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CHAPTER ONE

Oh! Althusser!:
Historiography and the
Rise of Cinema Studies
KLU1KJ bK
Some half dozen years afer switching his professional address from history
to cinema studies, the author of this essay revisited an Organization of Ameri
can Historians annual meeting. There, much was of old, not least the time
honored tropism toward exaggerated titles. A paper entitled "Marxist Theory
and American Historians,'' by Jonathan M. Wiener of the University of Calif or
nia, Irvine, was a case in point.1 It covered many important themes, though,
as the author heard it, Marxist theory was not among them. This omission im
pelled him to speak up in the question period. I was an excellent paper, went
the gist of his remarks, but its subjects were historiography and sociology of
the profession-the books and careers of radical American historians. He had
hoped to learn more on American historians' relation to Marxist theory. In
his new feld, cinema studies, contemporary European Marxist theory was an
influence of surprising dimension, perhas invoked not wisely but too well;
he wanted to know how radical American historians had responded to this
body of theoretical work What about, just fr example, the writings of Louis
Althusser ...
. . . Aaabh. He perceived a palpable sigh of relief from the scholars on
the dais. A intervention that, at the least, pointed to certain lacunae in the
presentation was now, by the incantation of a single name, happily contained.
Oh, Althus e. The author was well aware, having been present on the occa-
Ti chapter reprinted with changes from Radical Hitor Reie 41 (Spring 1988): 10-35.
12
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sian, how enthusiastically an assembled multitude of MARHO historians had
greeted E. P. Thompson's energetic harangue against the French philosopher
nearly a decade before2 Perhaps, by invoking that well-calumniated name,
he intended unconsciously to negate his own critique, knowing that the vast
majority of listeners that day subscribed as a matter of faith to Thompson's
thundering dictum: "History is not a factory for the manufacture of Grand
Theory, like some Concorde of the global air; nor is it an assembly line for
the production of midget theories in sries. Nor yet is it some gigantic ex
perimental station in which theory of foreign manufacture can be 'applied,'
'tested,' and 'cpnfrmed'."3
Still, let the spirit of that inquiry hattg in the air, as a sign of a gap, a dif
ference, between the social formation of disciplines. Cinema studies came of
age as an academic subject at a time when its most closely aligned felds, such
as philosophy, literary studies, and a history, fell deeply under the thrall
of contemporary European theories, Marxist and non-Marxist, an experience
shared perhaps by a few historians, but surely not by the feld as a whole.
A flm history came under the purview of dominant theoretical discourses
in the emerging cinema discipline, its links to traditional academic history
were tenuous; its ties with radical historiography, despite many superfcial
similarities in vocabulary, were weaker still. More recently, as some histori
ans have begun to utilize the approaches of theoretically grounded literary
criticism, and some flm scholars have developed interests in social histori
ans' work, these differences have begun to diminish, though not yet through
much mutual familiarity or common dialogue. This chapter seeks to foster
that dialogue by exploring some aspects of the deelopment and current state
of historical writing about flm.
D Althusser. Rather than discard the name, why not start with it? His essay
"Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes Towards an Investigation"
probably had more impact on the concept of "history" in the fledgling years
of cinema studies than all the works of the world's historians piled on end.4
A secondary difsion of his viewpoints within the flm feld came through
his influence on Marxist literary theorist and critics such as Pierre Macherey
and Terry Eagleton' Yet a third possible source, his role a' catalyst in the
important debates between structuralism and culturalism in British Marxist
historiography, had a negligible efect on flm history until quite recently.'
Within cinema studies, the most widely adopted of Althusserian notions
was probably the concept of ideological state apparatuses. These are such in
struments of social fnction as religion, education, the family, law, and (most
important for cinema scholars) communications and culture; through these
institutions, "all ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as con
crete subjects." 7 Ideology, meanwhile, is that which "represents the imaginary
relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence." 8
14 Oh! Althus e!
Imagine the potency of this conception for a hypothetical scholar, steeped
in theory, unfamiliar with the training historians receive in historiographic
procedure (Thompson's notorious "historical logic")- Like an expressway
elevated over a teeming city, Althusser's formulation might be seen to offer
a royal road to cinema history without the necessity of descending into the
mean streets of historical research (let alone the coal mines historians fre
quently mention as metaphors for their place of labor), where historians "are
always handling facts in bunches and in series," as Thompson insists.10 Within
this framework, a flm industry is by defnition an ideological state apparatus.
