Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context

Although it has only been in the last decade that the planet’s population balance tipped from a predominantly rural makeup towards an urban one, the field of cinema history has demonstrated a disproportionate skew toward the urban. Within audience studies, however, an increasing number of scholars are turning their attention away from the bright lights of the urban, and towards the less well-lit and infinitely more variegated history of rural cinema-going.Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in A Global Context is the first volume to consider rural cinema-going from a global perspective. It aims to provide a rich and wide-ranging introduction to this growing field, and to further develop some of its key questions. It brings together eighteen international scholars or teams, all representatives of a dynamic, new field. Moving beyond a Western focus is essential for thinking through questions of rural exhibition, distribution and cinema experience, since over the relatively short history of cinema it is the rural that has dominated cinema-goers’ lives in much of the developing world. To this end, the volume also innovates by bringing discussions of North American and European ruralities into dialogue with contributions on Kenya, Brazil, China, Thailand, South Africa and Australia.

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Global Cinema Series Editors Katarzyna Marciniak Department of English Ohio University Athens, OH, USA Anikó Imre Division of Cinema and Media Studies University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA, USA Áine O’Healy Department of Modern Languages and Literatures Loyola Marymount University Los Angeles, CA, USA

The Global Cinema series publishes innovative scholarship on the transnational themes, industries, economies, and aesthetic elements that increasingly connect cinemas around the world. It promotes theoretically transformative and politically challenging projects that rethink film studies from cross-cultural, comparative perspectives, bringing into focus forms of cinematic production that resist nationalist or hegemonic frameworks. Rather than aiming at comprehensive geographical coverage, it foregrounds transnational interconnections in the production, distribution, exhibition, study, and teaching of film. Dedicated to global aspects of cinema, this pioneering series combines original perspectives and new methodological paths with accessibility and coverage. Both ‘global’ and ‘cinema’ remain open to a range of approaches and interpretations, new and traditional. Books published in the series sustain a specific concern with the medium of cinema but do not defensively protect the boundaries of film studies, recognizing that film exists in a converging media environment. The series emphasizes a historically expanded rather than an exclusively presentist notion of globalization; it is mindful of repositioning ‘the global’ away from a US-centric/Eurocentric grid, and remains critical of celebratory notions of ‘globalizing film studies.’ More information about this series at

Daniela Treveri Gennari  •  Danielle Hipkins Catherine O’Rawe Editors

Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context

Editors Daniela Treveri Gennari School of Arts and Humanities Oxford Brookes University Oxford, UK

Danielle Hipkins Department of Modern Languages University of Exeter Exeter, UK

Catherine O’Rawe School of Modern Languages University of Bristol Bristol, UK

Global Cinema ISBN 978-3-319-66343-2    ISBN 978-3-319-66344-9 (eBook) Library of Congress Control Number: 2018957010 © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2018 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, express or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover credit: Russell Kord / Alamy Stock Photo This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


1 Introduction: Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context—Not Just a Slower Transition to Modernity   1 Daniela Treveri Gennari, Danielle Hipkins, and Catherine O’Rawe Part I Space, Place and Cinema-Going Experiences  15 2 The Use of Geographical Categories in Cinema Studies: An Ontological Examination  17 Elisa Ravazzoli 3 Kanda’s Grounds and the Ritual Experience of Rural Cinema in Narok, Kenya  31 Solomon Waliaula 4 The Business of ‘Wholesome Entertainment’: The Mascioli Film Circuit of Northeastern Ontario  47 Jessica L. Whitehead




Part II Early Cinema, Itinerant Showmen and the Lure of Modernity  71 5 Spaces In-Between: The Railway and Early Cinema in Rural, Western Canada  73 Paul S. Moore 6 Rurban Outfitters: Cinema and Rural Cultural Development in New Hampshire’s North Country, 1896–1917  91 Jeffrey Klenotic Part III Oral Histories and the Social Experience of Rural Cinema-Going 115 7 Oral Memories of Cinema-Going in Rural Italy of the 1950s 117 Danielle Hipkins, Daniela Treveri Gennari, Catherine O’Rawe, Silvia Dibeltulo, and Sarah Culhane 8 Belgian Film Culture Beyond the Big City: Cinema-Going in the Provincial and Rural Periphery of Antwerp 135 Philippe Meers and Daniël Biltereyst 9 The Social Experience of Going to the Movies in the 1930s–1960s in a Small Texas Border Town: Moviegoing Habits and Memories of Films in Laredo, Texas 155 José Carlos Lozano, Philippe Meers, and Daniël Biltereyst 10 The Social Geography of ‘Going Out’: Teenagers and Community Cinema in Rural Australia 171 Karina Aveyard



Part IV Shaping Cinema Audiences for Educational and Ideological Purposes 185 11 Projecting Modernity: Sol Plaatje’s Touring Cinema Exhibition in 1920s South Africa 187 Jacqueline Maingard 12 Controlling Rural Cinemagoing by Appropriating a Film Format: The Catholic Adventure of ‘Pathé-Rural’ in Interwar France 203 Mélisande Leventopoulos 13 UNESCO, Mobile Cinema, and Rural Audiences: Exhibition Histories and Instrumental Ideologies of the 1940s 219 Ian Goode 14 Reconsidering Post-Revolutionary Cultural Change: Rural Film Projection Teams in Shaanxi Province, 1949–1956 237 Matthew D. Johnson 15 Silence under the Linden Tree: Rural Cinema-Going in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s and 1960s 261 Lucie Česálková Part V Film Programming Strategies, Exhibition Practices and Reception 281 16 Language and Cultural Nearness: Film Programming Strategies and Audience Preferences in Big Cities and Small Towns in the Netherlands 1934–1936 283 Clara Pafort-Overduin



17 Post-war Thai Cinema: Audiences and Film Style in a Divided Nation 303 Mary J. Ainslie 18 Youth, Leisure, and Modernity in the Film One Summer of Happiness (1951): Exploring the Space of Rural Film Exhibition in Swedish Post-war Cinema 325 Åsa Jernudd 19 Cine Centímetro: Memories and Cinemagoing Practices in an MGM Replica Cinema in the Rio de Janeiro Countryside 339 Talitha Ferraz Index 357

Notes on Contributors

Mary J. Ainslie  is Assistant Professor in Film and Media at the University of Nottingham Ningbo Campus, China. Her research specialises in culture and media throughout the Asia region, with specific emphasis upon Thailand and Malaysia, as well as the wider intercultural links between the East and Southeast Asia regions. She has published in numerous journals and edited collections and has received funding for projects from a variety of international organisations. Karina  Aveyard is a University of Sydney postdoctoral research fellow and senior lecturer in the School of Art, Media and American Studies at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. She is author of Lure of the Big Screen: Cinema in Rural Australia and the United Kingdom (2015) and has published numerous journal articles on contemporary rural cinema exhibition and audiences. Daniël  Biltereyst is Professor in Film and Media Studies at the Department of Communication Studies, Ghent University, Belgium, where he teaches film and media history and media studies. His work deals with media and the public sphere, more specifically with screen culture as sites of censorship, controversy, public debate, and audience’s engagement. He is editor of various edited volumes and special issues, including recently Silencing Cinema (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, with Roel Vande Winkel), Moralizing Cinema (2015, with Daniela Treveri Gennari), and a special issue on oral histories and cinema-going for Memory Studies (2017, with Annette Kuhn and Philippe Meers). He is working on The Routledge ix



Companion to New Cinema History (2018, with Richard Maltby and Philippe Meers) and Mapping Movie Magazines (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, with Lies Van de Vijver). Lucie  Česálková was Assistant Professor at the Department of Film Studies and Audiovisual Culture of Masaryk University, Czech Republic, and is head of the National Film Archive Research Department, and chief editor of the peer-reviewed film journal Iluminace. Her research focuses on the history of film exhibition and cinema-going, and the history of useful media about which she wrote a monograph, and published a number of studies in both Czech and foreign journals (Iluminace, Film History, The Moving Image, Memory Studies) and anthologies. She is engaged in research projects about Czechoslovakian screen advertising, multimedia theatre Laterna Magika, and trends in contemporary realitybased media. Sarah Culhane  is a PhD graduate in Italian studies from the University of Bristol, UK. Her PhD, Beyond ‘belle e brave’: Female Stars and Italian Cinema Audiences (1945–1960), combines the disciplines of audience studies and star studies to analyse the audience-star relation as evidenced among Italian cinema-goers in the post-war period. She is working as a research assistant on the ‘Italian Cinema Audiences’ follow-on project, ICAMAP (2017–2018). She holds an honours degree in Italian and Film Studies from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland (2010) and a Master’s in Italian Studies from University College Dublin, Ireland (2013). Silvia  Dibeltulo is Senior Lecturer in Communication, Media and Culture at Oxford Brookes University, UK, where she previously worked on the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-funded ‘Italian Cinema Audiences’ project. She is part of the BA/Leverhulme-funded project ‘European Cinema Audiences’, in collaboration with the universities of Leicester, UK, and Ghent, Belgium. Her work centres on film genre theory and history, audience and reception studies, cinema heritage, and digital humanities. Her publications include the article Family, Gang and Ethnicity in Italian-­themed Hollywood Gangster Films, which appeared recently in Film International (2015) and the book chapter Old and New Irish Ethnics: Exploring ethnic and gender representation in P.S. I Love You (in Ireland and Cinema: Culture and Contexts, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). Her co-edited volume Rethinking Genre in Contemporary Global Cinema is forthcoming (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018).



Talitha Ferraz  is Assistant Professor at the Escola Superior de Propaganda & Marketing (ESPM) in Rio de Janeiro and head of the Ways of Seeing Research Group (ESPM-CNPq). Simultaneously, she serves as associate researcher at the Coordenação Interdisciplinar de Estudos Contemporâneos (CIEC-UFRJ) and the Laboratório de Estudos de Memória Brasileira e Representação (LEMBRAR-ESPM). She holds a PhD in Communication & Culture from the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Brazil, with a doctoral internship at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal. Talitha Ferraz did postdoctoral research at the Centre for Cinema and Media Studies of the Ghent University (CIMS-UGent), Belgium, between 2015 and 2016. Her investigations are focused on topics such as media and nostalgia, cinema-­going memories, and cinema reopenings. She is author of the book A segunda Cinelândia Carioca (2012). Ian Goode  is Lecturer in Film and Television Studies at the University of Glasgow, UK.  His research interests concern the relationship between 16 mm films and television, histories of non-theatrical, rural cinema-going and the specificities of its exhibition and experience, community cinema, and those other cinemas that surround the permanent cinema of 35 mm. He is Principal Investigator of the AHRC-funded project: The Major Minor Cinema: the Highlands and Islands Film Guild (Scotland 1946–1971). Danielle Hipkins  is Associate Professor in Italian Studies and Film at the University of Exeter, UK. She is author of Italy’s Other Women: Gender and Prostitution in Postwar Italian Cinema, 1940–1965 and co-editor of Prostitution and Sex Work in Global Cinema: New Takes on Fallen Women. Åsa  Jernudd is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Media and Communication Studies at Orebro University, Sweden. She has published on cinema space and film programming in the early film period and more recently on memories of cinema-going in a rural, post-industrial region in Sweden and on film exhibition in rural areas of Sweden in the post-­war period. Her latest article was written with Mats Lundmark (2017), Cinemagoing in Sweden in the 1940s: Civil society organisations and the expansion of rural film exhibition, in Thissen, J. and Zimmermann, C. (eds.) Cinema Beyond the City: Small-Town and Rural Film Culture in Europe (Palgrave Macmillan/BFI, 2016). Matthew  D.  Johnson is Head of School, School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Taylor’s University, Malaysia. His academic research has focused on China’s propaganda system, transnational aspects of US-China relations,



war and society, early film culture, and independent documentary film-making. He is a co-founder and director of The PRC History Group. Jeffrey  Klenotic is Associate Professor of Communication Arts at the University of New Hampshire, USA.  He is a founding member of the History of Moviegoing, Exhibition and Reception (HoMER) project and the principal developer of Mapping Movies (http://mappingmovies. com), a web-based Geographic Information System for exploring cinema’s social and spatial history. Mélisande  Leventopoulos works in the Film Studies Department of University Paris 8, France. A shortened version of her PhD dissertation entitled Les catholiques et le cinéma La construction d’un regard critique (1895–1958) has been published in 2014 by Rennes University Press, France. She has published numerous articles in French academic publications and has contributed to Moralizing Cinema Film, Catholicism and Power edited by Daniël Biltereyst and Daniela Treveri Gennari (2015) and to Cinema Beyond the City Small-Town & Rural Film Culture in Europe edited by Judith Thissen and Clemens Zimmermann (Palgrave Macmillan/ BFI, 2016). José Carlos Lozano  is a media and communication researcher affiliated to Tecnológico de Monterrey, Monterrey, México. He is a fellow in the Mexican Academy of Sciences and a research fellow level 3 at the Mexican National System of Researchers. He is also affiliated to Texas A&M International University, USA. Jacqueline  Maingard is Reader in Film at the University of Bristol, UK. Before moving to Bristol in 1998, she taught film and television at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. She is the author of South African National Cinema (2007) and has published in a variety of academic journals including Screen, Journal of Southern African Studies, and Memory Studies. She has also published in several volumes, most recently in African Filmmaking: Five Formations (ed. Harrow, 2017). Her research is on cinema’s globalisation in South Africa from the 1920s to 1960s and the cinema-going experiences of black audiences. She is an honorary research fellow at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Philippe Meers  is Professor in Film and Media Studies at the University of Antwerp, Belgium, where he is Head of Department and Deputy Director of the Visual and Digital Cultures Research Center. He publishes



regularly on historical and contemporary film culture in venues such as The Journal of Popular Film and Television, Screen, Communications, Javnost/The Public, Critical Studies in Media Communication, Participations and in readers such as The Contemporary Hollywood Reader (2009). With Richard Maltby and Daniël Biltereyst, he edited Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies (2011) and Audiences, Cinema and Modernity: New Perspectives on European Cinema History (2012). With the same co-editors, he is preparing The Routledge Companion to New Cinema History (forthcoming). Paul S. Moore  is Associate Professor of Communication and Culture at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, and past-president of the Film Studies Association of Canada. His histories of early cinema in North America have focused on intermedial relations with newspaper reading, appearing in Early Popular Visual Culture, Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Companion to Early Cinema, and Explorations in New Cinema History, among other fora. His new research maps the creation of regional markets out of rural, itinerant ‘circuits of cinema’. Catherine  O’Rawe is Professor of Film and Italian Culture at the University of Bristol, UK.  She is author of Stars and Masculinities in Contemporary Italian Cinema and co-editor of The Femme Fatale: Images, Histories, Contexts. Clara Pafort-Overduin  is a lecturer and researcher within the Department of Media and Culture Studies and the Institute for Cultural Inquiry at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. She works on popular film in the Netherlands. She published several book chapters and articles on the popularity of national films. Together with economic historian John Sedgwick and marketing economist Jaap Boter, she published on the peculiarities of the structure and development of the Dutch film market in the 1930s. Together with Douglas Gomery she wrote the student handbook Movie History: A Survey. (2012). Elisa Ravazzoli  is a human geographer, working as a senior researcher at the Institute for Regional Development at the European Academy of Bozen/Bolzen (Eurac Research), Italy. She is experienced in the spatial and temporal examination of phenomena using Geographical Information System and spatial analysis as main instruments of investigation. Recent publications include The geography of film production in Italy: A spatial analysis using GIS in Locating the Moving Image: New Approaches to Film



And Place (ed. by J.  Hallam and L.  Roberts, 2013); Cinemagoing as Spatially Contextualised Cultural and Social Practice in Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media. Daniela  Treveri  Gennari is Reader in Film Studies at Oxford Brookes University, UK.  She works on post-war Italian cinema and her particular interests are audiences and popular cinema, film programming, and exhibition. Her publications include, among others, her monograph Post-war Italian Cinema: American Intervention, Vatican Interests (2009), the edited volume (with Daniël Biltereyst) Moralizing Cinema: Film, Catholicism and Power (2014), and the article ‘If you have seen it, you cannot forget!’: Film consumption and memories of cinema-going in 1950s Rome, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television (2015). Daniela has recently been working on the AHRC-funded project ‘Italian Cinema Audiences’, in collaboration with the universities of Bristol and Exeter and is leading the AHRC-funded project ‘European Cinema Audiences’, in collaboration with the universities of Leicester (UK) and Ghent (Belgium). Solomon Waliaula  is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Languages, Linguistics, and Culture at Maasai Mara University, Kenya. He is an Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow hosted at the Department of Anthropology and African Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany. His research is on the popular cultural forms that are performed in the context of electronic media audiencing of European soccer. He is also interested in the popular cultural performances of cinema audiences in Kenya. Some of his work has been published in Soccer and Society, Journal of African Cinemas and he has contributed book chapters in a number of publications on twin subjects of the audiences of African cinema and European Football. His current project is on the ethnography of Kenyan audiences of European Football. Jessica L. Whitehead  is a PhD candidate at York University, Canada, and her dissertation explores the history of cinema-going in Northeastern Ontario and the rise and decline of the Mascioli film circuit. Her research has been featured in the Timmins Daily Press, Timmins Today, and CBC’s Up North radio show. She is the recipient of the prestigious ­Joseph-­Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship, has a recent publication on movie star contests in the journal Transformative Works and Cultures, and several forthcoming publications concentrating on the history of moviegoing and exhibition in Canada.

List of Figures

Fig. 4.1 The Palace Theatre Box Office (1947). RG series 56–11 Ontario Archives. From ‘Blind Pigs’ to Cinemas: The Transformation of Cultural Life in Timmins 48 Fig. 4.2 Photograph of Timmins Theatre’s accounting ledger from 1933 53 Fig. 4.3 Graph of Timmins Theatres overall income from all operations from 1933 to 1936 54 Fig. 4.4 Graph of income from theatre operations from 1933 to 1937 59 Fig. 4.5 All Feature Films shown at the Goldfields Theatre from April 1930 to February 1936 61 Fig. 4.6 All Feature Films shown at the Palace from March 1936 to December 1936 before the contract with FPCC 62 Fig. 4.7 All Feature Films that played at the Palace from January 1937 to June 1938 after the contract with FPCC 63 Fig. 5.1 Richard A. Hardie with his Projecting Kinetoscope in 1897 (Winnipeg Free Press, 20 August 1921) and a reference image of the machine ( Fig. 5.2 ‘Living Canada’, exhibiting ‘ranching scenes, logging scenes, harvesting, King Edward’s visit to Paris, The Delhi Durbar &c. &c.’ (Revelstoke Herald, 13 August 1903) 85 Fig. 6.1 NH Counties and Towns. Map drawn by author. Small inset map sourced from Map Data © Google 2017 93 Fig. 6.2 Halcyon Theatre. Postcard, circa 1914, from author’s personal collection102 Fig. 8.1 The presence of cinemas per population density in Flanders (1924–2000). Source: Biltereyst and Meers 2014 138 Fig. 8.2 Number of cinemas per town/village in the province of Antwerp, 1924 to 2003 140 xv


List of Figures

Fig. 8.3 Map of cases and cities in the province of Antwerp 143 Fig. 13.1 c/o IISH/Stefan R. Landsberger Collections; www. chinesposters.net226 Fig. 13.2 c/o IISH/Stefan R. Landsberger Collections; www. chinesposters.net227 Fig. 13.3 c/o The Australian National University 230 Fig. 14.1 Reconstruction of a rural screening ground, Shaanxi province (Source: Christian Hess, Sophia University, 2005. Used with permission)240 Fig. 14.2 Political map of People’s Republic of China indicating location of Shaanxi (Source: Location of Shaanxi province, uploaded by user Jowww on 14 May 2008, Wikimedia Commons, https:// media/File:China_Shaanxi.svg, accessed 28 March 2017) 242 Fig. 14.3 Film projection unit in Hebei as shown in publication dated 23 September 1955 (Source: Modern Chinese Literature and Culture Image Archive, imagearchive/image.htm, accessed March 10, 2014) 248 Fig. 14.4 Establishing fixed projection routes. The map is of Helan county in Ningxia Self-Governing Region, also part of China’s Northwest region. Distances between screening sites of between 8 and 50 li are indicated, as well as transportation features and physical terrain (Source: Dianying fangying ziliao [Film projection materials] 2, January 1954) 252 Fig. 16.1 Clusters with the highest share (percentage) per cinema divided in the number of inhabitants 291 Fig. 19.1 Cine Centímetro347

List of Tables

Table 3.1 A reconstruction of a typical Kanda’s Grounds’ audience reception performance Table 8.1 Socio-demographic information (gender, age range) of the respondents per location Table 14.1 Yearly statistics for Xi’an municipal projection units, 1949–1954 Table 16.1 Programming clusters in Dutch cinemas, 1934–1936 Table 16.2 Number of cinemas per place with dominant clusters Table 16.3 Film cluster density amongst Dutch cinemas Table 16.4 The top ten most popular films premièred in the Netherlands, 1934–1936 Table 16.5 Local ranking of national top ten films Table 16.6 Week of arrival after the film’s premiere in the Netherlands Table 16.7 National POPSTAT ranking of the most popular German films screened in Heerlen, 1934–1936 Table 16.8 Top 13 films in Geleen, 1934–1936

38 144 245 287 289 290 292 293 295 297 299



Introduction: Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context—Not Just a Slower Transition to Modernity Daniela Treveri Gennari, Danielle Hipkins, and Catherine O’Rawe

In recent years, work on cinema audiences has attempted to challenge the long-held view that cinema and the city are ‘inextricably linked’ (Shiel 2011: 1) and that film is ‘the urban cultural form par excellence’ (Shiel 2011: 19–20). Although it has only been in the last decade that the planet’s population balance tipped from a predominantly rural makeup towards an urban one, it is clear that the field of cinema history has

D. Treveri Gennari (*) Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK e-mail: [email protected] D. Hipkins University of Exeter, Exeter, UK e-mail: [email protected] C. O’Rawe University of Bristol, Bristol, UK e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




demonstrated a ‘disproportionate skew toward the urban’ (Hallam and Roberts 2014: 1).1 All too often, ‘the disproportionate economic importance of big-city movie theatres’ has created a ‘discursive hierarchy’ between the city and the country, modernity and tradition, in which patterns in smaller towns and the countryside are read merely as ‘aberrations or the result of a lag in the pace of modernization’ (Allen 2008: 22). Current trends within audience and reception studies are very much situated within the field of New Cinema History: this multidisciplinary approach, drawing upon history, geography, economics, cultural studies, sociology, and anthropology, is attentive to place-specific and particularized experiences of cinema-going, and patterns of distribution and exhibition, as well as to often overlooked local sources and archives. Understanding cinema as a ‘set of processes, practices, events, spaces, performances, connections, embodiments, relationships, exchanges and memories’ (Allen 2010: 266) is part of the approach taken by this volume, which seeks to add to the increasing number of scholars who are turning their attention away from the bright lights of the urban towards the less well-lit and infinitely more variegated history of rural cinema-going. The New Cinema History, which moves away from the explanatory primacy of the film text towards an open-ended study of cinema’s flow through places, spaces, cultural, affective, and institutional sites, is also fundamentally connected to the ‘spatial turn’ in film history (Klenotic 2011). Klenotic (2011: 63) notes the need to ‘shift our focus from cinema and the city to the broad examination of the precise locations of cinema within a simultaneous multiplicity of sites (regions, cities of diverse sizes and types, rural villages, small towns, farming communities and so on)’. In this way, reconsidering practices of non-urban exhibition and cinema-­ going across the globe requires attention to how geographical relations (between cities and countryside, between different parts of the countryside, or between villages and towns) must also be considered in relation to other spatial practices (connected to transport, mobility, migration, trade, settlement, etc.), themselves institutionally and politically determined. As Robert Allen has argued, we need to understand local places of cinema-­ going as ‘internally heterogeneous nodal points in a social, economic and cultural cartography of cinema: intersections of overlapping trajectories, networks, trails, and pathways’ (Allen 2006: 24). Rather than considering rural cinema everywhere as lagging behind the experience of metropolitan modernity in which cinema has been understood to be imbricated, understanding the ‘hybrid versions of ­



modernity’ (Fuller-Seeley and Potamianos 2008: 7) that emerge in the uneven rural space might challenge our understanding of the globalizing influence of cinema or indeed, of the hegemony of Hollywood. The lack of glamour often attributed to non-urban cinema-going, with its oftenhomely spaces of exhibition and sometimes poor print quality, is one reason why the phenomenon has been relatively little studied. Another reason, as Kate Bowles (2008: 86) notes, is that it is ‘harder to define rural culture as politically progressive’. Bowles is referring to Australia, but her point resonates in a wider context, as we see in chapters on rural Czechoslovakia and China under Communism, where the rural is a potentially unruly space in need of constant monitoring and education through film. Investigating the rural thus often challenges the grand narratives offered by urban audience studies, forcing us also to re-conceive our spatial preconceptions in order to analyse not only how the cinematic space is differently structured but also how the cinema experience is lived. In the rural space, films are more likely to be shown in alternative venues, such as churches, clubs, open-air cinemas, or even from travelling vehicles, which can radically alter the conditions of reception. Spaces of exhibition are therefore crucial to this study, featuring as theatrical, non-theatrical, travelling, improvised, and even reconstructed spaces. The multiplicity of the rural cinematic spaces shifts our understanding of spectatorship, where the ‘rural penalty’—the essential handicap of distance (Hite 1997)—becomes an advantage and contributes to the changes in the way audiences spend their leisure time.2 The difficulty in even defining rural and urban is highlighted in Elisa Ravazzoli’s chapter and echoed across the other chapters in this book. Classifying urban versus rural spaces is significantly different between the United States and Australia or between Sweden and Kenya. A small city in Canada, for example, may be rural not because of its population demographics but for its remote location, as it may suffer from the ‘tyranny of distance’ (Maltby 2011: 16) from major conurbations and from a lack of access to services normally available to towns of the same size. Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context brings together for the first time 19 international contributions, all representative of a dynamic new field of rural cinema-going. The volume is also innovative in bringing discussions of North American and European ruralities into dialogue with contributions on Kenya, Brazil, China, Thailand, South Africa, and Australia. Moving beyond a Western focus is essential for thinking through questions of the rural, since over the relatively short his-



tory of cinema it is the rural that has dominated cinema-goers’ lives in much of the developing world.3 Challenging the ‘dominant association of cinema-going with specifically urban modernity’ is the final aim of this volume (Bowles 2008: 87). Some of the questions we have intended to answer with this volume include the following: how does what constitutes rural cinema-going change across different national contexts? Is there such a thing as a typical ‘rural audience’? Do audiences across the globe seek out the cinema in rural places for similar reasons? To what extent do audiences in the rural context put cinema to different uses from their counterparts in large towns and cities? How do distribution and exhibition patterns change and develop in a rural context? In the face of these challenging questions, do methodologies pertaining to the field of audience studies change when we investigate the rural context?

Methodologies Many of the contributors to this book draw on a multipronged approach that addresses programming, exhibition, and changing technologies, as well as reception and memory. These approaches draw upon histories specific to those particular locales, from the mining and transport history of Canada to the cultural rituals of the Maasai in Kenya. The great difficulty of obtaining archival records can lead to a necessary but productive engagement with oral histories and ethnography.4 Some research projects, such as those described in the Italian and Belgian case studies in this volume, have taken advantage of oral history not only to reconstruct the traces of cinema-going in post-war rural areas of the countries but also to compensate for the difficulty in accessing programming sources to understand the distribution of films across the most remote regions. In other cases, interviews with the employees of local cinemas are used together with sociological studies of villages conducted at the time under investigation, in order to illustrate rural Czech audiences’ cinematic preference in terms of genre and nationality, for example.5 Programming analysis has constituted an invaluable source to identify patterns in film programming and distribution, and compare local differences in programming strategies, and to reconstruct film availability to audiences, as demonstrated by the chapters on Dutch exhibition, on Czech cinema-going, or on the rural encounter with cinema in New Hampshire. This approach informs us of how local film exhibitors accommodate and



differentiate their programmes to respond to viewers’ preferences and how they are forced to develop aggressive strategies to survive or even to participate in partnership agreements because of fierce competition. Statistical analysis, ethnographic study, oral histories, and video-­ interviews, as well as archival investigation (in the form of local press, local cultural bulletins, ledgers, but also reports and professional publications), are all methodologies employed in this volume in order to interrogate non-metropolitan exhibition practices and audiences. The diversity in methodology has been partnered by a variety in historical dimensions. Several chapters deal with the post-war period, as one of the most prolific in terms of both film production and film consumption. During this time—when television was beginning to replace cinema-­ going, but cinema attendance was still a very popular practice across the world—audiences in rural areas were beginning to obtain wider access to cinema and were able to taste that slow transition to modernity and progress too often perceived as the exclusive characteristic of metropolitan areas. Challenging the idea that the rural is disconnected from the cultural life of a country allows us to reveal practices where aesthetic and technological innovations are displayed, even if with a certain delay in comparison to other areas. However, the historical perspective of the volume does not solely concentrate on the post-war period but covers a temporal arc from the end of the nineteenth century, with the advent of cinema and its arrival in remote communities, to contemporary audiences, which have been little studied. This neglect of the contemporary rural dimension is redressed in the chapters on Thai and Brazilian cinema, but also on rural Australia, where contemporary cinema-going aspirations and experiences of rural teenagers living in very small and remote Australian towns and localities are explored. Moreover, as youth has become a significant important film audience category, it is not a surprise to find references to it in other sections of the volume, as for example in the analysis of major transformations in rural Sweden where, in the 1940s and 1950s, teenagers became the promoters of modernity and social change. However, despite these significant distinctions across countries, some common themes have emerged, binding together rural audiences in different parts of the globe. Whilst maintaining the nuance of geographical difference, these common themes dictate the structure of Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context. The volume’s division into five distinct parts emphasizes Doreen Massey’s (2013) definition of space



as a ‘dimension of multiplicity’. In Part I, Space, Place and Cinema-going Experiences, the meaning of rural space is challenged conceptually by Ravazzoli, whose chapter, ‘The Use of Geographical Categories in Cinema Studies: an Ontological Examination’, explores the complex nature of geographical categories in order to guide film scholars to properly approach the concepts of urban and rural, recurrent in the volume. Solomon Waliaula’s contribution, ‘Kanda’s Grounds and the Ritual Experience of Rural Cinema in Narok, Kenya’, immediately engages with this challenge to deconstruct the categories of urban and rural, by investigating the experience of cinema-going in open-air cinemas in the Narok region of Maasailand, Kenya. Drawing on memories of cinema-going at Kanda’s Grounds between the late 1970s and the mid-1990s, he suggests that ritual and social performance in the open-air cinema of this park becomes one of the multiple sites (along with schooling and Christianity) in which the encounter between a traditional rural culture and elements of the new is negotiated. In a different geographical and historical context, in ‘The Business of ‘Wholesome Entertainment’: The Mascioli film circuit of Northeastern Ontario’, Jessica Whitehead traces historically the geographic shaping of rural cinema-going in Northern Canada to conceptualize the relationship between cinema and place (Allen 2006). In particular, she looks at how 1930s cinema-going in the town of Timmins was transformed by a deal with a national chain, the Famous Players Canadian Corporation, through which theatre-owner Leo Mascioli negotiated the town’s experience of the modern entertainment industry. The historical dimension of non-urban cinema-going experience is further developed in the other sections of the volume. In Part II, Early Cinema, Itinerant Showmen and the Lure of Modernity, Paul Moore reviews the relation between the railway and rural exhibitions of moving pictures in cinema’s first decade in Western Canada, unique for the central place of railway companies in sponsoring some of the earliest films depicting Canada and its rural landscape. His chapter, ‘Spaces In-Between: The Railway and Early Cinema in Rural, Western Canada’, reveals that the films made about Western Canada served specific purposes in their rural exhibition context. Challenging ideas that cinema shown in rural areas is always about looking elsewhere, he suggests that ‘early cinema could simultaneously be a recognition of local perspectives and also a force for integration into the national and Imperial imaginaries’. If films about rural Canada were used in major urban centres for reasons of patrio-



tism and cultural pride, with a more civic bent to their exhibition context, in rural locations they were more likely to be received as part of a routine entertainment package reflecting local landscapes. Moving across geographical location—and more precisely into upper Coös County, New Hampshire—but keeping the same historical periodization, Jeffrey Klenotic examines the emergence and transformation of cinema in relation to rural cultural development. In ‘Rurban Outfitters: Cinema and Rural Cultural Development in New Hampshire’s North Country 1896–1917’, he demonstrates how the social experience of cinema was constituted from multiple spatial practices and articulations of rural-urban attributes, as these were embedded in particular places and times. He draws in particular on Galpin’s notion of ‘rurbanism’ as a defining characteristic of US society, in which the urban and rural engage in an uneven, but two-way, dialogue, to show how through cinema exhibition ‘a mix of rural and urban discourses’ ‘would shape social subjectivities in Colebrook’, a small town (if the largest in the area) caught between ‘competing desires for the comfort of continuity and the sensation of change’. In particular, through a close examination of Colebrook’s ‘Moving Picture War’ he investigates ‘the variable strategies, tactics, and alliances enacted by historical agents in the struggle to control cinema’s mediating place in the production of space and social subjectivity during the transition to modernity’. Both these studies of early cinema not only sustain Ravazzoli’s exhortation to deconstruct the urban-rural dichotomy but also demonstrate the determining roles key figures could play in shaping cinema exhibition into a two-way negotiation of modernity across time and space. Empirical investigation is at the heart of the chapters in Part III, Oral Histories and the Social Experience of Rural Cinema-going. The discovery that in Italy and many other countries the rural was a largely unexamined chapter of film history led to the development of this book. In Chap. 7, written by the team behind this collection, ‘Oral Memories of Cinema-­ going in Rural Italy of the 1950s’ draws upon over 1000 questionnaires and 160 interviews with Italians over the age of 65 to ask how cinemagoing might have functioned differently in rural and urban areas of Italy in the 1950s. If rural and urban audiences had much in common in Italy, the rural experience was sometimes marked by a greater intensity due to a lack of other distractions. At the same time, cinema-going offered the ideal pretext for a journey into the nearest town or city. In the Belgian case, examined by Philippe Meers and Daniël Biltereyst in their chapter, ‘Belgian Film Culture Beyond the Big City: Memories of



Cinema-going in the Periphery of Antwerp’, ‘short distances, transportation and work commuting to the metropolis’ meant the rural and the urban cinema-going experiences mingled even more for provincial audiences. Thinking about the rural also gives us an opportunity to discover the role of cinema in spaces that persist outside, across, and despite the national, such as in the Texan border town of Laredo, discussed in Chap. 9, ‘The Social Experience of Going to the Movies from the 1930s to the 1960s in a Small Texas Border Town: Movie-going Habits and Memories of Films in Laredo, Texas’. José Lozano, Philippe Meers, and Daniël Biltereyst explore how distance from national narratives can have an impact upon the reception of national and international films, genres, and stars in a rural environment dominated as it is by Spanish speakers. In all these cases, the studies of these venues as social spaces tend to suggest that rural areas can make the audience-screen relationship very much a two-way process. In Chap. 10 of our volume, ‘The Social Geography of “Going Out”: Teenagers and Community Cinema in Rural Australia’, Karina Aveyard illustrates the heightened importance of the cinema in rural spaces, where it can become central to the community and everyday life, particularly for isolated teens, and where cinema is ‘shaped by established urban practices but appropriated and adapted to local conditions’. The differences that emerge in this third section of the book, from the isolation of the urban in Australia to fuzzier boundaries in Belgium, can be attributed to the radically different geographies of these various spaces, and they underline the importance of juxtaposing case studies based on oral history to find commonalities and anomalies in the rural experience. If some rural audiences can begin to shape their own experiences, reduced population density, lower education levels, and the very threat of the unknown that constitute the rural have also invited many attempts to exert ideological control there. Indeed, in In Part IV, Shaping Cinema Audiences for Educational and Ideological Purposes, authors consider the cases of propaganda and religious influence in rural areas, from Catholic attempts to exercise control in rural France to Communist influence in Czechoslovakia, where integrating the screening of films to certain didactic formats influenced most methods of film distribution oriented towards the countryside, for example, lectures, roundtables, or debates. Audiences in rural spaces, it would seem, have often been perceived as in need of, or susceptible to, ideological discipline, with mixed results. However, our opening chapter of this section showcases how the ideological force of cinema can be deployed by an individual, rather than by the



state apparatus. Jacqueline Maingard’s ‘Projecting Modernity: Sol Plaatje’s Touring Cinema Exhibition in 1920s South Africa’ takes the fascinating case of an itinerant showman whose global travels, particularly in the United States where he came into contact with and absorbed new representations of black identity, inspired his attempts to use film exhibition to challenge racial segregation in South Africa in the early to mid-1920s. Chapter 12 addresses another important area of influence on cinema of the 1920s: religion. In ‘Controlling Rural Cinema-going by Appropriating a Film Format: The Catholic Adventure of “Pathé-Rural” in Interwar France’, Mélisande Leventopoulos examines the way in which the French Catholic Church was able to harness the commercial development of Pathé’s reduced film format for its own ends and thereby control much film exhibition in rural France. Cinema has nonetheless clearly played a key role in drawing rural communities into the national community, as in the cases of Italy and Canada, or the imperial community, as discussed by Ian Goode in relation to 1940s China. The concern of Goode’s chapter, ‘UNESCO, Mobile Cinema and Rural audiences: Exhibition Histories and Instrumental Ideologies of the 1940s’, is the scrutiny of the functions that rural cinema was directed to undertake in the specific historic and ideological contexts of a world that was both entering the Cold War and recovering from World War II. Goode suggests that ‘the effects of geographical and social isolation mean that non-theatrical cinema exhibition facilitates [instrumentalist] uses of cinema in a way that is, arguably, less easily realized in urban exhibition contexts’. Matthew Johnson’s chapter complements Goode’s viewpoint, expanding the analysis of cultural transformation that took place in China during the Mao years, by ‘Reconsidering Post-Revolutionary Cultural Change: Rural Film Projection Teams in Shaanxi Province, 1949–1956’. His study suggests that rural cinema-going in the province showed strong signs of local variation even below the provincial level, challenging propagandists to recognize and address this variegation. In many ways, the ability to recognize the ‘difference’ of the rural audience and its exhibition spaces emerges as the key to the success of both individual entrepreneurs and state propagandists throughout this book. Less of a success story, perhaps, emerges from the account by Lucie Č esálková of Communist attempts to exploit cinema in ‘Silence Under the Linden Tree. Rural Cinema-going in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s and 1960s’. In this later period, Č esálková suggests, the tensions presented by



social, demographic, and geographic changes of post-war rural Czechoslovakia and in association with rapid and massive acceptance of television by the rural population are evident. The final section of the book on Film Programming Strategies, Exhibition Practices, and Reception encompasses a range of different approaches across a wider historical time span. The Dutch mining towns on the German border discussed by Clara Pafort-Overduin in Chap. 16, ‘Language and Cultural Nearness: Film Programming Strategies and Audience Preferences in Big Cities and Small Towns in the Netherlands 1934–1936’, takes into account the role played by language in influencing programming on the Dutch-German border and the impact of distance from national narratives by showing different patterns in local film programming between big cities and small towns in the Netherlands from 1934 to 1936. Mary J. Ainslie’s chapter, ‘Post-war Thai Cinema: Audiences and Film Style in a Divided Nation’, also examines questions of rural audience taste in relation to a number of productions from the successful post-­ war ‘16 mm era’ of filmmaking in Thailand, a period when cheap silent productions made on 16-mm film were mass produced and sent to second-­ class cinemas in the suburbs and shown by travelling cinemas in the outer provinces. These productions, deploying a film style that privileged spectacle and visual excess, have left their mark on the contemporary Thai film industry. In ‘Youth, Leisure and Modernity in the Film One Summer of Happiness (1951): Exploring the Space of Rural Film Exhibition in Swedish Post-war Cinema’, Åsa Jernudd uses the textual analysis of a popular film set in rural Sweden, One Summer of Happiness/Hon dansade en sommar (Mattsson 1951), as a springboard to understand how youth in the Swedish post-war period were identified as pioneers of social change, by way of a focus on leisure-time activities, such as cinema-going. Her chapter allows us to re-­ visit popular notions of youth culture as urban, since she shows how it also flourished in the rural outposts of a modern associational culture, in which cinema played a key role in mediating rapid social change. It is perhaps fitting that questions of revival, as well as memorialization and nostalgia, define our final chapter ‘Cine Centímetro: Memories and Cinema-going Practices in an MGM Replica Cinema in the Rio de Janeiro Countryside’, which investigates the reconstruction of the Brazilian Cine Centímetro, a cinema with 60 seats. Talitha Ferraz examines how this initiative contributes to cinematic life in Conservatória, in terms of both local sociabilities and spectatorship. This chapter opens up some exciting ideas



about the future potential of rural cinema, suggesting that tourism and leisure could imagine rural exhibition and its audiences in new ways. The re-conceptualization of cinema history offered by the findings in the volume works in dialogue with a scholarship that attempts to ‘talk back’ to the assumption of Western dominance associated in part with Hollywood. We would like to take up the call to consider rural audiences that are ‘rapidly (and sometimes inadvertently) becoming part of the global mélange’ more carefully, a process which may exclude them, even as they resist it (Rao 2007). With this volume, we draw together important new scholarship on rural cinema-going around the world and by putting those perspectives into dialogue with one another, develop further audience research methodologies, as well as our understanding of the role of rural cinema-going in cinema history and in its future. The chapters collected in this book offer a framework to understand how rural villages and remote towns across the globe experienced ‘hybrid versions of modernity’ (Fuller-Seeley and Potamianos 2008: 7). They also flag up urgent questions around the precarious nature of the cinema-going experience in a digital world: where might we look to find new models of viewing or to access the ‘rich sociality of non-metropolitan movie-going experience’ (Aveyard 2011: 296) and thus go beyond nostalgic or apocalyptic visions of the death of cinema-going?

Notes 1. See also Bowles (2007, 2008), Fish (2007), Goode (2012), Zweig (2009). 2. The heterogeneity of ‘exhibition practices, distribution strategies and cinematic experiences’ reflects what Judith Thissen (2017: 3) has already identified as distinctive traits of rural European cinema. 3. In this way, we seek to go beyond and complicate the dichotomy implied by Thissen when she contrasts North America and European rural audiences (2017: 2). 4. Bowles (2008: 89) notes some of the challenges of rural archives, including ‘the lack of digital access to country press archives, and the sometimes poor condition of older microfilm readers in  local libraries. Archival materials which are held locally are often in private hands or have been lodged with unfunded historical and genealogical societies, and for this reason they are rarely indexed beyond the capacity of heroic volunteer efforts to keep them safe in folders or photograph albums’. 5. See Biltereyst, Lotze, and Meers (2012) on the need for triangulation of programming sources, oral history testimonies, and economic and structural analyses of the industry, in order to carry out historical film audience research.



References Allen, R. (2006). The Place of Space in Film History. Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis, 9(2), 15–27. Allen, R. (2008). Decentering Historical Audience Studies. In K.  Fuller-Seeley (Ed.), Hollywood in the Neighborhood: Historical Case Studies of Local Moviegoing (pp. 20–33). Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press. Allen, R. C. (2010). Getting to ‘Going to the Show’. New Review of Film and Television Studies, 8(3), 264–276. Aveyard, K. (2011). The Place of Cinema and Film in Contemporary Rural Australia. Participations: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies, 8(2), 294–307. Biltereyst, D., Lotze, K., & Meers, P. (2012). Triangulation in Historical Audience Research: Reflections and Experiences from a Multi-methodological Research Project on Cinema Audiences in Flanders. Participations: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies, 9(2), 690–715. Bowles, K. (2007). Three Miles of Rough Dirt Road’: Towards an Audience-­ Centred Approach to Cinema Studies in Australia. Studies in Australasian Cinema, 1(3), 245–260. Bowles, K. (2008). Rural Cultural Research: Notes from a Small Country Town. Australian Humanities Review, 45, 83–96. Fish, R. (Ed.). (2007). Cinematic Countrysides. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Fuller-Seeley, K., & Potamianos, G. (2008). Introduction: Researching and Writing the History of Local Moviegoing. In K. Fuller-Seeley (Ed.), Hollywood in the Neighborhood: Historical Case Studies of Local Moviegoing (pp.  3–19). Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press. Goode, I. (2012). Cinema in the Country: The Rural Cinema Scheme – Orkney (1946–67). Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities, 30(2), 17–31. Hallam, J., & Roberts, L. (Eds.). (2014). Locating the Moving Image: New Approaches to Film and Place. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Hite, J.  (1997). The Thunen Model and the New Economic Geography as a Paradigm for Rural Development Policy. Review of Agricultural Economics, 19(2), 230–240. Klenotic, J. (2011). Putting Cinema History on the Map: Using GIS to Explore the Spatiality of Cinema. In R.  Maltby, D.  Biltereyst, & P.  Meers (Eds.), Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies (pp. 58–84). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Maltby, R. (2011). New Cinema Histories. In R. Maltby, D. Biltereyst, & P. Meers (Eds.), Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies (pp. 3–40). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.



Massey, D. (2013). Podcast on Space, by Social Science Bites. Retrieved May 15, 2017, from Rao, S. (2007). The Globalization of Bollywood: An Ethnography of Non-elite Audiences in India. The Communication Review, 10, 57–76. Shiel, M. (2011). Cinema and the City in History and Theory. In M.  Shiel & T.  Fitzmaurice (Eds.), Cinema and the City: Film and Urban Societies in a Global Context (pp. 1–18). Oxford: Blackwell. Thissen, J. (2017). Introduction: A New Approach to European Cinema History. In J. Thissen & C. Zimmerman (Eds.), Cinema Beyond the City: Small-Town and Rural Film Culture in Europe (pp. 1–20). London: BFI. Zweig, N. (2009). Foregrounding Public Cinema and Rural Audiences: The USDA Motion Picture Service as Cinematic Modernism, 1908–38. Journal of Popular Film and Television, 37(3), 116–125.


Space, Place and Cinema-Going Experiences


The Use of Geographical Categories in Cinema Studies: An Ontological Examination Elisa Ravazzoli

Introduction The potential of geographical knowledge and tools for the study of cinema and the cinema-going experience relates to the spatial dimension of the cinema-going experience as a socio-cultural practice (Ravazzoli 2016). In effect, the cinema-going experience is a spatial phenomenon and a non-­isolated set of practices that involves social, cultural, economic, and political aspects. Therefore, it can be understood as a geographical phenomenon. Because of the spatial dimension of the cinema-going experience, geography has traditionally contributed to film and cinema studies. Over the last ten years, the intellectual interplay between the two disciplines has intensified significantly (Maltby et  al. 2011), and the use of geographical categories (e.g. place, space, urban, mapping) and tools has undergone a renaissance.

E. Ravazzoli (*) Eurac Research, Bolzano, Italy e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




Among the most commonly used tools, mapping has become extremely diffuse. Some of the recurrent uses of mapping are presented in the work of Robert Allen entitled Going to the Show1 (online digital resource on the history of movie going), in Jeff Klenotic’s Mapping Movies,2 and in the project of Richard Maltby, Deb Verhoeven, and Colin Arrowsmith (2007–10), entitled Mapping the Movies: Understanding Post-war Cinema as a Located Example of Globalization-in-process, where maps are employed in order to understand interesting dynamics related to exhibition, reception, and cinema-going that would have been difficult to explain without layering information. Among the most popular geographical categories, the concept of space is the most utilized. Yet, there are also other geographical categories used in film and cinema studies that help to investigate the cinema-going experience as a socio-cultural practice embedded in a determined time frame, such as the concepts of ‘rural’, ‘urban’, ‘town’, ‘city’, ‘metropolis’, and so on. While the use of geographical tools (prevalently maps) has been explored extensively in film studies literature (Bodenhamer 2010; Klenotic 2011), less attention has been given to the use of geographical categories. Due to the spatial character of the cinema-going experience, geographical categories are an essential asset as they aid the understanding of human reality: they describe places, contextualize the film as a socio-cultural practice, and make sense of the entire spatial experience of going to the cinema. This is particularly true in the area of the cinema-going experience, where geographical categories are often used to describe the historical and geographical circumstances in which the audiences watch or have watched the film. The book Going to the Movies by Richard Maltby, Melvyn Stokes, and Robert C.  Allen (Maltby et  al. 2007), as well as the contributions presented in this volume, show how cinema studies has used geographical categories to describe cinema audiences and the cinema itself, from the city of Manhattan’s nickelodeon to the modern suburban Cineplex and from provincial small towns of rural America to the shanty towns of South Africa. This chapter aims to contribute to the debate about the use of geographical categories in film and cinema studies, and in doing so it seeks to discuss the complex nature of geographical categories, with particular reference to the notion of ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ (sections ‘The Complexity of Geographical Categories’ and ‘What Is Urban and What Is Rural? The Inconsistency of Geographical Categories’), which are the most recurrent in this volume, and discuss how to use geographical categories in film and



cinema studies. In so doing, the chapter enables the reader to understand how the domains of geography are conceptualized and how different meanings are attached to the same geographical category, offering the necessary elements to properly approach the category of urban and rural, so significant in this volume.

The Complexity of Geographical Categories Some geographical categories appear to have common and shared meanings and hence are likely to be applied consistently (such as the notion of space or the urban). In reality, each category has different attributes (e.g. certain population thresholds or economic organization), dimensions (e.g. city, town, and metropolis), and applications and can mean different things to different people, organisations, and governments, being subject to changes across space and time. The uncertainty in the definition, the inconsistency in the application (Gahegan and Brodaric 2002), as well as the fact that geographical categories are able to offer different images of the world, is related to the way they are constructed and theorized as well as to their subjective nature. On the one hand, theorizing geographic reality is not just about suggesting a category dependent on size or on scale (i.e. pond, lake, sea, ocean); it is more about defining the attributes and the meanings of these attributes (that characterize the category), choosing to include or exclude certain properties based on the nature and scope of the categorization, and finding a classification method that allows reality to be represented in the best possible way. Therefore, if it is true that objects, properties, and relations are what they are, independently of what people think of them, it is also true that categorizing and theorizing is a humankind process, a product of human cognition (Smith and Mark 2001). On the other hand, the nature of the geographical categories is complex. There are categories that possess spatial features (from the physical world), among other attributes, and that depend essentially on their geographical character. Yet, there are also geographical categories that cannot be assigned a spatial reference because they are predominantly created based on abstractions. In both cases (e.g. physical or abstract categories), geographical objects are not merely located in space; they are tied intrinsically to space in such a way that they inherit from space its properties, character, and meanings, thus comprehending things, relations, boundaries, processes, qualities, and quantities of all sorts (Smith and Mark 2001). Moreover, according to



what they are created and theorized for, they can have different functions and uses: they can be used at a theoretical level for descriptive purposes (e.g. understanding social phenomena) and/or at an empirical level for practical applications (e.g. targeting policies). In cinema studies, geographical categories are mainly used for descriptive purposes: to contextualize the cinema practice and to illustrate spatial and temporal contexts, to interpret the social and economic conditions experienced by the spectator, to describe the cinema as a physical setting, and to portray the territorial context in which the cinema-going experience takes place as a social practice. Geographical concepts have an extraordinary potential: they allow a full understanding of socio-cultural and spatial processes, being appropriate for individual pieces of research; they permit comparison of urban and rural experiences in different geographical contexts and across time, being suitable for comparative research. In the next section, we examine the geographical categories of urban and rural. It is not our aim to identify a common definition of what is urban and rural nor to review strengths and weaknesses of some available definitions. On the contrary, we aim to deconstruct the two categories to better examine how to better use them in film studies and in the study of cinema-going.

What Is Urban and What Is Rural? The Inconsistency of Geographical Categories What is urban and what is rural? Which attributes distinguish an urban from a rural area? For decades, many scholars have tried to set a common definition for ‘urban’ and ‘rural’, although without success. We all know an urban place when we see it, but defining it is not as easy as it might seem (Weeks 2010). As for many other geographical categories, the terms ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ are complex and inexact. The methods used by scholars, organizations, and governments to classify and measure ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ are not only numerous, but they are also diverse, ranging from purely quantifiable measures to subjective measures to self-perception descriptions. Some methods of classification use population size, population density, and level of urbanization or commuting patterns; some are based on functional characteristics or on broader economic, cultural, or social distinctions; some are based on complicated algorithms; and others consider the extent of the built environment while others take into account



different dimensions. Defining urban or rural involves answering many questions: is a given urban or rural entity defined in terms of its ­administrative boundaries, its land-use patterns, or its economic influence or the presence of urban characteristics? What is the minimum population size for an entity to be considered urban or rural? Is population density the defining concern or is it geographic isolation? Is it the small population size that distinguishes rural from urban? The categories ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ can be defined by one or more of the following criteria: (1) administrative criteria or political boundaries that define urban or rural along municipal or other jurisdictional boundaries (e.g. area within a jurisdiction of a municipality); (2) land-use criterion that identifies urban or rural areas based on population threshold (e.g. minimum of 2000 people) or population density (e.g. 150 inh/km2); (3) economic criterion that recognizes the influence of cities on labour and on trade (e.g. majority of the population employed in non-agricultural jobs); (4) presence of urban characteristics (e.g. paved streets, electric lighting, and sewerage); and (5) mix of the criteria mentioned above. These criteria represent progressively expansive ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ boundaries that differ considerably and that clearly represent the complexity of today’s settlement patterns, which enables different definitions and meanings. Generally speaking, in the western world, the term ‘rural’ evokes shared images of low population density, small settlement farms, villages, small towns, and open spaces; conversely, the term ‘urban’ evokes images of high human population density, a vast human-built environment, and cities. The use of multiple images and definitions, created by different organizations and consolidated across time in numerous papers and reports, reflects the reality that rural and urban are multidimensional categories. However, discerning (from a descriptive and theoretical perspective) locations by their rural or urban attributes should not be a difficult task; much more complex is to choose among classification methods or define appropriate ranges able to measure or categorize an area by its urban or rural character and consequently offer a classification that can be applied across time and through countries that have different geographic features. Hence, as mentioned in the section ‘The Complexity of Geographical Categories’, urban and rural definitions vary from country to country, and, within one country, they change over time to adapt to the socio-­economic conditions, making direct comparisons difficult. The inconsistency of geographic concepts can be measured as having three



dimensions: (a) temporal inconsistency, that is, when the same concepts have different meanings across time, (b) geographical inconsistency, that is, when concepts have different meanings due to differences across space, and (c) ­conceptual inconsistency, that is, when a concept is assigned different definitions and meanings due to different attributes, features, and dimensions. Temporal Inconsistency Geographical categories change across time because the characteristics of the objects that fall within these categories alter. The roles of ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ have changed through history, nonetheless, remaining closely linked to their spatial context; in the last decade, due to increased urbanization and the rapid transformation of rural economies, the category ‘urban’ as well as the category ‘rural’ acquired new meanings. They changed so much that today some scholars suggest considering them as two ends of a continuum rather than two distinct concepts. Using as an example the notion of ‘urban’ adopted by the US Census Bureau, it is noticeable how the definition of ‘urban’ has changed over time in response to changes in settlement patterns and technology. As reported in the Census Bureau website on the web page related to the history of urban and rural areas, in the censuses of 1880, 1890, and 1900, places were deemed urban based on minimum population sizes of 8000, 4000, and 2500 inhabitants.3 In 1910, the minimum population threshold to be categorized as an urban place was set at 2500. In 1950, the Census Bureau revised the urban definition adopting the ‘urbanized area concept’ to better account for increased growth in suburban areas outside incorporated places with a population of 50,000 or more. In 1960, the Census Bureau also adopted a population density threshold of at least 1000 people per square mile for urbanized areas. In 2000, the Census Bureau selected urban areas using the ‘urban cluster concept’ defining relatively small, densely and settled clusters of population using the same approach as was used to define larger urbanized areas with a population of 50,000 or more, and no longer identified urban places located outside urbanized areas (United States Census Bureau). This example shows a substantial change in the parameters used to define ‘urban’ consequent to changes in social and economic conditions.



Geographical Inconsistency Countries define ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ in slightly different ways so that making clear-cut distinctions between urban and rural across nations is very difficult; this is essentially because different countries have varying definitions of ‘rural’ for statistical and administrative purposes. If we compare the definition of ‘urban’ in two developed countries with large populations, such as Japan and the United States, we can clearly see how their meanings change. In the United States, settlements with 2500 inhabitants or more having a population density of 100 persons per square mile or more are defined as urban. In Japan, which is far more densely populated than the United States, only settlements with 30,000 people or more are considered urban. Nevertheless, even among countries that share more communalities, such as the European countries, it is also possible to find different definitions. According to the UK Office for National Statistics (Bibby and Brindley 2013), ‘urban areas’ are the connected built-up areas identified by the ordnance survey mapping that have resident populations above 10,000 people. Rural areas are those areas that are not urban, that is, consisting of settlements below 10,000 people or are open countryside. In Norway, ‘a hub of buildings inhabited by at least 200 people and where the distance between the buildings does not exceed 50 meters is classified as urban. The boundaries are dynamic and may be changed due to developments and population changes’; in Ireland, ‘cities and towns including suburbs of 1500 or more inhabitants’ are classified as urban; in Spain, in order to compare results at the European level, the Eurostat definition is applied. The EU definition classified urban municipalities with a population of over 10,000 inhabitants; intermediate municipalities with a population of 2001 to 10,000 inhabitants; rural municipalities with a population of 2000 or less inhabitants (United Nations 2012). At the international level, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) classification, based on population density, uses a threshold to classify urban and rural that considers ‘rural’ local units with a population density lower than 150 people per km2. In addition, the OECD distinguishes between three types of regions: prevalently rural regions with more than 50% of population living in rural local units, ‘intermediate regions’ having 15–50% of the population living in rural local units, and ‘prevalently urban regions’ having less than 15% of the population living in rural local units. In these lines, we have displayed the high inconsistency of definitions across different administrative levels and between countries.



Conceptual Inconsistency Conceptual inconsistency refers to the co-existence within the same country and at the same time of different definitions related to the categories ‘urban’ and ‘rural’. According to the US Census Bureau and other similar statistics, ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ are usually defined by residence in settlements above or below a certain size; agriculture is assumed to be the principal activity of rural populations, whereas urban dwellers are thought to engage primarily in industrial production and services. In reality, however, things tend to be far more complex: the ways in which nations define what is urban and what is rural can be very different. In order to show this discrepancy, we look at the different definitions of ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ adopted by different organizations in the United States. The US Census Bureau defines ‘rural’ areas as comprising open country and settlements with fewer than 2500 residents (population/administrative based)4; areas designated as rural can have population densities as high as 999 per square mile or as low as 1 person per square mile (population/land-use based). The United States Department of Agriculture defines rural areas as any area other than (1) a city or town that has a population of greater than 50,000 inhabitants and (2) the urbanized areas contiguous and adjacent to such a city or town.5 The United States Office of Management and Budget defines a Metropolitan Statistical Area as consisting of (1) central counties with one or more urbanized areas (as defined by the Census Bureau) and (2) outlying counties that are economically tied to the core counties as measured by worker commuting data (i.e. if 25% of workers living there commute to the core counties or if 25% of the employment in the county consists of workers coming from the central counties). Non-­ metro counties (rural counties) are outside the boundaries of metro areas. Within the discussion of what is ‘urban’ and what is ‘rural’ and which are the elements that differentiate the two, we can argue about how to define a range of elements that constitute the urban and rural settlement patterns: towns, villages, urban fringes, settlements, cities, peripheries, metropolis, regions, and provinces. Depending on the method adopted to categorize ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ (i.e. based on administrative, demographic, or economic characteristics), it is possible to derive very different definitions of cities, towns, villages, and so on. In the case of the ‘city’, the term is very vague. It can represent a social community, it can express an economic system, a political creation, a set of institutions, a spatial entity, or merging of all these additional components (Maunier 1910). Similarly, the



definition of town is very imprecise; even though we can agree on the fact that a town is an entity smaller than a city, defining a population threshold is something that cannot be done globally but that depends on many interlocking elements. So far, ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ have been considered as place-based categories. According to Weeks (2010), ‘urban’ is a place-based characteristic that describes the degree to which the lives of a spatial concentration of people are organized around non-agricultural activities. On the contrary, ‘rural’ is a place-based characteristic that describes areas with low population density, large areas of undeveloped land, and where most of the inhabitants are employed in the secondary and tertiary sectors. Nevertheless, it is essential to know that the geographical categories ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ can also be characteristics of people rather than of places. Instead of using the category to represent places or spatial phenomena, geographical categories can also be used to denote elements that are proper of a person or of their lifestyle (e.g. rural/urban dweller or traditional/urban lifestyle). Whatever criteria we choose, it is clear that no single definition can be used for all purposes. In addition, and most importantly, each definition we choose is a non-universal representation of the geographical categories, which determine a certain perception and vision about the word. Therefore, selecting the definition that is able to express the nature of the geographic category is necessary in order to have categories that actually are able to represent and explain the phenomena under analysis. The next section offers some recommendations on how to approach geographical categories with particular emphasis on cinema studies research.

Dealing with Geographical Categories Within Cinema Research Over the past 150 years, the world has moved from being characterized by rural settlement patterns and provincial lifestyles to being dominated by urbanization and a more globalized lifestyle. Many concepts have been created to describe this transition. The cinema-going experience has registered these changing lifestyles, changing landscapes, and changing attitudes using geographical categories like ‘small towns’, ‘rural areas’, ‘rural community’, ‘city’, ‘country’, ‘peripheral region’, and ‘neighbourhood’. Categories serve to describe and explain contextualized cultural and social



phenomena. Analysing cinema-going experiences with the use of geographical categories enables us to study more precisely the film experience of urban and rural dwellers and discuss the social and cultural character of places and spaces in particular time-space frames. It allows for the creation of links among different spatial processes and the exploration of various aspects of the urban and rural experience of cinema-going related to immigration, race, ethnicity, urbanization and suburbanization. Considering that geographic categories use different definitions (such as in the case of ‘rural’ and ‘urban’) and that definitions change across space and time, choosing the definition that ‘best fits’ the research scope as well as comparing them is not as easy as it might seem. If we refer to the area of cinema-going, based on the type of research to be conducted, some concerns are to be carefully evaluated and taken into account. When conducting historical research into cinema-going, it is very important to select among existing definitions related to geographical categories (e.g. rural, urban, countryside, city, and village) the one that is able to historically and geographically contextualize the narrative and the milieu in which the experience takes place. For contemporary research into cinema-­ going, on the contrary, it is very important to make clear distinctions among different dimensions of geographical categories (e.g. city, village, and town) in order to provide an authentic description of the contemporary contextual space. Also, it is not advisable to use concepts just because they are fresh and attractive (e.g. megalopolis, network cities, urban gentrification) but to search for categories that truly describe the spatial context. For comparative research into cinema-going, when the experience of going to the cinema is explored in different cities or countries and across different time spans, in order to obtain significant results it is necessary to carry out a semantic harmonization of definitions, that is, finding common meanings among concepts. In order for definitions to be used for comparative purposes, their meanings have to be carefully examined across different countries and years, and once a thorough understanding is reached, different definitions of the same variable can be compared. It is then possible to identify the differences and similarities among definitions and eventually select the one that is able to represent the category. If it is not possible to select a common definition because meanings and parameters are too different, a combined definition can be created through an integration of parameters. During this process, it is important to scrutinize



the definitions and the meanings that lie behind each geographical ­concept in order to challenge comparative research in which more than one definition is suitable for the explanation of the cinema-going experience. Finding the most suitable definitions for geographical categories and ensuring that definitions reflect precise time-space backgrounds, thus offering satisfactory historical and geographic frameworks, are essential requisites in addressing the problems of inconsistency of geographical categories mentioned earlier (section ‘What Is Urban and What Is Rural? The Inconsistency of Geographical Categories’). Consequently, less attention should be devoted to classification methods and more emphasis should be given to three aspects: (1) choose from the existing definitions the ones that can both best fit the research scope and best contextualize the narrative, geographically and historically; (2) investigate how geographical categories can accurately represent the cinema-going experience and how they can be used together to explain this social and cultural practice; and (3) explain why certain definitions have been chosen and mention the source so that the reader can find an exact correspondence between his/ her own idea (related to concepts) and the meaning provided into the text. Overall, official classifications and categories should be treated with caution and accurate definitions should be sought.

Final Remarks This chapter has discussed the complexity of creating and using geographical categories by referring to the categories of urban and rural. It has shown that there is no single definition for geographical concepts (e.g. rural, urban, town, city) that can be used universally. On the contrary, definitions and geographical categories are space based and time related, bringing conceptual, geographic, and time inconsistencies. The designation of areas as ‘urban’ or ‘rural’ is bound to historical, political, cultural, and administrative issues; hence, the process of developing uniform definitions and procedures is very complex and requires time. At the same time, adopting the correct definition of what is urban and what is rural as well as of what is a city or a town, even though demanding, is necessary, mainly for two reasons. On the one hand, it is required for a full understanding of spatial phenomena and spatial processes that take place in our societies (descriptive scope). On the other hand, it is useful for solving practical issues related to the distribution of services (practical scope).



Nonetheless, it is necessary to take into account that because of the spatial, temporal, and conceptual variability of geographical categories, the degree of ‘urbanity’ or ‘rurality’ varies significantly across time and space; the processes of modernization and industrialization have today made ‘rural’ areas more ‘urban’ and ‘urban’ areas more ‘rural’, making the distinction between the two less clear. Consequently, it has been suggested by scholars and organizations, already starting from the 1960s (Smalies 1966; Weeks 2010), that urban and rural might be considered as ends of a continuum rather than representing a dichotomy (urban vs rural), with most urban and rural areas falling somewhere between these extremes. Living in a rural area in many societies does not preclude participation in urban life and vice versa; thus, the idea of a rural-urban continuum can be the one that best represents the contemporary context. This consideration, which implies the idea of a flexible definition of urban and rural or a non-definition, adds additional complexity to the picture painted by this chapter; nevertheless, it does not detract from the main points and from the need to distinguish places according to their rural or urban features. Within cinema studies, the distinction between ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ is still indispensable in order to depict and contextualize the spatial processes; a non-definition or a flexible definition would prevent a rich historical and geographical contextualization. Therefore, based on what has been discussed in this chapter, future investigations in cinema studies should engage more in the following tasks: look at empirical manifestations of rural and urban categories, going beyond the quintessence of each category in order to enrich the narrative related to the cinema-going experience, and search for causal relations between geographical categories related to cinema-going.

Notes 1. 2. 83&z=8&layers=. 3. and_rural_areas.html. 4. 5.



References Bibby, P., & Brindley, P. (2013). Urban and Rural Area Definitions for Policy Purposes in England and Wales: Methodology. UK Office for National Statistic. Retrieved September 13, 2015, from uploads/attachment_data/file/239477/RUC11methodologypaperaug_28_ Aug.pdf. Bodenhamer, D.  J. (2010). The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Gahegan M., & Brodaric, B. (2002). Examining Uncertainty in the Definition and Meaning of Geographical Categories. University Park: GeoVISTA Center, Department of Geography, The Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved September 1, 2015, from Accuracy2002_GaheganBrodaric_Revised2.pdf. Klenotic, J. (2011). Putting Cinema History on the Map: Using GIS to Explore the Spatiality of Cinema. In R.  Maltby, D.  Biltereyst, & P.  Meers (Eds.), Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies (pp. 58–84). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Maltby, R., Stokes, M., & Allen, R. C. (2007). Going to the Movies. Hollywood and the Social Experience of the Cinema. Exeter: The University of Exeter Press. Maltby, R., Biltereyst, D., & Meers, P. (2011). Exploration in New Cinema History: Approaches And Cases Studies. Malden, MA; Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Maunier, R. (1910). The Definition of the City. American Journal of Sociology, 15(4), 536–548. Ravazzoli, E. (2016). Cinemagoing as Spatially Contextual and Social Practice. Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media, 11, 33–44. Smalies, A. F. (1966). The Geography of Towns. Chicago: Aldine. Smith, B., & Mark, D. (2001). Geographical Categories: An Ontological Investigation. Geographical Information Science, 15(7), 591–612. United Nations. (2012). Social and Demographic Statistics: Classifications of Size and Type of Locality and Urban/Rural Areas. Table 6. Demographic Yearbook 2012. Retrieved September 1, 2015, from United States Census Bureau. Urban and rural areas. Retrieved September 5, 2017, from urban_and_rural_areas.html Weeks, J. R. (2010). Defining Urban Areas. In T. Rashed & C. Jürgens (Eds.), Remote Sensing of Urban and Suburban Areas (pp.  33–45). Dordrecht: Springer.


Kanda’s Grounds and the Ritual Experience of Rural Cinema in Narok, Kenya Solomon Waliaula

Introduction This chapter describes the audience reception experiences of rural cinema-­ going in the Narok Township in Kenya from the late 1970s to the mid-­ 1990s. It represents a strategic exploration of the physical and socio-cultural patterns of life in and around Narok town at the time when rural cinema thrived in this part of the world. It is termed strategic because it follows up on specific leads that emerged during fieldwork. These are the local names for open-air cinema, ‘watoto kaa chini’ (‘children, sit down’), the physical location in Narok town where the cinema was located (‘Kanda’s Grounds’), the specific date of every month that films were shown (the 26th), the composition of the audience (mostly children and adults with a negligible proportion of adolescents), and the wider cultural patterns in urbanization, formal education and Christianity. In exploring these contexts, I echo what Victor Turner (1974: 16–17) has referred to as the field of The work on this chapter benefited from Solomon Waliaula’s Alexander Von Humboldt Postdoc Fellowship at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz. S. Waliaula (*) Maasai Mara University, Narok, Kenya © The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




performance, ‘the domains where paradigms are formulated, established and—later, inevitably—come into conflict in actual physical spaces, that we can term arenas’. Narok town is perhaps the best-known urban space in Maasailand. It is located in what in Kenya is referred to as the South Rift. According to a Kenya Inter-Agency Rapid Assessment Report, as of November 2014, Narok town had a population of around 38,250, which was estimated to be only 4.5% of the total population of Narok County (2014: 1). Mr Peter Mbuthia, a teacher who at the time of the fieldwork for this study had worked at Narok Teacher’s College and lived in Narok for over 20 years, had this to say about this situation: [The] majority of the locals of this region do not like urban life. They are suspicious of the goings-on in town and therefore simply come to do their business during the day and retreat to their rural homes before dusk. Even now, just be observant and you will notice it. At around 6 p.m. you will see the town suddenly and rapidly emptying. (Personal conversation, 24 June 2015)

As a result, most of the members of cinema audiences were the children of ‘immigrant’ non-Maasais because the shows started at around 6 p.m. in the evening. At that time, most of the children of the local community would be too far away in the outer fringes of Narok town to make it to the Kanda’s Grounds spectacle. It is also important to note the absence of the typical youth category that would be otherwise associated with modern trends at the time such as cinema. Jack Paan, a teacher by profession and of Maasai ethnic extraction, observes: But you know these open-air cinema shows, wherever they were, whether in the urban space or in the rural areas, only children and the adults could watch them. The young men are Morans and do not live at home. Young women are not allowed to leave their homes. (Personal conversation, 22 June 2015)

A large proportion of the Maasai community of the 1970s to the 1990s, and even a few today, practised a warrior culture in which male youth, newly initiated through circumcision, left their homes and for another five to seven years live in the wild as Morans. This group is like the c­ ommunity’s



standing army. They come back home for very short spells but do not spend the night. The passage of time from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s and late 1990s witnessed changes in the Kanda’s Grounds cinema experience. There was an increasing influence of formal education, Christianity and urbanization. Recalling their experience of open-air cinema in the mid-­ 1990s, Anne Mumbi and Mary Nashipae, young women who at the time of this research were employees of Maasai Mara University as lecturer and secretary, respectively, observe that, in the 1990s, there was a clear distinction in reception practices between the urban children and the few rural children who watched open-air cinema together at Kanda’s Grounds. Mumbi recalls: They [rural-based children] used to be funny. They marvelled at the technology behind the cinema. They even tried to go behind the curtain to see what was happening there. The bright light, size of screen, the big people walking and talking … with us it was not scary … they looked at it sideways, wary of it … we had been exposed to this technology somehow, through the TV. So it was easier. (Personal conversation, 5 July 2015)

This perception of the Maasai community as resistant to cultural change has persisted. It is against this background that we examine the communal practice of audience reception. This chapter describes a specific practice of audience reception by specific audiences at specific times but also considers this as a symbolic representation of the deeper social tensions that characterized life here at that point in time. In this light, we regard the performances as cultural texts that, in the words of Clifford Geertz (1973: 448), could be interpreted as ‘saying something of something’.

The Ritual of Open-Air Cinema in Narok Everyone knew that on the 26th of every month there would be an open-­ air cinema show at Kanda’s Grounds. According to Simon Nduati, at the time covered by this research a primary school teacher in the Narok region, it is a childhood experience that he remembers with nostalgia. He recalls crowds of approximately between 200 and 300 people at Kanda’s Grounds on these occasions, was a mammoth crowd considering that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Narok town had very few residents. He observes:



Now when I reflect on that experience I develop a new sense of respect for that open-air cinema. Even popular politicians of that time could not mobilize a crowd of over two hundred people in one space in Narok. It was even more surprising that there was no proper advertisement of the event. There were no security arrangements to be made. Nobody planned for it. It was just known and respected; Sinei 26th at Kanda’s Grounds. (Personal conversation, 27 June 2015)

‘Sinei’ was a colloquial term derived from ‘cinema’ and used by children in reference to the event. Eunice Naanyu, at the time of this research a primary school teacher at Ntulele, a small shopping centre about 10 kilometres from Narok town, also has fond memories of the event. She relived her memories together with Grace Poreka and Magdalene Nkoyo, colleagues and childhood friends who partook of the cinema experience at Kanda’s Grounds. She summed it up in her memories thus: … beautiful memories. Those days even the little children that had not gone to school and did not know basic number work somehow knew about the number 26. Now when I am in my house I tell my children we had something good, not as plain and ordinary as what they have now. (Personal conversation, 23 June 2015)

Eunice and her colleagues recall how they, as little children, would make sure they won their parents’ favour by being obedient, performing their duties well, in good time and generally avoiding any mistakes that could jeopardize their chances of getting permission from parents to attend Sinei on the 26th at Kanda’s Grounds. But even when the parents did not oblige, the children simply sneaked out. Magdalene recalls one vivid case: We stole dad’s clothes and put them on. They were suits and we did not fit in them but they gave us a male look. We fastened them at the waist with wrappers. When we came back, we found our father at the gate. When he saw us, and recognized us, he almost fainted. He did not punish us. He instead instructed mum that we had permission to attend Sinei 26th, every month. (Personal conversation, 23 June 2015)

It is apparent that after parents noted the strong interest the children had in the open-air cinema, they gave in and decided to support them. Grace recalls the way the community collectively ‘relayed’ the children from corner to corner, alley to alley, until they arrived back home safely from



Kanda’s Grounds after the show. One could argue that at this point Kanda’s Grounds had become what Turner (1974: 50–54) has termed as a liminal space. This is in the sense that it was, in a way, outside the social boundaries of everyday life. It is significant that open-air cinema was a new phenomenon in this part of the world and had apparently captivated children so much that they could defy—or at least negotiate their way around—some erstwhile unquestionable social norms, such as parental authority. We can compare this experience to Turner’s (1974: 23–24) concept of social anti-structure. It is arguable that the community had to recognize the power of this new space; it was obliged to recognize open-air cinema as a ‘new player’ in the field that was to be confronted in new ways. We could also further extend this argument in the context of Turner’s view (Turner 1967: 93–94) that liminal spaces are also ambivalent. In his view, societies are regulated by fixed social structures, and we could compare the childhood experience among most of the Maasai (between the 1970s and early 1990s) as having largely been defined by a non-negotiable parental authority. Kanda’s Grounds had provided an alternative authority— cinema—to which children were attracted and posed as a competitor to the erstwhile monopolized social position of authority. It is in this light that this chapter interprets what is perhaps the most distinct metaphor of this the open-air cinema in Narok: Watoto kaa chini. It was actually the pseudonym for this event yet the first image my respondents recalled. An English translation of the phrase is ‘children, sit down’. In performance, it is an imperative, a command made by the adult members of the audience to the children. When I asked my respondents why this phrase was used, they all seemed to agree on the circumstantial meaning: that the children needed to be closer to the screen so that their view was not obstructed by the elders, and because they were closer to the screen, they had to sit down so that they did not, in turn, obstruct the adults standing behind them. However, following my argument that Kanda’s Grounds had become a new social arena, we could further argue that the disrupted social balance between the adults and children in this community had to be restored in other ways. ‘Watoto kaa chini’ could  thus  be read  as a metaphor. Commenting on how this process works, Turner (1974: 17) observes that, ‘arenas are the concrete settings in which paradigms become transformed into metaphors and symbols with reference to which political power is mobilized and in which there is a trial of strength between influential paradigm bearers’.



In this light, the Kanda’s Grounds experience represented a new space in which adults and children played out a social drama. The cinema could be seen as an alternative centre of power to which children gravitated. In the process, the adults’ sense of power and authority had been challenged, and the cinema experience was treated as a contest. It is important to distinguish between the ‘drama’ that was presented visually in the projected moving pictures and the social drama that played out in the audience. This chapter argues that ‘Watoto kaa chini’ was a metaphorical response by the adults to the perceived ‘rival power’ of open-air cinema over the children. While they—adults—accommodated the cinema as a competitor, they insisted on dictating the experience, at least in part. However, it should also be noted that the cinema experience not only impacted on social relations between adults and children but also extended to the social relations among the children. For instance, another significant memory of most respondents was ‘tukutane siku ya Sinei’, which translates to ‘we meet on the day of the cinema’. This was meant as a warning traded between children in the course of the month as they looked forward to the 26th. We could argue that the Kanda’s experience had become a liminal space which children considered as ‘safe’ to settle their scores without adult interference. It should be noted though that these turned out to be, for the most part, empty threats. The few children that misbehaved on that date were identified and punished because the event was closely monitored and controlled by the adults. To an extent, then, the social tensions and anxieties that are typical of the childhood experience were resolved. This echoes the carnivalesque element of ritual, which in this case thrived on the apparent freedom that the cloak of darkness afforded the children to express themselves and act in ways that were not ordinarily socially sanctioned. It could be argued that the requirement for children to sit down, and for adults to stand a few metres behind and above them, was a deliberate technique to communicate the cultural value of social hierarchy based on age, and can be understood in the light of Turner’s (1974: 29) argument that metaphorical relations in social dramas also work by way of multivocal symbolism. Thus, the physical space that was marked between the sitting children and standing adults was a new symbol fashioned out of the Kanda’s Grounds experience to signify an existing social relationship. This symbol also played into the social construction of gender relations, considering that the imperative for children to sit down also included the few women in attendance. In this sense, we could also perceive ‘watoto kaa



chini’ in terms of what Turner (1974: 27–29) has defined as ‘a storage unit filled with a vast amount of information’. In this sense, the information relates to the social regulations guiding the performance of identities in terms of age and gender. In reading Kanda’s Grounds’ open-air cinema through the lens of ritual we also consider other significant elements of ritual that inform the reception experience, two of the most significant being sacralization of the space where reception took place and the spontaneous performances that framed the event. We also note that there is a difference between the secular and the evangelical audience reception patterns at Kanda’s Grounds. This, among other factors, can be attributed to the difference in social contexts and function between the two performances. It impacts on many other manifest elements of the performance, as is evident in the detailed description below.

The Reception Experience at Kanda’s Grounds This is a reconstruction of a typical Kanda’s Grounds’ audience reception performance, based on information drawn from the research experiences outlined below (Table 3.1): Preliminaries: On the 26th of every month, the van that brought the cinema apparatus drove into town as early as 2 p.m. It was green in colour. It drove around town to register the presence of ‘Sinei 26th’ and finally pulled up in Kanda’s Grounds. When school was out at 1.00  p.m., the children—mainly coming from the only three schools in town then— Masikonde Primary School, St Peter’s Primary School and Ilmashariani Primary School—passed by the grounds to confirm that the van was indeed there before they proceeded home. The show: By around 5  p.m., the children would be back and all seated, with the adults standing some distance behind. Now and then, a voice could be heard from the adult side, ‘watoto kaa chini’. The projector would have been set up and ready for the show. The generator could be heard purring incessantly. As dusk set in, the show started. The introductory session included a brief speech by the organizers, followed by commercial adverts. The products most advertised were Kimbo and Cow Boy cooking fat, Omo Washing powder, Milo and Cocoa beverages. At that point in time, all these products were manufactured by the East African Industries Company.



