From the late nineteenth century's traveling moving picture shows to the late twentieth century's home theaters, films have been screened outside of movie theaters in a host of non-theatrical sites. Highly visible traveling exhibitors like Lyman H. Howe (1856-1923) had great success in this market between 1900 and 1915, offering ambitious film programs that involved elaborate sound effects. (In Europe, traveling moving picture shows were extremely common at fairgrounds.) As automobiles and expanded highway systems allowed for greater mobility, a host of other itinerant exhibitors brought moving pictures to rural audiences throughout the silent period and well into the 1940s. Traveling exhibition thrived in the Depression and World War II years, especially with the increased availability of highly portable 16mm sound projection equipment. At the same time, the non-theatrical market also included individuals and companies (including government agencies like the United States Department of Agriculture) that sought to tap the vast interest in regularly exhibiting motion pictures at schools, churches, military bases, YMCAs, and retail stores. These non-theatrical exhibitors offered a variety of programs, some very similar to what was being screened in contemporary theaters, others highly idiosyncratic and tailored to a particular audience.
One other form of non-theatrical exhibition that has figured prominently in film history, particularly in terms of the creation of what might be called a cinema culture, is the non-profit film society. The film society, very much dedicated to promoting an appreciation of cinema, typically sold tickets by subscription and featured precisely the sort of films that were not likely to be screened in mainstream commercial theaters: innovative alternative cinema, foreign-language film, and older classics. (There was some significant overlap in this regard between the non-commercial film society and the commercial repertory cinema.) One model for the more than 250 film societies that had emerged by 1960 was Amos Vogel's Cinema 16, which began in New York City in 1947 screening a mix of experimental cinema, socially conscious documentaries, and international films. Film societies were often affiliated with a university, college, museum, or community arts center, where their actual screenings were held.
The most significant development in non-theatrical film exhibition has been the shift to home viewing made possible by a host of different technologies: satellite and cable television, videocassettes, DVDs, and projection and sound equipment specifically designed for the domestic consumer. The home exhibition of film has been a viable option since the introduction of portable 16mm equipment in the 1920s. However, it was not until the late 1980s that the home became the major site for film exhibition in the United States, a trend that was only reinforced by the subsequent introduction of digital cinema, available on DVD and the Internet. Given the ease and relatively low cost of watching movies at home, perhaps the most surprising fact about film exhibition in the 1990s is that theatrical attendance in the United States increased by one-third from 1985 to 2002, even as the total number of movie screens grew from a little over 20,000 in 1985 to more than 37,000 in 2000.
see also Distribution; Publicity and Promotion; Studio System; Television; Theaters further reading
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Franklin, Harold B. Motion Picture Theater Management. New York: Doran, 1927.
Gomery, Douglas. Shared Pleasures: A History of Movie Presentation in the United States. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992.
Huettig, Mae D. Economic Control of the Motion Picture Industry. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1944.
Hulfish, David S. Motion Picture Work: A General Treatise on Picture Taking, Picture Making, Photo-Plays, and Theater Management and Operation. Chicago: American School of Correspondence, 1913.
Klinger, Barbara. Beyond the Multiplex: Cinema, New
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Musser, Charles with Carol Nelson. High-Class Moving Pictures: Lyman H. Howe and the Forgotten Era of Traveling Exhibition, 1880—1920. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.
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Stones, Barbara. America Goes to the Movies: 100 Years of Motion Picture Exhibition. North Hollywood, CA: National Association of Theatre Owners, 1993.
Waller, Gregory A., ed. Moviegoing in America: A Sourcebook in the History ofFilm Exhibition. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002.
Wilinsky, Barbara. Sure Seaters: The Emergence ofArt House Cinema. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.
Gregory A. Waller
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