Magazine article Metro Magazine

Watching Films: New Perspectives on Movie-Going, Exhibition and Reception

Magazine article Metro Magazine

Watching Films: New Perspectives on Movie-Going, Exhibition and Reception

Article excerpt




Albert Moran and Karina Aveyard begin their book by invoking one of the most cited sequences in cinema: the eponymous hero of Sullivan's Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941) sitting among a group of hapless men from a Depression-era chain gang, watching a movie and laughing at the antics on screen. The power of this moment is an epiphany for Sullivan--and for us, the audience of Sturges' film. It is a potent reminder that even those in the media industry (academics, filmmakers, teachers) began as members of the audience.

Despite the 'enhanced cinematic sophistication' that Moran and Aveyard attribute to O Brother, Where Art Thou?--the Coen brothers' 2000 homage to Sturges--in my experience the concept of 'audience' is not always considered by filmmakers.

And while it is certainly sometimes a feature of academic cinema studies, in film theory there can be a lack of focus on the viewing public. Yet in 1928, an American film exhibitor said: 'The motion picture theatre is the most representative building in many communities and probably entertains within its walls more persons than repair to any other.' In a similar vein, a British commentator said in the 1930s: 'The neighbourhood cinema had come to assume a place in the life of the community analogous to those other prime foci of leisure time activities, the church and the pub.' Both then and now, what we come together to watch illuminates some of our most pervasive values.

The editors attempt to redress this imbalance in Watching Films: New Perspectives on Movie-going, Exhibition and Reception. The title is obviously something of a catchall, and this is reflected in the book itself--which, as Richard Maltby says in his foreword, 'focuses less on the form and content of films and instead explores their circulation and consumption, and [...] considers the cinema as a site of social and cultural exchange'. It's a very broad topic, to be sure--one that allows for a wide-ranging series of findings, deliberations and interpretations. So broad, in fact, that it is difficult to identify any one 'notion' or unifying theme in the book. The editors seem to be aware of this and, to provide some structure, they group the essays into five 'parts', each with four or five chapters. The framing device they employ is to pose four questions: Who watches films? Under what circumstances? What consequences and affects follow? And what do these acts of consumption mean? These questions then evolved into the book's five parts: 'Theoretical Perspectives', 'The Film Industry --Systems and Practices', 'Movie Theatres--From Picture Palace to the Multiplex', 'On the Margins' and 'Just Watching Movies?' Some of these categories are self-explanatory, while others might seem a little vague or general. In fact, within the chapters is a great deal of detailed research--and often quite esoteric subject matter.

Therein lies the rub. While this volume deserves a place in any university library, it is hard to imagine many individuals who would be interested in all of its contents--which range from the use of movie-star personalities to promote films in 1920s America, to reflections on newsreel audiences in Newcastle upon Tyne, to film distribution in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, to cinema culture in Antwerp in the mid-twentieth century, to film guilds in Scotland's Flighlands, to a study of popular genres in Italy.

That being said, it is actually a rewarding experience to go on this sociocultural ramble, not least because of the mini oral histories contained within many of the chapters. Film buffs will be fascinated by Kathryn Fuller-Seeley's story of the Vitagraph and Biograph girls--the two Florences, Florence Turner and Florence Lawrence, respectively--and by Moran's account of popular American films in the 1940s through the prism of prominent thinker Barbara Deming. …

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