A thousand traveling 'showmen' built a mass market for movies. Across North America, their brief local appearances--in cities and towns, in vacant lots and opera houses--embedded the novelty of moving pictures into the routine activities of modern, mass society. For cinema's first decade from 1895, these showmen, itinerant entrepreneurs who owned projectors and films, followed the same routes as circus and theatre troupes, religious and educational lecturers, and electioneering politicians. Yet, the novelty of cinema was how it allowed a nearly identical projection, coast to coast. This mass experience was built upon an existing infrastructure of communication technologies. In its infancy, film was promoted by telegraphed news, circulated by railways, imagined by newspaper readers, and exhibited at local town halls. Only in 1907, did the novelty of film coalesce into an industry that distributed its own product; permanent movie theatres brought an end to the circulation of most traveling exhibitors.
This project supplements the standard U.S. film history to look beyond the screen and focus on movements of early showmen within continental and international transportation, communication, and civic institutions. The objectives of this project are: (1) to place local film history at the centre of the emergence of modernity; (2) to document early cinema's reliance on existing media networks; (3) to map and chart film showmen's touring circuits on a continental scale; and (4) to include Canada-U.S. relations, and international networks, in the history of American film.
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