#9 – Fuller – “At the Picture Show”, Chs. 4-6

In the next three chapters of Fuller’s book, she continues to portray the evolution of cinema exhibition and the struggles and conflicts inherent in this — namely the disparities in viewing between classes and between urban and rural residents.  In Chapter 4, she points to the resistance in some smaller towns to the complete takeover by narrative cinema.  As she says, many wished to still view many kinds of films that were non-narrative; these include educational films, such as ones about new inventions or manufacturing processes, religious films, the first advertising clips, and films like the “scenics” which were a simple portrayal of some beautiful natural landscape or phenomenon.  We can see, in these “scenics” especially, the survival of the appeal of “attraction” and “spectacle” even in the era considered to be the beginning of narrative dominance.  This ties back into one of the key threads I’ve been following throughout this course — that spectacle and narrative have always coexisted in cinema, even when we think one is the dominant force.

In chapter 5, she really delves into the disparity between urban and rural viewing patterns, and uses it as a lens through which to view the maturation of the young “film industry”.  Centered in urban areas, savvy cinema entrepreneurs were building the production/distribution/exhibition that is still somewhat prevalent today.  Furthermore, I noticed here a few other facets of cinema arising that still exist today.  First, there was that urban middle class unwilling to admit that they went to the movies, saying rather that they didn’t “need” to go to the picture show.  More interestingly, we can see in the rise of the picture palaces the rise of this idea of “serious” movie-watching that still exists today.  In these theaters, the goal was for it to be as dark and as quiet as possible, and comfortable enough so as to not distract from the film.  We can still see this mindset very much alive today, when, for example, cinema purists decry the horrors of watching movie on computers and, even worse, phones!

In Chapter 6, she discusses the “rise of the movie fan”, which is a topic that I think is central to our class, and I’m sure we will discuss much in the next few weeks.  The center of her argument here is that the idea of a “quintissential” movie fan is always socially constructed, and although one type of fan became the most prevalent one (feminine and overly engrossed in movies — like in Purple Rose of Cairo), there were many others that were pushed to the periphery as this identity was being formed.