REVIEW of REVIEWS

Delves for Movie Plots

Reader for Movies Devours All Kinds of Fiction Material.

RUTH SAPIN October 1 1926
REVIEW of REVIEWS

Delves for Movie Plots

Reader for Movies Devours All Kinds of Fiction Material.

RUTH SAPIN October 1 1926

Delves for Movie Plots

REVIEW of REVIEWS

Reader for Movies Devours All Kinds of Fiction Material.

RUTH SAPIN.

WHENEVER the subject of the moving pictures is under discussion the comment is about the

same. It is freely admitted that the photography shown in the cinema is excellent; that the directors who are responsible for our movie entertainment present us with Ossia on Pelion of wonders; that, once in a while, the celluloid theatre exhibits an example of something like fine acting—But, why, oh why, don’t the movie people get hold of good stories?

The confessions of a woman whose business it is to read endless works of fiction with an eye to their suitability for screen treatment is, therefore, interesting. Ruth Sapin, in the Nation, thinks that this business of helter-skelter reading makes for commonsense and veracious criticism. This is what she has to say about a certain type of English novel:— There is, for instance, the matter of the English lady novelists. By a lady novelist I mean the type of novelist of which A. S. M. Hutchinson is the supreme example. (Many men are lady novelists, though the class, particularly in England, is largely female.) They are forever solving problems. Somewhere in Chekhov’s correspondence he writes to a friend— to Maxim Gorki, I believe—concerning the solution of a question and the correct setting of a question in a novel or play: “The latter alone is obligatory for the artist. In ‘Anna Karenina’ not a single problem is solved. But it satisfies completely because all the problems are set correctly.” The English lady novelist, since she is incapable of profound thought about the problems she tackles, cannot possibly set her questions correctly. When she gets into a hole she brings in a vicar, or a layman who should have been a vicar. He either converts or is converted and, presto, a burning question is solved!

She finds the American “popular” novel more refreshing but, by and large, does not think that her perusal of every kind of possible screen material is productive of a great deal of good.

American novelists who write for the popular magazines are fortunately free of this preoccupation with problems. They set out rather to write a “strong” love story. What they have to say of love is unimportant. What they possess of literary background is negligible. But “the great open spaces” of America do something to redeem them. Here is a person who does know what it means to be lost in a snowstorm in the Canadian

From the New Books

“In Youth, the gulf between truth and reality seems impassable, but it narrows with the years till we cannot see where the division has been.”

“Youth revolts against convention, but with maturity comes the rediscovery and re-establishment of every platitude.”

“A few summers and winters, terms and holidays; the years have raced you, and you are middle-aged, and your children are not your children, but members of the world’s community, almost as lost to you as if they had died.”—From “Return to Bondage,” by Barbara Blackburn (Seeker).

“There is a time for all things, and a mood among others when from the flutter of Shelley’s wings in the void one may turn with relief back to these generations of our fathers who passed urbane, human, self-possessed lives without thinking or needing to think that life consists in running to a fire. The peace of the Augustans is not desolation. Belief in reason is not a curse, nor all frenzies fine, nor all intuitions true.”—From “Authors Dead and Living,” by F. L. Lucas.

Rockies. Here is another who has lived through a forest fire. And a third who has been brought up in a part of the country where corn and cattle are more important (and really more interesting) than people. The jaded movie reader travelling up and down in the subway is suddenly storm tossed in a fishing schooner off Cape Cod. When she gets to her typewriter and starts to make a synopsis of the story she has probably forgotten both characters and plot. But the schooner or the corn country or the Rockies sticks in her mind long after the supposedly “strong” part of the story has vanished from memory.

The movie reader, dealing with even the “significant” novels long before they are reviewed or lectured about, has an excellent vantage point from which to judge professional comment as it comes along. This year John Masefield wrote an adventure story called “Odtaa.” Now “Odtaa” on numerous counts failed to be more than a fair story. Yet most of the reviewers, who read one adventure story to a movie reader’s fifty, hailed it as a masterpiece. When they had finished describing it as a remarkable adventure story they began on its poetic qualities and lyric fervor. In behalf of unknown Tom Smith and John Jones whose adventure stories come and go without a word of notice from the reviewers, I must confess that I found as much lyric fervor in their novels as in Masefield’s and considerably better construction, suspense, and ingenuity of incident.

Recently Arthur Schnitzler’s “Beatrice,” new to America, though it was written some thirteen years ago, was published here. Since the novel deals with the erotic problems of a middle-aged woman the reviewing seems to have been turned over chiefly to young men. The result was that a second-rate novel that is no more like Schnitzler at his best than Schnitzler is like Zane Grey was heralded as a “penetrating analysis” of the soul of a woman, “a work of compelling truth.”

Of these thousands of short stories and novels read in the course of a year (over five thousand were read in the office I know most about, the titles including works in foreign languages as well as in English only about twenty-five are purchased. Despite the fanfare that goes with a movie sale, the novels and stories purchased represent such a tiny proportion of the total number written that it is hardly worth a writer’s while (especially if he has not a celebrated name to sell) to concern himself very much with what he imagines the movies “want.”

What happens to the material once it is purchased is another matter. The vicious are made virtuous (virtue now, more than ever, is a commodity that is priceless in the movies), the virtuous are altered out of all semblance to the selves that once lived in the pages of a book. But at least it is a hopeful sign that the large motionpicture concerns plow the entire field of current fiction (and even paying out petty cash for the plowing, the job costs money) in an endeavor to turn up new and fresh material. The literati may sneer at the movies; the movies don’t sneer at the literati. If an author meets their needs of the moment the captains of the industry care not whether he be alive or dead, whether he be German, American or Hottentot, whether his name be Ibanez or Sabatini, or Sholom Asch or Oliver Onions.

And so I read them all—from the featherweight opus written by a frivolous American flapper to the powerful soulsearching of a sad Scandinavian. Perhaps I am not an ant; perhaps I am that figure beloved of the movies—Cinderella sitting by the embers. But the prospect of ever becoming a princess would fill me with horror. Eor being a cynical Cinderella, I know that movie princesses must work like horses—while I read peacefully by the fire, ragged, ignored, pettily paid, but infinitely amused.