Table 3.1  A reconstruction of a typical Kanda’s Grounds’ audience reception performance Place

Members (name, age & designation)

Ntulele Primary School, off Mai Mahiu—Narok Highway

1  Grace Poreka, 42 yrs, Primary School Teacher at Ntulele Primary School 2  Eunice Naanyu, 48 yrs, Primary School Teacher at Ntulele Primary School 3  Magdalene Nkoyo, 40 yrs, Primary School Teacher at Ntulele Primary School Kenol Filling Station Peter Mbugua, 48 yrs, Tutor at Restaurant, Narok Narok Teachers Training College Restaurant, next to 1  Simon Nduati, 50 yrs, Primary Narok Museum in Narok School Teacher town 2  Rahab Gathoni, 34 yrs, Primary School Teacher Guest House, Maasai Anne Mumbi, 32 yrs, Assistant Mara University, Narok Lecturer at Maasai Mara University

Research experience


Focused Group 23 June Discussion 2015


24 June 2015 Focused Group 27 June Discussion 2015


5 June 2015

The audience responded to the adverts, and it ended up being a performance. You could, for instance, hear school children join in the song: Pika kwa kimbo, pika kwa kimbo, cook using Kimbo, cook using kimbo. Milo! Chachacha. Milo Chachacha, Milo Chachacha, Milo Chachacha Cow Boy kwa ladha spesheli ya chakula, Cow Boy, for a good taste of food

In this way, the organizers engaged the audience in a sort of product promotion. It also included question-and-answer sessions based on the products that were on promotion, with winners being awarded prizes such as branded T-shirts and caps. We can compare this question-and-answer session to riddle performance in the oral tradition, which sometimes accompanies the performance of oral narrative and, most important, is structured around what Okpewho (1992: 240) has termed as ‘the two layers of riddle performance’. He observes that, at one level, riddles are just play, performed for the fun of it. But at another level, there is a hidden meaning, what he terms ‘a certain level of seriousness in the verbal play’. In this context, the commercial advertisers  could be said to have taken  advantage of the ambiguity to market their products.



Returning to the performance, the announcer, like the oral narrator, took control of the proceedings. The start of the film would be synchronized with the start of the narrative. The audio output would be lowered to the minimum, so that all that played were the pictures and the voice of the narrator. He sat inside the van, invisible to the audience and thus appeared to be part of the moving pictures. He renamed the characters using local names such as Njoroge, Naserian or any other popular Kikuyu or Maasai names, the two dominant ethnic communities that were resident in the town at that time. His narrative relayed the action, reacted to the goings-on and even allowed the audience to join in. His language was Kiswahili. The commentator’s role is particularly important because unlike the mainstream cinema hall experience in urban spaces, this open-air experience before an audience that was just getting oriented to cinema required the skills of a ‘mediating performer’. One could argue that the unmediated cinema would not have excited this audience as much as the mediated version, an effect that Matthias Krings (2015: 158) has termed as ‘turning rice into pilau’. His observation is made in reference to the Tanzanian performers who use innovative means to translate foreign films for local Tanzanian audiences. One could read Krings’ imagery of ‘turning rice into pilau’ as the appropriation, embellishing and re-presentation of foreign films to local audiences in ways that connect with their immediate experiences. This is an argument that has also been made by Dominica Dipio (2014: 87) in relation to the Ugandan audiences of Nigerian films. Despite the fact that the audience communities that Krings and Dipio refer to are fairly recent, the element of ‘customization’ of the audience reception experience seems to be very much part of the culture of cinema in East Africa, especially in the rural areas and the lower social strata in the urban space. Also important to the Kanda’s Grounds reception experience were the breaks after every half an hour or so. During the breaks, there would be more product promotion and the awarding of prizes to winners. Perhaps it was these ‘disruptions’ that rendered the actual details of the films, such as the title, of secondary importance. Therefore, my understanding of the testimonies of my respondents, particularly in their failure to clearly recall specific titles of the films they watched, despite their fresh memories of the commercial adverts and other interlude activities, is that the reception experience was certainly not about factual detail but the complex set of



performance acts that were enabled in the experience. In this case, the commercial element and profit motive of the sponsors seem to have been worked in as one of the narratives of the performance. This shows, although in a minimal way in this context, that capitalist interests were also easily accommodated. Another group that seemingly also appropriated this space was the emergent community of ‘urban kids’ in Narok in the 1990s. These were adolescents who had grown up in a rapidly globalizing world and who had access to the medium of cinema. This arguably contributed to their perception of who they were and what they could become. They had global film stars such as Bruce Lee around whom they modelled their identities. They were exposed to new concepts of masculinity and, predictably, the older or bigger boys took it upon themselves to play the role of the ‘masters’. In my interviews, I learnt that each neighbourhood had its own ‘master’ who protected the girls and the weaker boys. For instance, there was a famous boy from the Majengo slums called Boy Kimbo, renowned among the children for his strength and fearlessness. I also learnt that there was also another boy who was stocky and brave, known as Gatimu. Unlike ‘Boy Kimbo’, who was protective, Gatimu was a bully and was given the nickname Bruce Lee. There were also some naughty boys who threw rotten eggs at the front section to scare the girls and the much younger boys. Nevertheless, they were almost always caught and punished by the adults. Even so, one could argue that the process of social identity formation and performance had been significantly changed. Considering that most of the films that were shown were action films such as James Bond and Bruce Lee movies, and even boxing matches involving Muhammad Ali, the identity of the urban kid was now at the threshold of what in the words of Arjun Appadurai (1996: 29) could be termed as ‘synchrony with the referential world of cinema’. At the end of the show, at around 9 p.m., there was an elaborate closure, and the screen would be emblazoned with the words THE END. The organizers would then dismantle their set-up, and the audience would disperse and disappear in an orderly manner to the different neighbourhoods of Narok town. The adults and bigger boys ensured that every child arrived home safely. In this sense, the cinema shows were much more than leisure consumption, and with close reference to Richard Bauman (1977: 26–28), I argue that the relationship between the medium of cinema and this particular



audience at that point in time inevitably became an event for which performance—though an optional feature—was inevitable. I also argue that the seemingly elaborate performance schedule grew out of a complex of interests revolving around the commercial and the social, an aspect of audience reception performances, which I have observed elsewhere (Waliaula 2014: 73). It is also significant to my developing argument that these performance activities were also ritualized at the spatial-temporal and structural level. In this sense, they proceeded along a predictable plot line that every participant knew and took part in actualizing, a characteristic feature that is comparable to what Richard Schechner (2006: 34) has termed as restored behaviour.

Rural Cinema and Evangelization in Narok Kanda’s Grounds’ performance gradually shifted from the secular cinema show experience to the Christian evangelical-oriented cinema, particularly from the mid- to late 1990s. Since this space was already an established park of sorts, and since the cinema culture had taken root here, it was easy for the evangelical churches to use it too. For the children who grew up in Narok town and its environs between 1992 and 1997, and those that encountered cinema in boarding school, their most vivid memories of open-air cinema are those of the ‘gospel cinema’, what Birgit Meyer (2002) has termed as the Pentecostal modernist cinema. Anne Mumbi and Mary Nashipae are the two respondents in this study whose childhood coincided with the evangelical cinema era and also happened to have grown up right in Narok town. Mumbi was also brought up in a Pentecostal Christian family and her father, a pastor, used the open-air cinema equipment as part of his crusades. The following is a section of the interview with her during this study: Question: Describe your earliest memories of open-air cinema: Answer: Very beautiful memories. They are so private, so intimate; it is the first time I am going to share this with anyone in a formal setting. Question: What do you mean? Answer: You see, my folks are church people. I was in nursery school and I remember going for crusades. Before the actual preaching was done, actually before anything was done, a film was shown. Question: Where were these crusades staged? Answer: In Kanda’s Grounds. My father was the one that operated the machines. The interesting thing is that Kanda’s Grounds was a grassy park,



very cool and green. You see unlike now when the river is seasonal, at that time it was always there, flowing. There were many trees and therefore cool shade even during the day. The trees were mainly closer to the river and thus there was an open field that was grassy and comfortable. Question: What films were shown? Answer: Most frequent was the film about Jesus, the common one, the one that captures his baptism, miracles, crucifixion, death and resurrection. Question: Could you describe for me a typical open-air cinema crusade? Answer: Yes. It started at around 6 p.m., when dusk was setting in. Everyone would be seated by then, and we the children were nearest to the picture. The pastor introduced the cinema, I mean the story. But then there was a commentator who gave more details even during the show. With time, I don’t know how they did it, but then we had voice-over translation in Kiswahili. This made it much easier for the people to follow. But what captivated me most was the technical side of it. The running tape, the noise made by the generator, the bright light, it was for me a phenomenon! Like when it ended and then the tape rolled back very fast to the beginning, for me it was a wonder. Question: How did it proceed to the end? Answer: The film would go on to the end. But another remarkable thing was the imagery of the devil in the film. He was portrayed as a dark, ugly and scary figure. I remember, we the children were scared of those parts involving the devil, you know, we used to be afraid … this devil is real! He is laughing at us! You know the film used to end with the devil laughing loud and hard, in a sense we felt condemned. Then you could hear people cursing the devil: ‘Shindwe! Shindwe!’ Question: What church was that? Answer: Christian Outreach Ministries. And the church has many branches far off from town; such places as Mau, Kisiriri, and Naire Kiangare. The cinema could be taken there too. But because I was still very young, I did not go along with my father.

Mary Nashipae also had vivid memories of the evangelical cinema at Kanda’s Grounds. Particularly captivating for her were the large-size moving pictures of cinema and the commentator. She confesses that at that time, she had her perception of the real and the cinematic mixed up and frequently would dream about the cinematic picture and action. She also recalls the antics of the commentator whom she describes thus, ‘He used



to tell us how the story was going. And he used to exaggerate. He used to use a microphone and it sounded as if he was part of the cinema. He used to say funny things and made us laugh’. Nashipae also observed that the audience took the Bible stories very seriously; many people were converted to Christianity because of the cinema experience. It is arguable that the appropriation of Kanda’s Ground for evangelical purposes was not just part of the logical tradition that had been established over time but also because of what Edmund Leech (1976: 69–70) terms the mythology of ritual. In this sense, Kanda’s Grounds could be described as having acquired ‘the attributes of metaphysical time and space and of metaphysical objects’. One could argue that while the physical space may have been the same as it was during the days of secular open-air cinema, it still carried that air of ‘liminality’. It was still associated with the ritual characteristic of detachment, which played into the hands of the evangelical groups. We could also argue that the same liminal connotations were associated with cinema as a medium when it was used in boarding schools for evangelical purposes. It is also important to note some elements of continuity and discontinuity in the actual audience reception experience of the secular and the evangelical mobile cinema shows at Kanda’s Grounds. The time frame of the performance and narrative element of the voice-over were carried over but, significantly, the sitting arrangement was changed. In the evangelical cinema, everybody sat down. One could argue that Christianity had introduced some elements of uniformity and brotherhood among all members of the audience that is comparable to Turner’s (1967: 100) concept of ‘communitas’, which he has described as ‘the situation where ritual subjects during the liminal phase in a ritual performance are all treated equally, deprived off all distinguishing characteristics of social structure’. We could also argue that at this point in time, the increasing influence of the modern perspective on life through formal education and the church had gradually watered down the erstwhile rigid social structures of age and gender identity. Indeed, the mobile cinema apparatus was now practically run by the clergy and was, in a sense, an extension of the church service.

Conclusion This chapter set out to revisit the audience reception experience of open-­ air cinema, a cultural event that was practised in Narok town in Kenya between the early 1970s and the late 1990s. It examined how this



­ henomenon played out in what was then the only public park in Narok p town, Kanda’s Grounds. This examination is guided by the premise that cinema arrived in this part of the world at the same time when elements of modernity such as urbanization, formal education and Christianity were taking root. There was thus a wider process of social change. Indeed, the very fact that cinema had been introduced meant that there were new ways of defining and experiencing leisure. That the region had three-day primary schools within the township and a handful of boarding primary schools in the more rural parts also shows that the culture of formal education, and with it, literacy, was being established. Christianity is also a feature that was taking root and, as noted in the study, it was still a new belief system that was yet to be embedded in the imagination of the local community, a fact that is evident in the apparent awe with which the audiences of evangelical cinema perceived the re-enacted Bible stories. Narok town of the 1970s and 1980s was largely a budding urban space. I consider the manner of engagement between open-air cinema and its audiences in this town and its environs as a metaphorical representation of the wider processes of social adjustment that apparently involved a negotiated agreement of sorts. I have compared this to aspects of Victor Turner’s concept of ritual and its social functions. In this light, the reception experience has been understood as a symbolic representation of the social struggles between age and gender categories at the moment of transition from the conservative indigenous social hierarchies to a new set of relations in which adults and young people, men and women, were to redefine their relationships. The attempt by the patriarchal order to hold on to some aspects, as symbolized in such aspects of the performance as the sitting arrangement, was accommodated for a while but with time, and with the introduction of more forces of modernity such as Christianity, it had to give way. Parental control over children was gradually replaced by some sort of negotiated understanding evident in their (parents’) willingness to not only let the children go out to watch open-air cinema in the evening but to also support them. The narrative performances were also a negotiation between an electronic mediation, individual creative imagination and sponsors’ commercial interests. Ultimately, I argue that Kanda’s Grounds physically hosted the encounter between open-air cinema and the people of Narok, but the actual audience reception performance was framed, and in turn also helped frame wider social processes.



References Appadurai, A. (1996). Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Bauman, R. (1977). Verbal Art as Performance. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press Inc. Dipio, D. (2014). Audience Pleasure and Nollywood Popularity in Uganda: An Assessment. Journal of African Cinemas, 6(1), 85–108. Geertz, C. (1973). The Interpretation of Cultures. London: Hutchinson & Company Publishers Ltd. Kenya Inter-Agency Rapid Assessment Report. (2014, November). Retrieved from files/Narok%20Secondary%20Data%20Review.pdf. Krings, M. (2015). African Appropriations: Cultural Difference, Mimesis and Media. Bloomington; Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Leech, E. (1976). Culture and Communication: An Introduction to the Use of Structuralist Analysis in Social Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Meyer, B. (2002). Pentecostalism, Prosperity and Popular Cinema in Ghana. Culture and Research: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 3(1), 67–87. Okpewho, I. (1992). African Oral Literature: Backgrounds, Character and Continuity. Bloomington; Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Schechner, R. (2006). Performance Studies: An Introduction. New  York: Routledge. Turner, V. (1967). The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca; London: Cornell University Press. Turner, V. (1974). Dramas, Fields and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society. Ithaca; London: Cornell University Press. Waliaula, S. (2014). Active Audiences of Nollywood Video-films: An Experience with a Bukusu Audience Community in Chwele Market of Western Kenya. Journal of African Cinemas, 6(1), 71–83.


The Business of ‘Wholesome Entertainment’: The Mascioli Film Circuit of Northeastern Ontario Jessica L. Whitehead

On the night of February 10, 1936, in the mining community of Timmins, Ontario, the Palace Theatre opened during one of the coldest nights of the year with the temperature dropping to minus 20° Fahrenheit (Temperature Last Night Was 22 Below 1936: 1). Despite the cold weather, the opening night attracted over 1300 patrons, which the local paper, The Porcupine Advance reported was the largest single gathering in Northern Ontario. ‘A perfect opening, for a perfect theatre’, was the assessment of the newspaper, which also reported that hundreds of people had been turned away (Auspicious Opening of Beautiful Palace Theatre 1936: 1). The opening night programme included a 14-piece orchestra as well as several local musical acts. Timmins’ most prominent citizens attended, and the head of the Timmins Board of Trade, W. O. Langdon, acted as master of ceremonies. During his introduction, Langdon read out congratulatory telegrams sent to the proprietor of the theatre, Leo

J. L. Whitehead (*) Ryerson University, Toronto, ON, Canada © The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




Mascioli, from several Hollywood stars, such as Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, and William Powell. The Palace Theatre was the largest theatre in Timmins with 1248 seats, and it rivalled movie palaces in larger cities and towns in Canada.1 Leo Mascioli and his partners spent more than $100,000 on construction costs and brought in master plaster-workers from Montreal to bring a European aesthetic to the theatre (Fig.  4.1). The opening of the Palace Theatre reflected the transformation of Timmins, Ontario, from a mining camp to a modern town. Not only did the Palace Theatre change the aesthetics of the downtown, it also helped change the culture of the town. Timmins was a rugged mining town that had been hastily constructed to house the influx of immigrant labourers brought in to work the mines during the Porcupine Gold Rush of the 1910s.2 The early town developed a male-­

Fig. 4.1  The Palace Theatre Box Office (1947). RG series 56–11 Ontario Archives. From ‘Blind Pigs’ to Cinemas: The Transformation of Cultural Life in Timmins



centred leisure culture that revolved around drinking, gambling, and prostitution (Forestell 1998, 1999). The introduction of modern theatres, like the Palace Theatre, changed the way the people of Timmins spent their leisure time. With the opening of the Palace Theatre, the town of Timmins became a part of the modern entertainment industry with its Hollywood feature films, opulent movie theatres, and vertically integrated movie circuits. Shortly after the opening of the Palace Theatre, Leo Mascioli signed a deal with the national Canadian circuit, Famous Players Canadian Corporation (FPCC), which was controlled by Paramount. This chapter will draw on the financial records of the Mascioli chain from 1933 to 1937 in order to explore the impact of a small-town chain becoming part of a national theatre circuit. A former employee salvaged original ledgers from one of the Mascioli theatres in the 1980s, and they are one of the most complete sets of theatre financial records available in Canada.3 To supplement these records, I have incorporated newspaper accounts, archival records, and interviews with the people of Timmins about their memories of the theatres during this time period.4 The results of my analysis of the circuit during the first years of vertical integration differ from the standard narrative in Canadian film studies, as previous studies have often focused on the negative impact of vertical integration and how foreign companies came to control the exhibition market (Pendakur 1990; Seiler 2006; Jarvie 1992). Although this study does not dispute that vertical integration had a negative impact on many independent exhibitors in Canada, in the case of Timmins the acquisition of the Mascioli chain by FPCC helped to stabilize the company’s finances and allowed them to remain largely independent. There are two reasons that the acquisition of the Mascioli chain was originally beneficial for the company: first, Mascioli essentially used FPCC’s own coercive negotiation tactics against them and was able to cut an advantageous deal; second, the remote location of the theatres kept FPCC at arm’s length in the actual management of the theatres. As a mining town, Timmins is somewhat of an anomaly in the context of rural exhibition studies. Most international case studies tend to focus on rural communities with agrarian-based economies (Waller 2005; Levine 2004; Bowles 2007). This is also the case with rural cinema studies in Canada, and Canadian examples tend to look at small towns with monoethnic populations (Tepperman 2008; Canning 2009). Timmins was not entirely rural because of its population demographics, but it was also not



urban because of its remote location. Timmins’ population rapidly expanded between 1921 and 1941 from 3839 to 29,140.5 The town also had a multiethnic population that was made up of French and English Canadian settlers; Italian, Ukrainian, and Finnish immigrant workers; and First Nations peoples who lived on nearby reserves and worked in the town on a seasonal basis (Abel 2006). Even though by the 1940s Timmins was the size of a small city in Canada, the population did not have access to the same amenities as comparable towns in the south because of its remote northern location. Although Timmins is not entirely rural, it can be defined as part of the hinterland. Two classifications are often used in dividing Canadian communities: the heartland—the economic centres of the country—and the hinterland—made up of the resource-producing communities (Nelles 2014; Polese and Shearmur 2006; Yeates 1975; McCann 1982). Timmins is in the northeastern region of the province of Ontario. This region was integral to the economic development of Ontario, as there were vast mineral deposits and forestry reserves that brought the centre of the province great wealth. Southern Ontario industrialists helped to create single-sector towns in the region surrounding the mining and forestry industries, and within a relatively small geographic area of Northeastern Ontario, there were several communities formed around these industries (Saarinen 1986; Radforth 1987). Trade routes between Northeastern Ontario and the southern part of the province predate European settlement. The First Nations tribes of the Ojibwa, Cree, and Algonquin first populated the area, and they exported copper and silver jewellery to southern tribes and in return received pottery and pottery-making techniques (Abel 2006: 18). European settlement increased trade in the region, and the expansion of the Canadian railway in the 1800s and early 1900s caused economic exchange to flourish. Train lines were used to transport mineral resources from Northeastern Ontario to the south, and, in return, entertainment and goods were sent from the southern areas in order to make life in the northern towns more bearable. Timmins was one of three towns built in the Porcupine district after the discovery of gold in 1909. The three largest mines had communities surrounding them that developed into the towns of Schumacher, South Porcupine, and Timmins. These early towns in the Porcupine district were filled with brothels and illegal drinking establishments known as ‘blind pigs’. The development of an underground leisure industry can be traced



to government regulation on the sale and consumption of alcohol near mining communities (Forestell 1998: 266). The Ontario government passed the Mining Act of 1906, which prohibited the sale of alcohol within a six-mile radius of a mining site, with legal saloons only allowed to sell temperance beer. Historian Nancy Forestell (1998: 266) found evidence from newspaper reports that by 1912 there were as many as 90 blind pigs in the Porcupine district. Forestell (1998: 267) also found that prostitutes were often involved in these establishments, either operating them or working in them. The first theatres to open in the campsites reflected the homosocial culture that evolved in the male-dominated community. Mascioli’s first theatre, the Empire Theatre, which opened in 1911, often had live fighting events, and some of the most popular films were fight pictures. The early theatres in Timmins were improvised structures, and the first Empire Theatre was built in a converted store that used kitchen chairs as seats and had a makeshift twoby-four projection booth built over the front door. A year later, a newer Empire Theatre was built, which Mascioli described in a 1939 interview with the Timmins Daily Press as an ‘ungainly building’ (Four Dollars Receipts at First Movies Here; Used Renovated Store 1939: 1). This second Empire Theatre was larger but was plagued with technical problems as the company had difficulty getting quality films from distributors in Toronto according to The Porcupine Advance (Empire Theatre Coming Attractions 1915: 2). The theatres evolved with the town, and in 1916, Mascioli opened Timmins’ first modern theatre, the New Empire Theatre, with 600 seats and an opulent stage and design. In 1924, a second modern theatre opened, the Goldfields Theatre, with 847 seats. The popularity of the theatres started to increase dramatically, and in the 1920s, the Porcupine Advance reported that the theatres began to mimic the programming of theatres in larger cities with two shows every evening (To Accommodate Picture Enthusiasts 1921: 1). The leisure practices of the town began to shift in the 1920s. Nancy Forestell argues that the earlier homosocial leisure culture of the 1910s was dismantled in the 1920s as the mining companies tried to make the former campsites into family-friendly communities. It was during this period that the blind pigs and brothels decreased; married men began to partake in family-centred recreation and single men began interacting more frequently with single women in social settings (Forestell 1998: 253). Theatres functioned as important spaces for this new type of mixed-gendered/family-centred leisure to take place.



Mascioli’s theatres provided an accepted form of modern entertainment that spread to the other resource communities in the region. The 1920s and 1930s represented a period of expansion for Mascioli, who branched out to several towns in the region with his Northern Empire chain. By the 1930s, Mascioli had theatres in six communities in the region. Northern Empire theatres were located in South Porcupine, Schumacher, New Liskeard, Ansonville, Cochrane, and Kapuskasing. In many of the towns, Mascioli was the first to bring modern theatres that had regular film programming, including nightly shows, children’s matinees on the weekend, and, in Timmins, midnight shows that catered to young adults. In 1936, the Porcupine Advance wrote an editorial on the importance of Mascioli’s theatres to life in the towns of Northeastern Ontario. According to the Porcupine Advance, Leo Mascioli’s modern theatres gave the population ‘courage and hope’ during difficult and bleak periods and prevented the spread of ‘less worthy forms of entertainment’—in reference to the brothels and illegal drinking establishments that used to be the main source of entertainment in the towns (An Event of Importance 1936: 4).

The Business Records: How the Chain Expanded, 1933–1936 The theatre company’s financial records reflect how it rapidly expanded in the 1930s. There are seven ledgers, starting in 1933, that record the general accounts of the Timmins Theatres, the real estate holdings, and the tax records for Timmins Theatres, Northern Empire Theatres, and for Leo Mascioli’s personal accounts. The general account ledgers for Timmins Theatres are the most revealing; they are organized with one page outlining the monthly profits and the adjoining page outlining monthly expenses (Fig. 4.2). The types of revenues for the company over these years were from rents, transfers from the theatres, and land sales. The types of expenses were payments towards loans, dividends for shareholders, construction costs, real estate deals, and travel expenses. The profits for the company were divided among the shareholders, and three men held the majority of the shares: Leo Mascioli, Pete Bardessono, and Chas Pierce. Pete Bardessono, Mascioli’s earliest partner, was the secretary-­ treasurer. Born to Italian immigrant parents in Hibbing, Minnesota, Pete was the manager of many of the early theatres and was



Fig. 4.2  Photograph of Timmins Theatre’s accounting ledger from 1933

often interviewed in the newspaper because he was a native English speaker unlike Mascioli. Chas Pierce, a Russian Jewish immigrant who owned the general store in Timmins, was a later and mostly silent partner in the company, but he did play a role in negotiating the deal with FPCC. The ledgers reveal that the company’s revenue consistently increased over the 1933–1936 period, going from $26,757 in 1933 to $100,374 in 1936, nearly doubling yearly with an average annual increase of 91.7 per cent (Fig. 4.3). Originally, the company made most of its income from renting stores that were attached to the theatres. Several respondents told me that Leo always built his theatres with stores attached so he could diversify his profits. The general account ledgers did not record the monthly ticket sales from the theatres and instead included transfers of funds from the theatres. From 1933 to 1935, the theatre that brought in the most money was the New Empire Theatre. In fact, in 1934, the New Empire Theatre transfers were the largest source of income for the company, amounting to



Fig. 4.3  Graph of Timmins Theatres overall income from all operations from 1933 to 1936

$16,000 that year, while the Goldfields Theatre only transferred $5000. The revenues changed with the opening of the Palace Theatre in 1936, as it quickly became the most profitable among them. Interestingly, in 1936, the New Empire Theatre began a drastic decline in revenues and the Goldfields Theatre became the second most profitable theatre. Starting in 1933, the company began investing in several properties in a bid to expand their operations. Timmins Theatres bought three properties on Third Street, which became a hub for theatres in Timmins. The Goldfields Theatre, New Empire Theatre, and the Palace Theatre were all on Third Street; later, the Broadway Theatre would also be built on Third Street, while the Cartier Theatre and Victory Theatres would later be built on streets immediately adjacent to Third Street. The chain also expanded its operations into the larger community of North Bay by buying property in that town in October of 1936; shortly thereafter, in November, Leo Mascioli commissioned architectural plans, and in December, construction costs were registered in the general account book.6 In December 1936, there was also a notation in the ledgers that a lawyer was retained for an ‘option at Brantford’, which is a town in Southwestern Ontario. In conjunction with the real estate deals, construction costs made up a bulk of the company’s expenditures over the period of 1933 to 1936, including $107,299 that the chain spent on the construction of the Palace Theatre. In order to complete its construction, the company had to take out several



bank loans that totalled $29,000 by 1936. The building of the North Bay Theatre would have been an expensive undertaking, and one month of construction had already cost the company $4553. The ledgers demonstrate that although the company increased its income over the period of 1933 to 1936, expenses for the expansion made the company mostly unprofitable in 1935 and 1936. In 1933, the shareholders had made a combined profit of $13,522, and this had increased in 1934 to a combined profit of $17,160. These profits drastically fell in 1935, when only $3760 was paid to the shareholders. In 1936, the combined profits were still low at $4160. As an independent chain in a remote region of Canada, the company was having a difficult time maintaining profitability during its rapid expansion. The increased expenses that came with expansion were making the financials of the company increasingly untenable.

Famous Players and Becoming Part of the National Chain A touchstone in the history of film exhibition in Canada is the monopolistic practices of Paramount-controlled FPCC and the company’s rapid takeover of the Canadian market (Cox 1975, 1979). FPCC was started by Nathan L. Nathanson on February 5, 1920, in partnership with Paramount (Moore 2003). This vertically integrated chain came to dominate the Canadian exhibition market, which had a long history of being reliant on US capital (Pendakur 1990: 45–63). A key aspect of the history of FPCC’s expansion across Canada was Nathanson’s ability to coerce independent exhibitors into partnership agreements. Nathanson had three main tactics in getting exhibitors to sign with him: first, in his exclusive booking contracts, Nathanson would prevent live acts from playing in non-FPCC theatres; second, he would build new theatres near independent theatres in order to undercut their businesses; and third, he would lure exhibitors into signing contracts by telling them that they could rent Paramount films at a much lower rate (Seiler 2006: 64). The region of Northeastern Ontario was one of the only locations in the large province of Ontario where FPCC did not have a significant presence.7 With the opening of the Palace Theatre, the theatre empire of Leo Mascioli and his associates drew the attention of the FPCC. According to several interviews, it was shortly after the opening of the Palace Theatre



that FPCC started to exert more pressure on Mascioli, and this is corroborated by the archival evidence.8 In addition to being attracted to the Palace Theatre, FPCC was also likely threatened by the Mascioli chain’s expansion into their territory, given the company’s plans for a theatre in North Bay and its ongoing exploration into the possibility of expanding into Brantford. Both cities had FPCC theatres, and the ever-growing Mascioli chain must have been a threat. Mascioli also had reasons for wanting to sign a deal with FPCC—and one of the most pressing was gaining access to first-run films. An interview subject familiar with Timmins Theatres business practices told me in an interview on July 23, 2015, that Leo Mascioli signed the agreement with FPCC in part because of the cost of paying for first-run films. Mascioli was apparently able to pay for first-run comedies but not features, and it would often take months for first-run feature films to get to Timmins.9 My interview subject claims this did not have a huge effect on business because the people of Timmins did not know that films showed in the major cities in Canada before coming to Timmins. Also, because Mascioli controlled all of the theatres in the town, there was no competition. My interview subject said, ‘We didn’t know that it had been out for two months and shown in Toronto and Montreal and Vancouver and we were getting it two months later. It didn’t matter to us because there was no competition’. Although the lack of first-run films did not initially affect the business, because of the lack of competition, it would have been disastrous if a FPCC theatre that showed newer releases was built in Timmins. Nathanson, in fact, did make plans to open up a rival theatre in October 1936, six months after the Palace Theatre opened and the same month Mascioli bought property in North Bay. Nathanson used a subsidiary company, Hanson Theatres, to submit plans for a 1000-seat theatre called the Granada Theatre.10 One respondent on July 20, 2015, reflecting on FPCC tactics at the time, remarked that FPCC attempted to ‘put the squeeze on Mascioli’. The plans for the Granada Theatre seem to have been a catalyst in the partnership agreement because in November of 1936, one month after the plans were filed, Chas Pierce expensed a trip to Toronto, most likely as part of negotiations. Timmins Theatres’ filing of plans for the North Bay Theatre in November 1936 was likely also part of these negotiations—a ploy to put Timmins Theatres in a stronger position. The contract between the two companies was signed in January 1937 and stipulated that the partnership would begin in March of 1937.11



FPCC did not publicly take over the theatres, which could have been a move to limit the exposure of their monopoly, which had come under government scrutiny since the 1930s with a government commission.12 On March 23, 1937, it was reported in the Motion Picture Daily that Hanson Theatres Corporation acquired the six ‘Mascioli Brothers’ theatres in Northern Ontario (Hanson’s Total Now 24 1937: 7). The company was not in fact sold but entered into a partnership agreement. There were three contracts involved in this agreement: one was between FPCC and Timmins Theatres, the second was between FPCC and Northern Empire Theatres, and the third was between FPCC and Hanson Theatres, giving Hanson the rights to oversee the contract that was signed between FPCC and Timmins Theatres. The contract stipulates that FPCC would supervise the operation of the three Timmins Theatres—the New Empire Theatre, the Palace Theatre, and the Goldfields Theatre—and would pay Timmins Theatres $2500 a month for the use of them. Timmins Theatres, in return, paid FPCC a booking fee of $50 per week for the Palace Theatre, $25 per week for the Goldfields Theatre, and $25 per week for the New Empire Theatre. All profits would be divided, and the exact words in the contract are ‘share and share alike’. There was another caveat in the contract that transferred the proposed Granada Theatre to Timmins Theatres and, in return, Timmins Theatres would transfer their proposed theatre in North Bay to FPCC. Despite the report in the Motion Picture Daily, that all of Mascioli’s theatres were procured by Hanson Theatres, the deal between FPCC and Mascioli’s second theatre company, Northern Empire Theatres, did not give either Famous Players or Hanson operational control. Instead, this contract gave exclusive booking rights to FPCC for Mascioli’s four other theatres in Ansonville, New Liskeard, Schumacher, and South Porcupine, and it made them second-run to the three central Timmins Theatres. Even though the contract stipulated that FPCC would supervise the theatres, their management did not appear to have changed during the early years of the contract. Frank Colemeco and Gene Columbo continued in their role as managers of the theatres, and day-to-day operations were controlled by Mascioli. The theatre regulatory files at the Ontario Archives indicate that from 1937 to 1940, regulatory infractions were directed towards Timmins Theatres. For example, when a new fire exit needed to be installed at the Palace Theatre, the inspection branch wrote to Timmins Theatres, and Gene Columbo replied that the work would have to wait until Mr Mascioli returned from Italy because he needed to



supervise all construction work on the theatres.13 Frank Colemeco, the manager of the Palace Theatre and the Goldfields Theatre, would also take creative measures in his management of the theatres. The projectionist laws in Canada required special licensing, so it was difficult to get enough operators in Timmins who met the requirements. An interview subject on July 19, 2015, recalled that when a projectionist got sick, Frank would have them run back and forth between the Palace Theatre and Goldfields Theatre. The majority of those I interviewed did not remember the FPCC takeover, and this quote from an interview on July 23, 2015, sums up their sentiments: ‘I don’t remember the changeover at all. It wasn’t important to me’. Ultimately, despite the power struggle, Mascioli for all intents and purposes still controlled the theatres, and it was mutually beneficial for both parties to sign a deal. For Mascioli, the increased costs of building bigger and better movie theatres made his company less than profitable in the 1930s, and for FPCC, it was important to gain a presence in this region that was growing quickly due to the booming mining industry. One thing that did change after the deal was how the account records were kept. The business records from the post-vertical integration show a higher level of both financial organization and profitmaking.

The Business Records Post-vertical Integration How the accounts were recorded changed after the partnership agreement with FPCC. Starting in 1937, the ledgers contained the general account and included payroll costs and profit-and-loss accounts from each of the theatres. The relatively simplistic books of the early company were replaced with a standardized accounting system that was overseen by the Hanson film company. In a memo from the accountant for the Mascioli businesses, it states that Hanson Theatre Company did all accounting for the theatres.14 The standardization of the books was reflective of a new business model that would increase profits for the company and stabilize its financials. The income of the theatres also rose dramatically after the partnership agreement. In 1937, the annual yearly income from just the theatre operations rose to $103,512. Previously the profits were combined with rental income for the stores attached to the theatres, and isolating the theatre income shows an impressive increase. The income for just the theatre operations in 1936 was $72,640, $48,400 in 1935, $21,000 in 1934, and $10,500 in 1933 (Fig. 4.4). That was a 700 per cent increase in the theatre



Fig. 4.4  Graph of income from theatre operations from 1933 to 1937

income over the four-year period, and there was an increase of 42.5 per cent between 1936 and 1937, after the deal was signed. The Palace Theatre contributed a significant amount of the new theatre revenues, and in 1937, there was a total of $71,432 transferred into the general account of the theatres. The total breakdown of the Palace Theatre profits and losses reveal that the theatre had the largest profit margin throughout the year of any of the theatres. The Goldfields Theatre was the second most profitable theatre in 1937 and transferred a total of $31,452 to the general account. The New Empire Theatre decreased its revenue drastically in 1937 and transferred a total of $626 to the general account and, from then on, consistently ran at a loss. Both companies did well under the new financial organization of the company. Timmins Theatres made $65,541  in transfers to the general accounts: $25,000 under the rental agreement and $38,500 from the share of the profits; a further $1941 was transferred to Timmins Theatres on ‘account for the inventory’. Hanson Theatres also made a significant amount of profit and received $38,500 in the profit shares. Ultimately, the partnership was beneficial for both companies. The deal provided the Mascioli chain with financial stability and the deal was profitable for FPCC under their subsidiary Hanson Theatres. Timmins Theatres continued to thrive under the deal, and three more theatres were built in Timmins: the Cartier Theatre in 1938, the Broadway Theatre in 1941, and the Victory Theatre in 1947.



Going to the Show in Timmins The change in theatre revenues over the years reflects how the cinema-­ going tastes of the Timmins population evolved. While it was a modern structure, the New Empire Theatre did maintain some of the earlier practices of the first theatres. It had regular vaudeville acts and played silent films well into the late 1930s. Both the Goldfields Theatre and the Palace Theatre played more current features and had standardized programmes. The evolution in the film programming of the Goldfields Theatre and the Palace Theatre shows the desire of the Timmins population to have a movie-going experience that was akin to that in the city. A majority of my interview subjects described how the Palace Theatre changed the cinema-­ going practices in the town, as attending movies there became a weekly special event where people would wear their best clothes. There are two surviving programming ledgers at the Timmins Museum from the Goldfields Theatre (starting in April 1930 to February 1936) and the Palace Theatre (starting in March 1936 to June 1938). These ledgers record each film that was shown as well as details of the standardized nightly programme, which included a feature, a two-reel comedy, a single, and a newsreel. The record books also sometimes noted the trajectory for the films. For example, many of the features were sent to Mascioli’s second-run Empire Theatres in the smaller communities of Ansonville or New Liskeard after they played in Timmins, and sometimes films would be sent to the Classic Theatre in Cobalt, even though it does not appear that Mascioli had any financial interest in that theatre. The films were also exchanged between the Goldfields and New Empire and very often, they would be sent back to Toronto directly after playing in Timmins. It appears from these records that Timmins was often the first stop for films playing in the northeast region of Ontario, and there were also several exclusives that just played at the Timmins Theatres. The books contain information about the distribution company of each film played, and the vast majority of the films shown at both the Palace Theatre and the Goldfields Theatre were from American distribution companies. According to Pendakur (1990, 69), from 1930 to 1931, 91.3 per cent of films shown in Canada were from American distributors, with Famous Players Lasky and its subsidiary Regal Films making up 36 per cent of all films shown in Canada. The record books from Timmins indicate that even more American features played in Timmins than the



national average. Between the years 1930 and 1936, 98 per cent of the feature films that played at the Goldfields Theatre were from American distributors, with 42 per cent of the films from Lasky, Regal, and Paramount (Fig. 4.5).15 From March 1936 to December 1936, 100 per cent of the features shown at the Palace Theatre were from American distribution companies, with 40 per cent from Regal and Paramount (Fig. 4.6). The deal with FPCC did not seem to change the types of films shown at the theatres, and after the deal was signed, 97 per cent of the features shown at the Palace Theatre were from American distributors, with 37 per cent from Paramount and Regal, which is actually a slight drop from the pre-­contract days (Fig. 4.7). Although Hollywood films made up the majority of the film programming, live acts that showcased local talent and were regularly scheduled. These shows often consisted of Italian, French, and Ukrainian bands perFeature Films at the Goldfields PARAMOUNT













2% 9%

0% 14%

6% 19%

10% 11%

9% 12% 1% 5%

Fig. 4.5  All Feature Films shown at the Goldfields Theatre from April 1930 to February 1936



Feature Films at the Palace FOX












9% 10% 9%


Fig. 4.6  All Feature Films shown at the Palace from March 1936 to December 1936 before the contract with FPCC

forming for the audience. There were also sometimes special performances by either local or travelling acts. Several of my male respondents remembered seeing burlesque shows which they referred to as the ‘forbidden strip shows’, and according to interview subjects, Gene Columbo’s band would play for the dancers. One interview subject, in an interview on July 19, 2015, mentioned that they were never advertised as strip shows but were called ‘seasonal entertainment’ on the marquee, but I was unable to find any mention of these shows in the surviving programming ledgers. Along with live acts, midnight shows were also a regular part of the programming, and in the early 1930s, midnight shows were scheduled more often than matinees at the Goldfields Theatre. Midnight performances were particularly common on Sunday nights as a way to get around legislation that banned film screening on Sundays in Ontario.16 A Timmins resident interviewed on July 19, 2015, remembered this fact and said about the midnight shows:



Feature Films at the Palace FOX









3% 17% 19%


12% 10%

8% 7%


Fig. 4.7  All Feature Films that played at the Palace from January 1937 to June 1938 after the contract with FPCC

Now, you’re not supposed to be open on Sunday, so they would have midnight movies that started at one minute after midnight on Sunday night and the guys would buy Mickeys, so they could spike cokes at the theatre and drink and yell and hoot at the screen. And I went to dozens and dozens of midnight movies, even when I was in high school. So, you got to bed at two-thirty or three o’clock in the morning. When you’re young, it doesn’t matter. After the deal with FPCC, the programming ledger from the Palace Theatre had a decline in both midnight shows and live acts; however, all of my interview subjects, who were teenagers in the 1940s and 1950s, vividly remembered going to both midnight shows and live acts at the Palace Theatre. Although it is very likely that midnight shows in the early era of the theatres were first shown to miners working on shifts, it appears from my interviews that, at least by the 1940s, midnight shows appealed more to the teenagers in the town.17 In my interviews, several people remembered going to the midnight shows as part of the courtship process



in Timmins. One female respondent, interviewed on July 23, 2015, when prompted about her memories of the midnight shows stated: ‘Oh yes, as young couples we often went to the midnight show, because we didn’t have to get up early on Sunday morning, so it was always a nice date to go on’. The theatres became the sites of social interaction for young people and most of my respondents remembered the theatres, particularly the midnight shows as being an important part of cultural life in the town. It appears that while Hollywood films played at the theatres, the live acts and midnight shows helped to facilitate collective cultural practices in Timmins that made the theatres multipurpose structures. The different ethnic enclaves were represented in live musical events, and the homosocial culture of the early camp was maintained through burlesque performances and midnight shows.18 Even as the local chain was absorbed into the national chain, there was a clear consistency in the programming at the theatres, and there was little change after the merger with FPCC.

Conclusions The cinema-going culture of Timmins, Ontario, was distinctive because of the geographic location and cultural make-up of the town. It was neither fully rural nor urban. Although the people of Timmins lived in a remote location and did not have access to first-run films, they had beautiful, modern theatres, including their very own movie palace. The theatres in Timmins evolved out of a male working-class culture that shifted in the 1920s. As the town became modernized, so too did the theatres, and the Palace Theatre was the culmination of the hopes and dreams of the people of Timmins to have the same leisure activities as people living in the centre of Canada. The intermedial status of the town of Timmins makes it an important case in the history of rural cinema-going. Because of the town’s remote location, an independent exhibition company was allowed to develop during a period of fierce competition with FPCC in most other parts of the country. Despite its remote location, Timmins had a large population growth in the 1920s and 1930s, and there were both the finances and ability to build theatres that would rival those of the cities. Because of this, FPCC wanted to integrate the Mascioli theatres into their circuit, but because of the remote area, they did not interfere with anything other



than the financial structure of the company in the early years of the contract. From my interviews, very few people remembered that FPCC was involved in the theatres, but everyone remembered Leo Mascioli as the picture pioneer of the North. Rather than interfere with the cinema-going practices of Timmins, vertical integration helped the theatres to thrive and grow. The positive impact of vertical integration was not only because of the remote location of the chain, but it was also due to the aggressive ­negotiation tactics employed by Mascioli. In these negotiations, Mascioli essentially copied Nathanson’s playbook by planning rival theatres in FPCC’s territory of North Bay and Brantford. Mascioli countered every move by Nathanson, and this led to a beneficial partnership agreement for Timmins Theatres, which gave the company financial stability while maintaining their independence. The integration of the Mascioli chain into the larger, nationalized circuit of FPCC did not necessarily change how the people of Timmins went to the movies, but it did have a beneficial effect on the theatre business in the town. A comparison of the theatre books pre- and post-integration demonstrates that profits increased substantially. In part, this was due to the popularity of the Palace Theatre, but the increase of profits was also due to the lowered cost of film rentals and access to better films. The deal also provided Timmins Theatres with security because of the consistent rental payments from FPCC. In the case of Timmins, vertical integration had a positive impact on exhibition, and Timmins Theatres continued to build theatres in Northeastern Ontario towns after the deal, providing wholesome entertainment to the remote northern towns of the area. Acknowledgements  I would like to thank the people of Timmins and the members of the Mascioli family who spoke with me for this project. I would also like to thank Karina Douglas from the Timmins Library and Karen Bachmann from the Timmins Museum, who both provided invaluable research assistance. Most importantly, I would like to thank Greig Dymond for allowing me to use his brother David’s collection. This research was made possible through the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarships (CGS) Doctoral Scholarship Award from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada as well as Research and Travel Awards from the Faculty of Graduate studies at York University.



Notes 1. For a discussion of movie palaces in Canada’s three largest cities, see Moore (2004). 2. For a history of the development of working-class culture in Timmins, see DiGiacomo (1982); Vasiliadis (1989). 3. Greig Dymond donated the ledger books for this project. Greig’s brother, David Dymond, salvaged these books from the Victory Theatre in Timmins in the 1980s when he was the manager of the theatre. This author would like to thank David Dymond for his dedication to the history of film exhibition in Canada. 4. In the summer of 2015, I conducted 35 interviews with the Timmins population including former employees of the theatres and members of the Mascioli family. Interview subjects were given anonymity. 5. I am relying on population figures published in the Porcupine Advance. For these figures, see ‘Timmins Population 3,839’, The Porcupine Advance, (16 January1922), p.  7. ‘Timmins Population Down Over 4,000 From Last Year’, The Porcupine Advance, (21 October 1943), second section p. 1. The population in Timmins hit a peak in 1941 and in the following years began to decline. 6. The original theatre plan for the Bay Theatre Plan from November 1936 can be found at the Ontario Archives in the RG series 56–10 container B308194. 7. Famous Players had theatres in the larger communities of Sudbury and North Bay but none in the cluster of resource towns around Timmins. 8. Records demonstrate that Famous Players Canadian Corporation (FPCC) filed plans to build a theatre in Timmins in October 1936, six months after the Palace Theatre opened. 9. This assertion by the interview subject is backed up by analysis of the theatre books from the 1930s, which demonstrate that feature films were shown well past the original release dates in Timmins. 10. The original theatre plans for the Granada Theatre from October 1936, can be found at the Ontario archives RG series 56–10 container B308194. 11. I am referencing a Contract agreement between Famous Players, Hanson Theatres, and Timmins Theatres dated January 30, 1937, from the Leo and Antonio Mascioli file, pages 536–546, RG series 117–A-3. Volume/box number: 642. File number: 2835, located at Library and Archives Canada. 12. In 1930, a commission was appointed by the prime minister of Canada to investigate the film exhibition industry in Canada, led by Peter White. White concluded in his report that a combine did exist in Canada between the American distributors, regal films, and Famous Players since 1926. In 1932, a case regarding the combine was brought in front of the Ontario



Supreme Court, which exonerated the companies as the business practices were not illegal under Canadian law and they did not have a negative effect on consumers as ticket prices did not increase during the years of the combine. See Seiler, 2016 for more details. 13. I am referencing a letter from Timmins Theatres from 1938, from the Palace Theatre File, RG series 56–9 container B247531, located at the Ontario Archives. 14. I am referencing an Accountant Report dated July 18, 1940, from the Leo and Antonio Mascioli file, pages 256–257, RG series 117–A-3. Volume/ box number: 642. File number: 2835, located at Library and Archives Canada. 15. These figures represent a list of all the distributors for each feature film from the two original booking ledgers. Also, note that the name Lasky disappears from the record book in March 1932, and Paramount was first listed in January 1932. The disappearance of Lasky and appearance of Paramount seems to reflect the 1930 name change of Paramount Famous Lasky Corp. to Paramount Publix Corp. See ‘Visits to the Great Studios: A Personally Conducted Tour of the Paramount Lot’ (1930), The New Movie Magazine, vol. 2. no. 4, October, pp. 86–89. 16. For more information on film censorship laws in Ontario, see Véronneau (2013). 17. Nancy Forestell (1998: 267) notes that in the early days of the town the first Empire Theatre would have late-night programming on Saturday nights because miners did not usually work on Sundays. 18. For more information on the legality of burlesque shows in Ontario, see Campbell (2000).

References Abel, K.  M. (2006). Changing Places: History, Community, and Identity in Northeastern Ontario. Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP. Accountant Report, July 18, 1940, Leo and Antonio Mascioli file, pages 256–257, RG series 117–A-3. Volume/box number: 642. File number: 2835, Library and Archives Canada. An Event of Importance. The Porcupine Advance (1936, February 10), p. 4. Auspicious Opening of Beautiful Palace Theatre. The Porcupine Advance (1936, February 13), p. 1. Bay Theatre Plan. (1936, November). RG Series 56–10 Container B308194, Ontario Archives, Toronto, ON. Bowles, K. (2007). “All the Evidence Is that Cobargo Is Slipping”: An Ecological Approach to Rural Cinema-Going. Film Studies, 10(1), 87–96.



Campbell, L. A. (2000). A Slub in the Cloth: R. v. St. Clair and the Pursuit of a “Clean Theatre” in Toronto, 1912–13. Canadian Journal of Law and Society, 15(1), 187–220. Canning, G. (2009). Moving Pictures at the Opera House: The Introduction of Motion Pictures to the Town of Truro, Nova Scotia, 1897–1914. In D. Varga (Ed.), Rain/Drizzle/Fog: Film and Television in Atlantic Canada (pp. 47–66). Calgary, AB: University of Calgary Press. Contract Agreement Between Famous Players, Hanson Theatres, and Timmins Theatres, January 30, 1937, Leo and Antonio Mascioli file, pages 536–546, RG series 117–A-3. Volume/box number: 642. File number: 2835, Library and Archives Canada. Cox, K. (1975). Hollywood’s Empire in Canada: The Majors and the Mandarins Through the Years. Cinema Canada, 22, 18–22. Cox, K. (1979). Canada’s Theatrical Wars-The Indies vs. the Chains. Cinema Canada, 56, 47–53. DiGiacomo, J. L. (1982). They Live in the Moneta: An Overview of the History and Changes in Social Organization of Italians in Timmins, Ontario. Toronto, ON: Institute for Behavioural Research. Empire Theatre Coming Attractions. Porcupine Advance (1915, December 23), p. 2. Forestell, N.  M. (1998). Bachelors, Boarding Houses and Blind Pigs: Gender Construction in a Multiethnic Mining Camp, 1909–1920. In F.  Iacovetta, P.  Draper, & R.  Ventresca (Eds.), A Nation of Immigrants, Women, Workers and Communities in Canadian History, 1840s–1960s (pp. 251–290). Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press. Forestell, N.  M. (1999). The Miner’s Wife: Working-Class Femininity in a Masculine Context, 1920–1950. In K.  McPherson, C.  Morgan, & N.  M. Forestell (Eds.), Gendered Pasts: Historical Essays in Femininity and Masculinity in Canada (pp. 139–157). Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press. Four Dollars Receipts at First Movies Here; Used Renovated Store. Timmins Daily Press (1939, March 27), p. 1. Granada Theatre Plans. (1936, October). RG Series 56–10 Container B308194, Ontario Archives, Toronto, ON. Hanson’s Total Now 24. Motion Picture Daily (1937, March 23). Interview with Timmins resident, interviewed by author, July 19, 2015. Interview with Timmins resident, interviewed by author, July 20, 2015. Interview with Timmins resident, interviewed by author, July 23, 2015. Jarvie, I. (1992). Hollywood’s Overseas Campaign: The North Atlantic Movie Trade, 1920–1950. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Levine, A. M. (2004). Projections of Rural Life: The Agricultural Film Initiative in France, 1919–39. Cinema Journal, 43(4), 76–95.



McCann, L.  D. (1982). Heartland and Hinterland: A Geography of Canada. Toronto, ON: Prentice-Hall. Moore, P.  S. (2003). Nathan L.  Nathanson Introduces Canadian Odeon: Producing National Competition in Film Exhibition. Canadian Journal of Film Studies, 12(2), 22–45. Moore, P.  S. (2004). Movie Palaces on Canadian Downtown Main Streets: Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. Urban History Review, 32(2), 3–20. Nelles, H. V. (2014). The Politics of Development: Forests, Mines and Hydro-Electric Power in Ontario 1849–1941. Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press. Pendakur, M. (1990). Canadian Dreams and American Control: The Political Economy of the Canadian Film Industry. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press. Polese, M., & Shearmur, R. (2006). Why Some Regions Will Decline: A Canadian Case Study with Thoughts on Local Development Strategies. Papers in Regional Science, 85(1), 23–46. Radforth, I.  W. (1987). Bushworkers and Bosses: Logging in Northern Ontario, 1900–1980. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press. Saarinen, O. (1986). Single-Sector Communities in Northern Ontario: The Creation and Planning of Dependent Towns. In G. A. Stelter & A. F. Artibise (Eds.), Power and Place: Canadian Urban Development in the North American Context (pp. 219–264). Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. Seiler, R. M. (2006). Nathanson, Zukor, and Famous Players: Movie Exhibition in Canada, 1920–1941. American Review of Canadian Studies, 36(1), 59–80. Temperature Last Night Was 22 Below. The Porcupine Advance (1936, February 13), p. 1. Tepperman, C. (2008). Digging the Finest Potatoes from Their Acre: Government Film Exhibition in Rural Ontario. In K. Fuller-Seeley (Ed.), Hollywood in the Neighborhood: Historical Case Studies of Local Moviegoing (pp. 130–148). Berkeley: University of California Press. Timmins Population 3,839. The Porcupine Advance (1922, January 16), p. 7. Timmins Population Down Over 4,000 From Last Year. The Porcupine Advance (1943, October 21), Second section p. 1. Timmins Theatres 1938 letter, Palace Theatre File, RG series 56–9 container B247531, Ontario Archives. To Accommodate Picture Enthusiasts. The Porcupine Advance (1921, April 6), p. 1. Vasiliadis, P. (1989). Dangerous Truth: Interethnic Competition in a Northeastern Ontario Goldmining Centre. New York: AMS Press. Véronneau, P. (2013). When Cinema Faces Social Values: One Hundred Years of Film Censorship in Canada. In D. Biltereyst & R. Vande Winkel (Eds.), Silencing Cinema (pp. 49–62). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.



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Early Cinema, Itinerant Showmen and the Lure of Modernity


Spaces In-Between: The Railway and Early Cinema in Rural, Western Canada Paul S. Moore

People in small towns and rural areas witnessed cinema across Canada, coast to coast, only a few months after its metropolitan debuts in 1896. Within a year, networks of itinerant showmen had collectively carried their projectors and films by train across the continent to anywhere settled; some individual showmen crossed nearly the span of the continent on their own. Many had a rural focus, just as in the United States and Europe, making one-night whistle stops in towns with populations as small as 200 people—anywhere with a town hall, a rail station, and a newspaper (Moore 2012). One of the first exhibitors to focus on rural spaces in-between cities, Richard A. Hardie partnered in 1897 with railway companies to produce the first films of the Canadian West’s vast prairie and the railways that sped across it. Hardie’s stated aim was to exhibit these films in the United Kingdom to promote immigration to rural Canada, and they are best known in that sense, accompanied by James S. Freer’s lecture ‘Ten Years in Manitoba’ (Canada 1895– 1907). Less attention has been given to how Hardie’s films also enjoyed an extensive circuit of exhibitions across the Canadian prairie, giving people who P. S. Moore (*) Ryerson University, Toronto, ON, Canada e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




had already settled the region a representation of themselves, their landscape, and their railways. In 1902, ‘Living Canada’ was produced for the Canadian Pacific Railway (the CPR) by Charles Urban’s London Bioscope company, again with the express intent of attracting immigrant settlers from the United Kingdom, but the Bioscope also specialized in exhibiting Canada to itself between 1903 and 1905, especially in remote communities in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia (BC). For these and subsequent early filmmaking, histories of Canadian cinema have largely missed or forgotten how a primary audience and public for Canadian films were the people of rural and remote Canada themselves. This chapter reviews the relation between the railway and rural exhibitions of moving pictures in cinema’s first decade in Western Canada, 1897–1905. Canadian early cinema is unique for the central place of railway companies in sponsoring the most prominent and some of the earliest films of Canada and its rural landscape. Railways were the infrastructure that allowed early itinerant cinema to reach rural places, and railway companies also made the rail journey and its landscapes into a spectacle, continually sponsoring the production of artwork, photography, cinema, as well as packaged tourist vistas. The view from the train was a primary way to see and imagine the nation itself. Publicity for nationalist uses of cinema to attract settlers, and better-documented exhibitions in metropolitan cities, have masked how rural audiences were equally important to the success of exhibition strategies for these early Canadian-made films. The young nation gained political independence only in 1867, without initially including the territories that later became Western provinces. From the Rockies to the Pacific coast, BC joined in 1871 on the promise of its own rail link to Eastern Canada, a promise not delivered until 1885. Audiences in Western Canada were largely new settlers to the land and often new immigrants to the country; their communities were spaces in-between cities, where transportation and communication played an outsize role. Cinema’s idealized image of their local landscape was inseparable from their own idealized role in furthering the Canadian national project—all facilitated by the railway companies that sponsored the making of films as an extension of making the nation, its landscape, and its citizens. Rural and small-town film exhibition has often been defined by its precarity under threat from metropolitanism and mass culture. This starting point is a logical extension of the rural and urban divide as a matter of society and community, Gesellschaft and Gemeinschaft—a cornerstone of sociological theories of modernity (Tönnies 1957). In common sense and



classical sociology alike, the metropolis’ economic and creative centrality comes at the expense of a mental life of anomie and alienation (Simmel 1950). The rural was simultaneously romanticized for retaining genuine communal life and cultural authenticity, even as its people were enveloped by modern capitalism (Bender 1975; Löwy and Sayre 2001). Transposed into cinematic terms, early rural, small-town, regional, and working-class audiences are often taken to be initially vibrant and localized before economic integration with Hollywood distribution leads to cultural homogenization with Hollywood ideology. In his pioneering social history of one town’s working-class culture, Roy Rosenzweig (1983: 217) ended with the movies as a symbolic lament for cultural autonomy: ‘In the shadows of the movie theatre one can catch glimpses of the waning of the older ethnic, insular working-class culture and the emergence of a new outward-­ looking working-class culture’. Although the movies provided a new transnational pastime, Kathryn Fuller (1996: 50) noted that in the United States ‘urban and small-town exhibitors catered to their audiences’ interests in significantly different ways’. Such emphasis on regional diversity and local particularity nonetheless tends to highlight ‘qualities that those historical experiences have shared with other locations—from big city to small town—across the nation’ (Fuller-Seeley 2008: 9). Focusing on local variations of widespread networks inadvertently privileges the commonality of standardized, direct control through chain theatre management, which loomed large in urban settings, small towns, and peripheral regions alike. As Robert Allen (2008: 22) has observed, ‘it has been difficult to see regional or demographic differences as anything other than aberrations or the result of a lag in the pace of modernization’. Movies can be reduced to a facet of a generalized equating of chain store retailing with mass culture, especially in the 1920s. ‘With each year, the “lines of demarcation” between social classes and between the city, the small town, and the farm had become less clear’ (Cohen 1990: 100). Gregory Waller’s (2005) review of the business rhetoric and advice offered to small-town exhibitors in the 1930s is equally clear that urban and rural, chain and independent, were ‘ideological as well as geographical’ distinctions. An ‘independent’ movie theatre was an ambiguous enough term to include locations as distinct as urban enclaves, suburbs, second-tier cities, small towns, as well as truly rural places ‘out in the sticks’. Sentimentality for small-town life is an anchor of Americana, and ‘within this topos, the local picture show exerts its own particular ideological allure, especially when it is depicted as an inviting, accessible, hometown gathering place



run by an enterprising, neighborly showman’ (p.  15). This particular ­slippage between independence and rural location may be specific to the United States; for rural and small-town European cinema, Judith Thissen (2017: 3) finds ‘a much greater and enduring diversity of exhibition practices, distribution strategies and cinematic experiences’. Overall, new cinema histories have taken up the task of grounding analysis in  local exhibition contexts but also with a view to comparative frameworks (Maltby 2011). With these calls for local particularly in mind, my focus on early cinema in Canada dispels the notion that an outward-looking orientation to cinema supersedes an earlier, insular community-based orientation. In a region such as Western Canada, which had only recently been colonized for settlement, early cinema could simultaneously be a recognition of local perspectives and also a force for integration into the national and Imperial imaginaries (Grieveson and MacCabe 2011).

The Railway and Canadian Nationalism Cinema initially followed existing cultural routines before forging its own unique institutions (Gaudreault and Marion 2005). In Western Canada, however, it is crucial to understand how modern settlement predates cinema by only a brief couple of decades. Permanent settlement and colonization of the territory from Indigenous peoples happened only in the late 1800s, as a result of modern transportation and communication technologies (Berland 2009; Charland 1986; Acland and Buxton 1999). In many communities in Western Canada, the first moving pictures came to town in 1897 before there were enough people to support a newspaper. Local performances and community halls came along with settlement, but commercial theatres hosting touring shows become routine only in the wake of railway connections in the 1880s (Hartman 2002). Especially for rural and remote towns, itinerant entertainment signified being ‘in the swim’ of modernity, acting as a connection to metropolitan hubs, a cultural extension of trade and transportation. While live performance is not usually considered among communication technologies, rural opera houses in North America can be considered pre-cinematic nodes for the circulation of commercial mass culture. Itinerant entertainment routes followed railway circuits and were promoted through newspapers and telegraphed publicity (Moore 2011). The resulting consumer experience spanned a vast territory, and provided metropolitan culture to the hinterland, as if a unified single marketplace (Carey 1983). Performed entertainment can



thus be taken as a form of modern communication built atop the ­transportation infrastructure and in continuity with later technologically grounded mass culture and broadcast media. As I detail elsewhere, the natural north-south flow of rivers historically connected the Canadian West more strongly to the Northwest United States than to Eastern Canada (Moore 2013). This was replicated in riverboat and early railway lines, which connected Winnipeg to Minneapolis and Chicago rather than Toronto and Montréal (Galbraith 1957; den Otter 1983; Martin 1976). Railway development on the whole, however, served national interests with development of east-west pathways on either side of the 49th parallel. Transcontinental railway expansion became a dominant concern just as Canada was formed as a self-governing dominion apart from Britain. The Union Pacific first linked the United States Pacific to Atlantic by rail in 1869, just before Manitoba, and then BC, became provinces of Canada. The latter mandated a railway link between the Canadian Pacific and eastern industry. As is well known in Canada, politics superseded market logic to route the CPR entirely within national boundaries north of Lake Superior, becoming a totem of national unity, as well as industrial and political independence from the United States (Innis 1971). The CPR from Vancouver to Montréal was completed in 1885, several years after first building a railway link south to meet existing routes in the United States (Poor 1876–1885). Western territories played an essential role in completing Canada as a nation, both geographically and culturally, although the 49th parallel as a border between Western Canada and the United States remained all too obviously an artificial construct, despite the completion of the railway (Stuart and Taylor 2005; Thompson and Randall 2008). Gerald Friesen (1987) cites the policy cornerstones of treaties to colonize Indigenous peoples, establishment of the Northwest Mounted Police (the iconic ‘Mounties’), construction of the CPR and its advantageous protective tariff, and settlement through immigration. Altogether, these government-­ controlled institutions were meant to establish distinctly Canadian economic and cultural ways of living north of the 49th parallel. Regulating rather than preventing trade across the international boundary, Canadian national policy constantly moderated the economic and cultural reach of modernization. Commodities and mass-marketed consumption were often free to move across the border, especially commercial amusements, except when policy encouraged overtly nationalizing alternatives. Friesen pointed to institutions that explicitly facilitated a national policy through repressive state apparatuses: policing, subsidy, tariff, treaty, and settlement



(Althusser 1989). A potentially more complex question is how the national policy on the prairies was also instituted through ideological state apparatuses—sticking with the traditional Althusserian scheme momentarily. Tracing the circulation of early cinema highlights the tension between national and regional ideals within the cultural sphere. At stake in the emergence of the cinema and mass communication infrastructures was how Canada was a nation whose very boundaries and territory were continually re-established through popular culture and civic communication.

Manitoba Reproduced: R. A. Hardie’s Prairie Films and Their Prairie Audiences The earliest filmmakers in the Canadian West formally pitched their use of film and lectures to promote the region to prospective settlers. Without self-important rhetoric, they also used the films to entertain the people of the West with images of their landscapes. These earliest Canadian filmmakers were, in part, helping to constitute a nascent national public by providing the signifiers of a novel common culture. Nationalist imperatives were thus combined with the logics of local recognition and economic boosterism relied on by producers of ‘local views’ and ‘tourist vistas’ elsewhere (Johnson 2010; Toulmin and Loiperdinger 2005; Brégent-Heald 2015; Peterson 2006). Although Edison and Lumière photographers had come to Canada to film Niagara Falls, perhaps the first moving pictures made by a Canadian were scenes of Manitoba by Richard A. Hardie, a showman who had debuted an Edison Vitascope in Winnipeg in 1896 (Moore 2012). A year later, he successfully pitched a scheme to regional government and railway executives to use moving pictures to promote immigration to the Prairies. Hardie had purchased a new Kinetoscope projector of his own in June 1897 and began exhibiting moving pictures at Winnipeg’s summer parks (see Fig. 5.1). In the Manitoba moving picture field, he already had competition: an Anamatagraph owned by William McCarthy, who partnered with a theatrical troupe, the Cosgroves, and set out across the main CPR line to bring the first moving pictures to towns in the Northwest Territory of Assiniboia (the present-day province of Saskatchewan was created in 1905). The show proceeded into Alberta (itself not yet a province until 1905) but without venturing to the cities of Calgary and Edmonton. The return leg of the tour solicited only meagre attendance and d ­ isappointment that the pictures were repeated from their previous visit. If repeated views of moving pictures were already a problem, Hardie would offer a new set of films soon enough.



Fig. 5.1  Richard A. Hardie with his Projecting Kinetoscope in 1897 (Winnipeg Free Press, 20 August 1921) and a reference image of the machine (

In Winnipeg early in September 1897, Hardie pursued his latest venture: Manitoba moving pictures. Hardie hired Edward Amet, the Magniscope builder from Illinois, to come to Manitoba to make a first set of films and teach the tricks of the trade. Few of the pictures are mentioned specifically, but they included the Winnipeg and Brandon fire brigades racing down city streets, sidewalk crowds, trains racing towards the camera, and plenty of wheat being harvested, including Manitoba Premier Thomas Greenway at work in his own fields. The films are well known for later being exhibited in the United Kingdom by James S. Freer as an immigration and settlement promotional tool (Morris 1992: 30–33). One smalltown report of Hardie’s filming states the case clearly: ‘Many [local] citizens will walk across the lime-lit sheet to the entertainment and instruction of thousands to whom Manitoba was merely a name, and whose ideas as to its residents were summarized in the general idea that it was inhabited by scalp hunting savages’ (Carberry News, 3 September 1897). The irony is that the films toured domestically first and more extensively than in Britain, serving the same ideological ends for those only recently settled. Having a local encounter with cinema, and having local scenes filmed, was thus here at the very beginnings of filmmaking in Canada linked to becoming modern and civilized—a way of marking how this part of Canada was now settled by people other than Indigenous, First Nations communities. The films debuted in Winnipeg in September 1897 for officials from the CPR and local government, while it remains unclear whether or when Hardie gained their direct financial backing. The debut exhibition was



attended by General Manager Whyte and others from the CPR, alongside Mayor McCreary and other politicians. Hardie ‘presented half a dozen remarkably life-like pictures in the harvest fields and stockyards of prominent farmers. Chief amongst them was a presentation of (Manitoba Premier) Hon. Mr. Greenway’s farm, with the familiar burly form of the premier actively engaged as a harvest hand and attending his stock. CPR trains under full speed were also reproduced … with a view of the Jubilee procession in London and a number of other life-like scenes’ (‘Manitoba Reproduced’ 1897). Even here at their political debut, the films were part of a mainstream, variety programme, not yet integrated into the immigration lecture later given in Britain by Freer. In September and October 1897, Hardie now partnered with the Cosgroves and toured across the same CPR main line as McCarthy had travelled weeks earlier but now stopping at more towns and bringing the first moving pictures to the cities of Edmonton and Calgary, with a rest in scenic Banff before returning to Manitoba. Since these were still among the earliest exhibitions of moving pictures in the region, it may be surprising to learn how seldom local commentary reported that some of the pictures depicted scenes from Western Canada. The films were part of a commercial, variety programme in a rural region that only had itinerant entertainments, where cinema was still a novelty supplement to routine amusements. Hardie’s films showed the prairie and its scenes to the people of Western Canada but through entertainment and linked to commercial leisure. On returning to Manitoba, Hardie and the Cosgroves completed an extensive tour of the province, appearing in a couple of dozen small villages, with populations as small as just 200 people, often just one night each before moving to the next stop. At the end of 1897, just as Freer heads to England, Hardie and Cosgrove severed their partnership and began competing. Each set off on another tour across the Prairies—this time in winter—each with his own brand-new Kinetoscope, each with copies of the Manitoba local films, and each with his own variety acts in support, disparaging the other as a mere copy. Hardie’s Ideals and the Cosgrove Company recklessly scheduled shows just days apart from each other, and even played in Edmonton simultaneously, to the amusement of the local press and the confusion of the public. Perhaps they struck a truce, as they forged different paths after this, with Hardie returning to rural tours of Manitoba while the Cosgroves travelled over the Rocky Mountains for an extensive tour of BC.  An American show had brought the first moving pictures to BC in Nelson in



January 1897, but Cosgrove’s Kinetoscope was the first to arrive on the coast via the CPR. Hardie’s first films of the Canadian West were shown widely across the region and beyond for several years. Hardie and Cosgrove each used them as part of their commercial variety programmes throughout 1898 and into 1900, and at least one set of them ended up part of a programme G. H. and E. L. Ireland toured coast to coast in Canada and across the Southern United States in 1901 and 1902. The Manitoba films were perhaps still part of their programme when the Ireland Brothers toured the Caribbean in 1903. Hardie’s Manitoba films are best known through their better-­ documented exhibitions in the United Kingdom, where they were accompanied by lectures entitled ‘Ten Years in Manitoba’ by James S.  Freer (Morris 1992; Eamon 1995). Indeed, Freer has long been assumed to be the filmmaker, although he was not brought aboard until December 1897, months after the films had already been exhibited across the Prairies (‘Manitoba in the Kinetoscope’ 1897; ‘Scenes for England’ 1897). The reported explanation for bringing aboard Freer was his experience as an ‘expert stereoptician’ and lecturer, his prior career in the press in England, and especially his own story of immigrating in 1886 to become a Manitoba farmer.  Freer had been angling with the Department of the Interior to tour Britain with his stereopticon for a few years already. After receiving modest support in November 1897, Freer had already planned his travels when he sent a telegraph to the Minister in December, just days before departing: ‘Provincial Government adding kinetoscope to outfit’ (Canada 1895-1907). One of the reasons the Minister was hesitant to support Freer was a shift away from using lectures in Britain to encourage settlement. Arnold J. McMillan, British representative for Manitoba immigration, had just vacated his position to instead recruit labourers for the Yukon gold rush and BC mining camps. McMillan had travelled between Liverpool and Winnipeg annually since 1886, escorting new settlers he recruited through a lecture and lantern-slide circuit across the United Kingdom—exactly the tool Freer was going to use but now adding cinema. Remarkably, McMillan’s lectures were sometimes also entitled ‘Ten Years in Manitoba’ but most often called ‘Living in Canada’. Freer was an established lecturer who could deliver a similar lecture with autobiographical authority, having lived exactly a decade in Manitoba himself.  Is it nonetheless  possible Freer used McMillan’s existing script and followed his existing circuit? Is it even possible Freer was amongst McMillan’s first group of 150 settlers in 1886?



Such speculation aside, Freer’s lecture was delivered auspiciously in London at the Imperial Institute, after first speaking in Lincoln and Norwich and continuing elsewhere (St. James Gazette, 9 March 1898). In the case of Hardie’s early made-in-Canada films, the urban-rural divide mirrored foreign-domestic distinctions. Freer’s debut as mouthpiece in the Imperial capital contrasted drastically with Hardie’s own earlier exhibitions handling the apparatus in Western Canada. Close to home, the films’ official rhetoric was secondary to their being part of the novelty of commercial entertainment with the Cosgroves and a variety of other films. Only when used in the United Kingdom did their exhibition fit their intended purpose as publicity for the work of railways and government in settling new immigrants as farmers. Education and civic improvement were not yet called into action domestically to manage the contradictory goals of nationalism. Freer returned to the United Kingdom with the Manitoba films twice more, in 1899 and 1902, although with diminishing returns, in part because he was employing many of the same films, now five years old. Freer’s last tour coincided with the production of a new series of made-in-Canada films sponsored by the CPR, which focused especially on Rocky Mountain railway journeys. Coincidentally adapting McMillan’s other lecture title, ‘Living Canada’ also had an extensive exhibition circuit across Western Canada with a special concentration on the mining towns in the interior of BC.

‘Living Canada’, as Exhibited in Western Canada The CPR was the conduit for the varied worldwide interests in the Canadian West. The company gained from an increased profile of the region’s resources and opportunities, both increasing its symbolic role, attracting investment, or actually transporting immigrant settlers, resources, consumer goods, or tourists. Competition from another Canadian railway may have been a factor to spur the CPR to sponsor a new set of scenic films of Western Canada. Its Eastern Canadian rival, the Grand Trunk Railway, had profitable direct links to major cities in the United States, including the shortest route from Chicago and Detroit to the Atlantic seaboard. The Grand Trunk sponsored its own moving pictures in 1900 of Eastern Canadian landscapes and vistas to promote American tours of scenic Montréal and hunting trips in the Muskoka Lakes north of Toronto. These films were used for several years at various industrial and sporting exhibitions. In 1905 and 1906,



the Grand Trunk even used these films and other exhibits to promote Canadian tourism on a rail-bound mobile theatre, sent across the United States to attract tourists to visit Canada. Whatever the motivation, the CPR arranged a new series of updated and better-quality films in 1902, later called ‘Living Canada’, produced by Charles Urban’s renowned London Bioscope Company. As has been recounted several times by historians of Canadian cinema, leading camera operator Joseph Rosenthal was sent to Canada along with two other Bioscope representatives, Guy Bradford and Cliff Denham (Morris 1992; Eamon 1995; Braun and Keil 2008). In addition to being a leading producer in the United Kingdom and worldwide, the London Bioscope had just become well known in Canada with the fantastic success of its iconic Imperialist patriotic shows ‘Our Navy’ (first exhibited in Halifax on 17 June 1901, touring for six months) and ‘Army Life’ (first exhibited in Toronto on 14 April 1902, touring for five months). Rosenthal, in particular, was by then famous for his filming of Boer War scenes in South Africa in 1900 (Bottomore 1983). Rosenthal and the others began filming in Quebec in August 1902 before heading west to Winnipeg and on to Vancouver in October, back to Toronto in December, and spending the winter of 1903 in Montréal. Anticipation for the trade and tourism that accompanied this global publicity followed Rosenthal as he traversed the country. News of his imminent arrival in Winnipeg noted that ‘the intention is to give the people of the Old Country a true idea of Canadian life’ and that Rosenthal had been photographing Montréal streets with ‘first picture depicting the landing of a party of emigrants at Quebec’. His time in Manitoba would be spent on ‘tour through the farming districts, one of the principal objects of his mission being to obtain a complete story in pictures of the story of life in the “granary of the world”’ (‘Canada Cinematographed’ 1902). Of special interest, however, were pictures of BC, such as ‘the Fraser River Canyon, taken from a moving train (which) when exhibited will last twenty minutes. It is declared to be one of the finest moving pictures ever presented’ (Toronto Globe, 18 December 1902). And indeed, this particular scene had prime attention when the films had a special debut at London’s Palace Theatre (‘Across Canada by Bioscope’ 1903). ‘By the invitation of the representatives of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, a large number of ladies and gentlemen had the pleasure of witnessing a series of animated pictures of scenes on the route of the railway’. Of special note was the part ‘devoted to the railway runs in the mountains, the ride through the Fraser River Canyon being one of the finest, as well as the



longest ever photographed without a break’ (‘Scenery of the Canadian Pacific’ 1903). The ‘Canadian and Pacific scenes’ then continued as an advertised feature on the Palace variety bill for at least five months until June, with the appearance of new scenes featured again in November and December 1903. For up to a year, Canadian-made films found a prime spot in the Imperial capital. The series was named ‘Living Canada’ when it had its domestic debut in Montréal on 15 June 1903, around the time it was included in Urban’s 1903 catalogue. Scholars have focused on its  domestic reception in Toronto and Montréal, with attention to its Imperial ties and continued production of ‘local views’ in both cities (Braun and Keil 2008; Steven 2003). As important,  Bradford embarked upon more extensive exhibitions in Western Canada between 1903 and 1905. After Montréal, the show next opened on the Pacific coast in Nanaimo, BC, followed by dates in Victoria and Vancouver, initially accompanied by Rosenthal, who spent August 1903 photographing more scenes of BC’s beautiful landscapes. The local press in Vancouver were excited for the publicity: ‘Already Mr. Rosenthal has secured beautiful negatives of the return of the fishing fleet... also a very fine panorama of the Fraser river taken from the deck of the steamer as she ascends the mighty stream, now such a scene of life and activity … With all these interesting views to exhibit, the bioscope should prove a decided success as a BC tourist guide’ (‘B.C.  Bioscopic Scenes’ 1903). Not merely patriotic, the reception of ‘Living Canada’ in BC was piqued with local pride at seeing the prominence of its own territory. Local proximity was key to the review in Victoria, which noted ‘many animated pictures of British Columbia life, including a striking series of pictures portraying the logging industry on Vancouver Island. The fellers were shown bringing down the giants of the forests, the logging roadways, and the running of logs and the lumber engines with their long line of mighty ‘toothpicks’—all portrayed as the scenes occur every day not many miles distant from Victoria’ (‘Excellent Views’ 1903). The Vancouver press hyped how ‘the Western province promises to be well represented in the gallery of Canadian views … Local scenes will figure prominently on the programme, and the magnificent grandeur of the Rocky mountains will be one of the chief features’ (‘Views of B.C.’ 1903). A panoramic view of Vancouver actually ended the programme of more than 30 views, from Quebec to BC, with a few Imperial scenes from London interspersed.



I dwell on the reception in the cities of Victoria and Vancouver to provide description that is lacking when the show played smaller BC towns without daily newspapers. Bradford toured ‘Living Canada’ across the BC interior, not surprising given the emphasis on BC’s scenery and resource industries. He toured to mining and logging towns such as Kamloops and Revelstoke, on the CPR main line into the Rockies (see Fig. 5.2), then down to Nelson and Cranbrook in the Kootenay mining region’s Crow’s Nest Pass southern route of the CPR, and eastwards into Alberta. The BC resource towns Bradford visited with ‘Living Canada’ were not exactly rural in terms of small population, but they were remote in terms of geography. Like the small prairie towns visited by Hardie and Cosgrove five years earlier, the railway was the lifeline of mining and logging boomtowns’ economy and society. ‘Living Canada’ represented the mountainous landscape’s significance to the people who lived within it. A second tour in the Fig. 5.2  ‘Living Canada’, exhibiting ‘ranching scenes, logging scenes, harvesting, King Edward’s visit to Paris, The Delhi Durbar &c. &c.’ (Revelstoke Herald, 13 August 1903)



winter months early in 1904 again began in Vancouver on the Pacific coast, spending nearly the entire month of February in the mountains of BC before heading eastwards to Winnipeg. Bradford took the opposite trip nearly a year later, travelling westwards into BC for the Christmas holidays of 1904, now also stopping in Greenwood and Grand Forks right along the 49th parallel bordering the United States and circling back eastwards a month later. Bradford’s fourth and final tour of BC and Western Canada happened in the fall of 1905, touring full circle from the Calgary southwest to Vancouver and back to Lethbridge, with stops in the usual Rocky Mountain towns both directions along the way. Although ‘Living Canada’ played to great success for weeks in Ottawa, Montréal, Toronto, and other cities in Eastern Canada, only in the BC Rockies did it repeatedly focus on a geographically remote audience, not coincidentally the same people whose livelihoods were actually depicted in the scenic, rail-bound tour.

Conclusion A few themes are constant when the exhibition in Western Canada of Hardie’s Manitoba films and Bioscope’s ‘Living Canada’ is considered alongside their better-known exhibitions in the United Kingdom and metropolitan cities in Eastern Canada. First of all, it is crucial to note how the rhetoric and ideology motivating its production and sponsorship by the CPR is marginalized and secondary when shown to a local audience living within the depicted landscapes. Touring as a profit-seeking itinerant outfit like any other, and exhibiting in commercial theatres and town halls, amusement supersedes the presumed logic of civic education. National and colonial political economic interests were paramount when Freer lectured on immigration in the United Kingdom, notably removed from the commercial context of ordinary amusements. Although ‘Living Canada’ was included on Urban’s commercial catalogue, the Imperial context remained central when the films were viewed in England. Patriotism or British colonial pride came to the forefront when ‘Living Canada’ was exhibited in Toronto and Montréal, but the shows were special occasions and held in venues that were distinctly civic institutions rather than commercial theatres, already booked for entire seasons as part of the big-time touring routes integrated with the United States. Ultimately, films of Western Canada were more fully integrated into routine amusement when exhibited in rural towns in Western Canada in an ordinary context as itinerant entertainments. The educational context subsided, and perhaps the regional appreciation for the landscape was heightened.



Rural, remote Western Canadian audiences living in the spaces in-­ between perhaps saw their daily lives reflected in these moving pictures of nearby landscapes—all the more so for the films being sponsored by the CPR, which had facilitated their own arrival and integration into the dominion and empire. Such conflation of education and entertainment illuminates how the problem of culture and nationalism in Canada has consistently been tied to communication technologies that stitch the vast landscape and its far-flung rural towns into a loose fabric. In Canada, land and space is a problem to overcome—the barrier to nationhood, rather than its source—and communication was the solution, first via fur traders’ canoes, later via railway and telegraphed news, with cinema ushering in mass media in the twentieth century. Transcontinental rail lines established the imagined community of Canada on east-west terms as an overtly political counterpoint to regional markets’ north-south flows with the United States. Cinema was implicitly appended to railways’ national policy by showmen riding the rails, filming the rails, and returning by rail to exhibit those films to rural audiences.

