At the beginning, we have to realize that the film did not just come from nowhere. Before motion pictures developed, there were long decades of screen entertainment. After the American Civil War (from 1861 to 1865), many things have altered the future of a debilitated nation and war-fatigued public. Huge urbanization movement, new waves of immigrants, most from feuding Europe, alongside the peak of the industrial revolution, made it easy to create something new. Many ambitious entrepreneurs, mostly immigrants, seized this opportunity to build a new form of mass entertainment to help people forget the horror of the war. They started businesses that combined many traditional forms of amusement into one big show in one place at one time. They borrowed from magic-lanterns theaters, variety theaters, minstrel shows, dancing and music halls, burlesque houses, circus acts, and others. They also borrowed a vague French word “Vaudeville,” which means the worthy of the city or something like it, to call the space that host this mixture of variety acts in order to put a veneer of class to attract the rich and middle class. Nevertheless, Vaudeville became popular through all levels of American society by showing its unique diversity in the post-civil-war era.
JoAnne Stober’s chapter about the resilient Vaudeville in Montreal and New York is a fascinating historical analysis that has enriched my understanding of media transformations (2007, p.135). He begins by citing the history of the pre-vaudeville epoch. Then investigates his journey into the conversion periods from the pre-vaudeville into vaudeville time. Starting from 1880s and through the 1920s, many communities in Canada and the United States, according to him, considered Vaudeville the most popular escape from their daily routine. They were craving amusements that they found in a part in the vaudeville acts of comedians, singers, dancers, musicians, acrobats, animal trainers, etc. Audaciously, Stober claims that vaudeville flair never really disappeared. It reformed to survive the 20th century new waves of mass mediums, and thrived as a dominant style of variety entertaining exhibition that can be recognized through cinema, radio, and television history–Saturday Night Live is a great example of a vaudeville-like variety show in modern television (p. 142).
At the peak of the vaudeville fame, early teens, silent cinema and the nickelodeons arrived. In his essay about Manhattan Nickelodeons, Singer engages the socio-economic aspects of Manhattan nickelodeons during its heydays from 1906 to 1914 (2004, p.119). He argues that, and in contrary to the popular conception, nickelodeon era was an extremely unstable period especially for exhibitors (p.130). Nickelodeons at that time had a bad reputation that commonly linked to the fact that many of their owners were immigrants, who placed them in their low-class immigrants’ neighborhoods. This bad reputation was, according to Singer, based on a false assumption that is nickelodeons were morally dubious places just because its highest concentrations were in immigrant-dense neighbors. It is obvious why the nickelodeon attracted working class and immigrants because it was inexpensive and showed silent films that no need to know the language to enjoy it. However, Singer rejects the assumption that the middle-class stayed away from nickelodeons and based his argument on the fact that some of the nickelodeons’ locations were in rich Manhattan districts (p.130). Manhattan map in his essay shows that nickelodeons were almost in every neighborhood in Manhattan (p.122). The reasoning that Singer presents is a logical one when he assumes that nickelodeons owners, in order to attract audiences, chose the locations in parallel to existing vaudeville theaters. Ultimately, the population density, like Jewish ghettos, and social class determined early movie theaters’ locations in Manhattan.
Cinema history owes a great deal to women and in our readings of this week we have two interesting pieces that convey feminist perspective about women’s role in film. Patricia White’s article is a well-picked one among twenty essays of A Feminist Reader in Early Cinema. It, like the rest of the nineteen essays in the collection, presents a feminist revision of early cinema. White focuses in this essay on the early cinema’s star Alla Nazimova and her multiple roles in the one-hour silent-1923’s Salome. The film presents a powerful female character who uses her assets (beauty and skills) to control others by depicting Salome the biblical-tale. Queen Herodias (as Rose Dione) uses her naïve, young, and beautiful daughter Salome (as Alla Nazimova) to seduce her husband King Herod (as Mitchell Lewis) in order to persuade him to kill Jokaanan the Prophet (as Nigel De Brulier), who rejected her advances. White in this essay tried to point out some historical neglected aspects of this film and Nazimova’s roles in it. She focuses on Nazimova’s use of stardom as vehicle for authorship (p.13). The film has a great cultural significance in terms of its feminist perception and what it offered as a new presentation of gender and identity at that period.
Through analogous feminist lens, Bingham Dennis elects Doris Day in his article to explore the 1950s and 1960s film industry tendency to replace the image of a funny cool girl with the stereotype of a glamorous, sexy, passive blonde (2006, p.3). Beautiful movie actresses were wrapped and sold as flawless females. Doris Day was presented in the image of the innocent, girl next door that her ultimate ambition is to be a housewife. Other beautiful stars like the pop and cultural icon Marilyn Monroe were used at the same period as a sex symbol and her dumb blonde persona as a comical side. Many wanted to be like Day, and many, men and women, wanted Monroe and did not want to be like her.
