Blossoming of a New Art

Part of Theatrical Adventures by O.B. Clarence

“Joy in riches is the gift of God.”


O.B. Clarence as old Adam in As You Like It

Other types of entertainment were now coming into being. Charles Urban, if I remember rightly, developed something he called The Travelogue. Photographs taken from the front of an engine rapidly moving apparently through picturesque scenery were shown upon a screen. This for a short time proved a novelty. The Bioscope delighted the public and this was the forerunner and herald of the moving picture, the cinematography of today. This novelty was speedily improved and became a fascinating medium of entertainment.

Our theatre however held its own, but that form of entertainment was not likely to remain long in its then form. Sound was very soon added to its attractions. The movies, the flicks, the pictures - the cinema has so many names - now became the talkies.

In the course of time enormous buildings began to rise up in the very direction in London, the suburbs and in all the great towns and cities all over the United Kingdom. These attractive buildings, enormous edifices, lavishly decorated, flashily adorned, outlined in electric lights high up in the sky invite us on all sides.

America, which I hold to be the home and begetter of this delightful form of entertainment, pours into our little island its latest and most glamorous pictures; exciting dramas which take us all over the world.

They showed Wild West adventures, cowboy gallops over the prairies, down breakneck paths of mountains, desperate fights, tragedies, thrilling and passionate romances, side-splitting comedies, knockabout-slap stick farces, blood-curdling murders which force us to hold our breath and our hearts beat faster; played by gifted and attractive stars, male and female, retained by contracts at prodigious salaries unheard of a few years before, who gazed at us from the screen and captivated us.

In these beautiful and attractive palaces there is never a dull moment. Thrilling and mysterious music intensifies every phase of the fascinating pictures. Sometimes, to fill an interval, coloured lights direct our attention to where, from somewhere in the depths, the keyboard of and organ is seen to be rising, clothed in an aura of light.

O.B. Clarence as old Adam in As You Like It

In the centre we see a seated figure, faultlessly dressed, who controls the instrument and displays his skill and knowledge of its machinery. We notice the tiers of manuals, the array of stops on either side which he adjusts so adroitly. When this marvellous organ has risen to the required height rays of light are directed to the keys over which the musician’s fingers travel so lightly; presently the lights bring into focus his well-shod feet manipulating the lower keyboard, agilely with heel and toe then back again to those nimble fingers, entrancing us anew.

Every item of this intricate machinery is now displayed; no stop is neglected; celeste, vox humana and angelica perhaps most in evidence, the tremolo hardly ever at rest. It is all very wonderful. As the final notes die away, the organist rises to his feet and bows up in an oriflamme of glory; strains from the organ proclaiming his triumph, our applause subsides, the organ and its master descend slowly into the depths, the lights grow dim and the next picture gets under way.

Sometimes when a picture ends; the screen is lit up anew and our attention is focused on the commercial activities of the neighbourhood. We learn that the wares of Mr Brisket - the well-known butcher in the High Street - are to be relied on. Instantly his establishment is flashed upon the screen. Succulent-looking joints are displayed, carcasses hang on the walls.

Then, suddenly the picture changes and we behold the salon of Madame Angelique, the famous modiste with superbly gowned members of her clientele. Now we peep into the sanctum of Alfonse, the distinguished coiffeur des dames, where ladies’s tresses are arranged in the latest fashion. Numerous traders’s wares are recommended in quick succession, until on the screen appears the blazing title of the next picture.

Now I would have you know that I am a picture-fan - or let me say, I do enjoy these things intensely - now and again.

Not long ago I saw a picture that I could see again tomorrow. It contained a moment near the denouement which held me spellbound. It dealt with a blind man cornered by some crooks who were scheming to get possession of some jewels or money - it matters not which, but this blind man was guided about by a dog - a magnificent Alsatian - on whom, of course, all our eyes were fixed. At a moment - when his master was covered by revolvers, we watched him, unobserved by the evil men - slip off the dog’s collar, and heard him whisper, “Get the police!” We saw this sagacious animal steal silently out of the room, and search for a way out. He mounted the stairs and found his way into an upper chamber where high up there was an open window. Several times this wonderful dog made prodigious attempts to reach the sill but found himself baffled. He pondered, and then looked around. We watched him drag some heavy piece of furniture by his teeth till he had got it underneath the window, the with a prodigious and mighty leap he reached the sill and landed safely in the garden below. Giving himself a shake he set off, tearing across the grass on his mission to save his master. Then followed the supreme moment. There appeared a large French Poodle - a lady dog - evidently an old flame: the Alsatian paused and the poodle gave him the glad eye. It was most perfectly conveyed: the most perfect thing of its kind I had ever seen, a most eloquent and alluring eye, a most attractive smile, teeth gleaming, a sideways beckon of the head. The Alsatian paused, sorely tempted: virtue triumphed: he shook his head and sped on his way, and of course saved his master. The cops arrived, the evil men were captured and all was well. I could sit through the entire length of that picture again - and if I am given the opportunity I will - for the sake of that one moment. Am I a film fan? Let me give you another instance.

Could one wish to see anything more wonderful that Disney’s Fantasia - his dazzling conception of the Creation?

Enchanting strains stole across our senses as we watched the screen, where mysterious movements were taking place; and by degrees our senses became attuned to the significance of what we were seeing. Dimly shining half-transparent objects moved slowly but aimlessly around and gradually assumed the form of myriads of stars, which seemed to blink at each other meaningly: some of the merged together into larger bodies from which faint shapes, dim and strangely tinted, came into being. I sat enthralled as I had never been. Enchanting strains bewitched my senses, distant singing faint and far away died down and then broke out again.

Quivering figments of his imagination floated in front of us; faint shapes vague and mysterious came into being: objects we could not name, radiating brilliance, swayed and writhed and merged finally into living forms; slender and graceful creatures we seemed to recognise and know. Strange shapes emerged from misty mountains, ever changing, now purple, now golden seemed to hide some ecstasy to come. Hills faded into waterfalls, glittering lakes bordered with swaying and towering trees melted into green meadows decked with flowers, which raced their way into deep valleys, where living creatures gambolled and brilliant birds carolled sweet music. Scenes glowing with bright colours were almost imperceptibly changing; gradually my senses became cloyed with strains mysteriously sweet and seductive. My eyes, surfeited with beauty unparalleled - gradually closed, dazzled with loveliness and, I confess I slumbered through the remainder of the picture. Too rich a banquet at a sitting! But I declare - should the opportunity occur - I hope to see it in its entirety.

Disney’s Fantasia is certainly a revelation; and very wonderful: it is something our theatre cannot compete with. We know that a generation has been growing up which has and will have no knowledge of the theatre. I have no doubt that at this present time there are thousands who have never been inside a theatre in their lives and likely never will. This I admit is not a comforting thought but it is not a matter of great moment. We are well aware that the cinema draws away quite a large percentage of the audiences from our theatre: that of course was inevitable.

The Cinema we know to be an attractive form of entertainment which will continue to provide fresh and alluring mediums for our scientists to probe further. Already it has had the effect upon our Theatre of rendering it a rarer and a more sacred thing.