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Review of Mapping Movies

Screen grab of cinemas related to 1910 female and immigrant populations in New Hampshire

Communications and Media scholar Jeffrey Klenotic’s Mapping Movies provides a pioneering model for digitally marking, quantifying, and demographically identifying US movie theaters in the early twentieth century. It includes options to limit searches based on gender, immigration, and location. Arguing for a relationship between population demography, film exhibition, spectatorship, and space, these maps complement historical and theoretical arguments about a diverse “people’s history of movies” that have been circulating for decades.[1] Using this digital medium, however, creates a uniquely collaborative space that visualizes how cinemas, film exhibition, and spectators interact in particular locations. As a work of social history and cultural geography, this project opens history and film studies to promising new ways of organizing population and exhibition data in the digital sphere.

Mapping Movies began in 2003 as a GIS project to visualize movie houses across the US. By 2013, Klenotic increasingly used University of New Hampshire’s Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA) technology to create interactive maps for individual scholars to contribute to easily on a WordPress site. “Designed to stimulate new research and encourage serendipitous discovery,” the audience appears to be film scholars as well as social and cultural historians interested in population densities and spatial histories of film. Klenotic draws heavily on concepts from cultural geography, spatial theory, and film’s historical relationship to society to inform mapping. The site also includes publications from Klenotic and global presentations or workshops about film exhibition and the geographies of cinemas. As a work of cinema geography, Mapping Movies thus creates a digital and physical community for a wide range of scholars.

As a scholar engaged in cinema’s spatial history, this is incredibly exciting and useful; however, the main mapping project struggles to function as a pedagogical tool or public resource simply because it requires having historical knowledge to make conclusions about the data. Besides identifying quantitative information and where cinemas operated, a general public may find this project difficult to navigate. But this is not to say that Klenotic’s site is blind to other audiences. The most robust maps are of New Hampshire, which feature a “Walking Tour” of streets designed for use in undergraduate film courses in addition to deep maps that show a year-by-year building of movie venues through the 1930s. By focusing on New Hampshire, the project foregrounds a location that is often overlooked by scholars and adds to the wealth of scholarship on spatial histories of American cities.[2]

The incomplete nature of Mapping Movies is its greatest strength, as it provides a foundation for scholars to investigate social experiences of cinema beyond New Hampshire and to explore how other demographical information besides gender, immigration, and rural/urban environment could have influenced the locations and developments of film exhibition. Mapping Movies, alongside other projects Mapping Desmet, Mapping Cinematographic Territories, and Project ArcLight, signal a trend in developing various mapping and charting technologies that have already begun to reshape practices of studying cinema history.

 

[1] Audrey Field, Picture Palace: Social History of the Cinema (Gentry Books, 1973); Lizabeth Cohen, “Encountering Mass Culture at the Grassroots: The Experience of Chicago Workers in the 1920s,” American Quarterly 41, no. 1 (1989); Jacqueline Stewart, Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005); Michael Aronson, Nickelodeon City: Pittsburgh at the Movies, 1905-1929 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008). These are a brief selection of some canonical texts and by no means an exhaustive list of scholars engaged in merging social history with cinematic studies.

 

[2] Aronson’s work on Pittsburgh is applicable here as well. There are many books and articles that focus on New York and NYC as sites of analyses for film exhibition. One such work is Richard Koszarski’s Hollywood on the Hudson: Film and Television in New York from Griffith to Sarnoff (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2008). Hollywood and Southern California have dominated film scholars’ exploration of film production, but Carla Leshne’s “The Film & Photo League of San Francisco,” Film History: An International Journal 18. No. 4 (2006) expands our knowledge of film production and exhibition by film societies in California.

 

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