Thursday, January 11, 2007

Friday Jan 11

The evening partially at home
& radio. Later went to a movie,
The Clinton, where I so often
go and I must mention once
in here, of that place where I
spend hours, going to a movie
is the best way to forget my troubles
for awhile,
It carries me away to a land
of enchantment where all
dreams are realized, where
every story has a happy ending.
I suffer with the heroes during
the plots and am happy with
them at the conclusions, Some
people go to this place of illusions
while their own beautiful dream is
still in process of development,
and others (soldiers of misfortune as
I would call them) who have played

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the game of love or some other (usually
the love game) which did not turn out
to their expectations, or utterly disappointed
and [are] ironically watching the picture
which in their pessimistic mind is nothing
Yes the movies are a great relief


Matt's Notes


I've been thinking about this entry ever since I transcribed it, and now I don't even know where to start. Film fanaticism is a defining trait for my mother, my sister and me, so reading this entry is like watching my own DNA get decoded and seeing the movie gene first express itself in the presence of flickering light.

I always like to think about the origins of seemingly self-evident ideas, so what I like most here is how novel the idea of cinema as escapism is to Papa, how he needs to work it out on paper and make a case for it. It's like reading an an optimistic position paper on the prospects of the Information Superhighway. His sincerity, too, is striking. Evocative phrases like "land of enchantment" and "house of illusions" remind me of the warmed-over sentiments we expect from Oscar presenters, but to Papa they're vital, fresh and original, so enchanted is he by the very act of sitting in a movie house.

But even while waxing poetic on cinematic diversions he's never quite diverted from his real concerns. On New Year's Eve he searched the crowds for lonely souls; so too does he evaluate his fellow moviegoers. Are their lives ahead of them, or are they broken by disappointment? Do they believe in happy endings, or do they sneer at them? Papa carefully strikes a balance for the record ("MY OPINION: SOME ARE AND SOME ARE NOT FICTION") but the very presence of this meditation shows how preoccupied he was with whether his own life was still beginning or starting to end. With all this churning in his head, I wonder if he's being ironic when he says "Yes the movies are a great relief."


Looks like Papa got his movie fixes at the Clinton Theater at 80-82 Clinton Street, around the corner from his apartment on Attorney Street. According to, The Clinton featured Yiddish vaudeville as well as movies and operated from around 1914 to 1950. It's now a store called Home Basics. A fan of old movie houses has a photostream over at Flickr that features The Clinton, so head over there if you want to see what the spot looks like now.

Papa doesn't mention the movies he saw that day, but my new best friend the New York Times Archive helped me cobble together a list of what was playing in town in January of 1924, including a few biggies. Here's what he had to choose from:

- The Temporary Husband
- The Great White Way
- West of the Water Tower
- Through the Dark
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame
- The White Sister
- Scaramouche
- Black Oxen
- Pleasure Mad
- The Ten Commandments (Papa must not have seen this -- I can't imagine that he wouldn't mention it in his diary if he had)
- The Courtship of Miles Standish
- Anna Chrystie
- Reno
- Under the Red Robe
- Let no man put asunder
- Lucretia Lombard
- The Humming Bird
- Unseeing Eyes
- The Man from Brodneys
- The Shepherd King
- The Covered Wagon
- The Acquittal
- The Steadfast Heart
- A Lady of Quality
- Don't Call It Love

Another Update:

Here's a 1938 article from the New York Times (subscription required; PDF) in which William Hays publicly acknowledges that, yes, American movies are officially escapist.

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