Films "represent" ideology and "interpellate" individuals as subjects. Ideol
ogy flows smoothly from its source (whether this is the state, the bourgeoisie,
capitalism, or a compendium of all three is not ofen clarifed or specifed)
through the flm production and distribution process into the spectator's will
ing eyes and ears. From the elevation of this theoretical stance, the work
that historians do-researching questions of historical agency, of conflict and
transformation-becomes more or less immaterial.
No one familiar with the debates within British Marxist historiography
that prompted Thompson's original diatribe and engaged him and others in
considerable later polemics will be entirely surprised by this model, how
ever hyperbolic it may appear. In certain ways, to be sure, it is a straw man.
Stated in this way, it does not do justice to those Althusserian insights that can
and ought to be fruitflly combined with other historiographic procedures;
nor does it acknowledge the emergence of several flm historians whose re
search methods meet any standard of mainstream academic historiography,
and whose deployment of historical and social theory is considerably more
sohisticated and complex But it is not an exaggeration to say that the model
once held a widespread dominance over cinema studies approaches to

flm
history and continues through rhetorical habit to wield an influence. The
phenomenon needs to be placed in the context of the feld's development.
0 All cinema studles, to simplif, can be divided into three generations. The
frst generation, coming fom such backgrounds as journalism, archival work,
flmmaking, or some other facet of the flm business, was largely self-taught
and nonacademic. This cadre formed the core of personnel who began teach
ing flm history and criticism courses in universities in the 1960s, along with
a few academics with backgrounds in speech and theater who had founded a
small scholarly society around 1960." The second generation consisted of aca
demically trained humanists, primarily, as we have seen, fom literary studies,
philosophy, and art history, who recruited themselves for the new feld as it
expanded in the 1970s and began to establish journals, hold conferences, and,
most important, build graduate programs. The third generation is comprised
of the cinema studies doctorates those programs have begun to produce, the
leading edge of which is now moving from junior faculty status into tenured
15
appointments. The sweep of generations was encapsulated, albeit imperfectly,
at a landmark conference sponsored by the National Endowment for the
Humanities at City University of New York in 1975, where, among the fea
tured speakers, critic Andrew Sarris may be said to have represented the frst
generation, philosopher Stanley Cavell the second, and semiologist Umberto
Eco-not as a member but as a signifer of changing discourses-the third
12
The expansion of cinema studies in the 1970s was one of the crucial
aspects of its social formation that differentiated the feld from such others
as history . .Where older disciplines tended to be static at the base, or even
contracting, cnema studies was rapidly building its foundation. Where some
academic areas took on the apearance of invetted pyramids, heay at the
top with senior professors but thin at the bottom with junior faculty and
new graduate students, cinema resembled the traditional pyramid, heavy at
the bottom and thin at the top. The consequences, though rarely if ever dis
cussed in the feld, were profound. With a small scholarly establishment and
an underdeveloped methodological structure, the emerging. discipline was
wide open to be swept away by the strong theoretical winds from Europe.
Writing "theory" made it possible for new practitioners at all academic levels
to achieve publication without having to wait to build a base of knowledge
through months and years of flm viewing and archival research. In the face
of this rapid transformation of discourses, many in the frst and second gen
erations retreated fom active roles in the scholarly and professional devel
opment of the feld.
Cinema studies became, in many remarkable ways, a discipline shaped
by it' third generation: a youthful feld where the young predominated. There
were many positive aspects of this phenomenon. New and potentially radical
academic discourses deriving from feminist, psychoanalytic, and even Marxist
theory moved swifly to the center of the discipline, rather than remaining
marginal or oppositional. A sense of excitement, energy, and possibility per
vaded scholarly gatherings, where there was little of hierarchy, hidebound
tradition, or Old Guard stuffness to stifle a decidedly democratic air. Careers
indeed seemed open to talent.
