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January 1992


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 27 Jan 1992 23:17:29 EST
text/plain (73 lines)
There is no obvious single list for this query; apologies to those who are are
on more than one of the lists above.  Anything you can add will be appreciated.
Respond to me, or to the list as you think appropriate.  Thanks.
Along with many of you, I suppose, I suffer from the Scholar's
Compulsion: the obsessive fear that out there somewhere is something
that I should have read before I started writing.  My specialties as a
scholar have been film theory, and the social context of film (that
is, history, economics, and sociology of film).  My reading of the
evidence is that early movies were just one more kind of entertain-
ment, similar to circuses, melodramas, variety shows, minstrel shows
and the like.
This conclusion leads to an interest in the general history of popular
entertainment in the United States.  I have a pretty good idea of the
development of show business as a business, but I don't have a clear
theoretical position on the social relevance of entertainment.
My queries then:
1.  Can anyone suggest references to material dealing with entertain-
   ment and audiences as social phenomena?  I find Harold Mendel-
   sohn's 1966 book MASS ENTERTAINMENT interesting, but its empha-
   sis on television limits its value for a historical investigation
   of popular entertainment.
2. Any suggestions of the locations of extant town halls, opera
   houses, and theaters that operated in the nineteenth and early
   twentieth century, would be appreciated.
3. I'd also welcome any particular or general thoughts on town halls,
   touring entertainers, or popular entertainment in the same period.
Some background observations
All over the United States there are itty-bitty towns that had some
kind of space for entertainment before the coming of movies at the end
of the nineteenth century.  Over the years as an unfocused hobby I've
investigated these spaces as I came across them while traveling.
It finally dawned on me that there was something more than civic pride
involved in these concert halls, town halls and opera houses, often
located in towns that in pre-automotive years were no more than an
hour or two distant from each other.  Many of these tiny rural towns
appear to have been off the beaten track followed by the entertainment
attractions touring from metropolitan centers.  At the same time,
these locales seem to have had regular seasons of shows, touring from
somewhere.  I suspect these shows were what carnies call "forty-
milers" -- shows that toured within a small range.  And when shows did
not appear from outside, communities created their own.
Harlowe Hoyt's TOWN HALL TONIGHT is an account of one of these venues
during the 1880s in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.  My own casual wanderings
have led me to extant buildings once used for entertainment in places
like Norwich, Vermont; Pinkneyville, Illinois; and Earlville, New
What these apparent facts are saying to me is that entertainment (in
the sense of performances for audiences) ranks up there with food,
sex, and socializing in general.
There should be some significance to the evidence that suggests that
there was no place so remote that it did not have entertainment.
Cal Pryluck                               <PRYLUCK@TEMPLEVM>
Dept of Radio-Television-Film             <[log in to unmask]>
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA 19122