I feel like I should have enjoyed Patricia White’s article on Alla Nazimova more than I did. I found the subject matter to be interesting, but I felt White’s agenda was trying to do too many things and at times I thought the writing style to be confusing. I did enjoy her textual analysis and the way she [White] employed historical information from the film, literature, fashion, and art. As far as this way of writing and approaching the subject of history, I like the interdisciplinary stuff and her emphasis on queer visibility, but I felt she could have made the writing more ‘readable.’ I may just not be used to the jargon she uses.
By contrast, I thought Ben Stinger’s piece on Manhattan nickelodeons was fascinating. There are way too many numbers for how I would want to approach writing history, but Stinger does a superb job illustrating why numbers and statistics are important to history writing. In the future, I would like to incorporate more of this into my writing. I do not think that number counting is the best way to go about research all of the time, but there are some questions that cannot be answered any other way.
The piece on Doris Day was very engaging. I loved her own personal recognition that the popular image of her was unfounded and Bingham’s deconstruction of this. I’ve viewed Day as mostly a one-sided character, and frankly, a bit boring in comparison to contemporaries. Bingham’s article is interesting in its own right for taking a popular subject and reinterpreting material from a theoretical framework.
This week focus is on film history. Singer (2004) does a good job of problematizing what has been accepted as a revised version of history concerning the Manhattan Nickelodeons. This piece is not only interesting because of the history it tells but, also because it functions as a great lecture of how to piece data together as well as how to do careful analysis. Re-challenging notions which have been already challenged and re-written, Singer (2004) provides an alternative or better perhaps a more accurate representation of the Manhattan Nickelodeons. Using historical records much like authors who had revised the history, Singer (2004) does more than rely on one source or historical document. For instance, he writes, “…one cannot simply turn to the police commissioner’s memo as the basis for research…” (p. 121). Thus, he pulls from different documents to ultimately show that the Manhattan areas under analysis cannot be outright viewed as places inhabited by middle class residents as the reformists ‘version’ of the history argues. I like how Singer (2004) counter-argues. For an example, he writes, “The presence of low white-collar workers might lead one to infer that Jewish Harlem had a degree of affluence…” (p.124). He then makes two points that refute the earlier argument which is largely based on the earnings of the residents.
The lesson for me from this article is twofold. First, that reliance on a single secondary source is not enough to make a claim. Second, and linked to the first point –if I do not have information I should much like Singer (2004) be sure to mention that certain “conclusions are not clear cut” (p.127). So, rather than make a conclusive claim it’s best to state that some “hypothesis remains speculative…” (p.128).
This is a nicely written piece that seems to answer all the questions. I would have like though to read his hypothesis of what he thinks are the reasons why some names of nickelodeon owners “have been totally forgotten”(p.129). But this is an omission I can forgive.
The second article which I liked focuses on Doris Day (I remember one of her movies). Bingham (2006) traces Day’s role and female portrayals in different movies. The author also spotlights roles that Day played alongside men who at times treated her like an object. At once an object of humor for men, Day is also at times seen to be masculine in some roles. I gather from this article in most of her roles, Day played an ambiguous role rather than an outright role that showed a rejection of male dominance or espoused feminism. This comes through in Bingham’s conclusion in which he writes that at present it is possible to view Day’s films and reject them on the basis of the representation of women. This is because while we have the feminism lens from which to evaluate things, this was not a lens available to view and interpret the films at the time Day’s films were made.
The article is relevant for my college radio study largely because of its analysis of the representation of women.
In Cinema & Wireless in Turn of the Century Popular Imagination, the Author argues that new ways of wireless technologies have changed the way we study cinema and television. Therefore, the ways we study broadcast history are consistently changing because of how wireless and early cinema are linked in common contexts of 19th century science and popular culture. He attempts to show throughout the article the specifics of his argument and how we must reconsider the history of our earlier periods of technological innovations to understand where were heading now. I agree with how he historically looks at the discourse between some scholars and how we must relook at the ways in which these scholars looked at and studied technological innovations of the early nineteenth century to understand and maybe look at their studies from a different prospective to understand exactly how to study new technological innovations.
In Manhattan Nickelodeons, does great jobs explaining the early history of the movie theatres in New York City. The Author explains how these Nickelodeon theaters established the rise of movies in general. How big of an impact did these nickelodeons have and what were the demographic audiences as well as why they emerged and specifically why in Manhattan are central arguments and questions of this study. He looks at the implications that these Nickelodeons had and pays close attention to demographics that attended the movie theatres. From a historic perspective I enjoyed reading the article as it shun light on the early beginnings of the Nickelodeons and everything surrounding the theatres from an economic and socioeconomic standpoint helping me understand that era of movie theatres.
Although these readings do not associate directly with my research interest but looking at their methods of research and analysis gives me a good perspective and view of historical research methods. The ways in which these Authors conduct their research is interesting and helpful.
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