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Explorations in New Cinema History (pp.  269–279). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. Moore, P.  S. (2012). Mapping Early Cinema’s Mass Circulation: Film Debuts Coast-to-Coast in Canada. Canadian Journal of Film Studies, 21(1), 58–80. Moore, P. S. (2013). The Flow of Amusement: The First Year of Cinema in the Red River Valley. In K. Conway & T. Pasch (Eds.), Beyond the Border: Tensions Across the 49th Parallel (pp.  71–89). Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press. Morris, P. (1992). Embattled Shadows: A History of Canadian Cinema, 1895–1939. Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press. den Otter, A.  A. (1983). The Hudson’s Bay Company’s Prairie Transportation Problem, 1870–85. In J. Foster (Ed.), The Developing West: Essays on Canadian History (pp. 25–48). Edmonton: University of Alberta Press. Peterson, J.  (2006). ‘The Nation’s First Playground’: Travel Films and the American West, 1895–1920. In J. Ruoff (Ed.), Virtual Voyages: Cinema and Travel (pp. 79–98). Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Poor, H. V. (1876–1885). Manual of the Railroads of the United States. New York: H.V. & H.W. Poor. Rosenzweig, R. (1983). Eight Hours for What We Will: Workers and Leisure in an Industrial City, 1870–1920. New York: Cambridge University Press. ‘Scenery of the Canadian Pacific’. (1903, January 21). London Standard, p. 2. ‘Scenes for England’. (1897, December 9). Manitoba Free Press, p. 4. Simmel, G. (1950 [1903]). The Metropolis and Mental Life. In K. Wolff (Trans.), The Sociology of Georg Simmel (pp. 409–424). New York: Free Press. Steven, P. (2003). Pleasing the Canadians: A National Flavour for Early Cinema, 1896–1914. Canadian Journal of Film Studies, 12(2), 5–21. Stuart, R.  C., & Taylor, M.  B. (2005). The Epic of Greater North America: Themes and Periodization in North American History. In S. Hornsby & J. Reid (Eds.), New England and the Maritime Provinces: Connections and Comparisons (pp. 280–294). Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press. Thissen, J. (2017). Introduction: A New Approach to European Cinema History. In J.  Thissen & C.  Zimmerman (Eds.), Cinema Beyond the City (pp. 1–20). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Thompson, J.  H., & Randall, S.  J. (2008). Canada and the United States: Ambivalent Allies. Athens: University of Georgia Press. Tönnies, F. (1957 [1887]). Community and Society – Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press. Toulmin, V., & Loiperdinger, M. (2005). Is it You? Recognition, Representation, and Response in Relation to the Local Film. Film History, 17(1), 7–18. ‘Views of B.C. Will Be a Feature in Coming Bioscope Entertainment’. (1903, July 29). Vancouver World, p. 3. Waller, G. A. (2005). Imagining and Promoting the Small-Town Theater. Cinema Journal, 44(3), 3–19.


Rurban Outfitters: Cinema and Rural Cultural Development in New Hampshire’s North Country, 1896–1917 Jeffrey Klenotic

It is no exaggeration to say, ‘Every farm family has a member as a reporting correspondent in some city, and every farm neighborhood has a family from some city recently come to farming.’ (Galpin 1930: 1011) We are all, in our heads, several different audiences at once, and can be constituted as such by different programmes. (Hall 1986: vii)

This chapter examines the emergence and transformation of cinema in relation to rural cultural development in upper Coös County, New Hampshire, during the early twentieth century. Known locally as the North Country, Coös (CO-ahss) borders Canada to the north, Maine to the east, Vermont to the west, and the White Mountain National Forest to

J. Klenotic (*) University of New Hampshire, Manchester, NH, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




the south. Coös has the largest land area of New Hampshire’s ten counties and the fewest people. Between 1900 and 1920, the county’s population density reached eight per square kilometre; in 2010, it was seven per square kilometre (New Hampshire Office 2016). Built on a remote, ­fertile, and pristine landscape and prone to harsh winters, the culture of Coös in the nineteenth century was one of stable property ownership, settled community, and local self-sufficiency. As the century turned, residents sought to sustain cultural traditions while adapting to a modern regional economy that increasingly imported finished goods and exported staples (farming and forest products) and tourism (recreation and travel). The seasonal nature of this economy required temporary labour to fill out the workforce during busy periods in agricultural, logging, paper, and leisure industries, but it also created economic uncertainty that prompted many youths to seek opportunities elsewhere. How did cinema participate in these changes? Having entered urban New Hampshire in 1896, moving pictures were gradually imported into the North Country where they helped mediate the region’s relation to modernity. Movies afforded audiences visual access to cities, characters, and narratives that fired a metropolitan imagination while also supplying stories of rustic life in remote settings that echoed local landscapes. Off screen, movies produced new social and spatial networks—a cinema community—that modernized cultural provisioning services to buffer population loss and stimulate fresh flows of people, ideas, and commerce. These networks mediated cinema’s relation to existing social and cultural practices, regulating the timing, speed, and direction of the medium’s development as it was transformed around the distribution of feature films and the construction of purpose-built movie venues. This study focuses on upper Coös County for two reasons. First, the wilderness that dominates the area’s eastern portion has skewed residential population towards the western part of upper Coös, producing several villages that share a single newspaper for which there is a full run of microfilm. Second, upper Coös offers a prime opportunity to examine cinema’s development and the dynamics of urbanization in a region that has never produced any places sufficiently populated (2500 or more inhabitants) to be classified as ‘urban’ by the United States census (Thirteenth 1913: 14). Colebrook, the largest town in upper Coös, saw its population drop from 1876 to 1811 between 1900 and 1920, before rebounding to 1937  in 1930; the population peaked in 1980 at 2459 and, in 2010, was 2301 (Gifford 1970: 57) (Fig. 6.1).



Fig. 6.1  NH Counties and Towns. Map drawn by author. Small inset map sourced from Map Data © Google 2017

Missing Links: Rurban Cinema History A rich literature has documented the ways in which cinema’s growth into a big business, powerful cultural institution, and mass social ritual contributed to the urban landscape and sensibilities of the modern industrial city.



The interaction of cinema and city (Shiel and Fitzmaurice 2001) generated new buildings (Merritt 1985; Klenotic 2013), customs (Rosenzweig 1983; Klenotic 2007), social patterns (Klenotic 1998; Abel 2007), modes of perception (Whissel 2008), and psychogeographies (Bruno 2002) that in their most dynamic and intense forms in the most populated cities became part of the defining experience of modernity. Hollywood’s studios, having identified the tastes of large urban markets as key to the industry’s fortunes, had by 1920 begun courting city audiences with heavily marketed feature films (Quinn 2001) while also moving to gain control over thousands of large theatrical venues designed to provide an upscale cinema experience (Klenotic 2013). It is an open question how such strategies impacted cinema as it developed and was experienced outside the city, but studies of rural and small-town moviegoing point to what Kathryn Fuller-Seeley (2008: 7) calls ‘hybrid versions of modernity’ as a framework for understanding cinema’s positioning within nonurban localities (Fuller 1996; Gomery 2013; Klenotic 2014; Potamianos 2002; Waller 2007). One way forward in the search for a more fluid interaction of rural and urban elements in cinema history might begin by circling back to geographic sociology’s past, to the concept of ‘rurbanism’ that Charles Galpin (1915: 25–27, 33) first coined to capture the dynamics between town and country (Wilkerson 1991: 42–43). Galpin’s research represented the ‘origins of spatial thinking and analysis’ in rural sociology (Porter and Howell 2012: 26). Long before the rise of geographic information systems (GIS), he pioneered mapping as a research tool and used it to reformulate the notion of community to reflect conceptual multiplicity and empirical complexity. A rural locality could have milk communities, church communities, news communities, library communities, trade communities, and so on that were formed by the production of specific and variable spatial networks—a ‘social anatomy’—that created large, urban-sized population catchment areas that exceeded official administrative and political boundaries but which had an identifiable place at their centre. Individuals in such ‘rurban’ areas were often ‘part of the social anatomy of multiple communities’ (some with different centres) that formed the fabric of their everyday lives (ibid.: 28). Galpin later examined the ‘push-and-pull factors associated with the migration of rural persons to the city’ in the 1920s (ibid.). Key factors included farm property tax rates, farm income stability, and expectations for public service improvements. He concluded that regardless of whether farmers stayed or moved, they demanded ‘parity’ in social and economic progress and did not want to be ‘addressed as if they were a class and race apart’ from national trends (Galpin 1930: 1015).



Galpin’s work supports a conceptualization of America at large as a rurban locality, a complex articulation of rural and urban attributes within a social and spatial network. This network’s rural elements and rustic sensibilities are not restricted to the country any more than its urban elements and cosmopolitan sensibilities are limited to cities. Farmers can feel confined in the country and free in the city even as city dwellers flee urban congestion for open country. Likewise, one can feel alone in the city but quite connected in the sparsely populated country. Galpin noted that while the largest flows of population left country for city, there were also urban families who relocated to the farm. In a rural village of 20 families, the social and spatial impact of adding one city family each year for ten years might be felt just as strongly, if not more, as that experienced by a city of 50,000 that added 250 farmers per year over the same period. Though millions left farms for cities during the 1920s, they ‘did not shed all of their ideas, attributes, and ways of life at the city gates’ (Brunner and Kolb 1935: 177). Though largely forgotten today, Galpin’s work had a ‘significant impact on the Chicago school of urban ecology’ and inspired many studies of rural community life (Porter and Howell 2012: 29). Harlan P. Douglass’ (1919) The Little Town, for example, expanded ‘rurbanism’ to encompass the fact that rurban localities were defined not only by their interrelationships but also by the distinctive cultures they developed as spatially mediated places. This insight has bearing for cinema history in upper Coös County, where Colebrook emerged as the centre of a rurban network that expanded the town’s spatial influence, in part, through the coordination of travelling movie shows and the presentation of feature films. This then created new pressures to mediate the town’s internal experience of continuity and change. The ‘cinema community’ became a key network for articulating a mix of rural and urban discourses that would shape social subjectivities in Colebrook and upper Coös County.

Stocking the Screen: Movies Become a Cultural Staple Carried by rail and automobile, movies were introduced to upper Coös by touring theatre companies, medicine shows, and itinerant showmen who performed briefly before departing for their next stop. Depending on a town’s size and geographic accessibility, travelling shows might supplement locally sourced cultural product or replace it entirely. In effect, upper



Coös imported tourism from cultural outfitters who brought goods and services produced elsewhere to venues such as opera houses, town halls, fraternal halls, and churches. The wares were diverse; urban repertory companies might supply ‘high-class’ entertainments, while rural outfits stocked minstrel shows, hypnotists, or dog and pony acts. According to Chet Wright (1956: 28–34), who for decades ran a travelling show featuring trained dogs and movies, nearly 200 itinerants performed entertainments across northern New England in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In New Hampshire, movies first entered the travelling exhibitor network on 25 August 1896 in Nashua, a city of 24,000 people located in the southern part of the state (‘Nashua Theatre’ 1896: 6). Edison’s Vitascope played a week there under the licence of Horace Wilson and Emmons Ball, who had secured exclusive rights to exhibit the Vitascope in the state four months after it premiered at Koster and Bial’s Music Hall in New York City (‘Wizard’s Work’ 1896: 4). It is unknown how far north the two men ventured, but there is no indication the Vitascope made it to upper Coös County. The first sign of movies in upper Coös appears only in late 1904, when the Colebrook News and Sentinel announced that the Pauline Hammond repertory company, which the New York Clipper noted had been a ‘favorite through Maine’ earlier that year (‘Notes’ 1904: 315), would stop at Colebrook’s Opera House to present ‘specialties of a high order’ including ‘moving pictures and illustrated songs’ (‘At the Opera’ 1904: 3). It is possible that movies played in Colebrook prior to the Pauline Hammond show, but if so, they don’t seem to have made a major dent in Opera House programming or left a big impression on audiences. Many prominent elements of cinema’s first eight years of urban development were thus much less salient to the experience in rural Coös before 1904. For example, instead of being riveted by Spanish-American war films as had played to full houses in cities, Colebrook turned to a resident theatre group for a stage production of the ‘Great Cuban War Drama’ Santiago, which offered a cast of 50 local people, ‘inspiring battle scenes’, and a ‘realistic cannon’ among other features (‘Santiago’ 1904: 2). When Colebrook did present screen attractions, it opted for similarly indigenous products, such as illustrated lectures with stereopticon by C.H. Gleason, who at one show displayed 150 local views, including images of the White Mountains. These views were ‘interspersed with vocal and instrumental



music, tableaux song and dance by two little girls, Rainbow dance by Miss Rena Loomis Cummings and other amusements’ all to benefit the Odd Fellows Orphans Home (‘Illustrated’ 1902: 3). Mr Gleason, the newspaper noted on another occasion, was an ‘up-to-date … home man and pays out his money here’ (‘Mr. Gleason’ 1904: 3). The period from 1905 to 1910 was the heart of the nickelodeon boom in urban America, when roughly 10,000 inexpensive, storefront movie venues emerged (Abel 2005: 478–79). For upper Coös, these years remained an era of itinerant exhibition, with movies presented intermittently and only at the Colebrook Opera House (also known as the Town Hall). In December 1905, Seymour’s High Class Moving Pictures ran on Wednesday evenings at prices of 15, 25, and 35 cents. Seymour arrived in Colebrook after stops in northern Maine and his show offered ‘an entire new repertoire of pictures’ (‘One Night’ 1905: 3) that ‘were not only clear and bright, but entirely free from the flickers and vibrations that have been objections with other pictures that have been here’ (‘Best Ever’ 1905: 3). The quantity and freshness of the films were ‘guaranteed’ because Seymour would ‘use more pictures than any other company and show 9000 ft. of the very latest films’ (‘Seymour’s’ 1905a: 3). Special films included two titles by Pathé-Frères, A Trip Through Italy (1904), which was a series of ‘natural scenes’ that Pathé offered for purchase or rental in separate modules (Le Forestier 2012: 194) and The Vendetta (1905), which told of a Corsican bandit who kills himself rather than be captured (Abel 1994: 123). Seymour left town after each show promising a return date the following week. Seymour’s final show was on 20 December and it was noted that the pictures were ‘all right and deserving of a better house’ (‘Seymour’s’ 1905b: 3). Movies would not surface again until January 1907, when Cook and Harris High Class Moving Pictures announced ‘two and one half hours of solid pleasure’ for one night only on Tuesday 5 February (‘High Class’ 1907: 5). For advance publicity, the Colebrook newspaper reprinted glowing reviews of Cook and Harris shows in the Vermont cities of Bennington and St. Johnsbury in March 1906 (‘Good’ 1907: 7). The show promised 60 pictures total, and a handful of titles were singled out. Edwin Porter, working for Edison Studios, directed several of the films, including The Train Wreckers (1905), Life of a Cowboy (1906), Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (1906), and The Seven Ages (1905), the last of which was said to be ‘worth many times the price of admission’ by itself (‘High Class’ 1907: 5).



Biograph’s The Lost Child (1904), Vitagraph’s The Indian’s Revenge (1906), and Méliès’s The Impossible Voyage (1904) were also identified. Many of these films would have been thought dated by urban audiences in 1907, but they remained fresh for upper Coös since this was the area’s first Cook and Harris show. A return visit, however, would likely bring new films (Bowers and Fuller-Seeley 2013: 171). Upper Coös had no nickelodeons, but discourses from the urban nickelodeon experience reached Colebrook in October 1907, when ‘The Famous HERALD SQUARE MOVING PICTURES’ (1907: 3) made their way to the Opera House under the auspices of an unidentified exhibitor. Herald Square was one of Manhattan’s vital commercial districts and a locus of growth for the city’s nickelodeons. That an itinerant exhibitor could reference Herald Square without offering additional context suggests the name may have been shorthand for the nickelodeon boom itself. Key rhetorical elements of the nickelodeon, most notably reduced prices and access to the latest products, were deployed in publicity for Herald Square Pictures. The programme promised ‘BARGAINS GALORE’ (1907: 3) with ‘thousands of feet of new comedy films’ and the ‘very latest products of wizard photography’ that leave ‘no dull moments’. To satisfy the claim of bargains galore, Herald Square Pictures ran a matinee ‘just after school’ at 4:30 pm that offered children ten-cent tickets and a free ‘package of choice candy’ (ibid). In Colebrook, the discourse of urban nickelodeons was unproblematically articulated to the socialization of children in ways that would have been impossible in New York, or most other big cities, where in 1907, nickelodeons were being interrogated for their corruptive influence on youth (‘Picture Shows’ 1908: 1; Grieveson 2004; Mintz et al. 2016: 15). Even more remarkably, although the matinee included two films suited to youth, Puss in Boots (Pathé-Frères, 1906), which would ‘set the youngsters wild with delight’, and The Winter Straw Ride (Edison, 1906), in which a group of country girls and boys enjoy a sleigh ride and snowball fight on their way home from school, it also offered provocative fare such as The Bigamist (Paley and Steiner, 1907), and Love versus Title, or The Elopement (Vitagraph, 1906) (‘Bargains’ 1907: 3). The Bigamist, in fact, was on a list of films targeted by the Chicago Tribune as part of that city’s crusade against movies as instigators of juvenile crime (Grieveson 2004: 59). Travelling movies brought upper Coös into contact with national trends in urban America. The circulation of movies, however, was not restricted to film specialists; films could be placed in a variety of non-­



medium-­specific travelling shows that could alter the mix of rural and urban elements that defined the movie experience. In winter 1907–08, a troupe from the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company played six nights at Colebrook’s Opera House. Created by John Healey, a patent medicine peddler, and his partner, ‘Texas Charlie’ Bigelow, Kickapoo shows were designed to sell Healey’s medicines, mostly an elixir called Sagwa (McNamara 1975: 73–83). The Colebrook unit had six Kickapoo Indians and five white performers who gave a 90-minute show for 10 cents that included singing, dancing, fire eating, acrobatics, and other acts. A ‘doctor’ claiming to have authentic Indian cures for any ailments interrupted the show four times for sales pitches (Holbrook 1959: 211–213). Stewart Holbrook, who as a child attended one of the shows, has written that the biggest feature of this tour was Edwin Porter’s Dream of a Rarebit Fiend, which used special effects to show the hallucinations of a city man who gorged on too much food and drink. Holbrook remembered a ‘machine only a little smaller than a J. I. Case Traction Engine’ that was ‘set up on the main floor of the Town Hall’ to unspool a film showing ‘dreadful nightmares that possessed the Fiend, as he sailed into clouds, was stymied in vast underground caverns, and attacked by demons, giants, and fierce little men like ants’ (ibid: 213). Nested in a Kickapoo show, Dream of a Rarebit Fiend was a cautionary tale of modern overstimulation. It functioned as an ad for Sagwa, a remedy cloaked in Native American traditions that might cure symptoms of urban overindulgence. A year earlier, however, when the film played in the Cook and Harris programme, it functioned as a kind of Sagwa, offering audiences a potent entertainment that promised to remedy rural ennui (‘High Class’ 1907: 5). Between March 1908, when a hand-coloured version of Pathé-Frères’s Passion Play (1907) played two nights (‘Passion’ 1908: 3), and January 1910, when a person known only as ‘Story, the moving picture man’ announced he would ‘be in town every Wednesday night until further notice’ (‘Happenings’ 1910: 3), there were no references to movies in the Colebrook News and Sentinel. It is possible the supply of films flowing into the Opera House was hampered by patent disputes and court battles that erupted between major film producers during this period. The situation began to stabilize in January 1909 with formation of the Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC), which resolved the patent struggles. Sometime in the late 1900s or early 1910s, Colebrook resident Burton L. Frizzell launched Frizzell’s Mammoth Photoplay Company. Local historian William Gifford (1970: 344) states that Frizzell began his movie



business in 1907–08, but the 1910 United States Census lists Frizzell’s occupation as ‘mail carrier’. This would not, of course, rule out the possibility that Frizzell ran movie shows as a side business. By the time of his death in June 1912, Frizzell had stopped carrying mail (‘Lemington’ 1911: 3), and his primary occupation had changed to ‘moving picture manager’ (‘New Hampshire, Death’ 1912). Along with managing movie shows, Frizzell was a musician in the Colebrook Band (Gifford 1970: 265) and a stage actor who performed in  local productions (‘Santiago’ 1904: 2). He was also a real estate agent (‘Burton’ 1911: 3). Mammoth Photoplay was a key turning point in the region’s cinema history. The first movie show run by a Colebrook resident, Mammoth made movies a cultural staple in upper Coös by redirecting the flow of distribution so that a consistent stream of fresh movies could feed the region. It also created distributary branches that carried movies to surrounding villages, beginning with West Stewartstown and North Stratford (Gifford 1970: 344) but expanding to Kidderville, Pittsburg, and the Vermont towns of Canaan and Beecher Falls (‘Baldwin Buys’ 1914: 1). Perhaps drawing on spatial awareness developed from his experience as a rural free delivery mail carrier, Frizzell altered the social and spatial network of film exhibition to position Colebrook at the centre of a rurban cinema community. The town became a hub that drew audiences to a stock of movies that served residents and tourists alike (which fed the local economy), as well as an exporter of movie shows, which produced a translocal space that tightened regional connections. These innovations did, however, come with a cost, as older traditions of local cultural production and entertainment self-sufficiency were displaced, particularly in the smaller villages. In North Stratford, movies, automobiles, radios, and telephones were cited as ‘outside distractions’ by the official town history, which lamented that ‘it is so much easier to be entertained than to be the entertainer’ (Thompson 1925: 298). Burton Frizzell died from pneumonia at age 32 (‘New Hampshire, Death’ 1912), but the social and spatial networks he established were strong enough to enable his wife, Lilla Frizzell, to run the business ­without missing a beat. Even as he lay ill for two weeks, Mammoth Photoplay continued to run Saturday evening shows at the Colebrook Opera House (‘Colebrook News’ 1912b: 3). Later that summer and into fall, the newspaper offered periodic comment on the quality of the pictures noting, for example, that the ‘pictures last Saturday night were fine, all of them show-



ing up dandy. There was a good house and all went away pleased’ (‘Colebrook News’ 1912c: 3). The smoothness of this operation changed, however, when two new actants—Frank W.  Baldwin and his Halcyon Theatre—entered the cinema network.

Moving Picture War: Competition and Its Discontents Frank Baldwin was born in Pittsburg, New Hampshire, and ran many successful businesses, including two large general stores that he owned and operated in Pittsburg and West Stewartstown. In February 1912, Baldwin became the exclusive agent for Ford Motor Cars for all of upper Coös County as he expanded his business interests to include automobile sales, supplies, and service (‘Colebrook News’ 1912a: 1). By year’s end, he had become the exclusive agent for Jackson automobiles as well. Baldwin’s automobile business was housed on Main Street in Colebrook, roughly equidistant to his Pittsburg and West Stewartstown general stores. In September 1912, he bought a home in Colebrook and moved his family there (‘Colebrook News’ 1912c: 3). In March 1913, Baldwin launched a plan to build a new theatrical venue that would sit atop his automobile dealership and garage. Undoubtedly sensing that the sale of cars and movies should be articulated to each other (cars made it easier to get to movies, movies offered another reason for buying a car), he drove to Boston, Massachusetts, to purchase steel ceiling, seats, and fixtures for his new venture (‘Colebrook’ 1913a: 3). Four months later, the Halcyon Theatre was completed (‘New Halcyon’ 1913: 1). The 550-seat venue opened the weekend of 10–12 July, offering three stage plays by Harrison Associate Players, with music during each performance and a concert before and after supplied by the Lyric Orchestra from West Stewartstown (‘Colebrook, N.H.’ 1913: 26). The Colebrook News and Sentinel called attention to the venue’s capacity to pull in traffic from out of town: ‘During the opening nights the new Halcyon was filled to capacity, many visitors from towns contiguous to Colebrook being on hand. Photoplays will be presented as a standard attraction’ (‘New Halcyon’ 1913: 1). Baldwin himself was well aware that the Halcyon would increase traffic to Colebrook and signal the town’s ongoing transformation into a rurban centre. Using the trade press to book acts, his notices sought to lure top performers by stating that



Fig. 6.2  Halcyon Theatre. Postcard, circa 1914, from author’s personal collection

although Colebrook had a population of 2000, his venue would be drawing from a catchment area comprised of ‘from two to four thousand’ people (‘Colebrook, N.H.’ 1913: 26) (Fig. 6.2). Lilla Frizzell’s tactical responses to these developments were deployed in the newspaper. Her initial response, one week after Baldwin’s trip to Boston to buy building materials, was to offer two programmes each week instead of one, as a Wednesday evening show was added to the long-­ standing Saturday evening show. She also began identifying movies in her General Film programme by title (‘Colebrook’ 1913b: 3). Two weeks later, as Baldwin was constructing the Halcyon, she highlighted the up-to-­ date quality of her show: ‘Watch the progress of motion photography by going to Frizzell’s Photo Plays. They are thrilling, amusing and instructive’ (‘Colebrook’ 1913c: 3). In late May, as the Halcyon made final ­preparations for its opening, she announced that a new operator had been brought in to work the projector and that another would be brought in to do the same the following week (‘Colebrook’ 1913d: 3). Then, three weeks after the Halcyon opened, the paper announced: ‘Frizzell’s Photo Plays at the Opera House attract large audiences. The pictures are large



and clearly produced, and the reduction to 5 and 10 cents in the price of admission is undoubtedly appreciated’ (‘Colebrook’ 1913e: 3). Baldwin countered Frizzell’s tactics with an aggressive strategy of large block ads promoting the movie portions of his programmes. His policy was to price ‘every night’ film programmes at 5 and 10 cents admission but to charge 10 and 15 cents for ‘feature nights’ (‘Halcyon Theatre’ 1913a: 3). By summer 1913, the number of longer films released by independent producers was rising, and even the General Film Company was occasionally releasing three-reelers from MPPC producers as part of their ‘complete service’ (Quinn 2001: 40). These changes allowed Baldwin to differentiate his product using features, an advantageous strategy, given that he had more capital at his disposal than Lilla Frizzell. Baldwin’s first feature, in early August 1913, was Queen Elizabeth (1912), a four-reeler by French company Eclipse starring Sarah Bernhardt and distributed by Famous Players-Lasky that had debuted in New  York one year earlier (ibid., 48). By month’s end, he was seeking a regular piano player to accompany films: ‘HALCYON THEATRE WANTS PIANO PLAYER. For moving picture show. Six nights a week. Wages satisfactory. Boozers save stamps. Steady position. References required’ (‘Halcyon Theatre Wants’ 1913: 23). Soon he was running three feature nights per week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays (‘Halcyon Theatre’ 1913b: 4). Facing intense competition, Lilla Frizzell did not back down, a courageous choice, given that women had no voting rights, and she was competing with one of the region’s most powerful men in what was then New Hampshire’s most male-dominated county, with Coös being home to nearly 6 per cent more men than women (Klenotic 2014: 47). In December 1913, she issued a newspaper statement asserting her ownership rights to Frizzell’s Photoplay: ‘This is to certify that I am the sole owner of property and business carried on under the name of “Frizzell’s Photoplay” and no person or persons have any claim or part in any of the property or profits of the business’ (‘Statement’ 1913: 5). It is unknown if Baldwin and/or his projector operator were party to the claims made on Frizzell’s business. Given the seriousness of the claims, Frizzell had her statement sworn to by a notary public. In the same paper, she published an even larger block of text headlined, ‘Frizzell’s Photoplay, LILLA E. FRIZZELL, Sole Owner, STATEMENT’ (‘Frizzell’s’ 1913: 8), which proclaimed her insistence on ‘the best in picture show quality and quantity’, with pictures that had ‘attracted the greatest audiences ever seen in Colebrook at a picture show, a sure indication of quality’ (ibid.).



Frizzell also emphasized that her programmes included dances after the pictures on Saturday nights, an element on which she believed she could compete. Social dances with live music (sometimes provided by her late husband) had been a popular North Country tradition at the Opera House for decades, and Frizzell’s long-standing pairing of them with weekend movies was a keen insight. Not surprisingly, Frank Baldwin increased the frequency of dances at the Halcyon (‘Tomorrow’ 1914: 5). This backfired, however, when an anonymous letter published on the front page of the Colebrook Sentinel under the headline ‘Stops Movie Dances, Halcyon Closes Hall’ (1914: 1) made accusations that the ‘dances which are held two and three nights each week after the motion picture shows in this town are an injury to our young people, especially to those attending school’. The letter, signed by ‘A Parent and Taxpayer’, went on to ‘insist upon dances after motion picture shows being discontinued’ and to demand that ‘the selectmen or some authority give this matter immediate attention’ (ibid). In rural Colebrook, it would not be allegations about the deleterious effects of the movies on screen that would precipitate a moral panic and inspire calls for cinema’s regulation, as happened in most urban centres. Instead, it was concern about the damaging nature of dances that followed the movies that inspired the call to investigate the impact that too much unregulated competition in the cinema community might be having on the town and its cultural traditions. Whether that call came from Lilla Frizzell (she was a taxpayer, and she did have three school-aged children) hoping that authorities might cede her exclusive right to hold ‘proper’ dances on weekends only, or from another resident, it called the question on the matter of how cinema should be placed in the community and how it should be articulated to traditional elements of rural culture. Two months later, in July 1914, a front-page news story reported that ‘a conference between Mrs. Lilla Frizzell and Frank W. Baldwin has at last put an end to the moving picture war which has waged in and around Colebrook for the past year or more’ (‘Baldwin Buys’ 1914: 1). The boldly headlined article noted the two agreed on ‘a satisfactory price’ and that ‘Mr. Baldwin does not contemplate any change in his methods, but will continue his regular schedule for some time’ (ibid). Anticipating that some might regret losing Lilla Frizzell’s shows, the newspaper pre-­ emptively countered that ‘no one can regret the change as one moving picture show of the character of the two that have been running is enough for a town such as Colebrook’ (ibid: 1, 8). Frizzell relinquished all ‘privileges and right to exhibit moving picture shows and dances in the towns



of Colebrook, Stewartstown, North Stratford, Bethel, and Pittsburg, N.H., Beecher Falls and Canaan, Vt., and also in any other towns where I have conducted a motion picture show, together with my good will’ (ibid: 8). Baldwin also secured an exclusive lease from the town to operate the Colebrook Opera House, if only to insure that competitors could not use the space without his approval (‘Baldwin Leases’ 1914: 1). With the moving picture war now ended, Baldwin monopolized the movie business in upper Coös, expanding the rurban catchment area for the Halcyon and positioning himself at the gate for translocal film distribution to surrounding villages. He solidified his position as leader of a cinema community that would help mediate the region’s experience of continuity and change by articulating a proper mix of rural and urban elements for his audiences. These audiences were increasingly populated by local youth, a mix of residents from surrounding towns, and leisure-seeking urban tourists.

‘Come to Colebrook’: The Push-and-Pull of Features The battle to control movie exhibitions in Colebrook was a reverse image of larger industry battles waged on the fronts of film production and distribution, where forces favouring regular changes of standardized, ‘variety’ programmes aimed at price-conscious, transient audiences clashed with those advocating extended runs of highly differentiated ‘features’ with higher price points. An expansive network of rural and small-town movie exhibitors and their audiences had been counted among the strongest supporters of the General Film Company’s variety programmes (Quinn 2001: 42), but in Colebrook, this bulwark had been breached with the defeat of Lilla Frizzell and the takeover of the Opera House. Audiences freely choosing features over variety, moreover, did not drive this defeat; rather, it was driven by a hyperlocal struggle that was settled only by intervention of town authorities who to some extent facilitated an exit strategy for one of the combatants by imposing a vision of what was appropriate for ‘a town such as Colebrook’. Once Frank Baldwin’s competition was eliminated, there was a reduction in news space devoted to the Halcyon Theatre. Movies played on a regular basis, but for 18 months, few ads appeared to promote them. Instead, there were only small, periodic references to movies, as well as to civic events that were conducted at the Halcyon, such as a lecture support-



ing prohibition of alcohol (‘No-license’ 1914: 1), a meeting of the New Hampshire Dairymen’s Association (‘Joint’ 1914: 1), a lecture from a New Hampshire State College representative encouraging upper Coös farmers to form a County Agricultural Agency (‘Colebrook’ 1915a: 5), and a Women’s Christian Temperance Union rally (‘W.C.T.U’ 1915: 1). In August and September 1915, just as the Colebrook Sentinel was reporting that ‘the village swarms with tourists, most of them coming in automobiles’ (‘Colebrook’ 1915b: 5), movie advertisements reappeared in the newspaper to push ‘Special Feature Shows’ at the Halcyon. These included The Christian (Vitagraph, 1914) with its ‘all star cast’ (‘Special’ 1915: 1), Quincy Adams Sawyer (Puritan, 1912), a four-reeler ‘presented and talked by noted impersonator Theodore Holman’ (‘Halcyon Theatre’ 1915a: 1), and East Lynne (Biograph, 1913), a picture ‘made in New England’ that was accompanied by ‘Distinguished Boston Pianist’ Florence Johnson and followed by a social dance at the Opera House (‘Halcyon Theatre’ 1915b: 1). The uptick of features continued the rest of the year with Mary Pickford’s The Eagle’s Mate (Famous Players-Lasky, 1914) (‘The Eagle’s Mate’ 1915: 4), and two features from Italian company Cines, Quo Vadis (1912) and Anthony and Cleopatra (1913), that though dated were new to upper Coös (‘Quo’ 1915: 4; ‘Anthony’ 1915: 1). Feature shows grew from a trickle to a powerful stream over the course of 1916, as the Halcyon programmed longer films (supplemented with serials and shorts) from producers such as Universal, Mutual, Vitagraph, Selig, Pathé, Essanay, Famous Players, Cub, Relianu, and others. Admission prices varied wildly, careening from 5 and 10 cents; to 15 and 25 cents; to 25 and 35 cents; to 15, 20, and 25 cents; to 15, 25, and 35 cents. The highest prices were for Lois Weber’s Where are My Children? (Universal, 1916), which ran in late November at 25, 35, and 50 cents, and D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (United Artists, 1915), which played in early October with matinees at 35, 50, and 75 cents, and evening shows at 50 cents, 75 cents, and US$ 1.00. Such price fluctuations reflected the varied costs the Halcyon was now paying to fill its schedule with heavily promoted features, ads for which often dominated the newspaper’s entire front page above the fold. The success of this push towards features would ultimately depend on the pulling power of individual films, an element that became part of the marketing itself. This was true for all features but particularly those with the highest prices. Advertising for The Birth of a Nation noted that ‘the people of Colebrook and the surrounding towns are indeed fortunate in having the opportunity of witnessing this remark-



able picture’, which has ‘all the features and extras such as were given in the big cities’ (‘Famous Picture’ 1916: 1). By the mid-1910s, Colebrook was experiencing population loss that concerned leaders. In 1916, the newspaper ‘boosted’ the town with a story entitled ‘Colebrook’ (1916: 1) that included a short poem: It’s just a little country town Remote from city’s strife, But up to date and quite the place To spend a useful life. COME TO COLEBROOK

After reviewing Colebrook’s natural assets, the story itemized its public, commercial, cultural, and civic assets. These included two banks, four churches, one public school, good roads, two hotels, many stores, and ‘One of the best theatres in the North Country’ (ibid). The Opera House was notably absent. In less than three years, Frank Baldwin’s Halcyon Theatre had usurped most of the functions that for decades had been supplied through the Town Hall. Baldwin’s influence was powered by his early entry into the region’s trade and automobile communities and by his activities as leader of the cinema community. It was arguably through connections forged among these three communities that the ‘social anatomy’ of upper Coös was reconfigured into a rurban network that replenished the region’s social, cultural, and economic capacity for the twentieth century. A significant test of this replenished network capacity would be its ability to produce the necessary power to attract and retain Baldwin’s successor. In January 1917, Baldwin announced his leave as proprietor of the Halcyon Theatre. For the past year, Bertram H. Small, who at age 26 was 14 years younger than Baldwin, had managed the Halcyon. It was Small who guided the Halcyon through its transition to features, and Baldwin noted that the younger man’s work in that regard had been ‘very satisfactory’ (‘Thanks’ 1917: 1). A musician, Small was born in Newmarket, an urban area in southern New Hampshire, and by 1914, he had become a resident of Colebrook, gotten married, and was working as a trap drummer (‘New Hampshire Marriage’ 1914). It is possible that he had come to Colebrook in response to Baldwin’s New York Clipper ads seeking musicians to play at his new venue.



Small announced that his regular schedule would be Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights and that he would make feature programmes the official house policy: While manager of this house for Mr. Baldwin, it has been my policy to run a clean, quiet and orderly house and to give the best pictures obtainable, also all the large feature productions as played in towns and cities, much larger than Colebrook, at prices inconsistent for same. (‘Halcyon Theatre Leased’ 1917: 4)

Features and a news weekly or comedy would appear at every show with prices ranging from 15 to 25 cents, but for ‘extraordinary productions such as The Birth of a Nation, Where are my Children?, Intolerance, War Brides, Battle Cry of Peace, etc. I shall be obliged to charge the same as charged in other towns and cities’ (ibid). To rurbanize his first show, Small mixed a sensational marriage melodrama Thou Shalt not Covet (Selig, 1916) with a newsreel depicting scenes from the state’s agricultural college (ibid). In 1928, the Halcyon was sold to Interstate Amusement Company, a chain of five cinemas stretching across upper and lower Coös County. Under Small’s guidance, the venue had become a ‘mecca for young and old’ where ‘after the performance the entire audience would dance on the stage to the music of Henrietta Bunnell on the piano and Bertram Small on the drums’ (Gifford 1970: 344). By 1930, Colebrook’s population had rebounded, but Small had moved to Burlington, Vermont, to work as an insurance agent. The Halcyon’s rurban pull remained strong, however, and was enhanced when the venue was wired for talking pictures. The pull of the Halcyon’s first talkie, High Society Blues (Fox, 1930), was so strong, in fact, that it compelled Arthur Sweatt, a farm boy from Averill, Vermont, to ‘travel by the only means he had, his feet, running 15 miles to see the film’ (Zizza 2013: 123).

Conclusion A modified framework of historical geography is required to understand the emergence and development of cinema in New Hampshire’s North Country during the transition to modernity. The binary model of rural and urban locality types famously described by Ferdinand Tonnies as Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft cultures (Barron 1984: 7) proves far too



static to account for the dynamics of continuity and change that occurred in and around the place and space of cinema in upper Coös County. Instead, a more synthetic model is needed to conceptualize localities as the products of active and uneven articulations of rural-urban networks, discourses, and characteristics. Such a rurban approach changes the landscape of inquiry in subtle but significant ways, shifting from a study of cinema’s positioning within urban or rural social experience to one focused on how the social experience of cinema was constituted from multiple spatial practices and articulations of rural-urban attributes as these were embedded in particular places at particular times. This leads to an investigation of the variable strategies, tactics, and alliances enacted by historical agents in the struggle to control cinema’s mediating place in the production of space and social subjectivity during the transition to modernity. A rurban model also reminds us, to recall Stuart Hall, that ‘we are all, in our heads, several different audiences at once’, an insight that helps explain programming strategies at the Halcyon, where sensational features, agricultural lectures, live music, and traditional social dances could all appear on the programme to constitute different dimensions of audience subjectivity. In Colebrook, the cinema community successfully produced a rurban catchment area large enough to surface regional tensions between competing desires for the comfort of continuity and the sensation of change. The area’s ‘moving picture war’ was a pivotal moment in rurban development, as it called the question on whether Colebrook would embrace open competition in the cinema community, which might open the floodgates of modernization. In the end, ‘one moving picture show [was] enough … for a town such as Colebrook’, and the region’s urbanization was facilitated through a cultural provisioning network that allowed residents to feel ‘up-to-date’ without rejecting key elements of rural status and identity.

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Oral Histories and the Social Experience of Rural Cinema-Going


Oral Memories of Cinema-Going in Rural Italy of the 1950s Danielle Hipkins, Daniela Treveri Gennari, Catherine O’Rawe, Silvia Dibeltulo, and Sarah Culhane

Introduction ‘Italian Cinema Audiences’ was a collaborative research project exploring memories of cinema-going in Italy in the 1950s.1 The project focused particularly on the importance of cinema in everyday life, and the social experience of cinema-going, by interviewing surviving audience members, analysing their responses using data analysis software, and contextualizing these responses through further archival research. This chapter builds on

D. Hipkins (*) University of Exeter, Exeter, UK e-mail: [email protected] D. Treveri Gennari Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK e-mail: [email protected] C. O’Rawe University of Bristol, Bristol, UK e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




some of the findings from the first stage in this process, which was based on a national survey of over 1000 Italians aged over 65 to elicit both statistical data about their film-going experiences and evidence of their memories. Assisted by the Italian University of the Third Age, we distributed a questionnaire to a range of participants chosen from eight provincial and eight urban locations.2 The cities of Bari, Rome, Turin, Milan, Palermo, Naples, Cagliari, and Florence were selected from the 16 urban centres used by Associazione Generale Italiana dello Spettacolo (the Italian National Exhibitors Association) to monitor box-office intake in the chosen period. Urban locations were complemented by provincial locations in Puglia, Lazio, Piedmont, Lombardy, Sicily, Campania, Sardinia, and Tuscany. Our responses were divided almost equally between men and women, between city and province, and crossed a full range of class backgrounds. In this chapter we develop our initial analysis of the questionnaire responses and discuss the second stage of our project, in which we gathered half-hour interviews with 160 Italians over the age of 65, from a similar cross-section of the population.3 In the context of our questionnaires, the term ‘provincial’ included both the rural and also larger towns and areas on the urban periphery. Through our interviews, we are able to concentrate on subjects whose memories tally more closely with definitions of rural cinema that were current at the time, such as that of Giornale dello Spettacolo, the Italian exhibitors’ journal (1950: 3), which talks of rural cinemas as those operating in ‘villages with an agricultural economy and markedly poorer than industrial ones, the cinemas whose public protests and abandons the show if the ticket price reaches 60 lire, the cinemas in places with a population of less than 5000 inhabitants, with 200 to 400 seats, with average takings of 15000, which only survive because they are family-run’.4 Our analysis draws on Annette Kuhn’s (2002: 9) emphasis on ‘cinema memory as cultural memory’; in her ethnohistorical study of British audiences of the 1930s, she claims that her inquiry ‘is as much about memory as it is about cinema […] about the interweaving of the two as cinema memory’. In our video interviews, the ways in which particular discursive S. Dibeltulo Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK e-mail: [email protected] S. Culhane Maynooth University, Kildare, Ireland



structures of memory merge with cinema-going experience become clearer, and the differences between city and provincial or rural experiences of cinema-going become more pronounced. In particular, the oral narrative suggests that memories of cinema-going play a quite specific role in relation to the reconstruction of a rural past in Italy.5 We will explore the ways in which rural place memories are interwoven with local loyalties, self-recognition in and beyond the rural, gender, and social adaptation, and interact with intervening collective re-readings of the rural cinema, from ambivalence about mobility and change to the nostalgia for a lost rural past. This nostalgia for the past is an important element in modern Italian culture given the speed with which it underwent the Economic Miracle of the late 1950s to early 1960s, exemplified in popular culture by the Oscar-winning film Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (Cinema Paradiso, Tornatore, 1988). Kuhn (2002: 20) discusses the ‘palimpsest-like quality of topographical memory’, where ‘beneath a place as it appears today lie […] layers of its past manifestations; and these can be excavated in memory talk by those who belong to the place’. The metaphor of the palimpsest is a key one in memory studies, but in terms of place memory, it has been most famously used to discuss the space of the city: Andreas Huyssen’s Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory takes post-war Berlin as the model for the ‘city-text that is being rewritten while previous text is preserved’ (2003: 81). The trope of the palimpsest, for Huyssen (2003: 7), is specific to the ‘urban imaginary’, marked by change, erasure, and transformation, thus setting up a paradigm within which the rural is tacitly assumed to be unchanging and static.6 However, as our research shows, rural places are themselves rewritten in memory, and the spaces of cinema-going remembered in memory texts are often subject to change and produced by the changes undergone by the respondents themselves. As urbanization gathered pace over the 1950s, mass waves of internal migration took a growing number of citizens away from rural life towards the cities. Cinema-going of this period has typically been analysed in the context of its burgeoning urban centres, although in 1951 over 40% of the working population was still agricultural (Ginsborg 1990: 210). A survey carried out by Luca Pinna and others (1958) in the mid-1950s, more recent ethnographic and statistical studies by Francesco Casetti and Mariagrazia Fanchi (2002), and by David Forgacs and Stephen Gundle (2007)—the only ones carried out in recent years—offer useful insights for the analysis of our data. Drawing on Pinna’s work in two rural loca-



tions, Casetti and Fanchi find that by the end of the decade, older provincial audiences, and women in particular, were increasingly drawn towards television. Since they had never had the luxury of seeking out particular films, but had gone to see ‘quello che capita’ (whatever was on), television could offer them the same ‘fonte di distrazione’ (source of entertainment) for less trouble and cost (Casetti and Fanchi 2002: 145–146).7 In this context it is useful to observe that our own survey has only been able to collate, in the main, the memories of the younger generation from that period, who formed the bulk of cinema-goers, and for whom the cinema continued to serve an additional crucial function, as a ‘strumento di socializzazione’ (tool for socialization) and part of their ‘processo di definizione di una vera e propria identità di coorte’ (process of defining a real identity as a generation) (ibid.).8 This explains why our figures do not necessarily reflect the broader pattern identified by Casetti and Fanchi in which cinema-­going overall gradually diminished in the provinces, particularly for women. Although Pinna’s survey affirms that far fewer women went to the cinema, it is interesting that this does not emerge so clearly from our interviewees’ memories of this particular period. Our interviewees do, however, confirm Pinna’s (1958: 22) finding that the fall in cinema-going became particularly acute for women after the age of 26, since many of them say that they married in their twenties and tended to go less after marriage and, typically, motherhood. However, most of our interviewees would have been younger than that in the period of our focus. Indeed, they confirm both Pinna and Casetti and Fanchi’s findings that in the 1950s for young people in both city and provinces cinema was acquiring ‘una valenza feriale’ (everyday value) (Casetti and Fanchi 2002: 155), forming a central part of everyday experience. Whilst slightly fewer provincial than urban respondents to our questionnaires attended the cinema twice a week or more (6% in the provinces against 15% in the cities), and more or less the same number attended weekly (31% in the provinces against 35% in the cities), our results also show that more provincial viewers went to the cinema once or twice a month than in the cities (72% in the provinces against 50% in the cities). Our findings from the questionnaires show that as the distinctions between city and province softened through the 1950s, largely thanks to increased mobility and to the influence of cinema itself, the differences in memories of cinema-going between city and province are usually ones of degree rather than being absolute.9 For provincial audiences, the cinema was more of a novelty, more likely to educate, and more likely to underline the gen-



dered nature of experience. In the greater probability of their experiencing parish or improvised cinemas, we can nonetheless trace subtle differences in the memories of cinema in the city versus cinema in the provinces, often in their unconventional nature ‘quando da piccola mi portavo la seggiolina da casa per andare a sedere proprio davanti allo schermo’ (when as a little girl I would take my small chair from home to sit right by the screen) (woman from Tuscan village, b. 1940). Similarly in the recurrent metaphor of the window that cinema offered onto new worlds (‘la sala cinematografica era magica, come un nido buio con una finestra su mondi nuovi’ [the cinema space was magical, like a dark nest with a window onto new worlds], woman from Piedmont, b. 1946), we can understand that for many audiences outside the major cities, the world and life itself was increasingly perceived to be elsewhere, another factor often eventually leading these respondents too towards the urban, and a lingering sense of regret for the parallel lost worlds of cinema and the rural.

Local Loyalties The specificity of the rural that emerges in our interviews may well be to do with what Kuhn (2002: 17) describes in her project: ‘place is extraordinarily insistent in the memories of 1930s cinemagoers, above all when memories are performed orally, in interviews’. For the most part, Kuhn is referring to the way in which topographical memory plays an important role in the negotiation of all viewers’ memories. Whilst we have certainly found that to be the case with our interviewees too, our project adds further insights to Kuhn’s findings, not only in terms of a quite distinct national context in which the urban-rural divide was much more pronounced, but also because the majority of her respondents came from urban backgrounds, with the exception of a study group from East Anglia. In the case of East Anglia, she (2002: 28) observes that these interviewees ‘produce the lowest incidence of place-memory, no doubt because in this largely rural region cinemas were more geographically scattered, and rarely relatively accessible on foot’. In our study, however, we have a much greater range of rural respondents, and place memories emerge as equally important for our rural interviewees. The prevalence of parish cinemas in Italy in this period meant that often there would be at least one cinema within reach of rural viewers. In 1954, there were around 4000 parish cinemas around the country and this number increased significantly in the following years, especially in villages of less than 5000 people (Fanchi



2006: 106–108). More generally, from January 1948 to the same month in 1954, the number of cinemas across the country that were open at least one day per month increased from 6551 to 9888 (an increase of 50.9%) (SIAE 1956: 9). Their greater prevalence in the North of the country did remain notable: in the years 1952 to 1957, The Italian Society of Authors and Publishers (SIAE) calculated that there was an average of between 3457.8 and 6218 inhabitants per cinema in the North, between 4029.4 and 6931.5 in the Centre, and between 6910.2 and 9920.7 in the South.10 What primarily distinguishes rural memories of cinemas from those in the larger towns or cities, however, is the unique relationship with the local cinema, which was often the only one in the village or the nearest small town. If city dwellers list a range of cinemas they visited, fond memories of one particular space more often characterize the memories of our rural respondents. Since there were fewer choices on offer, the respondents arguably had a greater familiarity with the space and even the people running it; for example, Daniela (b. 1943) from Limone Piemonte (Piedmont), a small mountain village and ski resort, remembers her local cinema ‘La Cicala’ very fondly as ‘una bella costruzione’ (a beautiful building), explaining its history (in the 1930s, it was a casino, given its name by the poet Amalia Guglielminetti). She recalls its spatial construction with no balcony and explains that cinema-goers had ‘un rapporto molto affettuoso con la signora che gestiva il cinema’ (a very close relationship with the lady who ran the cinema). Anecdotal memories abound in this context: in this instance, if the cinema owner did not get enough paying children for the afternoon screenings (and lots of children went for free because of their father’s government position), she sent them home. The same cinema space was used for school plays and radio quizzes too. What the detail of our video interviews suggests is that the improvised and impermanent spaces of these cinemas also strengthened this bond with patrons, used as they often were for more than one purpose. For example, for Antonina (b. 1937) in Orosei (a relatively remote Sardinian seaside town), the unique nature of the cinema-going experience lay in it being open air, improvised with a white sheet hung in the garden of a big local house (known as Casa Cabras) with a dance floor, where the townsfolk would sometimes have parties around the record player. From our questionnaires, we identified self-consciousness about participants’ (former or present) rural status, no doubt generated by the rapidly shifting tide of migration and modernity. A possible sense of inferiority with regard to the lure of the city and the North also leads to a particular



discursive defence of these cinema spaces in our video interviews. Antonio (b. 1934, Puglia) refers to cinema as particularly important ‘in questi nostri paesi del Sud’ (in these Southern villages of ours) and self-consciously contrasts the ‘cinema di paese’ (village cinema) and ‘cinema di città’ (town cinema). In other cases, such as that of Sergio (b. 148, Puglia), this becomes a kind of pride, as he insists that his cinemas were better than those in the city, or Maria (b. 1931), who points out that her cinema/ theatre in the small town of Putignano (Puglia) was built by the well-­ known architect of the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari (completed 1903), but before that opera house was constructed. Sometimes such self-consciousness leads interviewees to describe certain modes of behaviour as typically ‘rural’, even though our findings suggest that they were common to city and provincial cinema-goers. For instance, the aforementioned Daniela explains the social aspect of her cinema-going as related to village life: ‘essendo un paese c’erano sempre questi commenti e dopo sempre queste chiacchiere’ (since it was a village, there were always these comments and afterwards always this chat). Antonina (Orosei, b. 1937) refers to the kinds of activities she was involved in more generally, such as cake-making and parties, as ‘piccole cose […] il divertimento di un piccolo paese’ (small things […] the entertainments of small-village life). These examples corroborate the concept of ‘place attachment’ evident so clearly in the relationship between place of origin and people’s lives: a bond that is presumed to persist over time and throughout lifespan.11 In Antonina’s case, for instance, her involvement in small-village life confirms David Seamon’s (2014: 13) idea that ‘an interaction of individual bodily routines’ is ‘rooted in a particular environment that may become an important place of interpersonal and communal exchange, meaning, and attachment’.

Lost Spaces and Palimpsestic Selves Such local loyalties and self-consciousness play out in the context of many respondents who no longer live in their village or town of origin. In their cases, place attachment may expand into the idea of place elasticity developed by Barcus and Brunn (2010) to refer to the possibilities of virtual relationships with distant places.12 Many who grew up in rural areas, in fact, have since moved to the city, shifting class identities as well as regional and spatial identities, but they often retain some connections with that original space. In some cases even for those who have stayed put, their



spatial environment has undergone radical change: the city has come to them, as suburbs have spread their tentacles into what was once ‘rural’. Memories of the cinema form a nexus for these shifts in identity and spatial palimpsests: the aforementioned Rosangela (Settimo, b. 1943), for example, talks about how the expression ‘Vado a Settimo’ (I’m going to Settimo) is still used by her family to indicate their going into the town centre, although now they actually live in Settimo, because once upon a time, they lived outside it ‘in a little village full of fields’. The same goes for Giovanna (b. 1950), whose former provincial area of Capannelle has now merged with the city of Rome, or Carmen (b. 1936), whose previously agricultural community, Pianura, is now a suburb of Naples. Kuhn (2002: 30) writes about this memory of the suburb, as ‘a peculiarly place-related variant of the past/present trope; for, while remaining distinctive in its evocation of a primal, unspoiled landscape, this discursive register shares something of the palimpsest—like quality of town—and city-based informants’ accounts of changes in the familiar places: as one Harrow informant puts it, there were “flowers where these houses are now”’. Indeed as we listen to Daniela from what is now the ski resort of Limone Piemonte describe how her heart feels tighter when, returning to the village in the summer months, she passes the tourist apartment blocks that occupy the space once filled by her charming rural cinema, we might also ask how the cinema in rural spaces represents a litmus test for emotional responses to radical change. How does it act as a marker of what is lost or gained for the speaker as the topography of their own life pattern often reflects Italy’s move from a rural, agricultural nation to an urbanized tourist destination? How does it reflect continued perceptions of disparity between city and country and between North and South? Ida (b. 1943, from San Sperate, near Cagliari, Sardinia) laments the fact that when the cinema in her town was closed ‘non c’era più niente’ (there was nothing any more)—people had no choice other than to travel to Cagliari. With some anger Antonio (b. 1934, Novoli, Puglia) speaks of the closure of cinemas in villages as demonstrating ‘una mancanza di rispetto nei confronti dei cittadini meno abbienti’ (a lack of respect towards less wealthy citizens). He speaks from a bourgeois office space in Rome, and his discourse speaks to how, in the case of rural memories, it is not only the spaces that are palimpsestic but often also the speakers’ selves. Kuhn (ibid.: 20) speaks of how remembering place ‘becomes an act of witness’ in the face of the disappearance of many cinemas but also how ‘it betokens losses of several kinds—of childhood, innocence, youth, community’. In the Italian



case, we might hypothesize that it speaks even more powerfully to the loss of a home itself, and of a rural identity, particularly since this nostalgia seems most pronounced in those interviewees who no longer live in the rural areas. This is particularly evident in the comparison of the cinema-­ going experience of Sardinian Paola (b. 1937), who moved from Iglesias to Cagliari when she got married and her brother Giancarlo (b. 1943), who stayed there. While Paola claims that all the old cinemas are closed, Giancarlo says that the Electra cinema is still open but it is now a theatre— this difference suggests a more pronounced sense of closure towards her provincial/rural past from Paola’s perspective, as if the cinema space is ‘frozen’ in the past.

Self-Recognition in and Beyond the Rural What role do the films themselves play in rooting these accounts in place? Often, for our respondents, Italian cinema is associated with reflecting ‘reality’—is this the same for rural audiences, for whom cinema is more frequently about new worlds, fantasy, windows onto new worlds? Our questionnaires showed that it was only respondents from the provinces who described the cinema as a window onto the world. One describes the screen as ‘uno spazio limitato con una finestra aperta al mondo’ (a delimited space with a window open to the world) (man from Cirie, Piedmont, b. 1938). This simple architectural metaphor is very telling, as it suggests a greater distance or sense of exclusion from what respondents saw and also tallies with investigations made at the time, for example, the findings of Pinna’s survey on cinema-going in the Sardinian village of Thiesi in the mid-1950s in which a ‘bracciante agricolo’ (agricultural labourer) said: ‘Siamo giovani e ci piace un po’ di vita, chè qui ce n’è tanto poca’ (We are young, and we like a bit of life, because here there is so little) (Pinna 1958: 3–4). As Pinna (ibid.: 4) was to observe, that young labourer now saw life as something lived beyond the confines of the environment in which he was born and grew up. However, it also confirms the importance of what Forgacs and Gundle (2007: 7) describe as ‘the opening up to other parts of society through such “virtual windows”’ for those who did not move. In the interviews, however, traces of specifically ‘rural viewings’ do also emerge, for example, moments of identification with films because of their rural location; these moments give rise to what we might describe as ‘raw’ memory, because they depart from conventional norms of interpretation.



This was hinted at in our questionnaires, for example, in a comment about the film Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and his Brothers, Visconti, 1960), a man from Lombardy (b. 1947) says: ‘ha descritto come eravamo e come saremmo diventati’ (which described what we were like and what we would become), a quote that speaks beautifully to a generation poised on the brink of urban life. Rocco e i suoi fratelli famously tells the tale of Southern Italian peasants finding their way in Milan. In interviews, these instances of ‘rural connection’ with the screen become more evident, such as in the case of Rosangela, who recollects Riso amaro (Bitter Rice, De Santis, 1948): ‘la vita nelle cascine—questa realtà vista nel film di Riso amaro era abbastanza analoga alla mia vita’ (life on the farms—this world you see in the film of Bitter Rice was quite similar to mine). In her response, Rosangela from outside Turin mentions the proximity of the rice fields of Riso amaro to her home, underlining the importance of place for our audiences. This is reinforced when Maria, from the other end of the country in Puglia, and a very different landscape (primarily wheat and olive growing), speaks of the same film being typical of how, for them, Neorealist cinema such as Bitter Rice had ‘nessun contatto con il contesto paesano’ (no connection with country life). This latter comment may shed some light on why Neorealist cinema was slightly less popular in the provinces, although this may also have been connected to programming restrictions and less exposure. It is interesting that the films mentioned so far are ‘classics’ of Italian cinema and might well come to mind thanks to repeat screenings on television and critical praise. A less mediated memory, perhaps, is that of Mario (b. 1935, Perosa Argentina, Piedmont) on the milk bottle delivery that fascinated him as a boy in US and UK films: ‘noi il latte andavamo a prenderlo direttamente dall’agricoltore che lo mungeva—non c’era ancora una distribuzione’ (we would go to get our milk directly from the farmer as he milked it—there wasn’t delivery at that point). Such a memory, which does not cite a particular film’s title, seems, nonetheless, to speak also to a genuine connection between the screen and the rural world, one of comparison and contrast, speaking to the opening up of worlds that so many of our rural respondents discuss in a very concrete manner. This aspect makes the cinema a vehicle for nostalgia for a lost way of life, which one interviewee even reads through the lens of subsequent cinematic representations of such nostalgia. Antonio (Novoli, b. 1941) from Novoli, in Puglia, compares his experience of rural cinema to the film Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, the story of a little Sicilian boy who falls in love with cinema and



becomes the projectionist of his local village cinema, before moving to Rome to become a film director. Certainly the story has a strong resonance with Antonio’s own exceptional cinephilia (he too went to Rome to get involved in the film industry). How does this intertext then feed into his and possibly others’ own memories of cinema-going? To what extent has the space interviewees mourn taken on the qualities of a fictional, almost mythical space? These are important questions to ask, but they do not undermine the depth of feeling that underlies these memories, nor their veracity. Indeed Antonio’s use of Nuovo Cinema Paradiso to mediate his memories channels key tensions in the debate about nostalgia in heritage cinema. Rosalind Galt (2002: 172) suggests that films such as Nuovo Cinema Paradiso use the Italian landscape, the South in particular, to explore both a warm collective nostalgia for a lost rural past and also to acknowledge the political failure to integrate the South into any left-wing future for Italy. Such a paradox defines Antonio’s own relationship to the film. On the one hand, the intersection of Antonio’s personal memories with the film memories presented by Nuovo Cinema Paradiso appears consonant with the ‘democratizing drive’ that Susannah Radstone (2010: 332) has identified as recently countering the ‘cultural and political elitism embedded in critiques of heritage culture and its pleasures’. However, Antonio’s memories of Nuovo Cinema Paradiso also involve a distancing of himself from those same rural audiences that the film celebrates (echoing perhaps the film’s own difficult position between presence and absence in relation to the rural via its now-urban protagonist), recalling Galt’s references to the South in these films as a locus of failure. Antonio speaks as one who is also now definitely urban, making a clear verbal distinction between himself and people ‘nei piccoli paesi del Sud’ (in little Southern villages)—‘per loro era un passatempo, un completamento’ (for them it was a past-time, providing fulfilment) but clarifying that ‘per me era un discorso quasi di studio’ (for me it was almost a question of study). Cinephilia becomes a means of articulating a future away from the rural and presents a very different type of discourse to the recognition of the self as rural in films. Such a discourse was much more powerfully reflected in a letter to the film journal Cinema Nuovo at the time (which Antonio read), which claimed that real cinematic culture was difficult for the ‘popolo di provincia’ (people from the provinces) to access.13 Yet the recurrent discourse about the inexperience and naivety of rural audiences that emerges as linked to Cinema Nuovo and its readers is in fact contested by the range of memories our rural viewers present.



Gender and Social Adaptation Certainly, our female interviewees’ responses about their own hesitant participation in the Cineforum or intellectual film clubs suggest that pursuit of the status of intellectual was not a trajectory so clearly open to women as a way out of the rural. Indeed, what is missing from Nuovo Cinema Paradiso’s account of both the beauty of and flight from the rural, quite in keeping with the male-dominated view of Italian history and its cinema, is a female perspective on growing up with cinema, and this is something our research is restoring. Whilst bearing in mind the way in which gender has come to bear on the formation of memory itself, we would like to suggest that there are elements of freedom for girls in the rural environment that get overlooked. Research on cinema audiences often emphasizes the physical aspect of boys’ imitative play. In his memoir of life in a village in rural Tuscany, Vito Filippini (1997: 84) suggests that such imitations of the ‘sword and sandal’ epics had a particular inflection for men in the rural environment, for whom physical prowess was central to daily labour. This is echoed in evidence from our interviews, such as that with Antonio, from Novoli again, who stresses the role of physical play for boys in the rural space, alongside the popularity of this genre. However, in our interviews, there are hints that the rural could also offer younger girls at least the physical freedoms sometimes denied in the city. In Pianura, near Naples, Carmen (Pianura, b. 1936) and her sisters were allowed to go to the cinema together without adult supervision. She says that as newcomers to the town they were known by everyone and therefore felt safe venturing out on their own. For Lucia (b. 1936, Gonnosfanadiga, Sardinia), cinema was so special that she dared to go on her own, without her parents knowing about it. When a girl living in her area heard about this, she decided to go with her, constituting a rare example of female transgression in the plural.14 In their accounts of activities they could pursue in the country apart from cinema, we also hear of ‘le uscite in bicicletta, l’andare a rubare la frutta; i bagni nel laghetto della peschiera’ (bike rides, going to steal fruit, swimming in the fishing lake) from Rosangela and cycling to the beach from Antonina. This relative physical freedom might also stretch to include imitating female stars in more than dress: for example, in Rosangela’s memory of imitating the swimming star Esther Williams, which she associates with learning to swim in the little lakes around where she lived. The narratives give rise on occasion to traces of a history of girls’ play that has been ‘covered over’ (Gilligan 1991: 19).



A certain difference also expresses itself in relation to fandom in provincial areas. Generally, our questionnaires confirm that there was less collecting and writing to stars in rural areas, which may be linked to poverty and lower levels of education but also possibly to that sense of distance felt from the world on screen; in the words of Casetti and Fanchi, ‘che fa leva sulla percezione della separatezza fra l’universo reale e quello diegetico’ (2002: 164) (which emphasizes a perceived distance between the real world and the diegetic world). As their findings suggest (2002: 164), distinctive models of spectatorship emerged in this context, particularly for provincial women relating to glamorous stars, who might be models for an ‘identificazione […] giocata sulla differenza e sulla desiderabilità dell’oggetto’ (a form of identification based on difference and desire for the object). There are examples from our interviews that take these findings further, suggesting that as far as models of beauty were concerned, women growing up in the country were more likely to feel that they fell short of the models offered to them. Irma (b. 1935), Settimo Torinese, Piedmont) says that she copied stars’ hairstyles, ‘but my hair wasn’t like theirs’, whilst Rosangela describes stars as ‘personaggi irraggiungibili— appartenevano a un mondo che non pensavo fosse il mio’ (people out of reach—they belonged to a world that I didn’t think was mine) and speaks of the ‘belle delusioni’ (resounding disappointments) of copying stars, when she realized how little she resembled them. This lack of self-­confidence amongst adolescents seems quite different to the proud imitation of stars found amongst women by Kuhn (2002: 116). When we do find this pride in the self in rural areas, it emerges in the context of someone who clearly defines herself as a one-off ‘character’, such as Maria from Putignano, Puglia, who recounts that one of the dresses she had made in imitation of a star was so eccentric her sister refused to be seen in public with her when she wore it. For adolescents the cinema represented a space in which the opposite sex was tantalizingly close, as a comment from a man from a village in Lombardy (b. 1943), a respondent to our questionnaire, might hint; his strongest memory is of ‘le occhiate di una ragazza quasi sempre seduta in una fila avanti’ (the eyes made at me by a girl always sitting in the row in front). Whilst gender norms might make themselves more keenly felt in rural areas in later adolescence, particularly in the South (Antonio from Puglia talks of how women would sit in a separate place in the cinema), the cinema space itself nonetheless also offered a space in which social adaptation could also take place. If Waliaula writes in this volume of the ­‘carnivalesque element of ritual, which […] thrived on the apparent freedom that the cloak of darkness afforded the children to express themselves



and act in ways that were not ordinarily socially sanctioned’, we can read similar tendencies at work in Antonio’s account of how in provincial Puglia young people circumvented the veto on going to the cinema with a boyfriend or girlfriend by arranging to go to the same screening with their respective families and then creeping closer together as their families were distracted by the film. Tellingly, stories from women emphasize the avoidance of contact and the preservation of virtue. In anecdotal mode, Maria from a small town in Southern Italy (Putignano, Puglia) describes how she used to deal with the threat of male harassment simply by taking a pin with her to the cinema and sticking it in the hand of any man who tried to touch her, although in an aside she adds that this was her strategy unless she happened to like the man in question. Both stories are accompanied by laughter, because, although they narrate common social restrictions and abuses of power, they are told in a mode of social adaptation and personal triumph, constructing the rural cinema space as a carnivalesque space that both boys and girls felt able to make and defend as their own.

Conclusion Fast disappearing, or changed beyond recognition, the places of rural cinema constitute a ghostly memory, palimpsestic in more ways than one. Building on Kuhn’s (2002) work on the palimpsestic spaces of the English suburbs, our research is able to explore the national specificity of our respondents’ conceptualization of the remembered rural. Post-war Italy in the period we are examining represented a moment of particularly dramatic movement from the rural towards the urban. This shift conditions the complex layering of memories and identity, evident in our interviews. Tensions emerge between an identity still conceived as untouched by urban experience and a recognition of loss, nostalgia, and change. If Galt (2002) argues for the importance of the post-war Italian rural space in shaping a collective imaginary that is both nostalgic and able to acknowledge political failure through films such as Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, our research confirms the power of these structures but also reveals new points of contact with areas that have fallen outside the mainstream narrative. These include more ambivalent relationships to the national narrative and to the urban, in which the rural is a lost space but also one in which a greater range of gendered behaviours and forms of everyday resistance are remembered than hitherto acknowledged in mainstream narratives. Memories of films and cinemagoing have a key role to play in shaping this re-articulation of the rural.



Notes 1. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK (AHRC), 2013–2016, it was led by Daniela Treveri Gennari (Oxford Brookes University), Catherine O’Rawe (University of Bristol), and Danielle Hipkins (University of Exeter); the research assistant was Silvia Dibeltulo, and Sarah Culhane was the project’s PhD student. 2. See 3. The interviews were carried out by Memoro, an organization dedicated to the collection of the memories, experiences, and life stories of people born before 1950. See 4. Translation our own. 5. Jan Assmann and John Czaplicka (1995: 130) claim that one of the fundamental aspects of cultural memory is ‘its capacity to reconstruct’. They argue that ‘no memory can preserve the past. […]. Cultural memory works by reconstructing, that is, it always relates its knowledge to an actual and contemporary situation’ (emphasis in original). 6. See also Richard Terdiman (1993: 109) on the Baudelairean conceptualization of the palimpsest, which is intimately linked to urban modernity. 7. See also Pinna (1958: 14). 8. See also ibid. 9. These findings are summarized in Hipkins et al. (2016). 10. SIAE (1956) Annuario statistico dello spettacolo, 1935–1956, Tab. 35— Cinema—Abitanti per cinematografi ne-gli anni 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956 e 1957 secondo le regioni (, accessed on 16th May 2017). 11. See Lynne Manzo and Patrick Devine-Wright (2014). 12. The elasticity of place allows individuals to maximize economic or social opportunities distant from the place to which one is attached while at the same time perpetuating engagement with that place. Elasticity is possible today because of the extensive transportation and communication networks that facilitate greater interaction among people in distant places (Barcus and Brunn 2010). 13. The letter was from reader Francesco Castriotta, from the town of Manfredonia (Puglia), in Cinema Nuovo, n. 130, 1 May 1958, p.  257. Castriotta complained that lack of education and an enforced diet of ­westerns and comedies prevent most of his fellow spectators from understanding serious cinema and compares their ‘primitiveness’ unfavourably to city audiences, who are more capable of appreciating high-brow films.



14. In Emotion and Gender: Constructing Meaning from Memory, June Crawford et al. (1992: 189) stress that memories of female transgression in youth rarely include peers.

References Assmann, J., & Czaplicka, J.  (1995). Collective Memory and Cultural Identity. New German Critique, 65(Spring–Summer), 125–133. Barcus, H., & Brunn, S. (2010). Place Elasticity: Exploring a New Conceptualization of Mobility and Place Attachment in Rural America. Geografiska Annaler, Series B: Human Geography, 92(4), 281–295. Casetti, F., & Fanchi, M. (2002). Le funzioni sociali del cinema e dei media: dati statistici, ricerche sull’audience e storie di consumo. In M. Fanchi & E. Mosconi (Eds.), Spettatori: forme di consumo e pubblici del cinema in Italia, 1930–1960 (pp. 135–171). Venice: Marsilio. Crawford, J., et  al. (1992). Emotion and Gender: Constructing Meaning from Memory. London: Sage. Fanchi, M. (2006). Non censurare, ma educare! L’esercizio cinematografico cattolico e il suo progetto culturale e sociale. In E. Ruggeri & D. Viganò (Eds.), Attraverso lo schermo. Cinema e cultura cattolica in Italia (pp. 103–113). Rome: Ente dello Spettacolo. Filippini, V. (1997). C’era una volta Scansano. Florence: Centro Editoriale Toscano. Forgacs, D., & Gundle, S. (2007). Mass Culture and Italian Society from Fascism to the Cold War. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Galt, R. (2002). Italy’s Landscapes of Loss: Historical Mourning and the Dialectical Image in Cinema Paradiso, Mediterraneo and Il Postino. Screen, 43(2), 158–173. Gilligan, C. (1991). Women’s Psychological Development: Implications for Psychotherapy. In C. Gilligan, A. G. Rogers, & D. L. Tolman (Eds.), Women, Girls and Psychotherapy: Reframing Resistance (pp.  5–31). London: The Haworth Press. Ginsborg, P. (1990). A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics, 1943–1988. London: Penguin. Hipkins, D., Culhane, S., Dibeltulo, S., Treveri Gennari, D., & O’Rawe, C. (2016). “Un mondo che pensavo impossibile”. Al cinema in Italia negli anni Cinquanta. Cinema e Storia, 5, 215–225. Huyssen, A. (2003). Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Kuhn, A. (2002). An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory. London: I.B. Tauris.



Manzo, L., & Devine-Wright, P. (Eds.). (2014). Place Attachment. Advances in Theories, Methods and Applications. London; New York: Routledge. Pinna, L. (1958). Indagine sul pubblico cinematografico. Bianco e Nero, 19(2), 1–22. Radstone, S. (2010). Cinema and Memory. In S.  Radstone & B.  Schwarz (Eds.), Memory: Histories, Theories, Debates (pp. 325–342). New York: Fordham University Press. Seamon, D. (2014). Place Attachment and Phenomenology. The Synergistic Dynamic of Place. In L. Manzo & P. Devine-Wright (Eds.), Place Attachment. Advances in Theories, Methods and Applications (pp.  11–22). London; New York: Routledge. SIAE. (1956). Annuario statistico dello spettacolo, 1935–1956. Section 5 – Le Sale cinematografiche. Retrieved May 16, 2017, from Terdiman, R. (1993). Present Past: Modernity and the Memory Crisis. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Un’interessante relazione sui cinema rurali. (1950, June 1–15). Giornale dello spettacolo, 6(101), 3.


Belgian Film Culture Beyond the Big City: Cinema-Going in the Provincial and Rural Periphery of Antwerp Philippe Meers and Daniël Biltereyst

Introduction Discourses on a mythical ‘rural Flanders’ have traditionally formed a strong trope in the imaginary landscape of the northern region of Belgium, widely present in literature, television, and fiction film (Dhoest 2001; Emmery 2009). Cinema is hardly ever mentioned as part of this ‘rural idyll’ (Pil 1990) of a nearly modernized and rather backward but very communal non-urban way of life. It is indeed striking how in existing rural histories on Flanders, cinema—in contrast to radio and television—is virtually absent, apart from a few references to the impact of certain movies on dress and behaviour (e.g. Luyten and Segers 2012a). This one-sided

P. Meers (*) University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium e-mail: [email protected] D. Biltereyst Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




representation of rural folk culture in the peripheries of the major cities in Flanders calls for a major correction, as cinema was—as early as the 1920s up until the 1960s—a major form of entertainment and leisure culture in provincial and rural Flanders. One of the most striking features of the cinema scene in Flanders was the spread of movie theatres across the region and the high number of movie theatres in very small towns and villages. Many of these ‘rural’ villages in Flanders lay close to each other, had achieved intense forms of urbanization, and were well connected through local railways. Flemish rurality is thus considered as paradoxical, because of the lack of large agglomerations in combination with the strong urbanization of the countryside, which has called for the region to be labelled one large ‘nebular city’ (Bisschop and Emmery 2012: 99), or ‘fog city’ (Biltereyst and Van de Vijver 2017). In 1950s rural Flanders, traditions of the interbellum period were still alive, the church kept its stronghold, while consumerism and the welfare society largely started in the 1960s. This is why rural historians named it the ‘silver 1950s’, as a run-up to the ‘golden 1960s’, in which the quality of life and modernization augmented substantially. The World Expo of 1958 in Brussels is considered as a symbolic turning point in this modernization of the rural areas (Luyten and Segers 2012b). This chapter will focus on the Flemish province of Antwerp as a case in point for examining rural cinema cultures, film experiences, and their relations with the metropolis, Antwerp, the capital of the province, from the 1930s to the 1970s.1 With its territory of approximately 2867 km2, it is one of five provinces in the region of Flanders, and one of ten in the whole of Belgium that currently covers 70 entities of towns and villages.2 Antwerp has always been the largest city of Flanders (apart from its bilingual capital Brussels), acting as one of the main cinema cities par excellence. Its surrounding towns and villages across the province have also proven to be a fascinating case for studying non-metropolitan cinema cultures, partly influenced by the city of Antwerp.3 Being the province with the highest numbers of cinemas per capita  all through the twentieth century, it has historically been at the forefront of the development of the cinema exhibition industry in Belgium, and its many towns and villages shared in this vibrant yet diverse cinema culture. This chapter will first explore the wider institutional dynamics, more in particular the historical development of non-urban cinema infrastructures, as well as the growth of various ideological groups, mostly Catholic, and their alternative networks of ideological movie theatres. The second, main,



part of the chapter consists of an in-depth analysis of findings from a large-­ scale oral history project on the experiences of rural and provincial cinema-­ goers in these parts of the province of Antwerp. The interview material enables us to analyse the tensions (and similarities) between metropolitan, provincial, and rural cinema cultures, as they were experienced by cinema-­ goers. Topics of analysis include the difference in practices of villagers and town people when going to local cinemas versus when going to metropolitan Antwerp cinemas; class relations in the rural cinema space; and the disciplining strategies versus the rural audience tactics, circumventing these top-down forces. Based on the large-scale oral history on cinema-going and backed by structural data on cinema infrastructures, we argue for a multifaceted dynamic picture of ‘multiple’ modernities in the province of Antwerp, where the accelerated modernity of big-city cinema culture is not simply contrasted with, but rather situated in, a continuum with ‘decelerated’ (compare Nipperdey 1988 on Protestant ‘decelerated’ modernity in Germany), ‘ambiguous’, or ‘provincial’ (Jernudd 2012) forms of modernity across non-urban and rural areas. The process of modernity in non-­ urban and rural areas turns out to be highly dynamic and evolving over time  (Meers et  al. 2010), proving that these parts of the province of Antwerp are far from static entities or regions.

The Cinema Landscape in Flanders and Antwerp Before entering the terrain of lived experiences, we need to grasp the wider cinema structures as they developed over time in Flanders and in particular in the province of Antwerp. We rely here on a previous study where we analysed the spread of cinemas in relation to population density in Flanders (Biltereyst and Meers 2014). This data provides the context within which the historical audiences lived their cinema experiences. Cinema culture in Flanders (and across all Belgium) initially developed within urban settings, with Brussels and Antwerp as pioneer cities. But only ten years after the first venues opened in the big cities—between 1904 and 1908—the earliest permanent cinemas in little towns in rural areas emerged. There was a clear trend in Flanders towards the spread of cinemas to smaller towns and villages from the 1920s on. In 1924, around 32 per cent of all cinemas were located in rural zones. Together with a steady high number of cinemas in the main cities, there was almost total coverage of Flanders at the end of the 1950s. Between 1945 and 1960,



rural cinemas took up almost consistently half of the entire movie theatre landscape, taking again the edge off the myth of cinema as an urban phenomenon. After the Second World War, we saw a rapid growth in the instalment of movie theatres all over Flanders. The growth of the Flemish cinema park was largely due to new cinemas opening in smaller villages and towns. Where an average rural town would have between zero and five movie theatres, the average number of cinemas in provincial cities was not much higher. But besides apparent structural differences between urban and rural movie theatres, there were huge differences in exhibition frequency, with rural cinemas showing films only on a limited number of days. From the late 1950s on, there was a gradual decline until the 1980s, where we see an almost complete disappearance of village and small-town cinemas, with multiscreen and multiplexes dominating in the large cities ever since the 1980s (see Fig. 8.1). The rapid decline of cinemas in the 1960s takes place simultaneously in metropolitan cities, towns, and villages. However, the decline of movie theatres in rural areas was more overwhelming and occurred at a much faster pace. By the mid-1970s, in fact, 95 per cent of rural cinemas were closed. Consequently, non-urban cinema culture had its heyday from the 1920s to the 1960s.

Fig. 8.1  The presence of cinemas per population density in Flanders (1924–2000). Source: Biltereyst and Meers 2014



The same general evolution is clearly illustrated when looking at the number of cinemas per township for the province of Antwerp (Fig. 8.2). There is a clear trend towards the spread of cinemas to smaller towns and villages from the 1920s on, together with a steady, high number of cinemas in the main city (Antwerp). There is almost total coverage at the end of the 1950s, during which only ten villages go without cinema. There is a gradual decline from the 1960s until the 1980s, when we see an almost complete disappearance of village and small-town cinemas, with multiplexes dominating in the city of Antwerp. The variety within these non-urban cinema spaces was huge; a film exhibition ‘venue’ could mean anything and not all of them were ­permanent, advertised, with weekly showings, or even public. Movie-goers picked up a movie in a movie palace, a second-run local ‘flick house’, a parish church, a school, a café, a ‘people’s house’ (a local community space, linked to a ‘pillar’), or the back room of a bakery. Some of the cinemas were no more than reconfigured bars such as the El Dorado in the bar with the same name in Hemiksem (1910s). Others were people’s houses or rebuilt party spaces like the Alcazar in Balen (1928 to 1959). Other villages did have purpose-built cinemas, with all amenities and up to 1000 seats. Schilde is an example of a town with a cinema culture developing at an early stage: in 1922, the Nova, the first cinema, opened its doors. Until the end of the 1950s, it remained the only cinema in Schilde, but then the Rex cinema was built, and it meant the almost immediate end for Nova. Some of the towns under scrutiny were directly influenced by the Antwerp cinema exhibitor Georges Heylen and his Rex concern that covered the larger part of the Antwerp exhibition scene. Borgerhout, for instance, was over time considered a neighbourhood of the city, as it was situated within the larger city borders. Other towns like Hoboken, Wilrijk, or Ekeren, which were located nearby, were considered suburbs of the city of Antwerp. An important feature of the Flemish cinema scene is that film attracted an increasing attention from ideologically and/or politically inspired groups since the 1920s (Biltereyst 2007; Biltereyst et al. 2012). Key players were what is commonly called in sociopolitical terms the different pillars in Flemish society (Billiet 1988; Deneckere et al. 2005).4 Especially in rural areas, the Catholic Boerenbond or Farmers Union exerted a strong influence (Bisschop and Emmery 2012). Film exhibition soon became a key feature in the strategy to use motion pictures as a modern means to influence citizens.

