Listen Here, Film People! Century-old Film Oddities, Complaints and Mistakes

In December of 1918, Motion Picture Magazine published a random selection of snippets and observations on the state of movies by Tamar Lane. The collection is rather slangy and amusing, so I thought I would share some of the highlights.

Lane’s remarks are in italics, my comments follow.

Good thing this was pre-Marvel

“Producers are kind and thoughtful enough to state at the beginning of their plays, the author of the story, the writer of the scenario, the supervisor, the director, the art director, and the camera-man. But why stop there ? Why not include the names of the prop boy, the wardrobe woman, the janitor’s wife and the head carpenter and electrician? The public is just dying to be let in on all these choice bits of information.”

At this point in film history, movies had just started including opening credits that included the major players, the “big” names in the production, etc. Considering how prominently Lane’s name is displayed beside this article, I am amused at her taking exception to other people being credited for their work.

 

Scene from Edison sound film “Nursery Favorites”

The Talkies Tanked

“MR. EDISON PLEASE WRITE.

Where, oh, where is the talking picture that was going to “revolutionize” the Motion
Picture business? Just where it should be; on the shelf. It talked itself to death.”

Thomas Edison hoped to start a new revolution with his Vitaphone short films, which released in a wave in 1913. (Undercrank Productions has released these surviving sound films on DVD.)

Paging Mr. Disney

“We are not a misogynist, and the dear-old-screen-mother can draw tears from us any time, but it seems only fair that some one should say a good word for father once in a
while. A good screen father is about as scarce as pork at a Jewish picnic. Authors always make poor pa do all the “dirty work.” He has to kick the hero out the front door, lock up Hortense in her room, and insist that she marry some oil-can with barrels of dough. For a change why not let ma take this end of the stick and allow pa to draw a little sympathy?”

Um, yeah, that little picnic joke has not aged well…

Considering the bloodbath that annihilated almost all the Disney moms (and continues to afflict them), I think we can safely say that the scales have been balanced. 

No popcorn for you!

“Two old pests of the legitimate theater are nullified when they enter the picture show. One is the fiend who crunched bonbons thru every act, and the other is the man who always gave a loud a-hem just when one of the players was delivering an important speech. However, we have the fan who has seen the film before, and the ignoramus who reads the titles aloud, to make up for them.”

Movie snacks were not an essential part of the film experience during the silent era the way they are today but we no longer have to worry about anyone reading the titles out loud.

Archivists feel the same way…

“While the producers are willing to waste a heap of films on names which are of no interest to the average fan, in other respects they have begun to Hooverize unnecessarily. Why have they stopped running the title of the play upon the captions? When Selig inaugurated this clever idea it was heartily indorsed (sic) by all, but now one by one the companies have dropped the custom with no apparent reason. Persons coming in late are obliged to watch thru a picture without even knowing the play they are viewing.”

A bit to unpack in this one. During the mid- to late-1910s, studios were trying to class up the joint with big names from the stage, the kind of talents who had turned their noses up at the movies just a few years before. While some (like the Barrymore siblings) managed to build a film following, most failed to catch on.

“Hooverizing” refers to future president Herbert Hoover and his economizing policies as the food administrator of the time.

Films with their titles on the captions are indeed a great convenience. What better way to identify a recovered film than to read the title on the film itself? A shame this practice did not continue.

Random

“Who says there is no art in the movies? How about:

Theodore Roberts’ beard.

Dorothy Dalton’s dimples.

Robert McKim’s mustache.

Charlie Chaplin’s feet.

Doug’s smile.

Mary’s pout.

Warren Kerrigan’s permanent wave.

And Bill Hart’s haircut?”

This is an incredibly random list. Douglas Fairbanks’ smile is, of course, adorable but I have never in my life thought about Theodore Roberts’ beard or Robert McKim’s mustache or William S. Hart’s haircut.

***

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4 Replies to “Listen Here, Film People! Century-old Film Oddities, Complaints and Mistakes”

  1. An interesting read, to be sure- thanks for posting! My first thought was about the “No popcorn for you!” snippet: yes, no more title reading in the here-and-now, but plenty of chatting back and forth during the movie and cell phone use. Partner and I seem to draw these chatty/cell phone folks to seats near us like a filings to a magnet.

    Re: that little picnic joke…jeez, the editorial staff at Motion Picture Magazine let that slide? Because no one of the Jewish faith were reading their magazine, and none of the Jewish faith were in the film industry, say in key studio/distribution positions or OWNING studios? Sheesh 🙁

    In an alternate reality (meaning, in my head) one of the editors snips the offensive joke and substitutes a non-offensive oldie but goodie: “as scarce as spats at an Iowa picnic” (that one had whiskers on it long before Raymond Chandler ever used it).

  2. Can somebody explain what’s supposedly wrong with the “scarce as pork at a Jewish picnic” line? I don’t see anything wrong with it.

    1. First, it’s not really very funny. Second, this was hardly the appropriate time to be making Jewish jokes as anti-Semitism in America was about to get an enormous shot in the arm with Henry Ford’s little publishing antics and kosher dietary restrictions (which were hardly universally “Jewish”) were often targeted much the same way Muslims are harassed with practical jokes aimed at their dietary laws.

      https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/henryford-antisemitism/

      A quick reminder that while modern people like to say “nobody was offended then” many national, ethnic and racial groups DID get offended, DID object and sometimes DID succeed in removing the offending material.

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