There was also a down side. I plentiful opportunities existed to read and
publish papers, the positive aspects of "gate-keeping" processes were largely
missing. Scholarly conferences were crowded with papers but made little
or no provision for formal commentary or floor debate. Many such papers
went quicldy into nonrefereed journals without sufcient opportunity for
constructive criticism and thorough evision; a considerable number, there
fore, sufered fom what one might call premature publication.'' While attacks
against unfavored texts and viewpoints were ofen ferocious, within the circle
of dominant or fashionable discourses, self-critique barely existedH When
intellectual contradictions and questionable propositions revealed fssures in
the prevailing orthodoxies, the issues rarely received thorough analysis and
16 Oh! Althusser!
:ebate; instead, they were put aside as if their problematic had been resolved,
and it was time to change the subject of inquiry. The constructive tasks of
building a discipline and its discourses, in a sometimes skeptical academic
environment, provided few spaces for challenging self-examination.
These circumstances, however, are changing. One sure sign of transfor
mation is a recent dramatic surge in cinema books published or accepted
by university presses, not only revised dissertations, which in general have
shown marked improvement as the feld has matured, but also postdoctoral
monographs by established scholars. Essays are ofen written as probes, stabs,
frst tries at a theme; they are often too brief for conclusive demonstration of
a point. Books are generally held to higher standards for evidence, structure,
and fullness of argument. Historical writing has traditionally tended to favor
the book as the more efective forum for the feld's emphasis on extensive
documentation and narrative presentation. The essay's predominance in early
cinema studies scholarship thus placed flm history at a certain disadvantage
in the discipline's development-a disadvantage that was only exacerbated
when the theoretical discourse applied an Althusserian viewpoint toward his
tory itself.
The dominant flm theory discourse drew a distinction beteen itself
and existing flm historical practices: It operated in the realm of "science,"
flm history remained in the realm of "ideology." 1' Film historiography as so
far constituted was considered in much the same terms as had aroused E. P ..
Thompson's anger. At worst, it exhibited the ideological errors of empiricism
and positivism; at best, however, it could do little more than assemble the
raw empirical data that theorists required to exercise their analytic powers
on historical subjects. Theory wore the doctor's white coat; history sat in the
waiting room, in need of diagnosis and cure.
Film theorists never went so far as Althusserians in other felds, including
history, who questioned the validity or releance of empirical data entirely.
Still, in those years, theorists were no more likely to be found in archives than
atheists in foxholes. During much of the decade following the 1975 CUN
conference, flm history played a decidedly subordinate role in the deel
opment of cinema studies. Film historians continued to shoulder the lamp
and pickaxe and go about their humble empirical work, but it is possible, in
retrospect, to see more clearly the conceptual and psychological adjustments
they faced in striving to establish flm history fom a traditional academic
historiographic perspective on a solid foundation of primary research.
The sheer volume of work to be done, both in flm viewing and in
utilizing document sources, was daunting. A vast array of new data, including
Hollywood studio archives of flms and production fles, was becoming avail
able for the frst time. Innovative historians were beginning to demonstrate
the value of searching out previously unexplored material, such as the legal
records and daily newspapers Charles Musser scrutinized in hts reconstruc-
17
tion of early American flm history.16 And there was the challenge not only
of keepmg up and commg to terms with the dominant theoretical discourses
but of struggling to establish a place for historiographical procedures and
something like Thompson's "historical logic" within it.
Fo
:
some time, the combination of hyperactive theory and underdevel
oped history left ltttle room for dialogue between the two practices. There
were few occaswns whre the two discourses shared a platform or an essay's
pages, and the formulatiOn of the issues almost invariably took a monologic
form. One of the major gatherings where history was accorded a signifcant
place was a conference entitled "Cinema Histories, Cinema Practices " held
in California in 1981. It approached flm history, along with other confrence
subjects, from a "theoretical frame (sometimes loosely labeled 'structuralist'
or 'post-structuralist') ... derived in large part from the writings of Sans
sure, Peirce, Freud, Levi-Strauss, Lacan, Althusser, Derrida, Barthes and/ or
Foucault"-a. teoretical fame whose synchronic structures, one right say,
needd (and sttll need) to be examined in relation to the diachronic tropes of
h1stoncal d1scourse, rather than simply applied.n The interrogation of theo
from a historical perspective was not on the conference agenda, howeve'
only the interrogation of history from a theoretical viewpoint. Perhaps as
result, only one of the four papers eventually published under the rubric
"Cinema Histories," Thomas Elsaesser's "Film History and Visual Pleasure:
Weimar Cinema," has entered signifcantly into emerging flm historiography
dtscu:ses; the others,
.
