Jean-Claude SEGUIN


Le Cinématographe

Saint-Louis, dans le Missouri, fait partie des villes qui reçoivent le cinématographe au début de l'année 1897. Ce n'est pas pour autant que les habitants ne sont pas informés de l'arrivée dès le mois de juin du cinématographe à New York (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Saint-Louis, 28 juin 1896, p. 1). Ce qui est sans doute le plus remarquable avant même que le nouvel appareil des Lumière n'arrive dans la ville, c'est un article très long qui lui est consacré, mais il ne s'agit pas du tout d'une présentation de type technique, mais bien plus d'une longue réflexion sur les dangers de sa possible omniscience. Le cinématographe peut ainsi, aux dires du journaliste, devenir l'adjuvant des policiers ou des femmes trompées par leur mari. Il s'agit d'un texte étonnant et savoureux accompagné en outre de deux illustrations qui parlent d'elles-mêmes : 

Oh, what are people coming to ?
And what will these inventors do,
What else to make us sigh of laugh?
Here comes a man -Lumiere, by name–
Who puts his rivals all to sham
By what he calls–
The fancy palls–
The wondrous cinematographe.

By means of wires stretched near and far,
He pictures you just as you are,
And throws your image on a screen,
Where all can see it, night or day,
Though you’re a thousand miles away,
And wouldn’t, for the world be seen.

Oh, what’s the use
To heap abuse?
‘Tis just as well to joke and chaff,
For if you foam,
The boys at home
Will give you still the horsey laugh.

When you go prowling ‘round about,
And raise the Romans with your shout,
And whoop ‘em up till early morn,
The chances are your wife has seen
Your actions through this great machine,
And when you stagger home, forlorn,
And try to make the old excuse,
She’ll say” “You goose,
It is no use–
Let this occasion serve to warn.
If with those men
You’re seen again,
I’ll make you wish you’d ne’er been born!

