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  • Writer's pictureHenry K. Miller

Monday 3 April

Lydia Lopokova and Léonide Massine begin a four-week engagement at Covent Garden Opera House, described by Kevin Jackson, in Constellation of Genius, as ‘a number of trifling pieces at Covent Garden’.

What Jackson does not mention is that these were part of part of Walter Wanger’s season: Massine and Lopokova came on after the film, at this point Theodora, an Italian epic with an American star that Walter Wanger had cut down in order to accommodate the dance. Conducted by Eugene Goossens, whom Wanger had retained, the programme included a pastiche of Viennese waltz music and Stravinsky’s Ragtime. Stravinsky and Diaghilev were opposed to the idea. ‘I am warning you in a friendly spirit’, Stravinsky wrote Goossens from Paris, but Massine had paid for the rights from his publisher. ‘Composer or no composer, “Ragtime” is going to be shown to-morrow night,’ Wanger was reported as saying, and so it was.

Commentary from the Bystander, 19 April 1922

A taste of the modernists’ antipathy to the movies may be found in a review of the occasion published in the New Statesman by the paper’s music critic W. J. Turner, also the literary critic of the Daily Herald, under the title ‘The Modern Spirit’. Turner tried to miss the film, but caught the end of it, and wondered ‘what were the feelings of the audience that had come to see this super-film when Massine and Lopokova came on and danced, or, rather, mimed with stiff, clock-work exaggerated gestures and with a curious sophistication, to the emotionless, bizarre, intellectual grimaces of Stravinsky’s music’.

Lopokova and Massine performing 'Ragtime'

Some laughed: ‘the transition from the warm human, palpitating, all-conquering love – “Delay not! I have a tryst to keep” [a dialogue title from the film] – to the inhuman, mechanical, sex-sophistication of the Stravinsky jazz was too much for them’. Film was of the old world, Stravinsky embodied the new one, and his audience, ‘those who are most vitally independent and most characteristic of this age’, believe ‘neither in the brotherhood of man, the redemption of the world by love, nor the reality of progress’, all of which Turner believed were characteristic of the movies.

‘They cannot seriously believe that their individual efforts are going to make any serious impression on the universe, therefore those works of art in which the value of man’s struggles with himself, his environment and his fellows, are glorified, leave them cold.’

In this sense, Hitchcock too was a modernist, or would be, on occasion, as in Psycho and The Birds; but it would be some time before this could be acknowledged, and it is an unanswerable question whether he saw himself as one.


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