whatever their merits, appeared i various ways too
prehmmary, too exclusiVely theoretical, or too brief and specifc.1
The Elsaesser essay is an elegant and wide-ranging theoretical meditation
on German cmema before 1933 that centers on a critique of Siegfried Kra
cauer' s classic Frm Caligari to Hitler: A Pschological Histor oF the Ger
a B
Th
, . > n
' m. e essa reformulates a h1stoncal problematic along three primary
hes: the quettOn of spectatorship; of the specifc cinematic institution (that
IS, the cmema tndustry and its practices within the wider frame of cultural dis
course and representation); and, in the language of Lacanian psychoanalytic
theory, of the cinematic "imaginary" (roughly speaking, the way cinematic
representatiOn seeks to construct a unifed, complete discursive system that a
spectator may comprehend). The main point it asserts is that Weimar cinema
was an ":rt" or "avant-garde': ci

ema, based on the German flm industry's


need f

r product differentiation from the dominant Hollywood imports, on


cmema s place tn the Ideological debates about a within German culture of
the 1920s, and on social movements and technological trends giving prece
dence to the visual.20 The essay stands as perhaps the outstanding contribution
to flm history from the theoretical discourses of the post-1975 decade, but
It has not been Immune from the revisionary impulse in a rapidly advancing
feld In a recent book, Patrice Petro has challened Elsae$ser's perspective
on German silent flms (in this and other essays) for its failure in her view '
'
18 Oh! Althusser!
to take into account their relation to historical audiences, and, in particular,
the female spectator."
Film history as a historiographic practice received its frst book-length
treatment in 1985 with the publication of a textbook aimed primarily at under
graduates, Film Histor: Teor and Practice, by Robert C. Allen and Douglas
Gomery, leading historians of cinema studies' third generation." They had
gained prominence as revisionist and vigorous critics of prior flm historiog
raphy; they were avatars of a micro-historical rigor they had found wanting in
nearly all past, and most current, flm historical scholarship (some of Allen's
views will be discussed in greater detail below). The most unusual part of
the book-surprising, perhaps, for an undrgradate text-was their effort
in the opening chapter, "Film History as History," to place their subject within
the heavily theorized discourse of cinema studies as a whole.

Two aspects of this short introduction stand out. The frst is how little
they attempt to locate their endeavor within any signifcant contemporary his
toriographical discourse-no Annates School, no British cultural studies, no
Foucault, no Hayden White; indeed, no work of traditional academic history
of any sort published in the previous ffeen years. The only non-flm histori
ans mentioned are E. H. Carr, Carl Becker, and David Hackett Fischer." The
second is how critical they are of the theoretical frame of cinema studies
a criticism that is almost completely muted, however, by its extreme brevity
and by their own argument for a diferent theoretical starting point.
Their burden is to rescue the empirical research that forms the basis
of the micro-historical studies they favor from the critique of empiricism
in the cinema feld's dominant theoretical orientation. They attempt this
although with no acknowledgment and probably also no awareness-by, in
effect, turning Althusserianism on it head: Where the Althusserian viewpoint
regarded theory as part of "science" and relegated history to the realm of
"ideology," they make a case for history as science and criticize theory for
being ideological.
