Entertainment in the City

Entertainment in the City

The Press and City Life

With the first post-war boom in the 1860’s, observers began to note that New York society was becoming entirely based upon wealth, social prestige being won by those who had the most splendid carriages, drawing-rooms, and opera boxes.

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The Origins of the Skycraper

America’s most advanced ideas in architectural construction have found their widest dissemination through a series of great industrial exhibitions or fairs, beginning with New York’s Crystal Palace Fair of 1853 and the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. In these early fairs a number of greenhouses constructed of glass and iron introduced Americans to the possibilities of metal construction such as that in Labrouste’s Bibliothèque Sainte Geneviève and Paxton’s London Crystal Palace.

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The Rise of Advertising

We have just seen that choice is determined by the factors creating the utility goods and services are thought to possess. Before attempting an analysis of the precise nature and relative influence of these determinants, it is important that we note a few of the more significant psychological aspects of choice-making. For, in reality, many of the determinants just mentioned affect choice by modifying psychic processes.

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Foundation of Hollywood

With the perfection of a moving picture camera in 1892, and the subsequent invention of the peep hole kinetoscope in 1893, the stage was set for the modern film industry. Previewed at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago during the summer of 1893, the kinetoscope could handle only one customer at a time. For a penny or a nickel in the slot, one could watch brief, unenlarged 35-mm black-and-white motion pictures.

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First Movie Theaters: Nickelodeons

In European countries, notably in France, where pioneer work in moving pictures was even more advanced than it was in the United States, developments followed a quite different course. There was nothing comparable to the nickelodeon madness of this country. Instead of appealing to a mass market, the movies essayed the rôle of sophisticated entertainment.

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Early European Film: Dominance of Import Films

For much of the century’s first decade, innovation in film production came more from Europe than the United States, where making movies was still seen as an offshoot of the more profitable business of making equipment.

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The First Hollywood Stars: Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford

“The movie is the art of the millions of American citizens,” an English writer in the Adelphi discovered, “who are picturesquely called Hicks-the mighty stream of standardized humanity that flows through Main Street. The cinema is, through and through, a democratic art; the only one.” Nor would this commentator have had it otherwise.

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Ragtime and Dance: Popular New Steps

At the opening of the 20th century the decisive influence of the ragtime pianists fell on white audiences tiring of the minstrel show and willing to pay to hear black performers. At the same time the American band was being heard everywhere, promoted by John Philip Sousa, the most successful musician of his time, and testifying among other things to pugnacious nationalism.

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Ragtime and Dance: Popular New Steps

Ragtime and Dance: Popular New Steps

At the opening of the 20th century the decisive influence of the ragtime pianists fell on white audiences tiring of the minstrel show and willing to pay to hear black performers. At the same time the American band was being heard everywhere, promoted by John Philip Sousa, the most successful musician of his time, and testifying among other things to pugnacious nationalism. Both phenomena would modulate into dance bands playing vigorous dance music. Burgeoning displays of sheet music in neighborhood stores, often music calling itself rag, attracted a diverse public, much of which never heard the concerts of the creators of ragtime.

Modest as well as prosperous homes had a keyboard, either a piano or the less expensive reed organ: the industry built 107,000 harmoniums a year in 1900, and 177,000 pianos. By 1909, the figure was 364,000 pianos. Piano music was available beyond the proportion of the population that could play: by 1925, more than half the pianos produced were automatics, using player rolls for current hits (see Cyril Ehrlich, The Piano: a History). Such instruments, giving out more and better sound than the evolving phonograph had yet mastered, tuned the audience more closely than ever before to the latest fad in music.

To one veteran songwriter and publisher the 1910s marked a crucial turning point: “The public of the nineties had asked for tunes to sing,” Edward S. Marks remarked nostalgically, “but the public from 1910 demanded tunes to dance to.”

The tunes in question, provided by the songwriting production lines of New York’s TinPan Alley, were “rags”, snappy, syncopated numbers; the dances were dose-contad “anlinal” dances !ike the Turkey Trot and the Grizzly Bear. The sources for both of these lay in the black subculture of the Iate 19th century.

