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Americanizing the Movies and “Movie-Mad” Audiences, 1910-1914

Americanizing the Movies and “Movie-Mad” Audiences, 1910-1914

Richard Abel
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 391
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  • Book Info
    Americanizing the Movies and “Movie-Mad” Audiences, 1910-1914
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93952-3
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. “L’Envoi of Moving Pictures” Motion Picture Story Magazine (February 1912)
    (pp. 1-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    This book can be read as a companion toThe 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...

  7. Chapter 1 American Variety and/or Foreign Features: The Throes of Film Distribution
    (pp. 13-44)

    Imagine that you are a young woman who has decided to join one of your store clerk or stenographer friends going to the movies after work in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, in the spring of 1913. On Sunday, May 4, you read theDes Moines Newsand know what programs will be playing in at least four moving picture theaters that next week.¹ On Tuesday, for instance, what are your choices? At the Casino (just opened in December) isPathé’s Weekly(a newsreel), Essanay’sThe Crazy Prospector,and Vitagraph’sCinders.At the Family, Bison-101’s two-reelThe Indian’s SecretandBilly’s...

  8. Entr’acte 1 Mapping the Local Terrain of Exhibition
    (pp. 45-60)

    In May 1911, the drama critic of theCleveland Leader,William Sage, felt compelled to write a special column on “moving-picture theaters.”¹ He not only acknowledged that “the public [was] talking about the picture-plays it sees just as it talks of the flesh-and-blood ones”—and a much “bigger section” of the public at that—but also admitted that he himself found them “vastly entertaining.” Three months later, in a second column, Sage amplified his remarks on this “personal side” of moviegoing and added a frank warning to “regular playhouses”: “Cleveland has one hundred and twenty [picture houses] and the weekly...

  9. Chapter 2 The “Usable Past” of Westerns: Cowboy, Cowboy Girl, and Indian Pictures, Part 1
    (pp. 61-84)

    In April and May 1911,Motion Picture Newsran a page titled “Film Charts” in which the Independent films released weekly in New York City were categorized into four “tracks.”¹ Two of those,dramaticandcomedy, had long been used by the new industry to broadly distinguish certain types of film product; a third,educational, was a more recent invention, born out of the general effort to “uplift” moving pictures, and included both fiction and nonfiction films. The fourth track,western, was the most specific and, in the handicapping metaphor of the charts, had entries that ran “the fastest kind...

  10. Entr’acte 2 Moviegoing Habits and Everyday Life
    (pp. 85-104)

    Certain practices first established by nickelodeons may have carried over into the early 1910s, even as moving picture theaters increased in size and status: lengthy hours of operation, relatively cheap admission costs, and more or less short variety programs that often changed daily. Yet new patterns of standardization and differentiation emerged to modify those practices (as chapter 1 has shown) and sometimes alter the habits of moviegoers, some of whom had grown up with the pictures, as kids attending nickelodeons, while others had been enjoying them for ten years or more. This entr’acte, consequently, addresses what Gregory Waller recently has...

  11. Chapter 3 The “Usable Past” of Westerns: Cowboy, Cowboy Girl, and Indian Pictures, Part 2
    (pp. 105-126)

    It was during this period that American companies first realized that they could successfully export films to Europe—and westerns turned out to be their most popular product. Perhaps this should not have come as such a surprise, given the extent to which images of the American West had long been familiar to Europeans, from the exhibitions of George Catlin in the 1840s to the initial tour of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in the late 1880s and early 1890s.¹ Jacques Portes, for instance, has explored French conceptions of American Indians as “the last remnants of a primitive humanity” and of...

  12. Entr’acte 3 A “Forgotten” Part of the Program: Illustrated Songs
    (pp. 127-140)

    Several years ago, in the pages ofCinema Journal,Ben Singer and Bobby Allen engaged in a spirited debate over the relationship between vaudeville and moving pictures during the transition from nickelodeons to larger moving picture theaters.¹ Sometimes, “Singer and Allen” even sounded like “dueling cavaliers” in a knockabout music hall routine. Each had a different take on the pros and cons, articulated in the trade press and elsewhere at the time, of mixing the two kinds of amusement within a range of New York City venues during the period 1908–12. Yet lost in their either-or debate was any...

  13. Chapter 4 The “Usable Past” of Civil War Films: The Years of the “Golden Jubilee”
    (pp. 141-170)

    On 21 April 1911, most US newspapers carried stories commemorating the beginning of “America’s Great Civil War” fifty years earlier. The editorial page of theDes Moines News,for instance, not only gave its readers a fact sheet of statistics on the men and money involved in the war but also excerpted accounts of the bombardment of Fort Sumter: one by a “northern wartime historian,” the other by the southern author ofThe Lost Cause(1867).¹ These were but the first of countless stories and other forms of commemoration that could be found in newspapers throughout what was called the...

  14. Entr’acte 4 Another “Forgotten” Part of the Program: Nonfiction
    (pp. 171-184)

    In the recreation surveys across the country in the early 1910s, children usually ranked comedies, westerns, and war films as their preferences among moving pictures. Yet they also often gave surprisingly high marks to nonfiction films, whether described as educational, instructive, scenic, or travel.¹ In San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, for instance, such films ranked third and fourth, respectively; in Providence, children in grades five through eight (with whose urging, one wonders) put them first. In her 1911 observations of moviegoers on New York’s Lower East Side, Mary Heaton Vorse even found an Italian youth in his early twenties, a...

  15. Chapter 5 The “Usable Present” of Thrillers: From the Jungle to the City
    (pp. 185-214)

    The words are Herbert Blaché’s, from a prominently displayed interview in theNew York Dramatic Mirror(February 1913), and his positions—vice president of the Gaumont Company in the United States, president of Film Supply, and soon to be cofounder of Exclusive Supply—made it easy to assume that, in his words, he “should know something about the American market for foreign films.” Nearly a century later, this kind of claim persists as a familiar trope in histories of early American cinema, even in Bowser’sThe Transformation of Cinema, 1907–1915,where one can find this sentence: “Pathé Frères and...

  16. Entr’acte 5 Trash Twins: Newspapers and Moving Pictures
    (pp. 215-230)

    The fictional young woman who introduced chapter 1 could have been imagined reading a newspaper and deciding where to go to the movies in any number of cities other than Des Moines in the spring of 1913. In Lynn, she could have been a shoe factory worker perusing the frequent ads in theDaily Itemfor four major downtown moving picture theaters or arguing with friends over the advice about current pictures in “The Critic’s Comment” column published every Saturday. In Toledo, she could have been a salesgirl reading either the special Saturday page published by theBladefor “Practical...

  17. Chapter 6 “The Power of Personality in Pictures”: Movie Stars and “Matinee Girls”
    (pp. 231-256)

    In early 1913, moviegoers from Des Moines or St. Paul to Toledo, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh could have paused, reading their local Scripps-McRae newspaper, and looked more closely at a story signed by Gertrude Price and headlined “Stunning Mary Pickford.” The story would have heartened those who agreed that Pickford had “probably the largest following among feminine moving picture players,” would have amazed even those who did not know that the former “Biograph girl” was taking in a salary of $10,000 a year, and would have disheartened nearly all with the news that she was quitting the movies—yet not for...

  18. NOTES
    (pp. 257-350)
    (pp. 351-356)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 357-373)