Their argument in favor of a scientifc basis for historical empiricism is
drawn from philosopher Carl G. Hempel's essays fom the 1940s on "general
laws" in history. In contrast to this, they call the contemporary theoretical
frame conventionalism because it treats forms of knowing as conventions,
and they regard it as an extreme form of relativism. Their goal, however, is to
ofer a mediating stance between the empirical and the theoretical, based on
a philosophical concept of Realism, which, they say, offers descriptive models
of mechanisms that cause observable phenomena. From a Realist perspec
tive, they write, "it is the fustrating but exciting task of the flm historian to
describe the working of the generative mechanisms in flm histor in gen
eral and the particular conjunction of those mechanisms in any given flm
historical phenomenon." z4
Ultimately the book proposes a Realist notion of "generative mecha
nisms" as a method for studying flm history. This may have merit in a text-
19
book aimed at novices to historical study, for it urges students to look behind
event and assess multiple determinants. But what does it contribute to the
advanced historiographical and theoretical debates in the feld? Uncomfort
able with what they may rightly regard as an unwarranted disparagement of
historical procedures in cinema studies theory, they yet exhibit unfamiliarity
with contemporary historiographic discourses and end up grasping at philo
sophical straws in their search for a method. Paul Veyne provocatively claims
in Writing Histor that "history has no method," that it is composed of plots."
Once one has produced descriptive models of generative mechanisms in flm
history, how to relate them, rank them, assign value to them, assess their
determinative power? One needs a value system, a per. 'ective toward com
peting exlanator models. Film Histor: Theor and Pactice ends up no less
relativistic than they claim contemporary theory to be, but without the virtues
of what they call conventionalism, that is, of proceeding from theories of how
societies and cultures are formed and how they function."
Developments within cinema studies, meanwhile, have led to a revalua
tion fom other perspectives of history's place in the feld. Film theorists have
begun to acknowledge that many of their subjects and concerns need to be
examined in a more fully historicized and historiographic framework. One ex
ample is a 1984 article reconsidering a classic text of post-1968 French theory
and criticism, influenced by Althusserian ideas on art's relation to ideology,
that seeks to identif "progressive" or "subversive" flms produced within
the dominant framework of cultural production. The theoretical-critical en
deavor "underplays any sense of systemic context," the article suggests, and
continues, "it seems quite necessary to consider the attributes of the dia
chronic systems they, as micro-systems, inhabit." 27 (One may get a sense
from this quotation of the rhetorical standards ofen employed in the cinema
studies feld.)
In the past several years, however, the practice of flm history has be
come richer and more varied. Several third-generation scholars previously
associated with theoretical or formalist approaches have indeed brought forth
substantial work linking historical and textual analysis, such a5 The Cls
sicl Hollwood Cinema: Film Stle and Mode of Poduction to 1960, by
David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson." In felds such as Italian
cinema of the Fascist era, previously little examined in American scholar
ship, new debates have been inaugurated by the appearance of important
monographs.29 The vanguard of a fourth generation, recent doctorates whose
training includes both history and theory and who are utilizing and even
attempting to synthesize the discourses without past distinctions and hierar
chies, has begun to make it> mark.3
0 It will be helpfl to bring some of the perspectives and transformations
in flm historiography into sharper focus by examining a historical problem
atic in detail. One such subject-the ethnic, cla>S, and gender characteristics
20 Oh! Althuser!
of early American cinema audiences-holds a signifcance that is not limited
to flm history but is of concern to flm theory and, more generally, social
and cultural history. It also has the merit of bringing scholarship from cinema
studies and from radical social history into mutual purview.
Like many genuinely important historical subjects, moreover, it is of more
than merely academic interest. The questions under debate-to what extent
working-class and immigrant men and women (and children) formed the sig
nifcant audience for early cinema; what cultural transactions occurred in that
audience, whether it constituted an autonomous working-class public sphere
or was the site for the absorption of hegemonic domination; and to what de
gree, and for what purpose, flm forms, genres, and subjects were constucted.
in response to that audience-inflect our broader understanding of cultural
formation and transformation, of what cultural representations signif, of the
relation between modes of cultural production and recepton. Although Fou
cault warns us to be wary of overemphasis on origins, it is inescapable that
the conflict over early cinema has to some extent shaped the dominant ide
ologies and discourses on the relation of media, class, and culture through
most of the twentieth century.
