Week of March 9th, 1918

heartsposter

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley announced an upcoming film premier:

When D. W. Griffith’s tremendous war masterpiece, Hearts of the World, is presented for the first time tomorrow at Clune’s Auditorium, it will be witnessed by one of the most brilliant audiences which has ever been assembled in this city. A fascinatingly heterogeneous audience it promises to be, also; for mingling with the famous picture stars and directors and well-known society folk will be military officers and soldiers and many civil authorities, including Mayor Woodman. The military people will be there to study the applied technique of war, the stars and picture directors the technique of picture-making.

Those who have been privileged to see the film, the battle scenes of which were actual occurrences photographed at the French battle front, declare it is stupendous from this standpoint, yet Hearts of the World remains intrinsically human—a fabric of multicolored human passion.

bitzer_griffth
Billy Bitzer and D.W. Griffith inspect the negative (Los Angeles Herald)

The article was called “It’s Now Here” since nobody needed to be told what ‘it’ was. Kingsley had been following the film’s progress for over a year; nothing else got so much attention. She wrote about Griffith’s initial plans to go to France, a report that he’d be staying there indefinitely, his meeting with George Bernard Shaw when he was in London and his daily schedule as he finished up the film. Everyone had been anticipating it for a long time. However, she didn’t get to write about the finished film; Antony Anderson got that assignment. He was suitably impressed:

heartsLATThe modern epic—the tremendous story of love and war—was swiftly flashed, last night, before a vast assembly of men and women thrilled and exalted by the gripping power, the overwhelming beauty and poignant pathos of David Wark Griffith’s masterpiece in photoplay, Hearts of the World.

For the story is big, beautiful, tragic and terrible. The wanderings of Ulysses, ever straining his weary eyes toward home and Penelope, hold no keener woes than those of the Boy in the trenches who loved and longed for the Girl in the village of France. But, like Ulysses, the Boy came back to his beloved at last—oh, he came back!—or the tale of his sufferings and hers would have been too heartbreaking, we could not have endured it.

How nice, he’d read the classics. He also reported on the audience reaction:

Clune’s Auditorium was packed as full as it could hold—packed full and overflowing. Everybody was there who could possible beg, borrow or buy a ticket of admission—the great man and the small, the plutocrat and the proletariat, women of fashion, stars of the screen—everybody. For all seemed to know, through some subtle prescience, that Hearts of the World is a play for everybody, a great story of universal appeal.

But on the whole it was not a sad nor somber assemblage. Having determined to grace this first night with their presence, women of wealth and fashion resolved also to make it a brilliant, happy event, and to show by their cheerful attitude of dress and countenance that they fully appreciated Mr. Griffith’s patriotic effort in placing this remarkable play before the American people, now waiting to be instructed in the realities of the war under which the world staggers…The enthusiasm throughout was intense, and the play swayed the vast audience from smiles to tears, and back again.

Audiences at the New York premier on April 4th were just as enthusiastic, according to Arthur Lenning in Film History.* He wrote that at the end, “pandemonium broke out. Spectators stood and cheered and shouted for Griffith. Finally, he appeared on the stage, and moved by the wonderful reception, he said he had no speech to make.” He tried to ask for prayers and support for the men still fighting, but his voice broke and he couldn’t finish.

heartslobbycard

Hearts made a decent profit, despite the influenza epidemic and the armistice (people don’t want to see war movies right after a war). Lennig found a March 1919 financial report in Griffith’s files that reported the film’s cost, plus prints and exploitation expenses, was $555,715 and the net receipts were $952,788 for a total profit of $397,073. So it was not as successful as Birth of a Nation (he was still earning money from that in 1917) but much better than Intolerance.

It’s still an important film. You can find modern reviews at Silentology and at Nitrate Diva .

widowsmight

Grace Kingsley took two days in a row off this week! This was the first time she’d done that in the almost two years I’ve been using her work as the basis for this blog. There wasn’t much else going on in her columns this week: she interviewed the principle singers of the Boston English Opera Company for the Sunday paper (they performed English-language translations to try to make opera attendance painless), reviewed Julian Eltinge’s charming and delightful new film The Widow’s Might (she especially liked his excuse for dressing as a woman—he’s disguised and on the lam after trying to steal some evidence) and mentioned that Joseph Schenck was in town to help Roscoe Arbuckle select a new site for his studio. I hope she enjoyed her time off!

 

 

*Arthur Lennig, “Hearts of the World,” Film History, v. 23 issue 4 (2011), p.428-458.

