Whither Cinema 1 9 3 ?
From IRIS CONLAY, Catholic Herald Film Critic
Although the Vatican City has had every I amenity of the modern town enclosed with/ in its small domain, until now it has had no cinema.
Soon a cinema is to be ready for the citizens of the State. It will be built in the northern part of the grounds, between the telephone exchange and the garages and will hold 750 seats—enough to seat at one time at least three-quarters of the population of the City—an organ to replace the orchestra, and the most modern sound wiring system yet invented.
Father Gentelli, who is virtually looking after the plans for the new cinema, spoke of the Pope's interest in the screen, which was first manifested in his encyclical Vigilante Cura, and has been shown subsequently in many other pronouncements.
Film Replaces Novel
" His Holiness realises that nowadays the cinema takes the same place as was taken by the novel in the second part of the last century.
"Those who, forty or fifty years ago, delighted in reading novels were not so attracted by literature as by the desire to be carried away from everyday society and events. The more interesting the novel the more popular it became.
"The same happens today in regard to the film. The workman, the typist, the clerk, find on the screen the life of dreams which satisfies them. The stronger the more emotional, the more gripping the plot, the greater is its success and its influence on the masses.
" This is the great difficulty, and a great responsibility confronts the producer of today as it confronted the novelist of half a century ago. 4iis job is most painstaking.
In order to succeed the producer must get out of the raw material of the plot something which will tear away each member of. the audience from his or her own world, and carry him or her into the world where the action takes place.
"If he succeeds in this, if he can get the members of the audience to forget themselves, and almost to lose control of their own lives, the producer will have gained such a complete mastery that he can impress upon them any message he selects to convey.
" The eye—much more than the car—is apt to create this atmosphere of suggestion which gives the film its great psychological influence on the masses. Pius XI, with his keen knowledge of human nature, has always believed that the visual element— not the sound—will remain the dominating factor in the film.
Prophecy Coming True
" He prophesied this years ago, when the talkies were hailed triumphantly all over the globe, and the death of the silent film was forecast. His prophecy is getting more true every day; already modern producers are beginning to realise that sound only enhances the value of the silent film if it is used very parsimoniously, more to create certain effects (like the banging of a door, the rustling of leaves, the ring of a telephone bell, etc.), than to reproduce long and tedious speeches which spoil, rather than improve, the enjoyment of the eyes."
These words spoken by one, who by daily proximity with the Pope must be able to interpret his feelings so much more accurately than it is possible here with only the official statements issued by the press to work on, are intensely valuable and intensely shrewd. Because the film producer can get at the " inside " life, he can remake all life for his audience. He can take them away from themselves, and give them new existences, new Paradises—such a statement might have come from the cinema industry itself, so completely has the Pope grasped cinema theories.
Year in Review
To review 1937's films in the light of what has been said—in what direction are our producers leading us in this clamour for new worlds? To estimate more than roughly, the trend of the film over such a vast space of production and (comparatively) such a short space of time, would be impossible. For instance, it is not easy to gauge how many first feature pictures are shown in London in a single year. I see but a small percentage, easily less than half, arid my list for 1937 is eighty-five. What about the rest of the feature pictures and all the second pictures which I don't see but must take for granted?
If I do take these for granted as followerson of the main tradition represented by the big shows. then I should say that 1937 has offered us some elements of greatness, some hints of better things to come, some understanding of deeper than the skin beauty which we can be grateful for.
As yet the indication is more than the reality; as yet materialism is the current coin which only rarely is exchanged for spirituality, but there is a sort of rough vigour about even the faults of the film that may be a sign of honesty, and with honesty, as never with furtiveness, can come recognition and repentence.
Development goes on very slowly and the change of head in the cinema will only come with a change of heart in the general public. Convert the world comes before convert the cinema. because the cinema follows the world and is more anxious to please it than any other trade ever.
We don't need to shout and shout at Wardour Street. at Joinville, at Hollywood about " better " films. They will try their utmost, these people, in Wardour Street, in
Joinville, in Hollywood. to get our mean ing. But with all sincere intentions they will miss it.
But if we whisper in the ear of our neighbour a philosophy which is ours, and he in turn absorbs that same philosophy and whispers it on—then in time if there arc enough whisperers, the heart of the public will be changed, and the head of the cinema will change with it.
Honours All Round
From my film lists I created for myself nine peers for 1937. Precedence I gave to an American—Winterset—that rarest deli cacy of the American studios which had imagination, poetry, and philosophy, with
a gangster story thrown in. Afterwards in no special order of merit, I decorated an Austrian work, Ernie; French, Roman d'un Tricheur; English, Elephant Boy and The Edge of the World, and American, Three Smart Girls, 100 Men and a Girl, Wake Up and Live, Day at the Races, and Stand In.
The greatest acting discovery to me was Deanna Durbin, the child who sings and acts and presents herself with every grace and without any affection. The greatest disappointment Lost Horizon, which was Hollywood gone most material, and I wept also a few tears over the great bier of The Good Earth.
The opening sequence of Moonlight Sonata gave me more pleasure than any thing in any other film of the year, because of its exquisite recording of a concert under Paderesvski, but this was no film apart from its superb music. And Zero de Conduit, the Surrealist film, gave me my worst headache.
Men and Jobs depressed me most for the future of Russia, The Last Night heartened me most for that cause.
I laughed when I saw Good Morning, Boys; I gave an intellectual chuckle at The Pearls of the Crown, while The Bride Wore Red occasioned more mirth than was meant by its script.
Among the less popular films for which I am determined to speak because I don't care if general opinion is against me, is Monica and Martin, the German comedy that others call heavy but I find a real frolic; Knight Without Armour because it made Marlene Dietrich move, and Thoroughbreds Don't Cry because it is a film of children which really is for children, instead of being for childish adults.
Historic Big Guns
The big historicals should not be left out of such a review as this. Hollywood and London, with admirable accuracy and absolutely the minimum of imagination, have re-built to stand in 1937, portraits of Napoleon, Emile Zola, Queen Elizabeth, Parnell, Queen Victoria and almost all the Presidents of the U.S.A. Their zeal seems more commendable than their achievement, and the expenditure on each period piece has been vast. You take them or leave them according to personal feeling.
These films never deteriorate or improve, they just get a little more elaborate each year—like a Victorian drawing room with a valuable collection of knick-knacks.
1937's Last Film
The Greeks certainly had a word for it— Amphitryon. A legend of the period of Greek history when the gods were hardly held in such veneration as was fit for their station, Amphitryon lets Jupiter down badly as a naughty old man who was afraid of his dragon wife Juno, and in love with a little mortal woman, Alcmene. The story of how he hears the prayers of Alcmene, floats down to earth on the crook of a heavenly umbrella, assumes the elegant shape of Alcmene's husband in order deliberately to deceive her, is an old one which has been used 39 times before in varying versions.
Made simultaneous in German and French, this Amphitryon (Curzon) is the first filmed version and I guess that it is one of the funniest. Its Greek origins are unknown, but Plautus has honours for first publication of the story, and the other versions, two in Latin, eight in Spanish, seven Italian, five French, seven German, and five English, might. of course, surpass the film in wit, satire, or literary elegance, but who will bother to excavate for lost pearls.
But there is more than kindly satire, and fun in Amphitryon as the camera saw it. The crowd scenes amid Grecian architecture are quite lovely, and Henry Garat, Armand Bernard and Jeanne Boitel have character,' and never allow their absurd parts to sink to puppet levels.