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ROUDINE, V. " Art for the People? (The Slanderous Cinema)" [1913]. I
Transl. Jesse Cohn
Article published on 11 January 2005
last modification on 27 April 2015

by r-c.
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When I see crowd pressing itself the evening at the entry of the theatre-cinematographs which multiply each day in every districts, in every corner of the city, I think of the deposed dreams of Richard Wagner. [1]

A musician of immense genius, spirit tormented by an irresistible desire for social reforms, this man conceived of a grandiose project to restore the people through art.

He wanted to build, in the open, artistic temples in which his work would be performed by an elite of disinterested artists. The people, which he saw flowing in masses, were to ennoble their hearts, raise their spirits, plunge themselves in the beauty of these aesthetic performances similar to the ancient mysteries. The partitions, which once would have been useful, were to be destroyed, so that no profane hand would be able to execute them outside of these supreme festivals.

How were these dreams carried out? A large theatre was built indeed in a small town of Bavaria: the musical dramas of Wagner are periodically performed there. The Americans, the English, "snobs" from all over the world, in fancy dress and top hats, promenade their jaded selves there; sometimes one finds some musicians there . . .

Admittance to each of these "free performances" costs 25 francs.

The fever for money-making seizes the whole town well before the start of the festivals: the hotels triple the prices of their rooms, the restaurants prepare royal menus, the windows of all the stores fill up; they await the arrival of the rich tourists.

And the workman of this town who, leaving the workshop, deadened by labor, sees the silhouette of the theatre far away on the hill, hardly suspects that it is where the "restoration" of the people by art was to be achieved. While the rich capitalist drives there by car, he, if he wants to and can amuse himself, goes to the Cinema . . .

This poor Wagner did not account for reality. As the remainder, the bourgeoisie monopolized the wealth of the arts. And the capitalist regime gave birth to a very special art to meet the needs of the "people."
Nothing is more understandable than the success of the cinema. Modern life drains more and more of the muscles and nerves of the working population. How can you ask that a spectacle which does not require any sustained attention, which is understood by all the intelligences of all nationalities of which the population of a large city is composed; which acts at once on the two most developed feelings our time: sentimentality and brutality ­ how could you ask that such a spectacle should not garner all the votes?

But the middle-class was not satisfied to give the cinema to the people. It wants to make a particular use of it, to use it for its own aims, as a means of education. It has reached that point. Such as they are at the present time, films threaten to become a true poison, a terrible weapon ready to manipulate and corrupt public opinion. The exaltation of chauvinistic feelings, the triumph and the honesty of the police force and the detectives, the generosity of inevitable boss’s daughter who saves the no less inevitable engineer swindled by his father, etc., etc. ­ how many are the movies which stamp in the memory of the viewer the imprint of a false conception of society?

The other day, I saw my own eyes a scene so nauseating and dangerous at the same time that I cannot stop myself from recounting it to our comrades.

The film carries a suggestive title: Le Renard [The Fox]. It tells the story of a strike. One sees strikers there not holding their meetings at the Labor Exchange [la Bourse], as a simpleton might believe, but in a bar. The wine flows; the strikers spend their money without counting.

A fox appears. He is not at all a drinker; he is, on the contrary, an admirable worker, full of passion for his trade. Naturally, his child falls sick right at the time of the declaration from the strike, and this is why he works.

He then passes in front of the tavern where the drunk strikers sit. He speaks tearfully of his situation, but he is struck, beaten, and kicked, his clothes rent, and, half dead, locked up in a cell in back ot the shop.

The wife of the "fox", learning of these events, arrives at the cabaret. She falls to her knees in front of the strikers, who are increasingly drunk because the wine is always pouring, and begs them to return her husband to her. The workers push her back, the woman insists, and a scene of outrageous brutality unfolds before the spectators.

The woman is thrashed, dragged on the ground, and thrown outside, covered in blood. Then another woman, the wife of a striker, takes her defense. She convenes the wives of the strikers, all hostile to the strike; they rush into the tavern, where the strikers continue to deliberate, in order to rescue the "fox."

They take him from his dungeon, battered, torn to shreds, unrecognizable, no longer able to walk without support. A collection for his sick child finishes the scene . . .

And voilà! The public applauded, obviously moved by the sufferings by the "fox". I said to myself: "Just try appealing to public opinion, ‘worked’ beforehand in such an odious manner, to support the working cause in the event of strike!"

I told myself further: "We do not let the daily press slander us without protesting. Anti-worker propaganda in the cinema is more dangerous than that of the newspapers, but we keep silent in the face of it." As long as the cinemas do not change these poisonous films, it is essential for the working class to boycott them.

Is this too much to ask of our well-known indifference?

V. Roudine

Continued

Notes :

[1Source: La Bataille Syndicaliste, January 18, 1913.


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