This author should make clear his own stake in the subject. Although
writng on the class, ethnic, and gender characteristics of moviegoing is nearly
as old as the cinema itself, his Movie-Made America, A Cultural Hitor of
Americn Movie (1975), along with Film, The Democratic Art (1976) by
Garth]owett-works by historians who later became members of the second
generation in flm and communications studies-may be said to have re
inaugurated the debate in the mid-1970s.31 A brief retrospective of the author's
aims in this project, with whatever insights hindsight can muster, can provide
a starting point for the ideological, as well as the historiographic, issues in
the debate.
Movie-Made Ameic, in this light, is a work of New Lef historiography.
It participated in the radical scholarly endeavor begun in the late 1960s to
reexamine and reinterpret the American past. Its effort in cultural history
was aligned with the work of radical social and labor historians and, with
them, linked to the scholarship of British culturalists like Thompson and Ray
mond Williams. The task was to reconstruct a past in which common people
struggled to determine their o lives and institutions.
The book's opening paragraph asserts that movies "rose to the surface
of cultural consciousness from the bottom up" -a familiar phrase from those
years-"receiving their support fom the lowest and most invisible classes in
American society." 3Z It goes on to interpret the emergence of the movies as
a cultural phenomenon in the context of early tentieth-century urban life,
as a source of knowledge and values for immigrants and working people in
conflict with traditionally dominant forces in American society. For much of
their history, from censorship battles to the blacklist, movies had been a site
21
1-1 House of Pathe nickelodeon, Chicgo, c 1907. Coures of the Aem of
Mtion Pcture A and Sciences.
of struggle over cultural power-a struggle intensifed by the never-forgotten
fact that many of the industry's corporate leaders stemmed from immigrant
''"',
]ew1sh Eastern European roots, and as _alien necomers gained control over a
medium reshaping American culture. For this and other reasons, movies ofen
.Ciallerged the middle-class social code, "gave expression to the underside
Aerican values and behavior," presenting "grotesque exaggeration, ...
e>t")arce, violence, and sexual license" (104).
Fnfrom so truncated a summary, one can see how readily this view-
22 Obi Althus e!

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point lies open to a critque fom an Althusserian perspective-one similar in
form to the criticisms of British culturalism that aroused Thompson's ire. The
cinema is one of the most powerful ideological state apparatuses in twentieth
century bourgeois capitalist society, this argument might run. Movie theaters
are a primary place where "ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals
as concrete subjects."" While the philosopher himself sought to mae clear,
in a postscript to his article "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,"
tat class struggle continues both within and beteen those institutions, the
Althusserian impulse in cinema studies tended to ignore this caveat in favor
of such dictums as "an ideology always exists in an apparatus, and its practice,
or practices. This existence is material.'' 34
Thus cinema theorists found ideology in the form of a "bourgeois mode
of representation" both in the cinematic apparatus (camera, lens, and so on)
and in such practices as the construction of fctional narratives.35 I was bour
geois ideology down the line, fom the camera's eye straight through to the
spectator's, and there were enough disquieting aspects of this theory-such
23
1-3 Unidentifed magazine illustration, c. 1910, wih the ction: 'The moving
picture theater bas become America's favorite famil entertainment. Aparentl even
the babies attend the sow."
as whether it was possible to create oppositional practices or even a Socialist
cinema using cinema apparatus so thoroughly imbued with bourgeois ideol
ogy-that the notion of movie audiences as a site of class or any other knd
of struggle hardly deserved notice.
Wen a revisionist counterargument to the emphasis on working-class
and immigrant audiences for early American cinema almost immediately
arose, however, it did not originate from Althusserian theory, however much
te revisionist texts later became enfolded within that world vie. It is impor
tat to stress that the arguments over cinema audiences were not enclosed
within Marxism or Marxian-oriented social and cultural analysis, as were the
British conficts between structuralists and culturalists. Indeed, at frst glance
itis not easy to place the revisionists within an ideological famework Their

'''
'
appear to be primarily historiographic and methodological, in ser-
of that purportedly most unideological of causes, the advancement of
kiowledge.
The rvisionist tx in question are Russell Mrritt's 1976 essay 'Nick
Theaters, 1905-1914: Building an Audience for te Movies," and
24 Obi Althuse!
1-4 Gr/ton Motion Picture Laboratories, c. 1911. Photograh b Byron, Te Byron
Collection, Musum of th Ol of Ne York.