Fig. 8.2  Number of cinemas per town/village in the province of Antwerp, 1924 to 2003




Pillarized film exhibition took many forms: commercial cinema owners turned out to be linked to—and influenced by—a Catholic or Socialist pressure group, pillarized societies regularly rented out spaces for ideologically inspired film showings, and priests organized their own cinema in town proclaiming it ‘good cinema’ (Depauw and Biltereyst 2005). In comparison with the big cities, tension between ideological and commercial venues in smaller villages was much higher, leading to fierce competition. Most small villages sometimes  had two or three movie theatres, mostly including a Catholic venue. This limited choice of movie theatres enabled local Catholic leaders to create a bigger polarization between the film theatres in the village. These local Catholic leaders stood in direct, daily contact with their parish members. Their personal address of the Catholic view on cinema was more compelling than the mediated messages that urban citizens got through Catholic magazines and newspapers. Local priests preached against commercial cinemas in the pulpit, proclaimed their vision of movies to local markets, and made sure that the Catholic classification of the movies shown in the commercial cinemas was nailed to the church door. In some villages, a negative evaluation by the local priest led to the closure of the movie theatre in question. The village of Hoogstraten, for example, did not have a Catholic theatre that screened movies on a regular basis. But the commercial theatre Roma (founded 1930) was approved by the local priest, because the films screened there were censored according to his wishes. When after the Second World War a second commercial theatre emerged, which dared to screen films not approved by the Catholic church, local priests and laymen lashed out at this theatre. Its reputation was immediately destroyed, forcing the cinema to close less than ten years after its start. A few years later, a new theatre, the Rex, tried the exact same thing but was also forced to close not long after its opening because of pressure from the village’s ideological leaders. The ‘good’ commercial cinema, the Roma, however, stood its ground until 1982. To understand the bigger picture of Flanders’ (and Antwerp’s) film culture is to recognize the impact the pillars had on local and regional everyday life including forms of entertainment. In many rural areas, venues with regular film exhibition were often linked to the Catholic pillar. This impact declined at the end of the 1950s and afterwards with the gradual implosion of the pillarization system (Huyse 1987; Biltereyst et al. 2012).



Oral History in Practice The structural data sketched above provides us with a starting point for the reconstruction of the lived experiences. The analysis of the rise (and fall) of cinema exhibition infrastructures in the non-urban context of Flanders and Antwerp, however, tells only part of the story. As Robert C. Allen notes, inquiries that incorporate memory work on films and the cinema experience have profound historiographic and theoretical implications for film studies in that ‘they exponentially increase the number and variety of available film histories’ (Allen 2006: 23). Oral history gives a voice to the kinds of memories that are seldom written down and would therefore normally be lost (Radstone 2000; Perks and Thompson 1998; Kuhn et al. 2017). The aim of oral history research on cinema-going is not to objectively reconstruct the past based on subjective memories of respondents but to look at how memories of cinema-going are constructed and how they complement (or contradict) institutional, economic, or textbased approaches to the historical study of film reception. As our study focused on the province of Antwerp, we first had to select a sufficient number of cases for scrutiny to cover the diversity of in-­ population density, number of cinemas, distance to the city of Antwerp, and so on within the province. This resulted in a sample of 25 towns and villages spread over the province of Antwerp, each with at least one cinema over the period studied (1930s–1970s), many of them with more than one (Meers and Willems 2006. See Fig. 8.3 and Appendix). Distance to the big city was a crucial factor, for mobility reasons, but equally the vicinity of other provincial cities that acted as centres turns out to be a factor of influence. We looked at towns that bordered the city of Antwerp, some of which could even be considered as neighbourhoods of the city, and which are by now fully integrated within the greater city, but which historically were considered as separate entities. At the same time, there are towns and villages that are situated at the far end of the province, where central cities of other provinces (e.g. Brabant) or even another country might be the chosen centre for entertainment. For example, Hoogstraten was situated near the Dutch border, with Breda as the closest major city. The individual interviews were conducted in 2005 and 2006  in the respondents’ home environment by a researcher and trained undergraduate students from the University of Antwerp.5 The researchers each did ten individual in-depth interviews on average, with people in a wide age range



Fig. 8.3  Map of cases and cities in the province of Antwerp

(see Table 8.1). The respondents were selected and found in homes for elderly people, within the social circle of acquaintances of the interviewers or by self-selection, responding to ads in local newspapers. The interviews were semi-structured, whereby the interviewers used pre-designed thematic interview protocols to keep the interviews focused, leaving a large degree of space for the respondents’ own stories and spontaneous memories. This was crucial, because many respondents were highly motivated to talk about cinema and had very vivid memories, and they often referred to specific moments they remembered. The length of the interviews differed depending on the storytelling capacities of our respondents, with an average length of around one hour per interview.6 Taking into account that the heyday of movie-going within people’s life cycle occurred situated before the age of 25, most of the stories of our respondents focused on the period between 1925 and 1975. Although this is a very broad time span, including the peak in movie-going as well as the decline of audience attendance, many respondents talked about it as if it were one homogeneous period. These changes were considered by the respondents as developments within the same film culture, although they



Table 8.1  Socio-demographic information (gender, age range) of the respondents per location

Arendonk Balen Boechout Borgerhout Burcht Dessel Geel Grobbendonk Hemiksem Herentals Hoboken Hoogstraten Kasterlee Kessel Kontich Meerle Melsele Mol Mortsel Nijlen Olen Rijkevorsel Schilde Wilrijk Zwijndrecht Total



2 3 9 4 1 2 1 1 8 1 5 1

3 3 4 6 2 4

2 6 4 1 5 4 3 1 4 4 2 80




1 6 1 3






3 6 2 1 1

40–49 1

4 2 1

1 2

1 1 5 2 5 2 2

1 2

2 3 3

1 3 1 4

1 1 2

5 2 8 6 5 3 1 6 6 6 93

5 1 1


3 2 3

3 1 2 4

1 1 3 2 3 1 2



1 2 4 4 41

2 3 3 44

1 2 1

4 1 35

3 3 1 3 2 3 1 1 2 1 28

2 1


Total 5 6 12 10 3 6 1 2 12 3 10 3 2 2 11 6 1 12 10 8 4 1 10 10 8 158

made a strong distinction with the next phase in cinema history: in the respondents’ minds, the introduction of the multiscreen/multiplex cinema resulted in a totally new film culture.

Lived Experiences of Cinema-Going Cultures Given the extremely rich and diversified responses and memories in the interviews, we will concentrate here on a selection of central topics: the social experience of cinema-going—including mobility issues; the importance of cinema-going in everyday life as the marker of alternative modernities in contrast and/or relation to cinema culture in the metropolis of Antwerp; and the impact of class and religion on non-urban cinema-going.



This variety of topics allows us to reconstruct a complex picture of the experiences of non-urban cinema cultures, against the backdrop of the structural parameters as sketched above.7 Geography and Mobility Due to economic scarcity and financial burdens linked with public transport, closeness to home and the ability to walk to a cinema were important factors to explain the popularity of a particular cinema. After the Second World War, mobility increased due to the democratization of car ownership. This allowed people to travel longer distances to go to the cinema, but it still remained an exception to the routine of going to the local cinema by foot or by bike. Besides the provincial capital, there are a few central cities of much smaller size, such as Mechelen, Lier, or Turnhout, and their attraction mainly depended on their distance to the main city. In other words, when it was as easy to go to Antwerp for leisure activities such as cinema, as it was to travel to another, much smaller, city, the preference shifted towards the genuine big city. When, however, the secondary city was much closer or reachable, it could provide an alternative venue to the capital. For people of the village of Balen, for instance, the nearest city was Turnhout, a provincial city with decent cinema facilities. For the people of Nijlen and Kessel, Lier had a similar role. Emanuel (born 1932, Boechout): “Mobility cost money. For the two of us to go to the cinema, the tram, and so on ….”

A cinema visit to the metropolis Antwerp, combined with a full experience of the city pleasures, would then be reserved for special occasions, as the cost and time of transport  were  much higher. For people living in adjacent towns to Antwerp such as Borgerhout, Hoboken, and Wilrijk, public transport was more readily available. They would go to the city from a young age onwards. For people living further away, taking the bus or the tram was, however, quite an expedition. Non-urban Cinema Practices: ‘There Was Nothing Else Than Cinema …’ First of all, going to the movies was remembered as a habit, as part of a weekly routine and as part of the fabric of daily life. It was remembered as



an out-of-the-home event as well as an extension of home life, a social event, and as the only available form of leisure. Many respondents in non-­ urban areas claimed that ‘there just wasn’t anything else to do’.8 Apart from cinema, there was literally very little alternative entertainment, only the occasional dance events and village fairs. Annie (1938, Schilde): “We didn’t do sports or anything of the kind. Here in Schilde you had the village fairs. For instance the ‘Steenweg fair’, which was in a hall. And the ‘Torenkes fair’ near the church. That was it. And sometimes we had balls, involving some parts of the community. And we used to go there sometimes.”

Cinema was mainly a weekend activity. In the 1950s, the struggle for the five-day working week—freeing Saturday for leisure—was still ongoing (Renson and De Vroede 2012: 86). For many young people, Saturday was still a school day, so if ever they were allowed to go out in the evening, Saturday evening was cinema night. But for many youngsters, Sunday afternoon (mornings were mostly reserved for mass) was the only option. For some children, even this was not an option, and cinema remained simply a forbidden fruit until a later age. As with all audiences, escapism was a major motivation to visit the cinema. They drowned themselves in a fantasy world, full of glitter and glamour that made the everyday troubles fade away for a short while especially in times of hardship, such as the war years, escaping into a fantasy world was a relief (compare Stacey 1994). Marie (1928, Olen): “Film, that was escaping everyday life, escaping the usual routine. Especially during the war years, it was all so depressing, everything … You weren’t allowed to do anything, and after the war it was reconstruction. I was young in the 1940s and 1950s and they weren’t the ideal years.”

The life cycle of people in non-urban settings is very similar to that of city dwellers: the height of their cinema experiences is in their teens and early twenties, but once the stage of marriage and children is reached, cinema-­ going virtually stops: Johan (1929, Kontich): “Once you were married, in our times, you immediately had a bunch of kids. And that’s the end of it.”



A second important difference from the urban cinema practices in Antwerp was the reduced degree of, or the total lack of choice for, films in the towns and villages. Many villages only had one or two cinemas, which played one film a week and were often only a few days a week open for business. Most villagers only saw one film a week. The general lack of choice of theatres also strongly affected the way they engaged with the films. Few people posed questions about the films on the programme, and they went to the theatre every week regardless of the film. Moreover, only a few respondents were aware of the films on offer in other parts of the country, let alone the success of movies abroad. They obtained their only information about the movies from the local newspaper (which discussed the movies playing in their local theatre) and from the pamphlets with information their local cinema manager provided about the movies he chose. It is, however, also important to notice that in many villages that had more than one movie theatre, we saw the same positioning and arranging of cinemas in the minds of people according to status and audience as were seen in cities like Antwerp and Ghent. Their lower attendance rate did not mean that cinema was less important for them. It was an activity you could look forward to for an entire week. Many cinema-goers used to dress up in their finest clothes to go to the cinema. However, there was an evolution in this regard: in the 1940s and 1950s, dressing up was obligatory. You went to the cinema to see and to be seen. Leisure activities for the entire family were limited, and the one leisure activity that everybody could participate in was limited to one viewing a week. This made this one night at the cinema especially important. Younger respondents going to the movies in the 1960s and 1970s report much less formal dress codes. In the movie theatres in the villages, there was a clear sense of community. It was more than just being within a place where they felt ‘in place’, and it was effectively socializing with the other people in the room. Many villagers had one fixed day a week to go to the theatre, and some even had a special reserved seat in the theatre where they sat every week. Mariette (1922, Kontich): “We had our fixed seats in the cinema. For every Sunday. And if we couldn’t make it, we had to call them to cancel of course.”

Where in cities most people stayed in their seats and waited for the hostesses to come by with ice lollies, villagers stood up from their places,



walked to the bar that was located within most theatres, and mingled with the crowd. These moments of social interaction were at least as important as the films. Josef (1940, Hemiksem): “At least every fortnight we went to the cinema on a weekend night. But we considered the break more important than most of the movies. Then we could freely hang out at the bar.”

The local elite—the priest, the medical doctor, the notary, the lawyer— had to visit the same cinema(s) as the village workers and farmers. Some sort of spatial class distinction was allowed for, as in many venues there were more expensive tickets available for the balcony seats. These were mostly used by the local elites, as popular audiences preferred to spend their scarce money on food and drinks before or after the screening. During the break, however, these thin class boundaries elapsed, as everybody flocked to the in-house bar to drink and socialize. Cinema and the Lure of the Metropolis The cinemas in the city had also a very distinct appeal to non-urban audiences. The attractiveness of the movie theatre was in many aspects very much like the appeal they had for Antwerp citizens (comfort, luxury, big movies seen in première, etc.), but respondents in villages also added one important motive: the appeal of experiencing the city itself. Nobody went to the city just to see a movie, going to the movies was part of a whole trip to the city—walking along the boulevard near the Central Station, where the main cinemas were, and many bars and restaurants. The city offered a wider range of brand-new and recent films. As it could take weeks and sometimes months for films to reach the non-urban cinemas, due to a strict release policy, urban audiences could see more recent films. A respondent from Herentals, for instance, recalls going to Antwerp especially to see  Victor Fleming’s Gone with the Wind (1939, US). The city picture palaces were also experienced as very modern, especially after the Second World War, when a new wave of modern-style cinemas was built to replace the (often damaged) pre-war cinemas. The comfort and luxury of the cinemas, together with the state of the art equipment, contrasted with the rural cinema infrastructure. Examples of



these palaces often mentioned are the Metro, Rubens, and the Rex, the flagship cinema of the company with the same name. Non-urban audiences rarely considered visiting the second-tier cinemas of Antwerp’s workers’ ­neighbourhoods, located outside of the glamorous centre, less luxurious in style and atmosphere and thus much less attractive.9 While non-urban audiences were impressed by the architecture and luxury of the movie palaces, some respondents in the smaller villages also described the movie palaces with a negative connotation. When they compared the movie palaces with their own village cinemas, the latter were considered to be more enjoyable and entertaining and many of them explicitly said they preferred their own village theatres because of the community sense they provided. For some rural audiences, the picture palaces were so different from their own world that it disturbed their experience. These discourses illustrate how urban modern cinema culture had an ambiguous position for non-urban audiences, definitely intertwining with general urban modernity. It stirred both fascination for its luxury and metropolitan appeal and aversion for its ideological dangers—Antwerp as a Socialist majority city—and huge class differences—from haute bourgeoisie to poor working class.

Cinema on the Periphery Rounding up the main results of the local study on the province of Antwerp, both at the structural level and on the everyday life experience level, the so-called quintessentially urban phenomenon of cinema was surprisingly present as a dynamic force in the less urban and rural areas under scrutiny. And considering the social geography of the province—short distances, growing transportation to the metropolis—the rural was connected with the urban, as cinema-going for the audiences entailed both local non-urban or rural and metropolitan Antwerp experiences. Is the case of Antwerp exceptional because of the very small size of the province, making geographical distances relative and at first sight easy to overcome? Our analysis has shown how distances to the city of Antwerp, small as they may be, did impact substantially on the experiences of cinema-­going. Audiences in towns adjacent to Antwerp would develop a similar pattern to people in the neighbourhoods, varying between local



cinemas and city-centre cinemas. Audiences from localities further away lived with a mental distance from the metropolis, to be crossed only on special occasions. The current boom in oral histories of cinema-going shows the robustness of the research methods and the reliability of the findings (Kuhn et al. 2017). And they still add to our understanding of how cinema memory works, especially in under-researched rural areas. Oral history research also opens up possibilities for comparative research in non-urban contexts, both at the regional micro-level and at the cross-national level (see Biltereyst and Meers 2016). We are, however, aware of a research gap in our analysis: a systematic and longitudinal analysis of programming in non-urban areas in Flanders. For now, the bottom-up approach of oral history—respondents evoking special memories of treasured movies—has given us a grasp of how popular cinema permeated with a delay in non-­ urban and rural areas. Finally, digging deeper into the intersection between cinema history and rural history would allow scholars further to explore the interaction between larger patterns of everyday life and cinema. Rather than a static and clear-cut opposition between modernity and tradition, progressive forces and conservatism, a multifaceted and dynamic picture arises for the province of Antwerp of a continuum of various modernities across big-city and non-urban and rural areas. While city dwellers experienced life and cinema in the metropolis on a daily basis, non-urban audiences experienced local cinema-going within a more conservative, largely Catholic, environment, seeing basically the same films but with a delay. We could call this a ‘decelerated’, alternative form of modernity, but at the same time these cinema-goers did experience the accelerated modernity of big-city cinema culture, albeit not as often. These special occasions guaranteed a fascinating mix of experiencing the metropolitan atmosphere of Antwerp and the glamorous Hollywood blockbusters in the lavish central picture palaces. In short, there were obvious differences between non-urban and urban cinema cultures, but in the province of Antwerp—and the same would probably go for the whole of Flanders—these differences were gradual, nuanced, all embedded in a lively and diverse cinema culture, and intertwined with various experiences of multiple, ambiguous modernities.



Appendix: Characteristics of Towns and Villages in Sample (2005) and Maximum Number of Cinemas (1924–2003)  Case

Arendonk Balen Boechout Borgerhout Dessel Hemiksem Herentals Hoboken Hoogstraten Kessel Kontich Meerle Mol Nijlen Mortsel Schilde Wilrijk Zwijndrecht + Burcht

Number inhabitants 12.175 20.135 12.057 41.783 8.730 9.551 26.017 34.245 18.561 7.005 20.220 3.843 32.652 20.783 24.379 19.564 38.686 18.101

Size (in km2) 55,38 72,88 20,66 3,93 27,03 5,44 48,56 10,60 105,32 14,79 23,67 24,63 114,26 39,09 7,78 35,99 13,67 17,82

Population density (inhabitants/km2)

Max. number of cinemas (1924–2003)

219,84 276,28 583,59 10631,81 322,97 1755,70 535,77 3230,66 176,23 473,63 854,24 156,03 285,77 531,67 3133,55 543,60 2829,99 1015,77

3 3 3 7 1 4 5 6 3 2 2 1 4 2 2 2 4 3

Sources: and

Notes 1. The case study is part of a larger joint University of Antwerp and Ghent University research project ‘The Enlightened City: Screen Culture Between Ideology, Economics and Experience. A Study on the Social Role of Film Exhibition and Film Consumption in Flanders (1895–2004) in Interaction with Modernity and Urbanization’, funded by the Research Foundation— Flanders (FWO) (2005–2008). 2. There have been several waves of integrating different villages and towns into larger entities; therefore, we don’t go into the exact (higher) numbers in historical perspective, as they vary considerably. 3. The province of Antwerp has the city of Antwerp as capital. In the text, we refer to the city when we write ‘Antwerp’ and to the province of Antwerp when we write ‘province’.



4. Various politico-ideological groups in society organized the different stages in citizens’ life within the same pillar of institutions. The main protagonists in this ‘pillarized’ society were of a Catholic, Socialist, Liberal, and Flemishnationalist signature. 5. We hereby thank the researcher-PhD student Gert Willems and the bachelor communication studies students participating in the research at the University of Antwerp: Vickie Adriaensens, Catherine Asselman, Inge Baelen, Lode Buelens, Sarah Coppens, Evan Goossens, Sara Ichau, Sven Lambrecht, Ilya Maes, Leen Matthé, Kenneth Peeters, Mia Prce, Bruno Smets, Stijn Van Craenendonck, Kristof Welslau, and Laurens Weyten. 6. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and analysed using the software program Atlas-ti. On a first level, we structured the interviews according to age group, in order to be able to investigate the evolution in their stories. On a second level, we reorganized their memories according to a selection of themes, such as choice of movie theatre, frequency, companionship, information about specific films, and reasons for cinema-going. 7. We do not go into the impact of the religious and ideological (pillarized) organization of cinema on audience experiences. See Biltereyst et al. (2012). 8. This discourse was also found with respondents in the city of Antwerp. In an urban context, cinema as leisure activity had obtained the status of a cheap and popular mass-entertainment medium, an activity for all ages, sexes, and classes, as opposed to other leisure activities in the urban context, like dance halls, bars, or opera, aimed at specific segments of the population. 9. One notable exception is the Roma cinema, which although situated in Borgerhout was considered to be a ‘chic’ cinema.

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The Social Experience of Going to the Movies in the 1930s–1960s in a Small Texas Border Town: Moviegoing Habits and Memories of Films in Laredo, Texas José Carlos Lozano, Philippe Meers, and Daniël Biltereyst

On October 23, 1920, hundreds of Mexican American residents packed the Strand Theater in the small border town of Laredo, Texas (USA) to see the Mexican film El automóvil gris (The Grey Automobile, 1919, Enrique Rosas). According to the news report published in the local newspaper The Laredo Times, such was the success of the screening, that manager William Epstein decided to schedule an additional screening the next day. The movie was one of the few being produced at the time in Mexico J. C. Lozano (*) Texas A&M International University, Laredo, TX, USA P. Meers University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium e-mail: [email protected] D. Biltereyst Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




and was also one of the few motion pictures from that country getting distributed and exhibited in American movie houses. At that time, Laredo, a town of 22,000 inhabitants, had only three formal cinema houses: The Strand, The Royal, and The Rialto. The three venues screened mostly Hollywood movies, despite the high percentage of Mexican American residents and Mexican immigrants living on this US city located right on the border with Mexico. Despite the steady supply of Hollywood films over the years, El automóvil gris’ huge success in this predominantly Latino town offers a rare opportunity to identify distinctive patterns in film preferences among cinemagoers with cultural and ethnic traits different from the ones usually studied in the rest of the United States. The objective of this chapter is to provide a case study of a distinctive ethnic group in the United States: Mexican Americans, a group which until recently had not been systematically explored by scholars working on social histories of films and cinemagoing in different US cultural and geographical contexts. While some important works have been published in the last decade about the historical exhibition of Spanish-language films in different parts of the United States and about cinemagoing patterns by Hispanics (Agrasanchez 2006; Beer 2001; Garcia 2010; Serna 2009, 2014), the case of Laredo, Texas is a unique one. In contrast with what happened in the other cities covered by recent research, Mexican Americans in this border town had constituted the majority of the population during all of the city’s history and consequently had been spared the ethnic discrimination and restrictions experienced by Mexican immigrants in most of the United States. Also in contrast with cities like San Antonio, El Paso, Los Angeles, and so on, in which theatres exhibiting Mexican or Spanish-­ language films were frequently located in segregated areas and had no relationship with first-run theatre palaces geared towards Anglos and European immigrants, Laredo’s regular main cinemas, owned by an Anglo chain from Dallas, had no problem in alternating Mexican and Hollywood movies from the 1930s on and in allowing unrestricted access to Mexican Americans. After a brief description of the city, the chapter provides an overview of the popularity of Spanish-language films both in the silent era and from the 1930s to the 1960s. The final section provides a description and discussion of the memories of both Hollywood and Mexican films and of cinemagoing among 40 Mexican American informants born and raised in Laredo.



A Distinctive Border Town Founded in 1755 by 11 Spanish families in the then-Nuevo Santander province of the New Spain, Laredo became part of Mexico when the latter got its independence from Spain in 1821 and later, in 1848, part of Texas and the United States after the Mexican War. The town remained very small (around 3000 inhabitants) until the 1880s, when the railroad arrived in town. Due to the economic boom brought by the railroad in a city located on a strategic geographical point between Mexico and the United States, many Anglo, Italian, Jewish, and German immigrants came from the North to buy land and/or establish all kinds of stores and businesses (Dewey 2014: 92). The until-then almost exclusively Mexican American town became for the first time a more cosmopolitan place, with people with different cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds, although keeping a strong rural atmosphere due to the reliance of the small town on ranching, carbon mining, and the farming of onions and citrics. At the same time, poor landless rural Mexicans fleeing the harsh social and economic conditions of the Porfirio Diaz regime, expelled from the neighbouring states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, and Coahuila, crossed the border looking for work, and many of them found it in Laredo and the surrounding areas (Arreola 2002; García 1981). During the 1910s, Laredo continued growing at a fast pace. American immigrants kept coming to the city, but Northeastern Mexicans fleeing their country’s revolution (1910–1917) also came in droves, increasing the number of residents of Hispanic descent to more than 70% (Arreola 2002: 47). This time, not only poor rural workers came to Texas but also some middle- and upper-class well-educated Mexicans who were more political refugees than regular migrants (García 1981: 41). The 1920s saw a steady shift of population from rural areas nearby to the still-small town. During the 1920s, Laredo experienced an economic boom, thanks to the discovery of oil and gas in the area surrounding Laredo, the modernization of irrigation techniques with water from the Rio Grande, and the abundant cheap labour provided by the hundreds of Mexican immigrants fleeing the difficult economic conditions in their country after the Mexican Revolution. In ten years, the town grew from 22,710 inhabitants in 1920 to 32,618 in 1930 (Dewey 2014: 78). By 1930, the Mexican American population in Laredo had stabilized at 72%, and it would keep growing until it surpassed 80% of total inhabitants in the 1950s and 90% in the 2000s (Arreola 2002: 157).



Exhibition and Reception of Mexican/ Spanish-­Language Sound Films The success of the screening of El automóvil gris in 1920 was not the only sign of an eager public for Mexican or for Spanish-language entertainment in this American border town. For many years, local opera houses, theatres, and tents had consistently presented Spanish-language vaudeville shows, concerts, theatre plays, and zarzuelas (a Spanish lyric-drama genre that alternates between spoken and sung scenes, as well as dance). Either with local groups of actors, singers, and performers, or with troupes and stock theatre companies passing by from Mexico City to San Antonio and other large American cities, Laredo’s entertainment venues had always catered to the large local Latino market. American movies during the silent era would just add one more attraction to the scheduled programmes. To satisfy the constant demand for Mexican films by the local population, Laredo theatres kept periodically booking Mexican productions during the silent era, mostly documentary films about generals and leaders of that nation. If during the silent era Laredo theatres would periodically exhibit Mexican films in response to the huge demand from the city’s Hispanic population, the advent of sound for the feature film industry in the late 1920s would permanently change their patterns of programming. In November 1928 the first talking movie played in Laredo arrived at The Royal: MGM’s While the City Sleeps with Lon Chaney and Anita Page (Jack Conway 1928). For the high proportion of the still mostly rural Laredo population who only or mostly spoke Spanish, however, English-­ language films were not comprehensible, creating a problem for the movie theatres, used to having them as regular patrons during the silent era. From 1929 to 1932, however, Hollywood’s strategy of producing several versions of the same film in different languages for foreign non-English speaking countries provided the opportunity for Laredoans to get the same treatment as if they were living in a Latin American country. Dozens of Spanish-language movies produced by Hollywood were screened in Laredo during 1930, along with a few films originating in Mexico. The three Laredo theatres, all owned by the Dallas Circuit Robb & Rowley (R&R), would include these films in their regular programmes, without making any distinctions. The Spanish-language versions of Hollywood films would be scheduled every day in most of Laredo’s cinema venues, promoted by ads published



in the local English-language paper, highlighting the phrase ‘Totalmente Hablada en Español’ [Fully spoken in Spanish]. By the end of 1932, however, it was clear that the foreign versions of Hollywood were not as successful at the box office as planned, due to their ‘incoherent dialogue and the poor production quality’ (Garcia 2010: 78), and the US studios dramatically reduced their production. The demand for Spanish-language screenings was so high in Laredo, however, that in 1933 Robert Bauer, an Anglo outsider arriving in Laredo after working for some years producing Spanish-language versions for Columbia Pictures films in California (Laredo Times, May 3, 1933, p. 1), decided to open a movie house in a Mexican American working-class neighbourhood, one of the first movie theatres outside the historical downtown. The Aztec Theatre would combine Hollywood English-­ language and Spanish-language films, as well as Mexican productions, on different days of the week. The new venture was so successful that two years later, the same Bauer opened a similar venue, the Mexico Theater, also in a working-class Mexican American neighbourhood but on the opposite side of the city. Not willing to let this competitor take a segment of that ethnic niche, the powerful Dallas Circuit R&R (at the time 50% owned by United Artists Theaters Inc. and with 80 movie houses in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas) bought the two independently owned theatres in 1937 and regained total control of film exhibition in Laredo. Providing the large Laredo Spanish-speaking population with movies in their own language, ironically, would most of the time be in the hands of large Anglo exhibitors, in contrast with other Texan border cities like El Paso, Brownsville, and McAllen, or even San Antonio, where frequently Mexican American entrepreneurs would be the owners of independent theatres and even small regional chains devoted to the screening of Spanishlanguage films (Agrasanchez 2006; Serna 2014). At the end of the 1930s, the Mexican film industry was already producing dozens of highly successful films, exporting them all over Latin America and, of course, to the United States, where a growing and lucrative Latino market existed. From the late 1930s to the mid-1960s, Laredo cinemas would consistently screen a significant number of films from the neighbouring country. As an illustration of how important and lucrative the programming of Mexican movies became in this Texan city, the local management of the five movie houses in Laredo announced in the Spanish-­ language section of the Laredo Times, at the beginning of 1942, that the circuit had just signed a contract with Casa Mohme, one of the most



important distributors of Mexican movies in Texas and in the United States. With this agreement, the manager boasted, the R&R theatres had access to 100% of the films being produced in Mexico as well as all its future motion pictures (Laredo Times, January 18, 1942). By that year, 12% of the total number of screenings in the city was taken by Spanish-­ language films, and by 1952 that percentage had risen to 30%, a percentage that would persist 10 years later and that would only start to decrease somewhat (to 24%) in the early 1970s (Lozano et  al. 2012). While Spanish-language films, and particularly Mexican ones, were consistently screened in Laredo theatres from the early 1930s on, it is important to note that Hollywood films never stopped being the dominant ones in the local theatres’ programmes. Due to the overwhelming percentage of Mexican Americans represented in Laredo’s population, they were never denied regular admission to any of the local R&R venues, including the first-run English-only theatres (in striking contrast to these types of theatres in many other cities in Texas at the time, where both Mexicans and African Americans were not granted admission or were relegated to seating in the gallery).

Memories of Films and of Cinemagoing Among Laredo Residents For our 40 Laredo informants1 older than 70, this historical period (in particular from the 1940s until the early 1960s) was the one they remembered most fondly. They kept strikingly clear, treasured memories of cinema houses, particular films, and a combination of Hollywood and Mexican movie stars, evidencing the particular influence distinct cultural backgrounds, language, and geographical location can exert on film preferences and consumption. Born and/or raised in Laredo, the informants reported seeing Mexican films to connect with their original culture but also viewing Hollywood films to become better acquainted with the new modern American culture into which they were already assimilating via the educational system. For them, as inhabitants of a small town located far away from the metropolitan centres of Texas and of the rest of the United States, Hollywood pictures represented a useful showcase of mainstream American culture and were helpful tools to become aware of how people lived in other parts of the country. Mexican films, on the other hand, were much more important for their parents, who were less assimilated to the



United States and who frequently did not speak English. For our respondents, nonetheless, Spanish-language films were also useful to them as indirect reinforcements of their ethnic and cultural background, offering them idealized versions of the old Mexico and, especially for women, alternative male role models to the mainstream ones provided by Hollywood.

Elders The parents or grandparents of our informants, born and raised in Mexico, kept in touch with their language, their culture, and their identity via the Mexican films screened in the local theatres during the 1930s–1950s. In contrast with middle- and upper-class Mexicans who in the big cities had grown up viewing both Hollywood and Mexican films and had a more cosmopolitan culture, most members of this older generation of immigrants in Laredo were from rural parts of the Mexican Northeast. Living in a US city where Mexico was just across the river, and where Spanish could still be the only language they needed to speak to get along, they would only see movies coming from their original country. According to most informants, their parents or grandparents were field labourers or worked in ranches or the carbon mines located nearby, or they held other working-class occupations like chauffeur or delivery boy. Many of them would rarely go to the cinema because they did not have enough money to do so, and when they could, they would rather go to neighbourhood theatres, because they were cheaper than downtown cinemas, always selecting pictures in Spanish, the only language they understood. Laredo, until the 1920s and 1930s, had essentially remained a rural town, due to its small size in comparison with nearby San Antonio in Texas and Monterrey in Mexico, to ranching, mining, and farming being the main economic base of the city, and also due to the overwhelming lack of cultural and social infrastructure, while in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s slowly turning into a service urban town devoted to foreign trade between Mexico and the United States. For this group of old Laredo residents, Mexican movies were not a tool to become modern or to get acquainted with and assimilate into the culture and ideology of their new country (Monsiváis 1994; Serna 2014) but an extension of their own original culture, a link to the language, songs, and settings familiar to them. Hortencia (born 1935), one of our informants, asked about why her parents and other older people liked Mexican films so much, replied:



Porque [because] they related. I guess a lot of the people, Hispanics, pos [well] they came from over there [Mexico], their roots where over there. So, they pretty much, I think related. You know, some people might have been second generation, and I think that they enjoyed watching, you know, what it was like for their parents, for their grandparents. Like my grandparents came from Mexico so, I can imagine their life, because their life was pretty much portrayed, that rustic life, you know, it was the setting, …

For this group of Laredo residents, not socialized yet into American culture and institutions due to their lack of education or their having attended school in Mexico before immigrating to the city, Mexican films seemed to be instruments to reassert their affiliation to their original culture and to connect with idealized versions of the towns and customs they had left behind.

Second and Third Generation of Mexican Americans According to Arreola (2002), Laredo can be described as a ‘continuous Hispanic community’, a town founded by Hispanics in which Hispanics have remained the majority population throughout the community’s history: ‘Perhaps because they are the majority, Mexican Americans in this city have argued less about discrimination and prejudice, choosing instead to see themselves as players in a continual process of becoming both Tejano2 and American, yet holding to a Mexican past’ (p. 156). Arreola’s description of Laredoans is highly compatible with the descriptions and testimonies provided by our respondents. While their parents or grandparents had been born and raised in Mexico, and were for the most part monolinguals, our informants had grown up on the Texas side of the border, attending American schools and becoming bilingual. This explains the ease with which they moved from Mexican to US movie references and how they combined in their lists of preferred movie stars both Mexican and American ones. Born in Laredo, Texas, and educated in public schools dependent on US guidelines and educational contents, these informants seemed, however, to hold fond memories of Mexican films and actors of the Golden Age along with their recollections of Hollywood productions and stars. Many of them, born in the 1930s or early 1940s, excitedly remembered from their childhood and youth Mexican stars such as Jorge Negrete,



Pedro Infante, Sara García, and Cantinflas, praising them for their looks and for their acting and proudly referring to the way the movies depicted Mexican culture and its beautiful little towns and scenery. In their testimonies, however, it is clear that they would only go and see these Spanish-­ language movies when they were children or in their teens, because they were taken by their mothers, parents, or aunts, not yet having the freedom to choose their own pictures. The childhood and youth of our informants coincided with the Golden Age of Mexican cinema (1940s–1950s), a period when Mexico had one of the most important film industries in the world and was the leading film producer in Spanish-speaking regions (Fein 1994). Mexican films, during this period, became extremely popular all over the United States, particularly in cities heavily populated by Hispanics. According to Agrasanchez (2006: 8), in 1941 there were 145 US theatres screening Spanish-language movies, 300 in 1945, and 683 in 1951. Laredo was not an exception, and most Mexican productions of this epoch were exhibited by the local theatres, although in this particular case, in the same first-run palace theatres patronized by both Anglo and Mexican American citizens, instead of ethnic cinemas operating exclusively for Hispanic audiences. Mexican films would frequently offer sentimental narratives, nostalgic settings, and folkloric celebrations, serving as a ‘salve for homesickness’ and allowing ‘the migrant, immigrant, and their descendants a means of listening to and visioning the past in the present’ (Garcia 2010: 82). Most interviewees talked precisely in these terms about Mexican films, remembering their enjoyment when viewing the depiction of old ranches, Haciendas, and small picturesque towns. When asked about the names of their preferred actors at the time, they would quickly add to the list of Hollywood stars the names of Mexican actors: Hortencia (born 1935): Well when I went to the Mexican movies, Jorge Negrete was my favorite and Pedro Infante. And I used to be in love with Jorge Negrete. I was a kid, I was about 11 or something… my aunt took me to most of those movies because they had a lot of mariachi music, and that sort of thing. And they were pretty nice stories, about how we lived there in Mexico: you had mostly people working in ranches, como hacendados [like Landowners], and they were also very strict with their daughters, couldn’t go out. […].



Do you remember who were your favorite film stars when you were a teenager? Jorge (born 1945): Yeah, Jorge Negrete, Pedro Infante … I still listen to their songs, I still watch their movies. Joaquin Pardave, Chicote, Luis Aguilar, all those. My dad, my dad made me like them because I would sing with my dad when I was a young kid. He had a guitar and he used to play in a trio in Mexico. He would play the guitar and I would sing.

In their accounts of Mexican films and stars, however, it was clear the influence their parents and grandparents had in making them see these Mexican movies. Was it really rare for you and kids like you to like U.S. and Mexican movies? Salvador (born 1926): Well, how can I answer that? I liked Mexican movies because my mom liked them and we usually [would] go with her when we were kids and she loved to go to the movies. She loved Jorge Negrete, Pedro Infante, and all those movies. So … did you like Mexican movies as a child? Hortencia: Pos that’s donde me llevaban, that’s where they took me … I didn’t have a choice, but then later … when I was a little bit … older, I never went to the Rialto anymore or the Royal [theaters screening Spanish-­ language films at the time], I’m sorry. It was just the Tivoli or the Plaza [screening Hollywood movies only], everybody went there, really nice.

Transcripts of the interviews suggest that these second- and third-­ generation Mexican Americans did not engage with Mexican cinema the same way Mexican immigrants and migrants did in other American towns where they were a discriminated ethnic minority. According to Garcia (Garcia 2010: 73), the Comedias Rancheras (Ranch Comedies) in the late 1930s and 1940s represented the home left behind, fostering ‘feelings of nostalgia and longing for nuestro Mexico (our Mexico) that, however idealized, serve to ease the sense of alienation and isolation experienced by migrants in the United States’. That may have been the case for their parents or grandparents, who arrived in Laredo after growing up in Mexico and who may not have felt comfortable in a city belonging to a country with striking linguistic, cultural, religious, and ideological differences. For our informants, however, their socialization into American institutions and language via the school system, along with the lack of overt ethnic discrimination in the city, thanks to their being the demographic majority, made them relate to Mexican movies from a different perspective. They reported liking Mexican movies for the particular way they portrayed romance, family and collective values, as well as for the idealized portrayal



of their parents’ homeland. But there is nothing in their testimonies akin to the way Mexican immigrants and migrants in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Antonio, or Dallas would see these movies to appease their homesickness and to find refuge from the harsh treatment received by whites ‘in education, housing, employment, and recreation’ (Garcia 2010: 74). While going to the cinema to see Mexican films was usually tied in the informants’ memories with attending in the company of older relatives, viewing Hollywood pictures, on the other hand, was associated with being teenagers and with going out with friends and classmates. In this period of their lives, when Laredo was leaving behind its rural essence and becoming a more typical small urban town, moviegoing was for them not only about viewing exciting films, but also about many other social activities, like flirting with boys or girls and hanging out with friends in the adjacent pharmacy’s soda fountain afterwards. Their recollections, in fact, were more abundant for American movies and stars than for Mexican ones. Living in a small border town full of Mexican referents and in close proximity to their parents’ country of origin, Hollywood films represented for them excellent mechanisms to develop and strengthen their sense of belonging to the United States. Thanks to the school system, they already knew English and consequently could enjoy US films, learning indirectly about the way Americans tended to behave and think in relation to subjects as love, work, and leisure. In fact, several of our informants explained how movies and/or newsreels motivated them to feel more American and patriotic. Graciela (b. 1937) remembered how during the Second World War, at the end of the featured movie, Laredo cinemas would show Movietone News about the conflict: ‘We would even stand up during the newsreel to sing the national anthem and to recite the Pledge of Allegiance’. So how important would you say cinema-going was in this part of your life? Alfredo (born 1934): I’d say it was very important because I got to learn a lot about the country because we are so far from the rest of the United States. Yeah. We learned a lot from the movies. And they used to show a lot of patriotic movies. There was a lot of patriotism back then like in WW2 that gave us a feeling… of belonging to the United States and making us proud and all that. So I think that was very important.

For other respondents, like Paulino (born 1931), viewing Hollywood movies was the best way to learn and master English: ‘I liked American



movies more because that’s how I picked up my language’. Hollywood films, thus, were an extremely important factor in helping this generation of Mexican Americans to feel and to become Americans, while Mexican films were a link provided by their older relatives to their original culture. It is fascinating to attest to the bilingualism common in most Mexican Americans in the town in the transcripts. Most of our interviewers were bilingual and had both English and Spanish versions of the questionnaire and of the consent forms, to allow for interviews in any of the two languages, depending on the preference of the informant. But some of our respondents would recur to the common ‘Spanglish’ used on the American side of the border, mixing words in English and Spanish: ¿Cuál fue la primera ida al cine que recuerda? ¿Con quién fue? [Do you remember the first time you went to the movies? With whom?] Julieta (born 1930): pues we used to go casi toda la semana [Laughing] íbamos que yo me acuerde de siete años, six, ponle seis. Siempre nos llevaba mi mamá, la familia en grupo. [Well, we used to go almost everyday. We would go when I was seven years old, six, six years old. My mother would take us, the whole family]

Their bilingualism was also noticeable in their frequent comments about liking the same Mexican and American movies: Did you like American movies, Mexican movies or both when you were a child? Emma (born 1933): Both. I was bilingual since I was small because my mom was speaking Spanish all the time and my dad too. But at school we picked up our English. And we took it from there. All my life I taught my kids to be bilingual too.

With the advantage of speaking two languages and having experienced two different socialization processes, most of the informants would alternate between Mexican and Hollywood movies, and between Mexican and Hollywood stars, something they seemed to consider completely natural and nothing out of the ordinary: As a teenager, what cinema in Laredo was your favorite? Why? Emma (born 1933): Well it depended on what I had on my mind. If I wanted to speak English then I would go to the Plaza Theater. If I wanted to see a Mexican movie, I would go to the Royal Theater or to the Drive In. They had all kinds of movies. And you know what I used to like? Spanish



movies and the historical movies where they had Mexican history and Mexican places. In English movies I would go for the same thing, but in English, because I had always been very aware that I wanted to know where I was coming from and what was going on at the time. That’s why I liked history and geography so I knew where I wanted to go in the future. ¿Quiénes eran sus actores favoritos cuando era niño(a)? Braulio (born 1933): Pedro Infante, y Jorge Negrete. Me encantaba mucho Tarzan pero no me se el nombre del actor. [Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete. I really liked Tarzan, but I don’t recall the name of the actor]. Paulino [born 1931]: John Wayne, Pedro Infante, Cantinflas.

For these second- and third-generation of Mexican Americans living as teens in Laredo during the 1940s and 1950s, thus, going to the cinema was indeed for entertainment purposes (there were not many other options in the city) but would also help them to reinforce their socialization process into the American system while keeping contact with their Mexican roots.

Conclusion This chapter set out to provide a case study that could contribute additional perspectives on the increasing literature on the social history of film exhibition and cinemagoing for Mexican immigrants and migrants in the United States. In contrast with large Mexican American communities in other more urbanized US cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, El Paso, or San Antonio, where there were cinema houses dedicated exclusively to Spanish-­ language live entertainment and Mexican films, Laredo’s case was strikingly different. The fact that this border town had always been a ‘continuous Hispanic community’, a town founded by Hispanics in which they remained as the majority population throughout the community’s history, forced Anglo entrepreneurs venturing into film exhibition to allow Mexican Americans and Mexicans unrestricted access to their movie palaces and to incorporate into their programmes live entertainment in Spanish and Spanish-language/Mexicans productions. Having been spared the ethnic discrimination and restrictions experienced by Mexican immigrants in most of the United States, Laredo’s second- and third-generation Mexican Americans would enjoy Mexican films not from the position of resistance and nationalism typical of their Los Angeles or Chicago peers, or even their own parents or grandparents in



times when Laredo was still mostly a rural border town, but as a gentler connection to their ancestral culture and as a welcome reference to Mexican cultural elements that persisted in their personal lives (the importance of both nuclear and extended families, the relationship between men and women, respect for elders, etc.) while they were becoming Americans. The recruitment for the study of second- and third-generation Mexican Americans allowed us to focus our attention on members of this ethnic group who would proudly talk about their bilingualism and about their Mexican heritage while defining themselves as Americans and while describing how Hollywood movies were for them an excellent way to develop and strengthen their sense of belonging to the United States. This was clearly not the case among second- and third-generation Mexican Americans living in other US cities, where blatant racism, discrimination, and harsh treatment by Anglos and European immigrants made them stay close to the way their parents or grandparents related to Mexican films. Our study also provides evidence about how state-wide or national exhibition circuits, which would prohibit or restrict access of Mexican Americans to their theatres almost everywhere else, would be flexible and would actively look for the patronage of the local Mexican American population, alternating Spanish-language live entertainment and movies, with their regular English-language fare. The Robb and Rowley Circuit, based in Dallas and owned first by one Jewish American and one Anglo associate and later by United Artist Theatres Inc., never hesitated in providing the sizeable Spanish-language public with live entertainment and Mexican films in their best theatres in the city. Despite these peculiarities explained by the specificity of Laredo as a border city with a ‘continuous Hispanic community’, some of our findings on the historical exhibition of films and on the patterns of cinemagoing in this border city coincide in many respects with what other scholars have found in significantly different cultural and socio-demographic places, like England (Kuhn 2002), Flanders (Biltereyst et  al. 2011), Italy (Treveri-­ Gennari et al. 2011), and even other American cities (Fuller 1996). As in most of these previous studies, our study shows how for our Laredo Mexican-American informants, the activity of going to the cinema was never only about viewing films, but it was also about a communal activity (hanging out with relatives or friends, flirting, seeing people, going to the soda fountain afterwards). Our informants, as Maltby (2011: 14) explains, seemed to bring their ‘individual and collective social circumstances with them’ to the screenings of Hollywood films, like their interest in ­reinforcing



their English and their sense of belonging to this nation that was not the original one of their parents or grandparents. Further research is required to understand the historic relationship between US and Mexican films and Mexican American spectators in a border city like Laredo. Interviews with fourth and fifth Laredo generations may help us better track the role played by Mexican films (and television, widely available historically in the city) in the persistence of strong Mexican cultural traits, while consumption of Hollywood films (and American television) may have simultaneously promoted and expanded a sense of belonging to the United States. As argued by Lozano (2017), we should avoid the simplistic conclusion that seeing and preferring Mexican films among these cinemagoers would signal the preservation of a Mexican cultural identity, while preference for American movies would indicate an embrace of US values and ideology and an abandonment of Mexican culture. In liminal spaces like the US-Mexico border, coexisting practices like these may reveal a dynamic reshaping of identities, ‘where multiple layers of cultures, ideologies and values converge’ (Lozano 2017, 45) and may point to active processes of negotiation and adaptation to new rules and institutional systems without a weakening of core beliefs and values.

Notes 1. The interviews were conducted by students attending a South Texas university. Each student selected one informant among his or her relatives who had been born and/or raised in Laredo, Texas, and who was 70  years old or older. The focused interviews, based on a basic questionnaire covering childhood, youth, and adulthood, and lasting between 50 and 120 minutes, were recorded and transcribed by the students during 2015 and 2016. 2. Texas-born citizens of Mexican ancestry.

References Agrasanchez, R. (2006). Mexican Movies in the United States. A History of Films, Theaters and Audiences, 1920–1960. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Arreola, D. (2002). Tejano South Texas: A Mexican American Cultural Province. Austin: University of Texas Press. Beer, A. B. (2001). From the Bronx to Brooklyn: Spanish-Language Movie Theaters and Their Audiences in New York City, 1930–1999. PhD Doctoral Dissertation, Northwestern University.



Biltereyst, D., Meers, P., & Van de Vijver, L. (2011). Social Class, Experiences of Distinction and Cinema in Postwar Ghent. In R.  Maltby, D.  Biltereyst, & P.  Meers (Eds.), Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies (pp. 101–124). Malden, MA; Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. Dewey, A.  M. (2014). Pesos and Dollars: Entrepreneurs in the Texas-Mexico Borderlands 1880–1940. College Station: Texas A&M University Press. Fein, S. (1994). Hollywood, US-Mexican Relations, and the Devolution of the “Golden Age” of Mexican Cinema’. Film-Historia, 4(2), 103–135. Fuller, K. (1996). At the Picture Show: Small-Town Audiences and the Creation of Movie Fan Culture. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press. García, M. (1981). Desert Immigrants. The Mexicans of El Paso, 1880–1920. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Garcia, D.  J. (2010). “The Soul of a People”: Mexican Spectatorship and the Transnational Comedia Ranchera. Journal of American Ethnic History, 30(1), 72–98. Kuhn, A. (2002). An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory. London: I. B. Tauris. Lozano, J. C. (2017). Film at the Border: Memories of Cinemagoing in Laredo, Texas. Memory Studies, 10(1), 35–48. Lozano, J. C., Biltereyst, D., Frankenberg, L., Meers, P., & Hinojosa, L. (2012). Exhibición y programación cinematográfica de 1922 a 1962 en Monterrey, México: un estudio de caso desde la perspectiva de la “Nueva historia del cine”. Global Media Journal México, 9(18), 73–94. Maltby, R. (2011). New Cinema Histories. In R. Maltby, D. Biltereyst, & P. Meers (Eds.), Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and CaseSstudies (pp. 3–40). Malden, MA; Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. Monsiváis, C. (1994). Vino todo el pueblo y no cupo en la pantalla. In C. Monsiváis & C. Buenfil (Eds.), A través del espejo. El cine mexicano y su público (pp. 49–97). México: El Milagro/Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía. Serna, L. I. (2009). Cinema on the US-Mexico border: American Motion Pictures and Mexican Audiences, 1896–1930. In A. McCrossen (Ed.), Land of Necessity. Consumer Culture in the United States-Mexico Borderlands (pp.  143–167). Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Serna, L.  I. (2014). Making Cinelandia. American Films and Mexican Film Culture Before the Golden Age. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Treveri-Gennari, D., Hipkins, D., & O’Rawe, C. (2011). In Search of Italian Cinema Audiences in the 1940s and 1950s: Gender, Genre and National Identity. Participations, Journal of Audience & Reception Studies, 8(2), 539–553.


The Social Geography of ‘Going Out’: Teenagers and Community Cinema in Rural Australia Karina Aveyard

Beyond its cities, Australia is a diverse nation both geographically and demographically, and this is reflected in the varied situations in which films are screened to non-metropolitan audiences. Factors such as the size and location of particular towns, local history, existing infrastructure, and economic prosperity (past and present) are all important in shaping the characteristics of film exhibition. In larger regional centres (>30,000 people), cinemas are often fairly modern multi-screen venues with wide screens, comfortable seats and dependable access to new release films. In smaller towns, older-style single and twin screen cinemas with less modern technological and aesthetic features are more common. In very small and remote towns, where film exhibition is generally not viable on a commercial basis, screenings may be held in improvised venues (village halls, libraries, pubs and schools) and facilitated by both volunteer and public sector organisations such as local councils, community groups and film

K. Aveyard (*) University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




societies (Aveyard 2015: 19). While rural Australia supports a range of different and successful exhibition enterprises, cinema provision is far from comprehensive. Absences are most marked in isolated and sparsely populated areas, although numerous larger towns also continue to lack access to regular public film screenings. The focus of this chapter is on the contemporary cinema-going aspirations and experiences of rural teenagers living in very small and remote Australian towns and localities. While movies are now readily accessible across a range of different formats and devices, going to the cinema in rural locations offers young people ‘something to do’ in places where there are typically very few social alternatives. It enables teenagers to experience and participate in a form of urban cosmopolitanism that can help mitigate feelings rural isolation and loneliness. Many people engaged in supporting rural communities (including health workers, local government, police and arts development officers) see cinemas as providing a welcome and effective diversion from less desirable activities such as underage drinking, vandalism and violence. As such, access to cinema is regularly linked with improving teenage health and the overall quality of rural life. What has been less explicitly discussed, but is nonetheless equally significant, is the role of cinema in providing young people with a ‘place to go’—a legitimate, public place where they can gather and interact. Sociological studies of children and teens living in rural areas (e.g. Matthews et  al. 2000; Dunkley 2004; Giddings and Yarwood 2005; Travlou et al. 2008) suggest that the cultural and social opportunities created by going out to the cinema (and elsewhere) may be crucial to fostering the development of positive youth identities and strengthening attachment to place. This research indicates that not only is it important for teenagers to be able to go out but that they can go out in places where their presence is accepted and where they do not feel socially marginalised or unwanted. Ethnographic research I conducted with teenage cinema-­ goers in rural Australia reveals some strong connections with these findings. The significance of cinemas as ‘social spaces’ is explored in this chapter principally through detailed field work with young cinema-goers conducted in Barraba, a very small town located in northwest New South Wales (NSW). This chapter argues that the function of the cinema must be understood not only in the context of film exhibition practices in rural Australia but also against the lived experience of everyday rural life for teenagers.



Life in Rural Australia While many rural Australians feel strongly attached to their local landscape, the freedoms of the countryside and the bonds they develop with fellow residents by most measures of health and well-being rural populations are generally considered to be disadvantaged in comparison with their metropolitan counterparts. There have been a number of studies conducted in Australia in recent decades by organisations such as the Productivity Commission, Human Rights Commission and academics (e.g. Australian Human Rights Commission 1999; Productivity Commission 1999, 2009; Kõlves et  al. 2012; National Rural Health Alliance 2016) that highlight disparities across a wide range of key indicators, including household income, employment, health and well-being, education and access to basic services such as electricity, water and telecommunications. Not surprisingly, issues of inequality and absence of services tend to be most pronounced in very small and remote towns—towns like Barraba which is the subject of the case study in this chapter. The challenging social and economic conditions that exist in many parts of non-metropolitan Australia contribute to a range of physical and financial hardships experienced by many residents. These in turn can, and regularly do, lead to increased feelings of depression, hopelessness and despair. The impact of generally poorer levels of mental health is a key issue for most rural service providers. Teenagers are often of particular concern as they are typically over represented in statistical measures of suicide, drug use, education completion, arrest and conviction rates (Graham et al. 2006; National Rural Health Alliance 2009; Kõlves et al. 2012; Victorian Government 2016). Teenage years can be a difficult period. While the transition from childhood to adulthood can be fraught no matter where you live, growing up in a rural town has some particular challenges. It is a time when young people are often looking to expand their life experiences and relationships and experiment with and define their identity. However, this can be difficult in a small town where everyone attends the same school and the only social venues are licensed clubs and pubs with 18+ age minimum and heavily patronised by local parents. This is often exacerbated by a lack of mobility with the availability of public transport being generally very poor in rural areas. It is also in teenage years that children have to face the realities of low or non-existent local training and employment opportunities and contemplate moving elsewhere in search of work or furthering their education. A prospect that may be exciting and potentially liberating to some, but cause anxiety and distress for others.



Cinemas and Rural Teenagers Against this backdrop, cinemas in rural areas provide local teenagers with important spaces in which to socialise. They also provide opportunities to see and experience movies in a similar format as their metropolitan contemporaries. Susan Wilson, Manager of the council-run Civic Theatre in Gunnedah (northwest NSW, about an hour from Barraba), suggests that this is one of the key reasons for the appeal of cinema-going to this rural age group: They [teenagers] get national radio, national television and they want access to things at the same time as other kids. There is a whole thing going on in that peer group and they want to be part of that and not just see ads on television of things they’ll never see. (Wilson interview, 13 August 2009)

While the desire to keep up with new releases, especially blockbusters, may help underpin enthusiasm for cinema attendance, it almost certainly also drives the circulation and viewing of illegally sourced copies of films, however, with the continued patchy telecommunications infrastructure in rural Australia1 and its relatively high-cost practices such as streaming and downloading. As a result, discs remain popular, but slow, (compared to plans available to metropolitan residents) and provide a considerable barrier to common means of distributing pirated material. As outlined above, in addition to providing teenagers access to film content, cinemas in rural towns are also often cited as being important because they offers young people ‘something to do’ in places where there are typically very few social activities outside of licensed hotels and clubs, which are off limits to teenagers because of their age (Ritchie 1996). Lack of suitable social space was a problem highlighted by Sue Dennison, a district nurse who was based in the small town of Nundle in NSW northern tablelands in the 1990s and 2000s: I put out a questionnaire on the school bus to see why teenagers were smoking … that was what I was focusing on, you know, they were smoking and I was going to find out all about this … And what I found out was they saw there was nothing for them—there was the pub, and there was the pub and there was the pub. (Sue Dennison quoted in Metcalfe 2003: 75)

Dennison sought to address this problem, at least in part, through the establishment of a not-for-profit film group in the town in the late 1990s. Without any previous experience in exhibition, she sourced inexpensive



equipment, including two unwanted projectors from the University of New England, and set about learning how to book and screen films. The Nundle enterprise became highly successful and went on to inspire a number of other small and isolated rural communities in the region to set up community screenings of their own (Smith interview 18 December 2008, Aveyard 2015: 114–18). Giving teenagers ‘something to do’ has been credited with providing a diversion not just from underage smoking, but also from underage drinking, vandalism and general anti-social behaviour (such as being loud or intimidating in public places) (Metcalfe 2003; Ritchie 1996). It is somewhat difficult to establish direct causal links between movie-going and increased social harmony and well-being as a variety of different factors must be taken into consideration, of which cinema may only be a part. However, many people working in the front line of service delivery in rural areas certainly believe that it can bring about material benefit to the lives of teenagers and others. Dennison, a health worker, was adamant that the Nundle cinema improved the lives of local residents. Similarly, Brendan Smith who headed up the NSW Regional Cinema Program for five years from 2001 regularly travelled the state seeing first-hand the positive impact movie screenings could have in small and remote towns (Smith interview 18 December 2008). Smith recalls that some of the most enthusiastic requests for assistance came from local police officers interested in establishing community cinema ventures because of their perceived diversionary benefits for teens. A number of these officers went on to run informal screenings on video home system (VHS) in venues like Police Citizens Youth Clubs. In Wilcannia (far northwest NSW), the police went a step further formalising their screening activities under the banner of ‘Blue Reelers’ (‘Blue’ for the colour of their police uniforms and ‘Reelers’ dating the beginnings of the venture to the time when celluloid film still came on reels). Wilcannia Police found that public disorder and minor crime dropped noticeably on the nights their movies were on (Smith 2001: 52).

Teenagers and Place In addition to providing young people with something to do, cinemas in rural towns are important for providing them with ‘a place to go’. Numerous studies of child development (e.g. Dunkley 2004, with teens in Vermont Canada, Giddings and Yarwood 2005, with rural children in the UK) indicate that as children grow into teenagers, their spatial range



begins to widen, and they become increasingly interested in using public rather than private spaces to meet friends and create communities. Older children (10–12 years) and teenagers tend to desire a more visible sociality—spaces in which they not only see their peers but are also seen by them and at the same time are not necessarily seen by adults (Giddings and Yarwood 2005: 107). Both Giddings and Yarwood (2005) and Dunkley (2004) argue that opportunities to socialise in public spaces are very important in the expanding lives of teenagers. They suggest that being ‘out’ is crucial for developing confidence in self-expression and gives teens the necessary space to explore and construct their emerging young adult identities. These processes are very important in helping teenagers develop into socially connected and competent adults (Dunkley 2004: 559). However, the problem for most teenagers—both rural and metropolitan—is that public places tend to be regulated by adults who control how they are allocated and used. As Dunkley notes ‘Public space … is not universally accessible to young people and is generally considered adult space unless a specific area is designated for children or young people’ (Dunkley 2004: 561). Teenagers have to adapt and work within this framework. Often, this is done by temporarily appropriating spaces from adults, making use of neglected sites or by gathering in dedicated youth spaces such as drop-in centres, although the availability of the latter can vary significantly. Appropriating adult spaces and using neglected sites is not straightforward either, as teenagers will often encounter resistance to their presence especially when they are gathered in groups in places like shopping malls, streetscapes, parks, and so on (Metcalfe 2003; Giddings and Yarwood 2005: 107). For teenagers living in small towns in Australia these options can be very limited indeed. Unlike their city counterparts, there is usually no access to popular hang-outs like shopping malls, food outlets like McDonalds and KFC, gaming centres like Timezone and of course multiplex cinemas. Rural teenagers are also likely to be under-serviced in terms of dedicated youth facilities, which typically rely on public funding for staff and resources and are concentrated in more populated areas. What is left for many rural teens are only local parks and alcoves around main streets with seating or shelter. As these are typically outdoor spaces, their availability can be dependent on variations in the seasons and the weather and is generally not welcomed by adults. There can also be strict social hierarchies that operate in relation to these spaces. While they are notionally



‘public places’, certain groups of teenagers may dominate in particular locations. This problem is identified very clearly by a teenage boy interviewed as part of a documentary about the reopening of the cinema in Mudgee (central NSW), as follows: Interviewer:

With cinema not operating for 18 months what were you guys doing during that time? Teenage boy: Nothing basically. We had the skate park but that’s really kind of ‘exclusive’. Other than that there’s really nothing else. (Thorne 2009) An additional issue for rural teenagers is that public transport is generally very limited and in many cases, non-existent after about 6–7 pm in the evening. So not only are there few places to go but teenagers often have no independent means of getting there. Some may be driven to meet friends by parents or older siblings, others ride bicycles although distances in Australia can be considerable. Australians are able to get an independent drivers licence at age 17, although there are strict rules on their driving including how many young passengers they can carry (Roads and Maritime 2016). Without many options for socialising in legitimised public spaces, teenagers may elect to gather in private homes but this can have some negative consequences. In her study in Canada, Dunkley found that among older teenagers (16–18-year-olds) whose socialising took place predominantly in private homes there was far less emotional investment in the place in which they lived. These teenagers were much less likely to express a desire to live there or in any other small town in the future, compared with other local youths who were allowed to more freely ‘go out’ (Dunkley 2004: 571, 575). Cinemas can play a useful role in helping to address some of these issues. They are spaces that are generally sanctioned and accepted by ­parents and the wider community as a place where teenagers can congregate. They are places where teenagers are often permitted to interact independently, outside the direct gaze of their parents but with the implicit consent of the community. This lessens the risk of encountering negatively from adults and this can help reduce perceptions of alienation and isolation that can feel so acute to teenagers. In addition, cinemas generally operate as fairly democratic spaces. They are open to different peer groups, who might not necessarily interact in other situations (school, skate park, etc.), but will share or co-exist in the space of a film theatre.



Teenager Cinema Audiences in Barraba This final part of the chapter contextualises some of the general points outlined above with the situation I encountered in the small town of Barraba in northwestern NSW, which had a population of 1161  in the 2006 census and had shrunk slightly to 1150 in the subsequent 2011 census (ABS 2011, 2006). The local cinema, known as The Playhouse, is situated within a boutique hotel development (known as The Playhouse Hotel), which offers accommodation and a restaurant that operates for pre-booked events. Its owner, Andrew Sharpe, purchased the run-down pub, minus its liquor licence, in 2005 and began renovations shortly thereafter. This work has included converting the pub’s traditional dormitory-­style accommodation into a selection of stylish en suite rooms, as well as the installation of a commercial kitchen and modern dining area. It has also involved the conversion of the former pool table room at the rear of the building into an 80-seat theatre for films and live events. At the time of my research visit in 2009 it was used predominantly for the former, with movies screened every weekend over a programme that runs from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon. The town of Barraba is relatively isolated and economically depressed. The nearest settlement of any significant size is Tamworth (population 45,700: ABS 2011), which is 90 kilometres away—a 2-hour round trip by car. Retail facilities in the town were limited and included a small general store, post office, regional credit union and a petrol station on the outskirts of town that at the time also hired a small range of DVDs (but no longer does so). There were numerous empty and neglected buildings in the main street, which attest to the town’s current economic problems as well as its former glories. The ornate facades and solid brick constructions are a reminder of the fact that when agriculture and mining were booming in the local area, the town was much bigger and significantly more prosperous than it is today. The last permanent cinema (prior to establishment of The Playhouse) had closed in the mid-1960s. At the time I visited Barraba, high-speed internet connections were difficult to get for private homes and data costs were considerably more expensive than in metropolitan areas. Not a great deal has changed in the intervening seven years. While Barraba is in theory part of the new high-­ speed National Broadband Network, a recent search of the major telecommunications companies (including Telstra and Optus) revealed they are yet to deliver services there. As a town of only 1000 people or so, Barraba



will not get optical fibre connections and residents will only be able to connect by paying for wireless antennas to be installed on the roof of their homes. Mobile coverage is generally good, with 4G services available within the town and surrounds. However, this is generally a highly costly way of accessing data and often prohibitively expensive for purposes such as streaming. The Playhouse was a modest venue but relatively well equipped for a small country cinema in 2009. The 80-seat auditorium features raked seating (dating from the 1950s and bought second-hand at auction) and a separate projection booth that houses the DVD projection system. In a theatrical touch, long lengths of black cloth run from the ceiling to the floor to cover the bare brick walls. Having only a limited budget for construction of the theatre, Sharpe elected to spend his money strategically. He opted to purchase a good set of surround-sound speakers at the outset, although it is a high-end domestic rather than commercial system. He also invested in a good-quality DVD projector. The cinema screen, which he aimed to update later, was home-made from a long length of white curtain-backing material nailed to a length of timber and suspended by wire from hooks in the ceiling. It is held taut at the bottom by wires that loop over large speakers sitting on either side of the screen. Sharpe was generally performing all the front-of-house duties, including selling tickets and snack items from his small candy bar. He also managed all the technical tasks associated with running the film. For many of the local teenagers, The Playhouse quickly became an important social space. Its film screenings offered them something to do and a place to go in a town with very few alternate options. Friday evenings tended to be the main session for youth audiences and films were programmed accordingly with blockbusters and other popular mainstream titles suitable for teenager viewers dominating the schedule. At the time, the cinema usually had to wait 10–12 weeks from national release to access a film on DVD although this did not appear to unduly deter audiences, teens or adults. The Friday night ‘youth evening’ became entrenched in local knowledge to the extent that older patrons generally avoided these sessions entirely. This ‘takeover’ of the cinema by local teens provides an interesting example of an ‘adult space’ appropriated, albeit temporarily, by teenagers. In terms of aesthetics, The Playhouse—theatre and hotel—is geared very much to adult tastes with boutique-style neutral interior, comfortable sofas and chairs and elegant wall hangings. In keeping with this décor, films screened over the rest of the weekend were typically aimed



at a 40+ audience. Young people will generally seek out spaces that are physically and culturally separate places to their parents inhabit. Yet, in Barraba, the local teens transcend the types of taste distinctions that often regulate access to and use of public space. In the absence of other practical options, The Playhouse was transformed into ‘their’ space but just for Friday nights. At the time of my field work, there was a core group of around 15–20 teens and young adults who attended Friday nights, which was sometimes the biggest crowd of the week. Sharpe found the gender composition was generally fairly evenly mixed, although it could fluctuate from week to week. The fact the session is dominated exclusively by young people gave Sharpe some latitude in the way he approached the management of these screenings. He had very good relationships with local teenagers, and this was evident in the easy rapport he has with the succession of young adults that pass by the hotel’s front window during my interviews with him. On Friday nights, Sharpe allowed the audience to sit either in raked seating or on cushions on the floor at the front of the auditorium. He also permitted a level of self-regulation in terms of behaviour, which he noted tends to be very distracted—texting, talking and constantly going in and out to purchase items at the candy bar. Sharpe found that for the most part the teenagers could successfully set and manage their own limits around these activities, and he rarely had to intervene. However, he adds that their interactions were fairly loud and disruptive and he speculated these behaviours would not have been tolerated by an audience of a more mixed composition. Sharpe’s liberal approach helped infuse the cinema with a sense of independence and freedom for local teenagers. This has no doubt contributed to their positive embrace of the venue since its opening. A group of teenage boys I interviewed, who form part of the core Friday night group, were very upbeat in their assessment of the cinema. As one explained: ‘The cinema here is good and they get all the up-to-date films’ (Barraba resident, male, 16 years). However, it was also clear that the movies were not the only factor driving attendance, as another commented: ‘We just turn up, we don’t mind what the film is. There’s about 15 of us from school that go every Friday night’ (Barraba resident, male, 16 years). The importance of the social aspects of cinema-going were also emphasised in a discussion around how going to the Barraba cinema compared with more convenient and cheaper home-based technologies. All three boys com-



mented that seeing films on the big screen was preferable to watching them at home. As one explained: ‘The cinema is heaps better. There’s more people and you can be with your friends’ (Barraba resident, male, 17 years). In addition to discussing their current experiences at the cinema, I talked to the boys about what they did before it opened. It was clear there were few places in which they could get together, especially in the evenings. They reported either staying home and watching TV or sometimes a DVD, going to a friend’s house or hanging out at places like the football oval or the local park. Like teenagers from Mudgee interviewed in Ross Thorne’s documentary, there was a sense that before the cinema, they saw their socialising as being somewhat aimless. In addition to teenagers from within the town, the Friday night screenings also attract kids from outlying farms, some living up to 30–40 minutes’ drive away. Where previously these teenagers rarely socialised in town after school, the boys reported there was now a group of them that also come regularly to the cinema, often staying overnight at a friend’s house. The boys also commented on the expanded opportunities The Playhouse provided to socialise with local girls and cited this as another major attraction. Before the cinema opened, this had been fairly limited because very few of the local girls were allowed to hang out with them in the evenings at the football oval and local parks and socialising in private homes tended to take place on a same-sex basis (girls with other girls, boys with other boys). The situation in Barraba clearly demonstrates how the local cinemas can help teenagers broaden and diversify their social networks. The Playhouse encouraged greater social inclusion by facilitating participation by previously marginalised teens such as local girls and those living on surrounding farms. It also provided a situation in which teenagers need to be conscious of their behaviour in relation to others, and where moderation and control may be called for, even if in an adult context their interactions might have been considered slightly unruly. In doing so, the Barraba teenagers were able to experiment with and deploy the different social skills that they will require to get on as adults. Sharpe’s relaxed attitude and the wider community’s implicit approval of these evenings (as indicated by their practice of staying away but facilitating local teens to attend) help create a space where these young people could explore and contest their emerging social freedoms and develop publicly situated adult identities.



Conclusion Rural cinemas can clearly provide much more than just a pleasant venue in which to collectively watch a film. They have the capacity to contribute positively to the quality of life through the provision of entertainment and linking communities with an important aspect of modern cultural life. As this chapter has demonstrated, they can also play an important role in encouraging positive personal development, enhancing social connections and promoting emotional attachments to place. From a social and cultural policy perspective, teenagers represent just one group that uses rural cinemas. However, they are a demographic that many small towns struggle to adequately cater for and struggle to retain once they leave school which often has another set of serious social and economic consequences. For this reason, it is vital to acknowledge and understand their significance and to focus on sustaining and growing such activities.

Note 1. The Australian Government is currently in the process of rolling out a high-­ speed broadband network around the country—known as the National Broadband Network. Coverage in rural areas continues to be very patchy and there are still significant gaps in availability (see http://www.nbnco.

References Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). (2006). 2006 Census QuickStats By Location. Retrieved July 24, 2010, from ABSNavigation/prenav/LocationSearch?producttype=QuickStats&subact ion=-1&action=104&collection=Census&textversion=false&breadcrumb=PL &period=2006&navmapdisplayed=true&. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). (2011). 2011 QuickStats. Retrieved from Australian Human Rights Commission. (1999). Bush Talks. Retrieved August 12, 2016, from Aveyard, K. (2015). The Lure of the Big Screen: Cinema in Rural Australia and the United Kingdom. Bristol; Chicago: Intellect Books. Dunkley, C. M. (2004). Risky Geographies: Teens, Gender and Rural Landscape in North America. Gender, Place and Culture, 11(4), 559–579.



Giddings, R., & Yarwood, R. (2005). Growing Up, Going Out and Growing Out of the Countryside: Childhood Experiences in Rural England. Children’s Geographies, 3(1), 101–114. Graham, M. L., Ward, B., Munro, G., Snow, P., & Ellis, J. (2006). Rural Parents, Teenagers and Alcohol: What are Parents Thinking. Rural and Remote Health, 6, 383 Retrieved from print_383.pdf. Kõlves, K., Milner, A., McKay, K., & De Leo, D. (Eds.). (2012). Suicide in Rural and Remote Areas of Australia. Brisbane: Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention. Matthews, H., Taylor, M., Sherwood, K., Tucker, F., & Limb, M. (2000). Growing Up in the Countryside: Children and the Rural Idyll. Journal of Rural Studies, 16(2), 141–153. Metcalfe, S. (2003). “Come on You Kids, Move on”: Flicks in the Sticks and “Somewhere to Hang Out That’s Legitimate”. Australian Screen Education, 31, 74–76. National Rural Health Alliance Inc. (2009). Suicide in Rural Australia. Fact Sheet no. 14. Retrieved from National Rural Health Alliance Inc. (2016). Submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Human Services. Retrieved August 23, 2016, from Productivity Commission. (1999). Impact of Competition Policy Reforms on Rural and Regional Australia. Report no. 8. Canberra: Ausinfo. Productivity Commission. (2009). Government Drought Support. Report no. 46, Final Inquiry Report, Melbourne. Ritchie, J. (1996). Report on Regional Cinema. Report to the Minister Assisting the Minister for the Arts, New South Wales State Government. Glen Innes: Arts North West. Roads and Maritime. (2016). Restrictions for L and P Plate Drivers. Retrieved from rules_for_l_and_p_plate_drivers.html. Smith, B. (2001). Bringing the Movies Back to the Country: Regional Cinema in New South Wales. Metro Magazine, 127(128), 50–52. Thorne, R. (2009). Mudgee and Its Regent Theatre. Documentary Film. Australia: Ross Thorne. Travlou, P., Eubanks Owens, P., Ward Thompson, C., & Maxwell, L. (2008). Place Mapping with Teenagers: Locating Their Territories and Documenting Their Experience in the Public Realm. Children’s Geographies, 6(3), 309–326. Victorian Government. (2016). Rural Issues  – Alcohol and Depression. Better Health Channel. Retrieved from conditionsandtreatments/rural-issues-alcohol-and-depression.


Shaping Cinema Audiences for Educational and Ideological Purposes


Projecting Modernity: Sol Plaatje’s Touring Cinema Exhibition in 1920s South Africa Jacqueline Maingard

Solomon (Sol) Plaatje’s (1876–1932) touring cinema exhibition for African and ‘coloured’ audiences in 1920s South Africa has had little scholarly attention.1 Plaatje was an African intellectual and a special kind of itinerant showman, in the mode of touring showmen in the early part of the twentieth century, when film was a novel form of entertainment. Plaatje took his cinema exhibition into both urban and rural areas. He travelled through remote areas as well as taking his screenings to the edges or outskirts of a town or city to those areas reserved for African and ‘coloured’ residents. Audiences crossed ethnic delimitations and in some instances were mixed across race. Unlike his early counterparts, however, Plaatje’s was a primarily political project. He used film to create and attract publics, particularly rural ones with whom he could engage in dialogue about the effects of racial segregationist policies after Union in 1910 and giving lectures on the need for Africans to embrace modernity, visually illustrated by the films he screened. The question of definition is an important one since what constitutes ‘rural’ audiences as against ‘urban’ ones is hardly unambiguous and criteria J. Maingard (*) University of Bristol, Bristol, UK e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




differ widely. Historically based claims to ancestral land and ownership of land are key areas of conflict and negotiation, especially in view of South Africa’s colonial and settler histories. Regulations and legislation related to land matters in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries designated specific areas for specific groups based on race and ethnicity.2 Questions of definition extend also to the ways that people are mobile across perceived and legislated urban-rural divides. Some may have circular mobility in that they live for periods in a rural location and other times in an urban one, while returning regularly to the rural area, and vice versa. Local specificities thus play an important part in defining rural/urban areas and identifying people as being within, or of, one or the other. It is clear that Plaatje was particularly concerned about the plight of rural farm workers and dwellers, especially following the promulgation of the Natives Land Act in 1913.3 The act had relegated a very small portion of land to the African population, in the region of 7.3 per cent, and prevented Africans from purchasing land outside of ‘scheduled native areas’. He travelled great distances precisely to screen his films outside the city to include those living in rural areas. While it is centrally important to consider where Plaatje took his cinema exhibition, an idea of the films he screened is equally so, particularly since he was not in the business of cinema as purely entertainment but more so as education. His aim was to impress local audiences with examples of African Americans in the United States who were embracing modernity and with whom they could identify. He was also pursuing his wider pan-African interests, affording local audiences the opportunity to see themselves as citizens of a wider world, by sharing images of other parts of the world through topicals, newsreels, and travelogues. These included films of British royals and their activities, playing to African audiences’ continuing loyalty to, and fascination with, the crown.4 Plaatje travelled to Britain on two occasions in 1914 and 1917 as a representative of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC), to seek support from the crown for the repeal of the Natives Land Act.5 It was precisely in those encounters with the imperial ‘centre’ and with African American political and educational movements in the United States that he discovered the power of cinema. In this chapter, I discuss how Plaatje’s perceptions of cinematic representation and race were shaped and identify how he acquired films and film screening equipment. This provides the context for a discussion of Plaatje’s touring cinema exhibition for African audiences on his return to South Africa in the early-to-mid 1920s, including details of the films he screened.



