Hollywood in the Neighborhood

Hollywood in the Neighborhood: Historical Case Studies of Local Moviegoing

Edited by KATHRYN H. FULLER-SEELEY
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 290
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnvjn
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  • Book Info
    Hollywood in the Neighborhood
    Book Description:

    Hollywood in the Neighborhoodpresents a vivid new picture of how movies entered the American heartland-the thousands of smaller cities, towns, and villages far from the East and West Coast film centers. Using a broad range of research sources, essays from scholars including Richard Abel, Robert Allen, Kathryn Fuller-Seeley, Terry Lindvall, and Greg Waller examine in detail the social and cultural changes this new form of entertainment brought to towns from Gastonia, North Carolina to Placerville, California, and from Norfolk, Virginia to rural Ontario and beyond. Emphasizing the roles of local exhibitors, neighborhood audiences, regional cultures, and the growing national mass media, their essays chart how motion pictures so quickly and successfully moved into old opera houses and glittering new picture palaces on Main Streets across America.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94022-2
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. PART I: Introduction: Setting the Contexts

    • 1 INTRODUCTION: Researching and Writing the History of Local Moviegoing
      (pp. 3-19)
      KATHRYN H. FULLER-SEELEY and GEORGE POTAMIANOS

      Variously termed the new film history, film exhibition history, moviegoing history, local film history, historical reception studies, audience history, or the cultural and social context of moviegoing, innovative approaches to cinema history are some of the most vibrant and exciting aspects of media studies done in the past twenty years. These new research initiatives move outward from a primary focus on films as texts toward considerations of the contexts of their production, distribution, exhibition, and reception by viewers in particular times and spaces and more broadly to analyze the many meanings motion pictures assumed in popular culture and the social...

    • 2 DECENTERING HISTORICAL AUDIENCE STUDIES: A Modest Proposal
      (pp. 20-34)
      ROBERT C. ALLEN

      In his review of scholarship on the history of American cities, Timothy Gilfoyle notes that American urban historiography remains stubbornly “Gothamcentric.” Applied to film history, I would argue,Gothamcentrismrefers to the related tendencies to place the metropolis at the center of historical narratives of moviegoing and to encourage the assumption that patterns of movie exhibition and moviegoing found there can be mapped to a greater or lesser degree upon smaller cities and towns in all parts of the United States at any given moment in the history of American cinema.¹ The privileging of the metropolitan experience of the movies...

  4. PART II: Origins: Case Studies

    • 3 THE ITINERANT MOVIE SHOW AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM INDUSTRY
      (pp. 37-52)
      CALVIN PRYLUCK

      Everyone seems to know of the itinerant movie show, but no one seems to know very much. Yet scattered evidence suggests that a study of the touring movie show may help answer the question implied forty years ago when Mae Huettig asserted: “Without an understanding of the intensity and suddenness of the demand for movies, much of the history of the industry is incomprehensible.”¹

      There are reasons why the evidence on touring movie shows has not been assembled previously. In the first place, it is hard to locate; road shows do not leave a dense paper trail. Data have to...

    • 4 EARLY FILM EXHIBITION IN WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA
      (pp. 53-74)
      ANNE MOREY

      The growing literature of film exhibition studies emphasizes the variety of means by which film became established in the United States. Scholars now agree that while New York City, for one, was extremely important to the development of exhibition practices, it does not by itself represent the national picture; New York diverges from provincial patterns both in its continuous exposure to projected film from 1896 onward and in its particular blend of film and vaudeville. Conversely, as Gregory Waller has argued of Lexington, Kentucky, provincial cities might evince a desire to emulate big-city cosmopolitanism while simultaneously viewing some of the...

    • 5 BUILDING MOVIE AUDIENCES IN PLACERVILLE, CALFORNIA, 1908–1915
      (pp. 75-90)
      GEORGE POTAMIANOS

      In 1899, residents of the village of Placerville, California (population 2,600), packed the opera house for a chance to see their first moving picture exhibition. Over the next few years, itinerant film exhibitions drew sizable audiences in the small town. Assuming that the early success of moving picture shows in Placerville meant that the new entertainment had a loyal audience, in 1907 the owner of the local opera house provided a regular program of moving pictures every Tuesday. Less than a month later, a lack of attendance forced the opera house to discontinue its weekly film program. The following year,...

    • 6 CINEMA VIRTUE, CINEMA VICE: Race, Religion, and Film Exhibition in Norfolk, Virginia, 1908–1922
      (pp. 91-104)
      TERRY LINDVALL

      At the turn of the twentieth century, Norfolk, Virginia, a small but rapidly developing city, received and appropriated the moving picture craze for its own civic purposes. Film exhibition addressed issues of religion and race as relevant constructs in the emergence of alternative community centers. In Norfolk, the realms of race, Protestant religion, and popular culture were continually renegotiating the parameters of film exhibition. In 1900, Norfolk was a growing city of the “New South,” busy with its oyster trade, cotton commerce, and railway expansion, erasing its reputation as “that decrepit victim of the slave power, poor old imbecile granny.”²...

  5. PART III: Integration and Variations: Case Studies

    • 7 THE MOVIES IN A ″NOT SO VISIBLE PLACE″: Des Moines, Iowa, 1911–1914
      (pp. 107-129)
      RICHARD ABEL

      At the turn of the last century, Richard Ohmann writes, the new mass magazines assumed Iowa, like much of America’s so-called heartland, was not worth representing, “not a visible place.”¹ It was no different in the early trade press devoted to motion pictures. During the height of the nickelodeon period, to be sure,Moving Picture Worldsingled out “Des Moines men” for eagerly taking up “the latest hobby”: running “moving picture shows.”² Otherwise, Iowa and its capital city drew little or no attention, and neither would be worth mentioning by July 1916, in theWorld’s special issue on the history...