Ragtirne had emerged in the United States in the post-Civil War era, rapidly maturing in the hands of pianist-composers such as Scott Joplin (whose “Maple Leaf Rag” was composed in 1899) into a meticulously crafted piano music in which European marching tempos and harrnony engaged in a subtle dialog with Afro-American approaches to rhythm.

Meanwhile, the cakewalk – a stylized display dance that combined black mockery of white dance steps with the black culture’ s own approach to mavement – had begun to appear in polite white society, where it met with the energetic two-steps of the March King, John Philip Sousa. The establishment of public venues – cabarets, dance halls, restaurants – rneant that dancing ceased to be a predominantly private affair. By the 1910s, discovery of the physically emancipating effect of black folk dance had led to a flood of popular new steps.

A boom in social dancing began during the second decade of the twentieth century, along with the first recognition of music called jazz. Nat Shapiro quotes Variety as estimating that in the mid-1920s there were 60,000 dance bands playing on the dance floors of jazz age America. Beginning in 1920, radio broadcasting brought recorded and live music into homes, posing an economic challenge to pianos and combining with the Depression in 1929 to decimate record and phonograph sales. The music that America absorbed through these media came mostly from New York, from Tin Pan Alley publishing houses and from the flourishing Broadway stage, reproduced also in vaudeville houses across the country. When in the middle of the 1920s recording engineers developed microphones to replace recording horns, a new softer “crooning” performance became possible and stylish on records and over the radio.

Al Jolson’s songs on screen in 1927 opened another medium. When the Depression crippled the New York musical theater, Hollywood studios became the patrons of much of professional songwriting, for the movies that were the country’s largest entertainment indulgence during the 1930s. The record industry struggled back late in the decade, dominated by the big swing bands and their vocalists. As the war overtook the United States, a significant economic struggle surfaced in musical entertainment. The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers ( ASCAP) had been formed in 1914 to collect performance royalties for the owners of song copyrights.

By 1939 it held monopoly power over popular music performance, and a contract dispute with radio broadcasters led to the formation of Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) as a rival guild. Following a ten-month interval in 1941 during which no ASCAP music could be played on the radio, causing a boom in classical, folk, and public domain music generally, ASCAP entered into a new broadcast contract, but BMI continued and grew. BMI, growing out of the dispute where its rival stood for established interests, came to represent popular music from outside the New York-Hollywood establishment, and local markets compared with the network emphasis of ASCAP. An institution had appeared to reflect the regional, rural, and minority interests in the music world that would gain great audience support after the war.

For the first time styles of music and dance for white America positively encouraged individual expressian and suggested that the immediate moment was to be fully savared, even though dancers stili had to share in a prescribed pattern. The prernier dance couple of the era, Britons Irene and Vemon Castle, led the way.

The Castles managed to cornbine a trendsetting image as liberalizers of behavior with an air of rniddle-class moral respectability. This helped to resolve the controversy that developed as custodians of moral and esthetic standards argued over the merits of the new music and dance. Where one critic delighted in the “delicacy of ragtirne’ s inner rhythms”, another deplored its “jerk and ratile”; what to same eyes embodied the new “spirit of America” was to others decadent drivel.

Underýying the arguments of opponents lay the (by no means always unspoken) fear of racial contamination, not only from the black source of the music and dance, but alsa from the white ethnic (especialiy Jewish) group s who dominated Tin Pan Allei’s modernized song machine. The marginal status of these groups in American society allowed them readily to identify with the black approach, and also encouraged the use of popular culture as a means of social and economic advancement.

The moral opponents’ argument was corred in one respect: more than mere entertainment was at stake. The part of American society that espoused the new styles of music and dance began to absorb, via white ethnic groups, attitudes and practices from the black community. It also raised fundamental questions about the family, about gender and race, and – above all – about the body; for it was to the body’s still unexplored capacity for expression that the music and dance most obviously related.