Plaatje’s Acquisition of Films and the Means of Exhibition Plaatje was motivated to use cinema as a result of his developing ideas of the importance of cinematic experience. It is worth noting here the efforts he made to acquire films, which he would later screen for African audiences in the context of his political concerns for the plight of rural people. Plaatje’s penchant for dialogue with ordinary people was the basis of the method he deployed as early as 1913 for gaining first-hand understanding of the effects of the Natives Land Act. At this time, he travelled from Kimberley in the Northern Cape, where he resided, to the rural districts of Bloemhof, Boshof, and Hoopstad on ‘a tour of observation’ meeting African ‘fugitives’ of the act (Plaatje 1982 [1916]: 78). He incorporated the traumatic stories of their plight into his book, Native Life in South Africa (1982 [1916]), in which he famously lamented that ‘[a]waking on Friday morning, June 20, 1913, the South African native found himself, not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth’ (Plaatje 1982 [1916]: 21). His intimate knowledge of the effects of the act not only enriched his writings, but his method of engaging with those directly affected was at the heart of the tours he subsequently undertook after his return from Britain and the USA in 1923, this time armed with films, a projector, and a generator. While Plaatje was residing in London, D.W.  Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (2015) opened at the Scala Theatre in Charlotte Street in September 2015 (Willan 2013: 4), which strongly influenced his views on cinematic representations of race.6 In a publication written at the time, he offers criticism of the villain always being black, invoking comparison between Shakespeare’s dramas and The Birth of a Nation as well as an unnamed film depicting the Crucifixion where Judas Iscariot is ‘the only black in the mob’ (Willan 1996: 212).7 It was this form of representing black identity that he sought to refute in adopting African American ‘uplift’ films as part of his touring cinema exhibition. After leading the second SANNC delegation to Britain in 1917, Plaatje remained in Britain and subsequently travelled first to Canada in 1920 and thence to the USA in 1921, before returning to England in 1922 and South Africa in 1923.8 It was on these wider travels that he encountered the use of films for the ‘uplift’ of African Americans. The significance of his wider connections with African American leaders and organisations cannot be underestimated, particularly his involvement with transnational and



pan-African political developments. In Canada, he was hosted by the Brotherhood Federation and was received with ‘overwhelming warmth’ by the black community in Toronto (Willan 1984: 260). He impressed Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and shared a platform with Garvey on one occasion in Toronto. This connection with Garvey and the UNIA, and their overlapping political interests in advancing racial equality and black political rights was to prove most significant for his tour of the USA. He shared a platform with Garvey on two occasions in New  York in 1921, giving talks on the effects of the Natives Land Act, bolstered by the sale of his book, which also provided funds for his ongoing work and travels (Willan 1984: 264–67). In May 1921, Plaatje participated in the ‘Victory Meeting’ of the Equal Rights League in Boston, the purpose of which was to ‘signalize [sic] the victory in race protection by stopping “The Birth of a Nation”’.9 He continued to tour the USA, giving talks about conditions in South Africa in various cities and to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) conference in Detroit, which W.E.B Du Bois, NAACP’s president, had invited Plaatje to attend.10 Plaatje’s plans for his touring cinema exhibition became a firm reality when he visited the Rt Rev. J.A.  Johnson in Philadelphia, head of the African Methodist Episcopolan Church, and who, Willan reports, presented Plaatje with ‘a portable movie projector, worth 420 dollars, suitable for showing 35mm educational films’ (1984: 275). This was a De Vry standard size 35 mm projector ‘as used in the theatres’ (Plaatje to Holsey, 26 May 1922; personal communication, Willan, 28 November 2016). His subsequent travels south to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in May 1922 provided images of African Americans’ embrace of modernity that he longed to share with his country men and women, as well as the films with which to do so.11 Tuskegee was established in 1881, modelled on the Hampton Institute in Virginia, which the American Mission Association had established in 1868, for the provision of education to freed slaves. It was dedicated to the ‘uplift’ of African Americans, through lessons in personal health and hygiene, domestic training, and skills education for employment.12 Tuskegee had experimented with making and using film from as early as 1909, with the production of A Trip to Tuskegee and a few years later A Day at Tuskegee (1913).13 The films made, and the uses to which they were put, are crucially significant for the present recounting of Plaatje’s travels and his subsequent use of film for educational purposes in South



Africa. In Tuskegee, as Plaatje recalls, Robert Moton, who had succeeded Booker T. Washington as director, had made a ‘generous offer to provide several reels of Tuskegee, including one of the unveiling of the statue of Booker T.  Washington in April 1922’ (Willan 1984: 279). Hampton Institute had made a similar promise (Willan 1984: 419, n. 66) and Plaatje, on returning to South Africa, reminded Moton of these promises. Plaatje departed from the USA in July 1922 and returned to Britain via Canada and France.14 In Britain, he had the opportunity to acquire still further educational films. This was a consequence of his employment by George Lattimore, in support of the exhibition of a film, The Cradle of the World (1923), at the Philharmonic Hall in London.15 Plaatje’s work was to develop and present a short sketch during the interval when the film reels were being changed. His role was to play Chief Dumakude, who ‘sings a war-song’ and, as Willan proposes, he was thus ironically ‘project[ing] exactly the image that he had devoted so much of his life to fighting’ (1984: 289). It gave him much-needed funds, however, to continue his stay in Britain and to pay for his return passage to South Africa. Most importantly, as he explained in a letter to his friend Georgina Solomon, he became ‘acquainted with some film folks’ through this employment, which for him was the ‘greatest thing’.16 He had found a man, he wrote, who supplied ‘decent lengths about the Queen and King attending the races, the Prince of Wales visiting Indian schools, including the unveiling of his grandfather’s monument at Calcutta, Lord Allenby entering Jerusalem during the war and a couple of incidents showing the London crowds’. The ‘decent lengths’ to which Plaatje refers would have been contemporary topical and newsreel footage filmed for British Pathé and the War Office Cinematograph Committee.17 He was clearly pleased to add these to his educational films about Canada, the West Indies, and the United States. Once back in Kimberley, Plaatje was given a generator by the mining company, De Beers, which allowed him to power his projector, and I.R.  Grimmer, a manager at De Beers, had given him still further films (Umteteli wa Bantu, 5 December 1925).18 By the time he began his tours, Plaatje had thus acquired a diverse range of topical and educational films as well as the means of projecting them in venues without electricity, crucial to his rural tours.19



Plaatje’s Touring Exhibition Plaatje drew upon the extensive educational, political, religious, and social networks he had developed over the decades prior to the 1920s to support his tours, through schools, churches, and various organisations, to boost audiences of both adults and children and to gain venues in which to run his film screening events.20 His tours included a wide area across the Orange Free State, the Transvaal, and the Northern and Eastern Cape including the Transkei (Willan 1984: 303), where he visited rural areas as well as towns and cities.21 There is little information available on those places Plaatje actually visited, but it is possible to plot the journeys he made and the distances he covered, if somewhat patchily, drawing on extant literature, particularly Willan’s work (1984, 1996), as well as on primary sources such as the small number of references in Umteteli wa Bantu in 1924 and 1925. In the second half of 1924, Plaatje was touring predominantly in the Eastern Cape (i.e., east of Kimberley), including Bloemfontein in September of that year, some 100 miles from Kimberley. On this tour, he also visited King Williams Town in October 1924, approximately 400 miles further south. Plaatje would have used the month in-between his Bloemfontein and King Williams Town shows to travel through the impoverished rural areas between these cities visiting smaller outposts where his portable generator would have been especially useful. He would also have used the opportunity to engage in close dialogue with local audiences and to undertake research on their experiences of officialdom and the consequences for their lives of the discriminatory practices embedded within it.22 In February 1925, he reported that he was ‘just completing a three months’ tour of the Eastern Province’ (Umteteli wa Bantu, 28 February 1925). He had, as Willan indicates, broken his tour of the Eastern Cape in order to attend two conferences. Plaatje was an observer at the third annual Native Conference held in Pretoria under the terms of the Native Affairs Act of 1920, while he presented a paper at the Joint Councils Conference in Johannesburg on ‘The treatment of natives in the courts’ (Willan 1984: 307). He then resumed his tour of the Eastern Cape, which took him as far as Port Elizabeth on the Cape’s south coast, a further 155 miles southwest of King Williams Town (Umteteli wa Bantu, 28 February 1925).23



The distances Plaatje travelled were vast, and transporting his heavy, cumbersome equipment and film reels incorporated various forms of travel including trains and the local means of rural travel in the form of horse and cart. In his travels in 1913, when he had investigated the effects of the Natives Land Act, he had travelled by bicycle, which had allowed him close encounters with people evicted from farms as a result of the act. In his travels in the 1920s, his equipment would also have included a bicycle, the means of transport to which he was accustomed and again used for engaging personally with ordinary people in and around the rural areas he visited with his touring exhibition and gaining first-hand knowledge of their plight. Later in 1925, he is reported as having toured the Barkly West district in the Northern Cape, west of Kimberley (Umteteli wa Bantu, 5 December 1925), this time closer to home with Barkly West being approximately 22 miles from Kimberley. Plaatje did also travel further afield in Southern Africa, including Bechuanaland (now Botswana) and Basutoland (now Lesotho) and also to various institutions around Southern Africa. Beginning with his eastern Cape tour in 1924, I shall sketch in chronological order some of the extant details of Plaatje’s touring exhibition during 1924 and 1925 in order not so much to dwell on place but rather to extract the little information there is on audiences and cinemagoing per se as well as on the films he was screening and how they were advertised. A 1924 leaflet advertises ‘The Coloured American Bioscope’ on 26, 27, and 29 September 1924 (in the Bloemfontein Community Hall), and includes the words ‘PRINCIPAL FEATURE’ in bold capitals, beneath which it states: ‘Booker Washington’s School, TUSKEGEE and her thousands of young men and women students at Drill and Manoeuvres’. A further line appears in smaller print: ‘The Immigration Department will not permit any Foreign Negroes not-even the Jubilee Singers—beloved of our fathers—to land in the Union. You can only see Coloured Americans on the screen [sic]’ (reproduced in Willan 1996: 332). Just under a month later, an advertisement in a newspaper aimed at African, particularly Xhosa, readers, Imvo Zabantsundu (‘Opinion of the People’), is headed ‘SOL. PLAATJE’S TRAVELOGUES and Coloured American Bioscope’ giving details of two shows in King Williams Town, one at the Independent Church, Brownlee Station on 22 October 1924 and the other at the Wesleyan Native Church on 24 October 1924. This advertisement also foregrounds the Tuskegee films in bold capitals: ‘BOOKER WASHINGTON’S GREAT SCHOOL in Alabama, with thousands of TUSKEGEE STUDENTS at work and Drills’ (Willan 1984: 307).



Several key points emerge from these advertisements: the venues reflect Plaatje’s reliance on his wide and varied networks, including those venues regularly used for political community meetings, as well as mission and church venues; the advertisements use local language for linking the identities of potential local audiences to those of the subjects on screen, thus ‘Coloured Americans’; one of the advertisements references the Jubilee Singers who toured the eastern Cape in the late 1800s as a drawcard for audiences, highlighting the earlier generation’s delight in them24; and, the Tuskegee films are advertised as the centrepiece of Plaatje’s shows, particularly the drills. Much is made of the Hampton and Tuskegee films in newspaper reports of Plaatje’s ‘bioscope’ and in letters Plaatje wrote to Moton at Tuskegee. One reporter bemoans the limited space he has available ‘to paint a vivid word picture of the films depicting scenes in and around that wonderful College founded by the late Dr. Booker Washington’ (Umteteli wa Bantu, 31 May 1924). He reports that he had asked Plaatje ‘why he did not “write up” his show as Europeans generally do’, but Plaatje had ‘emphatically’ informed him that he ‘conscientiously objected to that sort of thing, as he wished the people—and the Native press—to come and see for themselves the wonderful progress attained by our American kinsmen at Washington College and other places’ (Umteteli wa Bantu, 31 May 1924). He was exceptionally conscious of the role of the press in promoting his cause. As ever, the audience experience was paramount for Plaatje, particularly to gain a personal view of the films screened. Writing to Moton in September 1924, Plaatje himself describes the Tuskegee drills as ‘thrilling’, and, he continues, it is seeing the ‘joy’ of audiences in response to both the drills and his own ‘explanatory remarks’, which ‘turns the whole thing into a labour of love’. He also notes, however, that ‘with the poverty of the Native’ his touring exhibition of films is a ‘profitless job’ (Willan 1996: 333). In relation to his monetary problems, he notes further that ‘on three occasions [he] received a command from white folks to lecture and show them Tuskegee’ (Willan 1996: 333). On one such occasion they had paid £10, and their fees had helped ‘whatever losses’ he had had from his screenings for ‘Natives’ (Willan 1996: 333). While he reports to Moton that ‘such white engagements are as scarce as diamonds’, he makes the further point that ‘the moral effect of the Tuskegee films on black and white alike is incalculable’ (Willan 1996: 333).



Plaatje returned to the Eastern Cape for a further tour following his travels there in 1924 and 1925. In a further letter to Moton in June 1927, some three years later, he comments on the ‘effect of the Hampton-­ Tuskegee films among the Natives’ and refers to a letter he has received from ‘the higher mission school’ in Grahamstown, in the Eastern Cape, around 400 miles from Kimberley. The letter is from the school principal, ‘telling the abiding impression made on his scholars by the Tuskegee drills’. Moreover, this letter mentions the impression made also by the ‘Spiritual’ (“It’s me, It’s me, O Lord”)’, which, Plaatje notes, he ‘always make[s] the Native children sing’ with him, when he has a ‘kiddies’ matinee’ (Willan 1996: 358). This indicates that he ran events specifically aimed at African children as part of his tours. Despite the popularity of the Hampton and Tuskegee films, Plaatje’s travelogues and his news items are also significant. These are advertised as ‘First-Class Animated Pictures of England, Japan, Coloured People in Brazil, America and the West India Islands’ and ‘Fresh Features’ in the form of ‘H.R.H.  The Duke of York’s Wedding at Westminster Abbey, King George’s First Daughter-in-Law; The Late Chief Khama and his Bamangoato People at Serowe; Cricket and other Sports’ (Willan 1996: 332). Similarly, the advertisement in Imvo Zabantsundu described earlier includes reference to ‘First class animated pictures of The Royal Family, London crowds, Canadian, West Indian and American scenes’. Plaatje continued to tour his cinema exhibition in the summer of 1925 with screenings in the Barkly West district, where he enjoyed much appreciation (Umteteli wa Bantu, 5 December 1925). He used a variety of ­venues and it is reported that his ‘final’ screening was presented in the ‘Open Air Bio’, located in the grounds of the Grand Hotel in Barkly West. This event drew the widest possible set of audiences including the mayor of Barkly West and other ‘prominent Europeans of the district’ (Umteteli wa Bantu, 5 December 1925). It was thus tailored to a mixed audience across both race and class. A sense of this is evident in that there was a speech given, where Plaatje was ‘complimented on the excellence of his show’ (Umteteli wa Bantu, 5 December 1925) and where he also provided an explanation as to who had given him films. It was on this occasion that he reported that Henry Ford of ‘motor car fame’ had given him many of his topicals and that I. R. Grimmer had given him ‘English and South African pictures’ (Umteteli wa Bantu, 5 December 1925). This report also confirmed that De Beers had helped provide Plaatje’s portable generator, the value of which was noted by the reporter as



enabling Plaatje to ‘show cinema pictures at Native kraals and other places where electric light is not available’ (Umteteli wa Bantu, 5 December 1925). This establishes that De Beers had an interest in Plaatje’s work at least insofar as the company was willing to support his screenings in rural areas. Plaatje had had a long relationship with De Beers prior to this and in 1918 he had successfully gained the loan of an old tram shed from De Beers that was destined for demolition, to be used for meetings, particularly those of the Brotherhood organisation he intended to establish (Willan 1996: 131; 2013). The growing popularity of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union, established in 1919, which was in favour of industrial strikes, was proving to rival the SANNC (the ANC from 1923) and its politics of negotiation. Plaatje’s political position was less of a threat to De Beers and, as Willan confirms, he ‘became known as the pre-­ eminent spokesman for moderate African opinion’ in this period (Willan 1984: 313). But beyond this, Grimmer’s gift to Plaatje of South African films opens up a question as to what these films may have been, particularly in the period of the early-to-mid 1920s, when the mines were attempting vigorously to recruit migrant workers and the Chamber of Mines was working with African Film Productions to produce films screened through mobile cinemas across rural areas for this purpose (Reynolds 2007). Whether Grimmer’s films were of this sort remains to be discovered, but Plaatje would no doubt have been useful to De Beers not only politically but also in creating audiences in black rural areas, as well as in African and ‘coloured’ townships closer to towns and cities. These were potential audiences that the mines would be drawing upon for their recruitment films as well as their educational films.25 While the focus of this chapter is Plaatje’s film shows in South Africa, it is worth noting that Plaatje also visited Bechuanaland in ‘the mid-1920s’ where, Neil Parsons explains, in ‘places like Kanye, Gaberones [sic] and Serowe’ he screened ‘educational films donated by African-American institutions’, no doubt the same films he was screening on his tours of South Africa. He included a film of a parade in Serowe, displaying Bangwato regiments at Serowe, ‘marching in kilts and white puttees before Kgosi (Chief or King) Khama III’ (Parsons 2014: 136).26 He also visited Basutoland where, he records, that he screened films for lepers.27 No doubt he used the opportunity of his travels in Basutoland to run events for wider rural audiences, as he had done in Bechuanaland and in South Africa.28



Conclusion Film screenings were central to Plaatje’s touring exhibition and drew large audiences in rural areas, which is clearly evident. They were also key to his wider mission. Each programme had several elements, including prayers, a choir or Plaatje himself leading the audience in singing hymns, and a talk or lecture that he would give.29 The events were also sometimes a family affair in that his son, St Leger, was advertised as playing the musical accompaniment. The format of his events followed the conventions adopted by his admired counterparts in the USA, Washington, and Moton, Tuskegee’s first directors, who presented talks at events alongside public screenings of the Tuskegee films in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Similarly, Plaatje travelled with the films he screened and incorporated talks that he himself gave. They were also events in the vein of his political counterparts with whom he had shared platforms in the USA, Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois.30 Plaatje thus rather uniquely conjoined several purposes aided by the attraction of the cinema experience he could confidently provide, and building on his already tried and tested methods of encountering and creating dialogue with ordinary people from his earlier travels across the countryside, immediately following the promulgation of the Natives Land Act. Plaatje’s touring cinema exhibition was but one arm of his wider political project, geared as he was to extend Africans’ engagement with modernity. He was a ‘New African’ (Masilela 2003), conversant in several languages both vernacular and European, motivated in part by Christian ideals, and a reformer, preacher, lecturer, political commentator, writer, activist, and community leader. The coinciding of these roles put him in a unique position to attract audiences, to touch their hearts and minds, and shape their views. Plaatje had witnessed the success story of Tuskegee, immersing African Americans into modernity, in which he believed and with which he could identify. The extraordinary lengths to which he went both to gain access to the films that could make a similar educational experience possible for Africans back home, and also to acquire the means of their exhibition, testify to the significance of the insights he gained on his travels to Britain and the USA. Plaatje understood the power of cinema. In part based on the release of The Birth of a Nation, he had reflected on the interrelationship of cinematic representation and race. This led him to obtain films with which Africans could find points of identification. Plaatje’s mission



was to shape audiences’ perspectives through the films he projected, and through their responses both to the films themselves and also to the issues they raised, to invigorate the advancement of Africans into modernity. Acknowledgements  Grateful thanks to Carolyn Hamilton, Research Chair, Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative (APC), University of Cape Town; all the participants in the APC Research Development Workshop, April 2017; Sue Ogterop for very helpful research assistance; the editors, especially Daniela Treveri Gennari; and Brian Willan for his encouragement, and generously sharing his research materials and references. Special thanks to Emma Sandon.

Notes 1. Thelma Gutsche’s (1972) seminal historical work, The History and Social Significance of Motion Pictures in South Africa, 1895–1940, includes a discussion of films for Africans but makes no mention of Plaatje. Although key scholars have mentioned his interest in film, it has not been a central focus. Of these, Brian Willan (1984, 1996) is particularly valuable, as is Ntongela Masilela (2003). See Masilela (2003) and Litheko Modisane (2013: 5–6) for discussion on Plaatje and modernity; and Maingard (2007: 68) on Plaatje in the context of black audiences and modernity. The short film Come See the Bioscope (1994) is a fictionalised version of Plaatje’s touring cinema exhibition. 2. See Marks and Trapido (2014 [1987]) for important scholarship on histories of land, particularly the introductory chapter and the contributions of Beinart and Bundy. 3. It legislated against share-cropping, where African tenants of white-owned farms would typically give half their crops to the farmer in exchange for tenancy. The act required that for Africans to be considered ‘bona fide employed’ (Plaatje 1982 [1916]: 69), they would have to provide at least 90 days service to the farmer on whose farm they resided within each year. This had the effect of turning share-croppers into farm labourers. 4. See Sapire (2011a, 2011b) on African loyalty to the crown. 5. The South African Native National Congress (SANNC) had found no sympathy from the Union government for its grievances and elected a delegation in 1914 that included Plaatje, who was the organisation’s SecretaryGeneral, to travel to England and seek a hearing from the crown. The visit was unsuccessful and all the members except Plaatje returned to South Africa after WWI broke out. He remained there for a further two years. He was offered the presidency of the SANNC in 1917, which he turned down. The SANNC’s second delegation in 1917 met the British Prime Minister,



David Lloyd George, who undertook to write to the South African government, but further British intervention was not forthcoming. The SANNC changed its name to the African National Congress [ANC] in 1923. 6. Plaatje’s London residence, 25 Carnarvon Road, Waltham Forest, London E10, is marked with a Greater London Council blue plaque where he is honoured with the description: ‘Black South African Writer and Campaigner for African Rights’. 7. The publication ‘A South African’s Homage’ is reprinted in Willan (1996: 210–12). The film was most likely From the Manger to the Cross (1912), in which an Italian-born actor, Robert C. Vignola, plays Judas Iscariot, whose appearance is indeed dark by contrast with the other actors. See Willan (2013) on Plaatje’s role in successfully preventing the screening of The Birth of a Nation in South Africa in 1915. It was first screened in South Africa only in 1931. 8. His visit to the USA was initially thwarted by his inability to obtain a passport; see Willan (1984: 250–51). 9. He is reported as having ‘prayed’ as a contribution to the proceedings that included the choir singing and various talks (The Guardian [Boston], 28 May 1921); see Willan (2013). 10. See Willan (1984: 271–72) for more details on Plaatje’s friendship with Du Bois. Du Bois published an American edition of Native Life in South Africa in his journal The Crisis in 1921 and also invited Plaatje to attend the second Pan-African Congress in Paris in July and August 1921 (Willan 1984: 271). When Plaatje was unable to get there Du Bois himself read Plaatje’s speech (Willan 1984: 272). 11. The Phelps-Stokes Fund had supported Plaatje’s tour of the USA to the tune of US$100 on condition that he visit Tuskegee, which, Plaatje confirmed, ‘was just what he was anxious to do’ (Willan 1996: 298). 12. Tuskegee’s first director was Booker T.  Washington, who was born into slavery in 1856, and completed his education at Hampton, before taking up the post at Tuskegee. 13. Histories of what is termed ‘uplift’ film are a relatively recent addition to film studies, most notably through Allyson Nadia Field (2015). Her category of ‘uplift’ film includes the early films of Hampton and Tuskegee. 14. Willan notes that awaiting him in Montreal were ‘some further educational films that he had somehow obtained from Mr. Henry Ford […] whom he had met personally’ (1984: 280). Plaatje himself confirmed that Ford had given him ‘many of his “topicals”’ (Umteteli wa Bantu, 5 December 1925). A newspaper report on Plaatje’s exhibition of films in Pretoria includes Islands of St. Lawrence, a travelogue produced by the Ford Motor Company in 1919 and filmed in Canada. Since Plaatje also screened films



of other places, for example, the West Indies and Cuba, the diversity of films screened at his events comes into sharp relief. See Grieveson (2012) on the Ford Motor Company’s educational film production. Since this chapter draws on several articles in Umteteli wa Bantu (‘Mouthpiece of the People’), it is worth noting that it was owned by the Native Recruiting Corporation of the Transvaal Chamber of Mines and took a liberal political stance. Plaatje, and other African leaders and writers, used the newspaper as a forum for comment on political matters of the day. 15. Lattimore had been the manager of the African American jazz group, Southern Syncopated Orchestra that had played in London and Paris. He had leased the Philharmonic Hall for The Cradle of the World. Lattimore’s letterhead described the film as ‘[a] most wonderful and thrilling Travel Film’, but see Willan (1984: 288–89) for a discussion of the various reviews. 16. She was the widow of Saul Solomon, a member of the Cape Legislative Assembly from 1854 to 1883, and was living in London when Plaatje first visited in 1914. A suffragette, and committee member of the Anti-Slavery and Aborigine’s Protection Society, she had also participated in protests against the exhibition of The Birth of a Nation in 1916 (Willan 2013). 17. See McKernan (1993) for further discussion of the details of the cameramen and the different versions of the Lord Allenby footage. 18. See South African Mining Journal (1914, March 28: 89), where Grimmer is referred to as Assistant General Manager of De Beers. 19. On arrival back in South Africa, Plaatje’s films were held by customs while he found the money to pay customs duty, as well as Union Castle Company for his passage (Willan 1984: 294). He remained in Cape Town for a period, in which time he met the then Prime Minister, General Jan Smuts, before returning to Kimberley. 20. Odendaal (2016: 124) provides a useful discussion of the importance of Plaatje’s networks. 21. For some, Plaatje’s events were in fact less attractive to city dwellers, especially those in the larger cities and Johannesburg in particular, who had greater access to entertainment cinema than rural dwellers. In the case of migrant workers this was through the Mines Compound Cinema Circuit organised by Rev. Ray Phillips, of the American Mission Board. 22. Plaatje used references to this research in his political speeches and letters to government officials. 23. At Port Elizabeth, he was forced to use a venue that had very cramped and hot conditions, which underscores some of the difficulties he experienced in running his screening events (Umteteli wa Bantu, 28 February 1925). 24. See Erlmann (1991) on the Jubilee Singers in South Africa. See also Thelwell (2014); I am grateful to Tracey Randle for this reference.



25. See Maingard (2007: 73–74) for more details of health and safety films. 26. This was possibly the 1911 W. Butcher and Sons’ documentary film or as is more likely a similar but later film made in Serowe in 1922, 1923, or 1925. 27. See Willan (1996: 358), where Plaatje refers to the reportedly ‘peculiar joy’ his ‘pictures’ had brought to the ‘inmates’ of the Basutoland leper asylum in one of his letters to Moton. 28. Not only did Plaatje tour country towns but he also screened films at institutions including, in August 1924, the West Fort Leper Asylum in Pretoria. Rev. Ray Phillips of the American Mission Board, who had begun cinema screening on mining compounds in the early 1920s, had also screened films at the West Fort Leper Asylum. 29. Plaatje was an accomplished singer and had three discs recorded by the British Zonophone Company in 1923 (numbers 4167, 4168 and 4169). On one side of the second of these he sings ‘Nkosi Sikelele iAfrika’ (‘God Bless Africa’), thought to be the first recording of this anthem, first sung at the SANNC Congress in 1912, and the official national anthem of South Africa since 1994 (Willan 1996: 290). See also the advertising leaflet between pp. 208 and 309 in Willan (1996). The records are housed in the British Library. 30. There is some evidence that this format including film screenings was already developing in South African political organisations’ events as early as 1914. Plaatje records the fact that at the SANNC special Congress held in Kimberley in 1914 to elect the first delegation to Britain, ‘bioscope films were projected by Mr. I. Joshua, the chairman of the APO [African Political Organisation]’ and that ‘[t]he coloured people had attended in their hundreds’ (1982 [1916]: 213–14), providing a valuable sense of the size of the audience.

References Erlmann, V. (1991). African Stars: Studies in Black South African Performance. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Field, A. (2015). Uplift Cinema: The Emergence of African American Film and the Possibility of Black Modernity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Grieveson, L. (2012). The Work of Film in the Age of Fordist Mechanization. Cinema Journal, 51(3), 25–51. Gutsche, T. (1972). The History and Social Significance of Motion Pictures in South Africa, 1895–1940. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. Maingard, J.  (2007). South African National Cinema. Oxon and New  York: Routledge.



Marks, S., & Trapido, S. (Eds.). (2014 [1987]). The Politics of Race, Class and Nationalism in Twentieth Century South Africa. Oxon and New  York: Routledge. Masilela, N. (2003). The New African Movement and the Beginnings of Film Culture in South Africa. In I. Balseiro & N. Masilela (Eds.), To Change Reels: Film and Film Culture in South Africa (pp.  15–30). Detroit: Wayne State University Press. McKernan, L. (1993). “The Supreme Moment of the War”: General Allenby’s Entry into Jerusalem’. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 13(2), 169–180. Modisane, L. (2013). South Africa’s Renegade Reels: The Making and Public Lives of Black-Centred Films. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Odendaal, A. (2016). “Native Lives” behind Native Life: Intellectual and Political Influences on the ANC and Democratic South Africa. In J.  Reddington, B. Willan & B. Peterson (Eds.), Sol Plaatje’s Native Life in South Africa: Past and Present (pp. 115-146). Johannesburg: Wits University Press. Parsons. (2014). False Dawns over the Kalahari?: Botswana Film Production in Historical Perspective. In N.  Ukadike (Ed.), Critical Approaches to African Cinema Discourse (pp. 135–153). Lanham, Maryland and Plymouth: Lexington Books. Plaatje, S. (1982 [1916]). Native Life in South Africa. Johannesburg: Ravan Press. Reynolds, G. (2007). “From Red Blanket to Civilization”: Propaganda and Recruitment Films for South Africa’s Gold Mines, 1920–1940. Journal of Southern African Studies, 33(1), 133–152. Sapire, H. (2011a). Ambiguities of Loyalism: The Prince of Wales in India and Africa, 1921–2 and 25. History Workshop Journal, 73, 38–65. Sapire, H. (2011b). African Loyalism and its Discontents: The Royal Tour of South Africa, 1947. The Historical Journal, 54(1), 215–240. South African Mining Journal. (1914, March 28). No. 1174, 23(2): 89. The Guardian [Boston], 28 May 1921. Thelwell, C. (2014). Toward a “Modernizing” Hybridity: McAdoo’s Jubilee Singers, McAdoo’s Minstrels, and Racial Uplift Politics in South Africa, 1890–1898. Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies, 15(1), 3–28. Umteteli wa Bantu, 31 May 1924. Umteteli wa Bantu, 20 February 1925. Umteteli wa Bantu, 5 December 1925. Willan, B. (1984). Sol Plaatje: South African Nationalist, 1876–1932. London: Heinemann. Willan, B. (Ed.). (1996). Sol Plaatje: Selected Writings. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press. Willan, B. (2013). “Cinematographic Calamity” or “Soul-Stirring Appeal to Every Briton”: Birth of a Nation in England and South Africa, 1915–1931. Journal of Southern African Studies, 39(3), 623–640.


Controlling Rural Cinemagoing by Appropriating a Film Format: The Catholic Adventure of ‘Pathé-Rural’ in Interwar France Mélisande Leventopoulos

This chapter argues that rural cinemagoing is also a matter of film format. Indeed, the conditions of spectatorship outside the city need to be related to the technical aspects of projection. In historical case studies that examine cinemagoing infrastructures as a substitute for audience testimonies which cannot be found in the archives, the issue of the format can be globally useful to the researcher. Nevertheless, interwar France certainly represents a unique case: here, reduced film formats (below the conventional 35 mm) represented a sociopolitical issue and determined the non-urban cinemagoing experiences as well as other non-commercial ones. These formats played a part in the ‘pillarization’ of French society while the adequate projection material was promoted by the firm Pathé that held the quasi-monopoly on it. During the 1920s, reduced formats evolved to become the instruments of a wider ideological conflict in the cinematographic field, setting in opposition to one another the State and the lay M. Leventopoulos (*) University Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis, Saint-Denis, France © The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




spheres on the one hand and the Catholics on the other. This chapter focuses on this complicated intertwining of politics, entrepreneurship, religion, and projection techniques in order to envisage rural non-­ commercial exhibition in interwar France. It mainly aims to question the interaction between the missionary strategy of the Roman Catholic Church and the commercial policy of Pathé—which conceived a full range of material in 17.5  mm, baptized ‘Pathé-Rural’1—for the establishment and control of rural cinemagoing practices in France before the Second World War. I want to show how rural screenings became, thanks to 17.5 mm, a field that gradually embodied the religious challenge of cinema, without spatial distinctions. I am also interested in underlining an unusual aspect of the social experience of rural cinema, focusing not on the point of view of the audience but on the users of the Pathé-Rural material: these projectionists, sometimes filmmakers themselves, were, almost incidentally, village priests in their official functions. To provide a historical grounding for my analysis, I first synthesize the various cinematographic strategies that occurred on the periphery of the French nation.

Cinematographic Strategies on the Periphery of the Nation By 1931, after a long period of rural exodus, the urban population exceeded that of the countryside for the first time in France. Thus, the end of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century are considered to be a time of cultural recession for rural France and, in parallel, of the penetration of capitalism. By the 1930s, vigils had faded out, the carnival did not represent a fecundity celebration anymore and religion was no longer at the centre of life (Duby and Wallon 1977; Jessenne 2006; Mayaud and Raphaël 2006). ‘De-Christianization’ had been amplified by the state’s secularization defended by the French Third Republic (1870–1940): the two main measures adopted during this period were the reform of the secular school system in the 1880s and the separation of the Churches and the State in 1905.2 The State intended in this way to diffuse ‘The Republic in the village’3 while Catholics who fought against this secular policy still considered the rural world as a refuge zone and a conservatory of values (Lynch 2005). Nonetheless, the French countryside did not represent merely a centre of cultural decay and of axiological archaism but a society in relative movement. Indeed, another overarching measure of the republicans was the so-called ‘law of 1901’



that guaranteed freedom of association. Its promulgation fostered during the following decades a dynamic creation of associations and, consequently, stimulated modern types of rural sociality such as sport clubs, hunting groups or afterschool activities. So, despite its depression, the rural world generated social engagement and attracted ideological missionaries of all types even if it was the working-class urban neighbourhoods that mostly crystallized social hopes and fears. Rural areas represented a critical public space to conquer. Hence the opposition between the lay partisans—especially the secular Ligue de l’Enseignement (Educational League of Teachers, created in 1866) that was putting pressure on the Republic on its left—and the Catholics—who got organized in associations too, at various levels (national, regional, diocesan, parochial)—crystallized not exclusively but massively in rural zones and small towns. After the development of committed uses of the magic lantern at the very end of the nineteenth century, the practice of film screenings became progressively one of the main associative forms of competition between both sides. In any case, this activist context did not determine the entire early rural exhibition of films. At first, the agricultural fairs that constituted an important interface between the city and the country became a favoured site for encounters with the cinema.4 Nevertheless, Yves Chevaldonné in his well-­ informed study of early cinema in the region of Vaucluse (southern France) underlines the exceptional nature of these fairs. Conversely, from 1908 onwards, travelling exhibitors built up a permanent network of distribution in the small towns of the department so that before 1914, 4 out of 5 of the department’s population had had access to film screenings. Thus, Chevaldonné (2004: 56–57) concludes that, thanks to this wide dissemination, the cinema was able to touch the agricultural labourers and, more broadly, the peasantry as well as the upper/middle classes. However, the historian does not mention the emergent religious projectionist practices that were certainly greater in other regions of France. Catholics started organizing film venues in the 1900s as testified by the journal Le Fascinateur (which covered the field of projections for the denominational cartel La Bonne Presse from 1903 onwards). Dioceses, then priests individually, began to invest in film equipment probably before the Educational League that had gained ground in the field of the magic lantern (Laborderie 2015: 27). Film entertainment was used to serve Catholic instruction and to fight the ‘religious recession’ by luring the popular audience away from the commercial cinemas into the parish halls and Catholic youth clubs



(Leventopoulos 2014: 29–56). Of course, as the case of Vaucluse exemplifies, this does not mean that rural areas were systematically covered. But these projections, based on local initiatives, helped the diffusion of cinemagoing in small urban centres at the limits of the rural world. Moreover, they could facilitate the permanent settlement of the media outside the city: for instance, in 1911, the parish of the mining village of Hersin-­ Coupigny (department of Pas-de-Calais, not far from the Belgian border) acquired a projector funded by the local mining company (Diocesan Archive of Arras, 4Z283/1). In parallel with the development of film propaganda, the First World War launched the issue of cinéma éducateur (educational cinema) as national film policy. However, the first educational film screening listed in France had occurred long before, in 1907, at the Vitruve school in Paris’ twentieth district (Gauthier 2004: 74) and an educational trend could already be perceived in the early 1910s thanks to the arrival of non-­ inflammable safety film that facilitated the organization of non-­commercial film projections (Aubert et al. 2004: 23). In 1912, Pathé launched its first projection equipment of reduced format in 28  mm, the Kok, aimed at educational and domestic markets (Herbert 2005: 504). The same year, the Ministry of Agriculture ordered research on projectors usable by non-­ professionals (Murray Levine 2004: 21–38). It was followed in 1916 by the creation, on the part of the Ministry of Public Instruction, of an extra-­ parliamentary commission with the specific task of studying the possibilities of generalizing the use of cinema in the different branches of public education. The Offices of educational cinema found their origin in a report presented by Auguste Bessou on behalf of this commission after the war; gradually created in the 1920s, these regional associations of school screenings without state funding were inscribed in the Educational League’s networks and public teachers were their linchpin (Ministère de l’Instruction publique et des Beaux-arts 1920). In his recent study of these offices, Pascal Laborderie (2015: 46) underlines the great importance of the countryside for its actors. They were struggling against the denominational schools (representing a bit less than 20% of primary education) but also wanted to bring urban culture to the villages so as to fight against rural depopulation (which had affected 9,500,000 persons between 1919 and 1931 according to Alfred Sauvy) (Laborderie 2015: 148, 216). A cinematographic policy was also launched by the Ministry of Agriculture from 1920 onwards (Vignaux 2006: 2). The law of 5 April 1923 led to the creation of a cinémathèque agricole, to the provision of



subsidies for rural municipalities, for the acquisition of projection equipment (at a time when projectors were available in less than 3000 of the 40,000 French municipalities) (Cauvin 1929 quoted by Vignaux 2006: 2) and to the production of new films on agricultural topics.5 The peasantry was considered to be a public easy to conquer because of the lack of recreational opportunities in the rural areas.6 On the one hand, the promotion of economic growth was targeted: documentaries of social propaganda were supposed to help an increase in yields and the modernization of French agriculture. On the other, this well-funded outreach programme was considered to be a way of keeping the farmers on their lands. This also involved the production of propaganda films for the promotion of social hygiene as Valérie Vignaux has outlined in her study of the filmmaker Jean-Benoît Lévy (Vignaux 2007b  and 2008). Nevertheless, Alison Murray Levine attests to the unmanageable character of rural cinema. Once the equipment was installed, the ministry was not in a position to control screenings or even to provide complete programmes (Murray Levine 2004: 27).

The Catholic Encounter with Pathé-Rural In 1924, the baptism of the newly invented 17.5 mm projector as ‘Pathé-­ Rural’ was probably determined by the Ministry of Agriculture’s policy. As Stéphanie Salmon (2014: 359) explains in her recent monograph about the firm, Charles Pathé reduced the society’s industrial post-war activities, focusing on film fabrication and on exhibition, however, he also seized new market opportunities thanks to his entrepreneurial flair.7 In 1922, the launch of the ‘Pathé-Baby’, a 9.5 mm camera and film projector, provided a new commercial outlet: amateurs. Indeed, it was first addressed to non-­ professionals who could, with the 9.5 mm material, shoot and screen their own films quite easily (Goudet-Marès 2016: 74–95). Nevertheless, the popular education networks were targeted too (Vignaux 2009: 83–96), and Pathé-Baby’s newspaper, Le Cinéma chez soi (Cinema at home, launched in 1926), not only echoed the government’s declarations on educational cinema but was under the patronage of, among other politicians, J-L Breton, president of the previously mentioned extra-­ parliamentary commission, Henri Queille, deputy, former Minister of Agriculture, and M. Chancrin, general agricultural inspector (Le Cinéma chez soi 1926). Thereafter, the successful Baby format was used as a basis for the engineering conception of the 17.5 mm gauge by Jacques Marette



and Jacques Pathé, nephew of Charles. The latter considered it as a product with a future that promised to extend the cinema’s audience. The penetration of areas where cinema did not exist yet—especially the western country areas and also undeveloped countries, as Charles Pathé remembers in his Mémoires (1970 for this abridged edition: 102–103, the first edition is published in 1940)—constituted the main challenge of the 17.5 mm. However, it was not regarded as an amateur gauge. This low-­ budget format was thought to permit the implementation of an alternative exhibition network, clearly distinct from the conventional first and second-­ run commercial film theatres. The 17.5 mm film was half the width of the conventional 35 mm one, and it was half the price too. Reduced format projectors were less expensive than those of the 35 mm ones and were also easier to shift and handle, as they were supposed to cater for the needs of itinerant non-professional screening networks. According to the advertising, the projector could be positioned at a distance of 12 metres, even without a projection booth, in order to obtain a satisfying screen of 2 metres; so, the configuration of the hall was no longer a big problem. Moreover, one commercial argument in favour of 17.5  mm was the possibility of renting the material per week whereas the purchase of the equipment was the norm. The film rental services also differed from standard exhibition ones. 35  mm negatives already used (coming from various editors) were bought in order to elaborate the cheap programmes of 9 17.5  mm reels. Even their shipment (charged to the client) was less expensive because of the reels’ lighter weight. But the contract clauses included a minimum order of 12 programmes (Taillibert 1996: 125–145; Salmon 2014: 492–500). Each of them was composed by a full-length feature, a comedy and a documentary ‘Pathé-revue’. After a long experimental phase (1924–1927), the commercial launch of Pathé-Rural in January 1928 corresponded to a decisive moment for Catholic cinematographic action. At that point, French Catholics had just established a Comité catholique du cinéma (Catholic Cinema Committee, CCC, created in the summer of 1927) and were institutionalizing their activities. It was a way for them to counter-attack in the face of lay educational cinema that they considered to be ‘a new instrument for anticlericalism’ (Credo 1927). Les Dossiers du cinema, the journal created by the committee, alarmed the Catholics: cinema had already become the ‘director of consciences’ for the urban working class and the ‘fever of moving images’ was now



s­ preading into the rural space. In an article about ‘the penetration of the countryside’, published in the first issue of the Dossiers, the conclusion was that Catholics could not afford to be left behind (S.M. 1927): ‘All those who want to orientate the masses are preoccupied by the use of cinema’, observed the Committee in another call for support (Dossiers du cinéma, February 1928b). So the time had come for the Church to act on a national scale. The CCC identified and set three priorities: informing Catholics about the morality of films, purifying production in general, and setting up a dialogue with the film industry. The first priority was the easiest to attain, and a moral rating of films was introduced in September 1927. The second priority, that of purification, appeared to be the least attainable especially since the separation of the Church and the State hindered any possible Catholic representation inside the national committee of censorship. Catholics accused the French government of ignoring the moral issue and believed that the easiest way to act was to approach the film industry directly. Since Pathé continued to cultivate harmonious relations with the proponents of public film policy, for obvious entrepreneurial reasons, it was probably the firm most receptive to that religious effort. A special partnership was progressively formed between the Committee and the Pathé-Rural direction. First, both branches of Pathé-Cinéma reduced formats entered into collaboration with the CCC in order to provide access to facilities for Catholic clients. It must be underlined that Pathé-Baby represented an important issue for Catholic film users at that time: indeed, La Bonne Presse sold the 9.5 mm material and already proposed selections of wholesome programmes suitable for Christians in this format (Dossiers du cinéma, September 1927a and November 1927b). So an agreement was signed by the CCC and Pathé-Baby in November 1927, followed up by an equivalent one with Pathé-Rural in January 1928 (Dossiers du cinéma, January 1928a). Thereafter, the Dossiers du cinéma published lists of 9.5 mm and 17.5 mm evaluated programmes on a regular basis. However, the former agreement did not go any further. The Dossiers championed the Rural against the 9.5 mm format (which was still defended by La Bonne Presse) even if its journalists believed that ‘choosing between devices is not like choosing between films, it is not a question of faith and morality’ (Dumaine 1930; Dossiers du cinéma, June 1931a). The CCC considered the Rural as a good compromise with the standard projection: it was thought to promote a modern type of denominational semi-professional film venue and the rationalization of Catholic projectionist activities (Koch 1929). In January 1929, the journal proposed a



first selection of ‘acceptable’ films in 17.5  mm, which included a few denominational productions such as the Italian Christus (Giulio Antamoro, 1916) but also good-natured comedies like 600,000 francs par mois (Nicolas Koline, Robert Péguy, 1925). The sale of the Pathé Company, acquired by Bernard Natan during spring 1929, did not disrupt this tendency. In the second part of 1929, the Dossiers were regularly publishing advertising pages specially dedicated to the Rural, which included quotes from—real or supposed—clerical users of the material who shared their enthusiastic experiences. Among them, a priest from the village of Baizieux (close to the town of Amiens) stated that his parishioners preferred the 17.5 mm programmes to the 35 mm ones he used to show them (Dossiers du cinema, September 1929). From 1930, this trend led to commercial demonstrations of the 17.5 mm equipment organized officially in some diocesan headquarters targeting local priests.

A Catholic Community in Pathé-Rural Nonetheless, the firm’s commercial strategy could endorse more unexpected forms in order to take advantage of the current ideological conflicts for the cinematographic control of the countryside. My hypothesis is that, progressively, Pathé-Natan stimulated in this way the formation of a social network of Catholic consumers. Indeed, at the beginning of 1932, a member of Pathé-Rural’s direction with well-placed relations inside the Episcopate contacted the Catholic Action’s administrators in order to inform them that the educational branch of the radical left trade union Confédération générale du travail (General confederation of Labor, CGT) had begun to implant the 17.5 mm format inside state schools. According to him, the Catholic presence in the cinematographic field was thereby jeopardized by a clause of the Pathé-Rural contract which stated that the Pathé-Rural monopoly was guaranteed to the first purchaser in any municipality of less than 5000 inhabitants. As a consequence, two of the main French Catholic associations of lay members—Fédération nationale catholique (Catholic national federation) and Ligue patriotique des Françaises (Patriotic League of French Ladies)—decided to get organized during a meeting, in April 1932, at the headquarters of Catholic Action. The women’s association was probably the most dynamic in the sector: before the meeting, in July 1931, the League had already launched a campaign in favour of the Rural. In the diocese of Tours, Indre-et-Loire, the sections’ presidents were asked to consider the possibility of acquiring a



17.5 mm projector while a flyer presenting the advantages of parish cinema, based on the experience of the village of Sainte-Catherine-des-Bois (500 inhabitants), was distributed. So, at this local level, the Rural format stimulated the grassroots’ cinematographic commitment even if the concrete results of this mobilization remain unknown (French Church National Archives, 2 CE 1010). The plentiful Catholic Action fund of the French Church National Archives Centre, which gives some information on the previous affair, also conserves a list of Pathé-Rural clients of the non-commercial sector per French department, probably dated 1931. They are not precise regarding the status of the users: we suppose that the renters as well as the buyers of the equipment were included. Most of them were priests, but the ideological persuasion of the others (like a mayor, a doctor, some aristocrats) is impossible to guess. The Educational League preferred the 16  mm equipment so that a clientele of numerous lay educators was excluded (Laborderie 2011: 36). Nevertheless, as a precautionary measure, I chose to take into consideration only the clients whose title or institution was directly linked to the Catholic religion. The result of 1711 Catholic users (out of 1989 references) is obviously conservative; their exact number was probably closer to 2000. Despite this imprecision, the list is helpful for understanding how, at that moment, the leitmotiv of rural cinemagoing had migrated in various geographical contexts. The department of Paris was one of the leaders in number of users, followed by the industrial north; in fourth position with 67 identified Catholic clients, came the agricultural rural Breton department of Finistère. Thus the 17.5 mm was not restricted to the rural areas and was spreading in the most active dioceses of urban France. However, as the diocese of Nantes/department of Loire-Inférieure exemplifies, the 17.5 mm helped to attain a balance between the rural and the urban film projections. In this region of western France, the Pathé-­ Rural equipment predominantly concerned the small ports and the agricultural villages even if the city of Nantes counted two projectors. Moreover, the collective issues of the projectionist practice in both rural and urban contexts rose from below thanks to the Pathé-Rural dynamic. At the beginning of 1931, some of its users were getting organized in regional groupings in Paris, Morbihan (Britany), as les Dossiers du cinéma (March 1931) announced (see also Lagrée 1992: 445). A national Groupement des pathé-ruralistes was then conceived. But, despite its approval by the local users who felt a strong need for coordination, and its support by the Catholic Action, the grouping did not get any further.



The progressive generalization of talking pictures’ projection represented a major economic challenge for the constructor of the 17.5 mm projector. Indeed, the transition to sound could provoke the dispersion of the clientele in favour of other equipment and, consequently, a brutal decrease of Pathé-Natan’s income whereas the rural sector represented 24% of its turnover (Choukroun 2007: 306). With the launch, in 1932–1933, of two talking pictures projectors in 17.5 mm—the upmarket ‘Pathé-Junior’ and the cheaper ‘Pathé-Natan 175’—the firm anticipated and intended to retain its clients from silent to sound projection. Thus the ‘rural’ connotation seemed to have disappeared from the newcomer’s commercial argument. Pathé-Natan’s promotion now targeted ‘the cinema in all places for all’ which was also the title of its organ for the clients of 17.5 mm format (Le Cinéma partout et pour tous, founded in November 1931). However, it must be stressed that despite this symbolic loss of any rural connotation, the generic term remained ‘Pathé-Rural’, even for the firm’s management. Moreover, the shift to sound seemed to boost rural exhibition in reduced format once more. In August 1933, the edition of silent 17.5 mm programmes stopped and the Catholic venues started to turn to sound. Of course, this does not mean that all those who possessed silent equipment could afford the acquisition of new projectors. In some rural parish halls, silent screenings continued for decades. Nevertheless, in the Jura Mountains, for instance, 30% of the Catholic users had bought new 17.5 mm material by the end of the year 1933 (Le Cinéma partout et pour tous dans les œuvres, December 1933b). The transition to talking pictures seemed to hasten the reunion of the denominational clientele in a wide informal community animated by the firm. An autonomous part of Le Cinéma partout et pour tous, especially dedicated to the Catholic clients, included letters to the editors and various testimonies of religious users, frequently illustrated by photos. Those who had made the technical shift expressed their enthusiasm for how sound captivated audiences. An important number of correspondents came from rural areas or small towns. Priests congratulated Pathé’s engineers and technicians (who were providing installation services). Abbot Duval, in charge of the youth fellowship of the village of Cérences, which had spent its entire savings on the purchase of a sound projector, also sent his acknowledgements to the directors who had agreed to modify the contract clauses in his favour (Le Cinéma partout et pour tous dans les œuvres, October 1933a). Furthermore, the newspaper linked rural exhibition to



amateur filmmaking in order to promote the silent camera in 17.5  mm launched by Pathé-Natan. In the issue of December 1933, an advertisement represented an abbot filming a rugby match between young boys supposed to come from a parish youth club, in a field. A church tower and some buildings up on the hill, in the background on the left, depicted the village. ‘If you had a moto-camera of this type’, said the caption, ‘you could film an event like this one’. So, the drawing was addressed directly to rural priests who were now supposed to shoot as easily as they screened. Nonetheless, the main Catholic priority—that is to say the rating of the programmes and the selection of suitable ones among them—was difficult for Le Cinéma partout et pour tous to set up because of the structural crisis which the 1927 committee suffered. So Pathé-Natan started relying on newborn regional associations of Catholic users, such as the Groupement de cinema pour la région bilingue d’Alsace-Lorraine (Cinema grouping for the bilingual region of Alsace-Lorraine) that seemed to be driven by the firm which had probably financed its bulletin, Ciné entre nous (Cinema between us). The eastern grouping, which handled the programming of the Catholic venues in the region, provided moral expertise (published in both periodicals) and constituted one of the five informal committees of censorship on which Pathé-Natan relied. But this local association also relayed Pathé-Natan’s surveys, on the ideal film for Catholic venues, for instance (Ciné entre nous 1934), and imitated its social networking with the religious users. This direct appropriation of Pathé-Natan’s communication strategy gave a different perspective to the Rural community while the regional interface helped the circulation of cinematographic representations from below. Indeed, a major film competition in 17.5 mm camera was launched by the Groupement at the beginning of 1934. It was open to all Pathé-­ Rural users of Alsace-Lorraine who were encouraged to deal with local topics. According to Ciné entre nous, the competition was a success despite the low level of the amateur filmmakers, underlined by the jury (composed of priests of the grouping, the regional and national direction of Pathé-­ Rural, the director of Pathé-Consortium-Cinéma). Unfortunately, the film that received the first prize Les Petits métiers du village shot by Abbot Gisselbrecht, from Maisongoutte, remains lost; however, Pèlerinage à Bure, preserved at the French Film Archive but unmentioned in the press, could have been shot in that context. This anonymous film with bilingual intertitles (French/German) constitutes a precious testimony of the slow



learning of the techniques of cinema by this rural clergyman and his parishioners who did not hesitate to look at the camera.8 In any case, the whole corpus in competition was then shown in the cinemas of Alsace-­ Lorraine from June 1934 onwards. The creation of the Centrale catholique du cinéma (Catholic Cinema Steering Committee, December 1934) and Pope Pius XI’s encyclical letter Vigilanti Cura (July 1936) provoked an institutionalization of Catholic cinematographic activities in France as in other European countries  (Biltereyst and Treveri Gennari 2014). Even if the new committee created a national Grouping of reduced formats (with Ciné entre nous as its bulletin), the issue of 17.5 mm was henceforth abandoned. The new secretary of the committee, Abbot Stourm, disrupted collaboration with Pathé-Rural, which was accused of conveying an illusory moralization (French Church National Archives, 2 CE 5). He accorded priority to the 35 mm format with the objective of normalizing Catholic exhibition. Of course, projections in 17.5 mm continued until the Second World War, especially in rural areas such as Brittany. But rural screenings did not constitute a main battlefield for the Church anymore. When, in 1940, the Nazis forbade the 17.5 mm in order to promote their own reduced format—the 16  mm—Catholics started converting their material. New 16 mm projectors were also acquired at the end of the war. So the reduced format of projection remained a mark of Catholic rural cinema during the golden age of French cinemagoing (1945–1958) (Leventopoulos 2016). Nonetheless, after the war, the 16 mm gauge constituted the global format of educational cinema in rural/urban contexts, with communists, religious or lay sensibilities, without distinction.

Conclusion This chapter about the ‘Pathé-Rural’ format has shown that, in the case of interwar France, rural cinemagoing needs to be considered at the crossroads of cinematographic techniques, entrepreneurship and ideologies in order to be understood in its complexity. The pillarization of French society impacted life in rural areas and quickly stimulated the development of projection practices. The State and the lay spheres, fighting against Catholicism, intended to guarantee consensus on the values of the Third Republic thanks to social propaganda films, but rural cinema was uncontrollable as a whole. Despite their reactionary political attitudes and their moral conservatism, Catholics had entered the era of modernity and were



positioning themselves at the forefront of cinematographic action. From the late nineteenth century, they were sensitive to industrial innovation in the media field, so they easily grasped the opportunity offered by Pathé, accepting its commercial strategy even in its more aggressive ways of proceeding. So, the 17.5 format, appropriated by them, determined the rural visual culture of the interwar years and, broadly, Catholics’ regime of seeing before 1940. Thus, ‘Pathé-Rural’ can be considered as an alternative dispositif of vision for unconventional audiences, in other terms non-urban spectators but also broadly audiences in non-commercial, unspecialized halls and small theatre venues. It differs slightly from the ‘amateur paradigm’ (Turquety and Vignaux 2016) as it was located at the intersection between popular education and mass entertainment.

Notes 1. The Pathé-Rural has already attracted scholarly attention: see Beylie (1991), Taillibert (1996), Salmon (2014: 492–500). Documentation is available at the Pathé-Seydoux foundation in Paris, see among others: Hist F 445–448 and Hist c/c 855. 2. This secular policy was perpetuated during the interwar years, especially in 1924–1926 with the left-wing coalition government Cartel des gauches. 3. This expression was first used by Maurice Agulhon in his well-known book (1970) La République au village. Les populations du Var de la Révolution à la Seconde République apropos the first part of the nineteenth century. 4. As Pierre Véronneau (1995: 47–80) describes for Canada. See also Lesbaudits (1993: 201–214). 5. See the presentation of the cinematographic service of the Ministry of Agriculture proposed by the French National Archives. Available at: http:// consultation/ir/pdfArch.action?irId=FRAN_IR_012515, (Accessed: 30 August 2016). 6. For a precise presentation of the Ministry of Agriculture’s cinémathèque, see Vignaux (2007: 143–144). 7. On the Early history of Pathé, see also the book by Laurent Le Forestier (2006). 8. One film in 17.5  mm realized by a priest of the region of Tours, Gaston Joire, is available online: (Accessed 30 August 2016). Acknowledgements to Julie Guillaumot and to Ciclic for the information provided.



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Gauthier, C. (2004). Au risque du spectacle. Les projections cinématographiques en milieu scolaire dans les années 1920. In B.  De Pastre, M.  Dubost, & F.  Massit-Folléa (Eds.), Cinéma pédagogique et scientifique. À la redécouverte des archives (pp. 73–98). Lyon: ENS éditions. Goudet-Marès, A. (2016). La caméra Pathé-Baby; le cinéma amateur à l’âge de l’expérimentation. In B. Turquety & V. Vignaux (Eds.), Le cinéma amateur, un autre paradigme? (pp. 74–95). Paris: AFRHC. Herbert, S. (2005). Pathé Kok projector. In R. Abel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Early Cinema (p. 504). New York: Routledge. Jessenne, J.  P. (2006). Les campagnes françaises, entre mythe et histoire. Paris: Armand Colin. Koch, A. (1929, November–December). Le Pathé-Rural. Dossiers du cinéma, p. 454. Laborderie, P. (2011). Les Offices du cinéma éducateur et l’émergence du parlant: l’exemple de l’Office de Nancy. 1895 (64), 30–49. Laborderie, P. (2015). Le cinéma éducateur laïque. Paris: L’Harmattan. Lagrée, M. (1992). Religion et cultures en Bretagne 1850–1950. Paris: Fayard. Le Cinéma chez soi. (1926, February). Le Cinéma chez soi, p. 1. Le Cinéma partout et pour tous dans les œuvres. (1933a, October). Ce que nous écrivent nos lecteurs. Le Cinéma partout et pour tous dans les œuvres, p. 4. Le Cinéma partout et pour tous dans les œuvres. (1933b, December). Dans la région Lyonnaise. Le Cinéma partout et pour tous dans les œuvres, p. 2. Le Forestier, L. (2006). Aux sources de l’industrie du cinéma. Le modèle Pathé. Paris: L’Harmattan. Lesbaudits, V. (1993). Les débuts du cinéma dans le Calvados (1895–1914). Annales de Normandie, 3, 201–214. Leventopoulos, M. (2014). Les catholiques et le cinéma. La construction d’un regard critique (France, 1895–1958). Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes. Leventopoulos, M. (2016). Catholic Cinephilia in the Countryside: The Jeunesse Agricole Chrétienne and the Formation of Rural Audiences in 1950s France. In J.  Thissen & C.  Zimmermann (Eds.), Cinema beyond the City. Filmgoing in Small-Town and Rural Europe (pp. 165–180). London: Palgrave. Lynch, E. (2005). Paysannerie, agriculture et ruralité: les catholiques à la croisée des chemins. In B.  Duriez, E.  Fouilloux, D.  Pelletier, & N.  Viet-Depaule (Eds.), Les catholiques dans la République 1905–2005 (pp.  55–65). Paris: Éditions de l’Atelier. Mayaud, J. L., & Raphaël, L. (Eds.). (2006). Histoire de l’Europe rurale contemporaine: du village à l’État. Paris: Armand Colin. Ministère de l’Instruction publique et des Beaux-arts. (1920). Rapport général de la Commission extraparlementaire chargée d’étudier les moyens de généraliser l’emploi du cinématographe dans les différentes branches de l’enseignement présenté par Aug. Bessou. Paris: Imprimerie nationale.



Murray Levine, A. (2004). Cinéma, propagande agricole et population rurale en France (1919–1939). Vingtième siècle Revue d’histoire, 83, 21–38. Pathé, C. (1970). De Pathé frères à Pathé cinéma. Lyon: Premier Plan. Pathé-Seydoux foundation, Hist F 445-448 and Hist c/c 855. S.M. (1927, September). La pénétration des campagnes. Dossiers du cinéma, pp. 171–72. Salmon, S. (2014). Pathé à la conquête du cinéma 1896–1929. Paris: Tallandier. Taillibert, C. (1996). Le Pathé-Rural ou les aléas du 17, 5  mm. 1895 (21), 125–45. Turquety, B., & Vignaux, V. (2016). Le cinéma amateur, un autre paradigme. Paris: AFRHC. Véronneau, P. (1995). Cinéma ambulant et implantation urbaine: l’activité de William Shaw dans le contexte des Cantons-de-l’Est. Cinémas: Journal of Film Studies, 6(1), 47–80. Vignaux, V. (2006). Cinéma, éducation de masse et propagande agricole: les films de Jean Benoit-Lévy pour la cinémathèque du Ministère de l’agriculture (1924–1939). Archives—revue de l’Institut Jean Vigo, 98, 2–18. Vignaux, V. (2007a). Diffusion et réception du cinéma éducateur en zone rurale dans l’entre-deux-guerres en France: réponse à l’enquête de 1930. In F. A. de la Bretèque (Ed.), Le ‘local’ dans l’histoire du cinéma (pp.  139–151). Montpellier: Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée. Vignaux, V. (2007b). Jean Benoit-Lévy ou le corps comme utopie. Une histoire du cinéma éducateur dans l’entre-deux-guerres en France. Paris: AFRHC. Vignaux, V. (2008). Un cinéma “éducateur” dit de “propagande sociale”, dans l’entre-deux-guerres en France, ou des images pour la République. In J.-P.  Bertin-Maghit (Ed.), Histoire mondiale des cinémas de propagande (pp. 199–213). Paris: Nouveau monde éditions. Vignaux, V. (2009). Les animateurs français et le Pathé-Baby ou des usages privés des images cinématographiques dans la France de l’entre-deux-guerres. 1895 (59), 83–96.


UNESCO, Mobile Cinema, and Rural Audiences: Exhibition Histories and Instrumental Ideologies of the 1940s Ian Goode

The increased accessibility and take-up of the 16  mm apparatus in the 1940s created the conditions for the significant mobilisation of cinema across the world. This cinema was often but not exclusively non-­commercial and what has come to be termed non-theatrical, in that it was exhibited in spaces not purpose-built for audiences to watch films (Klinger 2007). The social purpose of this burgeoning cinema is captured in the report published by UNESCO in 1949 called The Use of Mobile Cinema and Radio Vans in Fundamental Education which surveys the extending geography of this cinema and supporting media into rural areas throughout the world (UNESCO 1949). It is tempting to regard this cinema as a local, intimate, and communal return to the itinerant roots of early cinema and there is a growing body of local case studies in anglophone national contexts that have consolidated the historical understanding of 16  mm exhibition (Bowles 2011; Acland and Wasson 2011; Aveyard 2015; Goode 2014).

I. Goode (*) University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




The widespread take-up of 16  mm documented by UNESCO occurs under the banner of facilitating education and literacy through mass media and the particularly cosmopolitan moment of the organisation’s formation in 1945 (Sluga 2010). Within the general objectives of international peace and the common welfare of mankind propounded by UNESCO during the immediate post-­ war period, there were related and similarly instrumental and didactic uses of 16  mm mobile cinema. This deployment of mobile cinema not only reflects the ideological divide that intensified during the post-war period but also suggests that part of the specificity of rural, non-theatrical cinema is found in its liability to recruitment by government and related political and cultural institutions (Druick 2009). The concern of this chapter is the scrutiny of the functions that rural cinema was directed to undertake in the specific historic and ideological contexts of a world that was both entering the Cold War and recovering from World War II. A focus on mobile cinema in rural China extends the research on 16 mm exhibition politically and geographically into a distinctly coercive context that can be usefully contrasted with the focus of existing work. The use of the term rural cinema is meant to signal the intention to further the historical understanding of what Chidana Das Gupta describes as the rural base of an urban phenomenon (Das Gupta 1988). The UNESCO report highlighted the importance of the 16 mm film apparatus in non-commercial, mobile cinema exhibition around the world. In line with the new body’s founding objectives, the report emphasises the potential of film as a universal means of education and literacy: More than half the population of the world is illiterate. The problem of illiteracy and social backwardness, however, cannot be separated from the problem of the uneven technological development of nations, which has been a marked characteristic of the past one hundred and fifty years. (UNESCO 1949: 17)

UNESCO’s understanding and promulgation of education was a central part of its mission and the term ‘fundamental education’ was used to signal a desire to contribute to the solution of this problem by placing emphasis not only on the fight against illiteracy but also on health, education, technical training, and cultural development (UNESCO 1949: 17). Given the mobility of the 16 mm apparatus, the report recognises the potential for mobile cinema vans to operate throughout the world and



particularly in areas without a supply of mains electricity (UNESCO 1949: 17). This expansion of the geographical reach of film exhibition was ­combined with the recognition that cinema had the power ‘to stimulate, to educate, to encourage and lead forward millions of the world’s population or, alternatively mislead and poison the thoughts of this population’ (UNESCO 1949: 82). The report makes no reference to any examples of the latter use of the medium. It did acknowledge the continuing influence of the British Colonial Film Unit in the colonial territories in taking on illiteracy through educational film programmes with limited resources (UNESCO 1949: 24; Larkin 2008; Druick 2009; Grieveson and MacCabe 2011; Rice 2015). The results of the survey show that mobile cinema audiences were by no means small and geographically isolated audiences but mass rural audiences. The rapid growth of the mobile service to the British colonial territories made it one of the three largest services in the world that was hampered by an acute shortage of equipment and suitable films (UNESCO 1949: 25). The audience in Nigeria is shown to be particularly dependent on mobile cinema with reportedly ‘four mobile vans serving a population of 20,000,000 people of whom 80 per cent are illiterate, with an average audience attendance of about 2000 persons’ (UNESCO 1949: 24). A similar example from Mexico highlights that locally produced 16 mm films were estimated to account for 60 per cent of total screen time and were very popular in rural areas (UNESCO 1949: 28). The collated findings demonstrate that while mobile cinema was vitally important to the quest to educate rural audiences around the world, it was an acutely under-resourced cinema. One of the conspicuous features of the UNESCO discourse on the uses of cinema is the disinclination to politicise the contexts that are brought together by the wide-ranging survey. The organised programme of cinefication carried out by the Soviet Union is praised by Sergei Eisenstein for its advanced development alongside comparable developments in China, Canada, and Jamaica (UNESCO 1949: 77; Kepley 1994). The apparent neutrality and single world constructed by the report can be explained by examining the institutional context of UNESCO after its formation in 1945 and the appointment of the first Director Julian Huxley, an internationalist, evolutionary biologist (Sluga 2010). This was a crucial period for the new body when, as Byron Dexter argues, UNESCO was required to face two worlds (Dexter 1947). It was striving to promote international peace and world citizenship and simultaneously transcend the ideological and nation-state forces that would fuel the Cold War (Dexter 1947; Laves and Thomson 1957).



The Forging of UNESCO Glenda Sluga argues that Huxley’s ‘public status as a cultural cosmopolitan seemed to suit the import attached to UNESCO’s global mission of tackling chauvinism and fostering international understanding’ (Sluga 2010: 394). Sluga argues that UNESCO under Huxley promoted an imperially driven evolutionary process that adapted rather than abandoned empires, in the interest of the world’s international future (Sluga 2010: 409). Huxley’s attachment to the techniques of Empire is confirmed by his prior involvement with colonial filmmaking and the British Empire Marketing Board in Africa (Sluga 2010: 409–410). The instrumental use of film was continued at UNESCO and extended to include broadcasting mainly in the form of radio as another tool of education and development (Grierson 1948). Huxley and other figures with experience of education in colonised countries were highly valued at UNESCO, and this expertise created colonial continuities in the activities that supported education and development (Sluga 2010: 410). However, while colonised countries were a continuing concern, in general terms, regions and nations with large, geographically marginal, rural populations inevitably came to the attention of UNESCO and its organised support for the dissemination of fundamental education. A good example of this concern with exhibiting non-theatrical cinema to rural populations is provided by China because UNESCO was involved in the country before it became The People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 following the civil war. The influence of UNESCO is subsequently displaced by Mao Zedong and the Communist Party of China (CPC), but the support for 16 mm put in place prior to 1949 through the support of UNESCO was appropriated and expanded by the new leadership (Dikötter 2013). The UNESCO report states that the first mobile film unit in China was used by the Mass Education Centre of the Kiangsu Provincial Government around the year 1935. The unit modified a truck and equipped it with a 16 mm projector, a slide projector, public address system, and generator (UNESCO 1949: 26). The relatively piecemeal presence of Ministry of Education 16  mm projectors throughout rural China during the World War II relied upon the United States Information Services and the British Council (UNESCO 1949: 26). It is apparent that for UNESCO it was the presence and availability of projectors that took priority over what films



were actually shown to village audiences since there was a persistent shortage of films as well as equipment (UNESCO 1949: 26). The presence of UNESCO in pre-communist China was most clearly evident through the audio-visual centre at the University of Nanking in the Jiangsu province (UNESCO 1949: 26). The audio-visual centre offered a service for organisations wishing to set up mobile film units (UNESCO 1949: 142). In 1947, a test programme was undertaken with ten other organisations in the rural town of BanCh’iao in collaboration with local leaders, farmers, and townspeople. The day programme combined broadcasts with demonstrations and exhibitions on agriculture, home economics, and public health before finishing with a film show. Attendance was reported to be 15,000 and the test was used as a template for future work (UNESCO 1949:142). The specialism in mobile cinema developed at the audio-visual centre at Nanking in conjunction with the Ministry of Education is confirmed by the publication of a report on Fundamental Education in 1947 (Ministry of Education 1947). Like the UNESCO report, the Nanking study details the history, expanding application and logistics of mobile cinema units with audio-visual aids in rural areas, arguing that China was predominantly an agricultural country, and her millions of simple, industrial, and self-sufficient farmers had hitherto never felt the need for any type of education beyond training in farming (Ministry of Education 1947: 4). Priority was given to countering illiteracy and providing the opportunity of learning to read to the illiterate 55 per cent of the population counted at the end of 1945–46 (Ministry of Education 1947: 4). Using the government term People’s Education from 1940 places greater emphasis on the aim of universal access to education with recognition too of the special needs of the border regions (Ministry of Education 1947: 10). These regions were located at points where the national boundary of China met other nations such as Tibet and Mongolia and also included areas where peoples such as the Uigurs in the Xinjiang province spoke languages other than Chinese (Ministry of Education 1947: 77). The expanding China Educational Film Studio had since its formation in 1942 gone on to produce 50 sets of films and film strips circulated by the Ministry of Education (Ministry of Education 1947: 67). Matthew Johnson notes that Nanking experimented with educational cinema, producing several films devoted to post-war reconstruction with rural reconstruction groups in Chengdu and Suzhou (Johnson 2012: 165). The coverage of the rural districts was allotted to provincial authorities who



were responsible for ensuring that mobile units would take the apparatus of film and broadcasting ‘to every corner of the country’ (Ministry of Education 1947: 69). At this point, the use of mobile cinema in China continued to serve the aims and understanding of fundamental education developed by UNESCO under Huxley, assisted by recruits from colonial contexts such as the UK. The planned instrumental use of cinema to mitigate the effects of the geographical isolation of rural districts in China was at this point in line with the public policy of UNESCO. The end of the civil war in China in 1949 saw a radical shift in the political system when the PRC was established. The rise of the CPC headed by Mao Zedong exploited and sought to expand the organised use of 16  mm that was already in place for more explicitly political and ideological ends, that, in the early years, were aligned with the Soviet Union (Mai Chen 2004).

Mobile Cinema for the Villages of Communist China On coming to power, the CPC quickly acted to propagate film as an instrument of the party and government that should aim to reach all parts of China (Leyda 1972). Film had been deployed by the propaganda department of the nationalist government of Kuomintang during the civil war prior to but not on the same scale as that proposed by Mao (Johnson 2012: 162). The newly formed Chinese Film Bureau adopted and expanded the work of the Nanking centre when it began film projection training courses using 16 mm in 1950, training projectionists for teams that would cover the country (Mai Chen 2004: 99). This training helped to establish an organised programme of film projection for the villages of rural China. The programmes depended greatly on imported propaganda films from the Soviet Union translated for rural audiences and underlining the general message that ‘the Soviet Union was China’s tomorrow’ (Mai Chen 2004: 84–85). Between 1949 and 1957, China imported 1309 films which included 662 feature films. Dubbed features like Lenin in October and An Ordinary Soldier would typically depict Soviet heroes and heroines in order to instruct audiences on how best they could serve the newly established PRC (Mai Chen 2004: 90). The ideology of the party placed great emphasis on breaking down the separation between urban and rural areas and working to ensure that propaganda actually reached the remote areas of the country. The geographically isolated districts were viewed centrally as part of a connected structure driven



by land reform which removed land from landlord ownership and fostered the industrialisation of agriculture (Mai Chen 2003: 163). The portable apparatus of 16  mm was recruited to meet the challenge of China’s vast geography and the systematic transportation and distribution of mobile cinema to the villages across the country helped to achieve the aims of the CPC. The task of exhibition was undertaken by the Village Film Projection Unit, who would typically comprise 2–3 professional staff with a portable 16 mm projector and apparatus (Feng 1965: no pagination). The projection teams were set clear objectives regarding the number of shows and how film content was to be communicated as propaganda to rural audiences (Mai Chen 2003). The dissemination of cinema to the rural population of China had an important political and geographical precedent in the shape of the Soviet Union, and the Chinese Film Bureau exploited the possibilities of this international socialist alliance in the early years of the PRC (Mai Chen 2004). Vance Kepley Jr. has shown how the Soviet Union sought to ‘cinefy’ the USSR during the 1920s in the process of developing film as a tool of mass education and persuasion (Kepley 1994). The expanded land mass of the USSR demanded a distribution and exhibition network that was able to cover this vast area and its associated populations, and which would aim to ensure that every town and village, no matter how remote, would have access to newsreel, education, and feature films using trains, lorries, airplanes, horseback, ships, and other modes of transport (Kepley 1994: 262). The scale and ideological ambition of cinefication as a preceding development represented a strategic opportunity and resource for the CPC and the international project of socialism. There was no doubt that this would supplant the prior programmes developed with the aid of UNESCO. Glen Peterson (1994) shows how the scale of illiteracy in China remained considerable and carried over into the CPC. Peterson points out how under Mao popular support was mobilised through non-literate means such as pictorial magazines, cartoons, revolutionary songs, peasant dances, and public announcements borrowed from the Soviet Red Army. Further messages were drawn from a repertoire of elite means to communicate with illiterate village audiences—including posters, woodblock prints, folk songs, and popular opera. Mao was an advocate of non-book learning as a means of popularising political propaganda (Peterson 1994: 101). Film was part of this array of materials and the supply of films produced by the Soviet Union provided images and narratives of socialist ­citizens of rural life that, as Tina Mai Chen argues, captured the attention of Chinese audiences for ‘their patriotism and partisanship, as well as their appearance’ (Mai Chen 2010: 422).



The village projection teams were agents of this propaganda and their work combined 16 mm film programmes with some of the means outlined by Peterson. Mai Chen demonstrates how films such as Village Schoolteacher, Women Locomotive Drivers, and Tractor Drivers prioritised images and narratives centred on rural working women for village audiences (Mai Chen 2003: 183). The reports from projection units stressed the enthusiasm with which the villagers accepted the new technology represented by the tractor in Tractor Drivers and women’s participation as key to the prosperity displayed in the film (Mai Chen 2004: 91). The tractor became a key symbol of rural modernisation and a means of improving harvests through the implementation of mechanised agriculture. One woman, Liang Jun, was inspired by films like these and went on to tractor driving school before becoming China’s first female tractor driver and forming a women’s tractor unit. Together they symbolised China’s socialist modernity (Mai Chen 2003). The connection between women, femininity, the fertile space of the land, and the socialist future is exploited in propaganda messages as the poster demonstrates (Fig. 13.1).

Fig. 13.1  c/o IISH/Stefan R. Landsberger Collections;



Mai Chen reveals how in official rhetoric, the arrival of the mobile film unit in the villages constituted a literal and metaphorical delivery of socialist modernity to the people by agents of the party (Mai Chen 2003: 165). The work of the projectionists in the village projection teams went beyond the exhibition of film programmes. The projectionist would introduce, explain, and comment on the film programme and generally orchestrate the film show by combining the projection of films with lantern slide shows, while also leading the singing of songs accompanied by clappers, and tell stories praising the accomplishments of local farmers in the new China (Feng 1965: no pagination). The propaganda poster in Fig. 13.2

Fig. 13.2  c/o IISH/Stefan R. Landsberger Collections;



illustrates clearly the intermedial tools utilised by the village projectionists during film shows and also how valuable the work of non-theatrical film exhibition was to the PRC in communicating with the rural population. Jay Leyda reveals how a young veteran of the Korean War working in a team of projectionists whose circuit included the villages of eastern Hopei province invented a presentation technique that was widely imitated: He kept up a running commentary as each film was shown. At opportune moments during the opening sequences, he introduced the story shortly, its main characters, setting and background. As the film went along, he slipped in a few words of explanation wherever he felt it might be hard for some peasant audience to grasp. (Leyda 1972: 296)

The ability of the projectionist to influence the understanding of the films shown is also highlighted: the country people are very quick to love or hate during a motion picture. The minute a character appears on the screen they want to know who it is, whether he is good or bad [!] So the projection teams have to give some explanation as the story develops. (Leyda 1972: 298)

These reports indicate that there was a degree of intimacy between the projectionists and their rural audiences that made possible their dialogue with the audience. It is the often shared space of rural, non-theatrical cinema-going that shapes this experience and creates the possibility of directing and influencing the collective audience response to film. The ­village projectionists work to encourage the preferred collective response to the films shown. The demands of the journeys made and the anticipation of the arrival of the film units at the rural locations was important to the public appreciation of their role in carrying out the work of the CPC. The work of the projectionists covering the Kirin province of north-­ east China was reported on the occasion of its tenth anniversary in 1964: The team serves two people’s communes with 39 hamlets perched (in the mountains). It takes the team a month to make one round of the ­cinema-­showing centres there. On the way they cross three mountains, 3000 metres above sea-level, many smaller hills, and 18 rivers and streams. The most out of the way centre—the team makes a point of visiting it every month—is up two pine logs, thrown across a precipice with a sheer drop of 100 metres to the river below. The team has conquered these difficulties cheerily. (Leyda 1972: 296)



Hung describes the projectionists ‘with their projectors and magic lanterns in their trucks, carts or over their shoulders, they are climbing mountains, fording rivers or tramping the plains to give film shows for the peasants’ (Feng 1965: no pagination). Given the scarcity of motorised transport in the early years of the PRC, the journeys taken by the projectionists and their apparatus to the village exhibition spaces and the ability to overcome technical problems would have added to the attraction and value of the rural cinema experience provided. In addition, the spaces where the films were shown are not given much attention by the academic research published in English on this particular area of China’s cinema history (Mai Chen 2003). There is evidence to suggest that the films would often be shown to rural audiences outside. For example, a graphic illustration published in the popular film magazine Dazhong dianying emphasises the interchangeable and collective tasks of irrigating the fields and projecting films for the village audience, underlined by the accompanying caption: commune member by day and projectionist by night (Fig. 13.3). The illustration attempts to synthesise collective work on the land with the projection of film images of a single woman carrying some of the harvest from the land onto a makeshift screen for a mixed audience at a film show apparently being held outdoors. The analogy between the work of agriculture, film exhibition, and watching film as part of a village audience is made possible by the clear connection of the spaces where these activities take place (Allen 2006: 15). This graphic representation of a village adapting the apparatus of film using the materials of their own environment and situating it in parallel with agricultural work also confirms how the reporting of non-theatrical film exhibition was used not simply for the general aim of improving literacy but for the specific ends of the CPC. The provision of access to the projection of films for the villagers at night is linked to the wider project of collectivising and modernising agriculture in order to feed the vast population of the country. The people of the villages and communes are not peripheral audiences existing on the edge of film discourse but are rather central to it and to the propagation of the collective national subject. A further narrative that highlights the importance of improvised film exhibition in rural spaces is provided by a story called Wall of Bronze. This story, published in English in 1967 and written by a theatrical group in the People’s Liberation Army Engineers Company, highlights the work of village projectionists:



Fig. 13.3  c/o The Australian National University Young Wang drove out in a horse-drawn cart one day at noon and announced he was going to show a film that night entitled Long Live the Victory of People’s War. When news of this got around, the men in the company were delighted. Put up the screen as soon as you can. Perhaps you might ask: Why set up the screen in the middle of the day if the film wasn’t to be shown until night? The reason was that whenever people in neighbouring hamlets saw it, they knew that after dark a film would be shown on company grounds. The screen had become a kind of announcement and invitation. After the screen was erected at the southern wall, a few of the guardsmen brought in soft, thick mats which the soldiers



had woven out of the tenderest spring reeds. They had made these especially for the commune folk to sit on in winter while watching films, so as to ward off the chill of the cold ground. Wu and Liu helped lay the mats out, then invited the visitors to be seated. The company told his men to sit in the rear. In this way they protected the people up front from the north wind. When everyone had taken his place, the soldiers and the commune folk read aloud from their little red books of Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung and from the three constantly read articles, turning the courtyard into a classroom for the study of the works of Chairman Mao. The lantern slide show ended and the projectionist turned on his work light. Look to the rear. The PLA comrades have formed a wall to screen us from the winter gale. It’s not a brick wall, it’s a wall of class love. They freeze their bodies to warm our hearts. It’s a wall of bronze, here at the front on the Yellow Sea. This wall of bronze can stop old Baldy Chiang Kai Shek and his gang. The big nosed Yankees and their revisionist pals will also get cracked, bloody skulls if they tried to butt their heads against it! On hearing Liu and Grandma Sung, everyone in the audience was stirred. Wu didn’t want feelings to run so high as to stop the showing of the film. He ran over to the projector and picked up a megaphone. “Quiet down, commune comrades”, he shouted. “The film will start in a few minutes”. (PLA 1967: 57)

This story, while clearly written to serve the purpose of propaganda, also demonstrates how the improvised architecture of a ‘people’s cinema’ is formed in a strategically important coastal setting and becomes symbolic in the protection of the eastern border of China against the opposition of the Nationalist leader Kai-Shek who had taken refuge in Taiwan after defeat in the civil war to the CPC (Dikötter 2013). In this story, it is clear that the sense of the local and communal that might commonly be associated with this mode of cinema exhibition is illustrated and narrated through a vocabulary that clearly transcends the local and the communal. The apparatus and exhibition of non-theatrical cinema in concert with the geography of rural China enables the ideological construction of the wider formation of the people in renewed defence against the hostile outside. The experience of film in the local space of the village or commune becomes synonymous with the shared work of the good citizen and the construction of ‘the people’ (Allen 2006; Mai Chen 2003). Film is instrumental in the narrative construction of ‘the people’ and the subordination of the individual towards this end. Peterson has argued that the actuality of rural literacy differs from the policy directives and propaganda messages issued by the CPC. He suggests



that ‘literacy ideologies, instead of reducing the major social differences between the city and countryside and between workers and peasants, as China’s leaders frequently proclaimed, actually worked to preserve and reproduce those differences’ (Peterson 1994: 98). He points out that village populations were to be subject to three kinds of education: political, technical, and basic literacy, with the latter receiving least importance (Peterson 1994: 102). Similarly, he finds that in Yanpu county, in the south-eastern area of Guangdong, the Party Secretary in one township actually banned literacy classes during collectivisation, on the grounds that they interfered with the peasants’ main responsibility of growing food (Peterson 1994: 112). The exceptions uncovered by Peterson occurred underneath the official declarations from the centre, such as the anti-­illiteracy decree of 1956 which called for the complete elimination of illiteracy among 14–50-yearolds in China within 7 years (Peterson 1994: 113). Peterson concludes that despite the widely proclaimed intention by China’s leaders to use the educational system as a means of reversing the old class structure, this was not achieved. The PRC educational system of literacy effectively reinforced the prior urban-rural split in Chinese society (Peterson 1994: 118). The role of the village projection teams was to develop film as a means of developing a literacy that was about making meaning from images in combination with words. The films that were shown, which in the early years of the PRC were reliant on imports from the Soviet Union, meant that such literacy was also allied with the working life of the village and the necessity of improving agricultural production and ensuring that the production of China’s precarious food supply was continued (Mai Peterson 1994: 120). The organised use of non-theatrical cinema in the villages of China before the takeover of power by the CPC and thereafter serves as an illuminating exposure of the relative meanings of literacy and the importance of the instrumental use of the 16 mm film apparatus to helping to achieve these ends. The availability of testimony to the historiography of post-1949 China is certainly growing (Dikötter 2013; Mai Chen 2011). UNESCO actively promoted rural literacy through non-theatrical cinema and related media prior to the major political transition that took place in China during 1949. This was also the year that UNESCO published its major report on mobile cinema and there is no concern expressed in the report about the shift from literacy to propaganda activated by the CPC. Such measured neutrality confirms Byron Dexter’s suggestion that the founding ideas that unite UNESCO across ideological divides are freedom from want rather than freedom of speech and expression (Dexter 1947: 407).



