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Gender, geography, and the people’s history of cinema

Authored by: Jeffrey Klenotic

The Routledge Companion to New Cinema History

Print publication date:  February  2019
Online publication date:  February  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138955844
eBook ISBN: 9781315666051
Adobe ISBN:


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The presence of women at moving picture shows was key to American cinema’s transformation into a national institution during the 1910s. Richard Abel (2006: 13) highlights the importance of female audiences during this era by opening his account of the shift from variety programs to feature films with a glimpse into the life of an ordinary moviegoer: “Imagine that you are a young woman who has decided to join one of your store clerk or stenographer friends going to the movies after work in downtown Des Moines, Iowa in the spring of 1913.” With earnings and leisure from white-collar jobs, women increasingly chose features over variety and selected from theaters that catered to their tastes for adventure, sensationalism and stars. For exhibitors the value of young female audiences was economic, but as Shelley Stamp (2000: 10) has shown, many venues also tried “to bolster patronage among married, middle-class women who formed a particularly desirable segment of the market because they seemed to embody the respectability keenly sought by an industry long tarnished through its association with tawdry, urban amusements.” She adds that “the cultivation of a female audience for the movies, as well as textual viewing positions open to women, were not incidental to the development of classical cinema in the teens but instrumental to it” (Stamp, 2000: 199).

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