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Main Street Amusements: Movies and Commercial Entertainment in a Southern City, 1896-1930

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Surveying the growth of local movie and vaudeville theaters from 1906 to 1916, Waller analyzes reform efforts and protest campaigns that concerned theater safety codes, Sunday film showings, censorship, and, most notably, the highly controversial screening of The Birth of a Nation. Providing both the black and white civic and church responses to these developments, he demonstrates how the emergence of movies fostered the rise of Lexington's contradictory self-image as both a cosmopolitan center and a guardian of ...
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Overview

Surveying the growth of local movie and vaudeville theaters from 1906 to 1916, Waller analyzes reform efforts and protest campaigns that concerned theater safety codes, Sunday film showings, censorship, and, most notably, the highly controversial screening of The Birth of a Nation. Providing both the black and white civic and church responses to these developments, he demonstrates how the emergence of movies fostered the rise of Lexington's contradictory self-image as both a cosmopolitan center and a guardian of traditional southern values. Greeted at times with suspicion and contempt, movies gradually won the hearts of Lexingtonians because movie-hall owners convinced the public that the movies' promise of pleasure rested safely within the bounds of middle-class propriety. Covering movies exhibited from before World War I through the 1920s, Main Street Amusements provides a unique perspective on the rise of popular culture below the Mason Dixon Line.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Motion pictures premiered in Lexington, Ky., at the end of 1896 with the usual fare of a short film of a street scene or a beach following a live melodrama. From these modest beginnings, Univ. of Kentucky film scholar Waller follows the development of movie and vaudeville theaters in the area up to the early sound era. The small city supported an impressive number of venues for stage and screen, along with skating rinks and park concerts. There was enough interest in the arts among both black and white Lexington residents to fully subscribe two or three annual productions of Uncle Tom's Cabin until after the turn of the century. Main Street Amusements traces what played where and how the business of fun developed, but what is missing is the why. Why did the public's taste change from live melodrama to canned celluloid? Why did the roller-skating fad end? Why did so many of Lexington's elaborate state-of-the-art theaters have such short lives? The most interesting element of the story is how African Americans sought their amusements under the restrictions of Jim Crow. Some theater owners courted them by touting the comfort and cleanliness of their ``colored'' sections, while others claimed a more refined atmosphere by banning African Americans altogether. Waller's recounting of the rise in the number of black-owned theaters, all booked with African American vaudeville acts or showing movies starring African Americans, gives Main Street Amusements a much-needed human element. Photos. (June)
Booknews
A study of the emergence and reception of cinema in the American South, focusing on the small biracial city of Lexington, Kentucky. Waller (film and popular culture, U. of Kentucky) traces both black and white Lexingtonians' reactions to the local premiere of moving pictures and shows how the new nickelodeons competed with tent shows, amusement parks, and skating rinks. Includes b&w illustrations. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560985044
  • Publisher: Smithsonian Institution Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/1995
  • Pages: 342
  • Product dimensions: 6.23 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword
Preface
Acknowledgments
1 Lexington at the Turn of the Century 3
2 Introducing the "Marvelous Invention" 23
3 Situating Motion Pictures in the Pre-Nickelodeon Period 38
4 Getting the Habit: Moving Pictures, Vaudeville, and Commercial Entertainment in the Nickelodeon Period 65
5 The Movies Have the Day: The Business of Film Exhibition in the 1910s 96
6 Reform and Regulation 122
7 Another Audience: Black Moviegoing from 1907 to 1916 161
8 Movies on the Homefront 180
9 Movies and Something More: Film Exhibition from 1919 to 1927 193
10 Movies, Culture, and the "Jazz Environment" 219
11 The Coming of Sound and the Restructuring of Local Film Exhibition 248
Appendix 1: Local Films and Local Filming 260
Appendix 2: City Ordinances and State Legislation 272
Notes 279
Index 327
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