The particular apprehending of the possibilities of non-theatrical rural cinema traced here demonstrate that part of the specificity of the apparatus of 16 mm in rural exhibition contexts is that it enables, in the face of relative cultural and economic scarcity, the instrumental use of cinema for ends that strive to affect geographically marginalised audiences according to institutionally centralised objectives. The moment of UNESCO’s formation and the widespread use of 16 mm in the 1940s confirm the use of film as instrument and that its (rural) audience was viewed unitarily, and often coercively, to fit the ideological concerns of the interests that were advancing rural film exhibition. The effects of geographical and social isolation mean that non-theatrical cinema exhibition facilitates such uses of cinema in a way that is, arguably, less easily realised in urban exhibition contexts. This instrumentalist exhibition takes different forms as the case of China before and after the takeover of the CPC demonstrates. The expanding historiographies of New Cinema History and the work of Charles Acland and Heidi Wasson in bringing together the North American contexts of what they term Useful Cinema have helped to bring these other cinemas into view (Biltereyst et al. 2011; Acland and Wasson 2011). In addition, Gregory Waller queries the specificities of the smaller gauge when he asks whether ‘16 mm was merely an ancillary delivery system or somehow the fulfilment of the motion picture’s universally accessible, powerfully effective, eminently useful medium of communication?’ (Waller 2011: 126). The answer, on the basis of the evidence presented here, is that there was a relative universality to the non-commercial cinema made possible by 16 mm, and, in the absence of a commercial imperative, and through the particular nature of non-theatrical exhibition in rural locations, there was an inherent and accessible instrumentalism that meant that the medium of communication was more open to political and ideological use than its more illustrious relative (Bennett 1988).

References Acland, C. (2008). Classrooms, Clubs, and Community Circuits: Cultural Authority and the Film Council Movement, 1946–1957. In L. Grieveson & H. Wasson (Eds.), Inventing Film Studies (pp. 149–181). Durham: Duke University Press. Acland, C., & Wasson, H. (2011). Useful Cinema. London: Duke University Press.



Allen, R. C. (2006). The Place of Space in Film Historiography. Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis, 9(2), 15–27. Aveyard, K. (2015). Lure of the Big Screen: Cinema in Rural Australia and the United Kingdom. Bristol: Intellect. Bennett, T. (1988). The Exhibitionary Complex. New Formations, 4, 73–102. Biltereyst, D., Maltby, R., & Meers, P. (Eds.). (2011). Cinema, Audiences and Modernity: New Perspectives on European Cinema. London: Routledge. Bowles, K. (2011). The Last Bemboka Picture Show: 16mm Cinema as Rural Community Fundraiser in the 1950s. In R. Maltby, D. Biltereyst, & P. Meers (Eds.), Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies (pp. 310–321). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Das Gupta, C. (1988). The Rural Base of an Urban Phenomenon. East-West Film Journal, 3(1), 88–96. Dexter, B. (1947). UNESCO Faces Two Worlds. Foreign Affairs, 25(3), 388–407. Dikötter, F. (2013). The Tragedy of Liberation: a History of the Chinese Revolution, 1945–57. London: Bloomsbury. Druick, Z. (2009). At the Margins of Cinema History: Mobile Cinema in the British Empire. Public, 40. article/view/31980/29241. Feng, H. (1965). The Three Sisters. China Screen, no pagination. Goode, I. (2014). Cinema in the Country: The Rural Cinema Scheme Orkney (1946–67). Post-Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities, 30(2), 17–31. Grierson, J.  (1948, February 1). Production Unit Planned: Mass Media to Be Used For Peace. UNESCO Courier, p.3. Grieveson, L., & MacCabe, C. (Eds.). (2011). Empire and Film. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Johnson, M. (2012). Propaganda and Censorship. In Y.  Zhang (Ed.), A Companion to Chinese Cinema (pp. 153–178). Oxford: Blackwell. Kepley Jr., V. (1994). “Cinefication”: Soviet Film Exhibition in the 1920s. Film History, 6(2), 262–277. Klinger, B. (2007). Cinema’s Shadow: Reconsidering Non-Theatrical Exhibition. In R. Maltby, M. Stokes, & R. C. Allen (Eds.), Going to the Movies: Hollywood and the Social Experience of Cinema (pp.  273–290). Exeter: University of Exeter Press. Larkin, B. (2008). Signal and Noise. Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria. London: Duke University Press. Laves, W., & Thomson, C. (1957). UNESCO: Purpose, Progress, Prospects. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Leyda, J. (1972). Dianying: An Account of Films and the Film Audience in China. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Mai Chen, T. (2003). Propagating the Propaganda Film: The Meaning of Film in Chinese Communist Party Writings 1949–1965. Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, 15(2), 154–193.



Mai Chen, T. (2004). Internationalism and Cultural Experience: Soviet Films and Popular Chinese Understandings of the Future in the 1950s. Cultural Critique, 58, 82–114. Mai Chen, T. (2010). Film and Gender in Sino-Soviet Cultural Exchange 1949–1969. In R. Bernstein & L. Hua-Yu (Eds.), China Learns from the Soviet Union, 1949-Present (pp. 421–445). Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. Mai Chen, T. (2011). Textual Communities and Localized Practices of Film in Maoist China. In T.  Mai Chen & D.  S. Churchill (Eds.), Film, History and Cultural Citizenship: Sites of Production (pp. 61–80). London: Routledge. Ministry of Education. (1947, September). Fundamental Education in China A Report: The Preparatory Committee of the Regional Study Conference on Fundamental Education, Nanking. Peterson, G. (1994, July). State Literacy Ideologies and the Transformation of Rural China. The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, 32, 95–120. PLA Engineers Company. (1967). Wall of Bronze. In Chinese Literature (Vol. 4, pp. 53–58). Rice, T. (2015). “Are You Proud to Be British?”: Mobile Film Shows, Local Voices and the Demise of the British Empire in Africa. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 36(3), 331–351. Sluga, G. (2010). UNESCO and the (One) World of Julian Huxley. Journal of World History, 21(3), 393–418. UNESCO. (1949). The Use of Mobile Cinema and Radio Vans in Fundamental Education. Paris: UNESCO. Waller, G. A. (2011). Projecting the Promise of 16mm, 1935–45. In C. Acland & H. Wasson (Eds.), Useful Cinema (pp. 125–148). London: Duke University Press.


Reconsidering Post-Revolutionary Cultural Change: Rural Film Projection Teams in Shaanxi Province, 1949–1956 Matthew D. Johnson

Introduction The official establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on 1 October 1949 is viewed as a watershed in the transformation of political culture: the birth of Maoism as a national, and international, political ideology. This view is based on a specific historical methodology that privileges cultural texts—‘the language of revolution … fiery slogans, patriotic songs, and political idioms’—and visual evidence over institutional and social perspectives (Hung 2011: 2). Where institutions and society are considered, it is often assumed that the transmission belt of propaganda worked uninterrupted and that messages reached, and impacted, their targets, moreover, that the effects of propaganda itself were regular and predictable. There is no denying that, within the PRC political system, propagandists and cultural planners gave maximum effort to remoulding the thoughts, opinions, and attitudes of the populace. Julian Chang shows M. D. Johnson (*) Taylor’s University, Malaysia, Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




that ‘in the construction of both the Soviet and Chinese party-states, a high level of mass political consciousness was an explicit prerequisite for national development and propaganda was seen as a crucial tool for increasing those levels of political knowledge’ (Chang 1997: 76). However, there is an important gap between how propaganda can be read by scholars and how it operated in practice. This chapter addresses that gap by examining the case of rural film projection and filmgoing in Shaanxi province during the years 1949–1956, which were notable as the period when the PRC transitioned towards a fully socialist, planned economy. Recent histories of everyday life during the Mao years (1949–1976) have focused our attention on the importance of the urban-rural divide within this broader narrative of the PRC’s transition to socialism and on the variability of local culture (Brown 2012; DeMare 2015; Johnson 2015: 199–229). Among scholars of Chinese cinema, one of the first monographs on the topic, Jay Leyda’s Dianying/Electric Shadows: An Account of Films and the Film Audience in China, also attempted to wrestle with the question of how post-1949 films were exhibited and received (Leyda 1972; Hu 1995). However, available sources have changed considerably since the 1960s and 1970s, when Leyda was writing, and the partial opening of local archives within the contemporary PRC has made possible the re-consideration of everyday life, including cultural practices, from the perspective of party-state sources: this chapter, based on research conducted in 2004–2005, primarily makes use of the records of the Shaanxi province Cultural Bureau, including both internal reports and hard-to-locate professional publications read by rural propagandists and projectionists. Such sources are not without their own gaps. The chapter argues that through construction of a rural ‘film projection network’ (dianying fangying wang) comprised of mobile film teams, the PRC party-state managed to make rural filmgoing a more frequent practice for large swaths of the population living in Shaanxi’s countryside. At the same time, the network did not extend everywhere; organizational, fiscal, and geographic challenges to network expansion inhibited its unimpeded growth, and delivery and reception of paired propaganda and cinematic mass culture were widely variable. These are perhaps true assessments of the historical past, but at the same time they may also reflect the self-interest of mid- and lower-level cultural officials who were, according to the habits and expectations of official life, required to pre-emptively self-criticize while, at the



same time, making the case for continued central state support to remedy existing local deficiencies in budget, personnel, and technical aid. Nonetheless, there is a consistent trail of reliable empirical content that runs through the documents, as officials struggled to implement policies successfully and, as a result, to objectively appraise and solve the tasks they faced. Viewed in a narrow sense, this is a chapter about how provincial and sub-provincial officials attempted to make rural filmgoing a widespread practice during the 1949–1956 period. From a broader perspective, it can be read as a methodological reflection on how to assess transformations in political culture from the vantage points of policy, institutions, and terrestrial space: vantage points which may be advantageous for what they can tell us not only about how propaganda was seen to work but where it was intended to travel, how its targets were defined, and who it actually reached. The significance of this methodologically driven re-consideration, as has also been argued elsewhere, is that it shows ‘Mao’s China’ to be a highly heterogeneous, even fragmented entity when examined using internal sources and other grass-roots ephemera (Brown and Johnson 2015: 1–15). Rural filmgoing provides another example of this tension between centralizing agendas and local inertia (including the immutable fact of geography itself) and, as a subject of inquiry in its own right, highlights the role of the mass media as providing cultural accompaniment to totalizing twentieth-century transformations of the countryside (Scott 1998) (Fig. 14.1).

‘The Province Is Very Badly Off for Communications’: Shaanxi as Setting Understanding rural film projection in Shaanxi requires understanding the province’s geographic characteristics, which varied considerably within and across annual cycles. Northwest China could be windy and prone to extremes in both heat and cold. As part of the Upper Yellow River region it received between 10 and 20 inches of rain a year, which meant that it belonged to one of China’s most arid zones (The North China Daily News and Herald, Ltd. 1935: 6). Rain, when it fell, did so torrentially, typically for a short period in the summer. Crops included millet and wheat; roads traversed by carts and humans were often mud; and people wore heavily padded cotton clothes, especially in winter. Shaanxi province included four main rivers, including the Yellow River which formed its



Fig. 14.1  Reconstruction of a rural screening ground, Shaanxi province (Source: Christian Hess, Sophia University, 2005. Used with permission)

primary eastern boundary; mountains crossed the south of Shaanxi from east to west, while its northern part was composed of loess hills. Agriculture could be productive though the environment was harsh and rains uncertain. The rest of its wealth lay in relatively underdeveloped reserves of coal, iron, and some oil. In addition to crops and minerals, other industries included production of cotton, silk, wool, furs, skins, leather, flour, and varnish. Shaanxi was famous in the 1950s as the home of the ‘cradle’ of the Chinese Communist revolution, Yan’an, which lay nestled in the arid, loess-covered north depicted in the more recent film Yellow Earth (Huang tudi, dir. Zhang Yimou, 1984). Until 1935, its capital of Xi’an could be reached by air transport but not by rail; remote Xi’an had never been a treaty port. Prior to Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) emergence and victory in the 1945–1949 Civil War, it was known as a region of considerable upheaval and human diversity.



The population is a mixed one, the province having repeatedly suffered great reductions in the numbers of the population from rebellions (Taiping and Mohameddan [Muslim]) and from prolonged and recurring famines. It has been re-populated by immigration from other provinces. In the extreme north are a few Mongols and to the west, towards the Kansu [Gansu] border, Turkish types are met with. In Sianfu [Xi’an] itself and in the centre and east of the province is a considerable and very influential Mohameddan population. (Ibid.: 14)

Xi’an was formerly known by several names and was a former northern imperial capital. Successively rebuilt during the Ming (1368–1644  AD) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties, it was a city of great historical significance. Xi’an lay roughly in the middle of Shaanxi province, and was a trading and transport hub by regional standards of development, which were far from exemplary: The province is very badly off for communications, which accounts for its backward state. Large parts of the north and south are not even provided with cart roads. A certain amount of road-building has been carried out in recent years, especially in improving the east-west communications. (Ibid.)

Barges carrying coal and salt along the Wei River represented another form of transport, as did small junks and other river craft. Shaanxi, especially in the areas around Yan’an, was hardly terra incognita to the CCP but it was not well-integrated into the national economy, and its human and economic geography was not deeply or systematically understood. Prior to the 1950s, a great surge of mass education concerning China’s geography had taken place nearly two decades earlier, in the years before the War of Resistance to Japan (1937–1945).1 However, this perspective, which was grounded in maps, knowledge of local terrain and seasonal cycles, and an economic understanding that included spatial elements such as communications and transportation networks, is not apparent from any of the archival and published rural film materials on which the present chapter is based. Cultural officials responsible for promoting rural films in Shaanxi seemed largely unable to see the province in fine detail, and so when the CCP came to power in 1949 cultural officials were, as this chapter shows, required to create practices of rural filmgoing with minimal information, experience, or infrastructure to support their endeavour (Fig. 14.2).



Fig. 14.2  Political map of People’s Republic of China indicating location of Shaanxi (Source: Location of Shaanxi province, uploaded by user Jowww on 14 May 2008, Wikimedia Commons, wiki/%E9%99%95%E8%A5%BF#/media/File:China_Shaanxi.svg, accessed 28 March 2017)

Controlling and Administering Rural Film Exhibition: Post-1949 Shaanxi in Regional and Historical Context While Shaanxi communications and transport may have been underdeveloped from the perspective of more commercially active trading centres along the Yellow River and oceanic coast, the province itself was a relative hub of activity in comparison with adjacent and more western provinces Ningxia and Gansu. Shaanxi, Ningxia, and Gansu together comprised the PRC’s Northwest Region (Xibei daqu) after 1949; within this regional



context, Xi’an was the most significant cinematic hub from a perspective of infrastructure (i.e. theatres) and cultural administration (Xi’an shi dianying faxing fangying gongsi 1992: 49–50). After 1950, regular rural film activities in Shaanxi principally consisted of projection team activity in county centres—semi-urbanized towns—and particularly in the countryside in the southern part of the province. Historical records show that, from at least the 1920s onwards, travellers and traders to the Northwest had occasionally brought projectors with them. The locations of these early screenings were not rural but, rather, confined to government offices and commercial guilds (Qinghai sheng difang zhi bianzuan weiyunhui 2000: 230–237).2 Within roughly a decade, exhibition activity had expanded but still remained quasi-urban in nature, with temple fairs, military garrisons, and local halls among the most frequent locations chosen. Cinemas also appeared during the 1930s, often as dual-use theatres that were also employed for performance functions. By this standard, Xi’an was somewhat unique as a home to multiple film-only cinemas. After 1949, Shaanxi cultural authorities were occasionally responsible for coordinating film projection activity as far west as Xinjiang, until they were temporarily replaced by the Soviet Union via an agreement between the USSR and Xinjiang government (Xi’an shi dianying faxing fangying gongsi 1992: 327–329, 359). There is some local evidence to suggest that, by the late 1940s, Xi’an theatres conducted their own rural exhibition activities for commercial reasons (Ibid.: 42, 44). Films shown were produced in Hollywood or Shanghai, reflecting patterns of cultural dissemination in the region as a whole. Significant changes in cultural policy came to Shaanxi in May 1949 when, on 20 May, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) secured Xi’an after nearly 12 hours of battle against Nationalist Party (KMT) and other local forces. One week later, the newly created Military Control Committee (Jun guan hui) organized a Cultural Committee and Cultural Office to regulate culture and introduce centralizing institutional reforms. Many committee administrators were drawn from the former CCP Shaan-GanNing border areas; increasingly, cultural imports originated in Moscow rather than Hollywood, and by the end of 1950 exhibition of American titles had ceased completely (Ibid.: 9, 42). Projection activity in the Shaanxi countryside was primarily organized by Xi’an-based provincial cultural offices. This activity included propaganda work, training of projectionists, and management of equipment and personnel. Overlaying the provincial administration was the central



­ overnment’s cultural bureaucracy in Beijing: the Ministry of Culture. g Somewhat less visible was the patchwork of CCP, military, and public security organizations that coordinated and regulated cultural activity in ways which cut across neat government hierarchies. Ultimate authority flowed from the organs of the CCP Central Committee, most notably the Propaganda Department. In practice, however, provincial CCP committees and cultural institutions implemented centrally created policies with a fair degree of interpretive and institutional autonomy. Party-state control of cinema was based on state management of projection units, regulation of titles in circulation, and attempts to direct audience reception towards particular interpretations of individual films. Expansion into the countryside was another important feature of the post-­ 1949 system and of obvious relevance to the topic of rural filmgoing (Clark 1987: 34–37; Zhang 2005: 190–191). State investment in mobile rural exhibition thus rose steadily throughout the early 1950s. In ideological terms, the main goals of cinema, and of cultural policy in general, were legitimization of the new political order and transformation of mass opinion—to make mass opinion malleable through the use of mass culture. The model was one of spreading ideology and education from the CCP centre to the capillaries of Party organization and, from there, to the rest of society (SMA B34/1/203 1949). Transforming opinion required research and contact with existing communities as defined by the CCP itself: ethnic minorities, factory workers, peasants, students, women, and so on. Some preexisting communities which did not fit into such schema were simply dissolved: religious organizations, for example, or non-state commercial organizations. At the same time, the power of such organizations to disseminate culture from outside of the party-state apparatus was effectively destroyed or driven underground (BMA 8/2/667 1951). By 1951 approximately half of cinemas throughout China were state owned, and all were state registered and state controlled (Wenhua bu 1951). State-produced and Soviet films were far and away the most widely shown, and state-organized projection activities were becoming increasingly notable in the countryside, remote industrial areas (e.g. mines), and the military (see Table 14.1). Shaanxi was in many ways a typical example of the CCP-led push to strengthen and expand control over the cultural lives of state subjects. As noted earlier, rural film teams, and mobile projection units generally,



Table 14.1  Yearly statistics for Xi’an municipal projection units, 1949–1954 1949






Type of projection unit Theaters 6 7 5 5 5 6 Projection teams/ 1 13 16 5 5 stations Internal film units 12 22 (‘clubs’) Rural projection 16 29 15 21 teams Screenings and audience Screenings 1585 6627 6081 6353 8011 10,129 Attendances 327,495 1,985,500 2,958,270 4,100,324 6,463,405 7,536,019 Xi’an shi dianying faxing fangying gongsi 1992: 99, 103

were administered by multiple layers of sub-national government: the Northwest region, Shaanxi province, and Xi’an municipality; for example, the Northwest Ethnic Affairs Committee (Xibei minzu shiwu weiyuanhui) worked with local cultural offices to bring mobile projection teams into ethnically non-Han areas as part of a scheme to inculcate populations with values of ‘ethnic brotherhood’ (Xibei yingxun 1951a: 16). Mobile film teams also brought culture and education to military installations in PRC border regions, their arrival billed as evidence of the ‘care’ shown by Mao Zedong and PLA Commander-in-Chief Zhu De for soldiers (Xibei yingxun 1951c: 16–17). In and around Xi’an, rural projection teams only appeared in force starting in 1951, when the Northwest Culture Department (Xibei wenhua bu) established six teams specifically for rural cultural dissemination (Huang 1992: 333). Mobile teams from other organizations, though largely city-based, occasionally travelled the countryside as well, including those from the Sino-Soviet Friendship League and Xi’an Municipal Bureau of Hygiene. By 1954, the Northwest Culture Department had been upgraded to bureau status and oversaw management of more than 48 rural teams within the region as a whole.



Creating a Rural Film Propaganda Network Though not widely available by average urban standards, rural filmgoing became an increasingly common form of leisure in the 1950s PRC—a heavily politicized form of state-sponsored entertainment that expanded through the activities of mobile rural film teams. The goal of ‘propaganda through film’ described in film industry and projectionist publications like Northeast Film News (Xibei yingxun), Film Projection Materials (Dianying fangying ziliao), and Distribution Bulletin (Faxing tongxun) was not only achieved by getting the message right but also by reaching audiences. In addition to overcoming Shaanxi’s challenging geography, this also meant overcoming scarcity related to film copies, projector parts, and other necessary resources. Regular rural screenings began in 1951. In Shaanxi, the provincial Culture and Education Office (sheng wen-jiao ting) managed a total of three teams that together conducted an average of 18 screenings per month, attracting approximately 2800 attendees per screening on average (Xibei yingxun 1951b: 32). Most rural audiences in the early PRC years of 1949–1951 had never seen a film before, and screenings were raucous, lively affairs even after peasants had become more habituated to the practice (Ibid.: 40). Some attendees travelled distances of more than 30 li to attend the screenings.3 Films shown were typically about the countryside and rural reforms (e.g. The White-Haired Girl, a film about overcoming exploitative feudalism in twentieth-century rural China); otherwise, they were often war films or Soviet imports about agricultural mechanization (Chen 2004). For these reasons, it is possible to speak of a distinct rural filmgoing experience: mass culture in the PRC was, by design, not homogenous, and peasants were one of several ‘basic audiences’ (jiben guanzhong) seen as having distinct cultural needs (Xibei yingxun 1951: 18–21; Faxing tongxun 1951: 32).4 State-organized attempts to create meaning in rural communities by using film were most notable at the time of the annual Spring Festival. One January 1954 circular outlined instructions concerning how teams should use films to highlight the successes of the CCP’s General Line (Zong luxian) in agriculture. Projectionists were encouraged to use images of rich harvests and mechanization as evidence of both actual achievements and symbols of near-future transformations ahead (‘Dui wo qu, sheng, shi’, 1954: 1–2).5 Peasants were thus encouraged to think of social-



ism in terms of good harvests and labour-saving state investment in ­farming. In addition, propaganda materials from local newspapers were gathered and announced to audiences, and speeches given by local leaders, prior to each showing, in order to further ‘blend’ (jiehe) impressions about rural modernization received from films with those from everyday life. Investment in rural film projection work also took the form of training. National courses for projectionists were held in Nanjing in 1950, and those who were enrolled returned to places like Xi’an with a strong technical and political foundation (Huang 1992: 333). Projectionists were, ideally, political propagandists who had studied recent policies and could align audience understandings with current state objectives. Mobility, another key investment area, was further enhanced through the adoption of new transportation methods, such as the Xi’an [Sino-Soviet] Friendship Association Projection Truck (Xi’an youxie fangying kache), which was used for rural screenings in areas surrounding Xi’an from early 1951 onwards, attracting an average of 7650 audience members per screening when first introduced (Xibei yingxun 1951b: 24). Viewed in broadly national terms, another key moment in the expansion of rural filmgoing occurred in 1953, when Soviet-style centralized planning was implemented across all industries, and on 24 December the PRC State Council issued the ‘Resolution on Establishing a Film Projection Network and Film Industry’. According to this policy document, the use of film was to be strengthened in all cultural work due to the medium’s education utility (jiaoyu zuoyong) and its efficacy in ‘satisfying the increased cultural requirements of the masses’ (Zhongguo renmin gongheguo zhongyang renmin zhengfu guowu yuan 1953: 7). Within rural areas, mobile film teams were to function as the primary providers of official mass culture and entertainment. The ‘Resolution’ called for increased production of films on rural topics and content that was ‘colloquial and easy to comprehend’ (Ibid.: 9). Administrative oversight was further strengthened by the PRC Ministry of Culture, which called for more uniform standards related to pricing of films and training of projectionists, and placed all provincial distribution activity directly under the purview of the national China Film Distribution Company (BMA 2/5/157 1953). Expansion and centralization were thus the main objectives of state policies concerning rural filmgoing by the mid-1950s (Fig. 14.3).



Fig. 14.3  Film projection unit in Hebei as shown in publication dated 23 September 1955 (Source: Modern Chinese Literature and Culture Image Archive,, accessed March 10, 2014)

Rural Exhibition and Interpretive Practices From the perspective of rural audiences, filmgoing was not a frequent activity. Screenings typically took place in conjunction with the announcement of major new policies, such as the implementation of central economic planning and rural collectivitization; around major national holidays, such as the October First national anniversary and celebration of Sino-Soviet Friendship Month; or at other moments which did not interfere with planting and harvesting (BMA 11/2/144 1952). The broader policy context for such activity was the creation of a new, legitimate political order through the transformation of culture. To connect this programme with life on the ground—the grass-roots level of society, where state institutions and local communities connected—existing patterns of cultural dissemination and reception had to be transformed so that p ­ olitical



messages came to the fore, even in the context of entertainment and leisure. Nationalization of popular or mass culture (dazhong wenhua) thus had two main areas of activity: connecting audiences to state-approved cultural modes through a combination of dissemination, policing, and censorship and managing reception. Even prior to 1951, cinematic culture reached rural people who ventured into cities for work and even curiosity, and Xi’an cultural employees reported that free entertainment, including promotional activities for theatres, inevitably attracted rural onlookers (‘Xi’an xinpian zhanlanyue’ 1951: 23). This cinematic culture was not represented solely by films but also included posters, stills, and street-corner advertisements. A sense of excitement surrounded such activities, which also promised images of national leaders, events, and—particularly during the Korean War—foreign conflicts in which the PRC was directly involved (Ibid.). Attracting audiences in rural areas, however, required a somewhat different approach. Projectionists, who often also doubled as propagandists, were required to learn local dialects and idioms in order to publicize and explain the films they showed (Xibei yingxun 1951a: 22, 31). Such efforts were in part based on Soviet models for theatre work, in which films were to be accompanied by an explanation of the main plot points and correct ideological perspective (Wa’ertannuofu 1954: 1–5).6 Screenings might also be preceded by oral delivery of recent national news, including reading of newspapers, and exhibition of slides which described, with narration, important policies and local events. A sequence typical of a well-organized screening would thus include (1) newspaper reading, (2) explanation of the film, (3) film screening, (4) call-and-response shouting of political slogans, (5) performance and instruction in rhymed propaganda ditties (e.g. ‘clapper’ performance [kuaiban]), (6) and singing of songs such as ‘The Internationale’ and ‘Oppose Armed Japan’. Because rural screenings were particularly large, such events typically incorporated a public address system, which was also employed as the film was shown to introduce important characters, explain the nature of their relationships, and highlight and correctly interpret key plot points (Xibei yingxun 1951a: 24). In areas where audiences were unable to understand dialogue performed according to national standards for speech, propagandists might also be tasked with providing live summary of the dialogue using local dialect (Ibid.: 28).



Though perhaps to a lesser standard than urban screenings, rural film screenings were mixed-media events which attempted to incorporate combinations of slides, lectures, singing, posters, banners, blackboards, print media, and musical instrumentation. Better-funded ‘model’ units even made use of radio broadcasts (‘Shandong sheng dianying fangyingdui’ 1954: 57).7 Explanations and other live propaganda work were deemed essential to audiences understanding the main message of a film, and foreign films set in unfamiliar historical periods, such as imperial Russia, required further clarification. To ‘watch films’ (kan dianying) became a phrase loaded with significance for cultural policy, as it encoded a wide range of practices and expectations all oriented towards delivering the correct understanding for audiences to receive. For this reason, considerable anxiety also existed about the ‘vulgarization’ (tongsuhua) of propaganda messaging by untrained, or politically unsophisticated, rural film projectionists. Holding audience attention through explanatory gaps in the screening posed a related dilemma, as viewers tended to be more interested in their own interpretations of the plotlines depicted on screen, and did not always heed the ‘correct’ political line which was delivered (Xibei yingxun 1951a: 32; ‘Shancai yingpian wenti’ 1951: 13). In addition to attempting to legitimize the party-state and its policies, rural film screenings also served another important function: creating an opportunity for propaganda workers to observe and analyse mass opinion in the countryside. In some settings, propagandists (and projectionists, as the roles often belonged to the same person) enlisted local assistants to gather and write down audience reactions following each screening (Xibei yingxun 1951a: 32). Or propagandists themselves might record responses to specific images or questions posed to audience members following screening of a specific film: How did peasants feel about images of development elsewhere in the PRC or in the Soviet Union? Did they show positive responses to images of Chairman Mao and the PLA? Did they understand that Soviet-style rural prosperity would soon come to China? Did they correctly blame the KMT and pre-1949 feudal society for inequalities that continued to exist within the socialist system? Did they realize that the CCP, and not the American atomic bomb, had defeated Japan in Manchuria in 1945? Propagandists did not always know whether their efforts worked, but observing audience agreement with official views at least suggested that propaganda work had the positive impact of encouraging members of the rural populace to publicly express their support for the Party and its policies.



Cultural Order in the Countryside The growth and development of the projection web was the most important factor in creating rural filmgoing practices on a widespread basis in Shaanxi province. By 1952–1953, an estimated 33 16 mm projector ‘film education work teams’ (dianying jiaoyu gongzuo dui), made up of 172 personnel, including 13 female projectionists, had been added to the ranks of existing mobile projection units (SPA 232/26, n.d. [1952–1953]). Several years later, in 1955, there were 73 film projection teams active in Shaanxi (SPA 232/4 1955a). A geographical shift had taken place as well. Whereas in the years immediately following CCP takeover in 1949 rural mobile film teams had mainly operated out of Xi’an and other cities, by mid-1950, teams were permanently stationed at the county level, giving them a wider distribution and locating them closer to rural audiences. As a result of projection web expansion, rural film work was now emphasized at all levels of government and had become a semi-regular feature of everyday lives. It was integrated into the CCP propaganda system as a result of county cadre leadership; film screenings became regular, planned events timed to coincide with ongoing political and economic movements (SPA 232/31 1955). Remote and mountainous regions were increasingly, if still infrequently, served by mobile film team activity. Projection and propaganda personnel had become more adept in caring for equipment, and most peasants travelled less than 5 li on average to each screening site (down from 10–30 li in the past). Considered in spatial terms, the Shaanxi cultural landscape was covered with more rural projection units, each serving a smaller radius than in the past, while the overall projection network had grown to reach a larger number of people by virtue of increasing unit numbers across a larger and more evenly covered area. In the eyes of cultural officials, the new conditions represented an improvement and could proudly be described to peers and superiors at the national level. Perhaps most importantly, the costs of operating teams were basically covered by the positive state of local fiscal resources—governments and, to a lesser extent, audiences were responsible for returning the costs of films, equipment, and personnel to the cultural system in the form of payment for screenings (equipment and personnel) and tickets (SPA 232/36 1955). The new system was also more centralized, with the China Film Distribution Company’s Shaanxi branch and provincial Culture Bureau playing commanding roles in the allocation of films and



grass-roots projection teams (SPA 232/83 1956). Territory within the province was divided into specific regions and films circulated via film teams according to pre-determined routes. Investigations and reporting on local conditions within the countryside had led to the establishment of regional distribution stations, in Suide and Hanzhong, to complement the activities of the main Shaanxi provincial office. Scientific education and news functions, and corresponding short films, had also been added to mobile team activities; new teams were added for purposes of scientific education only, with the intent of boosting agricultural productivity (Ibid.). Rules, regulations, and technical standards for equipment had been established. There was, overall, considerable optimism concerning the growth, efficacy, and future prospects of the film projection network in rural areas (Fig. 14.4).

Fig. 14.4  Establishing fixed projection routes. The map is of Helan county in Ningxia Self-Governing Region, also part of China’s Northwest region. Distances between screening sites of between 8 and 50 li are indicated, as well as transportation features and physical terrain (Source: Dianying fangying ziliao [Film projection materials] 2, January 1954)



Unauthorized Activities, Local Realities, and Variation Within the Rural Filmgoing Experience For all the satisfaction expressed by cultural officials in 1950s internal and external reports on provincial projection unit activity, there were also notes of alarm concerning the unreliability of projection work on a case-­ by-­case basis. Even when the numbers looked good, questions about efficiency and effectiveness remained. Projection work was easy to promote but hard to control. Moreover, growth depended on the pace of economic development across Shaanxi’s disparate and unforgiving geography. Even from the early 1950s, signs abounded that local culture, even of the official variety, was prone to loss and variation in terms of how the message was transmitted. Northwest film teams were issued warnings against showing reels out of order or skipping segments of films entirely— a practice attributed to wanting to show audiences only the most enticing and exciting content, such as battle scenes from the film Steel Soldier (Gangtie zhanshi, dir. Cheng Yin, 1950) (‘Shancai yingpian wenti’ 1951: 13). Projectionists were also criticized for using overly vivid or vulgar language during propaganda presentations. Finally, reports continued to arrive concerning the presence of unauthorized ‘small-format’ films (xiao dianying, typically comedic and scenic ‘shorts’ and cartoons from the 1930s and 1940s), which continued to circulate illegally in urban and rural areas until at least 1955, when efforts to eradicate them were again intensified (SPA 232/4 1955b). Other concerns focused on the ability of county-level officials to function as effective cultural managers. Following the 1953 ‘Resolution on establishing a film projection network and film industry’, Shaanxi culture and film officials at the provincial level noted ‘chaos’ at the level of local leadership, whose members appeared unable to properly understand and manage the new organizational demands (SPA 232/36 1955). Likewise, projection team leaders operated outside of the plan; issues with propaganda and understanding of policies were notable; and films were not always properly explained. Report materials cited inability to explicate Soviet films for audiences and inaccurate understandings of rural-class relations as ways in which propagandists failed to deliver the right message to peasants. In addition, mobile film projection teams did not always function as coherent or hard-working units. Relations could fray between politically



better-educated team leaders and technical and transportation personnel. ‘Unease’ existed with respect to the difficult and low-paying nature of rural work (Ibid.). Material and organizational shortfalls created additional challenges: films might be scarce at certain times of the year, local promotion was ineffective, and demand (and thus revenues) failed to materialize. A comprehensive investigation covering six rural counties, three agricultural cooperatives, and village-level culture-education committee officials (wen-jiao weiyuan) found that organization of audiences for screenings was still sloppy, resulting in smaller-than-expected turnouts (SPA 232/31 1955). Film teams shirked travelling to remote villages and only screened films in locations where they knew audiences would be easy to attract. The crucial rupture which emerged between central planning and rural filmgoing experience lay in activity outside of the plan—in other words, activity that did not conform to templates for organization, timeliness, enthusiasm, political awareness, and efficient and profitable management. An inspection of distribution work commencing on 17 May 1955 revealed that though personnel believed that their work had been proceeding ‘smoothly’, there was fraying cooperation between office-bound upper leaders, lower leaders, and propagandists and projectionists at work in the field (SPA 232/31 n.d. [1955–1956]). Lack of propaganda work in the countryside was blamed for creating a ‘bad effect on the masses’. Political education was often lacking at screenings. Distribution of newsreels often lagged real events by a considerable margin, films were not topically coordinated with ongoing campaigns, and accounting was shoddy. Corruption was suspected, and distribution leaders were characterized by investigators as ‘disorganized and passive’ when it came to rural projection work. Even in its own reporting, the provincial subsidiary of the China Film Company was forced to admit that lack of enthusiasm for rural projection work meant that by mid-1956, rural film projection teams had, collectively, completed only approximately 35 per cent of the projection work (as measured in terms of screenings and audience) assigned for the year (SPA 232/83 1956). Finally, rural filmgoing was significantly impacted by the preferences and attitudes of audience members themselves. Internal reports from the Shaanxi Culture Bureau suggested that, even by 1955, rural audiences did not necessarily trust the quality of domestic films, preferring Soviet and other imported features instead (SPA 232/82 n.d. [1956]). The reports also indicated that war films and children’s films were more popular with



audiences than historical dramas; in addition, peasants did not necessarily prefer film to other, more familiar entertainments, such as local opera (SPA 232/31 1955). Nor was there necessarily a single rural filmgoing experience, even as ‘rural’ emerged as a more prominent and significant category in cultural planning and projection work. Northern and southern Shaanxi were administered differently than more central regions and county-level towns; farther from Xi’an, resources for state-managed cultural activity remained scarce. The province’s mountainous western regions remained difficult to reach, though not wholly impenetrable from the perspective of special teams assigned to serve these areas (SPA 232/83 1956). Floods and storms created additional barriers between teams and audiences at specific times of the year and within specific localities. Propaganda work varied in quality and content from team to team, even from screening to screening. Audiences varied by gender, age, ethnicity, and any number of additional collective and individual characteristics, making reception difficult for even the most assiduous propagandists (who tended to describe those whose reactions they recorded in exactly such terms) to capture and predict. Rural filmgoing became increasingly prevalent as a practice in 1950s Shaanxi, and across much of the PRC as well, but what this meant to audiences proved elusive to cultural officials, who focused mainly on getting the delivery apparatus and the message right.

Conclusion Revolutionary language and political culture helped to define and legitimate CCP rule in China’s countryside. From the perspective of PRC cultural officials, film was an important medium of, and complement to, rural propaganda efforts. However, Shaanxi province’s difficult terrain and far-­ flung local institutions proved difficult to centralize and control. This chapter has illustrated how a complex terrain and organizational structure eventually became legible to party-state authorities. Its main argument is that building a rural projection network during the 1950s made rural filmgoing a widespread, if only semi-regular, practice within Shaanxi’s countryside; at the same time, screening practices and reception varied across settings. Nor were all parts of rural Shaanxi possible to reach. It is thus difficult to speak of a single rural filmgoing experience, even in a regimented, totalitarian political-cultural system such as that of Maoist China. It is revealing that national planners in the Ministry of Culture, in a report given in November 1956, noted that while the national projection



web continued to develop, the greatest ‘shortcomings’ existed in the countryside. Weak planning, lack of technical competence, disruptions caused by collectivization, and lack of adequate cash in the economy to support revenue-based film screening activity were the main reasons cited (SPA 232/129 1956). Mobile film activity was only made possible by continued growth and development of the rural economy and local institutions. In the absence of these conditions, or when rural realities lagged behind national goals, filmgoing became a more sporadic and less widely distributed activity. To these points must be added the further conclusion that rural cultural life was, and remained, considerably different than life in cities, in minority regions, and in mountainous and frontier zones when viewed from a cultural perspective. Some of the difference was by design: rural film programmes and propaganda were meant to complement rural-only policies. Peasant audiences were, in terms of tastes and cultural levels, deemed to be unlike other ‘target audiences’ insofar as they appeared to lack the comparatively sophisticated tastes of urbanites, not requiring the same levels of state care and indoctrination befitting professional soldiers and conscripts and unlikely to develop anti-state centrifugal tendencies more typical of frontier and minority areas. As a result, rural communities received perhaps the least attention from propagandists when compared with the other classes comprising the PRC ‘worker-peasant-soldier’ (gong-nong-bing) proletarian alliance. Cultural difference thus persisted, at least in part, due to low levels of investment and lack of organizational order and accountability. Nevertheless, it also appears that the system was effective overall in promoting rural filmgoing as a form of mass cultural practice (Johnson 2014: 219–40). Over time, geographic barriers were gradually overcome by the dogged outward spread of mobile projection units to remote corners of a province as famed for its distinctive and divided terrain as for its place in the narrative of how the Mao-led CCP came to power. Acknowledgements  This chapter is based on research and interviews conducted in 2005 in Xi’an, Shaanxi, People’s Republic of China (PRC). The author is grateful for funding provided by the Fulbright Program and sponsorship by the US Department of State, University of California-San Diego Department of History, and Peking University Department of History. I would also like to acknowledge Northwest University, the Shaanxi Provincial Archive, and Xi’an Municipal Archive for additional institutional support. Invaluable intellectual feedback on this and related projects has been generously offered over the years by Jeremy Brown,



Timothy Cheek, Tina Mai Chen, Brian James DeMare, Neil Diamant, Joseph W. Esherick, Jacob Eyferth, Takashi Fujitani, Karl Gerth, Margaret Hillenbrand, Joshua Goldstein, Barak Kushner, Stephen R.  MacKinnon, Rana Mitter, Paul G. Pickowicz, Vivienne Shue, Sigrid Schmalzer, Aminda Smith, S.A. Smith, Stefan Tanaka, and Yingjin Zhang. All errors of fact and interpretation are mine alone.

Notes 1. Observation is based on the author’s collection of texts on economic geography dating from this period. Very few similar publications exist for the early 1950s, and internal documents indicate that more specific geographic planning of mobile projection routes did not begin until several years after 1949, when construction of a national film projection network first began. 2. References to the actual films shown include Charlie Chaplin features, cartoons, and documentaries of natural scenery and disasters (e.g. volcanic eruptions). 3. A li is equivalent to a half kilometre in length. 4. Ethnic minorities, students, and workers were among the other basic audience categories targeted by cultural officials in the Northwest. 5. Titles shown included Harvest (Fengshou), When the Grapes Have Ripened (Putao shule de shihou), and ‘Xinghuo’ Collective Farm (Xinghuo jiti nongzhuang). 6. From a translated Soviet essay appearing in People’s Republic of China (PRC) projectionist publication Dianying fangying ziliao [Film projection materials]. Historians of cinema will note that such practices, perhaps minus the strict ideological orientation, were widespread throughout the silent-­ film era. 7. The Shandong teams were featured during a 1954 conference for film projectionists.

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Leyda, J.  (1972). Dianying/Electric Shadows: An Account of Films and the Film Audience in China. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. North China Daily News and Herald, Ltd. (1935). The China Provincial Atlas and Geography. Shanghai: Author. Qinghai sheng difang zhi bianzuan weiyunhui. (2000). Qinghai sheng zhi, 68, wenhua yishu zhi [Qinghai Provincial Gazetteer, 68, Culture and Arts Gazetteer]. Xining: Qinghai renmin chubanshe. Scott, J. (1998). Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven: Yale University Press. Shaanxi Provincial Archive (SPA) 232/4. (1955, March 4). Shaanxi sheng wenhua ju [Shaanxi Provincial Culture Bureau], Statistics on Projection Teams. SPA 232/4. (1955, June 11). Zhonghua renmin gongheguo wenhua bu [PRC Ministry of Culture], Directive on Inspecting ‘Small-Format Films’ Activities and Conditions. SPA 232/26. (n.d. [1952–1953]). General Statistics on Projection Work. SPA 232/31. (1955, July 10–December 28). Guanyu jiancha Hanzhong, Baoji zhuanqu dianying gongzuo de baogao [Report on Inspection of Film Work in the Special Regions of Hanzhong and Baoji]. SPA 232/31. (n.d. [1955–1956]). Report Concerning Investigation of China Film Distribution Company Shaanxi Provincial Office. SPA 232/36. (1955, April 21). Report Materials for National Film Work Conference. SPA 232/82. (n.d. [1956]). Summary of Reactions During Soviet Film Week. SPA 232/83. (1956, January–June). Zhongguo dianying faxing gongsi Shaanxi sheng gongsi, [China Film Distribution Company Shaanxi Provincial Office], Work Report. SPA 232/129. (1956). Wenhua bu dianying shiye guanli ju [Ministry of Culture Film Enterprise Management Bureau], ‘Guanyu 1956 nian dianying fangying gongzuo de zongjie he 1957 nian de fangzhen renwu’ [1956 Film Projection Work Summary and 1957 Plan and Goals] (Report Given at November 1956 Projection Management Work Conference). ‘Shancai yingpian wenti de piping he jiantao’. (1951, June 1). Xibei yingxun, no. 2/3, p. 13. Shandong sheng dianying fangyingdui de xuanchuan gongzuo. (1954, November 1). [Propaganda Work of Shandong Provincial Film Projection Teams], Dianying fangying ziliao, no. 7, p. 57. Shanghai Municipal Archives (SMA) B34/1/203. (1949, June 27). Shanghai shi jun guan weiyuanhui [Shanghai Military Control Commission], ‘Guanyu choudiao sanbai ganbu de jueding’ [Decision on Transferring Three Hundred Cadres]. Wa’ertannuofu A. (1954, November 1). Women dianyingyuan de guanzhong fuwu gongzuo. [Audience Service Work in our Cinemas], Dianying fangying ziliao [Film Projection Materials], no. 7, pp. 1–5.



Wenhua bu [(PRC) Ministry of Culture]. (1951). 1950 nian quanguo wenhua yishu gongzuo baogao yu 1951 nian jihua yaodian (jielu). [1950 National Culture and Arts Report and 1951 Planning Essentials (excerpts)] (20 April 1951, reprinted in Wu D. (ed.) (2005), Zhongguo dianying yanjiu ziliao, 1949–1979 (shang juan) [Chinese Cinema Research Materials, 1949–1979 (Volume 1)]. Beijing: Wenhua yishu chubanshe, pp. 85–86. Xi’an xinpian zhanlanyue lingxun. (1951, April 1). [News Errata from Xi’an New Film Exhibition Month] Xibei yingxun, no. 1, p. 23. Xibei yingxun [Northwest Film News]. (1951, April 1), no. 1. Xibei yingxun. (1951b, June 1), no. 2/3. Xibei yingxun. (1951c, August), no. 5. Xi’an shi dianying faxing fangying gongsi. (1992). Xi’an dianyingyuan [Cinemas of Xi’an], Xi’an: Author. Zhang, Y. (2005). Chinese National Cinema. New York: Routledge. Zhongguo renmin gongheguo zhongyang renmin zhengfu guowu yuan. (1953). [PRC Central People’s Government State Council] ‘Guanyu jianli dianying fangyingwang yu dianying gongye de jueding’ [Resolution on Establishing a Film Projection Network and Film Industry] (24 December 1953), in Idem. (1954) Guanyu dianying gongzuo de jueding [Resolutions concerning film work], Zhongyang wenhua bu dianying ju, pp. 1–9.


Silence under the Linden Tree: Rural Cinema-Going in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s and 1960s Lucie Č esálková

In Czech culture the idea of rural sociability has an unambiguously spatial basis: it tends to be associated either with the square or with the pub. It is in these two spaces that the majority of cultural events and entertainment enterprises in villages took place up until the midpoint of the twentieth century, forming the backdrop to all gatherings and pastimes (Horák 2007). Indeed, in many cases a linden tree added a symbolic dimension to the space of the square, creating a place of national solidarity. The linden, already chosen by the Slavic peoples as their national tree during the peak of national revival at the Pan-Slavic Congress in Prague in 1848, stood in the centre of most Czech squares and its shade tended to be symbolically linked to an opportunity for rest and general conversation (Hrušková 2005). From the end of World War II and especially in the period following 1948, when the Communist Party came to power in Czechoslovakia, Czech rural communities underwent a series of fundamental changes that influenced their social structure, architectural form, and the organization L. Č esálková (*) Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic © The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




of work and free time within them. The space under the linden tree at that time—when the Communist Party often violently collectivized a­ griculture, established a single agricultural cooperative, and ‘reshuffled’ the village— became a pole of power and interest (Rokoský and Svoboda 2013; Pšeničková 2008; Bočková 2008; Blažek and Kubálek 2008). The voice of power in the traditional site of social village debate was supposed to be represented by the media—most massively from the beginning, film—and the nationalized cinema soon began sending mobile cinemas to villages, organizing film screenings such as Film Springs in the village or People’s Film Universities and organizing ‘film chats under the linden’ (‘Krátký film mezi’ 1958: 2). The transformation of the village as carried out in the 1950s and 1960s by the Communist Party had a number of phases differing in their priorities. For the entire period, however, it was led by a fundamental modernization and the indoctrinating role of the media in the entire process—this consisted of an architectural and social transformation as well as a transformation of the media. Balancing the differences between the city and the village and improving the standard of village life, which was meant to be assisted by the mechanization of agricultural work, the building of housing complexes and cultural centres, and efforts to increase the accessibility of media and culture in the village, were accompanied by a continual decline in the attractiveness of agricultural work, expressed by migration to cities and the ageing of rural populations. The concurrence of these two phenomena led the architect Karel Honzík to lament halfway through the 1960s: ‘In the old village, windows opened onto the square, where people shopped and sat beneath the linden, where markets gathered and travelling entertainment set up shop. What does the modern housing complex offer as a replacement for this complexity?’ (Honzík 1964: 15). Honzík’s commentary might seem paradoxical at first: as if in his mind the traditional rural idyll had offered diversity while the tendency towards modernization tended towards monotony. Yet this idea seems paradoxical solely from the perspective that a priori ascribes to modernization a potential smooth advancement. This is a perspective oriented by logic towards progress, improvement, and growth as the most appropriate and automatically positive outcomes of any human endeavour. In the spirit of this logic, the involvement of media within the process of modernization, which rural historians call mediatization of rural communities (Schulz 2004), also tends to be perceived as modernizing, progressive, and liberalizing. Yet, as proven by a range of more detailed studies, mediatization of



rural communities can be more persuasively perceived as a very ambivalent process, socially and politically speaking (Zimmermann 2010) in which, among other factors, the establishment of relationships between the centre and the peripheries plays a fundamental role at the level of cultural policy. Rural regions always developed in connection to a dynamic of national and international political/economic relationships—that is, always in tension or interaction with areas traditionally perceived as urban. From the perspective of this rural-urban continuum (Hoggart 1990; Halfacree 1993) the story of the mediatization of rural communities under conditions of centrally managed production, distribution, and consumption of media and culture in socialist Czechoslovakia reveals a specific dimension of what historians and sociologists studying rural communities refer to as the rural penalty—the essential handicap of distance (Hite 1997). The peripheral status of rural communities imposed by distance from markets and encumbered access to services should be erased by information, communication, and transportation technologies, as well as the media; however, a spatial chasm remains between the production of media and the consumption of media, and a local entrepreneur as a knowledgeable provider can rectify ambivalent reactions and attitudes using locally specific programming and other strategies. In Czechoslovakia, the socialist cultural policy failed to achieve satisfactory realization of numerous projects devoted to the modernization of villages. Its central management with its cultural/unificational priorities not only eliminated private enterprise activities, but also underestimated the very significance of the local element (the cultural intermediary), was insensitive to local specificities, and did not adapt partial strategies to accommodate them. In order for us to appreciate the impact of the suppression of the autonomous local impulse in the distribution and consumption of media and culture, it is necessary to discuss in detail why the opinions and behaviour of rural audiences changed at a time when efforts to mediatize rural communities reached their peak as part of the socialist reconstruction of villages. Instead of enhancing the socialization functions promised of culture and media by the cultural policy of the Communist Party, silence persisted under the linden tree. The audience abandoned traditional meeting places—village squares, social halls, and pubs. Cinema-­ going, included among the most popular leisure-time activities even despite the decrease in cinema attendance in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s and 1960s, effectively demonstrates why.



Media and culture play a key role in the process of socio-technological change like the modernization of villages. The characteristic aspects of mediatization, as this phenomenon was called by Winfried Schulz, are extension, substitution, amalgamation, and accommodation. In this model, media serves to bridge spatial and temporal distances (extension); media substitutes social activities and social institutions and therefore change their character (substitution); media activities not only extend and (partly) substitute non-media activities, they also merge and mingle with one another— as woven into the fabric of everyday life, media pervade the professional sphere, the economy, culture, politics, and the public sphere (amalgamation); media leads actors to adapt to the rules of the media system (accommodation) (Schulz 2004). These categories are useful for analysis of rural cinema-going primarily because the individual practices are expressed at the periphery more clearly than at the centre, essentially in a completely different dynamic. The project of the reconstruction of villages in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s hoped to provide extension, but could not predict how it would develop with substitution, amalgamation, and accommodation under the complicated circumstances of development of Czechoslovak rural life, and did not consider that they could complicate one another. The example of post-war Czechoslovakia is to a certain extent distinctive in how very unilaterally the ideological and indoctrinating focus of the cultural policy in the 1950s, and the conflict of official interests with what the audience expected of culture, fundamentally influenced the means of consumption of culture in villages for the subsequent decade as well.

Unilateral Programming Through its capacity for extension the media helped rural communities to overcome the basic handicap of distance, the various levels of peripherality. The countryside was primarily a periphery of an educational nature for the cultural policy of 1950s Czechoslovakia—it sought to provide rural communities access to information and improve the familiarity of rural people with current events via film, radio, and print. These lofty motives of course had a political background. It was no accident that the Ministry of Information oversaw all media production in post-war Czechoslovakia, as they considered the key function of print, film, and radio to be adult education. An indoctrinating or educational role was ascribed to the media just as with art, and it was meant to be fulfilled not only on the level of content but also through adequate forms of distribution.



In this sense media and cultural works became propaganda and agitational activities, in the majority of which direct contact between the agitational worker and the audience was preferred. For this reason, an effort to integrate the screening of films within certain didactic formats influenced most methods of film distribution oriented towards the countryside, for example, lectures, roundtables, or debates. This type of activity was provided by agit-cars, which emerged according to the model of the agit-­ trains in the Soviet Union as mobile adult education vehicles (vans), which delivered a cultural programme to rural communities consisting of lectures, exhibitions, readings, roundtable discussions, and film screenings. In addition to distributing brochures and leaflets, agitators were to visit individual buildings and target agriculturalists by address (Osvětou na pomoc 1952). The substance of lectures and other agitational activities was the principles of collective agriculture, and it was the communication of these types of topics in particular that the media was intended to support, especially in the first half of the 1950s. The lectures had a categorically ideological background, and they presented collectivization as a prerequisite for improvement of the rural lifestyle, even though their primary goal was central oversight of all agricultural activities and they were surrounded by books, printed materials, gramophone records, radio transmissions, and films. A lecture on the future of the socialist village, for example, was therefore to be a ‘an asset in the struggle for a new village, to reaffirm the listener in the conviction that the path to win over the village to socialism was the correct one, as only this would lead to the goal—prosperity’, and it was to be accompanied by certain recommended short films about collectivization or feature films on rural topics, and the gramophone was to play party songs (Král 1953). The Soviet films Dream of a Cossack (Yuli Raizman 1951), Spring in Sakeni (Nikoloz Sanishvili 1951), and Cossacks of the Kuban (Ivan Pyryev 1950) celebrating the heroism of agricultural work and the rural idyll in the spirit of socialist realism, together with agricultural propaganda films on new methods of working in cooperatives, nonetheless were not offered to the rural public solely as a supplement to the work of the agit-cars— they reached the villages in other ways as well, specifically as part of the programmes of mobile cinemas, shows such as Film Spring in the Village, Film Summer in the Village, Film for Agriculturalists, Film to Every Village, and others. This set of shows conformed to the ritual format of socialist culture, and yet the reception of these events was not by any



means unequivocal. A key problem was the unilateral character of the entire event and its purely cultural/indoctrinational character. The events differed solely in their number—they were identical in their contents and moreover, the better crops the farmers achieved, the more events for them were organized, in the spirit of ‘rewarding farmers with film’. The highest level of cultural indoctrination therefore paradoxically reached the very people who were the best workers in the first place. This model therefore tended rather to create frustration. It bothered the viewers that the event had only minimal entertainment value and did not fulfil the rest and recreation function of culture, whereas the cultural policy reacted to low attendance of Soviet films in an entirely contradictory manner, contrary to audience interests, by increasing promotion and stimulating attendance at Soviet films artificially through mandatory screenings. How these intentions were carried out in practice can be demonstrated, however, through a local example. According to the periodical Filmová práce (Film Work), which reflected agitation work using film in industrial companies and rural communities, the village of Chroustovice in Eastern Bohemia was celebrated for the best practice in using film for the purposes of adult education. Local projectionists Josef Starý, Miloš Dlouhý, and František Křištǎ n were presented in the magazine in heroic propaganda as self-sacrificing agitators who ‘in snow, rain, and discomfort travelled to Poděcě ly, Mentour, and Městec with equipment on their backs in order to cheer up the long winter evenings for their fellow citizens’ (Pecina 1954: 35–37). According to Filmové práce they projected 16  mm films of an educational character, for example, films on Soviet methods of agrobiology, or the film Rozloučení s Klementem Gottwaldem (A Farewell to Klement Gottwald; Ivo Toman 1953), a tribute to the recent death of the Communist President Klement Gottwald. However, the responses of the local press and local citizens weaken the importance of these activities. While the projectionists did indeed carry out their screenings in Chroustovice and its surroundings, their agitational role was short-lived, partly due to the fact that their activities with the portable projector were not anywhere near as welcome an event as the screenings of the local cinema. Even the residents of neighbouring villages preferred to set off on foot to the Chroustovice cinema than to watch agricultural films in their own place of residence.1 As shown by the studies of a team of sociologists of villages in the 1960s, which were intended to help focus the cultural activity in villages in response to its ongoing inadequacy, the problem was not that rural



audiences did not enjoy rural topics. On the contrary, middle-aged female farm audiences actually preferred stories from villages; however, it was the presentation of these stories in the style of social realism and as part of propaganda campaigns that was problematic (Tahy 1968). While not even the local cinemas could avoid presenting ideologically prominent films, as the composition of the programme was governed by quotas stipulating the percentages of Soviet and domestic films, they nonetheless managed to retain a certain degree of freedom in their programming. Interviews with the employees of local cinemas confirm that the projections of Soviet and domestic ideological films in cinemas were not frequented.2 Yet the cinema had to prove it succeeded to fulfil the plan of high attendance and when there was a risk that it would not fulfil the plan, it worked with factories and agricultural cooperatives to organize screenings that were mandatory for their employees.

The Desire for Entertainment in an Age of Indoctrination Entertaining films were, however, in greater demand and cinemas attempted to include them in their programmes more frequently despite the quotas, whenever possible. Projectionists from the towns of Chroustovice and Malé Svatoň ovice both confirm this practice, whereas the decision on the specific titles ordered from the Central Film Repository was up to local workers and it was possible in certain cases to exchange an ideological film for an entertaining one. The actual programme of the cinema was reported through local radio, whereas posters and leaflets were prepared a month in advance—and if the possibility of showing an entertaining film instead of an ideological one presented itself, projectionists were loath to resist. Employees of cinemas and their attendees described adult education programmes as ‘rare’, and apart from certain series of the People’s Film University (a specific format of programming popular science films) they did not rate them as popular or ‘of general interest’. The relatively vague distinction between ‘ideological’ (uninteresting, unattended) and ‘entertaining’ (interesting, well-attended) films is repeated also in the recollections of cinema-goers and indicates that audiences did not perceive a visit to the cinema unequivocally but with ambivalence. The experience of a mandatory visit to the cinema during employment, which on the one hand meant not having to work, but at the same time meant having to watch ideological films, was accompanied by



guardedness towards other ideological films in the programme and adult education programmes including film and at the same time by a desire for purely entertaining films. The informational or indoctrinational potential that agitation campaigns sought to mine was expected of film by audiences in a format other than an explicitly practical one. Cooperatives considered propaganda suitable solely at the level of work instruction, not as a leisure-­ time pursuit. For this reason, the films from the information programme included newsreels, travel films, or popular scientific films (about nature, but also physical or chemical phenomena, or astronomy) (Č esálková and Váradi 2015). A study of rural audiences’ awareness of current events from 1966, moreover, indicated that rural audiences considered print and radio, and in some cases local libraries, as key sources of information, while television and film were expected to entertain (Šimek 1966). Rural audiences, especially farmers, had the strongest opinion about this—their most frequent answer in the early 1960s survey on the reception of newsreels was: ‘show us more people having fun, not only how they work; we all have work enough, and yet we see it in cinemas all the time’ (Průzkum názorů na filmové týdeníky 1961: 9). While representatives of the cultural policy of Czechoslovakia from the beginning of the 1950s realized that one of the paths to influencing the audience was to do so via entertainment itself, they were unable to find a model that would be acceptable to the viewers. ‘To give entertainment the proper substance’, as the Minister of Information Václav Kopecký defined the goal (Osvětou na pomoc 1952: 15), proved to be problematic. In the case of cinema-going, agricultural youth (as the age group that frequented the cinema most often) as part of the study stated that their favourite genres included mostly adventure films (more common with boys), comedy, or romance films (more common with girls), with French cinema being the national cinema that best met the requirements of the youth (Tauber 1958). Entertaining films represented for audiences outside the city even more intensively an opportunity to encounter worlds of adventure and romance, which their immediate surroundings did not offer. The programming of films promoting socialism and agricultural films, however, in this sense did not contribute to the role of the cinema as a means by which the rural audience would be in closer contact with the city/ centre and thereby balance the handicap of distance. Conservative programming of content that did not draw an audience as it more or less reflected their everyday experiences significantly endorsed the transformation of the role of cinema attendance in the lives of rural



audiences at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s. Along with the period’s trends in leisure-time policy, the increasing dissatisfaction of residents with current standards of living, the entrenchment of consumer culture in socialist Czechoslovakia, attitudes towards the role of the media, and the various forms of leisure-time pursuits in rural society changed as well. If efforts to maximize agitational and cultural indoctrination activities in the countryside grew stronger from the beginning of the 1950s, so in parallel did the tendency to regulate the sphere of leisure-time entertainment with an emphasis on collective types of activities. The Communist Party succeeded in monitoring the ways in which free time was spent only by adopting the existing groups and athletic clubs and integrating them into their own structures. This transformation was carried out in a relatively radical manner—by banning the activities of existing groups, whose constructive activities were very popular in the interwar period in Czechoslovakia, and replacing them with their own ideological variants (Knapík and Franc 2013). New institutions emerged that were centrally managed with local branches. Spontaneity in the establishment of independent initiatives was thereby suppressed. The Communist Party took great care that the new organizations coordinating leisure-time activity would be harmonized with the Communist vision of the indoctrination of the new socialist person. Given that clubs and interest groups were the typical organizers of social life in cities and rural communities during the interwar period, the disruption of their activities also meant the disruption of the tradition of certain types of cultural, athletic, or folk-education activities and the severing of social ties between the actors themselves—participants and organizers of these events (Burešová 2008). The disruption of relationships in interest-based integrated communities also occurred at a time when discussion of the re-evaluation of the role of leisure time in socialist society in the first half of the 1950s inclined towards overcoming the antagonism between work and leisure. Both of these spheres of human activity were supposed to progress naturally in socialist society, which in practice meant an emphasis on the use of leisure time for the regeneration of the workforce and the expansion of qualifications through self-education. In the spirit of this thesis, works on the construction of new cultural facilities and athletic centres were also organized as cooperative events to which local citizens contributed (Bláha 1957). Nevertheless, the groups of the populace that considered their own work to be labour intensive and time-­ consuming—namely agriculturalists—did not identify with this occupation of their leisure time. Rural youth were dissatisfied in general



with the work conditions in agriculture; they were bothered by the seasonal fluctuations in the difficulty of the work and the accompanying fluctuations in pay, as well as the demands placed on their work hours, which often included weekends (Horáková 1960). Indeed, the countryside found itself at the end of the 1950s in a situation whereby the part of the generation whose occupation supported a philosophical disposition to leftist and collectivist ideals (Rákosník 2010), and who invested not inconsiderable hope in socialism due to their disillusionment with pre-war politics, was ageing. The reluctance towards collectivization of resistant agriculturalists persisted (Mrň ka 2015), while the younger generation for their part were distinguished more for their apathy towards ideology and public life and ever more intensively focused on the values of consumer culture (Franc 2015). Among all the groups of the population, however, it was the agriculturalists who, as seen above, did not merely exhibit the greatest resistance to (agricultural) indoctrination but also rejected the general idea of leisure-time activity as a continuation of work (Č ervinka 1962) and resisted participation in the activities of mass collective organizations such as the Czechoslovak Youth Union, the Revolutionary Trade Union Movement, or the Committee of Czechoslovak Women. While membership of these institutions was relatively expansive, few considered their events attractive and most did not participate in them voluntarily (Tauber 1958). Rural youth adopted similar attitudes towards other traditional collective activities of the village—minimal interest was expressed not only in folk customs but also, for example, in community theatre. On the contrary, this generation preferred reading, dancing, and sports (Tauber 1958). From the end of the 1950s the education of rural youth also increased, as well as the percentage that lived in the countryside but worked in industry (Tauber 1965; Č iháková 1966). This resulted in an increase in their requirements for cultural fulfilment closer to town. Youth at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s included cinema-going among their key forms of leisure-time fulfilment, and this represented a long-term trend. Even despite the increasing influence of television in everyday Czechoslovak society, agricultural, vocational, and apprentice youth at the end of the 1960s preferred cinema as their favourite pastime, whereas student youth prioritized sport and reading (Šimek 1971). On the other hand, interest in cinema-going in villages rapidly dropped in older generations. In this sense the difference between city and country significantly deepened: according to studies focused on attendance at cultural facilities over the



long term, no more than 50% of rural residents aged over 40 at the end of the 1960s participated in screenings of films (Cejp 1977: 48). According to a locally oriented study of the agricultural village Ivanka pri Dunaji, where the local cinema was visited by an average of 195 persons per screening, less than 65% of agriculturalists participated in the screening of films. The audience was therefore composed primarily of rural student youths and labourers. The importance of cinema-going continued to drop among older agriculturalists, not older rural labourers. Agriculturalists devoted more time from their leisure-time fund to meetings as an activity related to work but unpaid, and realized in work environments but after working hours (Juřík 1966).3 The labourers did not differ in any other popular methods of spending leisure time—they were frequent readers, radio listening and television watching occupied an important role in their everyday lives, and they also frequently visited pubs and devoted time to passive rest. Agriculturalists nonetheless devoted 18.4% of their leisure time to meetings, labourers only 3.4% and attended the cinema far more often (Juřík 1966). Television began occupying an ever-larger role in the free time of the rural audience in the 1960s, across generations. This was primarily due to the fact that it was more accessible (right in the household) and it brought rural communities closer to quality cultural or sports activities which their population rarely encountered otherwise. Communal TV viewing in Czechoslovakia, however, did not take place in public spaces (restaurants, bars, etc.) but in private households—families which owned TV sets earlier than others invited other family members, neighbours, and friends for viewings in their living rooms. In the early days of its programming, television emphasized broadcasts of concerts and theatrical performances, then sporting events with the objective of channelling these experiences to viewers for whom going to the theatre or the concert hall was an impossibility (Štoll 2011; Bednařík 2015). The rural audience at the same time, according to studies from the period, did not perceive these types of activities as explicitly inaccessible but rather (once again along with the increase in education and increased percentage of labourers) refused to attend a programme at a local or regional level and yearned for the standard of the ones provided in larger cities. In addition to this, they took a dim view of the appearance and furnishing of the local cultural halls in which theatrical performances, cinema, and concerts were held. Most, especially in smaller townships, were dining halls or rooms at the municipal government offices (Hromádka 1966).



Cultural buildings, in which a 35 mm projector was available, were more typical for larger townships. An independent cinema was rather an exception that operated in smaller towns. Meanwhile the use of these spaces in the 1960s was very irregular. As the study Rozbor využívání kulturních domů ve vesnickém prostředí (Analysis of Cultural Hall Use in Rural Settings, 1968) demonstrated, the most popular parts of these cultural buildings were the bars, whereas the social halls were used irregularly and with highly fluctuating attendance (Hromádka and Studený 1968). A case study of South Bohemia which conducted an analysis of rural life in the mid-1960s indicated that the social rooms were located in obsolete dining halls, only two towns had a cultural building, three agglomerations had a permanent cinema, only two had a gymnasium, and only two a sports stadium. On the other hand, the libraries functioned well everywhere (Tauber 1965). Even despite more intensive discussions of how to improve opportunities for cultural fulfilment in villages, in the 1970s, 38% of the rural population still considered the standard of cultural life to be relatively low and 30% confirmed that culture in the villages was practically nonexistent (Cejp 1977: 48). A decrease in cinema-going between the 1950s and 1960s therefore was not so much the result of decreased interest in the cinema and films as such but dissatisfaction with the level of cultural facilities and the method of programming and conception of cultural activities in the countryside in general. An audience lacking community ties and resistant to the activities of local collective organizations, which were far too representative for them of the official culture, had difficulties identifying with the atmosphere and programme of cultural events. In reaction to the insufficient offerings of publicly available entertainment, rural residents sought elsewhere for a replacement—specifically in television (Tahy 1961–1963). Agriculturalists from all groups of the population therefore were those who most agreed with the attitude expressed by the statement ‘I could never get by without television’ (Šimek 1970). Rural communities had the greatest number of residents who watched more than 20  hours of television a week. At the same time, the method by which agriculturalists as well as rural labourers accepted television indicated that in the new medium they truly saw a tool by which they could more easily get what they lacked in local cultural life—distraction from amateur provinciality and a glimpse into the world of ‘city’ culture. Like city residents, rural communities were also demonstrably lured by television away from visits to cultural events in their place of residence, from participation in cultural activities, as well as from their hobbies (Šimek 1970).



In the greater variety of television programming, which in the 1960s, unlike television’s beginnings, included news, films, sports, and cultural broadcasts in addition to original works for television, it was the news, sports, variety shows, and game shows that the agricultural audience sought most. It was also the rural population that most readily and frequently reacted to television programmes—primarily by participation in correspondence contests as well as other types of activities (Šimek 1970). Sociologists of the time already considered the practices by which the rural audience adapted to the presence of television in their everyday life as proof that the non-progressive, conservative programmes of local cultural facilities that did not address the needs of the audience not only caused its divergence from local public culture but above all enhanced the role of household media. The desire for entertainment, music, and popular genres was better fulfilled by the rural audience in front of television screens, and television began to significantly replace other forms of leisure-time fulfilment (Šimek 1970). A look into the film programmes of rural communities and their comparison to district centres validates this trend in many respects. Young people, who already ranked with labourers as the most frequent attendees of the cinema in the 1960s according to studies from the end of the decade, mostly preferred American and French genre productions. To the question of which film left the greatest impression on young viewers, most answered either Angelique (without specifying a particular film from the cycle by Bernard Borderie, 1964–1968) or Planet of the Apes (Franklin J.  Schaffner 1968). These films were mentioned most frequently in the answers but definitely did not reach the majority of the audience. Angelique was cited by 10% of the youth, while Planet of the Apes was mentioned by only 5.6% of young people, and yet most of the respondents to the survey did not agree in their answers, and reactions were varied; looking at the responses we can see that that they preferred adventure, detective, and comedy films (Šimek 1971). The availability of such films in rural communities nevertheless fluctuated heavily. While the second half of the 1950s is discussed as an era of liberalization in the sense of relaxing the strictly pro-Soviet/pro-socialist programming of cinemas (Skopal 2014), in rural cinemas Czech productions in combination with films from the Soviet Union dominated. At the same time, these films were at least two years old, and programmes often included pre-war productions such as the domestic films Powder and Gasoline (Jindřich Honzl 1931), Ecstasy (Gustav Machatý 1932) and others, the



Italian film Four Steps in the Clouds (Alessandro Blasetti 1942), and more often double features of popular science films not programmed in cities.4 During the 1960s the offering gradually transformed to accommodate viewer preference such that even the rural cinemas reduced the percentage of Soviet films and primarily increased programming of genre productions (comedies, romances, and adventure films and westerns) not only from socialist countries (The Haunted Castle, Kurt Hoffmann 1960; Winnetou, Harald Reinl 1963, both from West Germany) but also from the United States (The Magnificent Seven, John Sturges, 1960; High Noon, Fred Zinnemann, 1952). The more open programming of musicals and musical films was also noticeable.5 However, screenings took place at best twice or thrice a week, though this was by no means the rule, and in smaller townships they were equipped solely with 16  mm projectors, and often nothing was shown. As mentioned already above, when such projections took place, they were less popular than screenings in classic 35 mm cinemas in similarly big municipalities, particularly in places where television was already diffused (Hromádka and Studený 1968). Not even the aforementioned emphasis on integrating film with music and dance, as in musicals and musical films, could compare to the interest in live dancing and variety shows. In the 1960s these were the most sought-after entertainments—they represented even more precious events than film projections, and when they were organized they could attract as many as 340 people, for example, in a location with 500 residents (Hromádka and Studený 1968).

Conclusion The socialist conversion of villages in post-war years was a very inconsistent, uneven, and ambivalent process in Czechoslovakia, which also had ambivalent outcomes. Collectivization and modernization proved to a significant extent to be contradictory tendencies. While a more modern infrastructure was ultimately developed, it was relatively erratic and unsystematic and concurrently resulted in the weakening of social ties within the community. A range of disputes associated with voluntary and ­involuntary inputs to the cooperatives, as well as disputes within families empowered by the law, which mandated that at least one member of an agricultural family remain in the agricultural profession (Valeš 2014; Codl et al. 2012), together weakened the typical characteristics of village culture: stronger family bonds, a wider net of neighbourly relationships, a



community foundation, and the functioning of heterogeneous groups in terms of age and education. At the same time, the development of a cultural infrastructure was not designed to extend the continuity of pre-war cinema ownership or the emergence of autonomous rural cinemas—instead it tended towards concentrating all social and cultural activities into a single building in the middle of a village. In association with the more general tendencies of the politicization of public cultural and social life, this also resulted in the politicization of the space of projection that was undesirable from the perspective of an audience resistant to the will of official policy. Without social or spatial specificity, it was difficult for the local audience to identify with the cinema, and for this reason a locally distinctive paradox resulted: that cinema-going remained (at the conceptual level) the most popular leisure-­time entertainment of the rural audience and yet in reality took place less and less. In terms of the relationship to culture and media, we can therefore observe a dual type of resistance or hesitation on the part of the rural population towards the values presented by the cultural policy of the Communist Party, differing between the 1950s and the 1960s. Resistance in the 1950s was strongly motivated by the agriculturalists’ distaste for the violent practice of collectivization and the new culture expressed particularly by the ideological training and the emphasis on Soviet production. In this decade, natives and farmers with traditional foundations were the most resistant. The operation of converting the villages, which was meant to equip the countryside and modernize its infrastructure, began to pick up speed only in the 1960s and was not in any way systematic and therefore did not succeed. Until that time the availability of media somewhat improved and yet in a very conservative manner: simply through maintaining the rural status quo. Rural youth and young labourers, as the subgroups of the population who frequented the cinema, often failed to identify either with the values of the countryside or with the values of the cultural policy of the Communist Party. This was because the cinema offered them films on rural topics which confirmed (and enhanced) the illusion of an idyll: instructional and educational media (agricultural ­newspapers, radio, films), or events involving media in rural rituals, supporting collective forms of spending free time and so on. In the 1960s, when in association with the mass industrialization of the countryside, among other factors, the percentage of workers grew, the education of rural populations increased, and a generation of rural residents came of age that had not been subjected directly to the repressions



of collectivization, it is no longer possible to consider their weak disinterest in culture as a clear act of resistance. This was not a rejection of the regime and its imposed activities and values but rather a manner of negotiating with them and an effort to maintain a traditional way of life and work within the conditions of state socialism (Heumos 2001). The suppression of the autonomous local impulse in the distribution of media and culture, along with the atomization of villages towards more rapid pluralization of lifestyles, led to differentiation of the methods of consumption of media and culture and the rejection of official trends and encouraged alternative or subversive practices. Under the conditions of state socialism, which preferred central production of media and regulated its distribution centrally in part, only a minimum of options for the development of local bottom-up alternatives were retained, especially in rural communities. For this reason, the audience became disposed much more rapidly and widely to the rise of television, which, to a greater extent than collective and public leisure-time activities, offered both an extension and substitution of former cultural interests and needs and by the 1970s and 1980s was gradually incorporated into the texture of everyday life.

Notes 1. Chroustovice Chronicle. Státní oblastní archiv Chrudim (consulted by the author in the State Regional Archive Chrudim). Interviews conducted by the author with members of Chroustovice’s senior group Chrpa in August 2010. 2. This study was carried out by the author in 2010–2012  in a total of five townships of varying sizes in the Bohemian and Moravian areas of the former Czechoslovakia (Povrly/North Bohemia, Chroustovice/East Bohemia, Malé Svatoň ovice/East Bohemia, Větřní/South Bohemia, and Bystřice pod Hostýnem/South Moravia). The selection criteria were as follows: references in period press, conversing about ‘successful’ educational work in the given location, relative representation of borderland regions and both agricultural and industrial rural communities, accessibility of historical sources. In the individual townships interviews were conducted with local interviewees about work and leisure pastimes in the 1950s and 1960s; interviews with cinema employees tended towards more exact depictions of cinema operations. Sources in regional archives were also studied, particularly local press and local cultural bulletins. 3. Data reflects the situation in the year 1962.



4. Programmes of local cinemas and other local cultural events reconstructed according to cultural monthly bulletins: Kulturní kalendář okresu Č eský Krumlov (1959), Kulturní kalendář Chomutovska (1959). 5. Programmes of local cinemas and other local cultural events reconstructed according to the cultural monthly bulletin: Kulturní kalendář Mostecka (1966).

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Šimek, M. (1966). Informovanost vesnického obyvatelstva o aktuálních událostech a její zdroje. Prague: Osvětový ústav. Šimek, M. (1970). Postavení televize v kulturním životě občanů ve srovnání s místní kulturní činností. Prague: Ústav pro výzkum kultury. Šimek, M. (1971). Průzkum postojů mládeže k vybraným kulturním hodnotám a zájmovým kulturním aktivitám. Prague: Ústav pro výzkum kultury. Skopal, P. (2014). Filmová kultura severního trojúhelníku. Filmy, kina a diváci českých zemí, NDR a Polska 1945–1970. Brno: Host. Štoll, M. (2011). 1. 5. 1953. Zahájení televizního vysílání. Zrození televizního národa. Prague: Nakladatelství Havran. Tahy, C. (1961–1963). Závěrečná zpráva o výsledku výskumu vplyvu televízie na uspokojovanie kultúrnych potrieb pracujúcich na dedine. Prague-Bratislava: Osvetový ústav. Tahy, C. (1968). Tlač, rozhlas, film, televízia v kultúrnom živote Ivanky pri Dunaji. Faktografický materiál z výsledkov výzkumu. Bratislava: Osvetový ústav. Tauber, J.  (1958). Otázky zemědělské mládeže. Prague: Kabinet pro studium hospodářského a sociálního vývoje v zemědělství. Tauber, J.  (1965). Kdo žije na vesnici. Sociologická rozprava. Č eské Budějovice: Nakladatelství Č eské Budějovice. Valeš, L. (2014). Životní příběhy českých zemědělců v éře komunistického režimu a ekonomické a společenské transformace. In M.  Vaněk (Ed.), Příběhy (ne) obyčejných profesí. Č eská společnost v období tzv. normalizace a transformace (pp. 461–510). Prague: Nakladatelství Karolinum. Zimmermann, C. (2010). Mediennutzung in der ländlichen Gesellschaft. Medialisierung in historischer Perspektive. Zeitschrift für Agrargeschichte und Agrarsoziologie, 58(2), 10–22.


