Considering the title, at first nothing. Like so many street-scene actualities, it blandly records the street, the passers-by. As usual, the world refuses in large part to be a performer, desiring instead to look directly at the camera in passing, forcing the audience to be the ones seemingly observed--more directly, of course, the cinematographer taking the brunt of the attack, scrutinized as carefully, if not as dispassionately, as the lens. But I trusted the title, and waited for something to happen.
A couple approaches the camera, with that self-consciously casual gait that marks the performer, setting themselves off from the actual persons in the frame--in that disconcerting reversal that affects us all in the act of being filmed, our natural, unaffected motions seem somehow stiff, even artificial. It is a small but significant sign, I believe, of the growing power of the cinema, making the world the artifice, itself the reality. Even in something as small as an unhurried walk we will demand--not precisely the more beautiful, but the arranged and plotted, so that it appears more real than ourselves.
But reality, of a sort, re-asserts itself. As the couple passes over a grate, the woman's dress billows up, and we see her legs--as much as, and perhaps even less than, when she bathes in the sea or performs innocently in a circus. But on Twenty-Third Street the appearance of her legs is at first comic, but also erotic--yes, in a facile, juvenile manner, but I didn't expect it, and so my response was unguarded--purely physical, if I may appear indelicate--but I do mean that the eternal adolescent in me--often wise, if directness can be wisdom--noticed immediately what happened on Twenty-Third Street, and watched ever-so-carefully, as brief as the interlude was, one of those fleeting moments the cinema seems to discover, almost accidentally,* affecting because it is short-lived, the eye barely able to capture it before it passes--and in that brief passage itself the mind enlarges the moment, until one is all but certain that one has seen more than one actually did. I have seen--well, if not my share of ladies' legs, enough to keep me acquainted; but I believe--with some disquiet--that the actual legs will fade away, and the cinematic ones will fill my memory, superseding all others, even the actual images I keep stored away--of childhood, adolescence, the manhood I have so far earned--becoming "cinematic" themselves, remembered as motion pictures. The natural tendency to convert raw experience into narrative now has its greatest ally--but again, I wonder if I should be troubled at this tendency, or merely succumb to the primal urge to gaze--and to claim the things I gaze upon?
*The camera's eye, here and elsewhere, in many cases seems to linger unnecessarily, as characters gesture repeatedly, mill around for minutes, or as we are forced to watch a long line of pursuers traverse the same sere meadow or empty suburban street. The novelty of action merely filmed has waned, and we are either on the verge of a new cinema or a stagnation and degeneration, until the Kinetoscope reverts to the peephole, dusty in the far corner of the amusement arcade.