The music still had a predictable, march-like meter, the legacy and symbol of a relentless, regularizing value system; what gaye it a new, unique character was syncopation, the “offbeat”, with the accent placed against the expectations of the pulse. Jazz would soon take this much further than ragtime, but a crucial point had been made: the control of the regular meter could be challenged – not by outright opposition, but by a change of emphasis.
Black performance style and musicality had interacted with European conventions before, but this was the first time its impact had been so dear. Yet even while apprapriating this music, mainstream society neutralized its more expressive qualities.

Unsure emotionally, self-conscious in display, at once faseinated and repelled by the implications of the music, the dancing public taking their cue from leaders like the Castles attempted to resolve the dilemmas by quickening the rhythms. What had been a subtle music became a display of good-hurnored impudence and respectable candor, which offered the sexes greater opportunity for intimacy, but froze the hand and eye in order to speed the foot.
The dance craze of the 1910s can be seen as an early example in 20th-century popular culture of the conflict between a liberating force and a conservative tendency.

Opposition to developments was to play a part in the story of popular music but the mainstream’s capacity for assirnilation was to prove even more important. The relationship of popular culture to ideology in the 1960s and into the 1970s has become of interest to academic sociology, although the alarmed interest of politicians has given way to accommodation. The relationship of the entertainment favored by highly visible classes of teenagers and young adults to the behavior of that audience, and especially its use of drugs, is probably now still too current an issue for full perspective and confident judgment.

The history of popular music suggests that it is very unlikely that musical entertainment can induce new behavior, or even introduce new ideas to the audience it must court in order to sell itself. Though popular music has been blamed in the past for undermining community standards or otherwise damaging society, it is a new phenomenon for popular music to have the pervasive presence that prosperity and the portable radio and tape deck have given it lately, and for such conspicuous economic power to be vested in a youth audience. The history of popular music that is now happening cannot be fully schematized and managed by the patterns of earlier popular music. Its development has always been contingent, surprising, and even discontinuous except when we rationalize it with hindsight, and it is continuing that unpredictable development now.

The First Hollywood Stars: Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford

The First Hollywood Stars: Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford

“The movie is the art of the millions of American citizens,” an English writer in the Adelphi discovered, “who are picturesquely called Hicks-the mighty stream of standardized humanity that flows through Main Street. The cinema is, through and through, a democratic art; the only one.” Nor would this commentator have had it otherwise. The attempt to educate the public to higher standards of taste except through the movies’ natural evolution in response to a gradually maturing public sentiment was pious humbug. Europe had failed to realize the possibilities of the moving picture and was hiding behind that “singularly putrescent hypocrisy that masquerades as ‘artistic culture.'”

The major figure in the rise of the American film, David Wark Griffith, did not want to make motion pictures. No contradiction proved more ironic for, in the entire history of the American screen, no other director achieved greater success, none won more esteem. This “enigmatic and somewhat tragic” figure, as Gilbert Seldes describes him, secretly cherished the ambition to become famous as an author and counted the moments until he should have sufficient money to quit the “flickers” and write. Ashamed of “selling his soul,” he changed his name on entering the movies, only later to retrieve it and make it as familiar as the term “movie” itself.

Griffith further developed the art of Melies and Porter, contributing devices of his own that made for greater unity, clarity, and effectiveness. Sensing from the beginning, the need for a body of technique to catch and control the emotions of the spectator, he did more to realize a method and a viewpoint than any other man of his day. Although he was himself a former actor and playwright, he repudiated theatrical conventions and evolved a method of expression peculiar to the screen.

Griffith came to films at that propitious moment when they were in the plastic beginnings of artistic development. To them he brought new elements of form and a variety of resources, and added at least two great productions to American motion picture achievement. The most revered and influential movie creator of his day, and perhaps of all motion picture history, he justified the new medium to the world. His productions became models for directors wherever films were made, and to this day stand not only as important achievements in themselves but as the source of central motion picture developments.

Before 1910 the movies had discovered that sold cinema tickets; the earliest stars were stage actors like emme John Bunny or Billy Anderson, bilied in 1912 as “The Greatest Photoplay Star”. But the greatest of Hollywood’ s formative years were Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.

