Louise Brooks played quite the important role as a celebrity of early cinema. I think one thing that Hastie’s essay really proves is that whatever Louise Brooks was doing, she was doing it right. Most of the essay (and from what I gather most of the writing about Brooks) is a whole lot of “is she a lesbian? is she not a lesbian? was she sexual? wasn’t she sexual?” I think regardless of the answers to those questions, what is important is that people were talking about Brooks, and that in 1997 there are still 20 pages essays debating the sexuality of the actress. Brooks wanted people to discuss her and she was a master of giving enough information while still being vague enough to keep her name under discussion. In an era today where celebrity gossip is a huge industry it is interesting to read about how it functioned in that era. Brooks managed to accomplish on her own what only a small number of celebrities (who probably spend lots of money to hire people to do it for them), to be not only in a movie that people talk about but to be an actress that people talk about.
The second concept that this article brought to mind for me was the idea of the self-aware filmmaker. The idea that Brooks may be a lesbian as was considered somewhat a sexual icon added to her identity in the film Pandora (or at least Hastie argues). I think the concept of real life actors/directors affecting the way we take in a film is a very interesting one. I see many films being released today where who the director is, or what an actor has done in the gossip pages, or even genre bending occurs. These meta-films, where the film reflects upon itself to achieve more, is an interesting current trend, but it is also clear from Hastie’s article that it was something that was present in the era of Brooks and Pabst.
Altman’s article is a very long winded history of the “silent film era” in which he attempts to debunk the classic theories of silent films, mainly that they all had the same kind of music playing similar to that played in the 1920’s. While I found the history somewhat interesting to hear about, I am starting to get a little tired of these scholars writing long pieces that “finally debunk the common belief that…” as so many of these readings have been. This isn’t to say that I think challenging the theories of early cinema is providing for good discussion and making me think about things differently. I suppose I just do not like the tone of these pieces, where authors make it sound like they have written the most ground-breaking, riveting, piece of film history.
Anyway, Altman describes the different ways in which sound was incorporated into silent film including live music (improvised or well rehearsed), phonograph machines, player pianos, singing, and others. He also contradicts the very first line of his article, a quote: “There never was a silent film” by explaining that sometimes silent films were shown in silence with no accompanying music. Altman makes it very clear (as other authors we have read this semester also have) that the music of cinema was not just a straightforward evolution/copy of the theater, but rather its own creative original and diverse thing.
If there is one thing I took away from Fuller’s chapters 2 and 3 it was diversity. Chapter 2 dealt with the diversity of audiences from a geographical point of view. I thought particularly that the discussion of southern audiences was the most interesting primarily because of race issues at that time. The fact that theaters were unwilling to allow black patrons, and that themes of films were considered too friendly (this latter idea I found very surprising) towards African-Americans seemed to be an important part in the history of cinema but one I have seen addressed very much (much of the racial discussions of cinema had to do more with Blacksploitation cinema later on in the 70’s). The midwest and west also had interesting geographical characteristics whether it was the farmers in the midwest who had to drive 50 miles to see a film but gaining a sense of community that way, or the film patrons of the west who were seeing romanticized films of life out in the west.
The other way in which Fuller described diversity was the way in which Nickelodeons across America were so varied and different. Different nickelodeon owners had different kind of attractions, different names, different atmospheres, all in an attempt to compete with other rival theaters and to establish repeat customers.
The reason I think I found this idea of diversity so interesting is because today the range of films for audiences and the style of actual movie theater is pretty homogeneous across the U.S. Movie going habits are pretty much the same no matter where you go geographically, and with the exception of some special theaters (i.e. a cinema pub where food is served, or maybe an old classic converted theater cinema) large cinema chains make most theaters very much alike. From a business point of view it is clear that this shift towards larger theaters buying out the nickelodeons, and widespread similar themed chain cinemas is one that would happen naturally, that said reading about the nickelodeons before this trend gave me a warm fuzzy filming about the history of movie going (is it possible to be nostalgic for an era that you weren’t alive in?).
One of the concepts that I found interesting about Fuller’s preface and first chapter of “At The Picture Show…” was the culture clash between what urban audiences wanted to and were seeing and what people of the rural small town wanted to and were actually seeing. Today I can see the same film here in Middlebury, Vermont than I can in New York city, and while I am sure there are probably still small towns in the United States that may ban “inappropriate” films, it seems that this was a culture clash that only existed in the early stages of film audiences. It sounds like how this happened is something that will be addressed in much more detail later in Fuller’s book.
It seemed as if the wants of the small town audience that Fuller described made a quick and almost contradictory shift during the period she describes in Chapter 1. At first, she describes a small town audience that was used to local entertainment by local performers, and a population of people who were somewhat afraid of the rapid growth of urban cities and of the films that came out of them. The phrase “approved by the clergy” was very necessary on an advertisement for a traveling moving picture show company that came to town. Companies like Cook and Harris had a decent market going. To me the idea of the Nickelodeon contradicts these ideals and shows a shift in the market, in that now the audiences were looking for the same films that were being played in the urban cities. The films were changing all the time allowing the mass-produced urban culture to continually flow through the small town. Fuller makes the point that it was people like Cook and Fuller coming to the small town and changing audiences, but then audiences changing the way in which the films were presented.
