Friday, October 02, 2009

At the movies with Colonel Wedgwood and the corybantic cave men

I'm combing through the material I collected on a recent research trip, so there might be a few examples of this kind of thing showing up here over the next few days.

Anyway, discussions of the American influence on British popular culture were common in the 1920s, particularly with reference to the new medium of film.

Opinions were divided.


Why an M.P. Prefers American Films

'Give us the strong He-man of the American films instead of the dude who spends his time at the races and hunting and in dance halls' was the plea of Colonel Wedgwood at yesterday's sitting of the Standing Committee of the House of Commons which is considering the Cinematograph Bill.

The He-man films, he argued, showed the man who made his way through struggles, and this was largely [a] good example.

'Let us,' he said, 'get away from the idea that the American films are immoral--dull, perhaps sentimental and sloppy sob stuff you do get, but immorality never. You must not judge the film by the scantiness of the heroine's clothing on the poster outside.'

The member for Newcastle-under-Lyme was critical of French films, and declared amid laughter that often he had to walk out himself....

Daily Herald, 13 April 1927, p. 5

Colonel Wedgwood's comments reminded me of another article I had run across that was published the previous year in the Times, which took a far harsher view of American films, particularly their negative impact, in the author's view, on the English language:

Their films have displayed to us a corybantic procession of cowboys buckjumping or dashing over the prairie, sinister 'dagoes' with six-shooters sticking out of their hip-pockets, police 'captains' administering the 'third degree' to cowering 'yeggs,' 'elevators' elevating 'bell-boys' to the xth floor of 'sky-scrapers,' 'vamps' on the way in 'automobiles' to 'beauty parlours' or to 'the Van Schuyler home' 'on' Riverside Drive....

‘American Films’, Times, 10 February 1926, p. 12.

Philistine that I am, this was my first encounter with the word 'corybantic'.

I now try to fit it into conversations whenever possible, though the opportunities are rather few and far between.

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