From Traveling Theaters to Nickelodeons

It is 1905. You leave work and grab a newspaper on the way home. You skim through the headlines: an earthquake in Iowa, cigarettes barred in Wisconsin, Virginia University gets a gift from Rockefeller. And then on the left hand side of the page, reads an ad “Cook & Harris High Class Moving Picture Company. Thursday Evening, April 20th.” The ad illustrates this upcoming night; a ship appears on the big screen, the opera house is full of viewers. So you go home, mark the date on the calendar; surely nothing like this has come to small-town New York yet. Big cities have seen them and now, the moving pictures are finally coming to us.

Now jump to 2010, there are cinemas everywhere, we can go whenever we want, see billboards in the most unlikely places of upcoming movies, easily look up showtimes on the Internet and pay only a small fee of $10.50. The convenience has caused us to take for granted how readily we have access to the cinema.

During cinemas infancy, the pictures came to you. Traveling companies such as Cook and Harris went to small towns with a two-hour “performance” that featured twenty to twenty five brief film scenes. During intervals, Bert Cook would sing songs while his wife Fannie played the piano (Fuller: 10-12). The local fire department, high school seniors or even the Pentecostal church, making this traveling theatre a part of the community, endorsed these shows. These sponsors than took up to half the proceeds for their causes (14). Traveling shows were virtually put out of business for nickelodeons, a stable, ever present cinema, were established. Any vacant room could be turned into a five-cent, ever present theater (24). And this is how the cinema we see today was transformed.

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