Ah the thrill of the traveling picture show!
What intrigues me most about Fuller’s account of film in the country before the depression is how well integrated into the vaudevillian arts it became, and how this integration was an inherent impulse of the cultural movement. Early film it seems, was initially thought, both by the traveling proprietors and audiences alike, to be better off sandwiched between and supplemented by other forms of art and entertainment than stand-alone. This choice can be dissected in a number of fascinating ways:
1) As a continuation of Vaudeville and Circus like entertainment
2) As a replication/imitation of theater
3) As the foundations of the quest for a perfected, fully sensory cinema
In many ways, the moving picture shows of Harris and Cook and the like incorporate all three concepts of the medium. The films were short because of technology, yet also due to the fear of the audiences untrained attention spans. By the same token, the films were varied in subject matter because they sought to appeal to the masses, the very same reason they incorporated song and slide show into their acts – the only knowledge of a film audience came from other similar audiences, consequently, adapting the tastes of vaudeville audiences and theater goers was valid research and provided at least some semblance of a cultural foundation for the medium.
However, what I find more compelling, is the idea supported by certain film theorists whose names seem to escape me… is that perhaps film has always been searching to become a three dimensional all inclusive sensory experience. If so, this would this explain the inherent desire for painted frames and sound effects, for early musical scores and now 3-D… the quest for a perfect cinema.