The biggest-grossing Hollywood movie of 1923, The Covered Wagon, opened on this day ninety-three years ago. It was the first epic Western, and got the epic treatment, with a musical score and a 25-cent program (above). Read about it here and watch it here.
On this day in 1923 the musical comedy Runnin' Wild opened on Broadway. One of the musical numbers was "The Charleston," which launched the dance craze for which the Twenties are famous. 1925 piano roll. Things didn't trend quite so quickly ninety years ago: the Charleston was still going strong in 1927.
Views of the Twelve Storey Tower, in the Asakusa district outside Tokyo, before and after the Great Kanto Earthquake of September 1, 1923. This post is really just an opportunity to direct you to this excellent website about the quake.
Kegan Paul published the series of speculative essays To-Day And To-Morrow from 1923 to 1931. Each volume identifies an aspect of the modern (1920s) world and attempts to foresee how things will develop through the 20th Century. The books have a standard format: brown cardboard boards 6 3/8" tall and 4 5/8" across; labels pasted to the spine and front board; about 90 pages plus ten or twenty pages of ads for other volumes. Most of the books are titled according to the formula: X or the Future of Y, where X is a name from classical mythology and Y is the topic of the volume. In the pile above we have:
Achates or the Future of Canada, by W. Eric Harris.
"Canada's way to the future, then, is well defined. It is a path which leads to world service, within the Empire, and one of intimate co-operation with the United States in an endeavour to keep that influential and powerful nation working in co-operation with the Empire in the development of the peoples of the world, and in the promotion of world peace."
Cassandra or the Future of the British Empire, by F.C.S. Schiller.
"It is therefore by the way of financial influence and control that the political unification of the world can be brought about most easily and smoothly, though gradually, with a minimum of disturbance, violence and friction and with a maximum of peace and prosperity."
Hanno or the Future of Exploration, by J. Leslie Mitchell.
"The inevitable triumph of ballistics that will enable men to explore the lunar deserts may soon elsewhere uprear 'Upon the night's starr'd face/ Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance.'"
Lars Porsena or the Future of Swearing, by Robert Graves.
"To conclude, swearing as an art is at present in low water. National passion seldom runs high, invention is numbed, and there is no appeal of a politico-religious nature which will meet everywhere with the same respect. The only taboo strong enough to be worth breaking is the sexual one, and swearing shows every sign of continuing standardized on the basis of that for some time."
Lysistrata, Woman's Future and Future Woman, by A.M. Ludovici.
"The regeneration of man will immediately transform woman and her position; because, while her contempt for the male will vanish, she will recover both physically and spiritually that lost joy of looking up to her mate."
Morpheus or the Future of Sleep, by Professor D.F. Fraser-Harris M.D., D.Sc., F.R.S.E.
" A certain amount of legislation will be enacted in the near future in the interests of sleep, legislation exactly comparable with that we already have in the interests of pure air, pure food and proper drainage."
Achates was Aeneas' good and faithful friend. Cassandra had the power of prophecy, but nobody believed her. Hanno was an explorer. Lars Porsena swore by the Nine Gods in Macaulay's "Horatio at the Bridge". Lysistrata led a women's strike against the Peloponnesian War. Morpheus was the god of dreams.
A few passengers were standing there talking to the officer who had brought the records. The boat was already off the Sanuki coast. One of the passengers said to the officer, "Purser, which one of those mountains is the one with Kotohira Shrine on it?"
"It's that one there," said the officer, pointing. "It's supposed to resemble an elephant's head. Lord Kotohira on Elephant Head Mountain -- that's how they used to refer to the shrine in the old days, I'm told. You see that black patch on the side of the mountain? It looks pretty small from here, but when you get there you'll find that it's a big forest."
Four or five fishing boats, their sails taut, sped past over the indigo sea. The purser said that they were now about in the middle of the Inland Sea, where the tides from the east and west met as they came in and parted as they went out. "Next month will be even busier," he said, "when Zentsūji Temple has its festival."
Kensaku moved away from the group and went astern. There he sat down on a bench and looked at the line of mountains in the distance. There was a mountain on this side of the one the purser pointed at which seemed to Kensaku to have a much greater resemblance to an elephant's head.
The elephant, which has until now only shown its head, suddenly rises out of the ground. The people are thrown into a panic. Will this monster destroy all mankind, or will they find a way to destroy it? Soldiers, statesmen and scholars from all over the world gather together and rack their brains. Guns and mines won't do, for the elephant's hide is a hundred yards thick, and they would only scratch its surface. Trying to starve it would be useless, for it eats at fifty-year intervals. The more intelligent men say that so long as it is not annoyed it will do no mischief. Certain men of religion in India say that it is a god. But the great majority of men clamor for its immediate destruction, and are full of foolish ideas as to how this might be accomplished. The elephant begins to get angry.
Before he knew it, Kensaku himself had become the elephant, excitedly preparing for his one-man war against the world at large. He is in a city. Each time he stamps a foot, fifty thousand men are crushed to death. Guns, mines, poison gas, airplanes, airships -- all such ingenious devices created by man's intelligence are directed at him. He takes a deep breath, exhales through his long nose, and the airplanes, feebler than mosquitoes, fall to the ground; the airships float away helplessly like balloons. He draws up water into his nose and disgorges it, and there is a flood; he descends into the depths of the ocean and comes up suddenly, causing a tremendous tidal wave ...
"I hope the trip hasn't been too boring for you, sir. That over there is Tadotsu. We'll be arriving in about ten minutes." It was the purser. Little did he know that at that moment Kensaku was far from being bored.
Naoya Shiga, A Dark Night's Passing, pages 132-4. This novel was published in 1937, but most of it was serialized from 1921 to 1923, three decades before the first Godzilla movie; which only goes to show that everything was invented in the Twenties.
Buster Keaton's Our Hospitality opened ninety years ago today. It takes place ninety years before 1923, and features a velocipede, Stephenson's Rocket, and builds up to some really breathtaking stunts over a waterfall. Full movie.