From the beginning of cinema, for argument sake, let’s say 1905 is the birth of cinema. France, Germany, England, Italy, and Russia all produced entertaining, if not, great movies over the next fifteen years. But, it was America that the world took to its heart and its pocketbook. Why? There have been all sorts of socio-economic and political reasons that have been put forth by experts in many fields. I would like to offer one more possible explanation that can be summed up in one word, but I feel it’s safer if I save it to the very end of these musing, lest you think I’m a crackpot if I were to give it without the proper context.
Let me start with the ancient Greeks, some 3,500 years ago. In a little town a few miles outside out the city of Athens where the most famous religious festival first started: The Eleusinian Mysteries. The central theme involved the story of Demeter, the Goddess of Grain and Harvest, and her daughter Persephone. Enamored with her daughter, Hades, the god of the underworld kidnaps the maiden and makes her queen of his dreary domain. When Demeter found out her grief was so great that she caused grains to cease growing all over the world causing great hardship for mankind. The rest of the gods got together and with Demeter’s entreaties were able to persuade Hades to return Persephone to her mother for six months a year. For the other six months she returned to Hades. This was all based on how many pomegranate seeds that she ate. (Fortunately for us, she wasn’t too hungry and only ate six). From this compromise the basic divisions of the seasons were created.
But what does this have to do with American movies being so popular you might ask? First, let me explain about the Eleusinian Mysteries. Actually, the core revelation of its ritual remains a mystery to this day, whatever occurred was said, to give each initiate a cathartic experience. Anyone who participated in these rites was sworn to secrecy under pain of death.
What we do know, that hundreds of people made a procession to the site were to take place. Before they entered, they made an offering in the form of coins and in return were given some food and drink to take with them while they waited for the rights to commence. We believe the food consisted of some form of leavened bread, while the drink was made from some grains or perhaps wine and other ingredients. (The food and drink were similar given to Christians and their religious rites). They were shown to their seats and ate and drank in anticipation of what they were about to experience. Torches were dimmed and the drama with its secrets began. The Eleusinian Mysteries lasted over 2,000 years until they were finally destroyed in 396 A.D. These rights were so powerful and popular, that they ultimately spread through-out the Roman Empire.
One of the keys of the Eleusinian Mysteries that will shed light on the question I first raised, involves the story of Triptolemus who was taught the art of cultivation by Demeter by herself. This well known story was a significant part of the rites because we find paintings over several centuries giving Tripolemus gain seeds and an ear of corn which he is holding up while sitting on a winged chariot.
We now come to the conclusion of the link between the Eleusinian Mysteries and the popularity of American movies. All you have to do is put it together. What happens when you go to the movies? Answer: You first make an offering which today seems more and more like a sacrifice! Next, you get some food and beverage and enter a virtual cave which seems to be getting smaller and smaller and wait for the story or rite to begin just like they did in the ancient days in Greece.
Still don’t get it?- Why American movies have some much world wide appeal even today. Think Demeter, goddess of grains; remember what Ol’ Triptolemus was holding up in his hand.