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Cinema and Community

Progressivism, Exhibition, and Film Culture in Chicago, 1907-1917

Moya Luckett

Publication Year: 2013

Caught between the older model of short film and the emerging classic era, the transitional period of American cinema (1907-1917) has typically posed a problem for studies of early American film. Yet in Cinema and Community: Progressivism, Exhibition, and Film Culture in Chicago, 1907-1917, author Moya Luckett uses the era's dominant political ideology as a lens to better understand its cinematic practice. Luckett argues that movies were a typically Progressive institution, reflecting the period's investment in leisure, its more public lifestyle, and its fascination with celebrity. She uses Chicago, often considered the nation's most Progressive city and home to the nation's largest film audience by 1907, to explore how Progressivism shaped and influenced the address, reception, exhibition, representational strategies, regulation, and cultural status of early cinema. After a survey of Progressivism's general influences on popular culture and the film industry in particular, she examines the era's spectatorship theories in chapter 1 and then the formal characteristics of the early feature film-including the use of prologues, multiple diegesis, and oversight-in chapter 2. In chapter 3, Luckett explores the period's cinema in the light of its celebrity culture, while she examines exhibition in chapter 4. She also looks at the formation of Chicago's censorship board in November 1907 in the context of efforts by city government, social reformers, and the local press to establish community standards for cinema in chapter 5. She completes the volume by exploring race and cinema in chapter 6 and national identity and community, this time in relation to World War I, in chapter 7. As well as offering a history of an underexplored area of film history, Luckett provides a conceptual framework to help navigate some of the period's key issues. Film scholars interested in the early years of American cinema will appreciate this insightful study.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xii

As befits a book that took such a long while to write and research, I owe many thanks to all those involved in the process. My dissertation advisor, Don Crafton, and my committee members, Tino Balio, Lea Jacobs, and David Hayman, helped me start the process of mapping this area of early cinema. Tino Balio first opened my eyes to the significance...

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Introduction: Progressivism, Modernity, and Transitional Cinema

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pp. 1-25

Caught between the seemingly protoclassical emergence of features and the older model of the short film program, the 1910s have typically posed a problem for studies of early American film. Our understanding of this cinema’s institutional and textual developments is limited, partly because we lack a coherent conceptual framework to contextualize...

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1. From Crowds to Communities: Progressive Era Spectatorship Theories

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pp. 26-49

One of Progressivism’s characteristic features was its fascination with studying society in the hopes of stabilizing and managing modern life, a practice seen in its inward gaze and tendency toward self-analysis. As modernity’s transformations were widely believed to have altered the very manifestations of subjectivity, quasi-scientific...

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2. Progressivism and Early Feature Films: Textuality, Oversight, Uplift

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pp. 50-92

Although Progressivism was a cultural and social movement, many of its features also structured film form and narrative. Warren Susman has detailed how Progressivism shaped an aesthetic and cultural climate based on transformation, abundance, and new forms of communication, but other key features shaped American film...

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3. Celebrity, Self-Awareness, and the Consciousness of Self

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pp. 93-129

Following the rise film of stardom and the Progressive Era’s fascination with celebrity, newspapers and fan magazines began to run contests offering readers a chance at fame. In September 1915, Photoplay announced its first ever star-search contest: “Beauty and Brains” was open to all female readers with no prior movie experience. For the next eight...

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4. Private Pleasures and Public Space: Community Culture and the Dominance of Neighborhood Theaters

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pp. 130-168

Often overlooked in favor of the nickelodeon and picture palaces, the community-centered neighborhood theaters constituted the most important form of exhibition between 1908 and 1917. Movies found their greatest success in these areas, repositioning cinema as a fundamentally local pleasure deeply linked to family and community...

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5. Oversight and Regulation: Film Censorship, Local Government, and Social Reform

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pp. 169-205

As cinema became more respectable, it made the remarkable jump from a cheap amusement, based on thrills and sensations, to a potentially powerful source of cultural influence and authority. This more reputable guise ironically posed a greater threat to traditional sources of authority, including some reformers, politicians, and press barons...

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6. Citizenship and Black Cinema

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pp. 206-252

One of the Progressive Era’s top priorities was to stabilize and secure national identity, something that mass immigration and modernity made more fraught as both challenged foundational American ideals. Progressive Era anxieties over definitions of national identity also testified to the lingering significance of historical events...

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7. Patriotism and Patronage: Regional and National Identity in Chicago’s Theaters during World War I

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pp. 253-293

Films touching on national identity and American history and culture constituted an important and prestigious production trend during the 1910s. By 1914, feature-length films dealing with the national experience had supplanted the European epics like Cabiria, Les Misérables, and Quo Vadis? that had dominated Chicago’s downtown theaters the...

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pp. 294-297

Progressivism provides many insights into this period’s cinema. It points to the importance of otherwise neglected institutions like neighborhood cinemas, reveals its understanding of spectatorship as a largely collective phenomenon while highlighting important conceptual structures like oversight, self-awareness, uplift, and the reappraisal...


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pp. 299-398


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pp. 399-420

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780814337264
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814337257

Page Count: 408
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series