#3 – Fuller – “At the Picture Show”, Preface and Ch. 1

One of the ideas I was most attracted to here, outlined by Fuller in the preface of her book and then artfully fleshed out over the course of the first chapter, was the prominent culture clashes that occurred in cinema’s nascent stages.  Where we now think of the blockbuster Hollywood industry films as fairly unifying (at least across urban/rural and economic demographic divides), this was certainly not the case when moving images were taking off at the very beginning of the century.  Films certainly began as an urban phenomenon, and even when “itinerant exhibitors” (like Cook and Harris) began to bring moving images to smaller settlements, the content was initially still urban.  The scenes portrayed were urban ones and the places where people gathered to watch them were often the types of places were city people would be more inclined to gather.

This urban/rural clash was equally strong in the contrast between nickelodeon viewing and the style of the traveling exhibitionist—a dichotomy that Fuller fleshes out near the end of the chapter.  Nickelodeons first started appearing in tenement areas in urban centers populated by poor immigrant, but when these marquees started migrating to smaller and smaller towns, their affordability began to muscle out the business of Cook and Harris-type operations.  The stories like these that Fuller offers present insights not only into the history of audiences, but also into the changing patterns of residence occurring at the same time.  In fact, in her examples, we can see how the history of film exhibition offers many insights into, and is inextricably linked with, the rapid growth of urban centers during the 20th century.