Masters and Masterpieces of the Screen – 1927
By WILL H. HAYS
ENTERTAINMENT is the moving picture’s primary purpose—its importance in that regard being measured only by the imperative necessity of entertainment of the people. Make no mistake about the importance of entertainment. Life and relaxation from life are the real essentials to human happiness. But the motion picture does not stop there. For two other great things are possible to the moving picture—It can and will instruct—a truly noble function. It brings the people of the earth to know each other—to understand; and when men understand they do not hate, and when they do not hate they do not make war.
Because of these diverse possibilities the moving picture business is a unique business, utterly different from any other business in the world. The making and displaying of motion pictures is, of course, a commercial enterprise. It must be, as every other business must be, in order to progress and endure. But the ware in which we deal is not a dead and inanimate thing, like a pair of shoes or a hat. Nor is it a few thousand feet of celluloid ribbon on which, with whatever skill we possess, we register a series of photographs. It is almost a living, breathing thing, with immeasurable influence upon the ideas and ideals, the customs and costumes, the hopes and the ambitions of countless millions of people. (No more potent factor extant wields quite the influence of the screen, excepting only the home and the church.) No story ever written for the screen is more dramatic than the story of the screen. Ever since the first moving picture was shown there has been a steady improvement in quality of production.
Just thirty years ago on Broadway at Thirty-fourth Street in New York, in Koster and Bial’s Music Hall, the first moving picture was shown publicly. It was a shuddering image of a serpentine dancer who waved yards of silk and it lasted a few seconds. Ten years ago the moving picture was still crude, with the nickelodeon built in the old store buildings, still predominating as the scene for its showing. To-day in this country alone 20,233 moving picture theaters provide amusement for 90,000,000 men, women and children each week. Approximately 235,000 persons are permanently employed and $125,000,000 was spent in 1925 in the production of 823 feature pictures and 20,150 short subjects, exclusive of the news reels. American pictures were shown in 70 countries and captions were translated into thirty-seven different languages. Some idea of the magnitude of the business is gained when I tell you that approximately 25,000 miles of motion picture film are handled, examined and stored, and shipped every day by the employees of exchanges of members of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc. Ownership of the industry rests in the hands of 59,157 different persons who own the 11,331,394 shares of stock listed on the New York Stock Exchange. In the early days, the industry was, to a degree at least, chaotic, even as the first photoplays were faulty in the light of present-day achievements. This is no longer true.
Indeed the progress of the moving picture as an art or as an industry is without analogy in either field. When dramatic art was a thousand years old its players were bedded in barns and spoke their lines in stable yards. Twelve years ago producers were startling the public by giving them their first views of stories that were more than two reels long. The quickest development has been in those phases more easily adaptable to the motion picture— photography, costuming, staging, lighting, construction of scenery, and acting. Nearly any unprejudiced student will say that the best acting in the theater to-day is found in motion pictures. The camera is pitiless. The actor cannot imitate— he must BE. The greatest actors are appearing in motion pictures. Not only the stars, but the player who has the smallest bit—are actors in the fullest sense of the word. They cast their spell by action—not by words or by a beautiful voice.
Motion picture producers are taking experienced writers into the studios and teaching them the technique of motion picture composition. Many of them have prospered. Actors, newspaper men, dramatists, stage directors, artists, photographers, men whose training would best make them adaptable for motion picture directing are being given every opportunity to learn this new art. Within the industry itself order has succeeded chaos and the industry is operating along the sound, common-sense lines which govern other great industries. In 1922 the men who make and distribute motion pictures associated themselves together to do jointly those things in which they are mutually interested, having as the chief purposes of such organization two great objectives—I quote verbatim from the articles of association filed at Albany, New York:
“To establish and maintain the highest possible moral and artistic standards of motion picture production, and develop the educational as well as the entertainment value and the general usefulness of the motion picture.”
