Aunt Jane's Nieces out West eBook: Page2

L. Frank Baum (2003)


  CHAPTER II

  AN OBJECT LESSON

  It was the following afternoon when Uncle John captured his casualacquaintance, Mr. Otis Werner, in the office of the hotel and dragged themotion picture man away to his rooms to be introduced to his nieces.

  "Here, my dears, is Mr. Werner," he began, as he threw open the door oftheir apartment and escorted his companion in. "He is one of thosepicture makers, you'll remember, and--and--"

  He paused abruptly, for Beth was staring at Mr. Werner with a frown onher usually placid features, while Patsy was giggling hysterically. Mr.Werner, a twinkle of amusement in his eye, bowed with exaggerateddeference.

  "Dear me!" said Uncle John. "Is--is anything wrong!"

  "No; it's all right, Uncle," declared Patsy, striving to control a freshconvulsion of laughter. "Only--this is the same dreadful manager whodragged us into his picture yesterday."

  "I beg your pardon," said Mr. Werner; "I'm not a manager; I'm merely whatis called in our profession a 'producer,' or a 'stage director.'"

  "Well, you're the man, anyhow," asserted Patsy. "So what have you to sayfor yourself, sir?"

  "If you were annoyed, I humbly apologize," he returned. "Perhaps I wasunintentionally rude to frighten you in that way, but my excuse lies inour subservience to the demands of our art. We seldom hesitate atanything which tends to give our pictures the semblance of reality."

  "_Art_, did you say, Mr. Werner?" It was Beth who asked this and therewas a bit of a sneer in her tone.

  "It is really art--art of the highest character," he replied warmly. "Doyou question it, Miss--Miss--"

  "Miss de Graf. I suppose, to be fair, I must admit that the photographyis art; but the subjects of your pictures, I have observed, are far fromartistic. Such a picture, for instance, as you made yesterday can havelittle value to anyone."

  "Little value! Why, Miss de Graf, you astonish me," he exclaimed. "Iconsider that picture of the falling wall one of my greatesttriumphs--and I've been making pictures for years. Aside from itsrealism, its emotional nature--'thrills,' we call it--this pictureconveys a vivid lesson that ought to prove of great benefit to humanity."

  Beth was looking at him curiously now. Patsy was serious and veryattentive. As Uncle John asked his visitor to be seated his voicebetrayed the interest he felt in the conversation.

  "Of course we saw only a bit of the picture," said Patsy Doyle. "What wasit all about, Mr. Werner?"

  "We try," said he, slowly and impressively, as if in love with histheme, "to give to our pictures an educational value, as well as torender them entertaining. Some of them contain a high moral lesson;others, a warning; many, an incentive to live purer and nobler lives.All of our plots are conceived with far more thought than you maysuppose. Underlying many of our romances and tragedies are moralinjunctions which are involuntarily absorbed by the observers, yet of sosubtle a nature that they are not suspected. We cannot preach except bysuggestion, for people go to our picture shows to be amused. If wehurled righteousness at them they would soon desert us, and we would beobliged to close up shop."

  "I must confess that this is, to me, a most novel presentation of thesubject," said Beth, more graciously. "Personally, I care little for yourpictures; but I can understand how travel scenes and scientific oreducational subjects might be of real benefit to the people."

  "I can't understand anyone's being indifferent to the charm of motionpictures," he responded, somewhat reproachfully.

  "Why, at first they struck me as wonderful," said the girl. "They weresuch a novel invention that I went to see them from pure curiosity. But,afterward, the subjects presented in the pictures bored me. The dramapictures were cheap and common, the comedy scenes worse; so I kept awayfrom the picture theatres."

  "Educational pictures," said Mr. Werner, musingly, "have proved afailure, as I hinted, except when liberally interspersed with scenes ofaction and human interest. The only financial failures among the host ofmotion picture theatres, so far as I have observed, are those that haveattempted to run travel scenes and educational films exclusively. Thereare so few people with your--eh--culture and--and--elevated tastes, yousee, when compared with the masses."

  "But tell us about _our_ picture," pleaded Patsy. "What lesson can thatfalling wall possibly convey?"

