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The Author And Motion Pictures


I HAVE never been converted to approval of motion pictures. I believed in them from the first, and further acquaintance with the art—I use this word deliberately—has only deepened my faith.

I know how bad so many of the pictures shown on the screen are, but the art is very young and progress made since the days of the "nickelodeons" is immense. To what is the progress due? Not alone to the manufacturers of motion-pictures, but also to the public. The public taste has developed and with its development has come a demand for better and better pictures.

Sir Gilbert Parker

Courtesy Paramount

Author of "Pierre and his People," "Seats of the Mighty," "The Right of Way," and many other successful books and photoplays

It seemed to be thought at one time that the semi-nude and the slightly salacious were needed to draw the public, but that day is fast going. On the whole, the public taste is right. It may flirt with the suggestive on the stage, but in the end it is true to the best instincts of life. Consider how law and order are kept in big cities. It is not alone the administration and the police. It is the will of the community. The will of the community is in vast preponderance for the good things, and the stable and the right thing, else social life would be chaos and disorder would reign everywhere.

So with the films. At first the semi-nude and tights and suggestive scenes were at tractive, but the success of the films free from all that is proof of the soundness of public taste. If you take the most successful films it will be found that they have naught of the salacious and the sensual, from "The Birth of a Nation" and "The Miracle Man" on; and many of the most successful, like "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," end unhappily.

A California Picture Town

An airplane view of studios, dressing-rooms, and outdoor sets

Let me take one case in my own experience. "The Right of Way," a story which ends unhappily—in the conventional sense—was twice produced by the Metro organization. The first production was not a success with Faversham in it—not from any fault of Faversham—and the Metro produced it again. Without my knowledge they made two endings, that of the book and also a happy ending, and submitted them both to the trade.

The trade decided on the ending of the book, and it is one of the most successful motion pictures of the last year as the box-office receipts show. Public taste can be trusted. Take "Madame X,"—is that a happy story? Does it end happily? No, yet it is abundantly prosperous.

A Scene in the Making in a Motion Pciture

Courtesy Goldwyn

A remarkably graphic picture of a studio "all set" for filming. It shows three separate rooms, and effectively demonstrates the fact that "Lights' and "Camera" are as important as "Action" in motion-picture making. The scene is from one of Booth Tarkington's "Edgar" comedies

I have from the first wondered why film producers did not make pictures of historical novels, where there were no royalties to authors to pay, and I was told the public would not patronize them. My reply was that the public did not have a good chance
to judge, for the historic motion pictures had not yet a fair chance.

I was told to see the fate of "Joan the Woman." Well, I saw "Joan the Woman" and a very fine film it was, but its failure, or rather partial success, was due to other causes than its historical nature, as the world knows. Now, at last, the success of "The Mark of Zorro." "Passion" and "Deception" have turned the views of the trade, and "The Three Musketeers" is produced with the help of Edward Knoblock, an authority on the history and costumes and customs of that period.

The trade will produce historical romances again, and many of them will be failures, because to wear effectively historical costumes without self-consciousness Tequires the training that Shakespearian dramas give, and there are not very many in the film world that have had that training. I am glad the film producers have been convinced, but I hope the inevitable failures will not turn them antagonistic once more.

For myself I have always believed that every important author in the world will want to write for the film stage in good time; and that time is at hand. To say naught of eminent authors in the United States, in England Pinero, Arnold Bennett, Robert Hichens, Edward Knoblock, Somerset Maugham, Elinor Glyn, and .even Kipling, are writing for the screen, and my prophecy is fast coming true.

Henry Arthur Jones is now in America making scenarios for Paramount; Sir James Barrie, whose "Sentimental Tommie" and "Admirable Crichton" have already found their way to the screen, is to assist at the American production of "Peter Pan."

The Make-Up Man

From "Beblnd the Motion Pieture Screen," by A. C. Lescerbount

Indoor make-up technic varies greatly from that of the stage drama, because of the effect of the studio lights

Film writing is not an easy art to learn, but it must be learned by authors themselves, or their books will be butchered as they have been in the past, and no one to say them nay.

One of the worst features of the film business today is the titling. How few films have good titles, and yet a title may be as important as a scene, even more so. Titling in itself is bad in one way, for it distracts the attention from the picture, but it can never be abandoned, I fear, though there is a film on now, James Whitcomb Riley's "The Old Swimmin' Hole," with no titles; but this story is an extremely primitive one and titles are not needed in it.

Finally, let me say I do not think the film will destroy the taste for the stage. It will make new lovers of the stage as the music hall has done, and though for the present the theater galleries throughout this country have been badly affected, I believe it is because people can see a film from the gallery at one-third or one-half the cost of a gallery seat in a theater, that the theaters have been injured in that portion of the house.

The film goes where there never was a theater and helps create dramatic taste. How many churches are there throughout the country where films are shown? About a stone's throw from where I write this article is a church where last Sunday night a film was shown called "Our Country As It Is." Time will come when every school and every church will have a moving picture equipment.

Governments distribute films to schools and organizations. Universities and schools are using the screen picture to teach history, literature, geography, science. Explorers are bringing back graphic reports recorded in celluloid. The world is better taught, better informed, thanks to the motion picture.

When A Wedding Scene Is Made

Courtesy Realart

A minister is frequently called in to consult with the director. One is here shown instructing a bride and her attendants in ceremonial details.

A Baby Extra in a Motion Picture

Entertained by a film hero while her play mother discusses the script with the anxious director.

A Movie Workshop in 1920

Courtesy Griffith

On the floor are several indoor sets and an exterior. Above the front yard of an old-fashion city house is a cylindrical machine that supplies snow storms on order

A Ballroom Scene in "Way Down East"

D. W. Griffith directing

Source: THE MENTOR, Volume 9, Number 6, July 1, 1921, Pages 14-19

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