Good God, what has the film done, from the beginning of its infantile career, but imitate the faults of the theatre? Has it set out to create its own conventions? Not at all. It has borrowed, borrowed, borrowed — and always borrowed trash. All the outworn gestures of the stage appear before us, like so many threadbare garments, waving on the screen. The stage is over-emphatic; the screen is melodramatic. The stage is romantic; the screen is preposterous. The stage exploits the private personality of its players; the screen becomes a positive welter of exhibitionism. The stage leaves little enough to the imagination; but the screen will not allow us even to imagine a man going upstairs without showing a picture of him in the act. The stage is conscious of the dull-witted thousands to whom it must appeal; the screen is haunted by the dread of stupid millions. The stage seeks the greatest common measure of intelligence; the screen goes straight for the lowest common denominator. The stage is timid; the screen is hysterical. The stage is compromising; the screen is cowardly. The stage is commercial, tawdry, vain; the screen is sordid, vulgar, arrogant.
RESPONSES SOUGHT: I hope my readers will want to respond to those comments. They were written by Ashley Dukes in a sketch called “The Menace of the Movies,” which forms part of a collection of pieces called The World to Play With, published by Oxford University Press in 1928. My quotation above is spoken by someone called Playgoer to someone called Filmgoer in a lively dialogue in which each defends his favorite medium. They speak of film as the silent medium, an irony given the publication date. It is impossible to verify, from my copy of the little book, if any of these several pieces were written earlier and collected for the ’28 publication date.
Ashley Dukes was a playwright and translator whose English version of The Mask of Virtue was an early stage success of Vivien Leigh. Look on my next blog post for more on Ashley Dukes and Vivien Leigh.
Meanwhile, responses please. How would you have responded in 1928 to Ashley Dukes? How would you respond now? How right was he? How vulnerable was he? Is he? Then? Now?
MOVIES ARE EVERYWHERE: “…the something he had left me to sleep on kept me sleepless until daybreak. Images formed, faded; it was as though I were mentally editing a motion picture.” Narrator TC, fantasizing a murder in “Handcarved Coffins” collected in Music for Chameleons by Truman Capote, Random House, 1980.
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