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  • 1908

The Moving Picture Show

Poem by James D. Law from The Show World (16 May 1908): 24.

James Duff Law (b.1865) was a native of Aberdeenshire in Scotland, though spent much of his life in Philadelphia. Law was an inventor, seasoned traveler, and regular contributor to magazines, and he wrote and published poems both in the Scots and American idioms. Incidentally, he was also a friend of Walt Whitman and an expert on Robert Burns (other poets included in this Film History issue, James Montague and Hunter MacCulloch, were also Burns connoisseurs). Law wrote this poem specially for The Show World, a leading American journal of entertainment including the movies. The poem celebrates the extraordinary variety of films that one could see in a nickelodeon programme. It seems that by this time Law had become very interested in motion pictures and he was apparently a friend of the film producer and fellow Philadelphian, Siegmund Lubin; then a few years later he became president of the Colonial Motion Picture Corporation of New York.49 A couple of allusions in the poem deserve explanation: the Kickapoo were a Native American people of the mid-west, and “Kellar” refers to Harry Kellar (1849–1922), a famed American magician.

The phonograph is a marvel sure, With a charm that’s all its own; And it’s hard to overrate the lure Of the mystic telephone. The telegraph, with its mighty range, Is a wonder, as we know, But nothing yet is half so strange As The Moving Picture Show.

We take our seats in a darken’d room And the world we left behind Is soon forgot in the soothing gloom That deadens the daily grind. The music starts – the room expands – And off in a flash we go – “Wrapt in a sheet” – to foreign lands At The Moving Picture Show.

We climb the Alps and we thrill and ache With the perils we go through; Breakfast in France we may partake, And lunch with a Kickapoo.

In Yokohama we may drive And supperless sleep below A frowning crag by the castled Rhine, At The Moving Picture Show.

What do you wish? A merry skit, A runaway or a race? Gymnastic stunts, or a thrilling bit Of a helter-skelter chase? A feat of strength or a circus trick, Or frolics among the snow? You can get them all – or take your pick – At The Moving Picture Show.

Pranks that the wizards never knew You can gaze on at your ease, And “turns” that the witches could not do You may witness as you please. Shakespeare rendered in tabloid form, In dramas of joy or woe, And all the actors alive and warm In the Moving Picture Show. [End Page 433]

Old Cagliostro’s now outclassed By the Motographic fun; Aladdin’s Lamp indeed surpassed, And Kellar himself outdone.

Full of surprises all the time And only its patrons know The pleasure exchanged for half a dime At The Moving Picture Show.

Le Cinématographe [The Cinematograph Show]

Short story by Adrien Vély with illustrations by Paul Destez from Le Sourire [Paris] (8 February 1908).

Adrien Raymond Anselme Vély (1864–1935) was one of the great French comic authors of his era, though almost forgotten today. Very prolific from the 1880s to the 1920s, his writings included books, plays, film scripts, and many short stories. Vély is an anagram of Levy, which was his real name, and probably this nom de plume was an attempt to hide his (presumably) Jewish identity, in a Dreyfus-era France where anti-Semitism was rife.50 His work appeared in Le Figaro, La Vie Parisienne, and perhaps most regularly in the comic journal, Le Sourire. Although less celebrated than other such publications (e.g. Le Rire or Journal Amusant) Le Sourire was one of the finest of French comic journals: beautifully designed and produced, partly in colour, it featured work by some of the capital’s brightest creative talent. Vély was there from the magazine’s start in 1899, and thereafter turned out short stories as often as each week, regularly illustrated by the equally prolific and celebrated Paul Destez as in...


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