10 Feb 1923 – The New Novel

A new critic of literature has advanced to join the army which already exists, a critic from the allied kingdom of the movies. Rudolph Valentino,–actor, artist, dancer, and now author,–has called attention to a different horizon for the novel in an article in the Bookman. Valentino’s ideas are not from the stereotyped mould designed for an interview with any given “star” (leaving blanks for name and sex). He offers some interesting and constructive suggestions. One of these is that authors for the screen must write better literature,–startling doctrine from a “movie man”! The average literary critic looks upon the scenario writer as on a lower rung in the anthropological ladder and on the actor as a mechanical if “artistic” mimic  who follows his director’s instructions as far as they are printable. The actor turns on the scenario writer in self-defense, and both combine to denounce the critic. The real trouble is deeper than the vicious circle. What is needed for the normal, healthy development of the moving pictures is good fiction of a distinctive type. It must have, besides dramatic possibilities, “color” and good delineation of character. Great novels of the past have been  unearthed, revamped, and set before the public as “super-productions”. Myths have been blended into history to make a film character of Robin Hood. “Eugenie Grandet”, rechristened “The Conquering Power,” made a “gripping  photo-drama”. But in all of these the character has appeared ready-made for the actor to interpret. The average scenario supplies nothing more than the mechanics of the plot; the conception of the character is left entirely to the actor,  a task which is usually beyond his powers. A new school of writing must be developed, a literature written directly for the moving pictures not taken over and adapted to it. And the school is not without apt pupils. Ibanez has achieved success as a cinema author, where he failed as a writer of scenarios, pure and simple. Rafael Sabbatini has developed a new variation of the historical novel built around one interesting central character and his work is likely to find a second outlet in the movie world. But only the edges of  the new field have begun to be tapped. The “problem novel” has come, soon to depart without leaving many regrets. The cycle of screen literature has not yet revolved past the point at which action is the main requirement. But with action, Valentino and other critics have recognized the need of real literary value and true characterization.

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