From 1914 with Charlie Chaplin, achieved a unlike anything ever seen before them. More than the scale of their popularity, what made stardom a new phenomenon was that it detached fame from achievement in the strenuous life of work or battle. It was through Chaplin that the American film won its place in the sun, and Chaplin who continued to be its salvation, despite all the various financial maneuvers and all the bad films. The four war years, during which it was undergoing its real formation, produced that humble and joyous little figure who is the only universal hero of our times.

Readers of the fan magazines that began to appear in 1912 beeame as farniliar with their idols’ off~screen lives as with their movie appearances. Chaplin’s “little tramp” first appeared in 1914, and was an immediate suceess with audiences. But Charles Chaplin the actor behaved quite differently from Charlie the clown. Pickford and Fairbanks projected the same image on screen and off, and between them they offered their audiences new role models.
Fairbanks’ comedies ridiculed Victorian restrictions on fun.

In newspaper columns and books such as Laugh and Live and Make Life Worth-while, he advocated sport as a means of regenerating the urban masses. In His Picture in the Papers, made in 1916, Fairbanks played the rebellious son of a dour cereal manufacturer. He learned to box, becarne attractive to women, and rescued a big businessman from criminals. Asked the secret of his strength, he advertised his father’s cereal. Sales improved now it was associated with robust fun-Iovers.

Mary Piekford embodied the “new woman”: healthy, robust, self-reliant, she eombined sexual aliure with chastity. “Little Mary”, “Ameriea’s Sweetheart”, was more popular even than Chaplin. In 1916, she became the first star to be the producer of her own films. In them, she brought out the spontaneity and playfulness which Victorian culture had repressed in women.

Emancipated and even a suffragist, in her performances she questioned the female role in the familyand at work. When she married Fairbanks in 1920, the Hollywood mansion they boot, Pickfair, became famous as a paradise in which high-level consumption was advertised as the basis for a secure and stable family life.

Next Page: Ragtime and Dance – Popular New Steps

Early European Film: Dominance of Import Films

Early European Film: Dominance of Import Films

For much of the century’s first decade, innovation in film production came more from Europe than the United States, where making movies was still seen as an offshoot of the more profitable business of making equipment.

In France Georges Melies exploited the cinema’s capacity for illusion in a series of widely-copied science fiction and fantasy films such as Journey to the Moon (1902). At the Gaumont studios Max Linder pioneered character clown achievements of silent cinema. At the outbreak of war the firm of Nordisk of Copenhagen still dominated the German market absolutely. Then, at first, the Germans did exactly the same as the French–they sat back and waited. When the fighting settled down along more or less permanently established lines of trenches, a number of new firms were launched in the hope of making a lot of money.

Sentimental and heroic films about nurses and soldiers were turned out by the score, but with the Iron Cross playing the part that the Légion d’honneur played in France. Nordisk, with a shrewd grasp of the situation, also began producing pictures about the defense of one’s country and so forth, for the German market, and as this firm was by far the most powerful and best equipped, it quickly obliterated or absorbed all its competitors. The Union, one of the most important firms, eventually gave up the ghost, and by 1917 the only firms of any importance that remained were Nordisk and Decla-Bioscop.

These two houses, knowing exactly how successful the American serial films had become, made up their minds to do without imported movies just as they managed under the blockade to do without so many other things. Germany began to provide her own home-made serials and detective films, in which Mia May did duty for Pearl White, and all the other actors were carefully chosen so as to correspond to their American prototypes.

European innovation kept the American market open; until 1908, nearly half the films shown in New York were European imports, and the largest single producer of films shown in America was the French firm Pathe.

Using actors from the Comedie Français, the Film D’Art company introduced a subtler, less extravagant acting style to the screen. The overt a a higher art tradition was also important in the feature films – expensively produced multiple-reel costume dramas and Biblical epics, such as Cabiria – which were first produced in ltaly.

Since the Allies were producing patriotic films intended for exportation to neutral countries, like Marraines de Guerre, so Germany in 1917 founded B.U.F.A., which began by producing instructional films for the army, establishing five hundred cinemas on the Western Front and three hundred on the Eastern Front. It was at this moment that Krupp and the big banks chose to recognize the power of the motion picture: they formed a company known as Ufa with a capital of twenty-five million marks, and within almost no time this new firm, which flourished amazingly, had absorbed B.U.F.A., curtailed the success of Nordisk and-thanks to the munition makers–became one of Europe’s most powerful industrial forces. At the Armistice there were only two companies of any importance left in Germany, Ufa and Bioscop.