Disclaimer: this reading response is probably going to be a little “I” oriented, but this is my internet journal so I think that that is okay…
I tried to keep an open mind while reading Burian’s article about Laterna Magika but after the first four pages or so I started to get frustrated that I was actually reading this article. Burian accomplishes to very simply describe what Laterna Magika is, where it originated, who some of the big names are, and then lists in great detail simple examples in history of notable Laterna Magika performances, or times when the form slightly changed.
I do not want to sound bitter and angry, and to be honest I actually think that the idea of Laterna Magika sounds pretty cool and I would love to see a live performance of it. Having said that, I did not enjoy reading Burian’s long winded descriptions of past performances that I feel I cannot really gather the full description of from a brief text. I felt like Burian’s most descriptive analysis of the artform was a very short section where, to paraphrase, she (I don’t know if Jarka is a man or woman’s name) says “When combining two media you must be very careful and some critics say it is impossible. Laterna Magika succeeds in combing two media, and it is good and interesting.”
To conclude, I would love to see a performance of Laterna Magika. I think it would be an interesting experience and I’m sure it is an art form that beautifully combines two media that I find very entertaining. However, I did not particularly enjoy reading Burian’s article describing this form of film/theater that is really only predominantly used in Czechoslovak and what appears to have no real evolution of audience similar to what we have been describing in class. I am very curious to see how are discussion will go in class about this reading, and how we are going to tie it into what we have been looking at.
The story of Buster Keaton’s rise to vaudevillian fame and shift to a career in cinema was definitely an interesting look at the entertainment industry of the time. That said, Kramer Kramer uses the story to debunk the popular myth that Keaton’s career was started by a chance encounter on the street, and makes claims about why the shift from theater to cinema took place. I am not sure how much I agree with the latter of Kramer’s arguments.
When reading about the long career of Keaton and his family on stage it is interesting to hear about the strong reluctance the performer(s) had towards a film adaptation of the routine considering how famous he became as a film actor. The opinion that Buster’s father, Joe Keaton, had about needing to connect with his audience and the manner in which he had perfected their performance but only for a live audience coincides with a lot of what we have been reading for class lately relating to an audiences need to interact with the performance. I agree with Kramer’s argument that Keaton’s career was not started by an encounter on the street as it is clear from the history that Keaton had a long lasting career, a necessity to shift his audience/act, and a longstanding relationship with many of theater big shots that were moving towards film.
A problem with Kramer’s article that I do have is his claim near the end of the piece where he claims that Keaton’s shift towards film was not necessarily a given choice, and that the balance between stage and film was a very tight and not always decidedly advantageous one way or the other. It just seemed to me that the entire rest of the article seemed to illustrate that Keaton’s act was struggling on the stage and that actors of his type and caliber were all gaining significantly more respect and money by switching to film. In this sense, I disagree with Kramer and think that the shift from vaudevillian stage to the film screen was kind of an obvious choice and was a natural progression of the industry and the market.
I didn’t quite get what the final message of Fuller’s article was. In her piece, “Boundaries of Participation…” she seems to give a pretty basic history of audience participation at the beginning of the 20th century, filled with important cultural and technological shifts, as well as colloquial stories that give us an idea of what she is describing. That said, I was unclear as to how important she thinks audience participation is. She mentions the works of other film historians and their fear that audience members were turning into comatose blobs in their seats, simply taking in the images on the screen. What I would have liked from her was whether or not she thought this was true or false and whether or not it was a major problem. I guess what she was trying to do was show little ways in which participation was still very active even after the shift towards taming audiences, thus proving those historians wrong. Again, though I would have liked her to make some bolder statements, and maybe to have addressed the fact that the audience has experience has definitely evolved to that of a tame and quiet one during screenings (despite all the obvious participation that is still possible).
What I found interesting about Fuller’s historical description of audience evolution, was the way in which individual participation became a mass produced commodity. Instead of things like intimate screenings with a live musician that only a small group could find themselves participating with, the studios found ways like star promoting and the appeal of screenplay writing to essentially sell everyone the same feeling of participation. To me this is a strange and almost contradictory concept. The idea of connecting individuals to your art through a mass-produced corporate creation is definitely something present in so much of our media today, and it was sad to read about its beginnings considering the wholesome (and probably really entertaining, in my opinion) ways in which audience participation started.
What I found most interesting about The Purple Rose of Cairo, in terms of our audiences class, was the exact moment when I felt the film and my role as an audience member shift. For the first 15-20 minutes of the film I was a normal audience member, taken in by the story and characters of the film, letting myself be passive in the on-screen world. As soon as the Jeff Daniels character breaks the fourth wall (both in the fictional film, and in part the actual film) it was like I was snapped out of a trance and became very aware that I was in an audience, watching a film, and that this film had a meta message that I was supposed to be paying attention to. In this sense I thought the film did a very good job of making me think about the act of moviegoing and the act of being a member of an audience. Much like the Cecillia in the film who gets engulfed in the world of cinema until a character steps off the screen and turns her life upside down, I too was engulfed in the movie world until his departure from the screen.
While this was the way in which I felt the film addressed me as an audience member individually, I also thought the film provided some commentary on audiences collectively. The response of the fictional audience in the film to the missing character (some outraged, some very interested) to me represented the spectrum of audiences, some of which do not like to deviate from the structure of classic cinema, while other are very interested in the alternative. I also thought that the character Cecillia represented our culture as one that intently follows all of the stars and films of today. In the end she finds that the real world and the actual actors/characters are way more complicated than the illusions of cinema which is something I think resonates in our media/celebrity fascinated society.