Academic journal article Film & History

Movie Roadshows: A History and Filmography of Reserved-Seat Limited Showings, 1911-1973

Academic journal article Film & History

Movie Roadshows: A History and Filmography of Reserved-Seat Limited Showings, 1911-1973

Article excerpt

Movie Roadshows: A History and Filmography of Reserved-Seat Limited Showings, 1911-1973 Kim R. Holston. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Publishers, 2013. $65.00. viii, 374 pp.

According to Kim Holston, a roadshow was "a film in any genre exhibited as a reserved-seat, or hard ticket attraction playing twice a day in one theater during its initial run in selected markets, i.e., the larger cities" (3). That anyone should venture to write a history of this phenomenon indicates just how much a thing of the past it has become. And that surely is to be regretted, as the roadshow was, above all, an exercise and an experience in showmanship. It made going to the movies a special event, a prestige occasion akin to the legitimate theatre, from which the term roadshow actually comes. As movie roadshows hit their stride in the decades after the Second World War, they became what the author calls a "type" of film, often characterized by epic storytelling, widescreen presentation, a running time that justified an intermission, the sale of souvenir programs, and symphonic musical scores in surround stereo.

Ask anyone old enough to recall a "reserved-seat" movie from direct experience, and that person is likely to name a film such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) or The Sound of Music ( 1965)-in other words, an example drawn from the heyday of roadshows. One of the merits of Holston's book is its demonstration that the roadshow goes back almost to the beginning of film; indeed the roadshow was interwoven with the history of the feature-length film for more than a half-century. Holston cites as the first roadshow an Italian adaptation of Dante called L'inferno (1911), which indicates the international dimension of U.S. roadshow exhibition.

Approximately two-thirds of Holston's book consists of a detailed filmography of roadshows spread out over eight chapters. The first two focus on the silent era and include titles such as D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1914) and Intolerance (1916), the Lon Chaney version of The Phantom of the Opera (1925), and the original film version of Ben-Hur (1925). A chapter on the early talkies takes matters from Don Juan (1926) to Gone with the Wind (1939). The Second World War saw a downturn in roadshows in favor of more widely exhibited patriotic fare, but an upsurge occurred immediately thereafter with titles such as The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948). The pace picked up dramatically in the 1950s, especially as widescreen formats such as Cinerama and Todd-AO became an almost obligatory feature of hard-ticket movies. This was the era of Around the World in 80 Days (1956), The Ten Commandments (1956), and South Pacific (1958); it climaxed with William Wyler's Ben-Hur (1959). For the author, though, the 1960s represented the "golden age" of roadshows, including El Cid (1961), Cleopatra (1963), My Fair Lady (1964), Doctor Zhivago (1965), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). …

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