarly knowledge means to see it in all its connections, and the work of the scholar is not simply to hold the fact as he becomes aware of it but to trace the connections and to supplement them by his thought until a completed system of interrelated facts in science or in history is established.

Now we are better prepared to recognize the characteristic function of the artist. He is doing exactly the opposite of what the scholar is aiming at. Both are changing and remolding the given thing or event in the interest of their ideal aims. But the ideal aim of beauty and art is in complete contrast to the ideal aim of scholarly knowledge. The scholar, we see, establishes connections by which the special thing loses all character of separateness. He binds it to all the remainder of the physical and social universe. The artist, on the contrary, cuts off every possible connection. He puts his landscape into a frame so that every possible link with the surrounding world is severed. He places his statue on a pedestal so that it cannot possibly step into the room around it. He makes his persons speak in verse so that they cannot possibly be connected with the intercourse of the day. He tells his story so that nothing can happen after the last chapter. _The work of art shows us the things and events perfectly complete in themselves, freed from all connections which lead beyond their own limits, that is, in perfect isolation._

Both the truth which the scholar discovers and the beauty which the artist creates are valuable; but it is now clear that the value in both cases lies not in the mere repet.i.tion of the offerings of reality. There is no reason whatever for appreciating a mere imitation or repet.i.tion of that which exists in the world. Neither the scholar nor the artist could do better than nature or history. The value in both cases lies just in the deviation from reality in the service of human desires and ideals.

The desire and ideal of the scholar is to give us an interconnected world in which we understand everything by its being linked with everything else; and the desire and ideal of the artist in every possible art is to give us things which are freed from the connection of the world and which stand before us complete in themselves. The things of the outer world have thousandfold ties with nature and history. An object becomes beautiful when it is delivered from these ties, and in order to secure this result we must take it away from the background of reality and reproduce it in such a form that it is unmistakably different from the real things which are enchained by the causes and effects of nature.

Why does this satisfy us? Why is it valuable to have a part of nature or life liberated from all connection with the world? Why does it make us happy to see anything in its perfect isolation, an isolation which real life seldom offers and which only art can give in complete perfection?

The motives which lead us to value the product of the scholar are easily recognized. He aims toward connection. He reshapes the world until it appears connected, because that helps us to foresee the effects of every event and teaches us to master nature so that we can use it for our practical achievements. But why do we appreciate no less the opposite work which the artist is doing? Might we not answer that this enjoyment of the artistic work results from the fact that only in contact with an isolated experience can we feel perfectly happy? Whatever we meet in life or nature awakes in us desires, impulses to action, suggestions and questions which must be answered. Life is a continuous striving. Nothing is an end in itself and therefore nothing is a source of complete rest.

Everything is a stimulus to new wishes, a source of new uneasiness which longs for new satisfaction in the next and again the next thing. Life pushes us forward. Yet sometimes a touch of nature comes to us; we are stirred by a thrill of life which awakens plenty of impulses but which offers satisfaction to all these impulses in itself. It does not lead beyond itself but contains in its own midst everything which answers the questions, which brings the desires to rest.

Wherever we meet such an offering of nature, we call it beautiful. We speak of the beautiful landscape, of the beautiful face. And wherever we meet it in life, we speak of love, of friendship, of peace, of harmony.

The word harmony may even cover both nature and life. Wherever it happens that every line and every curve and every color and every movement in the landscape is so harmonious with all the others that every suggestion which one stirs up is satisfied by another, there it is perfect and we are completely happy in it. In the life relations of love and friendship and peace, there is again this complete harmony of thought and feeling and will, in which every desire is satisfied. If our own mind is in such flawless harmony, we feel the true happiness which crowns our life. Such harmony, in which every part is the complete fulfillment of that which the other parts demand, when nothing is suggested which is not fulfilled in the midst of the same experience, where nothing points beyond and everything is complete in the offering itself, must be a source of inexhaustible happiness. To remold nature and life so that it offers such complete harmony in itself that it does not point beyond its own limits but is an ultimate unity through the harmony of its parts: this is the aim of the isolation which the artist alone achieves. That restful happiness which the beautiful landscape or the harmonious life relation can furnish us in blessed instants of our struggling life is secured as a joy forever when the painter or the sculptor, the dramatist or the poet, the composer or the photoplaywright, recomposes nature and life and shows us a unity which does not lead beyond itself but is in itself perfectly harmonious.



