Americanizing the Movies and "Movie-Mad" Audiences, 1910-1914

Americanizing the Movies and "Movie-Mad" Audiences, 1910-1914

Americanizing the Movies and "Movie-Mad" Audiences, 1910-1914

Americanizing the Movies and "Movie-Mad" Audiences, 1910-1914

Synopsis

This engaging, deeply researched study provides the richest and most nuanced picture we have to date of cinema--both movies and movie-going--in the early 1910s. At the same time, it makes clear the profound relationship between early cinema and the construction of a national identity in this important transitional period in the United States. Richard Abel looks closely at sensational melodramas, including westerns (cowboy, cowboy-girl, and Indian pictures), Civil War films (especially girl-spy films), detective films, and animal pictures--all popular genres of the day that have received little critical attention. He simultaneously analyzes film distribution and exhibition practices in order to reconstruct a context for understanding moviegoing at a time when American cities were coming to grips with new groups of immigrants and women working outside the home. Drawing from a wealth of research in archive prints, the trade press, fan magazines, newspaper advertising, reviews, and syndicated columns--the latter of which highlight the importance of the emerging star system--Abel sheds new light on the history of the film industry, on working-class and immigrant culture at the turn of the century, and on the process of imaging a national community.

Excerpt

Are you an imitation American?
HERBERT KAUFMAN,
Cleveland Leader (20 August 1911), C2

This book can be read as a companion to The Red Rooster Scare: Making Cinema American, 1900–1910 (University of California Press, 1999), since it takes up some of the latter’s claims and arguments and extends them into the early 1910s. It argues, for instance, that the Americanization process—specifically, the concerns about constructing a distinctive American national identity— continued to frame early cinema’s institutionalization as a popular mass entertainment, particularly if certain categories of spectators formed its core audience—namely, recent working-class immigrants, women (especially young working women), and children. It also argues that early cinema, as a mass entertainment, has to be conceived in terms that reach beyond the production of film texts and their promotion in the trade press to focus on distribution and exhibition practices, as well as regional or even local discursive traces of their promotion and reception.

Yet this book differs from the earlier one in that its analyses are shaped by several related theoretical constructs. The initial impetus came from Benedict Anderson’s notion of a new kind of “imagined community,” the nation, that emerged through “the interaction between a system of production and productive relations (capitalism), a technology of communication (print), and…a general condition of irremediable linguistic diversity.” Specifically, Anderson focuses on “the novel and the newspaper” as forms of “print capitalism” that fostered a national consciousness in the nineteenth century by creating “unified fields of exchange and communication,” giving “a new fixity to language,” and, in turn, giving certain languages—for instance, English—more power. As a corollary to his provocative framework, this book focuses on moving pictures as a new technology of communication, one that epitomizes the general transformation at the turn of the last century that produced a more or less unified arena of exchange and communication in-

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