  "I'll be glad to explain that," he eagerly replied, "for I am quite proudof it, I assure you. There are many buildings throughout our largercities that were erected as cheaply as possible and without a singlethought for the safety of their tenants. So many disasters have resultedfrom this that of late years building inspectors have been appointed inevery locality to insist on proper materials and mechanical efficiencyin the erection of all classes of buildings. These inspectors, however,cannot tear the old buildings down to see if they are safe, and paint andplaster cover a multitude of sins of unscrupulous builders. Usually thelandlord or owner knows well the condition of his property and in manycases refuses to put it into such shape as to insure the safety of histenants. Greed, false economy and heartless indifference to the welfareof others are unfortunately too prevalent among the wealthy class. Noordinary argument could induce owners to expend money in strengthening orrebuilding their income-producing properties. But I get after them in mypicture with a prod that ought to rouse them to action.

  "The picture opens with a scene in the interior of a factory. Men, girlsand boys are employed. The foreman observes a warning crack in the walland calls the proprietor's attention to it. In this case the manufactureris the owner of the building, but he refuses to make repairs. Hisargument is that the wall has stood for many years and so is likely tostand for many more; it would be a waste of money to repair the oldshell. Next day the foreman shows him that the crack has spread andextended along the wall in an alarming manner but still the owner willnot act. The workmen counsel together seriously. They dare not deserttheir jobs, for they must have money to live. They send a petition to theowner, who becomes angry and swears he won't be driven to a uselessexpense by his own employees. In the next scene the manufacturer'sdaughter--his only child--having heard that the building was unsafe,comes to her father's office to plead with him to change his mind andmake the needed repairs. Although he loves this daughter next to hismoney he resents her interference in a business matter, and refuses. Herwords, however, impress him so strongly that he calls her back from thedoor to kiss her and say that he will give the matter further thought,for her sake.

  "As she leaves the office there is a cry of terror from the factory andthe working people come rushing out of the now tottering building. Thatwas when you two young ladies came walking up the street and were draggedout of danger by the foreman of the shop--in other words, by myself. Theowner's daughter, bewildered by the confusion, hesitates what to do orwhich way to turn, and as she stands upon the sidewalk she is crushed bythe falling wall, together with several of her father's employees."

  "How dreadful!" exclaimed Patsy.

  "Of course no one was actually hurt," he hastened to say; "for we useddummy figures for the wall to fall upon. In the final scene the bereavedfather suddenly realizes that he has been working and accumulating onlyfor this beloved child--the child whose life he has sacrificed by hismiserly refusal to protect his workmen. His grief is so intense that noone who follows the story of this picture will ever hesitate to repair abuilding promptly, if he learns it is unsafe. Do you now understand thelesson taught, young ladies?"

  Mr. Werner's dramatic recital had strongly impressed the two girls, whileUncle John was visibly affected.

  "I'm very glad," said the little man fervently, "that none of my money isin factories or other buildings that might prove unsafe. It would makemy life miserable if I thought I was in any way responsible for such acatastrophe as you have pictured."

  "It seems to me," observed Patsy, "that your story is unnecessarilycruel, Mr. Werner."

  "Then you do not understand human nature," he retorted; "or, at least,that phase of human nature I have aimed at. Those indifferent rich m
enare very hard to move and you must figuratively hit them squarely betweenthe eyes to make them even wink."

  They were silent for a time, considering this novel aspect of the picturebusiness. Then Beth asked:

  "Can you tell us, sir, when and where we shall be able to see thispicture?"

  "It will be released next Monday."

  "What does that mean?"

  "It means that we, as manufacturers, supply certain agencies in all thelarge cities, who in turn rent our films to the many picture theatres.When a picture is ready, we send copies to all our agencies and set aday when they may release it, or give it to their customers to use. Inthis way the picture will be shown in all parts of the United States onthe same day--in this case, next Monday."

  "Isn't that very quick?"

  "Yes. The picture we took yesterday will to-night be shipped, allcomplete and ready to run, to forty-four different centers."

  "And will any picture theatre in Hollywood or Los Angeles show it?"

  "Certainly. It will be at the Globe Theatre in Los Angeles and at theIsis Theatre in Hollywood, for the entire week."

  "We shall certainly see it," announced Uncle John.

  When Mr. Werner had gone they conversed for some time on the subject ofmotion pictures, and the man's remarkable statement concerning them.

  "I had no idea," Beth confessed, "that the industry of making pictures isso extensive and involves so much thought and detail."

  "And money," added Uncle John. "It must be a great expense just toemploy that army of actors."

  "I suppose Mr. Werner, being a theatrical man, has drawn the long bow inhis effort to impress us," said Patsy. "I've been thinking over some ofthe pictures I've seen recently and I can't imagine a moral, howeverintangible or illusive, in connection with any of them. But perhaps Iwasn't observant enough. The next time I go to a picture show I shallstudy the plays more carefully."