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Audiences: Defining and Researching Screen Entertainment Reception

Edited by Ian Christie
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    Book Description:

    This timely volume engages with one of the most important shifts in recent film studies: the turn away from text-based analysis towards the viewer. Historically, this marks a return to early interest in the effect of film on the audience by psychoanalysts and psychologists, which was overtaken by concern with the 'effects' of film, linked to calls for censorship and moral panics rather than to understanding the mental and behavioral world of the spectator. Early cinema history has revealed the diversity of film-viewing habits, while traditional 'box office' studies, which treated the audience initially as a homogeneous market, have been replaced by the study of individual consumers and their motivations. Latterly, there has been a marked turn towards more sophisticated economic and sociological analysis of attendance data. And as the film experience fragments across multiple formats, the perceptual and cognitive experience of the individual viewer (who is also an auditor) has become increasingly accessible. With contributions from Gregory Waller, John Sedgwick and Martin Barker, this work spans the spectrum of contemporary audience studies, revealing work being done on local, non-theatrical and live digital transmission audiences, and on the relative attraction of large-scale, domestic and mobile platforms.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-1505-9
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Editorial
    (pp. 7-8)
    Ian Christie, Dominique Chateau and Annie van den Oever
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 9-10)
    Ian Christie
  5. Introduction: In Search of Audiences
    (pp. 11-22)
    Ian Christie

    That the audience is essential for film seems to have been understood for over a century. One of the earliest and best known accounts of attending a picture show, published by Maxim Gorky in 1896, spoke of visiting “the kingdom of shadows” and described the effect upon him of seeing those silent, gray ghosts.¹ Something more provocative than street scenes and baby’s breakfast would be needed, he predicted, if this was going to find “its place in Russia’s markets thirsting for the piquant and the extravagant.” Using oral history and other sources, Luke McKernan’s account of the development of London’s...

  6. PART I Reassessing Historic Audiences

    • “At the Picture Palace”: The British Cinema Audience, 1895-1920
      (pp. 25-34)
      Nicholas Hiley

      Despite the assumptions of most film historians, the medium of film does not depend upon a mass audience. Research into the pre-history of moving pictures has clearly demonstrated that much of the technical impetus behind the development of film came not from entertainers, but from scientists eager to record and analyze natural motion. Even without the intervention of showmen or lantern lecturers it is evident that both film cameras and peepshow viewers would have appeared around 1895, as tools by which scientists could record and reconstitute movement in the laboratory. It is also apparent that in time these scientific devices...

    • The Gentleman in the Stalls: Georges Méliès and Spectatorship in Early Cinema
      (pp. 35-44)
      Frank Kessler

      Obviously, one should say “the lady and the gentleman in the stalls.” As feminist research on spectatorship during the early years of living pictures, by scholars such as Miriam Hansen, Lauren Rabinovitz and Heide Schlüpmann, has demonstrated, women constituted an important, if not the major part of the audience at the turn of the last century.¹ Indeed, to take just one example from the earliest years of the new medium, among the spectators depicted on posters advertising theCinématographe Lumièrewe see numerous women seated among the spectators. However, when the French film historian Georges Sadoul, in hisHistoire générale...

    • Beyond the Nickelodeon: Cinemagoing, Everyday Life and Identity Politics
      (pp. 45-65)
      Judith Thissen

      Few topics in American film history have generated more controversy than the question of who went to the movies during the crucial years that the cinema established itself as a national mass medium and the movies became one of the most enduring expressions of American culture. By 1910, millions of Americans were fervent moviegoers. How did these early audiences shape the history of American cinema? And how did the cinema shape their lives? In the opening decade of the 20th century, the United States was still a nation of immigrants. Were the movies a vehicle for diffusing Anglo-Protestant values and...

    • Cinema in the Colonial City: Early Film Audiences in Calcutta
      (pp. 66-80)
      Ranita Chatterjee

      Standard histories of “Indian cinema” suggest that the coming of sound in 1931 fragmented a previously homogenized national audience for the cinema in India – a moment that thereby arrested the rise of the large pan-Indian industry and divided the so-called national audience for “Indian cinema ” into separate linguistic groups.² However, as the quotation above suggests, from the manager of the Globe Theater, one of Calcutta’s elite cinemas, this conceptualization of a large, undivided “Indian” audience in 1927 was essentially a myth. This essay explores the emergence of cinema in the city of Calcutta, one of the two key film...

    • Locating Early Non-Theatrical Audiences
      (pp. 81-95)
      Gregory A. Waller

      What we mean by the “non-theatrical” is historically specific, since the parameters, visibility, circulation, and significance of this largely overlooked aspect of cinema vary over time and from place to place. This essay examines the practice of American non-theatrical cinema in the mid-1910s, that is, well before the widespread adoption of safety film and portable projectors and any appreciable use of film in the classroom. It predates also the appearance of field-specific publications likeEducational Screen(1922) andBusiness Screen(1938), and the emergence of a range of distributors focusing on the non-theatrical market. Much more than is the case...

    • Understanding Audience Behavior Through Statistical Evidence: London and Amsterdam in the Mid-1930s
      (pp. 96-110)
      John Sedgwick and Clara Pafort-Overduin

      The two characters involved in this monologue are fictional, yet they represent to our minds a plausible account of a decision-making process involving a middle-aged couple from a working-class household deciding to go to the cinema, at a particular place, and moment in time. It is interesting to note that the main feature film on the program is not named in the monologue – it is as if the film were a backdrop to the accoutrements of the cinema and its paid attendants. Indeed one could consider that the main attraction for the two was tobacco for Mr. Smeeth and confectionery...