With these purposes in mind, the industry has eliminated extravagance and mismanagement and become a substantial business enterprise, favored by bankers, praised by astute economists. Supplementing our own efforts to perfect the industrial conditions at the studios, we asked the Russell Sage Foundation to make a survey. This resulted in a recommendation for a free agency for the employment of the extras to supplement the agencies to which these extras were paying thousands of dollars every month. This was done. We inaugurated such a free employment agency this year, and during the first six months it provided positions for an average of 632 persons every day without any cost to them. Schools for child actors have been opened on the studio lots. Advertising and publicity are conducted on a plane in keeping with the high purposes of the industry to serve the public wisely and well. The producers have made possible the careful selection of submitted story-material and have been able to bring to the screen those themes it considers most fitting for picturization.
Teaching films, which some day will occupy every classroom, are well on the way, as are pictures for the churches. The screen, moreover, has become the mirror of history and as if by thaumaturgical power has been able to breathe life into the past. In settling its trade disputes by arbitration, the industry, although one of the youngest in the world, has become preeminently the outstanding example of the use of arbitration in the business world. Last year 11,192 cases were arbitrated with seventeen only requiring the seventh arbitrator.
Everywhere moving pictures are bettering living conditions. Especially is this true of the small towns. No longer is the boy from the small town the butt of jokes because of his clothes. He knows how to dress and how to act in the company of any one. No longer does the girl wonder what the styles are going to be in the coming months, for she has seen on the screen styles direct from the fashion centers and she knows what to expect. Above this, is the realization that the imaginative powers of the world are being roused by the screen and that in many in whom such power has been dormant, imagination has been fed and stimulated for the first time. With increasing public appreciation, with added technical knowledge, and with continued striving after the best in art, the moving picture’s future becomes as far-flung as all the to-morrows. The motion picture to-day challenges the best in science and art, in literature and business, in religion and the humanities. It is drawing from every corner of the world the greatest artists and artisans to aid in its service to the world. Hollywood may be physically situated in this country, but it is an international enterprise. American films may predominate in every country of the world, but every country is contributing to them. Great numbers of those in the key creative positions are direct from supreme accomplishment in other countries. The artists who heretofore have been able to reach thousands can now with this new medium reach millions. This extension of possible service commands them. In another few years Hollywood may very well be the art center of the world. As the picture is the universal language, so will it be written for the universe. This opportunity measures our responsibility. The progress in motion pictures has been like an Arabian Nights story—yet tremendous new developments are now imminent. And its really great advancement is not in its commercial growth nor in its artistic progress, but in its movement as a mighty force in the lives of the people of the world—for their amusement, their instruction, their inspiration, and their understanding.
A comprehensive survey of the Motion Pictures, from the early development to the present. The dramatic, artistic and educational phases; the outstanding successes and leading personalities. Being presented for the most part pictorially. A striking panorama of this dominant influence in modern life.
This unusual actress was developed by Griffith and had the part of Elsie Stoneman in “The Birth of a Nation” and the feminine lead in “Broken Blossoms.” She has since been starred and now appears in such productions as “La BohSme” and “The Scarlet Letter.” Born in Springfield, Ohio, in 1896. Five feet four inches tall. Blonde hair and blue eyes.
The Murderer Realizes His Position – “Broken Blossoms”
This amazingly beautiful picture was suggested by a story of the Limehouse District in London, by Thomas Burke. Mr. Griffith’s direction and the acting of Lillian Gish as the pitiful young girl, with that of Richard Barthelmess as the Chinaman, and of Donald Crisp as the villain, make the picture far more important than the original story, as sometimes happens with true picture stuff.
The Chief Mourner – “Broken Blossoms”
It is the Chinaman who has befriended her that avenges the dead child and takes her body to beautiful surroundings before he follows her in death. “Broken Blossoms” is one of the pictures little affected by age.
In The Stocks For Punishment-“The Scarlet Letter”
A scene from a new film version of Hawthorne’s classic, with Lillian Gish as Hester Prynne, Lars Hanson as the Reverend Dimmesdale, and Henry B. Walthall as the wronged and vindictive husband, Roger Prynne. The childhood scene here is a part of effectively produced atmosphere.