Once upon a time, when people wanted to watch the news, they didn't press the remote and get CNN, MSNBC or Fox News Channel. They didn't even go to ABC, CBS or NBC. Instead, to see news events, they had to leave the house and go to a movie theater. There, they'd see the news -- several days old, to be sure, but news just the same.
Often, these newsreels would be part of an evening out at the theater, along with a short film, a cartoon, maybe a second feature (the type that became known in the industry as "B" pictures). So if you went to see Carole Lombard's latest film, chances are you'd also get a newsreel as part of your program.
However, in many large cities, there were theaters that solely showed newsreels in a continuous loop (quite a few companies issued them, and competition was fierce -- something satirized in the 1938 Clark Gable-Myrna Loy film "Too Hot To Handle"). Above is one of such theaters, the Trans-Lux on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, shown in January 1935 at about the time of its opening.
Today's entry deals with something that played in newsreel theaters and elsewhere, but was a slightly different take on the genre. It was called...
...oops, sorry, no. That's from Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (we've been doing more than a few entries relating to that movie lately). Actually, the "News On The March" sequence seen in "Kane" is a pretty good imitation of what we're going to discuss -- a series called...
..."The March Of Time." (That's the genuine article.) As different from conventional newsreels as its progenitor, Time magazine, was from other publications of the day, "The March Of Time" ran from 1935 to 1951, when increasing production costs, not to mention the rise of television, rendered it somewhat obsolete.
As early as the mid-1920s, not long after Time began publication in 1923, the pioneering newsmagazine had used the infant medium of radio for cross-promotion. "The March Of Time" began as a radio series in 1931, rehashing the past week's news with actors portraying personalities of the day. (Welles himself worked on the radio "March Of Time," as did future Mercury Theatre stablemate Agnes Moorehead and a young Art Carney.) In 1934, Time did a test run of a film version, was satisfied with the outcome, and it began in earnest the following year.
"The March Of Time" closely reflected the magazine's personality, going so far as to use Time's distinctive inverted sentence style; that was also parodied in "News On The March." (In 1936. the New Yorker's Wolcott Gibbs satirized the style: "Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind […] Where it all will end, knows God!")
But "The March Of Time" had substance to accompany its style. Unlike newsreels, it often focused on a single subject, bringing a deeper approach than usually seen on film. In 1938, it did a feature on life inside Nazi Germany that won plaudits, and it occasionally examined the American life and economy.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of "The March Of Time," and New York's Museum of Modern Art is honoring it with a 10-day exhibit that began Wednesday. A printed program on the exhibit can be found at http://www.hboarchives.com/marchoftime/86475March-moma%20booklet_H.pdf. A feature on the series is at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704147804575455494033046842.html?KEYWORDS=MoMA.
Can't make it to MoMA, or don't live near New York? No problem -- you've got the next best thing. Turner Classic Movies (part of the Time Warner media empire) is honoring the anniversary on Sunday. From 8 p.m. to midnight (Eastern), TCM in the U.S. is airing eight "March Of Time" episodes. True, it's a bit of a departure from usual TCM fare, but these ran in movie houses of the day along with the "one-reel wonders" and other filler TCM uses between features. Moreover, it's Sunday on a holiday weekend, when viewership tends to be relatively low.
* 8 p.m. -- “Dogs for Sale” (1937), “Dust Bowl” (1937) and “Poland and War” (1937)
* 8:30 p.m. -- “Inside Nazi Germany” (1938)
* 9 p.m. --“Show Business at War” (1943)
* 9:30 p.m. -- “Youth in Crisis” (1943)
* 10 p.m. -- “Palestine Problem” (1945)
* 10:30 p.m. -- “American Beauty” (1945)
* 11 p.m. -- “Problem Drinkers” (1946)
* 11:30 p.m. -- “Mid-Century: Halfway to Where?” (1950)
So, once again, to quote the slogan of stentorian narrator Westbrook van Voorhis, "Time -- marches on!"