Ethnic Weapon (Nina Steel Adventures)
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DeMille cuts to a darkened screen. Suddenly a door swings open to reveal Carmen, an ornament in her hair and flowers pinned to her neckline, standing in the light emanating from the room behind her. Pinned between the gaze of these two possessive suitors, Carmen has fewer options than her free spirit warrants.
Farrar, who had proven herself a drawing card for operagoers on two continents, won kudos for her screen debut despite Pennsylvania censors objecting to her impassioned portrayal. According to the New York Times , which did not yet review films on a regular basis, "among movie actresses she is one of the best," but "her playing is. The soprano retained her realistic film acting style, however, and slapped Caruso during a controversial performance of the opera at the Metropolitan. Jerry, as she was called, became a magnet for throngs of filmgoers who crowded the so-called "high-class" theaters.
Motion Picture News commented on the significance of this development by repeating that "nickelodeons are bound to be very largely superceded by the better class of motion picture entertainment. The work of Paramount Pictures Corporation has enabled you to see her in a film at regular motion picture admission prices," ranging from fifteen cents for the balcony to one dollar for loge seats.
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Critical response to Carmen in the trade papers was self-congratulatory. About the first innovation would be a new set of Metropolitan critics who. Controversy about the artistic merit of feature film compared to opera did not, however, prevent seasoned reviewers from observing that the use of dramatic low-key lighting and location shooting resulted in a technically superior production.
As the director continued to earn critical acclaim in , he would become less indebted to established forms of genteel culture in order to legitimate cinema and to establish his own credentials. As Jesse L. Lasky recalled, perhaps with more nostalgia than accuracy, "feature pictures were established in , [but] they didn't become respectable until late in Geraldine Farrar's sensational debut and attendant press reaction could have occurred only during the early years when the industry had yet to achieve cultural legitimacy.
Such events demonstrated that producers like the Lasky Company and Famous Players deployed the right strategy to establish multi-reel features as the industry standard to attract middle-class audiences. According to discourse in trade journals and fan magazines,. Captain Leslie T.
Peacocke, who was affiliated with Universal Film Manufacturing Company and wrote Photoplay 's column on scriptwriting, cautioned that "all the companies are vieing [ sic ] to secure. Lasky and Adolph Zukor disputed William Selig and Carl Laemmle on the desirability of features as against one- and two-reelers.
Lasky argued:. Fronts were changed, interiors rearranged, music improved, prices elevated, and advertising in the press resorted to. Features compelled recognition in the daily press. Regular reviewers. The production of features have attracted [ sic ] a large number of men to the ranks of motion picture purveyors who could do naught else than dignify the industry. As Lasky recognized, feature films prompted critics to write reviews comparable to those of stage plays in newspapers and periodicals that influenced middle-class reception.
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The New York Times , for example, did not yet review films on a regular basis, as did trade papers and fan magazines, but it devoted space to adaptations starring celebrated artists like Farrar. Discourse in trade journals was more consistent, but critics still valorized screen adaptations in terms of intertextual references to traditional art forms.
Consequently, they too legitimated film according to the standards of genteel culture but in so doing diminished the authorial claim of filmmakers like DeMille. Critics, in other words, were still expressing uncertainty regarding the nature of film aesthetic during an important transitional period in the evolution of cinema. DeMille's first release, The Squaw Man , for example, was hailed as "one of the best visualizations of a stage play ever shown on screen. Significantly, the production of spectacles that surpassed those orchestrated on stage called attention to increased realism as a desirable characteristic distinguishing the new medium.
Critics were thus impressed with "a real soda fountain" in What's His Name , "the ambushing and destruction of the. Anticipating such reviews, DeMille had written to Goldwyn in , "The scope of the photoplay is so much wider than that of the legitimate drama. In the first place we DO things instead of acting them. When a big effect is necessary, such as the burning of a ship, the blowing up of a mine, the wrecking of a train, we do not have to trick the effect with lights and scenery, we DO it.
Within this context, the publication of Vachel Lindsay's The Art of the Moving Picture , one of the first serious and extended essays on film aesthetic, is telling: the work asserted an independent status for cinema while discussing it with reference to traditional art forms like architecture and sculpture. DeMille's attempt to establish his credentials as an author when film had yet to achieve cultural legitimacy was initially compromised by his reputation for lighting effects.
Artwork such as chromolithographs had long since been commercialized for middle-class consumption, but paintings exhibited in museums still retained the aura of unique art objects. Stephen Bush, for example, claimed in Moving Picture World that the director's representation of a tenement district in Kindling was "as graphic as anything that ever came from the hands of Hogarth or Rembrandt. Consistent with Protestant beliefs as well as Arnoldian concepts stressing human perfectibility, artists were then prompted to produce realistic representations that could be read as spiritual messages.
