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1907 Movies and the Expansion of the Audience EILEEN BOWSER The economy verged on a depression that climaxed in a run on the banks in October known as the Panic of 1907. Immigration reached a peak of 1.3 million new Americans, chiefly from southern and eastern Europe, an infusion of culture distinct from earlier German and Irish immigrations. Concerns about the ever-larger waves of immigrants led to the Immigration Act of 1907, which tightened the restrictions on those who could enter the country. During the summer, the San Francisco streetcar strike by the Carmen ’s Union split the city known for its strong municipal political support for organized labor. The strike ended in violence. In New York, Richard Strauss’s opera Salome opened at the Metropolitan Opera House on 22 January . It was a scandal, both for its musical dissonances and for its shockingly erotic scenes. And in France, Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon opened eyes to a new way of seeing the world and launched the art movement known as Cubism. ■■■■■■■■■■ The Nickelodeon Craze The rapidly increasing number of nickelodeons across the nation made its mark on the social fabric. Here was a cheap new amusement , a new public space for the masses to gather, and a new entrepreneurial profession. In large cities, such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles, storefront theaters that first appeared in the established entertainment districts, sometimes several in the same block competing with each other, now began to spread further out into residential areas. They began to reach into smaller cities and towns across the country. The business of opening storefront movie theaters required only a small investment and proved to be a profitable way for ambitious immigrants to take their place in American life. The competition for customers in large cities led to more frequent changes of the program, from every week to two 179 a week and now a new program every day. The programs were usually about a half hour in length and repeated all day. Spectators could easily take in more than one show in an afternoon or evening. Many shows included live performances of popular songs accompanied by slides while reels were being changed (almost all theaters had only a single projector), and some of them presented lecturers with the films. The more successful among the entrepreneurs soon owned more than one nickelodeon. Harry Davis, who opened the first nickelodeon in Pittsburgh, had built up a farreaching chain of twenty-five nickelodeons. The public attending the nickelodeons, in contrast to the middle-class audiences at earlier amusement enterprises such as music halls and vaudeville theaters, now included large numbers of the poor immigrant and working classes for whom the nickelodeons offered affordable entertainment . The shows could even be enjoyed with little knowledge of English. In small towns, however, where there might be only one or two nickelodeons , the audiences tended to include all classes. It is difficult to characterize the nickelodeon audience with accuracy because it was changing rapidly day to day. Joseph Medill Patterson’s “The Nickelodeons: The Poor Man’s Elementary Course in The Drama,” which appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in November, provided a brave attempt to describe the people attending the storefront shows but was limited by the few nickelodeons that the author visited and their urban locations. The urban nickelodeons in the entertainment districts and nearby tenement districts were viewed by a paternalistic society as threatening to the forces of social order. The new freedom for women and children to mingle promiscuously with men in crowds, the unfamiliar ways of the new immigrants from different areas of Europe, and the darkened conditions inside the storefront theaters were considered likely to lead to immorality and disorder . Some people deplored the moral tone of the films, acceptable in upper- or middle-class vaudeville houses, as not suitable for the women and innocent children in the nickelodeons, who, in many areas, now made up the bulk of the audience. The opera Salome was almost immediately fodder for the nickelodeons. On 9 February, Lubin Film Manufacturing Company released Salome, The Dance of the Seven Veils and the Biograph Company filmed a “Salome dance” for If You Had a Wife Like This in February (released in May), while another Salome was made by Gaumont in France and released in the United States in May by George Kleine. The biblical story of Salome, the dancer who so pleased Herod...


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