We cannot be much interested in, or much moved by,
the things we do not see. Of public affairs each of us sees very little, and
therefore, they remain dull and unappetizing, until somebody, with the makings
of an artist, has translated them into a moving picture. Thus the abstraction,
imposed upon our knowledge of reality by all the limitations of our access and
of our prejudices, is compensated.
Not being omnipresent and omniscient we cannot see much of what we have to
think and talk about. Being flesh and blood we will not feed on words and
names and gray theory. Being artists of a sort we paint pictures, stage dramas
and draw cartoons out of the abstractions.
A “clear” thinker is almost always a good visualizer. But for that same
reason, because he is “cinematographic,” he is often by that much external and
For the people who have intuition, which is probably another name
for musical or muscular perception, often appreciate the quality of an event
and the inwardness of an act far better than the visualizer. They have more
understanding when the crucial element is a desire that is never crudely
overt, and appears on the surface only in a veiled gesture, or in a rhythm of
Nevertheless, though they have often a peculiar justice, intuitions remain
highly private and largely incommunicable. But social intercourse depends on
communication, and while a person can often steer his own life with the utmost
grace by virtue of his intuitions, he usually has great difficulty in making
them real to others. When he talks about them they sound like a sheaf of mist.
For while intuition does give a fairer perception of human feeling, the reason
with its spatial and tactile prejudice can do little with that perception.
Therefore, where action depends on whether a number of people are of one mind,
it is probably true that in the first instance no idea is lucid for practical
decision until it has visual or tactile value. But it is also true, that no
visual idea is significant to us until it has enveloped some stress of our own
personality. Until it releases or resists, depresses or enhances, some craving
of our own, it remains one of the objects which do not matter.
Pictures have always been the surest way of conveying an idea, and next in
order, words that call up pictures in memory. But the idea conveyed is not
fully our own until we have identified ourselves with some aspect of the
picture. The identification, or what Vernon Lee has called empathy, may be
almost infinitely subtle and symbolic. The mimicry may be performed without
our being aware of it, and sometimes in a way that would horrify those
sections of our personality which support our self-respect.
In sophisticated people the participation may not be in the fate of the hero,
but in the fate of the whole idea to which both hero and villain are
essential. But these are refinements. In popular representation the handles
for identification are almost always marked. You know who the hero is at once.
And no work promises to be easily popular where the marking is not definite
and the choice clear. But that is not enough.
The audience must have something to do, and the contemplation of the true, the
good and the beautiful is not something to do. In order not to sit inertly in
the presence of the picture, and this applies as much to newspaper stories as
to fiction and the cinema, the audience must be exercised by the image.
there are two forms of exercise which far transcend all others, both as to
ease with which they are aroused, and eagerness with which stimuli for them
are sought. They are sexual passion and fighting, and the two have so many
associations with each other, blend into each other so intimately, that a
fight about sex outranks every other theme in the breadth of its appeal. There
is none so engrossing or so careless of all distinctions of culture and
The sexual motif figures hardly at all in American political imagery. Except
in certain minor ecstasies of war, in an occasional scandal,...to speak of it
at all would seem far-fetched...But the fighting motif appears at every turn.
Politics is interesting when there is a fight, or as we say, an issue. And in
order to make politics popular, issues have to be found, even when in truth
and justice, there are none,--none, in the sense that the differences of
judgment, or principle, or fact, do not call for the enlistment of
[Footnote: Cf. Frances Taylor Patterson, Cinema Craftsmanship, pp. 31-32.
“III. If the plot lacks suspense: 1. Add an antagonist, 2. Add an obstacle, 3.
Add a problem, 4. Emphasize one of the questions in the minds of the
But where pugnacity is not enlisted, those of us who are not directly involved
find it hard to keep up our interest. For those who are involved the
absorption may be real enough to hold them even when no issue is involved.
They may be exercised by sheer joy in activity, or by subtle rivalry or
But for those to whom the whole problem is external and distant,
these other faculties do not easily come into play. In order that the faint
image of the affair shall mean something to them, they must be allowed to
exercise the love of struggle, suspense, and victory.
In order then that the distant situation shall not be a gray flicker on the
edge of attention, it should be capable of translation into pictures in which
the opportunity for identification is recognizable. Unless that happens it
will interest only a few for a little while. It will belong to the sights seen
but not felt, to the sensations that beat on our sense organs, and are not
We have to take sides. We have to be able to take sides. In the
recesses of our being we must step out of the audience on to the stage, and
wrestle as the hero for the victory of good over evil. We must breathe into
the allegory the breath of our life.