In the interval, the German film developed quite independently in isolation. No foreign films were shown. The former favorites vanished, all save Henny Porten, Lotte Neumann and the exceptionally gifted Asta Nielsen. New figures came into prominence –Werner Krauss, Emil Jannings, Paul Wegener and Pola Negri. Wegener directed as well as acted; so did Richard Oswald, Eichberg and Lubitsch. Eichberg earned much praise for his Let There Be Light and Ferdinand Lassalle; Wegener for his romantic and Hoffmannesque Student of Prague, in which the German preoccupation with the macabre and fondness for occultism mixed with science are already evident. They were also evident in Nordisk Homunculus. As for Jannings, he made his screen debut in a Lubitsch film in 1915, then appeared in a version of Daudet Fromont Jr. and Risler Sr., directed by Robert Wiene in 1916. Next he was seen in Arthur Robison terrifying A Night of Horror and in Lubitsch Marriage of Louise Rohrbach ( 1917).

World War I drastically curtailed European production, and American distributors used this opportunity to secure a monopoly in their home market and expand their share of world business, by selling at other companies could not compete. By the end of 1918, in spite of war, famine and threatening revolution, a profound feeling for the film had been deeply implanted in Germany and already there was an originality about the German product which was to develop very fruitfully.

From then on through the twenties Hollywood provided not only the overwhelming majoýity of the world’s movies, but also the stylistic model against which all other national cinemas – even those of lndia and Japan would define themselves. The French, Italian, German and British industries never regained their pre-war size.

Next Page: The First Hollywood Stars: Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford

First Movie Theaters: Nickelodeons

First Movie Theaters: Nickelodeons

In European countries, notably in France, where pioneer work in moving pictures was even more advanced than it was in the United States, developments followed a quite different course. There was nothing comparable to the nickelodeon madness of this country. Instead of appealing to a mass market, the movies essayed the rôle of sophisticated entertainment.

Although foreign producers at first made far better films, their efforts to maintain artistic standards lost them the world-wide market that American producers eventually built up because their pictures had a universal appeal. American movies would never have become the outstanding popular entertainment they are to-day had foreign precedents been followed, while a limited market would also have prevented their attaining the technical perfection which has been Hollywood’s real contribution to this world-wide amusement. Moving pictures became a leading feature of American recreation because they represented the culmination of the democratizing influences in the field of urban entertainment which had been at work for over a century.

The films shown in the nickelodeon era represented a striking advance over the flickering glimpses of dancing-girls first seen in the penny-arcade kinetoseopes. Practical difficulties were hard to surmount, and the demand for pictures often outstripped the ability of the producers to supply them, but there was steady progress. With the filming of longer pictures at the close of the century, incidents (man sneezing) had first been elaborated into themes (employer flirting with stenographer).

Further stretching out of the picture, to perhaps a thousand feet, then gave a universal popularity to endless variations on the chase motive. The cowboy hero began to track down the western bad man, the city sleuth to pursue bank-robbers and hold-up men. In the simplest form of the latter, the thief was chased through streets crowded with city traffic until the inevitable collision with the fat woman, who felled him with her umbrella and sat on him until the police arrived. The only rival of the chase in this early period was comic relief. The more subtle uses of a banana-peel, of a precariously balanced can of paint, of a small boy with a hose, were developed. The custard pie made its triumphant appearance.

Prize-fights and religious pictures were also introduced, two outstanding events in motion-picture progress being the filming of the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight and the Oberammergau Passion Play. News and travel had a wide appeal. For Hale’s Tours of the World the theatre was darkened, a whistle blew to announce the start of the trip, the seats began to sway through an ingenious system of rockers and brakes, and on the screen were flashed scenes of some distant part of the world taken from the rear platform of a speeding train.

Next Page: Early European Film – Dominance of Import Films