They have become not more beautiful, in the sense in which pictures are beautiful, but shall we call it (our vocabulary is miserably insufficient) more real, or real with a different reality from that which we perceive in daily life. We behold them as they are when we are not there. p. 173↵We see life as it is when we have no part in it. As we gaze we seem to be removed from the pettiness of actual existence, its cares, its conventions. The horse will not knock us down. The King will not grasp our hands. The wave will not wet our feet. Watching the antics of our kind from this post of vantage we have time to feel pity and amusement, to generalise, to endow one man with the attributes of a race; watching boats sail and waves break we have time to open the whole of our mind wide to beauty and to register on top of this the queer sensation—beauty will continue to be beautiful whether we behold it or not. Further, all this happened, we are told, ten years ago. We are beholding a world which has gone beneath the waves
But the picture makers seem dissatisfied with these obvious sources of interest—the wonders of the actual world, flights of gulls, or ships on the Thames; the fascination of contemporary life—the Mile End Road,* Piccadilly Circus. They want to be improving, altering, making an art of their own—naturally, for so much seems to be within their scope.
The cinema fell upon its prey with immense rapacity and to this moment largely subsists upon the body of its unfortunate victim. But the results have been disastrous to both. The alliance is unnatural. Eye and brain are torn asunder ruthlessly as they try vainly to work in couples
So we lurch and lumber through the most famous novels of the world. So we spell them out in words of one syllable written in the scrawl of an illiterate schoolboy. A kiss is love. A smashed chair is jealousy. A grin is happiness. Death is a hearse. None of these things has the least connection with the novel that Tolstoy wrote and it is only when we give up trying to connect the pictures with the book that we guess from some scene by the way—a gardener mowing the lawn outside, for example, or a tree shaking its branches in the sunshine—what the cinema might do if it were left to its own devices.
But what then are its own devices? If it ceased to be a parasite in what fashion would it walk erect? At present it is only from hints and accidents that one can frame any conjecture. For instance at a performance of Dr Caligari* the other day a shadow shaped like a tadpole suddenly appeared at one corner of the screen. It swelled to an immense size, quivered, bulged and sank back again into nonentity. For a moment it seemed to embody some monstrous diseased imagination of the lunatic’s brain. For a moment it seemed as if thought could be conveyed by shape more effectively than by words. The monstrous quivering tadpole seemed to be fear itself, and not the statement ‘I am afraid.’ In fact, the shadow was accidental, and the effect unintentional. But if a shadow at a certain moment can suggest so much more than the actual gestures, the actual words of men and women in a state of fear, it seems plain that the cinema has within its grasp innumerable symbols for emotions that have so far failed to find expression. Terror has besides its ordinary forms the shape of a tadpole; it burgeons, bulges, quivers, disappears. Anger might writhe like an infuriated worm in black zigzags across a white sheet.
For what characteristics does thought possess which can be rendered visible to the eye without the help of words? It has speed and slowness; dart-like directness and vaporous circumlocution. But it has also an inveterate tendency especially in moments of emotion to make images run side by side with itself, to create a likeness of the thing thought about, as if by so doing it took away its sting, or made it beautiful and comprehensible. In Shakespeare, as everybody knows, the most complex ideas, the most intense emotions form chains of images, through which we pass, however rapidly and completely they change, as up the loops and p. 175↵spirals of a twisting stair. But obviously the poet’s images are not to be cast in bronze or traced with pencil and paint. They are compact of a thousand suggestions, of which the visual is only the most obvious or the uppermost. Even the simplest image such as ‘My luve’s like a red, red rose, that’s newly sprung in June’* presents us with moisture and warmth and the glow of crimson and the softness of petals inextricably mixed and strung upon the lilt of a rhythm which suggests the emotional tenderness of love. All this, which is accessible to words and to words alone, the cinema must avoid
mething abstract, something moving, something calling only for the very slightest help from words or from music to make itself intelligible—of such movements, of such abstractions the films may in time to come be composed. And once this prime difficulty is solved, once some new symbol for expressing thought is found, the film maker has enormous riches at his command. Physical realities, the very pebbles on the beach, the very quivers of the lips, are his for the asking.
We should see these emotions mingling together and affecting each other. We should see violent changes of emotion produced by their collision. The most fantastic contrasts could be flashed before us with a speed which the writer can only toil after in vain. The past could be unrolled, distances could be annihilated.
He must p. 176↵make us believe that what he shows us, fantastic though it seems, has some relation with the great veins and arteries of our existence. He must connect it with what we are pleased to call reality. He must make us believe that our loves and hates lie that way too. How slow a process this is bound to be, and attended with what pain and ridicule and indifference can easily be foretold when we remember how painful novelty is, how the smallest twig even upon the oldest tree offends our sense of propriety. And here it is not a question of a new twig, but of a new trunk and new roots from the earth upwards.
et remote as it is, intimations are not wanting that the emotions are accumulating, the time is coming, and the art of the cinema is about to be brought to birth. Watching crowds, watching the chaos of the streets in the lazy way in which faculties detached from use watch and wait, it seems sometimes as if movements and colours, shapes and sounds had come together and waited for someone to seize them and convert their energy into art; then, uncaught, they disperse and fly asunder again. At the cinema for a moment through the mists of irrelevant emotions, through the thick counterpane of immense dexterity and enormous efficiency one has glimpses of something vital within. But the kick of life is instantly concealed by more dexterity, further efficiency.
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