Film Programming Strategies, Exhibition Practices and Reception


Language and Cultural Nearness: Film Programming Strategies and Audience Preferences in Big Cities and Small Towns in the Netherlands 1934–1936 Clara Pafort-Overduin

Introduction The following comparative analysis of the film programming strategies of cinemas in 22 towns in the Netherlands between 1934 and 1936 is a further elaboration of a paper I wrote with Jaap Boter (2009) on film distribution and exhibition in the Netherlands in 1934–1936. In that article, a short case study was presented on the programming strategies of cinemas in Amsterdam and how these strategies could be explained by the geographical position of the cinemas. We found that cinemas in the centre of the city tended to choose a particular level of specialisation in the programming: either older American films and European films, recent American films, or recent European films (especially German and Dutch films). The so-called neighbourhood cinemas were characterised by mixed C. Pafort-Overduin (*) Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




programming. Given the lack of other theatres in the vicinity, the latter could be explained by the need to cater to the wide-ranging tastes of ­audiences living in neighbourhoods. From the evidence of Amsterdam, one could hypothesise that cinemas in smaller towns with little or no competition would be likely to screen mixed programmes in order to attract as wide an audience as possible and that the size of the potential audience was probably too small to support specialised programming. Research by Kathryn Fuller-Seeley (2008) into film exhibition in small towns in the US points in the same direction. Fuller-Seeley analysed the reports of exhibitors presented in the section ‘What the Picture Did For Me’ in the Motion Picture Herald and shows that small town exhibitors wished to programme films that pleased a heterogeneous audience as they could not afford to only attract a segment of the local audience. But not only did the small town exhibitors distinguish themselves from more specialised cinema owners in the cities by the variety of their programmes, they also had at the same time to cater for particular preferences for, say, action, comedy, fast-paced plot, scenic locations, and American settings. These audiences liked real characters and were not interested in exotic places or high-class characters (Fuller-Seeley 2008: 191). So, Fuller-­Seeley’s work suggests a similar difference in film tastes between cinemagoers in the cities and in the small towns of the US in the 1920s to that conjectured above. After a discussion of the data and methods used in this study, this chapter begins with an analysis of differences in the programming strategies of cinemas across the Netherlands between 1934 and 1936. This broadly supports the idea of highly specialised cinemas being comparatively rare and, with a number of exceptions, located in the cities. However, we discover that by relaxing the criteria by which ‘specialised cinema’ is understood, it becomes apparent that in most small towns cinema owners practised either a pro-Dutch or pro-German film oriented programming strategy. The second part of the chapter focuses on film preferences in the small towns. Here, evidence is presented to suggest that while there was a general preference for Dutch films in small towns, this was not the case in the mining towns of Geleen and Heerlen, close to the German border, where a large German-speaking population watched films that suggested both the physical and cultural proximity of Germany. The importance of the relation between aspects of cultural representation in the form and content of a film and film preferences from different audiences has been pointed out by several authors. For example, Joseph Garncarz in his work on film preferences of European audiences argues that cultural nearness is



an important factor in understanding film preferences. Films can evoke feelings of cultural nearness not only because of their narratives and locations but also by the language in which film action is conducted (Garncarz 2015: 142–46). This is also noticed in research by Barrera and Bielby (2001) on immigrant audiences and the reasons why they watch programmes produced in their home countries. The presence of cultural aspects like religion, the settings, and language reinforced their cultural identity and were therefore important reasons to watch those shows. Cultural nearness even seems to play a role in the appreciation of Hollywood films by international audiences. In explaining the popularity of Hollywood films in foreign markets, Peter Miskell (2016) found that Hollywood films with a less obvious American appearance and manifestation reaped a higher percentage of their earnings on foreign markets than on the domestic market. In other words, international audiences seemed to have favoured Hollywood films with international settings and characters, made with international talents (director, scriptwriter, leading actors). Thus in explaining differences in film preferences, we should also pay attention to the way audiences might have felt culturally related to the films they favoured.

Data Set and Method The data set used for this paper consists of the film programme data of 144 cinemas located in 22 cities and towns in the Netherlands. Included are the three big cities of Amsterdam (780,582 inhabitants), Rotterdam (592,767), and The Hague (476,346); the provincial cities of Utrecht, Haarlem, Groningen, and Eindhoven with more than 100,000 inhabitants; the smaller (provincial) cities of Apeldoorn, Dordrecht, Leiden, Maastricht, Nijmegen, Schiedam, and Tilburg with populations of between 50,000 and 100,000; the towns of Alkmaar, Heerlen, ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Zeist with populations between 10,000 and 50,000; and finally the small towns of Geleen, Tiel, Culemborg, and Zierikzee with less than 20,000 inhabitants.1 (For an overview of the places see Table 16.2.) The cinemas in these towns represent about 40 per cent (359) of all cinemas in the Netherlands during that period (Sedgwick et al. 2012). The data set includes 26,059 film programmes on which were presented a total of 2411 individual film titles. To analyse the distribution of the films over the cinemas a Latent Class Analysis (cluster analysis) is conducted.2 Also known as the mixture model, a Latent Class Analysis is a statistical method that sorts large quantities of



data into clusters and is commonly used when the data do not suggest obvious patterns.3 It simultaneously clusters both cases (films) and variables (cinemas). As it addresses uncertainty in the output and assigns films to a certain cluster with a particular degree of certainty, a film may have a likelihood of 85 per cent of belonging to a cluster and a likelihood of 15% of belonging to cluster 3. The cluster analysis was performed on all feature length fiction films shown in 122 of the sample set of cinemas over the twoyear period (January 1934 to December 1936)—those cinemas with incomplete programming information (less than 50 film titles) were left out. The cluster analysis offered insight into how cinemas differentiated themselves. A further aspect to the analysis is that of the popularity of films being screened. However, box office data are only available for Geleen. Accordingly the popularity index, called the POPSTAT method developed by John Sedgwick is used (Sedgwick 2000: 70–73).4 This method is based on the idea that films screened for longer in bigger theatres will draw larger audiences than films playing for a shorter time in smaller cinemas. Sedgwick‘s method factors ticket prices into his estimation of POPSTAT. Unfortunately, this information is not available in the Netherlands for the period in question and hence cannot be included in the estimation of film popularity. A further difference is that the number of screenings that a film received is counted, rather than periods of time (weeks and half-weeks), making the estimate sensitive to cinemas which only opened their doors for a couple of days a week but which offered extra screenings whenever demand exceeded the usual scheduled number of screenings. Thus, here for each film, POPSTAT is estimated from the total number of screenings a film received; the seating capacity of the cinema(s) where the film was shown; and the billing status of the film—in the case of a double bill, the number of screenings received by each film is multiplied by 0.5 in order to spread the earnings over two films. So that results are comparable, estimates are made only for those films that could be followed 12 months from their premiere.

Film Programming Strategies: The Distribution of the Clusters over the Cinemas Cluster analysis delivers eight clusters. Table 16.1 presents a summary of the characteristics of these. Cluster 1 is the biggest: almost half of the titles found in the data set (48 per cent) end up here. It is also the most heterogeneous, both in terms of the origin of the films and their vintage, with a large number of old films clustered here. Four of the clusters are strongly

Films before 1927 Films 1927–1930 Films 1931–1933 Films 1934–1936 Prod. year not known DE FR GB NL US Other countries Prod. country not known

3 5 228 115 2 34 7 14 0 289 7 2

142 244 458 249 69

331 91 43 10 551 71 65

69 46 28 1 172 26 0

1 4 142 194 1 39 11 6 15 61 15 0

0 0 47 99 1

Cluster 1 Cluster 2 Cluster 3 Cluster 4 (very) old recent films recent films première films films before 1931–1936 1931–1936 1934–1936 1931 US US & Europe (NL) Europe

Table 16.1  Programming clusters in Dutch cinemas, 1934–1936

111 3 2 2 0 5 0

0 0 28 94 1

Cluster 5 première films 1934–1936 Duitsland (UFA)

62 6 7 2 20 9 0

0 0 35 71 0

3 2 6 1 84 1 0

0 0 28 69 0

0 1 0 1 78 0 0

1 1 28 50 0

Cluster 6 Cluster 7 Cluster 8 première films première films première 1934–1936 1934–1936 films Europe US (Warn. 1934–1936 Bros., First US (MGM) Nat. Pict.)





distinctive: While Cluster 5 is dominated by German films, Clusters 2, 7, and 8 each contain a substantial number of Hollywood productions. In contrast, Cluster 6 is less distinctive, but has a clear European character. Clusters 3 and 4 look very similar and only differ from one another marginally. Cluster 3 contains films that are slightly older and has more films from the US. Cluster 4 is slightly more oriented towards recent European films and contains the highest number of Dutch films (Table 16.1). To what extent did particular cinemas screen films belonging to one cluster or another? If, for example, cluster 5 were to dominate, then that cinema is identifiable as a place where audiences watch German films. However, when characterising the programming of a cinema, it is necessary to look beyond the degree to which a cluster can be observed. For instance, if there is only one cinema in a town that programmes German films, this cinema will be understood by the local population as the place where German films are screened, even if these make up a small percentage of the total programming of that cinema. The distribution of clusters across the sample of 122 cinemas shows that relatively few of them offered a sharply defined programming profile. Only 12 per cent (15 cinemas) had a programme that consisted of more than 50 per cent of films from one cluster. Table 16.2 shows that specialisation only really happened once there were five or more cinemas in a location, although three exceptions to this rule are of interest: • There were only four cinemas in Nijmegen and yet one of these offered a distinctive selection of films. • Although there were five cinemas in Tilburg, specialisation did not take place. • Tiel only had two cinemas, yet one of them offered a clearly profiled selection of films. The explanations for these exceptions vary. In fact, five cinemas in Nijmegen were operational, but one was excluded from the analysis because of a shortage of programme information. In Tilburg the Cinema Royal was excluded for the same reason. However, here it is interesting to note that by relaxing the 50 per cent rule a different perspective emerges. For example, the latest films from the US (Cluster 8) were only screened in the Harmonie. Thus, even though Cluster 8 films comprised 32 per cent of all films screened, it is very likely that local audiences perceived the Harmonie as a specialist cinema. In the same fashion, the City Theatre was the place



Table 16.2  Number of cinemas per place with dominant clusters City/Town

Amsterdam The Hague Rotterdam Utrecht Alkmaar Haarlem Tilburg Groningen Leiden Nijmegen Eindhoven Maastricht ‘s-Hertogenbosch Apeldoorn Heerlen Schiedam Tiel Zeist Culemborg Dordrecht Geleen Zierikzee Total

Inhabitants (average 1934 to 1936)

Numbers of cinemas screening more than 50 films

Number of cinemas with a dominant cluster of more than 50% of films

780,582 476,346 592,767 160,599 30,087 129,041 87,051 113,121 72,934 89,360 100,118 65,436 45,416 66,950 49,963 60,710 12,658 28,512 9452 59,654 14,277 6922

27 19 18 7 6 5 5 4 4 4 3 3 3 2 2 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 122

3 1 6 1 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 15

to go for slightly older US (Cluster 2) films, constituting 37 per cent of the films screened. Accordingly, although the 50 per cent threshold was not surpassed in Tilburg, a marked degree of specialisation is evident. In Tiel, although there were just two cinemas, both specialised. The explanation for this is that had a single owner (J. M. Lureman), who, as a monopoly supplier, was able to programme each to meet the particular interests of what was a culturally divided community. Hence, over 50 per cent of the films programmed at the Spaarbankgebouw (650 seats) were Cluster 5 films, mostly German premieres. Of the rest, 17 per cent were old films originally released before 1931 (Cluster 1), and 13 per cent were other European premiere films (Cluster 4). In contrast, 37 per cent of films programmed at The Luxor (488 seats) were drawn from Cluster 4, complemented by 17 per cent of European and American released from



Table 16.3  Film cluster density amongst Dutch cinemas Cluster

Cluster 1 Cluster 2 Cluster 3 Cluster 4 Cluster 5 Cluster 6 Cluster 7 Cluster 8 Total

Number of cinemas Number of cinemas Number of Total screening more screening between cinemas screening than 50 per cent 40–50 per cent between 30–40 per cent 0 5 2 1 5 2 0 0 15

1 4 4 14 0 0 0 1 24

1 10 8 13 3 0 2 3 40

2 19 14 28 8 2 2 4 79


2% 16% 11% 23% 7% 2% 2% 3% 65%

1931 onwards (Cluster 3) and 13 per cent were US premieres (Cluster 8). Lureman chose The Luxor to showcase Dutch films. Of the 17 Dutch titles he screened, 14 were premiered at the Luxor, and only 3 at the Spaarbankgebouw. Thus, in this small community, Dutch films largely premiered at The Luxor, while all German premieres took place at the Spaarbankgebouw. These exceptions suggest that setting the specialist threshold at 50 per cent might be too restrictive. Accordingly, by relaxing the threshold from 50 to 40 per cent and then lower to 30 per cent, many more cinemas can be included in the analysis, throwing a much clearer light on how cinema programmes differed and responded to peculiar local circumstances. The results of this exercise can be found in Table 16.3. It can be concluded from Table 16.3 that for the most part although exhibitors chose not to specialise exclusively in one type of film, they nevertheless made choices about what kind of films they programmed, with 65 per cent of the 122 cinemas that programmed more than 50 films between 1934 and 1936 offering distinctive programmes, where 30 per cent or more of film programmes can be categorised as belonging to a particular cluster. Table 16.3 also shows that the most common means for cinema owners to differentiate their cinemas was to select programmes featuring films classified under Cluster 4. To find out whether there was a difference in film programming between urban and provincial locations, the total number of cinemas with a share of 30 per cent or more in any one cluster was compared across different-sized urban localities. Four categories are created: the big cities



with more than 100,000 inhabitants; bigger provincial cities with inhabitants between 50,000 and 100,000; smaller provincial cities with inhabitants ranging from 20,000 to 50,000; and finally, small towns with less than 20,000 inhabitants. High scores indicate those clusters that were most represented. A surprising outcome emerges from the results of this exercise. These are depicted in Graph 1, which shows Cluster 4 films (European premiere films—including all Dutch films—and US premiere films) dominated in two of the four categories, and Cluster 2 films (recent 1931–1936, US films) in the middle two (Fig. 16.1). The big cities obviously had more possibilities for specialisation. As argued earlier, the tendency for cinemas to specialise increased when there were five or more cinemas located in the same area. In the big cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, each cluster generates the highest number of cinemas. In the smaller localities (fewer than 20,000 inhabitants) this number is reduced to two clusters. Cinema owners in these towns choose to profile their cinemas with Cluster 4 or Cluster 5 films, both oriented to European films, in particular Dutch and German films. It would seem apparent that exhibitors operating in the small towns believed these films to be more attractive to local audiences.

Fig. 16.1  Clusters with the highest share (percentage) per cinema divided in the number of inhabitants



Local Differences in Film Taste: A Comparison of the Local Film Top Ten To investigate whether differences in programming strategies is a consequence of local differences in film taste, the total POPSTAT score for all films premiered in the Netherlands during the period is calculated. Table 16.4 shows that the top ten films comprise six Dutch films, and two apiece from the US and Germany. The presence of six Dutch films in the top ten is extraordinary as only 2 per cent of all films premiered in the Netherlands were Dutch in origin. The popularity of this set of films is confirmed by their collective presence on 11 per cent of all cinema programmes (Pafort-Overduin 2011: 125–39; 2013: 331–49). In other words, Dutch films were very popular with Dutch audiences (Table 16.4). Contrasting the performance of these national top ten ranking films with their popularity in the 22 localities that feature in this study is the subject of Table 16.5, in which local rankings are obtained through their respective POPSTAT scores. The top film in Table 16.4 De Jantjes is never ranked below fifth position in any of the towns. In contrast, the films two films of Shirley Temple were not screened in certain localities during the two-year time frame: Little Colonel was not shown in Culemborg, Geleen, Table 16.4  The top ten most popular films premièred in the Netherlands, 1934–1936 Rank Title


1 2 3

De Jantjes (1934) Bright Eyes (1934) Bleeke Bet (1934)


2402 1731 1435


Het meisje met den blauwen hoed (1934) The Little Colonel (1935) Mazurka (1935) Op hoop van zegen (1934) Malle gevallen (1934) De kribbebijter (1935)

Jaap Speyer David Butler Alex Benno & Richard Oswald Rudolf Meinert



David Butler Willy Forst Alex Benno Jaap Speyer Henry Koster & Ernst Winar Richard Oswald


1182 1182 1173 1170 1150



5 6 7 8 9 10

Wenn du jung bist, gehört dir die Welt (1934)

Countrya POPSTAT

The International Standardization Organization (ISO) code is used for the abbreviations of the countries



1 2 1 2 1 1 4 1 1 1 5 2 1 1 2 3 1

National ranking→

Alkmaar Amsterdam Apeldoorn Culemborg Den Haag Dordrecht Eindhoven Geleen Groningen Haarlem Heerlen Leiden Maastricht Nijmegen Rotterdam ‘s-Hertogenbosch Schiedam

De Jantjes (NL, 1934)

5 3 4 0 2 5 6 0a 4 2 1 14 41 26 1 3 19

2 8 5 6 2 9 4 2 2 9 7 0 1 4 12 4 25 2


Bright Bleeke Eyes Bet (US, (NL, 1934) 1934)

2 9 3 3 5 4 14 0 8 14 17 5 3 9 3 24 5


Meisje met den blauwen hoed (NL, 1934)

Table 16.5  Local ranking of national top ten films

15 4 10 0 24 21 8 0 7 8 0 15 16 43 6 1 17


Little Colonel (US, 1935)

10 13 11 7 4 20 1 14 15 9 16 41 9 10 9 7 17


Mazurka (DE, 1935)

30 15 6 3 16 8 5 10 3 3 0 11 2 12 5 19 6


Op hoop van zegen (NL, 1934)

16 12 10 2 8 21 19 0 2 6 0 3 19 6 12 0 3


Malle gevallen (NL, 1934)

16 14 9 5 3 20 15 0 20 13 20 10 21 16 8 14 18


Kribbebijter (NL, 1935)

34 1 20 0a 69 2 55 0 51 27 16 13 15 54 13 21 10


Wenn du jung bist, gehört dir die Welt (DE, 1934)


0 0 0 3 0 0 0 6 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 1 0

Number of films not shown



3 3 1 1 1 0

Tiel Tilburg Utrecht Zeist Zierikzee Total of ‘not shown’

19 10 11 8 0a 3

2 2 5 9 16 2 1


Bright Bleeke Eyes Bet (US, (NL, 1934) 1934)

1 2 8 24 2 1


Meisje met den blauwen hoed (NL, 1934)

12 20 22 18 0a 4


Little Colonel (US, 1935)

3 7 2 18 0 2


Mazurka (DE, 1935)

8 6 9 0 2 2


Op hoop van zegen (NL, 1934)

9 4 6 16 2 3


Malle gevallen (NL, 1934)

7 8 15 2 0 2


Kribbebijter (NL, 1935)

19 178 52 16 0a 3


Wenn du jung bist, gehört dir die Welt (DE, 1934)


0 0 0 1 5

Number of films not shown

The film was screened but after the period set for the comparison of popularity (More than one year after its premiere on the Dutch film market)


De Jantjes (NL, 1934)


National ranking→

Table 16.5­ 




Table 16.6  Week of arrival after the film’s premiere in the Netherlands Film


Bright Eyes Little Colonel Wenn du jung bist (…)

Week 61 Week 54 Week 83 & 84


Geleen Week 70

Week 85

Heerlen, and Zierikzee, and Bright Eyes was not shown in Culemborg, Geleen, and Zierikzee. However, closer inspection of these results shows that they are affected by the methodological decision to limit the circulation of new films to 12 months from their Dutch premiere. However, it turns out that Bright Eyes did reach Geleen and that both Shirley Temple films did reach Zierikzee, but more than a year after their first release. The same applies to the German film Wenn du jung bist, gehört dir die Welt positioned number ten on the national popularity list, taking more than 12 months to reach Zierikzee and Culemborg (see Table 16.6). Thus, by the time audiences in Zierikzee and Culemborg got to see Bright Eyes, Little Colonel, and Wenn du jung bist, the films were at the very end of their respective runs, coinciding with a return to the large cities where they were now being screened in smaller cinemas. Zierikzee and Culemborg were both small communities with 9452 and 6902 inhabitants, respectively. The available screen time was limited to one cinema that operated only three days a week. The programming of these cinemas changed weekly, and when a film turned out to be popular, it simply got more than the usual screenings, for example, five instead of three screenings on Sunday. Films were seldom booked for a second week. This points to a negative relationship between the available screening time in a certain locality and the number of weeks it took a popular film to get to the screen in that place after its premiere. In other words, audiences in places with limited screening time had to wait longer for popular films than audiences in places with an abundance of screening time. The conclusion from this is that the fact that few top ten films that did not reach Culemborg and Zierikzee was caused not by differences in  local preferences but rather by economic factors. However, the ‘no-show’ of films in Geleen and Heerlen requires a different explanation. Both settlements were more highly populated: Geleen had a population of 14,162 and Heerlen of 50,017. Geleen had one cinema, operating six days a week. Heerlen had three cinemas; two offered daily film shows, while one operated three days a week. Heerlen and



Geleen are distinct from the other towns in the data set, being located in the Limburg coalfield in the south of the Netherlands. The mining industry here had long been attracting foreign (especially German) workers (Langeweg 2011: 125–27).5 To better understand the under-­representation of the national top ten films in Geleen and Heerlen requires that we investigate the demographic composition and migratory flows in these mining towns. Between 1919 and 1930, almost 60 per cent of new miners employed in the Dutch mines were immigrants and by the end of 1930, 32 per cent of all miners were of foreign origin (Langeweg 2011: 139). During the second half of the 1920s in particular, the demand for miners was such that special recruitment teams were established to search for skilled miners abroad (Langeweg 2011: 145). These favoured German-speaking workers as German had become lingua franca in the Limburg mines. German miners were regarded as highly qualified and had trained Dutch miners who had worked as migrant miners in Germany before the First World War (Langeweg 2011: 80, 145). In the 1920s, when again foreign forces were needed in the mines, Dutch mining companies wanting to avoid communication problems recruited skilled miners in German-speaking countries like Germany and Austria or in German-speaking parts of countries like Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. Indeed, in 1930, 63 per cent of the foreign mining population in Limburg originated from Germany. After the economic crisis in the 1930s, these numbers diminished as Limburgers became interested in working in the mines, reversing the employment trend of the previous decade (Langeweg 2011: 149). Thus, by the mid-1930s the number of German workers in the coalfield was decreasing, but they still made up the largest group of migrants; almost 60 per cent in 1934, 56 per cent in 1935, and 53 per cent in 1936 (Langeweg 2011: 154). This was especially true in Heerlen, where 13 per cent (6253) of the population was German (Dieteren 1959: 33). Heerlen was located in the so-called east mining area. Between 1909 and 1930, its population had tripled, largely explained by immigration (Langeweg 2011: 53–54). While, at the end of 1930, almost a quarter of the male labour force in Limburg coalfield was employed in the mining industry, in Heerlen this proportion was over half (Langeweg 2011: 62–63). The relatively high presence of German miners, the acquaintance with the German language, and possibly the nearness to the German border seems to be reflected in a high number of German films amongst the most popular films in Heerlen.



Because of the small number of cinemas in Heerlen, POPSTAT results are much more closely bunched than would be the case in larger settlements, with 19 films occupying the first five ranks. There is a clear number one and two, but the third place is shared with three films, the fourth with eight films and the fifth with six films, but there is a very clear tendency towards a preference for German films. Of these 19 films, 9 were German speaking, 4 were American productions, 3 were Dutch, and 3 were French. What is notable about these German language films is that six of them did not appear in the top ten listings in the 21 remaining cities and towns in the data set. Moreover, as shown in Table 16.7, with the exception of Gold and Viktor und Viktoria, these films generated low to very low POPSTAT scores in the national rankings. In other words, the popularity of part of the German films seems to have been particular to Heerlen. The themes of a number of those films hint at the presence of German workers. Flüchtlinge ranked 82 in the national top ten and was a controversial film in the Netherlands. Produced by UFA, and the first film awarded by the Goebbels Reichspropaganda minister with the new status award: ‘Künstlerich besonders wertvoll’ (high artistic merits), Flüchtlinge drew the protests of Dutch socialists, contending that it was an anti-­communist film and a product of the Hitler regime (Kreimeier 1992: 245; 255–57). The film tells the story of a group of Volga Germans (ethnic Germans migrants in Russia) who were trapped in Manchuria (China) when war Table 16.7  National POPSTAT ranking of the most popular German films screened in Heerlen, 1934–1936 Title


Karl Hartl Reinhold Schünzel Flüchtlinge Gustav Ucicky Jungfrau gegen Möncha E.W. Emo Fürst Woronzeffa Arthur Robison Eines Prinzen junge Liebe Arthur Robison Schön ist es verliebt zu Walter Janssen seina Frühlingsstimmena Pál Fejös Tanzmusika J.A. Hübler-Kahla

Gold Viktor und Viktoria

Films that featured only in Heerlen’s Top 10




Ranking in Dutch market

1934 1933


15 26

1933 1934 1934 1933 1934


82 225 248 284 312

1933 1935


502 620



broke out in 1928. Although the impressive direction of the film might have been an attraction—perhaps explaining its top 100 ranking, the evidence from Heerlen is that the film likely appealed more to German migrants than it did to Dutch citizens (Table 16.7). Fürst Woronzeff was perceived in the Limburg press as a film based on an ‘emigrant-roman’.6 It tells the story of a king in exile who tries to prevent his greedy family from taking away the heritage of his daughter. Two other films were both framed as films that did not fit into Dutch preferences and were more popular with ‘our neighbours’ (meaning the Germans, CPO). In the Limburger Koerier of 28 December 1935 Tanzmusik was presented as ‘an anti-jazz film of which a certain neighbour state has more on its program, but against which we as good Catholics have to take stand because of its conjugal ethics’. About Eines Prinzen junge Liebe, a reviewer in the Limburger Koerier of 24 March 1934 stated: ‘Militarism. War. Beautiful girls from lovely villages waving to marching soldiers. And the trouble with this film is that it is tarred too much with this brush that perhaps causes the Germans to tremble with emotion, but is a little ridiculous for us sensible Dutch’. These are all little cues that point to the presence of German cinemagoers and the distinctively different make up of Heerlen’s top ten. In Geleen the presence of German miners was less felt. Geleen was located in the so-called new mining area where the portion of foreign miners was almost 11 per cent and thus much lower than the 26 per cent in the old mining area where Heerlen was located. In 1926, the state-owned coal mine Maurits was opened and a high influx of labourers almost tripled Geleen’s population from 5141  in 1924 to 14,162  in 1934 (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek 1925, 1935). About 10 per cent of the new influx consisted of foreign immigrants (Dieteren 1959: 34). Rising numbers meant that the town could sustain a commercial cinema, resulting in the opening in 1929 of the 750-seater Royal. This was followed in 1932 when the same owners opened the Roxy with 900 seats, replacing the Royal. The local top ten ranks in Geleen is presented in Table 16.8, comprising seven films screened on a single bill, and six films on three double-bill programmes—identifiable because each film on the billing generates the same POPSTAT score. The three double-bill programmes combine a German with an American film. It is interesting to note that the American film always scored much higher in the national ranking than the German film. From the advertisements, however, we can tell that the German films



Table 16.8  Top 13 films in Geleen, 1934–1936 Title Jantjes, De Bleeke Bet Misérables, Les Count of Monte Cristo, The Gold Pappi Sons of the desert Tugboat Annie Mein Herz ruft nach dir Liebe, Tod und Teufel Big van het regiment, De Du bist entzückend, Ros’marie Tarzan and his mate

Local ranking

National ranking




1 2 3 4 5 6 6 7 7 8 9 10

1 3 67 65 15 241 24 143 14 256 11 245

1934 1934 1934 1934 1934 1934 1933 1933 1934 1934 1935 1934


2891 2510 1435 1109 1061 1057 1057 907 907 901 894 880






were supposedly meant to draw in the crowds in Geleen as the double-bill programmes presented the American films as ‘extras’. Of the three Hollywood films combined in double-bill sets, only Sons of the Desert (a Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy film) was advertised as the main attraction. The ranking clearly shows that fewer Dutch films were represented at the top and that other European films, mainly German, replaced them. Nine films in Table 16.8 were European and four American. Because there was only one cinema in Geleen, it is impossible to draw any hard and fast conclusions from these results, but they do seem to reflect the presence of foreign residents, and this explains a local audience that is not as oriented to Dutch films as elsewhere in the country.

Conclusion Using cluster analysis it has been possible to identify patterns in film programming and to use these to compare local differences in programming strategies. A clear finding is that exhibitors in smaller towns with few cinemas run programmes based upon cluster 4 films (European films including Dutch films) and cluster 5 films (dominated by German films). This outcome reflects the national popularity of Dutch films and shows the penetration of Dutch popular films to even the smallest towns. The POPSTAT methodology made it possible to discern local differences, and although



these findings are specific and very local, it is important that we pay attention to them. The most notable finding is the diminished interest in Dutch films in the mining towns Heerlen and Geleen and the apparent preference of Heerlen’s audiences for German films that were not very popular elsewhere in the Netherlands. The relatively high presence of German miners seemed to have had an impact on the films that were popular. The results show clearly that in a choice between films spoken in different languages, audiences tended to choose mother tongue films. Watching films from their homeland, spoken in their mother tongue was as important to Dutch audiences as it was for German audiences. And not only that, audiences also exercised preferences for certain films. In the case of German miners, these were films that were not much liked by Dutch audiences elsewhere. Likely, the nearness of the German border and the association of Heerlen’s inhabitants with Germany is part of the explanation. This means that filmgoing cannot simply be reduced to a habitual social practice. Although the social aspect of filmgoing is very important, it is important to recognise that particular films are what people choose to watch in a particular context (Sedgwick and Pafort-Overduin 2012: 96–110). As pointed out earlier, Garncarz (2015) presents convincing evidence that cultural nearness is an important factor in understanding film preferences. We should be careful not to generalise the findings of Heerlen too easily, and more research needs to be done regarding cultural and language aspects of filmgoing and film preferences. A comparison between film programming and cinemagoing in border and non-border towns is a good starting point for this.

Notes 1. The Cinema Context Collection database contains information about films, film programmes, cinemas and their owners, distributors, and the rulings of the Centrale Film Keuringscommissie (Film Censorhip Committee) The programme information from 14 of 22 cities was collected from local newspapers in which the cinemas advertised. (Alkmaar, Apeldoorn, Culemborg, Dordrecht, Eindhoven, Haarlem, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Leiden, Nijmegen, Schiedam, Tiel, Tilburg and Zeist) For the remaining eight cities, the Cinema Context website offered the information for the weekly showings. (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Den Haag, Groningen, Maastricht, Heerlen, Geleen and Zierikzee.) We would also like to thank Karel Dibbets, the project leader of Cinema Context. The Cinema Context data were supplemented with the number of times a film was shown per week, as was done for the other cities. The information about the pro-



gramming is found in newspapers in which the cinema operators advertised. 2. I’m very grateful to Jaap Boter who performed the analysis. 3. See, for a detailed explanation of the applicability of Latent Class Analysis, Vermunt (2004). A Latent Class Analysis leaves room for uncertainty and calculates the chance that something belongs to a certain class (cluster). There are statistical measures to determine the optimal number of segments and the quality of the solution. See also Wedel et al. (2000). 4. Different from Sedgwick’s method, ticket prices were not included in the calculation as they were unknown. Also different is the calculation of number of screenings; instead of a week or half a week, the actual number of screenings per week was put into the data set. This made it possible to differentiate in the degree of popularity of films shown in small places where cinemas only opened their doors for a couple of days a week. 5. The number of foreign workers increased from 17 per cent in 1905 to 32 per cent in 1930. There are no numbers available from before 1905. 6. The movie Fürst Woronzeff was based on the novel with the same title by Margot von Simpson published in 1929.

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Miskell, P. (2016). International Films and International Markets: The Globalisation of Hollywood Entertainment, c.1921–1951. Media History, 22(2), 174–200. Pafort-Overduin, C. (2011). Distribution and Exhibition in the Netherlands, 1934–1936. In R. Maltby, D. Biltereyst, & P. Meers (Eds.), Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies (pp. 125–139). Oxford: Wiley Blackwell. Pafort-Overduin, C. (2013). Watching Popular Films in the Netherlands 1934–1936. In A. Moran & K. Aveyard (Eds.), Watching Films: New Perspectives on Movie-Going, Exhibition and Reception (pp. 331–349). Bristol: Intellect. Sedgwick, J. (2000). Popular Filmgoing in 1930s Britain. A Choice of Pleasures. Exeter: Exeter University Press. Sedgwick, J., & Pafort-Overduin, C. (2012). Understanding Audience Behaviour Through Statistical Evidence: London and Amsterdam in the Mid-1930s. In I. Christie (Ed.), Audiences  (pp. 96–110). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. Sedgwick, J., Pafort-Overduin, C., & Boter, J.  (2012). Explanations for the Restrained Development of the Dutch Cinema Market in the 1930s. Enterprise and Society, 13(3), 634–671. Vermunt, J. K. (2004). Toepassingen van latente klasse analyse in sociaal wetenschappelijk onderzoek. Sociale Wetenschappen, 47(1), 2–14. Wedel, M., Wagner, A., & Kamakura, A. (2000). Market Segmentation: Conceptual and Methodological Foundations. Boston, Dordrecht: Kluwer.


Post-war Thai Cinema: Audiences and Film Style in a Divided Nation Mary J. Ainslie

Introduction1 This chapter focuses upon a period that has been singled out as a key moment in the development of cinema and film culture in Thailand. Often called the ‘Golden Age’ of Thai cinema, Thai film historian and archivist Chalida Uabumrungjit labels this period—from around the mid-1950s to the early 1970s—the ‘16 mm era’ and dedicates it a specific slot in the history of Thai cinema due to its honing of a distinctive narrative style and appeal to a particular section of Thai society (see Uabumrungjit 2003). Likewise Udomdet refers to this period as ‘restoration through the 16mm silent film’, an indication of how crucial it was to the development of film in Thailand (Udomdet 1990: 57). Academic work on Thai cinema is still lacking within film studies, and many academic sources are as yet unpublished but still offer crucial insight into the development of the Thai film industry. In her PhD thesis, Patsorn Sungsri understands this post-war period as signalling the emergence of the ‘Conventional Thai film style’, arguing that it was largely popular in rural areas, taking inspiration from M. J. Ainslie (*) University of Nottingham Ningbo Campus, Ningbo, Zhejiang, China e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




indigenous forms of entertainment which spoke to Thai people in a way that Hollywood could not (Sungsri 2004: 53–57). In another academic study of Thai cinema history, former actress-turned-scholar Parichat Phromyothi also refers to this period as ‘Classical Thai Cinema’ (Phromyothi 2000). Even after the era drew to a close (a result of specific industrial, economic and technological developments), Phromyothi still recognises this narrative formula as ‘the prominent characteristic of Thai films’ (Ibid.: 25). To this end, the extant critical literature concerned with Thai cinema history contains much reference to this period and its lasting influence upon Thai film style. Yet despite such importance, a detailed scholarly analysis of this era, and its audience and productions, has yet to be conducted. This chapter is part of beginning such a project and seeks to lay the largely theoretical and speculative foundations from which scholars can begin a later historical and empirical project. While recent years have seen increasing attention paid to national (and, in particular, non-­Western) cinemas around the globe, Thai cinema remains marginal. Moreover, existing research on Thai cinema largely emphasizes contemporary films and specific genres. There is very little attention to the actual contextual circumstances from which this national cinema has developed and virtually no engagement with film theoretical models as a means to explore the specific style of this national industry. Through combining close analysis of specific films with the limited information about the wider reception context of film screenings in this period, this chapter argues that Thai films from the ‘16 mm era’ should be understood through a specific film style which favours spectacle and visual excess. Furthermore, it argues that this style is related to the communal viewing conventions of the lower-class and rural upcountry audiences who were excluded from the lavish cinemas built in Bangkok to show Hollywood and Chinese films. It then demonstrates how the social divisions that shaped this film form in the post-war era are still present in contemporary Thailand and continue to influence its cultural products, arguing that understanding the development of Thai cinema and its specific style in this period can begin to explain the format of the contemporary national industry today and its, at times, perplexed reception.



The Historical Development of the Thai Film Industry and the ‘16 mm Era’ In order to understand how the 16 mm era came about, it is important to explore the origins and development of the film industry in Thailand. This began with a screening in Bangkok in June 1897, less than two years after the famous Lumière brothers’ showcase in Paris. Cinemas then gradually began to appear around urban Thailand, with the first crude buildings set up by Japanese entrepreneurs and more permanent buildings established from 1919 onwards (Uabumrungjit 2001). This new form of entertainment grew quickly: in the 1920s, cinemas are recorded to have spread outside of Bangkok to outer provincial towns, and by the late 1930s, it is estimated that there were around 120 cinemas in Thailand, mostly located in Bangkok (Hamilton 2002: 288; Boonyaketmala 1992: 65). What is considered to be the first Thai production, Nang Sao Sawan/Miss Suwanna of Siam (actually directed by an American, though starring only Thai performers), appeared in 1923  (MacRae), and the first completely indigenous Thai production, Chok Song Chan/Double Luck (Wasuwat 1927) followed a few years later. As is the case with much early cinema, the vast majority of Thai features produced in this period are now lost, including a number of co-productions between Western filmmakers and the Thai elite that were concerned mostly with state propaganda (see Boonyaketmala 1992; Ingawanij 2006). However, it was during the immediate post-war era that Thai cinema began to grow significantly as a recognisable industry. The Japanese occupation of Thailand during World War Two prevented the influx of Hollywood productions that fed the very healthy exhibition industry which relied upon such imports. In light of this absence, indigenous Thai entertainment enjoyed an upsurge as it had to fill this exhibition space. At this point the industry began to carve itself the beginnings of a locally orientated industry and film style. Due to financial and technological constraints, Thai filmmakers were forced to work in 16 mm film stock which was dubbed by two live narrators in cinemas (Sukawong 2001: 12). Previously, a few (mostly American-­ backed) Thai production companies had begun making 35  mm synchronised sound productions before the war. After the war these few Thai sound studios were forced to close due to the halted supply of imported film stock and the chemical solutions needed to produce it (Sukawong 2001: 12; Udomdet 1990: 57). Crucially, however, the smaller film companies and independent producers that had not been able to



afford the technology involved in the switch to sound were able to survive by using 16 mm-film stock that was available during and immediately following World War Two. Both portable and quick and cheap to develop, this frugal stock did not need to be sent abroad to be developed. In the late 1940s, Supab Burut Suatai/Thai Gentleman Bandit (1949) was produced on 16 mm silent film stock and released to huge domestic success, inspiring other entertainment entrepreneurs and businessmen to finance cheap 16  mm live-dubbed colour productions. Film production therefore grew from 10 productions per year in the immediate aftermath of World War Two to around 50 in 1956 (Udomdet 1990: 57). This new 16 mm industry was so successful that it even continued despite the reintroduction of Hollywood imports after the war. Due to Thailand’s close proximity to the Communist-influenced countries of Laos and Vietnam, the establishment of extremely close ties with America immediately after World War Two resulted in the major American film companies setting up representative offices in Bangkok and funding 1000-seat air-conditioned cinemas during the 1950s and 1960s. The 16 mm Thai films, however, were able to survive by continuing to target the rural lower-class agrarian workers outside urban Bangkok society.2 Such divisions created a two-­ tiered audience: while the more affluent urban Thai viewers enjoyed impressive Hollywood productions in state-of-the-art cinemas in Bangkok, rural and lower-class viewers were the primary audience for silent, live-­ dubbed 16 mm-era local affairs.

The Post-war Thai Context There is very little existing academic analysis of these post-war Thai films, yet close exploration indicates that the texts embody a distinctive style that has influenced the development of the Thai film industry up to the present day. This film style was prompted by both the diversity of the Thai ­audience and the financially precarious position of the industry. Thai filmmakers received no official financial support to the extent that the 16 mm era was effectively a ‘cottage industry’ (Boonyaketmala 1992). In order for the financially insecure 16 mm-era productions to be successful and viable, the films had to achieve wide appeal. Yet the Thai audience was starkly diverse as well as physically and culturally divided. Thailand was an important location for the convergence of many different cultures and traditions from across Asia, a multi-ethnic society combining elements of Islam, Mahayana Buddhism, Brahmanism, Christianity and the belief systems of



several other ethnic and tribal groups.3 This culturally plural society led to the development of a film style and format that can still be recognised in Thai cinema today, a popular style which Thai researcher Patsorn Sungsri refers to as the ‘conventional style’ (Sungsri 2004: 53). Sungsri takes this term from an interview with renowned Thai film researcher and historian Dome Sukawong who considers the 16 mm era’s defining characteristic to be the blending of many different genre traits to elicit a range of emotional states from the viewer. Sukawong uses the metaphor of Thai food (a staple ingredient in many Thai idioms and allegorical phrases) to illustrate this cultural phenomenon: Dome Sukawong explained the conventional style as Krob Touk Rot which means ‘full of flavour’. He declares that Thai film is like Thai food, which blends a lot of flavour in one meal. The conventional Thai film blends emotions and emotional states such as melancholy, excitement, arousal and romance. (Interviewed in Sungsri 2004: 54)4

Rare first-hand accounts support Sukawong’s analysis: Seiji Udo, a Japanese man married to a Thai woman and living in Thailand during the 1970s, related observations of his wife’s family shop in Bangkok’s Chinatown, which operated as a film wholesaler to supply the showmen who would travel to the outer provinces and show films. He distinctly connects the format of Thai films to the differing audience the films must appeal to [F]rom the standpoint of film production, it is necessary to produce films on a low budget that appeal to the general public in both cities and rural villages. As a result, their material is so full of different elements that the overall point becomes unclear. (Udo 1990: 3)

Udo’s ‘different elements’ and Sukawong’s ‘flavours’ are reminiscent of ‘numbers’: graphic and visceral instances of excess that do not appear to contribute to an overall narrative structure, but rather are standalone affective instances that produce physical reactions such as disgust, wonder, shock and laughter. The term is taken from the musical sequences that Linda Williams uses in her analysis of pornography to refer to sexual acts (Williams 1989). When deploying Williams’ term to explore the visceral instances of the contemporary horror film, Cynthia Freeland defines generic numbers as



sequences of heightened spectacle and emotion. They appear to be interruptions of plot-scenes that stop the action and introduce another sort of element, capitalizing on the power of the cinema to produce visual and aural spectacles of beauty or stunning power. (Freeland 2000: 256)

These ‘seeing’ and ‘feeling’ emotional affects do not contribute towards a cause-and-effect linear narrative but rather exist as episodes in their own right which aim to elicit strong physical emotions from the viewer. Woofter and Stokes define such responses as ‘representations of human experience rendered less through appeals to positivism, logic and moral allegory, and more through a desire to see and to feel’ (Woofter and Stokes 2013/2014). These ‘numbers’ can be linked to the diverse and wide-ranging Thai audience as well as the need to cultivate wide appeal in a financially insecure industry. Such emphasis is similar to Miriam Hansen’s explanation for the global appeal of early American cinema. Hansen argues that one reason Hollywood enjoyed worldwide success from such an early age was because its format and style was already designed to cater for a wide-­ ranging variety of indigenous and immigrant communities within America itself (Hansen 2000). Early Hollywood-made films for audiences who were often illiterate and/or non-English speakers, hence the strong melodramatic tradition and emphasis upon affect and emotion over more ‘literary’ pleasures. Although Thai cinema was certainly in a very different financial and technical position to that of Hollywood, 16  mm-era films were similarly designed to bridge barriers and engender the widest appeal among a diverse population. Likewise, operating in financially high-risk conditions, an emphasis upon attraction and excess endeared the productions to the wide range of audiences across this diverse nation. While such emotional engagement can offer an alternative to suspense or mystery structures as a means of eliciting emotional affects from the viewer, this does not mean that narrative structures are absent (Freeland 2000: 262). Scott Higgins embeds spectacle and narrative closely together, arguing that what he terms ‘situational dramaturgy’ is actually ‘part and parcel of a kind of narrative construction that favours sensational situations’ rather than an outright rejection of narrative as a source of stimulation (Higgins 2008). Indeed, Hansen constructs classical forms of narrative as a scaffold, matrix, or web that hosts ‘aesthetic effects and experiences’ (Hansen 2000: 339). Certainly, the varied emotional ‘numbers’ of the 16 mm-era films fit into a very broad and recognisable narrative structure in which there is little ambiguity around the outcome of



‘answering scenes’.5 Films such as Jaawm-Khon (‘Fearless Man’, 1969), Nguu-Phii (‘Snake Ghost’, 1966), Nang-Prai-Taa-Nii (‘Ghost of Tani’, 1967) and Phii-Saht-Sen-Haa (‘Ghost Love’, 1969) tell the story of a brave, clever and strong, yet also kind and gentle hero who arrives into a village and falls in love with a shy or immature village woman. At the same time, there is a disruption to village equilibrium caused by bandits, supernatural entities or other scheming women who want to marry the hero themselves. The story follows the couple, moves onto their courtship and then eventual marriage or engagement which is also entwined with their defeating of the force that threatens them and finally ends with the restoration of harmony and order. Within this staple narrative, emotional ­display and the desire to ‘see’ and ‘feel’ certainly takes precedence as a source of engagement over any cognitive process of questions, answers and resolutions in the 16 mm-era productions.

The Thai Reception Context: A Communal Scenario The 16 mm-era productions’ emphasis upon ‘numbers’ is also a response to the reception context of post-war Thai cinema and other forms of Thai entertainment. Film analysis still rarely takes into account the many historically and culturally different contexts of cinema viewing, and such conventions are still heavily associated with those of the novel: a solitary singular relationship between the reader and text that must occur without distraction or interruption (Nelmes 2010). While analysis of early cinema appears more likely to recognise the significance of the cinematic environment (see Gunning, Eisenstein etc.), Linda Williams states that the dominant ‘classical’ theories of spectatorship are predicated upon a docile and mute viewer who must enter ‘the spell of a unified place and time’ (Williams 2002: 366). Julian Hanich also recognises the significance of the viewing context in his analysis of the horror film in a way that becomes particularly significant, given the frequent insertion of spirits and graphic horror numbers into Thai films. While acknowledging that cinematic norms do vary, Hanich argues that the cinema ‘owes its attractiveness, among other things, to its ability to partially relieve us from the burden of social interaction’ (Hanich 2010: 63). Hanich further argues that this viewing context creates a high degree of ‘phenomenological proximity’ between the text and viewer as they become immersed in the fictional diegesis. This invokes a singular relationship between the viewer and film that Hansen alludes to as ‘institutionally regulated’ due to its ability to control the viewer. The



cinema becomes a ‘private space’ in which the viewer is supposedly isolated within a darkened room and closed off from other influences, including the presence of other viewers. They are compelled to remain silent and passive and enjoy an intense private and psychological relationship with the events unfolding on the screen, a process that Hanich calls ‘individualized absorption’ as it ‘allows the viewer to relate more strongly to the film’ (Hanich: 57). Yet targeting the rural Thai audience involved functioning within a different type of cinema and viewing context that may place 16 mm-era productions beyond these assumed characteristics of spectatorship. The films were very consciously designed to function within a shared public space and cultivate an atmosphere of communal pleasure that Gerald Fouquet describes as ‘specifically Thai’ (Fouquet 2006: 53). Discussing the period roughly between 1960 and 1990, Fouquet states that Thai cinemas are divided into four categories. He begins with ‘First class theatres’ which are large and expensive and all located in Bangkok. Below this category are ‘Second and Third class theatres’ which occupy the surrounding provinces of Bangkok and other major cities such as Chiang Mai. Finally he described ‘Itinerant cinema’, which involves temporary showings by travelling cinemas in the upcountry provincial villages and small towns. In these, Fouquet notes the terrible quality of the showings: reels snapping, catching fire, getting lost, running too slowly or too fast and stresses how this does not seem to bother the audience, who actually rarely stay seated for long and are instead constantly talking, laughing, eating and socialising. This was a social occasion designed to create communal shared pleasure. The atmosphere was one of informality and communal enjoyment and ‘resembles more that of a local fete or fair than that of a film projection such as we usually know it’, thus actually adding to the cinema-going experience (Fouquet 2006: 54). This scenario seems to create a version of Bakhtin’s ‘carnivalesque’ atmosphere, suggesting that film-going functioned as a form of transgressive pleasure for lower-class audiences who were subjugated by the authority of urban (and/or colonial) elites (Bakhtin 1984). In a largely forgotten article, Thai researcher Juree Vichit-Vadakan, writing in 1977, provides possibly the only first-hand description of a Thai film screening from around this period: The atmosphere of the film showing is carnival-like. Some theatres have microphones blasting away advertisements and announcements in a style



comparable to a temple fair. Hawkers and blackmarketeering of tickets (which theatre managers seem to endorse, mainly as proof of the popularity of their films) are markedly aggressive and active. Before and during the film show, a quantity of food is consumed as evidenced by the symphony of chewing, nut cracking, and popping of melon seeds. (Vichit-Vadakan 1977: 41)

In the Thai context, such a scenario can perhaps be related to the creation of what is termed sanuk, a Thai word most often translated into English as ‘fun’ but which actually covers a range of emotions and feelings emanating from a notion of ‘shared pleasure’. This required a different aesthetic ­attitude towards film-going; for instance Vichit-Vadakan states that the many interruptions of children or chattering viewers throughout the showing are not a distraction from the events on screen but instead ‘the sharing of feelings and emotions is implicitly recognized’ (Ibid.: 40). The audience actually enjoys the many comments and communal interactions with the film: A crowded movie house is not a passive viewing of the actions which take place on the screen, but an ‘event’ where casual and also very emotional comments are made; where outbursts of emotions (laughing, crying, cursing, screeming [sic]) are given free rein; and where exchanges of opinion are common. (Ibid.: 41)

The show is a social event in which the audience enjoys freedom to behave as it wishes, turning to and from the screen at will. Its actions are an extension of the show, as Vichit-Vadakan understands: ‘a Thai film showing allows its audience to be actively involved in an event which is culturally, socially, and psychologically meaningful and comprehensible to the Thai audience’ (Ibid.: 41). Post-war Thailand therefore requires an alternative model of consumption in keeping with what Hansen calls ‘institutionally less regulated viewing situations’ (Hansen 1994: 136). This alternative is easily recognised in film worldwide. Williams argues that classical Hollywood, with its ‘distracted viewers wandering into theatres at any old time’, rarely actually delivered the singular undisrupted scenario it is associated with (Williams 2002: 366). Likewise, investigations into the post-colonial audiences of Hollywood film also point to a chaotic and rowdy viewing context far different from such assumptions: the communal scenario is present in the



lower-class black colonial audiences of Northern Rhodesia (Ambler 2001). Hanich labels this scenario a ‘socializing theatrical experience’ and offers the early nickelodeon picture houses of early twentieth-century America as an example (Hanich 2010). Indeed, both the early nickelodeons and the colonial cinemas of Rhodesia appear to have much in common with the communal scenario typical of the rural Thai upcountry viewing context. Thai films therefore developed characteristics that could both function within and contribute towards an atmosphere of ‘shared pleasure’. The emphasis upon the aesthetic of attraction was designed to function within this less-regulated scenario and cultivate its shared pleasure. The visceral ‘numbers’ and the wide range of emotional affects invoke very physical responses that make the experience a communal one. The action, horror and comedy built around a loose plot with familiar characters and story developments engendered this communal atmosphere, ensuring that viewers can turn away from the screen to indulge in other activities (talking, eating) without diminishing the viewing experience. Appropriately, major narrative events are often stretched over long scenes: in Phii-Saht-­ Sen-Haa a scene where the heroine is bitten by a snake placed by her evil stepmother is drawn out and elongated to over four minutes. While this does not engender any suspense or mystery its length ensures that it can still be appreciated and absorbed in an environment where the film must function in the midst of a rowdy and distracted audience. An extraordinary length (an element that Seiji Udo criticises) is also a very evident 16  mm-era characteristic: Nguu-Phii lasts for 2  hours 16  minutes and Praai-Phitsawat (1968) for 2 hours 32 minutes. The audience is sustained through the varied distractions in the communal situation of shared pleasure. Most notably, the lack of synchronised sound and the oral commentary of the dubber also contributed towards this shared pleasure. Fouquet cites live dubbing in the 16 mm era as a means through which a bridge between the text and audience is constructed to make the film relevant to the immediate world of the audience. By offering up their own informal commentary upon the text and inserting references to popular (or even local) culture (that can also be conducted in the local language of the audience) the dubber can connect the immediate situation with that on the cinema screen and even make it specifically relevant to the context. As Sukawong understands, the dubbing would sometimes bear little connection to the original story, with dubbers choosing to reference local events or create



humorous situations themselves that were not necessarily synchronous with the actual events unfolding on the screen. This atmosphere of shared pleasure is one that can also be traced to the social space of older forms of entertainment in Thailand. Indeed, national cinemas often have specific media connections which can explain their precise forms. Schneider connects the excessive emotional nature of Indian films with classical Indian aesthetic traditions that place emphasis upon aesthetic engagement over that of narrative (Schneider 2009). In a similar way, the rural and lower-class cinemas of Thailand resemble the festivals and fetes that played an important role in traditional Thai entertainment, while the design of the 16 mm-era films reflects the dominance and popularity of communal entertainment in Thailand. Literature was not a ­popular medium in the country and instead it was theatre, puppetry and radio, all forms based upon communal rather than individual enjoyment that were, for various reasons, popular much earlier than the novel among the general population.6 Indeed, to a certain extent this space is a shared one: after 1952, when stage performance decreased in the face of renewed competition from film, some founders of drama troupes began to produce films themselves (Phromyothi 2000: 21). Likewise, with the spread of modern media and entertainment, it was radio in particular, then film and later television, which was the popular medium throughout the country. All of these entertainments notably engender shared pleasure and involve a communal scenario of consumption. Sukawong recognises that the dubber, who provided voices for so many different characters in the films, was also familiar and well established in Thai entertainment, such as the narration of classical masked drama (Khon) (Sukawong 2001: 10). Shadow puppetry is another medium which operates as a communal event and from which the Thai film industry even takes its Thai language designation: that of Nang. It also shares the necessity of a narrator and Koanantakool identifies the oral commentary—another possible origin for the dubbing convention in 16 mm-era films—as absolutely crucial to the success of this entertainment, as this improvisation allows a direct communication between the puppeteer and the audience through dialogue and jokes (Koanantakool 1989: 43). This public and communal space of consumption also shaped film form. In keeping with the privileging of the aesthetic of attraction over that of a suspenseful narrative, the 16 mm films do not favour point-of-view shots and the corresponding continuity editing structures. Instead they take the ethos of a drawn-out ‘display’ through a series of objectively presented



numbers and favour a presentational style that is appropriate to decreased phenomenological proximity between the viewer and text. They deploy what Tom Gunning calls ‘independent automate shots’ that consist of wide-angle shots and lengthy takes directly in front of the characters that create a perspective similar to that of a stage audience (Gunning 1991: 66). The viewer’s attention is guided by performance (namely exaggerated histrionic gestures) rather than the roaming ‘eye’ of a camera edited together through different shots. Within these shots it is the histrionic movements of the performers that draw the viewer’s attention in the same way as with a stage audience: the viewer’s ‘eye’ moves within the shot, rather than being framed by it, again reminiscent of a stage performance or display. There are very few shot transitions and those present are jerky and disjointed, immediately disrupting the diegetic world for the viewer and so inadvertently reinforcing the artifice of the film. This disjointed editing, while likely the result of technical flaws, ensures that it would be very difficult to construct Hanich’s ‘phenomenological proximity’ between the text and the viewer. However, many 16 mm-era productions display these disjointed shot transitions, suggesting that this was not a concern for the audience. While such flaws may be the result of rudimentary equipment, they again emphasise that ‘immersion’ in a diegesis is not necessary to Thai viewing pleasure in this context.

Disparaging Attitudes This lower-class rural audience (and the film style designed for such a viewer and context) is also evident from the general attitudes recorded towards such productions by non-Thais and local Thai elites. Despite the impressive evolution of this frugal ‘cottage industry’, the 16 mm productions were quickly designated as an inferior and unsophisticated model of film by both Thai and non-Thai viewers. With out-of-date technology, local live dubbers, emphasis upon crude ‘numbers’ and staple plots, the films would seem particularly opposed to the modernity and ‘progress’ represented by expensive Hollywood productions shown in state-of-the-­ art 1000-seat urban cinemas in Bangkok. Accounts indicate that Thai cinema before the 1990s, with its repetitive visceral thrills, is discursively constructed as trashy and unsophisticated. Writing in 1983, Ian Buruma describes Thai cinema with disdain, pouring scorn upon these characteristics: ‘most Thai melodramas, starring the same tired idols and directed by company hacks, are not worth serious



attention’ (Buruma 1983: 53). He highlights two factors as the cause of what he terms the continuing ‘mediocrity’ of Thai cinema: the habitual use of the same ‘exhausted’ stars and over-familiar narrative formulas. Patsorn Sungsri also indicates that within Thailand, conventional Thai films were designated as nam nao (Sungsri 2004: 234). The nam nao term was first applied to a genre of popular literature that consists of ‘escapist stories of melodrama, comedy and action’ that the 16 mm era freely borrowed from (Ibid.: 234). Again the reference to these ‘escapist stories’ emphasises the aesthetic of attraction and the generic hybridity of stimulating ‘numbers’, both attributes of the 16 mm-era film style. However, nam nao also means dirty or stagnant water, implying a low level of imagination and sophistication and reaffirming the stereotype of the 16 mm-era film form as crude, inferior and—to all intents and purposes—abject. This attitude was not just confined to film critics. A 1982 UNESCO Transnational Communication and Culture Industries report also passes judgement upon Thai film. One of the many basic problems facing the Thai film industry, it suggests, is ‘the unprofessional approach to film-­ making and a desire to become rich quickly among the producers’ (UNESCO 1982: 41). The description of this ‘unprofessional approach’ laments the position of filmmakers as business entrepreneurs instead of artists that are part of (and possibly struggling against) a clear-cut industry, as if uniquely in a commercial medium they were wrongly placing the pursuit of profits above that of ‘art’. The report concludes that ‘faced with so many basic difficulties, the Thai film industry has very little prospect of expanding in a socially meaningful way’ (Ibid.: 41). UNESCO does not define what it means by ‘socially meaningful’, though it appears to involve removing the pursuit of profit as a primary goal of filmmaking. This fails to note not only that the vast majority of films worldwide are made in pursuit of profits but also that this status can be correlated to the Thai government’s lack of support for the industry, not the personal preferences of Thai filmmakers. Such a designation is quickly reminiscent of the general attitudes towards excessively emotional and spectacular texts. Scholars note that an emphasis upon spectacle and an overly emotional response is generally positioned as less intelligent than the cognitive processes involved in following a story. Williams attaches this to the category of ‘the sensational’, in which she places horror, pornography and melodrama, genres awarded a ‘low cultural status’ due to both their physical emotional effects upon the viewer and their concentration upon the female body (Williams 1991:



4). Similarly, Leon Hunt notes how horror films that appear to privilege spectacle over that of plot are considered ‘lowbrow’: as overt and graphic low-budget incarnations that exist on the fringe of ‘good taste’ and so are judged accordingly (Hunt 2000: 326). Such a hierarchy is, of course, reminiscent of Bourdieu’s theorization of ‘highbrow’ and ‘lowbrow’ taste, a model that is relevant given both Eurocentric attitudes towards Thailand and the rigidity of the social divisions in the country at this time (Bourdieu 1979). Sneja Gunew argues that while affect theory has grown as a discipline within the humanities, it is still dominated by ‘the Eurocentric assumption that cognition (or thought) is superior to feeling as a form of intelligence’ (Gunew 2009:11). This can be attached to a Eurocentric hierarchy of a civilised and ordered West that is opposed to a chaotic and emotional East (Said 1977). Scholars specialising in Thai studies argue that Thailand has long been subjected to such constructions of inferiority. According to Jackson, common Euro-­ American accounts of Thailand champion notions of excess, paradox and contradiction, and in the non-Thai imagination Thailand was specifically incarnated as an exoticised land offering a debauched and chaotic lure: an imperfect importation of Western culture fused with the savagery of the Orient (Jackson 2005). This can also explain the disdainful attitudes towards the 16  mm-era films from within Thailand itself. Thongchai Winichakul argues that the views of Thai elites echo the Euro-American colonialist construction of Thailand, with minority and lower-class culture also designated as inferior and backwards (Winichakul 2000). Associating oneself with the highbrow taste of Europe, thereby rejecting ‘local’ culture, demonstrated that one possessed the cultural capital to understand it and so was able to associate with and exist alongside these elites. Indeed, this inferior designation of 16 mm-era film was strongly attached to the upcountry audience and lower classes who avidly consumed such films. Such beliefs are evident in statements such as this one, which was recorded by journalist Bernard Trink in 1968: ‘Thai motion pictures’, according to a university student in Bangkok, ‘are directed at, and seen by, the people upcountry, the old women in Bangkok, and servants on their day off’ (Trink 1968 quoted in Boonyaketmala 1992: 82). The derogatory nature of the quote gives an indication that the Thai film industry was judged through its appeal to a viewer labelled as both unsophisticated and undesirable. Ian Buruma likewise notes that ‘many members of the urban middle-class profess indifference to the point of contempt for Thai films’, indicating how those at the



bottom of the social hierarchy such as the poor, the aged, rural provincial people or those who work in the service industry are suggested to be uneducated and unintelligent and their popular entertainment products likewise embody these characteristics (Buruma 1983: 53).

The 16 mm Era and the Contemporary Thai Film Industry The 16  mm era eventually came to an end in the early 1970s. Chalida Uabumrungjit singles out the success of the films Monrak Luktung (1970) and Tone (1970) as contributing towards standardising the use of 35 mm film stock with synchronised sound in Thailand. In the late 1990s, Thai cinema was then able to build upon the establishment of a network of urban cinemas in the early 1990s and become a respectable addition to metropolitan life (Ingawanij 2006: 148). The return of many future key directors from film schools abroad also ensured that there was a local talent pool familiar with the conventions of international filmmaking. The international success of 2499 Antapan Krong Muang/Daeng Birley and the Young Gangsters (1997) and later Nang Nak (1999) then heralded the arrival of what critics and scholars often refer to as ‘New Thai Cinema’, with lavish, big-budget productions and a new level of international festival success and critical respect. Despite such radical changes however, we can still recognise the formal characteristics of the 16 mm era far past the standardisation of synchronised sound in Thailand and into the big-budget Thai industry of today. While New Thai films have dramatically improved their production values and quality of filmmaking, close examination also indicates that they still very deliberately deploy a film style that can function within a communal scenario of shared pleasure. The aesthetic of attraction, the ‘presentational’ film style and the stock narrative structure are all still evident in successful contemporary Thai films such as Luang Phii Teng/Holy Man (2005), Jaew/M.A.I.D. (2004), Boonchu 9 (2008), Baan Phii Pop 2008 (2008), Wor Mah Ba Mahasanook (2008) and many more. The vast majority of these ‘local’ films are extremely visceral slapstick comedies that also contain very graphic horror numbers. They adhere to Williams’ ‘numbers’ and Hunt’s ‘lowbrow’ horror and do not create the ‘phenomenological proximity’ and ‘individualized absorption’ that Hanich observed.



Thai films therefore continue to display the ‘abject’ and ‘inferior’ characteristics of the lower-class 16 mm era, in which the aesthetic of attraction increasingly insists upon visceral audience involvement in a similar way to films of previous decades. The continued existence of such characteristics is not only indicative of historical Thai film development but is also symptomatic of the continuing social divisions within Thailand which Thai cultural products respond to and incorporate. Further solidifying such a link, the contemporary Thai film industry also includes significant parody and homage to the earlier post-war era. Much of this engages with the key characteristics of this film style, indicating that Thai filmmakers recognise not only the specific formal conventions of older Thai film productions but also the importance of earlier eras to the development of this national industry. Internationally renowned avant-garde director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films engage with lower-class and rural issues to a significant extent, reflecting the filmmaker’s own background and social concerns while also deliberately referencing older eras of the Thai film industry through deploying a film style that consists of static shots, fixed camera positions and histrionic acting. Likewise, Wisit Sasanatieng’s celebrated homage Fa Thalai Chon/Tears of the Black Tiger (2000) also references this era to a huge extent, even including artificial cardboard painted backdrops in an overly obvious nod to the low production values of the post-war era. Such deliberate references by internationally celebrated Thai auteurs indicate how staple such characteristics have been in Thai film history that they are recognised as representative of the industry historically. A small amount of existing academic analysis also suggests that, in keeping with its visceral and sensationalist bodily nature, the contemporary Thai industry permeates and experiments with the boundaries between viewer and text. In her study of contemporary Thai ghost films, Ancuta (in one of the very few analyses to pay attention to the form of contemporary Thai films) indicates that many of these texts frequently offer ‘a discussion of film as a medium’, by which Ancuta means that they use the relationship between the viewer and the film as a means to question the nature of ghosts and spirits as entities (Ancuta 2011: 141). While Ancuta attributes this questioning to technological improvements in Thai filmmaking and increased levels of experimentation by filmmakers, it is also indicative of the ongoing fluid relationship between viewer and text. The continuing presence of such ‘abject’ lower-class characteristics also begins to explain why, despite such remarkable growth and achievement



for such a young and under-funded industry, many successful New Thai productions continue to receive negative comments and reviews and to be regarded disdainfully as poor quality films. Notably, disparaging remarks often originate from non-Thai international viewers and reviews and also elites and intellectuals within the country, both perspectives that have historically been outside of the primary audience for Thai cinema and its aesthetics. Such critique singles out the characteristics that were adapted for the lower-class and rural viewing context, focusing upon the lack of a complex narrative, the emphasis upon the aesthetic of attraction and the blending of genres. Such films are therefore being assessed not by the nuances and conventions that make them successful in Thailand but by the extent to which they deviate from supposed international standards of cinema and ‘correct’ versions of film style and form, in a very similar way to the previous comments from earlier eras of the Thai film industry.

Conclusion While there are many existing overviews of Thai film history that pay attention to the 16 mm era, this chapter has tried to illustrate the extent to which this period and its productions are an important part of not only Thai film history but also Thai film development. Through close analysis of productions and their wider context, it has outlined the key characteristics of this era and their close connection to the rural and lower-class viewing context, much of which was shaped by the unstable financial status of the industry and the need to function within a communal viewing scenario in which the audience was also extremely diverse. Such characteristics can then be traced up into the contemporary industry and identified in productions that still target provincial Thai viewers, many of which are not destined for international distribution. Such analysis also raises particular questions about the divided nature of Thai society today. While Thai cinema has grown and changed enormously since the post-war era, the economic divisions in the country which led to the creation of the 16  mm era still exist. The continued presence of 16  mm-era characteristics in films which target provincial audiences are symptomatic of current social inequality within the nation. Such inequality and division is also reflected in the volatile political situation. Thailand has endured several military coups since the 2006 removal of elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a figure who enjoyed immense popularity with rural and lower-class voters. The country currently exists under



martial law and an unelected military regime which suppresses any forms of dissent in an era that some scholars describe as constituting a ‘class war’ (Ungpakorn 2009: 83). As Thailand becomes increasingly polarised in the contemporary era, so its entertainment products appear increasingly torn between the aesthetics of these diverse social groups. How the Thai film industry will continue to cater for such a nation is unclear, as the difficulties experienced by Thailand and Thai people in the contemporary age appear to be far from over.

Notes 1. This chapter is based upon the article ‘Post-war Thai Cinema: Audiences and Film Style in a Divided Nation’ published in Film International, Vol. 15, No. 2. 1 June 2017. pp. 6–19. 2. Writing in 1962, Wilson gives an indication of these dramatic social divisions in Thailand: Thai society is (still) characterized by a gross two-class structure, in which the classes are physically as well as economically separated … The rural agrarian segment is separated geographically from the urban ruling segment. The agrarian segment is, in the main, land-owning and survives by a quasi-subsistence economy. The ruling segment is salaried (when its members own property, this is usually urban or sub-urban) and lives on a cash economy. (Wilson 1962, quoted in UNESCO 1982: 38) 3. Anderson illustrates these numerous cultural traditions in a quote that emphasises the very distinct communities and cultural groupings that merged together to create a single nation: Just as Indian epic, ‘The Ramayana,’ and Chinese novel ‘The Three Kingdoms,’ and the Javanese literary hero, Panji, have become parts of the Thai literary and artistic traditions, so are the folklore and folklife of Thailand enriched by the mosaic of these diverse cultural traditions. (Anderson 1989: 1) 4. Phromyothi also describes this structure, again inspired by Sukawong’s historical research: ‘One could find love plot, life in crisis, violent/action scenes, nerve-breaking thrills, tragic moments with an addition of sex, glamour, gags, slapstick, and a happy ending’ (Sukawong 1990, quoted in Phromyothi (2000: 23). 5. This prior-known causal structure and emphasis upon ‘numbers’ is also present in indigenous Thai entertainment existing prior to and alongside the 16 mm era. For instance, Likey theatre—a popular Thai stage performance of both dance and drama—contains similar stock characters to the 16 mm



era productions. With their distinctive pre-constructed traits and roles within a story, these recurring and familiar stock character ‘types’ contribute towards constructing both the prior-known causal structure and the various ‘numbers’ attached to this. 6. In Thailand, the novel was not a form which spread far beyond a very small educated elite (which was mostly confined to the royal court) until much later in the twentieth century and indeed even today still doesn’t enjoy widespread popularity outside of urban areas. Any critical and theoretical texts concerned with Thai society were mostly written in English by nonThai authors, paid little attention to the mass populist habits and only noted that which could be twisted to serve the interests of colonialism and imperialism. This hardly impacted upon society at large or the development of media. Communal entertainment was also not given serious scholarly attention due to being forms of entertainment which appealed to the supposedly uncivilised lower classes and country people. See Chitakasem (1995) and Hamilton (1994) for more discussion of this.

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Gunning, T. (1991). D. W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Hamilton, A. (1994). Cinema and Nation: Dilemmas of Representation in Thailand. In W.  Dissanayake (Ed.), Colonialism and Nationalism in Asian Cinema (pp. 141–161). Indiana: Indiana University Press. Hamilton, A. (2002). Rumours, Foul Calumnies and the Safety of the State: Mass Media and National Identity in Thailand. In C.  Reynolds (Ed.), National Identity and Its Defenders: Thailand Today (pp.  277–307). Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books. Hanich, J. (2010). Cinematic Emotion in Horror Films and Thrillers. The Aesthetic Paradox of Pleasurable Fear. New York: Routledge. Hansen, M. (1994). Early Cinema, Late Cinema: Transformations of the Public Space. In L.  Williams (Ed.), Viewing Positions: Ways of Seeing Film (pp. 134–152). New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Hansen, M. (2000). The Mass Production of the Senses: Classical Cinema as Vernacular Modernism. In C. Gledhill & L. Williams (Eds.), Reinventing Film Studies (pp. 332–350). London: Arnold. Higgins, S. (2008). Suspenseful Situations: Melodramatic Narrative and the Contemporary Action Film. Cinema Journal, 47(2), 74–96. Hunt, L. (2000). A (Sadistic) Night at the Opera: Notes on the Italian Horror Film. In K.  Gelder (Ed.), The Horror Reader (pp.  324–335). London: Routledge. Ingawanij, M. (2006). Un-Thai sakon: The Scandal of Teen Cinema. Southeast Asia Research, 14(2), 147–177. Jackson, P.  A. (2005). Semicoloniality, Translation and Excess in Thai Cultural Studies. South East Asia Research, 13(1), 7–41. Koanantakool, P. C. (1989). Relevance of the Textual and Contextual Analysis in Understanding Folk Performance of Modern Society: A Case of Southern Thai Shadow Puppet Theatre. Asian Folklore Studies, 48, 31–57. Nelmes, J. (2010). An Introduction to Film Studies. London: Routledge. Phromyothi, P. (2000). Influences of Hollywood Movies on Contemporary Thai Films: Case Studies of Action-Thriller and Horror Genres. Unpublished Master’s thesis, Chulalongkorn University. Said, E. (1977). Orientalism. London: Penguin. Schneider, A. (2009). “Hum Aapke Hain Koun…!” An Example of the Coding of Emotions in Contemporary Hindi Mainstream Film. Projections, 3(2), 56–70. Sukawong, D. (2001). A Century of Thai Cinema. London: Thames and Hudson. Sungsri, P. (2004). Thai Cinema as National Cinema: An Evaluative History. Unpublished PhD thesis, Murdoch University. Uabumrungjit, C. (2001). Cinema in Thailand 1897 to 1970. In D. Hanan (Ed.), Film in South East Asia: Views from The Region (pp. 119–139). Hanoi: South East Asia Pacific Audio Visual Archives Association.



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Filmography Chermyim, Note. 2005. Holy Man (Luang Phii Teng). Thailand. Ditsakul, Sukrawandit and Prakartwutisan, Tae. 1949. Thai Gentleman Bandit (Supab Burut Suatai). Thailand. Krisada, Daen. 1969. Jaawm-Khon. Thailand. MacRae, Henry. 1923. Miss Suwanna of Siam (Nang Sao Sawan). Thailand. Nakarin. 1967. Nang-Prai-Taa-Nii. Thailand. Nimibutr, Nonzee. 1997. Daeng Birley and the Young Gangsters (2499 Antapan Krong Muang). Thailand. Nimibutr, Nonzee. 1999. Nang Nak. Thailand. Pan-Kam. 1969. Phi-Saht-Sen-Haa. Thailand. Payak, Rangsi Thatsana. 1970. Monrak Luktung. Thailand. Poster, Piak. 1970. Tone. Thailand. Rittakol, Bundit. 2008. Boonchu 9. Thailand. Saetthaaphakdee. 1966. Nguu-Phii. Thailand. Sakdaphisit, Sophon. 2008. Coming Soon (Program na winyan akat). Thailand.



Sasanatieng, Wisit. 2000. Tears of the Black Tiger (Fa Thalai Chon). Thailand. Sinthanamongkolkul, Bunjong. 2008. Wor Mah Ba Mahasanook. Thailand. Sri Rattana, Chaluay. 1968. Praai-Phitsawat. Thailand. Taitanabul, Bunharn. 2008. Baan Phii Pop 2008. Thailand. Thongkongthun, Yongyuth. 2004. M.A.I.D. (Jaew). Thailand. Wasuwat, Manit. 1927. Double Luck (Chok Song Chan). Thailand.


Youth, Leisure, and Modernity in the Film One Summer of Happiness (1951): Exploring the Space of Rural Film Exhibition in Swedish Post-war Cinema Åsa Jernudd

In a farmhouse kitchen in the Swedish countryside, a young man Göran has a heated argument with his father. Göran has spent the summer helping out on his uncle’s farm and now, as autumn is approaching and it is time for him to return to the city to enrol at university, he hesitates to do so. Göran’s father left the same farm at Göran’s age to pursue a career as an engineer in the city. He shows nothing but contempt for rural life and is enraged that his son wants to stay. What is it that keeps Göran at the farm? Yes, there is a village girl in this drama. Her name is Kerstin. We will return to her, in an analysis of the film in which this kitchen scene appears, One Summer of Happiness (Hon dansade en sommar, Arne Mattsson, 1951). However, in the argument between father and son it is something besides the girl that poses the main obstacle that prevents Göran from leaving. Göran says he has some unfinished business to take care of, and Å. Jernudd (*) Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




his father replies, ‘So I’ve heard. (…) you have been fooling around acting in silly plays and playing the lute for the village youth and God knows what else (!) … in some kind of act of providence in this god-forsaken parish! And for this you are willing to throw away your future!’ The ‘unfinished business’ which his father holds in such contempt concerns Göran’s involvement in a local, amateur play that is soon to open in his uncle’s barn. The play is put on by a group of young people from the villages in the area; Göran and Kerstin play the lead roles. In the film, the play is a crucial semantic node at the very core of the drama that joins a set of conflicting and intersecting discourses related to modernization of rural life against a contemporary post-war backdrop of rapid urbanization and a burgeoning social welfare state. The virtues of country life are set against career opportunities offered in the city; religious values are contrasted with more secular ones; Göran and Kerstin are confronted with time for leisure and moral choices that older generations did not have. In the film they negotiate their identity as a space in between a traditional, conservative, religious stance and a new, individualistic, liberal, and urban one. The film’s focus on the role assigned to leisure in the construction of a modern youth culture makes it particularly interesting. In the space of leisure that Göran and Kerstin share with the other village youth, they are free to define themselves as a group and in new terms. With the film One Summer of Happiness as a reference for discussing contemporary and conflicting expressions of youth and leisure in relation to the ongoing modernization of rural life, I aim to reveal how youth in the Swedish post-war period are constructed as pioneers of social change and will focus on the crucial role cinemagoing played in the definition of rural youth as harbingers of modernity. One Summer of Happiness is special in the history of Swedish film production in being a genre film that became extremely successful on national as well as international cinema circuits. The success was perhaps all the more unlikely considering that the film did not originate from the commercial sector; it was produced by Nordisk Tonefilm, a film company owned by the workers’ movement. The box-office achievement of One Summer of Happiness is commonly explained by the sensational value of its explicit representation of sexuality (Furhammar 2003: 203, 222). While not denying its sensational value, I will link the depiction of sexuality in the film to the discursive construction of youth as proponents of Swedish post-war modernity. Continuing on this theme, I will historicize the concept of youth and its relation to leisure, in particular to rural cinemagoing



in the post-war period. Finally, I will offer an example of how this ­relationship was launched as a prospect for the future in the most popular domestic feature of its time, One Summer of Happiness.

Nordisk Tone Film and the Cinematic Reach of the Workers’ Movement One Summer of Happiness was produced by Nordisk Tonefilm, a company whose ownership was dominated by organizations within the workers’ movement, including Folkets Husföreningarnas Riksförbund and Sveriges Folkbiografer, two organizations that supported workers’ societies that owned their own venues—known as Folkets Hus (People’s House). In 1952 there were 955 such houses spread out across the country and of these 500 exhibited films, largely in rural areas (Jernudd 2012). They had strong ties to the Social Democratic Party that had been in government since 1932. Nordisk Tonefilm aimed at producing contemporary drama, the so-called ‘social problem films’, featuring working-class struggle and the changing conditions of rural life. A publishing company representing the Farmers’ League (Lantbrukarnas Tidskriftsaktiebolag) also had shares in Nordisk Tonefilm and insisted that the company produce at least one film per year that challenged the Stockholm-centric, cliché-ridden, and often ludicrous depictions of rural life that were common in contemporary commercial feature films. However, it should be recognized that it was also expected that the films produced within the movement would be commercially viable. The aim was to produce moderate leftist propaganda with a popular appeal (Qvist 1986: 111–114). The involvement of the workers’ movement in film production, distribution, and exhibition in post-war Sweden was an attempt to expand the control over media and audiences by operating alongside the regular commercial film industry (cf. Vesterlund 2007). In the immediate post-war period audience attendance dropped only to soon pick up again and reach unprecedented numbers in the 1950s. Attendance peaked in 1956. Sweden had reached a population of 7,339,000 and the cinema ticket sales added up to 78,200,000 (Samhället och filmen 1973: 97). The number of cinemas in Sweden was at its highest in 1952 with 2583 venues in all  (Samhället och filmen 1973: 95).1 A handful of vertically integrated film companies controlled the high-profit cinemas in the cities and larger key towns. Smaller private or partner-­ owned companies operated cinemas in urban as well as rural areas. Some



exhibited film in purpose-built or multipurpose venues and operated in one venue only, others were organized in chains or alternated between different venues using a mobile projector. Most cinemas in smaller rural communities would offer three to four screenings a week. A small town or rural community would typically have at least one People’s House cinema and/or a cinema managed by a temperance society or another local, voluntary society (Jernudd and Lundmark 2017). The insistence on erecting a ‘house of one’s own’ within Swedish associational culture has been explained as a consequence of the progressive ideologies that in different ways and to different degrees permeated the religious, workers’, and temperance movements. The societies were originally part of dissident, working-class or lower middle class-based religious and social movements that posed a threat to traditional authority and social order, guarded by the state church, and were for this reason rarely allowed to assemble in traditional, community venues (sockenstuga or school house) (Almqvist et  al. 1976; Jernudd 2012). Of course, by the early 1950s, the societies had lost their threatening, oppositional status and, particularly in the case of the workers’ movement, now shared the democratic and progressive politics enforced by the government. The 1950s is often referred to as a decade of major social transformation in Sweden when the new welfare state was realized and the youth of this age became proponents of modernity, caught between the old and the new structures of society (Gunnemark 2006). Youth became an increasingly important film audience category, and film culture became important to this age group as a means to negotiate the ongoing transformation—not least in rural Sweden (Sjöholm 2003).

The Representation of Rural Life in Post-war Cinema Culture Films depicting a traditional or changing rural way of life overwhelmingly dominated post-war Swedish film production. Cinema audiences were offered, on the one hand, Hollywood films flaunting depictions of international, modern, often urban life and on the other hand, domestic films concerned with threats to homegrown traditional, rural life. Film historian Leif Furhammar suggests that the great number of domestic films that joyfully depicted, mourned the loss of, and/or problematized rural life in the 1950s served as a form of therapy for audiences confronted with the collective trauma of industrial modernity and rapid urbanization



(Furhammar 2003: 223–224). In his seminal study on the subject of the representation of rural life in Swedish post-war film, film scholar Per Olov Qvist discusses the production and popularity of such films as common to several European countries at the time, particularly in, but not restricted to, Finland, France, and Germany. There are evident transnational connections: more than a hundred European films with rural settings were shown in Swedish cinemas in the 1940s and 1950s, a majority of which came from Finland (Qvist 1986: 9), and in tracing the historical ideas and motifs that comprises the popular Swedish film genre he calls ‘agrarian romanticism’, Qvist draws from particularly German cultural and social history (1986: 54–59). Despite transnational influences and overlap, there is also national specificity. Qvist details how the genre, as exemplified by One Summer of Happiness, is constructed in the particular confines of Swedish film production; how nature is mythologized, how it idealizes the farmer, debates the power of inheritance and tradition, and poses urbanity in opposition to the lifestyle and values tied to the agrarian way of life.

