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NitrateVille Radio Episode 18: How Theaters Made the Movies, with William Paul • Kansas Silent Film Festival
A silent film festival in a concert hall, and a book that argues that theaters influenced the movies, in this episode:
Dennis Morrison (right) at the 2015 Kansas Silent Film Festival/Photo by Prairie Photos
(1:48) First, I talk about a film festival in a high end setting: a concert hall. The Kansas Silent Film Festival, held every February in White Concert Hall at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, presents silent films with musical accompaniment by people like NitrateVille members Jeff Rapsis and Rodney Sauer and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. The theme this year, the festival's 22nd, is women in front of and behind the camera, as one of the festival's organizers, Denise Morrison, explains in our conversation.
Here's the link to the festival's site. Here's Bruce Calvert's report on last year's festival. The festival's guest speaker will be Cari Beauchamp, author of this book on the woman screenwriter Frances Marion.
(13:12) From The Jazz Singer to This is Cinerama, movies have had obvious influences on the shape of movie theaters. But in When Movies Were Theater: Architecture, Exhibition and the Evolution of American Film, William Paul, professor of film and media studies at Washington University at St. Louis, argues that the reverse is also true—the architecture of theaters, the patterns of exhibition and not least, the social implications of bringing the public together in one space all influenced what the studios made. (62:50)
(14:57) Models of theater architecture
(23:30) Picture settings set the screen
(27:25) The disruptive close-up
(35:07) The exhibitor sets the program
(42:24) Rise of the special
(47:14) Talkies and double bills
(55:07) Who was Ben Schlanger?
A couple of images of things we talk about:
Today we expect the screen right in front of us, but as this example of a "picture setting" shows, in the teens and 20s the screen was often integrated into a stage setting, stressing the resemblance to live theater, which in turn limited the use of disruptive elements, such as extreme closeups, that violated the illusion of naturalistic performance.
Detroit's bizarre Duplex Theater—shorts on one side, feature on the other, watched through glass from the other side.
Here's the link to Paul's book, which won the Theatre Library Association's 2017 Richard Wall Memorial Award for excellence in a book on the performing arts.
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“I'm in favor of plagiarism. If we are to create a new Renaissance, the government should encourage plagiarism. When convinced that someone is a true plagiarist, we should immediately award them the Legion of Honor.” —Jean Renoir
Great episode, Mike! The interview with William Paul was fascinating. I have long known that the aesthetics of the theater make a difference -- if I can sit in the front row of the balcony, I'm in the right spot; likewise, there's one theater in downtown Manhattan with interior Brutalist architecture that I won't go into even if it's a movie I can't see any place else. However, the thought that the design of theaters might affect the aesthetics of the movie and the ratio of close-up shots never occurred to me.
Life's too short to sit on our rears watching other people's work.
— Bob Fells
— Bob Fells
Very enjoyable and interesting. The Movie Theaters segment was very insightful. The entire discussion of the perception of the film by its relative size is thought provoking and makes me want to reassess many films I've seen.