 

Week of March 3rd, 1917

mpstorymagazine
Motion Picture Story Magazine (March 1914)

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley started her Sunday column by excoriating a bunch of busybodies:

Uplifters are born, not made. There are certain people in the world who are natural uplifters. These persons can’t see any movement in science, literature, art or any other department of existence, without entertaining a desire, figuratively speaking, to roll up their sleeves, spit on their hands and give the new movement a heave upward. From diet to divine healing, from prize-fighting to poetry, these people are always Johnny-on-the-spot, ready to tell those back of any particular enterprise exactly how to achieve the proper result. The stage used to be the subject of attack from the uplifters. Now it’s the pictures, with the Photoplay League as the attacking party. This organization has its headquarters in New York, and the films are the subject of endless “resolutions,” movings and secondings.

The Photoplay League, founded in September 1916, said its primary goal was to support “worthwhile” films, and encourage the public to see the ones that reached their standard. These standard-setters included nurse and co-founder of the NAACP Lillian D. Wald, stage actress Julia Marlowe, and artist Edwin H Blashfield. They also tried to organize local Leagues throughout the United States.

photolad
Trade ad for Vicar of Wakefield (I added the underline)

I couldn’t find any list they published, but Thanhouser used their recommendation in an ad for The Vicar of Wakefield. The League was given a lot of publicity by Photoplay Magazine in late 1918, but faded quickly after that.

Kingsley disagreed with their aims eloquently, pointing out how quickly films had grown in sophistication: “The day has gone by when prop boys were put in as directors and the corner grocery ablaze was sufficient ‘plot’ on which to compose a story while the cameraman ground. Hardly any art in the world has ever made such strides in a few years as motion picture making.” She noted that Intolerance and Joan the Woman were sufficient evidence of progress and concluded that film “needs not the priggish snifflings of an outside band of self-constituted censors to achieve its uphoisting.”

photoplay1915
Kingsley wasn’t the only one (Photoplay, 1915).

This week, Kingsley enjoyed a bunch of two reel comedies that the League would probably not have approved of. The first was an example of the self-policing of the industry that Kingsley preferred to “priggish snifflings,” because one way to improve movies is to make fun of the really bad ones.

Villa of the Movies is one of those delightful Keystone travesties on melodrama which are something more than mere hanging together of thrilling and supposedly amusing incident. This one takes a keen shy at the melodramatic trash of the day which is being precipitated in the name of Mexican border war drama, and that is accomplished with broad good humor is all the more to its credit… the spy who wants to know a way to ‘get’ the brave general is advised by a traitor “Put dynamite in his guitar and tell him to sing Goodbye Forever.

Villa of the Movies was directed by Eddie Cline, who had a long career that included directing most of Buster Keaton’s two-reelers and W.C. Fields’ The Bank Dick. Except for a short detour to drama in the mid-twenties, his ambition was to make funny films: any uplift of the industry was purely a coincidence.

friendelephant
His Friend the Elephant

Kingsley also had fun seeing His Friend the Elephant.

There are more laughs to the square inch of film in the comedy at the Garrick this week than have been strung together in many a long day. “His Friend the Elephant” is a Christie Comedy in which Harry Ham, as the poverty-stricken hero, has a pachyderm left him as a legacy. His embarassments at the attachment of the elephant, which insists on following him everywhere; his efforts to get rid of it; its untimely appearance when he thinks he has got ridden of it – all make for hilarious comedy.

Al Christie had been making comedies in Hollywood since 1912, and his company specialized in films about funny situations, not slapstick. The company stayed in business until 1933, when it was bankrupted by the Depression.

The short that impressed Kingsley the most this week came from Max Linder:

He’s the French Charlie Chaplin, and if our memories serve us, he thought of a lot of things before Charlie Chaplin did. Max Comes Across is the title of Linder’s first Essanay picture, made in America. Of Linder’s work on has only to remark that he makes even an imminent attack of mal-de-mer very funny without offensiveness to prove that he really is more amusing than most of his bretheren of slap-stick. It is indeed in the manner of his doing—a truly Latin lightness and sureness of touch – Linder’s superiority lies. The slap-stick is turned into a magic wand.

Linder is often called a forgotten hero of cinema. He’d been making films since 1905 and his work not only influenced Chaplin, but also Sennett, Lloyd and most film comedians after him. Max Comes Across was his first film in two years: he’d been recovering from injuries he’d gotten while fighting on the Western Front in 1914. Still unwell, he didn’t like working in a foreign country, and he made only three films before he returned to France. This film isn’t available, but the other two he made in America, Max Wants a Divorce  and Max in a Taxi are in the Internet Archive.

Julian Eltinge, the female impersonator, was in Los Angeles touring with the play Cousin Lucy, and he was still able to make jokes about the war that was one month away. He declared he would help fight, saying

Attend the war? Well, I should say so. What terrors shall war have for me after all I’ve suffered from female apparel. Getting busted with a bullet can’t possibly have anything on lacing a thirty-four inch waist into a twenty-four inch corset; and, though war is hell, think of what a No. 4 French slipper feels like when worn on a No.7 foot!

If you’d like to know more about Eltinge, you can visit the site for a planned documentary film about him.