“Home Folks” And The Picture Shows–Rural America During The Dawn Of Cinema

The day of the “show” came. The courts adjourned. Stores closed, the blacksmith dropped his tongs, and school “let out” at noon. The people went in droves, even the ministers and their wives…The opera house was packed, with an eager, expectant and mystified audience. The house was darkened, and suddenly a glimmering light began to play on a canvas dropped like a curtain across the stage. And the first moving scene “thrown” was one of a lazy policeman trying to hurry an old man and a crippled mare across a street. The town wag let out a whoop, everybody caught the spirit–the moving pictures were a go!

–Reminisces about an 1897 small town motion picture show,
Conestoga Magazine, 1907.

Could cinema have been invented at a more fortunate time? Once an impressive novelty viewed for a few cents a pop, it also inadvertently documented intriguing glimpses of the “old,” traditional way of life. And those glimpses were something more than the general, exciting changeover from horse-drawn buggies to automobiles, or how the cities slowly lit up with electric lights. It was the passing of using those horses to plow fields, the end of drawing water by hand from a well, the dwindling away of kerosene lamps and flickering candles. It all happened in the mere span of a generation or two.

Rural Life in the Late 19th Century | Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900  | U.S. History Primary Source Timeline | Classroom Materials at the Library  of Congress | Library of Congress
Image credit: loc.gov
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Fan Magazine Fun: “Cut-Out Caricatures” And Other Century-Old Art

Haven’t done one of these posts in awhile! It’s time to poke through the ol’ antique fan magazines and see what they’ve been hiding for 90-100 years. Today, let’s focus on those artsy illustrations!

These charmers are from a two-page spread in the November 1923 issue of Motion Picture Magazine, called “Cut-Out Caricatures.” Well whaddaya know, this minimalist style just happens to be all the rage today:

So that’s Nita Naldi, Buster, Richard Barthelmess, Norma Talmadge, Mary, and Doug, respectively. Let’s not forget Bull Montana, because I almost did:

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Thoughts On: “Tol’able David” (1921)

It’s during these warm days of summer, when the humid, greenery-scented air brings back nostalgic memories, that I find myself turning to Tol’able David (1921). A masterpiece of Americana, it’s also arguably one of the great masterpieces of the cinema. It’s also one of my absolute favorite silent movies.

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Thoughts on: “Way Down East”

When Griffith told his company that he was going to film the well-known–and old-fashioned–stage play Way Down East, they reportedly all thought he was insane. As Lillian Gish would later recall, “Way Down East was a horse-and-buggy melodrama, familiar on the rural circuit for more than twenty years. As I read the play, I could hardly keep from laughing.”

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