100 years ago

100 years ago, The Bioscope was relieved that a certain type of film was certain to be no more:

Indecency’s Decline and Fall

The indecent picture is departing, unwept, unhonoured, and unsung. It has been tried in the balance of public opinion, and has been found wanting. It has been adjudged by the general consent of the public to be “not what we want.” The great majority of manufacturers and showmen have known all along that clean amusement is what is wanted by that section of their patrons which really matters. They have relegated the questionable film to the zone of undesirables, and so, banned by the respectable frequenter of our great picture halls, and uncountenanced by the bulk of manufactuers and dealers simply because they respect public opinion, and themselves recognise the evil which would most assuredly be the result of its constant exhibition. The indecent picture is gradually disappearing. It is mortifying to think that the man whose sole mission on earth seems to be to pull the world down into the mire, should ever have found a place in the bioscope world. But it is gratifying to note that with the steady rise of this form of entertainment into the favour of the populance [sic], there arose men who were ready to give the people real healthy diversion, to minister to the man, not to the beast. The result we all know. It has been the big jump into popularity of the really elevating yet dramatic picture, a huge slump in the output of the low-down manufacturer, and a big increase in the number of patrons who are in search of a good, sensible form of recreation, for themselves and for their children, and who are willing to pay for it. Bioscope entertainments must necessarily have a big hand in the moulding or the marring of a country’s morals, and it behoves us as fellow-workers for the general good of all mankind, to all lend a hand in the work of stamping out this evil altogether and placing those dealers and manufacturers who are inclined to look on it with an encouraging eye, in their proper places – outside the bioscope business.

The Bioscope, 6 November 1908, p. 3.

How indecent did they mean by indecent? Pornographic films of every hue had been produced from practically the start of cinema, but these were really only encountered in ‘smoking concerts’, men’s clubs and brothels. Pathé kept films it described as Scènes grivoises d’un caractère piquant in its catalogue during the early 1900s, and there were companies like Austria’s Saturn Films (examples of whose output can be found on the Europa Film Treasures site) producing coyly erotic films, but these would not have made into the public halls and proto-cinemas of London at this period.

Yet clearly there were shows not reported by the film trade press whose existence threatened the reputation of the industry. Although some research has been done on early pornographic films, little written evidence remains, as might be expected. While one can speculate on what to read between the lines of this editorial piece, what is most striking about it is the sense of responsibility coming out of general popularity. “Bioscope entertainments must necessarily have a big hand in the moulding or the marring of a country’s morals … ” – that’s big claim for what was still a relatively small industry, albeit one just about to mushroom in size to a remarkable degree. The editor of the Bioscope evidently foresaw this, and the anguished debates over motion pictures and morality which were to follow – and which have remained with us, in one form or another, ever since.