Movies Way Back When: A Bad Influence?

Movies Way Back When: A Bad Influence? title=
Image: Intertitle from “The Primitive Lover” (1922)
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By Betsy J. Green

The silent movies with their one-sentence subtitles (intertitles) were having a bad in­fluence on written communication, ac­cording to an opinion piece in the local paper penned by Santa Barbara writer Sarah Redington in January 1917.

“The mov­ies have ruined the gentle art of letter writing. How in the world will the ris­ing generation (boys and girls who get all their ideas of life from the doings of film favorites) have any opportunity of learning how to keep up a friendly correspondence? . . . When it comes to the writing on the screen, the shorter the better, is the rule . . . Why write real letters when our film favorites get on perfectly well by writing telegraphese? . . . Let us not allow the movies to kill correspondence.”

Betsy's Way Back When book -- 1919 -- is now available in local bookstores and at This is the sixth book in her series of the history of Santa Barbara, one year at a time. Learn more at​.
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RHS Jan 17, 2021 09:58 AM
Movies Way Back When: A Bad Influence?

What a good reminder of how the older class protects its experiences as basic to civilized life. The purpose of writing is to communicate. In the silent films these subtitles did a fair job of that. Without them each actor would probably have had to mime each role (of course some did anyway). But the sky did not fall simply because folks learned to be concise in their written word. As much as I find texting uncomfortable I accept that it is just another way to share.

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