Beyond the Screen: Institutions, Networks and Publics of Early Cinema

Beyond the Screen: Institutions, Networks and Publics of Early Cinema

Beyond the Screen: Institutions, Networks and Publics of Early Cinema

Beyond the Screen: Institutions, Networks and Publics of Early Cinema

Synopsis

The visionaries of early motion pictures thought that movies could do more than just entertain. They imagined the medium had the potential to educate and motivate the audience. In national and local contexts from Europe, North America, and around the world, early filmmakers entered the domains of science and health education, social and religious uplift, labor organizing and political campaigning. Beyond the Screen captures this pioneering vision of the future of cinema.

Excerpt

Marta Braun, Charlie Keil, Rob King, Paul Moore and Louis Pelletier

The roots of motion pictures exist as much in science and industry as in magic lantern shows and fairground exhibition. Indeed, the ultimate reputation of cinema as a medium devoted to entertainment was an eventual destination and not a foregone conclusion. in the novelty era – from its origins until around 1901 – cinema performed a range of functions: it provided its viewers with increased visual awareness of the natural world, access to remote corners of the globe, and immediate reports of pertinent events, both local and international. Even as it gained institutional status, cinema continued to be exploited for educational and civic purposes, and its reach extended beyond the four walls of the nickelodeon theatre to a wide variety of venues including churches, schools, department stores and charitable organisations. in such settings, from Dublin to Brussels, Quebec to Kyoto, cinema’s impact exceeded the narrow conceptual confines dictated by its primary role as purveyor of entertainment for the masses. Beyond the Screen: Institutions, Networks and Publics of Early Cinema seeks to illuminate the range of early cinema and the ways in which it influenced and intersected with realms beyond the world of entertainment. Whether deployed for medical training, enlisted by missionaries, or debated by lawmakers, cinema insinuated itself into a range of institutions, the collective force of which we still scarcely comprehend. This volume is an important step toward our understanding of how early cinema defined itself through institutional interconnections, within a network of intermedial exchange and to a series of publics united by their interest in cinema: it shows just how the variety of motion pictures’ aims and uses helped define the multi-faceted nature of the medium in its first decades.

Ironically, cinema’s potential as a medium of social effectivity found itself constrained by an American legal decision. in 1915, near the end of the early cinema period, a U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring moviemaking a “business, pure and simple” entrenched the film industry’s role as a producer of “harmless entertainment”. Together with the concurrent establishment of the feature film, the growth of the star system and the consolidation of production companies, this decision ensured that movies would become the primary form of commercial entertainment in the new century. Just prior to this moment, however, the possibilities available to film – to educate, to influence public policy, to explore the natural world – were as open as they would ever be again in the medium’s existence. the eleventh bi-annual Domitor conference held on the campuses of Ryerson University and the University of Toronto (13–16 June . . .

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