We have sought the aim which underlies all artistic creation and were led in this search to paths which seem far away from our special problem, the art of the photoplay. Yet we have steadily come nearer to it. We had to go the longer way because there can be no other method to reach a decision concerning the esthetic value and significance of the photoplay. We must clearly see what art in general aims at if we want to recognize the relative standing of the film art and the art of the theater. If we superficially accept the popular idea that the value of the photoplay is to be measured by the nearness with which it approaches the standards of the real theater and that the task of the theater is to imitate life as closely as possible, the esthetic condemnation of the photoplay is necessary. The pictures on the screen then stand far behind the actual playing on the stage in every respect. But if we find that the aim of art, including the dramatic art, is not to imitate life but to reset it in a way which is totally different from reality, then an entirely new perspective is opened. The dramatic way may then be only one of the artistic possibilities. The kinematoscopic way may be another, which may have entirely different methods and yet may be just as valuable and esthetically pure as the art of the theater. The drama and the photoplay may serve the purpose of art with equal sincerity and perfection and may reach the same goal with sharply contrasting means.

Our next step, which brings us directly to the threshold of the photoplayhouse, is, accordingly, to study the difference of the various methods which the different arts use for their common purpose. What characterizes a particular art as such? When we have recognized the special traits of the traditional arts we shall be better prepared to ask whether the methods of the photoplay do not characterize this film creation also as a full-fledged art, coordinated with the older forms of beauty.

We saw that the aim of every art is to isolate some object of experience in nature or social life in such a way that it becomes complete in itself, and satisfies by itself every demand which it awakens. If every desire which it stimulates is completely fulfilled by its own parts, that is, if it is a complete harmony, we, the spectators, the listeners, the readers, are perfectly satisfied, and this complete satisfaction is the characteristic esthetic joy. The first demand which is involved in this characterization of art is that the offering of the artist shall really awaken interests, as only a constant stirring up of desires together with their constant fulfillment keeps the flame of esthetic enjoyment alive. When nothing stirs us, when nothing interests us, we are in a state of indifference outside the realm of art. This also separates the esthetic pleasure from the ordinary selfish pleasures of life. They are based on the satisfaction of desires, too, but a kind of satisfaction through which the desire itself disappears. The pleasure in a meal, to be sure, can have its esthetic side, as often the harmony of the tastes and odors and sights of a rich feast may be brought to a certain artistic perfection. But mere pleasure in eating has no esthetic value, as the object is destroyed by the partaking and not only the cake disappears but also our desire for the cake when the desire is fulfilled and we are satiated. The work of art aims to keep both the demand and its fulfillment forever awake.

But then this stirring up of interests demands more than anything else a careful selection of those features in reality which ought to be admitted into the work of art. A thousand traits of the landscape are trivial and insignificant and most of what happens in the social life around us, even where a great action is going on, is in itself commonplace and dull and without consequences for the event which stirs us. The very first requirement for the artistic creation is therefore the elimination of the indifferent, the selection of those features of the complex offering of nature or social life which tell the real story, which express the true emotional values and which suggest the interest for everything which is involved in this particular episode of the world. But this leads on to the natural consequence, that the artist must not only select the important traits, but must artificially heighten their power and increase their strength. We spoke of the landscape with the tree on the rock and the roaring surf, and we saw how the scientist studies its smallest elements, the cells of the tree, the molecules of the seawater and of the rock. How differently does the artist proceed! He does not care even for the single leaves which the photographer might reproduce. If a painter renders such a landscape with his masterly brush, he gives us only the leading movements of those branches which the storm tears, and the great swing in the curve of the wave. But those forceful lines of the billows, those sharp contours of the rock, contain everything which expresses their spirit.

Leave a Comment