While still a playwright, William had claimed that "the primary essential of a play is that it shall teach a lesson. William, a liberal, had married the daughter of single-tax reform advocate, Henry George, and sympathized with the people against the "highbrows" and "uplifters"; he had even championed stage drama as "the art of the people as a whole" rather than "for a cultivated few.
Within the context of Progressive reform based on moral imperative, film critics too were proponents of the sanctity of culture and responded to DeMille's features in language saturated with didacticism. Such expressions accorded with the objectives of genteel reformers intent on assimilating immigrants and workers by emphasizing the value of education.
Motion pictures were thus not just entertainment; they were "a titanic engine for popular education. A reviewer of The Call of the North proclaimed in Moving Picture World that the feature had reaffirmed his "faith in the approaching kingdom of quality. Although this practice was useful in securing for DeMille the status of a cultural custodian in his endeavor to establish authorship, ultimately the interpenetration of cultural forms contributed to a process of desacralization. The intertextuality of grand opera, stage melodrama, and feature film, in other words, signified that the elite would find the preservation of a cultural hierarchy unmanageable in a technological age.
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Although film entrepreneurs initially exploited the intertextual relationship between feature film and traditional art forms, they were not shortsighted about the future of the industry. At the time he abandoned vaudeville for motion pictures, Jesse L. Lasky predicted, "Eventually we will have stories by authors of recognized standing and written expressly for the screen.
DeMille therefore resorted to formulaic screenplays that not only gave him more stature as an author in his own right, but proved cheaper than negotiating for costly rights and was more tailored to the abilities of actors under contract. Studio emphasis on original scenarios also streamlined production because expensive delays attributed to scriptwriting problems, as Lasky complained to Goldwyn, meant that directors and stars had to be paid while awaiting rehearsals.
Working at breakneck pace, DeMille doubled the number of his releases from seven in to thirteen in , including three features, The Captive, The Cheat , and The Golden Chance , that were based on original screenplays. As director-general, moreover, he supervised the production of twenty-one features, including his own films, in and thirty-six in Macpherson, interestingly, had previously been employed under Oscar Apfel at the Edison Manufacturing Company and had written scenarios and directed films for Universal Film Manufacturing Company and Criterion Features.
Undoubtedly, the extraordinary success of The Cheat and The Golden Chance , films based on original screenplays that DeMille simultaneously directed during a hectic production schedule, influenced his move away from adaptations. Critics responded with hyperbole even though they still compared film with the legitimate stage. The Motion Picture News critic, for example, referred to the theater when he claimed that "in staging 'The Cheat,' [DeMille's] genius reached a climax," but he also noted that the film "should mark a new era in lighting as applied to screen productions.
What was the significance of filmmakers like DeMille who came of age during the sacralization of culture and exploited a theatrical legacy to legitimate cinema and film authorship? Since motion pictures were a popular attraction for workers and immigrants in storefront nickelodeons before entrepreneurs sought legitimacy, middle-class film reception signified an important shift in patterns of cultural consumption.
A number of social and cultural historians as well as film historians have debated whether early film attendance exemplifies a trickle-down or bottom-up model with respect to class and ethnic interaction in an urban environment. Were middle-class audiences patronizing nickelodeons at a much earlier date than has been assumed, as Russell Merritt and Robert C. Allen argue? Or was filmgoing, as Roy Rosenzweig asserts, a working-class diversion as late as and thus evidence of a radical change in middle-class cultural practice?
Significantly, Merritt and Allen do not distinguish between the upper and lower middle classes in their empirical studies, although Tom Gunning points out that by , 25 percent of filmgoers were lower-middle-class salaried workers. Were lower-class immigrant women indeed setting trends for middle-class women by patronizing commercialized amusement, as Kathy Peiss claims?
Ethnic Weapon: A Nina Steel Adventure, Book 1 (Unabridged)
Or were they, as Elizabeth Ewen contends, subject to the assimilative process of Americanization as represented on the screen? Were sociable immigrants translating Habermas's concept of the public sphere into neighborhood nickelodeons only to be textually constructed as spectators, as Miriam Hansen maintains? Or was the filmgoing experience of the working class, as Lizabeth Cohen asserts, significantly mediated by subcultures well into the s?
With respect to representational strategies and reading practices, were producers creating a mass audience by persuading the lower classes to join their "betters" in nickelodeons, as Janet Staiger argues, or were they in league with elite constituents, as William Uricchio and Roberta E. Pearson contend, to make films that could be read by the middle as well as working classes? The formation of producers like Famous Players and the Lasky Company, as well as distributors like Paramount, in my view, meant that entrepreneurs purposely developed a strategy to resituate cinema for "better" audiences.