Robert C. Allen's 1979 article "Motion Picture Exhibition in Manhattan:' Beyond
the Nickelodeon."" Both articles focus on micro-studies of individual cities
(Merritt on Boston, Allen on Ne York) in contrast to the macro-approaches
of previous book-length works. While both express the caveat that a single
city cannot represent the whole, both essays attempt to transform the general
interpretation of their subject-and, from a methodological standpoint, both
defne their evidence in such a way as to produce an implicit, "naturalized"
ideological result. Despite occasional efforts, by its practitioners or by others,
to link flm history revisionism with Althusserian or other Marxisms, its more
fundamental connections are in fact to the consensus school of American his
toriography before the 1960s, whicb, in contrast to a Marxist historical model
based on class struggle, regarded United States social history as unifed and
largely conflict-free.
Merritt and Allen both place a middle-class audience in movie theaters
earlier than they regard previous accounts to have done; the implication is that
the nickelodeon era was much shorter than had been supposed, and that the
25
image of tawdry store-font theaters in immigrant and working-class districts
needs to be redrawn in favor of a much closer integration between movies
and established entertainment districts and forms. Merritt's article however
gives only brief glimpses of his city's social and economic comp;sition as
basis for drawing inferences about theaters and audiences. While he com
ments on the inhospitability of Boston's South End and Roxbury for theater
development, we get little sense of where the working class lived, shopped,
and worked. Given Boston's unique geography as a peninsula, one would
want to know more about its "Zone of Emergence," as Robert A. Woods and
Albert]. Kennedy called it: outlying immigrant and working-class communi
ties such as Cambridgeport, East Cambridge, Charlestown, East Boston, and
South Boston.37 By defning his subject as Boston alone, it may be that Merritt
found the middle class because the working class was elsewhere.
Allen pays more attention to ethnic and class characteristics of Manhat
tan neighborhoods and attempts briefly to distinguish among ethnic groups
in moviegoing. His analysis is based on motion picture theater data drawn
from Trow's Buines Director of Greater Ne York, particularly for 1908,
when 123 theaters were listed. "It is, of course, possible that these listings
are not exhaustive," Allen admits in a footnote." One piece of evidence that
suggests Allen's caveat needs to be given more than passing consideration
was the New York City mayor's December 1908 order revoking movie the
ater licenses. Most such theaters appear to have sought licensing as common
shows at rwenty-fve dollars rather than pay the fve hundred dollars required
for vaudeville and stage houses; contemporary press accounts suggested that
more than six hundred theaters were afected by the order.39 Although not all
of these were in Marthattan, the existence of this data might impel a historian
to wonder whether some of these common shows might not have made it
into Trow
'
s Buines Director, and reconsider one's thesis accordingly.4o
The aim of these revisionist essays was not so mucb to assert the primacy
of "bourgeois ideology," as in the Althusserian model, as to diminish the sig
nifcance of immigrant and working-class audiences, and the possibility of
class struggle, in the formation of early cinema. Rather than analyses of bour
geois ideology, they are representatives of it. Merritt's and Allen's arguments
were absorbed without mucb debate into then prevailing cinema studies dis
courses because they buttessed the dominant theoretical viewpoint, however
much the ideological foundations of the respective projects difered.
In the early 1980s, as feminist discourses became more prevalent in the
cinema feld, rwo essays by women scholars reopened the question of early
motion picture audiences, not specifically from the viewpoint of gender, but
clearly with female spectators in mind. One was Judith Mayne's 1982 article
"Immigrants and Spectators," the other Miriam Hansen's 1983 article "Early
Silent Cinema: Whose Public Sphere?"41 The importance of Mayne's work lay
i its restoring to the cinema studies discourse a notion of the possibility
24 Oh! Althus er!
1-4 Carlton Motion Picture Lboratories, c. 1911. Photograph b Byon, Tbe Byron
Collection, Museum of the Ci of NeYork.