    • 8 DIGGING THE FINEST POTATOES FROM THEIR ACRE: Government Film Exhibition in Rural Ontario, 1917–1934
      (pp. 130-148)
      CHARLES TEPPERMAN

      When London’s branch of the Ontario Vegetable Growers Association met one January evening in 1917, it was treated to a novel feature of the province’s information apparatus. “Vegetable Growers See Work in Movies,” proclaimed theLondon Advertiser, which went on to describe an audience with both earsandeyes wide open: “Grow More Potatoes at Home Is Advice of Expert.” The unnamed film showed farmers in Ontario maximizing their yield of onions, tomatoes, celery, and lettuce, as well as the aforementioned potatoes:

      The pictures were taken under the direction of the Ontario Government for educational purposes in order to teach...

    • 9 AT THE MOVIES IN THE ″BIGGEST LITTLE CITY IN WISCONSIN″
      (pp. 149-166)
      LESLIE MIDKIFF DEBAUCHE

      In December 1916, an editorial in theStevens Point Gazettechallenged the city to take action: “If there is one thing Stevens Point needs more than anything else right now it is a thoroughly organized, aggressive commercial or advancement association.” The reason? “It is the modern city’s business to advertise itself, to let outside people know what it has, to invite outside capital to come in{ ... }and it is time that Stevens Point was in a class with other progressive cities in this respect.”¹ Stevens Point, located on the Wisconsin River and served by the Soo Line, was a...

  6. PART IV: Maturity and Crisis in the 1930s: Case Studies

    • 10 IMAGINING AND PROMOTING THE SMALL-TOWN THEATER
      (pp. 169-185)
      GREGORY A. WALLER

      The 200-seat Llamarada Theater in Hilltown, Indiana, unquestionably stands as one of the most well-documented small-town movie theaters of the early 1930s. Owned and operated by a locally born and raised man who had been exhibiting films in Hilltown since the nickelodeon era, the state-of-the-art Llamarada was built in 1930 and managed to remain solvent throughout the Depression and independent despite the efforts of regional theater chains to dominate exhibition in the Midwest. From existing records, we know a good deal about the size and makeup of the Llamarada’s staff, the managerial and programming policies of its owner-operator, and, most...

    • 11 ″WHAT THE PICTURE DID FOR ME″: Small-Town Exhibitors’ Strategies for Surviving the Great Depression
      (pp. 186-207)
      KATHRYN H. FULLER-SEELEY

      For more than twenty-five years, “What the Picture Did for Me” (“WPDFM”) appeared weekly in theMotion Picture Herald (MPH), the largest trade journal for American film exhibitors. But it was not the voice of a random cross section of the nation’s 17,000 movie houses; it was written by a more specialized group—operators of the 10,000 theaters in small towns. The overwhelming majority of the column’s contributors were independent theater owners who operated 200- to 500-seat houses in towns of 5,000 or fewer people. Most of these small-town exhibitors were in the Midwest, Plains, and Mountain states; others were...

    • 12 ″SOMETHING FOR NOTHING″: Bank Night and the Refashioning of the American Dream
      (pp. 208-230)
      PAIGE REYNOLDS

      During the 1930s, Americans flocked to the cinema, hoping to escape for a few hours the devastation and drudgery of the Great Depression by watching gangster films, lavish musicals, and feel-good comedies likeIt Happened One Night(1934). Even as the economy faltered, 60 to 75 million people attended the movies every week, and Americans spent the majority of their entertainment expenses on filmgoing.¹ Despite the enduring popularity of film, individual movie theaters and chains were reeling during this tumultuous decade from the increased competition among themselves for the public’s limited entertainment dollars. Consequently, both independent and studio theaters across...

  7. PART V: Looking Backward, Looking Forward

    • 13 BAD SOUND AND STICKY FLOORS: An Ethnographic Look at the Symbolic Value of Historic Small-Town Movie Theaters
      (pp. 233-249)
      KEVIN CORBETT

      Most film studies research focuses on film-as-text. Of the relatively little film theater research there is available, much of that tends to focus on architecture and/or economics. These approaches gloss over or all but ignore the audiences who go to see films and value the experience on a symbolic and cultural level. If the analysis of film audiences represents just a fraction of the film studies canon, then theethnographicanalysis of film audiences represents just a fraction of that fraction. This is unfortunate because certain issues can be explored effectively only by engaging real moviegoers in conversations about their...

    • 14 CONCLUSION: When Theory Hits the Road
      (pp. 250-262)
      RONALD G. WALTERS

      Let us imagine a theory about popular culture as a fancy new car, perhaps a European import—sleek, appealing, complex, its inner workings unfathomable to the layperson. In its natural habitat, the dealer’s showroom, it is perfect and self-contained, a universe of imagination and desire. We buy it. Then we take it on the road. Imperfections appear: dings, rattles, and the inevitable breakdown. It depreciates. New models arrive, promising more. The cycle begins again.

      In making this analogy, I am not declaring myself against theory, as Walter Benn Michaels and Steven Knapp urged colleagues in literary studies to do in...

  8. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 263-266)
  9. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 267-270)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 271-276)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 277-277)