Sure Seaters: The Emergence of Art House Cinema

Overview

An engaging look at the development of the movie theaters that introduced American audiences to the masterpieces of world cinema.

By the end of the Second World War, a growing segment of the American filmgoing public was wearying of mainstream Hollywood films and began to seek out something different. In major cities and college towns across the country, art film theaters provided a venue for alternatives to the films playing in main-street movie palaces: British, ...

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Overview

An engaging look at the development of the movie theaters that introduced American audiences to the masterpieces of world cinema.

By the end of the Second World War, a growing segment of the American filmgoing public was wearying of mainstream Hollywood films and began to seek out something different. In major cities and college towns across the country, art film theaters provided a venue for alternatives to the films playing in main-street movie palaces: British, foreign-language, and independent American films, as well as documentaries and revivals of Hollywood classics. A skeptical film industry dubbed such cinemas "sure seaters," convinced that patrons would have no trouble finding seats there. However, with the success of art films like Rossellini's Open City and Mackendrick's Tight Little Island, the meaning of the term "sure seater" changed and, by the end of the 1940s, reflected the frequency with which art house cinemas filled all their seats.

After defining what an "art film" was in this period, she looks at the rise of art house cinemas, their prewar predecessors, and the traditional film distribution system dominated by the Hollywood studios. She next looks at the appeal that art film theaters had for a certain audience, the efforts made by cinema owners to create an appropriately intellectual and exclusive environment, the role of film critics and censors, the expectations and attitudes of art house filmgoers, and the experience of attending art film theaters in the 1940s. By examining the development of the theaters that introduced such challenging, personal, and artistic films as The Bicycle Thief and The Red Shoes to American audiences, Wilinsky offers a morecomplete understanding of postwar popular culture and the often complicated relationship between art cinema and the commercial film industry that ultimately shaped both and resulted in today's vibrant film culture.

Barbara Wilinsky is assistant professor in the Department of Media Arts at the University of Arizona.

Translation Inquiries: University of Minnesota Press

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The Production Code crackdown on American movies in the mid-1930s and the propaganda films made during World War II imposed a blandness on American films. Immediately after the war, international movie production geared up, using fresh talent and handling mature themes with a frankness previously unknown to American audiences. The postwar era became the golden age of art-house cinemas (named "sure seaters" in the patronizing belief that seats would be available for all shows). This brief, scholarly book looks at art-house cinemas, how they operated outside the traditional distribution system, and the pivotal role of film censors and critics. This should be an exciting subject, but it doesn't come across here. Wilinsky (media arts, Univ. of Arizona) fails to convey the excitement of attending these theaters and discovering the works of Luis Bu uel, Jean Renoir, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, and other directors. Newsletters, program notes, and oral histories of those "present at the creation" would have added life to this book. Strictly an optional purchase for large academic film collections.--Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816635634
  • Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2001
  • Series: Commerce and Mass Culture Series
  • Pages: 178
  • Product dimensions: 5.88 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction. The Image of Culture: Art Houses and Film Exhibition 1
1 Reading for Maximum Ambiguity: A Consideration of the Art Film 11
2 Around the Corner from the Big Top: Contextualizing the Postwar Art House 41
3 Limited Audience Appeal: Shaping the Art House Industry 63
4 "Any Leisure That Looks Easy Is Suspect": Art House Audiences and the Search for Distinction 80
5 "Demitasse Intermissions and Lobbies Hung with Paintings": The Techniques of Running an Art House 104
Conclusion. Ranges of Difference: Alternative Cultures in a Commercial Industry 128
Notes 139
Bibliography 165
Index 173
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