Motion pictures, or the 'movies' as they are popularly called, are a development of the twentieth century. We can all remember when they were unknown; then a considerable period when they were exhibited in the vaudeville houses, always at the end of the programme—the good-night act; then the time, scarcely more than a decade ago, when little theatres began to crop out devoted exclusively to motion pictures, and charging an admission fee of only five or ten cents. At the present time it is almost safe to say that there is not a town of over five thousand inhabitants in the country without its motion-picture theatre, and in many sections the films are exhibited at least once a week in towns as small as one thousand. Various calculations have been made to determine the number of people who daily attend the movies in the United States, the figures ranging from an inside estimate of four million, to an outside figure of ten million. Even the smaller estimate is sufficiently impressive, but probably, in prosperous times at least, the higher is more nearly correct. Ten per cent of our population, then, are patrons of the motion pictures.
These facts, I am aware, have been stated over and over, to the point of weariness, and various interpretations put upon them, or deductions drawn from them. It has been pointed out, with truth, that the motion pictures, owing to their cheap price of admission and their extreme mobility, have added an entirely new source of amusement for small communities, where in the old days regular, or even, sometimes, occasional, dramatic entertainment was out of the question. It has also been pointed out that in the larger communities an individual, and more especially a family, can secure an evening of relaxation and entertainment much more frequently than before, because the head of a household, for example, can take his wife and three children to the movies for the price of one gallery seat at a regular playhouse. It has been still further pointed out that not only is the outlay smaller, but the return is more certain, and the sense of disappointment less, also, if the entertainment does not please. At the motion-picture theatre more than one drama is presented—often four or five. At least one of them is bound to please. Paying five times as much admission even to the top gallery, the patron of the spoken drama, in any town except the few large centres, is generally taking chances with an unknown play and unknown players. The smallest town, however, sees the same motion-picture players as the largest—there are no second companies in the film world. John Bunny and Mary Pickford 'star' in a hundred towns at once.