What a thorough fraud the cinema is! It wants to smooth all sharp edges, mold the rough world into a compact ball, held in one hand and easily tossed to the other. One Touch of Nature "makes the whole world kin"? Oh, for Heaven's sake!--no: the world's sake, the weak urge to "praise new-born gawds"--toys, I must remember, geegaws and gadgets: the cinema itself?
--I get ahead of myself. I checked: The line is from Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, that silly, angry, shattering mess. Sex and war confused, and loss and loneliness abiding. And Ulysses at Troy knows it, asked to fight and refusing, scorning the bright toys of time. And he speaks those words, he knows that our common weakness unites us, makes us gape at the diverting gilded trinket. Again: Is it the cinema itself? Is this my place, there in the audience, kin with a whole world of fools? And so who is the fraud?
The man in middle age in chagrin turns from his wife and toward the camera--toward us, his middle class too much at last--and driven by a bee to a stream he joins the Huckleberry Finn at the bank, and they fish and wade and swim. He stays in the woods--oh, shades of other Shakespeare plays, pastorals and New World islands--and the wife joins him, and the boy, and they stay the night in the dreaming woods.
But I remain, planted in my seat, frowning that Shakespeare has to toe the line and bless the businessman's idyll--while the words in Ulysses' mouth are almost despairing in their sad truth. But also: Here I most certainly am, in the theater, neither Ulysses deciding to fight nor Mr. Bradley wiggling his toes in the cool water.
And all the while, off in the distance, Shakespeare's strange story goes on, lust-as-tragedy--but in the moving-picture-play lost--with no little sigh of relief, perhaps. Just the words remain--Hamlet's joke once more, when asked what he was reading--"Words." And as for me: I guess I'd better walk out of the theater and put down my Shakespeare and ask myself--Hamlet once more--what is the matter.
August 9, 1914
I return to the above tortured scribble, and want to tear it up. What is the matter with me, I ask once more. Why would that little Edison picture--and its completely expected mishandling of Shakespeare--send me off so wildly? Edison does not seem as vigorous as he once was--other manufacturers of photoplays seem in the ascendant--and am I simply sorry to see him fade away? Is he Mr. Bradley, automobile and suit and shoes left behind, night falling as he snoozes in the trees, the electric world dimmed? Do I indulge in false melancholy over a waning star--or does it chafe because I am not Mr. Bradley? My shoes remain clamped on my feet, and I want to let Shakespeare be misused, so that the "touch of Nature" is simply the grass against my calf, and the breeze along my arms, cool as the sun goes down.