By Ken Bloom
We drive to a movie theater, plunk down $10 and hope for the best. Nothing special in a world in which we’re assaulted with downloads, streaming, cable TV, DVDs, apps and myriad other ways to watch movies on screens ranging from 40 feet to four inches across.
But back in the day when the movies were a brand new art form, it was exciting to watch it all grow from nickelodeons to makeshift theaters—wherever a sheet could be hung and folding chairs could provide the seating. Purpose-built theaters followed, and soon motion pictures became an industry.
You’ll feel as if you were there thanks to Harbinger Records’ fascinating new release, Let’s Go In to a Picture Show--an album that captures that glorious era when silent motion pictures swept the country.
The words in the title, one of the CD’s 26 tracks, tell us a lot. Today we just say we’re going to the movies, but to “Go In to a…” movie…that’s different. It suggests an occasion to be relished, and listening to the songs on our album, all of them written and recorded between 1907 and 1922, conjures up a vital part of the American Experience.
What kind of songs? As silent movies grew in popularity, it was a sure thing that Tin Pan Alley would jump on the bandwagon and come up with topical songs about going to the movies, as well as songs written for the movie scores played on everything from a single piano to a theater organ or a full orchestra.
Now, thankfully, these early recordings have been saved from obscurity. The titles are priceless, including “Chimmie and Maggie in Nickel Land,” “That’s a Real Moving Picture From Life,” “Those Charlie Chaplin Feet” and “Take Your Girlie to the Movies.”
That last one is perhaps the most significant, at least sociologically. Social mores were crumbling: For a nickel, a guy could take his girl to the movies, sit in the dark and “spoon”—that sounds innocent now, but what a thrill it must have been in 1919!
This collection has been a pet project for several years, ever since it was brought to me by Ron Magliozzi, curator of the department of film at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). We finally got it finished, and Ron’s presence and commitment make it a prestigious addition to our catalog.
He’s written a liner note for every song (and all lyrics are included in the 28-page booklet), offering delightful glances at then-current attitudes toward the cinema.
Prepare to enter another world…
In 1983, Grammy Award-winning musical theater historian Ken Bloom co-founded Harbinger Records, now a division of TMTP, with Bill Rudman.
HOW TO PURCHASE “LET’S GO IN TO A PICTURE SHOW, 1907-22”
Visit HarbingerRecords.com; available for order and download at Arkhiv.com and iTunes.
The Musical Theater Project's authors include Bill Rudman, Heather Meeker and Joanna May Cullinan - and guest writers from time to time!