One of the characteristics of the Roaring Twenties is the emergence of the mass culture. This was due to many factors: more widely circulating newspapers and especially magazines, the radio, the wide spread of car ownership, the risen attendance to colleges among other causes.
Films were another of the many components of this phenomenon. Going to the movies in the Twenties was one of the most popular past-times for all classes. It was inexpensive, so people went at least once a week, but twice or three times a week wasn’t uncommon. People (especially young people) would enjoy the same stories across the country, across social classes, even across the colour line. They would watch the same beautiful actors on screen, they would watch and learn the same behaviour and slang. Ultimately, they would nest the same hopes and dreams and need for the future.
It’s little known that the highest output of featured films in the US occurred during the 1920s and 1930s. Previous to this time, films had mostly been produced in New Jersey and Long Island, but in the 1920s the industry moved to Hollywood, because of its inexpensive land and its dry, sunny climate that allowed to film outdoors the year around.
The Big-Five studios had vast studios with elaborate sets. They owned their own exhibiting theatres, as well as production and distribution facilities. They also built luxurious picture palaces that were designed for orchestras to play music to accompany projected films. Sound appeared in films the first time n 1923, but only in 1927, when The Jazz Singer came out and was a huge success, did the industry really take up the ‘talkies’.
There was also a broad array of genre, the most popular being melodrama, western, gangster movies, historical extravaganza and horror.
Here’s when stardom was born. Actors became hugely popular. They were young, beautiful, rich, successful, and every young person wanted to be like them. And it didn’t seem that impossible since most of these actors were very much like the viewers watching those films. Stories and characters took up looks and behaviour from real life and then popularised them and propagated them to a wide audience. Especially young people would then try to repeat that behaviour and looks so that widely different people ended up aiming for the same goals. Films were creating a beautiful dream that everyone wanted to share and achieve.
FilmSite – The History of Film The 1920s – The Pre-Talkies and the Silent Era
Encyclopaedia Brinattica – The Silent Years 1910-1927
Now I need to watch all of these! They look awesome! I’m glad we have film to act as a time travel device. 🙂
Aren’t they cool?
I love Metropolis. The book is even better 😉
Those were the days my friend. I truly thought that they’d never end…
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Well, to be honest, while reading abotu the film industry of the Twenties, especially on the viewers’ side, it didn’t sound much different from today. Except for the price of the ticket, of course 😉
I love your point about how everyone was watching the same films, and how this would feed into the culture. It’s so different today!
You think so? I actually think it’s the same thing.
We in Europe watch the same show people watch in the US and in Australia and very little of differeent stuff arrives on out screens… although here in Europe we may be a bit luckier, since there are a lot of us 😉
If you think about it, that was a first step toward today’s globlization. In good and bad.
That’s a good point about globalization. I was thinking about how there are so many different programs out there, and so you can’t count on the idea that everyone has seen the exact same ones. 🙂
I wish going to the cinema three or four times a week was a viable prospect now 🙂 Of course these days its competing with television which has taken the spot. Horror films worked really well in black and white.
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It must have been exciting to go to the cinema when this was still a (fairly) recent phenomenon. Of course, nowadays the same tropes crop up time and again in films, but back then they were creating them!
I watched quite a few silent movies for my reserch, and while some are very dated, some other are still awesome. Like Metropolis, it’s outstanding still today.
This brings back memories from our Film Studies class… I wished we would actually watch some of the films from the 20s and 30s since I have never really seen any. I’ll have to catch up on my own… 🙂
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I’d suggest Metropolis (fantastic!), Underworld (loved the characters), It (really a classic and a lto of fun). The Show Off is also quite nice.
There are others, but these are my favourite 🙂
These are awesome! I’m stopping by from the challenge & I’m glad I did. It’ll give me something to do later!
Hi Leslie and thanks for stopping by. Happy you liked my post 🙂
I love your post! Watching old movies is one of my favorite things to do on a rainy day.
Before I researched my story, I had never watched a silent film. And you know? There are a lot of them that are enjoyable today. It was a discovery, and one I’m happy I did 🙂
Fascinating! I didn’t realize movie going got so popular in the 20s and 30s. I would have guessed the 40s and the 50s.
Apparently, the 20s and 30s were the true golden decade of Hollywood. I was kind of surprised too.
These days there is little worth seeing at the movies. I think the old films were much better, even though they didn’t have all the special effects they use today.
Yeah, they may have been better just for that: today, special effects are often the main reason why people go to see a film. Only few decades ago, you needed to rely on storyline more.
The last film I saw was “Beyond the Lights.” I really enjoyed it. I took a film class and watched some “classics” that I felt were a huge snore. I couldn’t understand why some were so critically acclaimed.
Well, I suppose some films are critically acclaimed because they are innovative… even when the story isn’t really involving.
I suppose. I do prefer involving storylines 😉
I didn’t know that New Jersey/Long Island was the originally Hollywood! Great post 🙂
I was surprised to discover that too. I’ve always thought the film industry had been born in Hollywood, I mean, that the birth of the industry and the birth of Hollywood kind of coincided.
Sarah, I didn’t know there were talkies as far back as 1923 – also that Long Island and NJ were a hotbed of film. Learning something new every day here on The Old Shelter! Thanks. Ooooh also I forgot how cheap it was to go to the movies back then. Do you happen to know how it compares to the costs of film now? I suspect it’s more expensive now….
I found this info “According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the average movie ticket price in 1924 was $.25, and by 1929 this average price had risen to $.35.” here http://www.pictureshowman.com/questionsandanswers4.cfm
You can roughly calculate that prices today are tenfold the prices in the Twenteis, so the ticket would be about $2,50
I don’t know about the US, but here in Italy a movie ticket costs on average € 9,00 sometimes more, seldom less. So it’s A LOT more expensive.
Wow, I have actually seen most of these films. Haha! Go me. 😀
I’ve only just seen Metropolis (and loved it), but there are a few I’d love to see, namely Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Nosferatu. They look brilliant! 🙂