One Summer of Happiness Introduces the ‘Swedish Sin’ One Summer of Happiness became the greatest box-office success to date in Sweden and was exported to 53 countries, winning prizes at the festivals in Cannes (best music), Berlin (best film) and Punta del Este (Uruguay), as well as scoring first place on the Sun-Herald film list in Australia in 1953 (Idestam-Almquist 1954: 48). It would seem unlikely that a Swedish language popular rural drama without exceptional photographic, narrative, or thematic qualities would herald such audiences. The astonishing ­triumph at cinemas not only in Sweden but also abroad can be explained by the appeal of and buzz caused by a specific scene in the film. A warm summer night provides the setting. Kerstin suggests to Göran that they should head down to the lake for a midnight swim. Lit up by the moon, they undress and play in the shallow water, as filmed through the high reeds along the bank. A change in the music signals a shift into a mood more ominous and intense; Göran sweeps Kerstin off her feet and carries her out of the water. He lays her down in the grass on the bank, the focal point of the image being Kerstin’s naked breasts. The image lingers. Eventually they embrace and the camera pans off into the reeds ….



The frank, not to say sensational, depiction of sexual desire between Göran and Kerstin sets the film apart as the first of a kind of sexually explicit film that gave rise to the idea abroad of “Swedish sin”. The idea was enhanced by the international success of Ingmar Bergman’s film, Sommaren med Monika (Summer with Monika aka Monika—the Story of a Bad Girl, 1953) that also contained scenes of premarital sexual intercourse and close-ups of a young female nude body, and it was further reinforced by the continued export of sexually explicit Swedish films. At a festival screening of One Summer of Happiness abroad, actress Ulla Jakobsson, who played the role of Kerstin, was confronted by a journalist who claimed that the success of the film relied entirely on the exposure of her breasts. Jakobsson replied: ‘You have completely misunderstood. Precisely because we are so decent in my country such a scene (…) can be shot. Why the film was a success? Because it is genuine. Because it is poetry’ (Idestam-­ Almquist 1954: 49). As this quote suggests, the cinematic representations of liberated sexuality cannot simply or only be reduced to a matter of sensational effects. Historian Elisabet Björklund has convincingly argued that the explicit cinematic sexual representations of the time were incorporated into a positive self-image as a part of the modern project of producing individuals liberated from traditional, social, and family bonds (Björklund 2012).

The ‘Swedish Theory of Love’, Youth and Leisure Björklund draws on ideas developed by Berggren and Trägårdh (2006) that contest the taken-for-granted notion that the Swedish welfare state developed strong collective bonds. Instead they propose that by strengthening the bonds between the individual and the state, enforcing the so-­ called ‘state individualism’, the Swedish welfare model has strived to free the individual from dependence on social and, in particular, family bonds. Berggren and Trägårdh’s ‘Swedish theory of love’ is founded on the assumption that because the individual has been freed from social bonds connected to the family, relationships between people are characterized by voluntariness and autonomy. Björklund gives two examples of modern state intervention with the aim of liberating the individual from family ties: ‘In the 1930s, it was the child that was the focus of state intervention, and it was important that the state assume responsibility for children and emancipate them from their family. In the 1960s and 1970s, the focus would shift to women, for example through the introduction of individual



taxation in 1971 and the expansion of day nurseries during the 1970s’ (Björklund 2012: 20). I would like to propose that there was a focus on the category of youth in the 1940s and 1950s that can be understood in similar terms as a liberation from family bonds. The intervention of the state and its subsidiary organizations (such as those of the worker’s movement and in extension, Nordisk Tonefilm) offered a unique version of modernization and a process of individualization that can help us understand the role of cinemagoing, particularly for young, rural audiences at this time of rapid urbanization and social change. Youth as a separate social category became increasingly visible in public discourse at the time and therefore more firmly constituted, in part through the formation of a political discourse on the subject of youth and leisure in which cinema was repeatedly placed at its centre. No less than ten government reports from the 1940s and 1950s directly or indirectly concern questions of youth, leisure and media. In one of the early reports of the period the claim is made that cinemagoing was the most frequent pastime for contemporary youth and ‘a cultural force’ of particular significance to this group (Sjöholm 2003: 222). An analysis of the reports offers contradictory stories about the impact of cinema, whether the youth need freedom or guidance, and how to encourage or discipline them to become responsible citizens, integrated into the social welfare state in the post-war era (Sjöholm 2003: 211–227; cf. Olson 1992). In her ethnographic study of rural audiences’ cinemagoing in the Swedish post-war period, Carina Sjöholm argues for the prevalence of a new sense of cultural choice among the youth of the 1940s and 1950s and a concomitant disruption in the identification with and reliance on earlier generations (cf. Ziehe 1989). She suggests that young people of the Swedish 1940s and 1950s can be described as subjects or pioneers of social change, in their orientation towards the future. Cinemagoing contributed decidedly to this experience, and reinforced generational difference, in part due to its place of consumption being outside of the home. This idea comes into clearer relief in a comparison with research on the more family-­ oriented reception of domestic media such as radio and television (cf. Höijer 1998; Couldry 2003; Sjöholm 2003: 28–29, 32, 230–31). Sjöholm’s dissertation is suggestive of ways of thinking about cinemagoing as a social process, drawing on anthropologist Victor Turner’s theory of ritual and liminality (Turner 1969/1995 quoted in Sjöholm 2003). It offers a model for describing and explaining cinemagoing as an agent



for “slow” social change—ongoing and experienced in day-to-day life. Going to the cinema in all its related complexity is according to this theory a means for the audience to cope with change and assimilate to it. Through the ritual of cinemagoing, the audience members adjust to change by moving in and out of different kinds of spaces understood as ordinary and extraordinary. The dialectics involved in the movement of subjects between the ordinary and the extraordinary opens up experience to reflexivity. In this way, ritual is understood as constitutive as well as political, opening up to change. Liminality, a state of mental ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in rituals when participants are at a threshold between their previous way of structuring their identity, and a new way, which the ritual establishes, is not a matter of crisis in this theory; it presents and explains a transient experience of the extraordinary that is always anchored in everyday experience and everyday life (Sjöholm 2003: 33, 253–257). In the case of rural Sweden in the 1940s and 1950s, Sjöholm proposes that cinemagoing was important in everyday life for youth to a degree that motivates thinking about this ritual itself as a social movement (Sjöholm 2003: 14). Evidence that rural cinema exhibition and attendance increased in the 1950s despite intensified urbanization could be presented in support of this claim (Furhammar 2003: 204; Jernudd and Lundmark 2017). Indeed, Sjöholm states that the sheer numbers of youth involved in various aspects of cinema culture contributed to the scale and cultural, as well as social, penetration of the movement. Going to the cinema represents an extraordinary event that extends beyond the duration of a particular film being viewed and indeed infiltrates other parts of day-to-day life. Cinemagoing in rural post-war Sweden involved negotiations with family members and friends, dressing in a particular way, reading and talking about stars and films, riding a bicycle on country roads to arrive at the cinema venue, buying sweets, spending time on the streets, in the cinema lobby, at a café, watching the newsreel before the film, or arriving just in time for the feature. Sjöholm insists that cinema culture pervaded everyday life for the young of the age, also for those among the young who for religious, geographic, or other reasons didn’t actually attend the cinema. Though the activities may be apprehended as fleeting and ephemeral, Sjöholm insists they contribute to the acquisition among youth of a cinematic competence: knowledge and sensory training for life in the future (Sjöholm 2003: 13–14).



One Summer of Happiness, Youth and Leisure The film opens with a funeral at a village church. A priest gives a speech to the assembled crowd in which the dead girl, whom we will later know as Kerstin, is presented as an innocent victim of changes brought on by modernity. ‘The new winds blowing in on the village should be left to pass through it, changing nothing,’ says the priest. The ‘new’ brings ruthlessness, aberration, egoism, and those who seduce the young and innocent should be thrown into the river and left to drown. A close up of Göran confirms to the viewer that he is the seducer of which the priest speaks. Göran leaves the funeral and heads to a lake where he sits down on its bank. Göran’s voice-over reminiscence takes the viewer back to the story’s beginning in the early summer when—having passed his exams—Göran shows up at his uncle’s farm in the village. The plot will guide us chronologically through the events of the summer and eventually end up back at the funeral. This time the narration stays with the funeral instead of tagging Göran on his way to the lake. Göran’s uncle, Anders, steps into position at the head of the coffin and gives a counter-speech that mitigates the condemning law of the priest. Anders challenges the idea that Kerstin is an innocent victim and suggests instead that she was courageous for having had ‘the courage to live’, thereby defying traditional ideas and church authority. The film ends with Göran at the lake. The circular plot outline contains the events of summer and emphasizes the nostalgia indicated by the title of the film. It is the fate of rural life in view of ongoing urbanization and modernization that the dominant relations in the film actualize. The framing events in the introduction and closing sequence reveal an uncompromising conservative attitude towards modernization of rural life of which the village priest serves as synecdoche. In conflict with the voice of tradition is a more moderate one spoken by Göran’s uncle, the farmer Anders. The problem that the two patriarchs are set up against is how to respond to initiatives of and how to take social responsibility for the village youth. With more leisure time at hand, the village youth demand an autonomous space. Modernization is depicted as a problem in so far as the behaviour of the younger generation deviates from the norms of traditional authority. Kerstin and Göran both challenge the traditional Lutheran values of the priest as they spend time alone together and with the other youth in the village, and their relationship deepens. The other youth in the village, who are always together in a group, also oppose the priest by socializing in their



time of leisure. The authorial enunciation of the film sides with the young people and suggests that the fate of rural life depends on the power of initiative of the younger generation and their capacity to stand up against conservative and intolerant authorities in favour of a community that instead fosters appreciation of youth-bonding and spirituality in the form of playful amusements (music, theatre, dancing, cinema). The film’s narration focalizes Göran: he is initially presented as a pleasure-­seeking, young man with a condescending attitude towards rural life that he has inherited from his father: ‘I’m heading out to the boondocks where the people of smaller scale live, as my dad used to say.’ Come Saturday night he goes to the village school house where he has been told the village youth will be gathering to start rehearsals for a play. Göran finds an angry mob of youngsters banging at the door of the house; it has been locked by the village priest to prevent the youth from gathering of their own accord. Instead Anders offers them an abandoned barn on his farm to renovate and use for their association. The local youth club is a serious problem, Anders is told by the priest, because it encourages the young to abandon the church for theatre, dancing, and cinema. The young have not simply strayed, he is told, they are depraved, they are afflicted by the rush and bustle of modern times. Meanwhile, Göran has fallen for the village girl Kerstin and is courting her. Kerstin’s desire to spend time with Göran is compromised by the values of her religious foster family that doesn’t allow her to enjoy the company of friends her own age. In the company of the village youth, Kerstin and Göran find a space of autonomy and peace: dancing, working on the barn, rehearsing the play, or simply lingering in a meadow nearby. Their union itself represents a mediation of old and new forms of life. Showing the couple spending leisure time in the company of other youth is also important. It offers social acceptance of their union and suggests that rigid traditional social norms need to be overcome to liberate the younger rural generation and bring ‘a structure of feeling’ (Williams 1977: 128–135) more in harmony with modern, contemporary rural life. The other youth in the film are depicted always as a group, though with individual differences, keen on joining forces in their time of leisure, thus fostering a sense of community and working together to produce something new. As Qvist points out, the youth in One Summer of Happiness are constructed as an ideal in the film, as a source of energy, purpose, and joy and as a promise for a better future. They are clearly demarcated from the older generation in their attitudes, as well as in their social and cultural



practices, yet they pick up on a form of rural grassroots voluntary associational culture that is also a space for theatre, dancing, and the exhibition of film. With Sjöström, I have proposed that this is a space of slow social change anchored in day-to-day experience in which modern attitudes and forms of life could be negotiated and tested by rural post-war youth who had yet to make their choices about how to reconcile ongoing changes brought on by modernity and urbanization. In the film, this space is constructed as the hope for a future of rural life that has existential as well as social value and that brings joy, energy, and community spirit.

Conclusion It is symptomatic of a wider contemporary discourse that the film chooses to stage the generational conflict as a question about popular entertainment and the proper function of a public space in a small, rural community. The rise in the late 1930s of a new conception of youth as infused with popular culture caused reactions from conservative and educated and religious elites. Popular cultural forms such as modern jazz dance and cinema were under attack for seducing youth into vicious tendencies. It is important to note that the concern about youth and leisure-time entertainment such as dance and cinema was not framed as solely an urban problem. Indoor dance halls and open-air dance floors were found across the country also in distant rural areas, as were cinemas, often in the same multipurpose venues, the Folkets Hus and park establishments (Frykman 1988; Olson 1992). Contrary to the conservative voices in the debate that preferred to construct youth as a problem, the authorial voice of One Summer of Happiness invests heavily in the capacity of youth to succeed in modernizing rural society. This of course is explained by its context of production, Nordisk Tonefilm, that was owned by the workers’ movement. The film seems to say that for an agricultural way of life to survive in the era of extreme urbanization and implementation of the reformative social welfare state, it requires a healthy, high-spirited, and passionate young generation that resists urbanization, is capable and willing to work hard, and also understands the value of caring for and having fun together, in the process exploring new relationships on a day-to-day basis. The example expressed in the film of youth coming together, in opposition to both traditional, religious fathers (the priest) and extreme-modern fathers (Göran’s father), can be understood as fostering an individual-state relationship and



l­iberating a younger generation from family bonds, as suggested by Berggren and Trägårdh. Associational culture in Sweden, with its long history of rural cinema exhibition, was based on individual, voluntary membership from its very beginnings in the mid- to late nineteenth century. Engaging youth in associational culture at a time when the welfare state was booming and people—also youth—had more money and leisure than ever before was a way of distracting youth from worse evils such as drinking alcohol, sexually promiscuous behaviour or criminality (Olson 1992). In the 1940s, state subsidies were offered to societies that set up leisure activities for young people and the national organization for Folkets Hus thus encouraged multipurpose venues run by civil society organizations to exhibit film and to start their own cinemas (Jernudd and Lundmark 2017). The intervention of the state and its subsidiary organizations offered a process of individualization and modernization in which cinemagoing played an important part, particularly for young, rural audiences in the post-war period of rapid urbanization and social change. It contributed to an expansion of cinema culture and to its special connection to youth, to the acquisition among youth of a cinematic competence geared towards coping with the ongoing changes of modernity.

Note 1. The term cinema is here understood in accordance with the definition used for the Swedish equivalent (biografer) by the trade organizations that controlled ticket sales and cinemas in Sweden (Filmägarnas kontrollförening u.p.a. and Sveriges Biografägareförbund) (Film Owners’ Control Bureau Ltd. and Swedish Exhibitors Association). The definition is not bound to a venue; it refers to companies that exhibit 35 mm film programmes to a paying audience. A cinema can be permanently tied to a purpose-built venue; it can rent a multipurpose venue for single nights of exhibition or for a longer duration of time; it can exhibit film occasionally in its own venue; it can also lack a venue all together and travel with a tent.

References Almqvist, T., Johansson, H., & Simonsson, L. (1976). Vad folket byggde. Ett utkast till folkrörelsernas byggnadshistoria. Stockholm: Sveriges arkitekturmuseum. Berggren, H., & Trägårdh, L. (2006). Är svensken människa? Gemenskap och oberoende i det moderna Sverige. Stockholm: Norstedt.



Björklund, E. (2012). The Most Delicate Subject: A History of Sex Education Films in Sweden. Dissertation. Lund: Lund University. Lund. Couldry, N. (2003). Media Rituals: A Critical Approach. London: Routledge. Frykman, J. (1988). Dansbaneeländet. Ungdomen, populärkulturen och opinionen. Stockholm: Natur och kultur. Furhammar, L. (2003). Filmen i Sverige. En historia i tio kapitel och en fortsättning. Stockholm: Dialogos. Gunnemark, K. (2006). Ung på 50-talet: om förälskelser, mode och boende i en brytningstid. Stockholm: Bilda. Höijer, B. (1998). Det hörde vi allihop! Etermedierna och publiken under 1900-­ talet. Stockholm: Prisma. Idestam-Almquist, B. (1954). Ur en isbjörns memoarer: Svenska AB Nordisk tonefilm 1929–1954: en festskrift. Stockholm: Nordisk tonefilm. Jernudd, Å. (2012). Spaces of Early Film Exhibition in Sweden, 1897–1911. In D. Biltereyst, R. Maltby, & P. Meers (Eds.), Cinema Audiences and Modernity: New Perspectives on European Cinema History  (pp. 19–34). London: Routledge. Jernudd, Å., & Lundmark, M. (2017). Cinemagoing in Sweden in the 1940s: Civil Society Organisations and the Expansion of Rural Film Exhibition. In J. Thissen & C. Zimmermann (Eds.), Cinema Beyond the City: Small-Town and Rural Film Culture in Europe (pp. 67–86). London: Palgrave Macmillan. Olson, H.-E. (1992). Staten och ungdomens fritid. Kontroll eller autonomi? Dissertation. Uppsala: Uppsala University. Lund. Qvist, P. O. (1986). Jorden är vår arvedel. Landsbygden i svensk spelfilm 1940–1959. Dissertation. Stockholm: Stockholm University. Uppsala. Samhället och filmen. (1973). Swedish Government Official Report SOU (p. 53). Stockholm: Utbildningsdepartementet. Sjöholm, C. (2003). Gå på bio: rum för drömmar i folkhemmets Sverige. Dissertation. Lund: Lund University. Eslöv. Vesterlund, P. (2007). Den svenska modellen—arbetarrörelsen, staten och filmen. In M. Jönsson & P. Snickars (Eds.), Medier & politik: om arbetarrörelsens mediestrategier under 1900-talet (pp.  206–244). Stockholm: Statens ljud och bildarkiv. Williams, R. (1977). Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Ziehe, T. (1989). Kulturanalyser: ungdom, utbildning, modernitet: essäer. Stockholm: Symposion.


Cine Centímetro: Memories and Cinemagoing Practices in an MGM Replica Cinema in the Rio de Janeiro Countryside Talitha Ferraz

Introduction While I was researching the history of inoperative cinemas in Tijuca, a middle-class neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,  10 years ago, I came upon a curious and stunning art deco movie palace, the Metro-Tijuca cinema, one of the four cinemas operated by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) between the 1940s and the 1970s in this Latin American country. The important finding resulted from interviews carried out with old cinemagoers. They told me about the existence of a replica, on a smaller scale, of the Metro cinema in Tijuca, with the same features and details as the original one. Situated in Valença, a rural region in Rio de Janeiro state, 88  miles away from Rio de Janeiro  city, Conservatória stretches over T. Ferraz (*) Escola Superior de Propaganda e Marketing (ESPM), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Programa de Pós-graduação em Cinema e Audiovisual da Universidade Federal Fluminense (PPGCine-UFF), Niterói, Brazil © The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




123,553 square miles and has 6500 inhabitants, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). A perfect, small-scale replica of the Metro-Tijuca, which had closed in 1977, was constructed in this town in 2005. It was the creation of the cinephile Ivo Raposo, a devoted MGM fan whose personal story merges with the life and death of several cinemas in Rio de Janeiro.1 This chapter offers an examination of the case of the replica of the Metro-Tijuca cinema, a non-profit  project which was named Cine Centímetro.2 I consider this replica a lieu de mémoire (Nora 1989) by taking into account the production of cinemagoing memories and the role that historical cinemas usually play in the landscape of cities and people’s lives. How the Cine Centímetro was integrated into a rural setting, a place with which it apparently holds neither a direct relationship as its heritage nor as a local cinema attended by the community—since its audience is mostly composed of visitors and tourists in Conservatória— is an issue I will examine here. This chapter also discusses the relevance of MGM to past cinemagoing practices and cultural expressions connected to cinema in Rio de Janeiro, besides how it still echoes through the Cine Centímetro case. The study is based on a methodological perspective drawn from ethnohistory (Kuhn 2002). It means that my analysis uses participant observation and dialogues with respondents who are connected to the Metro-Tijuca Cinema and its replica in Conservatória. Furthermore, the methodological and theoretical frameworks of the New Cinema History were fundamental to this study, mainly due to its definition of cinema as a sociocultural institution connected to a broad network of operational, commercial and historical spheres involving film production, distribution, exhibition and consumption. It is also worth mentioning that the New Cinema History proposes that the audience should be observed in the light of local or global heterogeneities, and generational biases, as well as social, economic, cultural, demographical, geographical and historical aspects, besides other particularities related to the development of specific cinemagoing conditions and experiences.3 I also argue that movie theatres not only affect the landscape and the collective way people inhabit and circulate through the territories of both cities and towns historically but also connect with the dynamics of social and cultural local life. Far beyond the films they show, the specific corporeality of their architecture, design, lights, textures and smells may resonate with the constructed spaces of cities and their customers’ different threads of sociability and memories.



In the case of the Cine Centímetro, we are facing a special attempt at recovering old cinemas, specifically one that evokes a peculiarity: the fact that the reopened cinema is not the original venue which was lost to history but a replica that emphasizes the long-lasting fecundity of an epoch and deals with the spatial and temporal shifts implied by its condition as a simulated version of the old MGM theatre. Essentially connected to the Metro-Tijuca cinema model, the Cine Centímetro reassembles some fragments that were shattered by the closure of the original movie palace. It leads to the invigoration of affective, sensory, cinematic and architectural markers which were once inscribed into people’s lives and the urban space in Rio de Janeiro, in which Metro-Tijuca had played an important role for almost the whole second half of the twentieth century. Such components, even though relocated, strengthen the replica in the present. In the next section, the extinct Metro-Tijuca cinema and its replica, the Cine Centímetro, are shown as parts of quite distinct sociocultural and geographical universes. However, their trajectories are related to broader spheres, such as the history of MGM’s worldwide operations, the arrangements of the exhibition market in Rio de Janeiro in the past century, audience formation, the development of cinemagoing practices in Brazil and the fate of the great sidewalk cinemas which operated in the city.4

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Cinemas in Brazil: Peak and Collapse During the first two decades of the twentieth century, Brazil experienced the introduction of cinema culture amid early urbanization processes. Especially in Rio de Janeiro, which was then the capital of the largest Latin American country, cinemas became the spaces of popular leisure practices and a growing social media which also reached other society segments, including the bourgeoisie and some intellectuals of the Brazilian modernity (Simis 1996). Although the cinema exhibition market was consolidated from the 1930s onwards, early entertainment entrepreneurs were already showing an adventurous spirit towards transforming motion pictures into a new profitable investment.5 The early exhibition market in Rio de Janeiro spread throughout the city, mainly in central areas, by gradually introducing the cinema culture. According to the critic-historian Paulo Emílio Salles (1996) in the paper ‘Small old film’, published for the first time in 1969, and the Brazilian



scholar Ismail Xavier (1978), the quantitative growth of Brazilian exhibition was intensified from 1906 onwards, mainly because of the supply of electricity in urban areas.6 These exhibition sites were created in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil’s capital between 1891 and 1960) shortly after the first moving image presentations in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century; for instance, the first exhibition of motion pictures happened in Brazil in 1896, in a room located in a small street in the Rio de Janeiro central area. The Brazilian cinema business would change inexorably in the following decades, despite its low local production rate and the dependence on the importation of foreign films. Regarding the audience, the practice of going to the cinema became a synonym for ‘smartness’ (Sevcenko 1995) in high society, as well as in the middle and popular classes, during Rio de Janeiro’s Belle Époque (1889–1931). Becoming a cinemagoer provided the means to participate in a modern lifestyle and the new vogue in terms of leisure, in spite of the rural aspects of some of the areas of Rio de Janeiro that were located far from the city centre, which was a reminder that Brazil’s colonial past was not so distant. Some events were paramount for the consolidation of the exhibition market in Rio, such as: the emergence of an urban area specifically dedicated to cinematographic leisure, Cinelândia;7 more interest from international major cinema companies in the Brazilian internal market; and the trips taken by Brazilian businessmen to Europe and the US in search of models for movie palaces to be built in Brazil (Gonzaga 1996). In the 1930s, the advent of sound cinema also caused changes in the local cinema context. Exhibitors, for instance, now worried about the acoustic quality of their rooms. Materials, such as plaster, curtains and thick carpets (which enhance the quality of acoustic environments), were used for decorating cinemas adapted to screening sound films. Rituals involved in cinemagoing, such as cinema ushers and lights brightening and dimming before the beginning of the films, were also introduced (Ferraz 2012; Gonzaga 1996). Meanwhile, the impressive MGM studio (Loew’s Inc.) entered the Brazilian exhibition market. The introduction of the MGM cinema chain to Rio de Janeiro was an important milestone in bourgeois social life in Rio and gave other exhibition companies reason for concern.8 In comparison with Metro cinemas, they either had to position their cinemas in the market as less sophisticated cinemas or, like the Grupo Severiano Ribeiro (the largest Brazilian exhibition company and one of the oldest national exhibitors), attempt to



achieve the ‘Metro quality standard’, an expression that reaffirmed the ‘previously crystallized notion that the American cinema was the true one’ (Vieira and Pereira 1983: 59). In 1936, the company opened its first cinema, the Cine Metro-Passeio, in Rio city centre. The Metro-Tijuca was opened in 1941 and soon became the most elegant cinema in Tijuca, a bourgeois, middle-class neighbourhood with rural aristocratic origins, which ended up housing a great number of cinemas in the city (Ferraz 2012). A week after the opening of the Metro-Tijuca cinema, the famous neighbourhood of Copacabana got its own Metro cinema a few blocks away from the beach. In Rio de Janeiro, MGM introduced both a quality standard and an entirely distinctive way of watching films. The Metro-Tijuca relied on its neon-illuminated marquee which was considered a sign of modernity. Because they often exhibited their own films, MGM cinemas displayed their titles on the marquees and associated them with the MGM brand (Gama 1998). In general, the architecture of MGM cinemas followed the American art deco trend, thus conveying an idea of sophisticated cosmopolitanism through the façades which were rich in symmetrical details and aerodynamic lines.9 The grandeur of the Metro-Tijuca was also valued by its habitués due to its standards of quality and comfort, as well as its employees’ adherence to etiquette rules (which also rigorously applied to customers, since jackets and ties were mandatory). However, all cinemas owned by MGM, not just the Metro-Tijuca, followed the same standards of projection and acoustic quality, of room and foyer decoration and of customer assistance (Vieira and Pereira 1983; Gonzaga 1996; Gama 1998; Ferraz 2012). In addition, for the first time in the history of Brazilian cinemas, the audience experienced an air conditioning system that defeated the heat in Rio de Janeiro. Such aspects corroborate the notion of ‘MGM’s ideological dominance’ proposed by João Luiz Vieira and Margareth Pereira (1983), who explained that the company’s performance in Brazil not only consolidated Hollywood cinematographic narrative and aesthetics but also influenced the audience’s attitudes. The authors stated that: By controlling its own cinemas, MGM has taken a further step to dominate all stages of the cinematographic industry […]. Film language ­standardization corresponds to room language standardization. Despite the fact that MGM’s cinemas were designed in Brazil (though the architects were foreigners living in the country), they were completely supervised by American techni-



cians. At every level, Metro has attempted to determine a specific mode of consuming films to its audience—one that is identified with its own brand. (Vieira and Pereira 1983: 59)

However, the power exerted by MGM in the Brazilian market and in the colonization of audiences could not prevent its Brazilian branch from closing. Both the Metro-Tijuca and Metro-Copacabana cinemas ended their projection activities in 1977 and were demolished in the same year in spite of the laments of the public and the press.10 Newspaper cuttings collected in the film library at the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro (MAM-RJ) illustrate the audience’s mourning. In the article entitled ‘Enfim, Houve Mesmo a Ùltima Sessão de Cinema’ [Finally, the Last Cinema Session has Actually Happened] published in a local newspaper, the Jornal do Brasil, on 27 January 1977,  Mara Caballero wrote: The dream is over for Metro-Tijuca. Its last exhibition was yesterday, in spite of some posters advertising that Kung-Fu in a Karate duel was coming next […]. In his minuscule room, the manager refuses to give any statements, ‘Orders from above. I can only give you the address of the main office’.

Another article whose title was ‘A Morte do Leão’ [The Death of the Lion], written by Marcos Ribas de Faria in the Jornal do Brasil on 27 January 1977, also showed the general impact of that closure: Outside, huge queues, the enduring will to watch the last films of people’s myths, the possibility of enhancing one’s dreams, of discussing one’s preferences. In fact, more than a cinema chain, Metro was probably the most important film company from Hollywood.

Actually, MGM (founded by Marcus Loew in 1924, after Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures and Louis B. Mayer Pictures merged) was no longer the same. The company faced a long period of management policy shifts,  including the consequences of the Hollywood Antitrust Case of 1948, which forced the big studios to abandon their concurrent operations in the production, distribution and exhibition fields. For instance, even before the final debacle of the Metro cinemas in Rio de Janeiro, MGM’s exhibition businesses was already under the Cinema International Corporation (CIC) administration (Gonzaga 1996).



The inheritance left by the MGM’s operations in Brazil was the trauma of demolitions. A big C&A, an international chain of clothing stores, was constructed on the site of the Metro-Tijuca. Oddly enough, the clothes store adopted the same typical design of the demolished cinema (as well as advertising its ‘perfect air conditioning’ system, the former slogan of the extinct movie theatre). Pieces which survived the demolition of the Metro-­ Tijuca were listed as assets in MGM’s bankruptcy filings in Brazil. They interested Ivo Raposo, who had been a film projectionist in his childhood and youth in Tijuca before attending law school and eventually abandoning his career in the cinema market.11

Cine Centímetro: A Cinephile’s Project in a Rural Area Ivo Raposo’s fascination with MGM films and cinemas, mainly the Metro-­ Tijuca, has guided part of his life, which is similar to the script of Giuseppe Tornatore’s film Cinema Paradiso (1988). Thirty years ago, when he still worked as a police chief, he started his saga by restoring seats, chandeliers and the assorted pieces of the Metro cinemas, in a constant battle with the CIC (the company that held the rights to the Brazilian MGM assets) to convince them to donate or sell everything that was left after the demolition to him. By this time, Mr. Raposo had already set up a small domestic 20-seat cinema with projectors donated by his friend Luiz Severiano Júnior, the manager of the Brazilian exhibition company Grupo Severiano Ribeiro. The cinema operated on land belonging to his father’s weekend house in Conservatória. There, Mr. Raposo built his own house and first cinema. He screened films, which were lent or donated by numerous ­acquaintances who worked at distribution companies, for an audience of friends, sometimes even prior to their official release. Ivo Raposo’s private cinema initiative followed the model of a domestic cinema for a few years, until he managed to prevent the rest of the furniture, chandeliers and tapestries, as well as both Simplex E-7 and Super XL projectors, the sound rack and the original light dimmer of the demolished Metro cinemas from ending up either in the garbage or in the junkyard. After he retired, the cinephile started his undertaking, and, piece by piece, he built a replica of the Metro-Tijuca cinema, which opened in 2005 in a large open area close to his house in Conservatória.



In comparison with the original 1785-seat Metro-Tijuca, the new 60-seat ‘Metro quality standard’ room can only be defined as a miniature replica. Therefore, Mr. Raposo named it Cine Centímetro and seized the opportunity to give the initial 20-seat room, which still operates in his country house, a term of endearment, that is, Milímetro (Millimetre). The preservationist spirit that inhabits the Cine Centímetro and almost consigns it to the status of monument acquires additional nuances when we also observe its socio-geographical context. Conservatória is a place devoted to the past: not coincidentally, the calm region among the mountains was considered appropriate to house the replica of an outstanding cinema from the golden era of cinemas and MGM. Considered the ‘capital of the serenade [seresta]’, Conservatória, like other parts of Valença, still preserves the architecture of colonial houses, bearing the marks of what is known in the history of Brazil as the ‘coffee cycle’, the Brazilian socio-­ economic period (1800–1930) characterized by their aristocratic hegemony and by large-scale farms which yielded coffee.12 From 1930 on, changes in the Brazilian economic structure made the whole southern rural region in Rio de Janeiro collapse, when coffee and sugarcane monocultures were overcome by industries. The transformation of Conservatória into a sheltered place surrounded by mountains, loyal to the cultivation of colonial traditions and tourism occurred in the mid-­ twentieth century. Today, the honouring of the social dynamics and expressions from the past seems to foster the production of sociability between inhabitants and visitors, as well as the preservation of spaces built in the region and the promotion of local tourism. It is in this context that the experience of visiting the Cine Centímetro takes place.

Cine Centímetro and Constructions of Cinema Memory For anyone coming from Rio de Janeiro, the trip to the Cine Centímetro, which opens only on weekends, is time-consuming. There are no daily buses to Conservatória and the road trip takes at least three hours.13 In the town, after a short walk around its small centre, people come across a tall, solid wooden gate which opens on to the Cine Centímetro. A perfect copy of the marquee of the Metro-Tijuca advertises the programme of the day: Back to the Past. Although it was not that movie which is being screened there, it is what visitors find on the screen and in the components that recreate the atmosphere of a Metro cinema from the twentieth century.



The walls of the cinema display MGM’s original posters for films such as The Wizard of Oz (1939), Gone with the Wind (1939), Tom & Jerry (1940–1958) and Ben-Hur (1959). Over the threshold, the famous slogan of the Brazilian Metro cinemas hangs in blue neon: ‘perfect air conditioning’. The foyer is decorated with other film posters and the MGM logo, as well as the original ticket container, golden ashtrays and a wooden telephone. The art deco building was entirely designed by Ivo Raposo and built by his weekend house manager Luiz Carlos de Jesus, based on the Metro-­ Tijuca cinema’s architectural plans and photos, and on Mr. Raposo’s personal recollections, so as to maximize the available space. Mr. Raposo is also the one who guides the visitors, since going to the Cine Centímetro is not like going to any cinema, but is about visiting a space erected in homage to a past that was shattered for several reasons. Before the screening, Mr. Raposo offers a short lecture about MGM and Metro-Tijuca histories. This tour costs R$ 30 (approximately U$ 8) on average, a sum which is used for paying the costs of maintenance and monthly lighting bills (Fig. 19.1). Unlike older cinemagoers, there are always young ones who are not old enough to have been to a Metro cinema in Brazil. I belong to the group of people who did not know the Metro cinemas which were demolished in

Fig. 19.1  Cine Centímetro



Rio in 1977. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to connect with the collective memory which is so enthusiastically elaborated by Ivo  Raposo’s speech and encompassed by the sociability that is constructed there, while people share a return to old cinemagoing events. Discussing the preserved vestiges of the Metro-Tijuca, both respondents Lahire Marinho (a retired psychologist who was an assiduous customer of the Metro cinemas) and Glória Hissa (a psychologist and a cinephile), aged between 70 and 80 years old, commented in an interview given on 19 July 2016: LM Things began to disappear and we kept the memory of the general picture, but the details, we vaguely remember them and confuse them and so on. But we are delighted, because the Cine Centímetro is a small-scale [replica], but the furniture and the objects are the same. I am moved and I thought I was actually at the Metro-Tijuca, because I haven’t been to the Metro-Tijuca for so long. Then, suddenly, Metro reappeared! GH The golden sand ashtrays, for instance, he has them, but I think they are not the ones from Metro-Tijuca. There are some things … we don’t know whether they belonged to Metro-Tijuca or not. All the Metro cinemas were very much alike; there was a standard.

In general, the Cine Centímetro’s predetermined programme involves the exhibition of a compilation of iconic MGM film clips and fragments of newsreels which Mr. Raposo exhibits by a digital projector onto a 16-foot screen. The Cine Centímetro projection cabin keeps both Metro’s original big Simplex 35 mm projectors in perfect condition, but these devices are not used for regular screenings due to practical reasons. The sight of spectators with tears in their eyes is very common, especially the older ones who remember personal events connected to past cinemagoing practices and the Metro-Tijuca. In this regard, the visitor Lahire Marinho recalled an episode he had experienced at the Cine Centímetro: LM Mrs. Eliete, a friend’s mother who went to Cine Centímetro with us, has told me that she met her husband at the cinemas in Tijuca. We entered the Cine Centímetro together and I remember that tears were rolling down her cheeks when she held my arm. She told me the Metro cinema was a sacred place for her. And she also enjoyed the program. She stopped me, squeezed my arm and I saw that she was crying. She believed she was staring at the Metro.



Listing the different reasons why older cinemagoers join the trip to the past proposed by the Cine Centímetro would be fruitless. However, personal accounts regarding the strong emotions that play out in this monument are a unanimous aspect of the interlocutors’ speeches. Ivo Raposo says in an interview that the oldest customers of the Metro-Tijuca: … get shocked at the sight, because when they come in, everything has already been illuminated, because I open it for visitors at night. I show fragments of films, the best moments of Metro musicals, I show newsreel, Canal 100 and fragments from Tom & Jerry, a cartoon that was exhibited every first Sunday of the month at the Metro-Tijuca, besides Doctor Zhivago and Ben-Hur trailers. People get very enthusiastic and moved, and sometimes they cry because they relive all that. (Ivo Raposo, quoted by Ferraz 2012)

Lahire Marinho commented on the facts that triggered the re-­encounter with cinemagoing experiences, which are now re-enacted at Cine Centímetro: LM As people go there because they need to go and see something old that is much discussed but one cannot go to anymore because nowadays one only goes to the cinema at shopping malls. This is an icon of a cinema, no matter what street it was! Lots of people want to see what it was like … And ‘Metro’ is a name that carries a really heavy weight; it is the name of an incomparable company. Most people who go to Cine Centímetro are over 40, and they want to see the Metro-Tijuca again. Other people want to see what a street-level cinema was like. Many people who attend serenades in Conservatória also come to see the cinema out of curiosity. But the strongest trend is going to Cine Centímetro because one misses Metro.

Before going to Cine Centímetro, visitors must make an appointment by e-mail. Even so, some people may arrive there after having got general tips provided by tourist websites, Conservatória hotels or word-of-mouth communication. The different meanings ascribed to Cine Centímetro as a cinema (a non-conventional one, but a cinema anyway), as an attraction of a rural region, and as a monument to an era of the cinema industry are probably due to the singularity and even the ambiguity concerning its nature. Such imprecision also seems to encompass the category of its visitors: are they visitors, tourists, cinemagoers, nostalgic people, cinephiles, MGM fans or simply curious? Therefore, the categorization of Cine Centímetro as a tourist landmark in the small town of Conservatória should not be immediately dismissed.



Since the cinema is a space with neither governmental nor commercial intervention in its management or financial support (although it is open to the public in scheduled sessions, it is located on a lot that is part of Ivo Raposo’s house), its image as an official tourist spot is unlikely to prevail, mainly because the cinema does not match the area’s homage to the colonial past. Likewise, it does not fit with the serenade activities, the excursions to former coffee farms, the countryside and ecological tourism in Rio de Janeiro. The Cine Centímetro does not play a role as a landmark of communitarian leisure, unlike a few cinemas that have historically acted as powerful catalysts of cinemagoing experiences in rural areas. On the surface, at least, there is no conventional relationship between the Conservatória community and the Cine Centímetro. Although there is no other cinema in the whole district, the inhabitants of the region are not regular customers and participants in the rituals that are produced in that space. That intriguing fact shows how the dynamics of cinemas, local sociocultural contexts, audience behaviour and cinemagoing memory are, in general, heterogeneous spheres which elicit the necessity of a microhistorical observation of the exhibition and its audiences, as well as a less abstract approach to the cinema culture. Instead, as some New Cinema History authors suggest (Allen 2011; Maltby 2011; Hughes 2011; Kuhn 2002, 2011), it is crucial to pay attention to the diverse layers and levels that form, from place to place, from time to time, the specific conditions of cinemagoing and exhibition. These may tell us a lot about local configurations, people, institutions, communities and their insertions/relationships in more global terms. The Cine Centímetro is a small-scale replica of the Metro-Tijuca cinema, which exceeds the region and the more communal practices in Conservatória. It anchors and extends tangible traces of the past to the present, as well as the sense of belonging which revolves around the meanings of the experience of being a cinemagoer in the mid-twentieth century. It is a vestige from the past  cinema culture, a milestone from another era and an illusion of eternity that fits into the concept of ‘realm of memory’ elaborated by Pierre Nora (1989). The set of factors that arises around the Cine Centímetro can be understood through Nora’s notion of these ‘devotional institutions’, which appear ‘by virtue of the deritualization of our world—producing, manifesting, establishing, constructing, decreeing, and maintaining by artifice and by will a society deeply absorbed in its own transformation and renewal’ (Nora 1989: 12).



However, the Cine Centímetro project is directed towards a past that maintains no relationship whatsoever with the colonial bias related to the Conservatória history and cultural manifestations. Moreover, it highlights the remote importance of MGM’s cinemas in the sociocultural context and the formation of Rio de Janeiro’s cinema culture in the last century.  If the realms of memory ‘originate with the sense that there is no spontaneous memory’ (Nora 1989: 12), Cine Centímetro just exists because of a necessity of remembering. Therefore, it is a place of (de-contextualized) memory that enables the acknowledgement of a specific era of cinemagoing practices to be accessed and the spectres of the 1940s urban art deco cinema to be rearranged in another space-time. As a monument, and a symbol of a specific historical context which is expected to be passed to other generations, the Cine Centímetro project aims at perpetuating signs of its original referent in space, emotions and imaginaries. As stated by its creator, Ivo Raposo, in an interview on 20 August 2016, the Cine Centímetro is connected to something that was left behind when society adopted new forms of cinema, audio visual ­consumption and audience practices: ‘rather than watching a film, one went to the cinema’.

Conclusion Cinemas resonate so profoundly because they are live spaces connected to dense sociocultural productions and collectively shared existential territories. Because they are places  of social relations  and  creation of affective maps and identity, cinemas have the power to trigger and catalyse experiences and memories. Linked to a sense of  nostalgia more related to the state of being able to ‘develop the feeling of being part of a community or a group’ (Niemeyer 2014: 10) than to the passive and melancholic condition that historically permeates that notion, the Cine Centímetro connects the recovery of emotions to fruitful productions of cinemagoing memories. Nostalgia exercises which are performed in the Cine Centímetro are ‘related to a way of living, imagining and sometimes exploiting or (re) inventing the past, present and future’ (Niemeyer 2014: 3). We must acknowledge, however, that its role as a cinema in everyday life in Conservatória is hardly effective, even though it is the only cinema in this rural district. Nevertheless, it is in this region, which is economically, socially and culturally devoted to praising the past (through sere-



nades and odes to the colonial period), that the Cine Centímetro finds a place to recreate, at least performatically, meaningful moments associated to old cinemagoing practices. We can link it to the sense of ‘cinema eventfulness’ emphasized by Robert C. Allen (2011). The author affirms that ‘the eventfulness of cinema in the era of movie-going was always poised between the everyday and the extraordinary life’ (Allen 2011: 52). The reverberation of the potent meanings of past cinemagoing practices and of the image of cinemas from different eras surpasses the sense of locality and the spatio-temporal shift from the original Metro-Tijuca cinema to its replica, Cine Centímetro. A more optimistic perspective on the Cine Centímetro does not preclude us from criticizing the proximity between this replica—a common contemporary trend of ‘memory hypertrophy’, a term used by Andreas Huyssen (2014: 157) in allusion to Nietzsche’s notion of ‘history hypertrophy’—and the ‘sanitization of ruins’ for their reutilisation as mise-en-­ scène (Huyssen 2014: 95). In view of this perception, what I would like to emphasize is that the Cine Centímetro is a non-situated project, that is, an urban cinema recreated in a rural environment, a non-conventional cinema bearing no quotidian ties with the neighbourhood inhabitants, a cinema-monument whose customers are cinemagoers who are avid for the momentaneous recovery of their sensations and cinematic availabilities or tourists symbolically wearing their Sunday clothes to join the ‘back to the past’ event that is offered there on weekends. No doubt the case of the Cine Centímetro boosts a collective duty of memory related to past cinemagoing experiences. Despite a fragile bond with the local culture of Conservatória, the replica is remarkable in that rural region, at least for some MGM fans who are willing to reach that remote colonial district. The Cine Centímetro project fosters visitors’ sense of cinematic identity, incites the production of affective memories and ensures aspects associated with cinema culture traditions of a past media context. Therefore, it appears that the crucial challenge imposed on its management, Ivo Raposo, is to avoid the transformation of Cine Centímetro into a mere museum, pastiche or cultural marketing instrument based on inactive expressions of nostalgia, disconnected from any communal ties. So far, the Cine Centímetro has not let itself be absorbed into the cultural marketing and some heritage initiatives, which commodify aspects from the past and transform them into profitable allegoric monuments. Maybe, it is exactly against the transience of a frantic consumption of past and memory in the contemporary world that the Cine Centímetro



seems to sustain a commitment to the endurance, uniqueness and authenticity of cinemagoing rituals and material aspects related to the cinema Metro-Tijuca. The references and tributes to another age are not the only complexities that turn the Cine Centímetro into a peculiar case: the spatial estrangement of the replica and the homeland where the original MGM cinema existed (in the Tijuca neighbourhood, in Rio de Janeiro city) proves that the ‘heterogeneity and open-endedness of the experience of cinema’, as Robert C.  Allen (2011: 55) stresses, requires a broad analysis which is capable of examining the microhistories and nuances linked to cinema culture and its space-time continuities and discontinuities. Acknowledgements  I would like to thank Ivo Raposo for sharing his rich and vivid personal memories.

Notes 1. I gave this issue little space in my Master’s thesis. Later, I came back to the MGM’s replica case in a national conference and in my book A Segunda Cinelândia Carioca (Ferraz 2012) about Tijuca’s movie theatres in the twentieth century. 2. The name is a pun on Metro, since, in Portuguese, the word ‘metro’ means ‘metre’ whereas ‘centímetro’ means ‘centimetre’. 3. For details of the New Cinema History perspective, see Biltereyst et  al. (2012); Maltby et al. (2011); Kuhn (2002). 4. In Brazil, there is a huge difference between cinemas situated on the urban sidewalks and cinemas situated within shopping malls. The Brazilian exhibition industry has been investing a lot in the installation of multiplex cinemas in shopping malls since the 1980s. That tendency usually acts to the detriment of the maintenance or construction of cinemas in the streets. So we must stress the distinction between these two examples of movie theatres to clarify the notions concerning cinema venues in Brazil. In this work, I adopt as synonyms expressions such as sidewalk cinemas and streetlevel cinemas, which work in contrast to the image of cinemas situated in private shopping centres, not in public space. 5. For further information about the early Brazilian cinema context, see Xavier (1978); Araújo (1976); Gonzaga (1996). 6. The paper ‘Small old film’ (1969) was published as a posthumous compilation of Paulo Emílio Salles texts. For more details, see Salles (1996). 7. Francisco Serrador Carbonell designed the plan which originated Cinelândia in 1925. Located in the centre of Rio, this space has repre-



sented the biggest exhibition circuit in Rio de Janeiro, despite the crises and transformations of the local cinema industry (Gonzaga 1996). Cinelândia has been an important area in the city, where the Teatro Municipal (City Theatre) and Biblioteca Nacional (National Library) are situated, among other historic buildings. The Cinema Odeon, opened in 1932, is its last surviving movie palace. 8. MGM also opened a cinema in São Paulo in 1938. In the 1970s, it became the property of the Cinema International Corporation (CIC), which divided it into two rooms. Film exhibition activities ended in 1997, and the building is now occupied by an evangelical church. 9. Metro cinemas’ architectural projects in Brazil were designed by the Scottish architect Robert Prentice. However, it was Adalberto Szilard, a Hungarian architect from Prentice’s office, who designed the Metro-Tijuca cinema building in 1941. It was considered the most magnificent Metro cinema in Brazil by many cinemagoers at that time. 10. Located in the city centre, the Cine Metro-Passeio was demolished in 1964, well before the closure of the other MGM cinemas in Rio de Janeiro. The Metro-Boavista Cinema was  opened in 1969 but was not connected to MGM. It was closed in 1997. 11. Ivo Raposo worked as a projectionist at the Santo Afonso Cinema, Tijuca, in the 1950s, when he was a boy. The cinema belonged to a Catholic church in the neighbourhood. He also worked in the projection cabin of another cinema in Tijuca, the Bruni Saens Peña Cinema. 12. The Seresta is a typical popular and romantic song from Southeastern Brazil. It is very similar to the serenade, whose most common depiction is that of violinists, poets and troubadours singing along the streets in small towns. 13. Cine Centímetro extends its activities during the Festival Cine Música, a music event that sometimes happens in Conservatória.

References Allen, R. (2011). Reimagining the History of the Experience of Cinema in a Post-­ movie Going Age. In R. Maltby, D. Biltereyst, & P. Meers (Eds.), Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies (pp.  41–57). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Araújo, V. P. (1976). A bela época do cinema brasileiro. São Paulo: Perspectiva. Biltereyst, D., Meers, P., & Maltby, R. (Eds.). (2012). Cinema, Audiences and Modernity: New Perspectives on European Cinema History. New York: Routledge. Ferraz, T. (2012). A segunda Cinelândia carioca. Rio de Janeiro: Mórula. Gama, R da. (1998). Salas de cinema art déco no Rio de Janeiro: a conquista de uma identidade arquitetônica (1928–1941). Masters diss., Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.



Gonzaga, A. (1996). Palácios e Poeiras: 100 anos de cinema no Rio de Janeiro. Rio de Janeiro: Ministério da Cultura, Funarte, Record. Hughes, S.  P. (2011). Silent Film Genre, Exhibition and Audiences in South India. In R.  Maltby, D.  Biltereyst, & P.  Meers (Eds.), Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies (pp.  295–309). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Huyssen, A. (2014). Culturas do passado-presente: modernismos, artes visuais, políticas da memória. Rio de Janeiro: Contracampo, MAR. Kuhn, A. (2002). An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory. London: I.B. Tauris. Kuhn, A. (2011). What to Do with Cinema Memory? In R. Maltby, D. Biltereyst, & P. Meers (Eds.), Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies (pp. 85–97). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Maltby, R. (2011). New Cinema Histories. In R. Maltby, D. Biltereyst, & P. Meers (Eds.), Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies (pp. 3–40). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Maltby, R., Biltereyst, D., & Meers, P. (Eds.). (2011). Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Niemeyer, K. (Ed.). (2014). Media and Nostalgia: Yearning for the Past, Present and Future. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. Nora, P. (1989). Between Memory and History: les lieux de mémoire. Representations, 26, 7–24. Salles, P.  E. (1996). Cinema trajetória no subdesenvolvimento. São Paulo: Paz e Terra. Sevcenko, N. (1995). A capital irradiante: técnica, ritmos e ritos do Rio. In N.  Sevcenko (Ed.), História da vida privada no Brasil: República, da Belle Époque à Era do Rádio (Vol. 3, pp.  513–619). São Paulo: Companhia das Letras. SIMIS, A. (1996). Estado e cinema no Brasil. São Paulo: Annablume. Vieira, J. L., & Pereira, M. C. (1983). Espaços de sonho: cinema e arquitetura no Rio de Janeiro. Rio de Janeiro: Embrafilme. Xavier, I. (1978). Sétima arte: um culto moderno. Rio de Janeiro: Perspectiva.


NUMBERS AND SYMBOLS 16 mm era, 10, 211, 214, 219–222, 224–226, 232, 233, 251, 266, 274, 303–310, 312–319, 320–321n5 16 mm exhibition, 219, 220 17.5 mm film, 208, 210 35 mm film, 317, 336n1 2499 Antapan Krong Muang/Daeng Birley and the Young Gangsters (1997), 317 600,000 francs par mois (Nicolas Koline, Robert Péguy, 1925), 210

229, 232, 246, 252, 254, 262, 265–268, 270, 271, 273–275, 276n2, 335 Alcohol, 51, 106, 336 Allen, Robert, 2, 6, 18, 75, 142, 229, 231, 350, 352, 353 Althusser, L., 78 Amateur, 207, 208, 213, 272, 326 Amenities, 50, 139 Angelique, 273 Anthony and Cleopatra (Cines, 1913), 106 ‘Army Life,’ 83

A ‘Across Canada by Bioscope,’ 83 Adverts, 37–39 African Americans, 160, 188–190, 196, 197, 200n15 Agricultural, 92, 108, 109, 118, 119, 124, 125, 205, 207, 211, 223,

B Baan Phii Pop 2008 (2008), 317 Balcony, 122, 148 BanCh’iao, 223 Bangkok, 304–307, 310, 314, 316 Belgium, 8, 135–137 Ben-Hur (1959), 347, 349

 Note: Page numbers followed by ‘n’ refer to notes.


© The Author(s) 2018 D. Treveri Gennari et al. (eds.), Rural Cinema Exhibition and Audiences in a Global Context, Global Cinema,




Bernhardt, Sarah, 103 The Bigamist (Paley and Steiner, 1907), 98 Bilingual, 136, 162, 166, 168, 213 Bioscope, 83, 84, 86, 194, 201n30 The Birth of a Nation (D.W. Griffith, United Artists, 1915), 106, 108, 189, 190, 197, 199n7 Blockbusters, 150, 174, 179 Boonchu 9 (2008), 317 Brazilian countryside, 343 Bright Eyes, 295 British Colonial Film Unit, 221 British Empire Marketing Board, 222 British Pathé, 191 Brothels, 50–52 Burlesque, 62, 64, 67n18 C Canada, 3, 4, 6, 9, 48–50, 55, 56, 58, 60, 64, 66n3, 66n12, 73–87, 91, 175, 177, 189–191, 199n14, 221 Canadian Pacific Railway (the CPR), 74, 77–83, 85–87 Cantinflas, 163, 167 Capitalism, 75, 204 Carnivalesque, 36, 129, 130, 310 Catholic, 8, 136, 139, 141, 150, 203–215, 298, 354n11 Catholic Cinema Committee (CCC), 208, 209 Chain theatre, 75 Chengdu, 223 Childhood, 33–36, 41, 124, 162, 163, 169n1, 173, 345 Children, 31–38, 40–42, 44, 52, 98, 99, 104, 122, 129, 146, 163, 172, 173, 175, 176, 192, 195, 254, 311, 330 China Educational Film Studio, 223 China Film Distribution Company, 247, 251

Chinese Film Bureau, 224 Choice, 98, 103, 122, 124, 141, 147, 152n6, 164, 290, 300, 326, 331, 335 Chok Song Chan/Double Luck, 305 Christian, 41, 197, 209, 240 The Christian (Vitagraph, 1914), 106 Christianity, 6, 31, 33, 43, 44, 306 Christus (Giulio Antamoro, 1916), 210 Church, 3, 41–43, 94, 96, 107, 136, 139, 141, 146, 192, 194, 209, 213, 214, 328, 333, 334, 354n8, 354n11 Cine Centímetro, 10, 339–353 Cinefication, 221, 225 Cinelândia, 342, 353–354n7 Cinema at home, 207 Cinéma éducateur, 206 Cinema-going memories, 340, 350 Cinema Paradiso (1988), 345 Cinémathèque agricole, 206 Cinephilia, 127 Cines, 106 Class, 75, 94, 118, 123, 137, 144, 148, 149, 152n8, 195, 205, 231, 232, 256, 301n3, 316, 320n2, 321n6 Classical Thai Cinema, 304 Closure, 40, 124, 125, 141, 341, 344, 354n10 Clothes, 34, 60, 147, 239, 345, 352 Cold War, 9, 220, 221 Coloured American Bioscope, 193 Comedias Rancheras (Ranch Comedies), 164 Comfort, 7, 109, 148, 343 Comité catholique du cinéma, 208 Commentator, 39, 42, 197 Communal viewing, 304, 319 Communist Party, 261–263, 269, 275 Commute, 24 Commuting, 8, 20, 24 Comparative research, 20, 26, 27, 150


Confédération générale du travail, 210 Consumerism, 136 Conventional style, 307 Cooperative, 254, 262, 265, 267–269, 274 Cossacks of the Kuban (Ivan Pyryev, 1950), 265 Countryside, 2, 8, 10, 23, 26, 136, 173, 197, 204, 206, 209, 210, 232, 238, 239, 243–246, 250–256, 264, 265, 269, 270, 272, 275, 325, 339–353 Couples, 64, 76, 80, 191, 286, 301n4, 309, 334 The Cradle of the World, 191, 200n15 Crawford, Joan, 48 Cultural homogenization, 75 Cultural nearness, 283–300 Cultural policy, 182, 243, 244, 250, 263, 264, 266, 268, 275 Czechoslovakia, 3, 8–10, 261–276, 296 D Dance, 97, 104, 106, 108, 109, 122, 146, 152n8, 158, 225, 274, 320n5, 335 A Day at Tuskegee, 190 Dazhong dianying, 229 ‘De-Christianization,’ 204 Decline, 54, 63, 66n5, 138, 139, 141, 143, 262 De Jantjes, 292, 299 Depopulation, 206 Discrimination, 156, 162, 164, 167, 168 Distribution, 2, 4, 11n2, 27, 60, 61, 75, 76, 92, 100, 105, 205, 225, 247, 251, 252, 254, 263, 264, 276, 285–291, 319, 327, 340, 345


Distribution Bulletin, 246 Double bill, 286, 298, 299 Dream of a Cossack (Yuli Raizman, 1951), 265 Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (Edison, 1906), 97, 99 Dress, 128, 129, 135, 147 DVD, 178, 179, 181 E The Eagle’s Mate (Famous Players-­Lasky, 1914), 106 Early Itinerant Filmmaking, 74 East Lynne (Biograph, 1913), 106 Economic, 2, 11n5, 17, 19–22, 24, 50, 75, 77, 78, 86, 92, 94, 107, 131n12, 142, 145, 157, 161, 171, 173, 178, 182, 207, 212, 223, 233, 241, 248, 251, 253, 257n1, 263, 295, 296, 304, 319, 340, 346 Ecstasy (Gustav Machatý, 1932), 273 Edison, 78, 96, 98 Education, 3, 8, 31, 33, 43, 44, 82, 86, 87, 129, 131n13, 162, 165, 173, 188, 190, 199n12, 206, 207, 215, 220, 222–225, 232, 241, 244, 245, 247, 251, 252, 254, 264–268, 270, 271, 275 Educational cinema, 206–208, 214, 223 Educational film, 190, 191, 196, 199–200n14, 206, 221 Educational League, 205, 206, 211 Eines Prinzen junge Liebe, 297, 298 Eisenstein, Sergei, 221, 309 El automóvil gris (The Grey Automobile, Enrique Rosas, 1919), 155, 156, 158 Entertaining, 149, 267, 268



Entertainment, 6, 7, 47–65, 76, 79, 80, 82, 86, 87, 96, 99, 100, 120, 123, 136, 141, 142, 146, 158, 167, 168, 182, 187, 188, 200n21, 205, 215, 246, 247, 249, 255, 261, 262, 266–275, 304–306, 309, 313, 317, 320, 320n5, 321n6, 335, 341 Entrepreneur, 9, 159, 167, 263, 305, 306, 315, 341 Ethnic brotherhood, 245 Ethnicity, 26, 188, 255 Ethnography, 4, 5, 119, 172, 331 EU, 23 European, 3, 11n2, 11n3, 23, 48, 50, 76, 156, 168, 194, 195, 197, 214, 283, 284, 288, 289, 291, 299, 329 Evangelical, 37, 41–44, 354n8 Everyday life, 8, 35, 94, 117, 141, 144, 146, 149, 150, 238, 247, 251, 264, 271, 273, 276, 332, 351 ‘Excellent Views,’ 1903, 84 Exhibition, 1–11, 18, 49, 55, 64, 65, 66n3, 66n12, 73, 74, 76, 79–82, 84, 86, 97, 100, 105, 136, 138, 139, 141, 142, 156, 158–160, 167, 168, 171, 172, 174, 187–198, 204, 205, 207, 208, 212, 214, 219–233, 242–245, 248–250, 265, 283, 284, 305, 325–336, 340–342, 344, 345, 348, 350, 353n4, 354n8 Exhibition circuit, 168, 354n7

Farms, 21, 75, 80, 94, 95, 108, 126, 181, 188, 193, 198n3, 267, 325, 333, 334, 346, 350 Fa Thalai Chon/Tears of the Black Tiger (2000), 318 Fédération nationale catholique, 210 Fight pictures, 51 Film distribution, 8, 105, 265, 283 Film format, 9, 203–215 Film popularity, 286 Film preferences, 156, 160, 284, 285, 300 Film programming, 4, 10, 52, 60, 61, 283–300 Film Projection Materials, 246, 252, 257n6 Film projection network, 238, 247, 252, 253, 257n1 Film rentals, 65, 208 Film stars, 40, 163 Film stock, 305, 306, 317 Financial records, 49, 52 First-run, 56, 64, 160, 163 Flanders, 135–142, 150, 151n1, 168 Flüchtlinge, 297 Folk culture, 136 Folkets Hus (People’s House), 327, 335 Foreign films, 39, 250, 342 Four Steps in the Clouds (Alessandro Blasetti, 1942), 274 Freer, James S., 73, 79–82, 86 Fuller-Seeley, Kathryn, 3, 11, 75, 94, 98, 168, 284 Fürst Woronzeff, 297, 298, 301n6

F Famous Players Canadian Corporation (FPCC), 6, 49, 53, 55–59, 61–65, 66n8 Farming, 2, 83, 92, 157, 161, 223, 247

G Gable, Clark, 48 Gallery, 84, 160 Galpin, Charles, 7, 94, 95 García, Sara, 163 Garncarz, Joseph, 284, 285, 300


Geleen, 284–286, 292, 295, 296, 298–300, 300n1 Gender, 36, 37, 43, 44, 119, 128–130, 180, 255 General confederation of Labor, 210 Geography, 2, 17, 19, 85, 108, 145, 149, 167, 171–182, 219, 225, 231, 239, 241, 246, 253, 257n1 Gone with the Wind (Fleming, 1939, US), 148, 347 ‘Gospel cinema,’ 41 Government, 19, 20, 51, 57, 78, 79, 82, 122, 172, 198–199n5, 200n22, 207, 209, 215n2, 220, 223, 224, 243–245, 251, 271, 315, 327, 328, 331 Great Britain, see United Kingdom (UK) Groupement de cinema pour la région bilingue d’Alsace-Lorraine, 213 Groupement des pathé-ruralistes, 211 Guangdong, 232 Gunning, Tom, 309, 314 H Hardie, Richard A., 73, 78–82, 85, 86 The Haunted Castle (Kurt Hoffmann, 1960), 274 Heerlen, 284, 285, 289, 295–298, 300, 300n1 High Noon (Fred Zinnemann, 1952), 274 High Society Blues (Fox, 1930), 108 Hispanic, 156–158, 162, 163, 167, 168 ‘History hypertrophy,’ 352 Hollywood, 3, 11, 48, 49, 61, 64, 75, 94, 150, 156, 158–166, 168, 169, 243, 285, 288, 299, 304–306, 308, 311, 314, 328, 343, 344 Homosocial, 51, 64 Huxley, Julian, 221, 222, 224


I Identity, 9, 37, 40, 43, 109, 120, 123–125, 130, 161, 169, 172, 173, 176, 181, 189, 194, 285, 326, 332, 351, 352 Ideological, 8, 9, 75, 78, 79, 136, 141, 149, 152n7, 164, 203, 205, 210, 211, 220, 221, 224, 225, 231–233, 244, 249, 257n6, 264, 265, 267–269, 275, 343 Illiteracy, 220, 221, 223, 225, 232 Immigrant, 32, 48, 50, 52, 53, 74, 82, 156, 157, 161, 163–165, 167, 168, 285, 296, 298, 308 Immigration, 26, 73, 77–81, 86, 241, 296 The Impossible Voyage (Melies, 1904), 98 Imvo Zabantsundu, 193, 195 Independent exhibitors, 49, 55 The Indian’s Revenge (Vitagraph, 1906), 98 Indoctrination, 256, 266–274 Industrial, 24, 77, 82, 93, 118, 196, 207, 211, 215, 223, 244, 266, 276n2, 304, 328 Internet, 178 Isolation, 8, 9, 21, 164, 172, 177, 224, 233 Italy, 7, 9, 57, 117–130, 168 Itinerant, 9, 73, 76, 80, 86, 95–98, 187, 208, 219, 310 J Jaawm-Khon (‘Fearless Man,’ 1969), 309 Jaew/M.A.I.D. (2004), 317 Jakobsson, Ulla, 330 James Bond, 40 Japan, 23, 195, 241



K Kenya, 3, 4, 6, 31–44 Kiangsu Provincial Government, 222 Kinetoscope, 78–81 Kirin, 228 Klenotic, Jeff, 2, 7, 18, 94, 103 Kuhn, Annette, 118, 119, 121, 124, 129, 130, 142, 150, 168, 340, 350 Kuomintang, 224 L La Bonne Presse, 205, 209 Landscape, 6, 7, 25, 74, 78, 82, 84–87, 92, 93, 109, 124, 126, 127, 135, 137–141, 173, 251, 340 Land use, 21, 24 Lasky, 60, 61, 67n15 Latent Class Analysis, 285, 301n3 Latin America, 159 Latino, 156, 158, 159 Le Cinéma chez soi, 207 Le Cinéma partout et pour tous, 212, 213 Lectures, 8, 33, 38, 73, 78, 80–82, 86, 96, 105, 106, 109, 187, 194, 197, 250, 265, 347 Lee, Bruce, 40 Le Fascinateur, 205 Leisure, 3, 10, 11, 40, 44, 49–51, 64, 80, 92, 136, 145–147, 152n8, 165, 246, 249, 269, 271, 276n2, 325–336, 341, 342, 350 Lenin in October, 224 Les Dossiers du cinéma, 208, 211 Les Petits métiers du village, 213 Lieu de mémoire, 340 Life cycle, 143, 146 Life of a Cowboy (Edison, 1906), 97 Ligue de l’Enseignement, 205

Ligue patriotique des Françaises, 210 Limburger Koerier, 298 Liminal, 35, 36, 43, 169 Literacy, 44, 220, 223, 225, 229, 231, 232 Little Colonel, 292, 295 Live acts, 55, 61–64 Live-dubbed, 306 ‘Living Canada,’ 74, 82–86 Local cinema, 4, 122, 137, 145, 147, 149–150, 178, 181, 266, 267, 271, 277n4, 277n5, 340, 342, 354n7 London Bioscope Company, 74, 83 Long Live the Victory of People’s War, 230 The Lost Child (Biograph, 1904), 98 Love, 126, 163, 165, 228, 231, 309, 320n4 Love versus Title, or The Elopement (Vitagraph, 1906), 98 Luang Phii Teng/Holy Man (2005), 317 Lumière, 78, 305 Luxury, 120, 148, 149 M Maasailand, 6, 32 Magic lantern, 205, 229 The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges, 1960), 274 Maltby, Richard, 3, 17, 18, 76, 168, 350, 353n3 Manager, 52, 57, 58, 66n3, 80, 108, 147, 155, 160, 174, 191, 200n15, 200n18, 253, 311, 344, 345, 347 ‘Manitoba in the Kinetoscope,’ 1897, 81 Mao Zedong, 9, 222, 224, 225, 231, 238, 245, 250


Mapping, 17, 18, 23, 94 Maps, 18, 93, 143, 241, 242, 252, 351 Mascioli, Leo, 6, 47–65 Mass culture, 74–77, 238, 244, 246, 247, 249 Mass Education Centre, 222 Massey, Doreen, 5 Matinee, 52, 62, 98, 106, 195 Media, 77, 87, 206, 215, 219, 220, 232, 239, 250, 262–265, 269, 273, 275, 276, 313, 321n6, 327, 331, 341, 352 Mediated cinema, 92 Mediatization, 262–264 Méliès, G., 98 Melodrama, 108, 314, 315 Memories, 2, 4, 6–8, 10, 34, 36, 39, 41, 42, 49, 64, 117–130, 142–144, 150, 152n6, 155–169, 339–353 Mental health, 173 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), 10, 158, 287, 339–353, 353n1 Metro-Tijuca cinema, 339–341, 343–350, 352, 354n9 Mexican American, 155–157, 159, 160, 162–169 Midnight shows, 52, 62–64 Migration, 2, 94, 119, 122, 262 Miner, 63, 67n17, 296, 298, 300 Mining, 4, 10, 47–51, 58, 81, 82, 85, 157, 161, 178, 191, 201n28, 206, 284, 296, 298, 300 Ministry of Agriculture, 206, 207, 215n5, 215n6 Ministry of Culture, 244, 247, 255 Ministry of Education, 222–224 Ministry of Information, 264 Mobile cinema, 9, 43, 196, 219–233, 262, 265 Mobility, 2, 119, 120, 142, 144, 145, 173, 188, 220, 247


Modernity, 1–11, 44, 74, 76, 92, 94, 108, 109, 122, 131n6, 137, 144, 149, 150, 187–198, 214, 226, 227, 314, 325–336, 341, 343 Modernization, 2, 28, 75, 77, 109, 136, 157, 207, 247, 262–264, 274, 326, 331, 333, 336 Monrak Luktung (1970), 317 Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC), 99, 103 Multiplex, 138, 139, 144, 176, 353n4 Music, 96, 97, 101, 104, 108, 109, 163, 273, 274, 329, 334 Musical, 47, 64, 197, 250, 274, 307, 349 N Nang Nak (1999), 317 Nang-Prai-Taa-Nii (‘Ghost of Tani,’ 1967), 309 Nang Sao Sawan/Miss Suwanna of Siam, 305 Nanking, 223, 224 Natan, Bernard, 210 Nathanson, Nathan L., 55, 56, 65 National anthem, 165, 201n29 Nationalism, 76–78, 82, 87, 167 Nationalized cinema, 262 National release, 179 Native Life in South Africa, 189, 199n10 Natives Land Act, 188–190, 193, 197 ‘Nebular city,’ 136 Negrete, Jorge, 162–164, 167 Neighbourhood cinema, 283 New Cinema History, 2, 76, 233, 340, 350, 353n3 Nguu-Phii (‘Snake Ghost,’ 1966), 309, 312 Nickelodeon, 18, 97, 98, 312



Non-theatrical cinema, 9, 220, 222, 228, 231–233 Non-theatrical space, 3, 219 Nora, Pierre, 340, 350, 351 Nordisk Tonefilm, 326, 327, 331, 335 Northeast Film News, 246 Norway, 23 Nostalgia, 10, 33, 119, 125–127, 130, 164, 333, 352 Numbers, 2, 10, 34, 66n11, 67n14, 80, 83, 103, 119–122, 136–140, 142, 151, 151n2, 157, 159, 160, 173, 175, 192, 201n29, 211, 212, 225, 241, 251, 253, 255, 262, 266, 272, 284, 286, 288–291, 295–298, 300n1, 301n3–5, 305, 307–309, 312, 314, 315, 317, 321n5, 327, 328, 332, 343 Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (Cinema Paradiso, Tornatore, 1988), 119, 126–128, 130, 345 O One Summer of Happiness (Hon dansade en sommar, Arne Mattsson, 1951), 10, 325–336 Open-air cinema, 3, 6, 31–37, 41, 43, 44 Opera House, 76, 96–100, 102, 104–107, 123, 158 Oral history, 4, 5, 8, 11n5, 137, 142–144, 150 Oral narrator, 39 Orange Free State, 192 Orchestra, 47, 101, 200n15, 227 An Ordinary Soldier, 224 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 23 ‘Our Navy,’ 83

P Palimpsest, 119, 124 Paramount, 49, 55, 61, 67n15, 86, 194, 342 Passion Play (Pathé-Frères, 1907), 99 Pathé, 9, 97, 106, 191, 204, 206–210, 215, 215n7 Pathé-Baby, 207, 209 Pathé-Junior, 212 Pathé-Natan, 210, 212, 213 Pathé-revue, 208 Pathé-Rural, 9, 203–215 Pathé-ruralistes, 211 Patriotism, 6–7, 86, 165, 225 Pedro Infante, 163, 164, 167 Pèlerinage à Bure, 213 People’s cinema, 231 People’s Education, 223 People’s Film University, 267 People’s Republic of China (PRC), 222, 224, 225, 228, 229, 232, 237, 238, 242, 245–247, 249, 250, 255, 256, 257n6 Performance, 2, 6, 32, 33, 35, 37–41, 43, 44, 62, 64, 76, 101, 243, 249, 271, 292, 313, 314, 320n5, 343 Periphery, 8, 118, 135–150, 204–207, 264 Phenomenological proximity, 309, 314, 317 Phii-Saht-Sen-Haa (‘Ghost Love,’ 1969), 309, 312 Pillarization, 141, 203, 214 Plaatje, Solomon T., 9, 187–198 ‘Place attachment,’ 123 Planet of the Apes (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968), 273 Political, 17, 21, 24, 27, 35, 74, 77, 80, 86, 87, 94, 127, 130, 157, 187–190, 192, 194, 196, 197, 200n14, 200n22, 201n30, 214,


220, 224, 225, 232, 233, 237, 239, 242, 244, 247–251, 254, 255, 263, 264, 319, 331, 332 POPSTAT, 286, 292, 297–299 Population density, 8, 20–23, 25, 92, 137, 138 Population size, 20–22 Post-colonial, 311 Powder and Gasoline (Jindřich Honzl, 1931), 273 Powell, William, 48 Praai-Phitsawat, 312 Priest, 141, 148, 204, 205, 210–213, 215n8, 333–335 Profits, 40, 52, 53, 55, 57–59, 65, 103, 315 Programming, 4, 10, 11n5, 51, 52, 60–64, 67n17, 96, 109, 126, 150, 158, 159, 213, 263–268, 271–274, 283–300 Projection booth, 51, 179, 208 Projectionist, 58, 127, 204, 205, 209, 211, 224, 227–229, 231, 238, 243, 246, 247, 249–251, 253, 254, 257n6, 257n7, 266, 267, 345, 354n11 Projector, 37, 73, 78, 102, 103, 175, 179, 189, 191, 206–208, 211, 212, 214, 222, 225, 231, 243, 246, 251, 266, 272, 274, 328, 345, 348 Propaganda, 8, 207, 224–227, 231, 232, 237–239, 243, 244, 247, 249–251, 253–256, 265–268, 305, 327 Propaganda film, 206, 207, 214, 224, 246–248, 265 Prostitution/prostitutes, 49, 51 Publicity, 74, 76, 82–84, 97, 98 Public space, 176, 177, 180, 205, 271, 310, 335, 353n4 Public transport, 145, 173, 177 Puss in Boots (Pathé-Frères, 1906), 98


Q Queen Elizabeth (Eclipse, 1912), 103 Quincy Adams Sawyer (Puritan, 1912), 106 Quo Vadis (Cines, 1912), 106 R Race, 26, 94, 187–190, 195, 197 Radio, 122, 135, 174, 222, 250, 264, 265, 267, 268, 271, 275, 313, 331 Railway, 6, 50, 73–87, 136 Realm of memory, 350 Reception, 2–4, 8, 18, 31, 33, 37–41, 43, 44, 84, 85, 142, 158–160, 238, 244, 248, 249, 255, 265, 268, 304, 309–314, 331 Regal, 60, 61, 66n12 Regional diversity, 75 Replica, 10, 339–353 Revenue, 52–54, 59, 60, 254 Riso amaro (Bitter Rice, De Santis, 1948), 126 Rituals, 4, 6, 31–44, 93, 129, 265, 275, 331, 332, 342, 346, 350 Ritual space, 33–37 Rivers, 42, 77, 83, 84, 161, 228, 229, 239, 241, 242, 333 Rocco and his Brothers (Visconti, 1960), 126 Rozloučení s Klementem Gottwaldem (A Farewell to Klement Gottwald, Ivo Toman, 1953), 266 Rural cinema, 1–11, 31–44, 64, 118, 119, 124, 126, 130, 136–138, 148, 182, 204, 207, 214, 220, 229, 233, 273–275, 332, 336 Rural filmgoing, 238, 239, 241, 244, 246, 247, 251, 253–256 Rural idyll, 135, 262, 265 Rural penalty, 3, 263 Rural projection network, 255 Rurbanism, 7, 94, 95



S Sacralization, 37 ‘Scenery of the Canadian Pacific,’ 1903, 84 ‘Scenes for England,’ 1897, 81 Seating capacity, 286 Second World War, 138, 141, 145, 148, 165, 204, 214 Secondary sector, 25 Secular, 37, 41, 43, 204, 205, 215n2, 326 Sedgwick, John, 285, 286, 300 The Seven Ages (Edison, 1905), 97 Shaanxi, 9, 237–256 Shanty towns, 18 Shared pleasure, 310–313, 317 Silent era, 156, 158 Simmel, Georg, 75 Single women, 51 Slide projector, 222 “Small-format” film, 253 Sociability, 261, 340, 346, 348 Social experience, 7, 8, 109, 117, 144, 155–169, 204 Socialism, 225, 238, 246–247, 265, 268, 270, 276 Socialist, 141, 149, 152n4, 225–227, 238, 250, 263, 265, 269, 274, 297 Social spaces, 8, 172, 174, 179, 313 Sommaren med Monika (Summer with Monika aka Monika – the Story of a Bad Girl, 1953), 330 Sons of the desert, 299 South Africa, 3, 9, 18, 83, 187–198 South African Native National Congress (SANNC), 188, 189, 196, 198–199n5, 201n29, 201n30 South Bohemia, 272, 276n2 Soviet Union, 221, 224, 225, 232, 243, 250, 265, 273

Spain, 23, 157 Spanish-language films, 156, 159–161, 164 Spatial turn, 2 Specialised cinema, 284 Specialised programming, 284 Spectacle, 10, 32, 74, 304, 308, 315, 316 Spiritual, 195 Sponsorship, 86 Spring in Sakeni (Nikoloz Sanishvili, 1951), 265 State individualism, 330 Strip shows, 62 Suburban, 18, 22, 320n2 Suburbanization, 26 Supab Burut Suatai/Thai Gentleman Bandit, 306 Suzhou, 223 Swedish theory of love, 330–332 Synchronised sound production, 305 T Talking movie, 158 Tastes, 5, 10, 60, 94, 179, 180, 256, 284, 292–299, 316 Teacher, 32–34, 205, 206 Technology, 4, 22, 33, 76, 87, 180, 226, 306, 314 Teenagers, 5, 8, 63, 165, 171–182 Television, 5, 10, 120, 126, 135, 169, 174, 268, 270–274, 313, 331 ‘Ten Years in Manitoba,’ 73, 81 Tertiary sector, 25 Thailand, 3, 10, 303–307, 311, 313, 315–320, 320n2, 320n3, 321n6 The Magnificent Seven, John Sturges, 274 Thissen, Judith, 11n2, 11n3, 76 Thou Shalt not Covet (Selig, 1916), 108


Ticket prices, 67n12, 118, 286, 301n4 Tijuca, 339, 343, 345, 348, 353, 353n1, 354n11 Tom & Jerry (1940–1958), 347, 349 Tone (1970), 317 Topographical memory, 119, 121 Touring cinema exhibition, 9, 187–198 Touring shows, 76 Tourism, 11, 83, 92, 96, 346, 350 Tourist, 74, 82, 83, 100, 105, 106, 124, 340, 349, 350, 352 Town Hall, 73, 86, 97, 99, 107 Tractor Drivers, 226 Trade, 2, 21, 47, 50, 76, 77, 79, 83, 94, 101, 107, 161, 210, 270, 336n1 The Train Wreckers (Edison, 1905), 97 Transkei, 192 Transport, 2, 4, 50, 145, 193, 225, 229, 240–242 Transvaal, 192, 200n14 Travelling shows, 95, 96, 99 Travelogue, 188, 195, 199n14 A Trip Through Italy (Pathé-Frères, 1904), 97 A Trip to Tuskegee, 190 Turner, Victor, 31, 35–37, 43, 44, 331 Tuskegee, 190, 191, 193–195, 197, 199n11–13 U UK Office for National Statistics, 23 Umteteli wa Bantu, 191–196, 199–200n14, 200n23 UNESCO, 9, 219–233, 315, 320n2 United Kingdom (UK), 73, 74, 79–84, 86, 126, 131n1, 175, 188, 189, 191, 195, 197, 199n6, 200n15, 200n16, 201n30, 224


Urban, Charles, 74, 83 Urban, 2, 7, 24, 95, 138, 326, 335 Urban cluster concept, 22 Urbanization, 20, 22, 25, 26, 31, 33, 44, 92, 109, 119, 136, 151n1, 326, 328, 331–333, 335, 336, 341 US Census Bureau, 22, 24 Useful Cinema, 233 V Vaudeville, 60, 158 The Vendetta (Pathé-Frères, 1905), 97 Vertical integration, 49, 65 ‘Views of B.C.,’ 1903, 84 Vigilanti Cura, 214 Village Film Projection Unit, 225 Village Schoolteacher, 226 Vitascope, 78, 96 Voice-over translation, 42 W Wall of Bronze, 229, 231 Waller, Gregory, 49, 75, 94, 233 War Office Cinematograph Committee, 191 Wayne, John, 167 Wenn du jung bist, gehört dir die Welt, 295 Where are My Children? (Universal, 1916), 106 While the City Sleeps (Jack Conway, 1928), 158 Winnetou (Harald Reinl, 1963), 274 The Winter Straw Ride (Edison, 1906), 98 The Wizard of Oz (1939), 347



Women Locomotive Drivers, 226 Wor Mah Ba Mahasanook (2008), 317 Workers’ movement, 326–328, 335 Working class, 64, 75, 149, 159, 161, 205, 208, 327, 328 World War II, 9, 220, 222, 261

Y Yellow Earth (Huang tudi, dir. Zhang Yimou, 1984), 240 Youth, 5, 10, 32, 92, 98, 105, 124, 132n14, 162, 163, 169n1, 172, 175–177, 179, 205, 212, 213, 268–271, 273, 275, 325–336, 345

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