  7. PART II New Frontiers in Audience Research

    • The Aesthetics and Viewing Regimes of Cinema and Television, and Their Dialectics
      (pp. 113-127)
      Annie van den Oever

      I want to propose that the twin mechanisms of automatization and de-automatization offer a useful way of grasping what John Ellis described as television’s and cinema’s “radically different” aesthetics and viewing practices.² “Automatization” proves to be a helpful concept to lay bare how television’s standardized aesthetic creates a viewing regime in which the technology of the medium is largely overlooked by viewers.³ To understand the relevance of this, it should be noted that traditional aesthetics and art theory have mostly been interested in theextraordinaryviewing experience, and rarely in what we might call the automatized viewing experience. This disregard...

    • Tapping into Our Tribal Heritage: The Lord of the Rings and Brain Evolution
      (pp. 128-142)
      Torben Grodal

      A longstanding discussion within the humanities has been whether culture is shaped by universal laws and perennial ideas, or whether it is in fact strongly historical. A central issue for both views has been language. In the heyday of Structuralism in the 1960s scholars such as Claude Levi-Strauss, Algirdas Greimas, Tzvetan Todorov and Gérard Genette tried to find universal grammars and universal discursive features in storytelling and mythmaking. The structuralist endeavor was in several respects fruitful, providing some basic tools to describe narratives. However, its language-based idea of grammar-like linguistic structures at the basis of storytelling was – in hindsight – problematic...

    • Cinephilia in the Digital Age
      (pp. 143-154)
      Laurent Jullier and Jean-Marc Leveratto

      This chapter aims to identify and make explicit the characteristics of contemporary cinephilia in Western societies. In a context of increasing globalization – culturally conveyed by cinema, among other media – cinephilia is not an exclusive characteristic of Western societies. It is a behavior that has been facilitated by growing urbanization (Morin, 1953; Bourdieu, 1979), by a higher standard of living (Bakker, 2006), and by the normalization of leisure. It thus develops, in parallel with a national film production, as cities grow and huge megalopolises flourish in what were, until recently, non-industrialized countries. A cogent illustration is the way cinephiles now associate...

    • Spectator, Film and the Mobile Phone
      (pp. 155-169)
      Roger Odin

      Digital is now at the center of all discussions within the film industry. How does digital change the means of producing and directing films? What new opportunities does it offer to filmmakers? What business models does it imply? And will digital 3D become the norm? It also focuses the essential issues in theoretical discussions. Does digital radically change the identity of cinema, or does it merely push to the limit the combinatory logic that was present from the outset?² Does it modify the ontological relationship of film to the world and to humanity?³ Does it lead to a loss of...

    • Exploring Inner Worlds: Where Cognitive Psychology May Take Us
      (pp. 170-184)
      Tim J. Smith and Ian Christie

      Tim Smith researches visual cognition through a variety of techniques that capture what subjects do when they watch naturalistic visual scenes. Although much research into scene perception uses static visual scenes, he is interested in how we process dynamic visual scenes, including feature films. Using techniques such as tracking the eye movements of viewers watching film sequences in combination with behavioral probes during and after viewing, he investigates the cognitive processes occurring during film viewing. His research has contributed to a computational model of fixation durations in scene viewing (Nuthmann, Smith, Engbert, & Henderson, 2010),¹ and he has proposed an...

  8. PART III Once and Future Audiences

    • Crossing Out the Audience
      (pp. 187-205)
      Martin Barker

      What does audience research have to teach us about the relations between cinema and other cultural traditions (theater, literature, etc)? How do its findings query the claims made by other less empirical approaches to the issues raised by adaptations and cross-overs? In this essay I draw on three projects that, among those I have been involved with across more than twenty years, have produced especially relevant evidence. But I begin and end with some critical reflections on the dominant ways in which this issue has been framed within film studies.

      The question of the relations between watching films, and watching...

    • The Cinema Spectator: A Special Memory
      (pp. 206-217)
      Raymond Bellour

      I begin from a simple hypothesis, but one involving infinite detours: the lived, more or less collective experience of a film projected in a cinema, in the dark, according to an unalterably precise screening procedure, remains the condition for a special memory experience, one from which every other viewing situation more or less departs. This supposes a certain rule of faith of which the spectator would be the incarnation, in the unfolding of a liturgy associated with film, with cinema, and with film in the cinema situation.

      I wrote “remains the condition,” because the distinctive reality of this experience – more...

    • Operatic Cinematics: A New View from the Stalls
      (pp. 218-224)
      Kay Armatage

      Full disclosure: I am an opera novice. I was lured in by Canadian Opera Company productions directed by cinema luminati – Atom Egoyan, Francois Gerard, Robert LePage – and then I bought season tickets, as it seemed to me the best entertainment value going. But with a few exceptions such asLa BohèmeandSalome,I’m seeing every opera for the first time; and I have learned that there are lots of them.

      When “Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD” performances began transmitting via satellite into movie theaters in 2006, I was in the front seats for the whole season. I have to...

    • What Do We Really Know About Film Audiences?
      (pp. 225-234)
      Ian Christie

      In 2009, the UK Film Council commissioned the first of two studies intended to go beyond conventional film industry research, to explore more fundamentally what film “means” to the population at large. The first of these called for an attempt to define and measure the “cultural impact” of film;¹ and this was followed two years later by an inquiry into the “contribution” that film makes to the culture of the United Kingdom.² An important feature of both studies was that they began from a recognition of film’s ubiquity in the 21st century, with viewings now taking place on many platforms,...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 235-278)
  10. General Bibliography
    (pp. 279-298)
  11. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 299-304)
  12. Index of Names
    (pp. 305-310)
  13. Index of Film Titles
    (pp. 311-314)
  14. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 315-332)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 333-333)