Time rolls on, as the amateur orator said at the commencement banquet, and wonders never crease.
Men can hear each other talk through 3,000 miles of space. By means of the X-ray a man can examine the workings of this diaphragm, and behold the gyrations of his stomach and liver, while those pugilistic organs are engaged in deadly combat. By means of an invention to which no name has yet been given, a lover can stand on the outside of a house with a 9-inch wall and see his rival bugging his best girl, or a mischievous young man can cause the girl across the street no end of embarrassment at bedtime.
All these are wonderful things to be sure, fit to be classed among the crowning glories of the Nineteenth Century, but here comes a genius with a plethora of brains, Lumiere, by name, who threatens, by means of a new and devilish device, to disrupt the peace not only of communities and commonwealths and nations, but of the world.
It is the cinematograph.
It is an electrical contrivance, by means of which a scene on Broadway, New York, for example, can be transferred, even to the slightest detail, to a canvas in St. Louis. The picture is as true as though the objects were reflected in a mirror, and the figures are seen moving, just as though a person were looking at the street itself, instead of at a reproduction on canvas.
A cinematographe has been on exhibition in Boston for two or three weeks, and during that time it has not only interested thousands of people, but has furnished the police department a piece of valuable information.
One of the best views shown last week was that of a scene on the great bridge at Hamburg, showing pedestrians, electric cars and other vehicles hurrying along, and a train of cars pulling out from the nearest station.
Among those present were a well-known business man of Boston and his wife, who have been intensely interested in the workings of the cinematographe.
In the Hamburg Bridge picture they are sure they detected among the passing pedestrians the figure and features of a former resident of a town near Boston, who has been missing from his home for several years, under a cloud.
The gait of the man in the cinematographe picture was so natural that the gentleman almost cried out his name in surprise at seeing him.
The police are now investigating the matter and there will be an interesting sensation if the man is located.
Where will this thing stop?
What man is safe?
The inventor of the cinematographe is an enemy of the public peace.
He is worse than an Anarchist.
He strikes at the very foundation of personal liberty.
He would place every man under the ban of suspicion.
He would separate trusting wives and fickle husbands and sweethearts who had “loved not wisely but too hundred well.” He would make every woman a doubter and every man a slave.
In this connection an interesting story is told of a young wife in North St. Louis.
She had heard of the wonders of the cinematographe, and although she could not pronounce the name, she determined to learn more about it.
When the first instrument of the kind was brought to St. Louis last week she was one of the first to make inquiry concerning it.
That morning her husband left the city to go to New York, he claimed, on urgent business. She had reason to believe, however, that he would stop at Terre Haute, Ind., where they used to live, to pay his devoirs to a dashing young widow of his acquaintance, and daily with her instead of breaking his neck to get to New York.
Accordingly she determined to see for herself, and made arrangements with the cinematographe people for a private exhibition.
Connections were made with Terre Haute, and the next night the anxious young wife was on hand to behold the proof of her liege lord’s infamy.
She got it, good and plenty.
It was as plain as day. There was her giddy husband and close beside him the dashing widow. They smiled and smiled and looked sweet things at each other, and probably said them, only the picture didn’t show that, and the young wife screamed with jealous rage and had a fit right there.
After a turbulent scene she was sent home in a carriage. The next morning she sent a telegram to her husband at Terre Haute, in care of the widow, but received no reply.
The husband is still at large. When he returns home an extra detail of police and probably an undertaker’s wagon will be needed at his residence, but as yet he is in blissful ignorance.
In case of this sudden and violent death the affair may be attributed directly to the deadly cinematographe.
And this is liable to happen to any man who allows indiscretion to master his brains.
Suppose, for example, a man should rise in the morning with a look of subdued deviltry in his eye and say to his wife:
“My dear, some of the boys in our ward are arranging for a big banquet to be given to the Hon. Jason Goodthing, after the election and I am on the executive committee. I’ll be out late to-night, as we must finish up the details, and I may not get home till morning. Don’t worry on my account, dear. These things only come once in four years.”
But suppose the wee wife should have ideas of there own, and she should rush off to a cinematographe parlor, with a view of testing her husband’s truthfulness.
And suppose the manager, at her request, should turn his machine on the Olympic Theater or the Hagan, and she should there behold her hubby, nestled down in the parquet like the low-browed villain that he is, alongside of Miss Birdie Dashaway of Miss Bessis Outosight or some other damsel who has no lawful claim on his affections.
What then?
Or suppose, by means of this all-powerful contrivance, she should discover him behind the screen at Faust’s sipping champagne with and indulging in labial gymnastics with Miss Olga Leathersole or some other member of the theatrical profession, in strict violation of his marital vows.
What then?
Or suppose she could locate him in a bar-room, whooping ‘em up with the boys and squandering his wealth in riotous living, when only that morning he had sworn that he was unable to buy her one of those new Li Hung Chang jackets on account of the hard times.
What then?
Or suppose she should find him on the banks of the River des Peres or the Gasconade, fishing little and drinking much, and having a large, joyous and juicy time with other husbands, who had deceived their long-suffering wives.
What then? Can it be supposed for a moment that those wives, singly or collectively, would allow such offenses to go unpunished?
Nay, nay. There would be trouble, deep, dark and distressing, and sorrow would settle down like a pall on their several households. The divorce courts would have to work overtime, and the peace of the nation would be imperiled, for no man, in the light of such revelations, would be above suspicion.
These are only a tithe of the uncomfortable truths which might be divulged by this infernal machine. A young woman might use it to shadow her lover, who has given her his word of honor that he never drinks, and detect him in the very act of enveloping a succulent stein or an invigorating Manhattan. A girl in East St. Louis might turn it on Tamale Town, on this side, and see her sweetheart disporting himself […] exhilarating but reprehensible manner, and the next time he called there would he trouble. In fact, there seems to be no end to the uses to which the cinematographe can be put, every one of them dangerous to the peace of the individual and a menace to the community.
On the other hand, there are possibilities that it may be turned to practical and legitimate use, as in the case of Boston. Chief Desmond is taking a deep interest in the workings of the machine, and it is not unlikely that one will be leased or purchased by the Police Department.
By means of it he hopes to locate Noble Shepard, Kid Carroll and other bold marauders and murderers, who have shed human gore and then had the temerity to leave town without giving Bill their address and asking him to write soon.
Chief Desmond has a “hunch” that Sheppard is in Belleville and that entire settlement, inch by inch, will be reflected on a huge canvas to be placed in the basement of the Four Courts. If the double murderer is in Belleville he will certainly be captured.
In like manner Kansas City will be portrayed, and if Kid Carroll is there, as is supposed, he will be commanded to quit his kiddin’ and surrender.
There are others whom the bold sleuth hopes to get a squint at by the same means and if he is successful the cinematographe will not have been invented in vain.
Desmond also has another scheme on hand, which, if successfully worked, will save much war and tear of the morals of the members of his department.
Instead of sending eight or ten of his sleuths to patrol the West End, where burglaries have been of nightly occurrence for several weeks, he will have them take turn about managing the cinematographe. By this means his men can sit at the Four Courts and sweep the entire West End, as with a search light, and when burglars are discovered in the act of looting a house in Vandeventer place, for example, the nearest police station can be notified, and officers can be dispatched to the scene in a jiffy, and catch the offenders red handed.
It is a great scheme. The entire police force is all worked up over the possibilities in sight, and the time may come when every man on the force, armed with a cinematogaphe, can sit in a warm room in the winter time and detect a fight in progress four blocks away. He can then rush out and quell the disturbance with a few vigorous swings of this club, which he might not be able to do if he were frozen half to death.
There is no telling where it will all end. Some day, perhaps, mind reading will become as common as laughter. Even the grave will give up its secrets, and dead men will tell as many tales as their active brothers.

St Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, 1 novembre 1896, p. 25

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St Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, 1 novembre 1896, p. 25