Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1939: Decades of Promise and Pain

By David E. Kyvig | Go to book overview

5

Cinema and the Extension of Experience

Another important means of communication, unlike radio broadcasting, was not altogether new in the 1920s. Motion pictures did, however, change fundamentally during the decade. The addition of sound to on-screen images transformed the moviegoing experience. With 95 million movie tickets being sold each week by the end of the decade and movie attendence remaining very popular during the depression years that followed, cinema, like radio, had an enormous impact on American daily life. The combination of visual and aural images provided vivid multidimensional experiences that could be shared by a scattered mass audience. Movies, as much or more than radio, served to break down provincialism, increase awareness of the unfamiliar, and create a national community with a specific set of shared experiences.


THE RISE OF MOTION PICTURES

Nickelodeons

American enthusiasm for motion pictures began to take shape in the 1890s with the introduction of single-viewer Kinetoscopes and, in 1896, large-screen projection. Within a few years, middle-sized and large cities all had “nickelodeons,” a made-up word combining the price of admission with the Greek term for theater, offering fifteen- to twenty-minute programs composed of a potpourri of unconnected black-and-white scenes. Brief presentations of dancing, travel scenes, speeding locomotives, historical recreations such as the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots, or the raising of an American

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