Robert C. Allen's 1979 article "Motion Picture Exhibition in Manhattan: Beyond
the Nickelodeon."" Both articles focus on micro-studies of individual cities
(Merritt on Boston, Allen on New York) in contrast to the macro-approaches
of previous book-length works. While both express the caveat that a single
city cannot represent the whole, both essays attempt to transform the general
interpretation of their subject-and, fom a methodological standpoint, both
defne their evidence in such a way as to produce an implicit, "naturalized"
ideological result. Despite occasional efforts, by its practitioners or by others,
to link flm history revisionism with Althusserian or other Marxisms, its more
fndamental connections are in fact to the consensus school of American his
toriography before the 1960s, which, in contrast to a Marxist historical model
based on class struggle, regarded United States social history as unifed and
largely conflict-fee.
Merritt and Alen both place a middle-class audience in movie theaters
earlier than they regard previous accounts to have done; the implication is that
the nickelodeon era was much shorter than had been supposed, and that the
25
image of tawdry store-font theaters in immigrant and working-class districts
needs to be redrawn in favor of a much closer integration between movies
and established entertainment.districts and forms. Merritt's article, however,
gives only brief glimpses of his city's social and economic composition as a
basis for drawng inferences about theaters and audiences. While he com
ments on the inhospitability of Boston's South End and Roxbury for theater
development, we get little sense of where the working class lived, shopped,
and worked. Given Boston's unique geography as a peninsula, one would
want to know more about its "Zone of Emergence," as Robert A Woods and
Albert]. Kennedy called it: outlying immigrant and working-class communi
ties such as Cambridgeport, East Cambridge, Charlestown, East Boston, and
South Boston.37 By defning his subject as Boston alone, it may be that Merritt
found the middle class because the working class was elsewhere.
Allen pays more attention to ethnic and class characteristics of Manhat
tan neighborhoods and attempts briefly to distinguish among ethnic groups
in moviegoing. His analysis is based on motion picture theater data drawn
from Trw
's Buines Director of Greater Ne York, particularly for 1908,
when 123 theaters were listed. "It is, of course, possible that these listings
are not exhaustive," Allen admits in a footnote." One piece of evidence that
suggests Allen's caveat needs to be given more than passing consideration
w the New York City mayor's December 1908 order revoking movie the
ater licenses. Most such theaters appear to have sought licensing as common
shows at twenty-fve dollars rather than pay the fve hundred dollars required
for vaudeville and stage houses; contemporary press accounts suggested that
more than six hundred theaters were affected by the order." Although not all
of these were in Manhattan, the existence of this data might impel a historian
to wonder whether some of these common shows might not have made it
into Trw's Buines Director, and reconsider one's thesis accordingly'
The aim of these revisionist essays was not so much to assert the primacy
of "bourgeois ideology," as in the Althusserian model, as to diminish the sig
nifcance of immigrant and working-class audiences, and the possibility of
class struggle, in the formation of early cinema. Rather than analyses of hour
geois ideology, they are representatives of it. Merritt's and Allen's arguments
were absorbed without much debate into then prevailing cinema studies dis
courses because they buttressed the dominant theoretical viewpoint, however
much the ideological foundations of the respective projects difered.
In the early 1980s, as feminist discourses became more prevalent in the
cinema feld, two essays by women scholars reopened the question of early
motion picture audiences, not specifcally from the viewpoint of gender, but
clearly with female spectators in mind. One was Judith Mayne's 1982 article
"Immigrants and Spectators," the other Miriam Hansen's 1983 article "Early
.
Cinema: Whose Public Sphere?"'1 The importance of Mayne's work lay
It restoring to the cinema studies discourse a notion of the possibility
26 Oh! Althuse!
o{ working-class agency; Hansen raised similar issues in a more elaborated
theoretical and comparative framework.
So brief as to be more of a suggestion than a developed account (a
common problem in cinema studies scholarship), Mayne's article neverthe
less introduced several significant perspectives. She begins by calling into
question a particular strand of earlier historiography that, in her view, my
thologized early movie theaters as places where immigrants were ofered
assistance in becoming Americanized, and workers found escape from daily
labors42 She inquires how this putatively benign Americanization was actually
constituted as a social process. Drawing on the radical social and economic
theories of Eli Zaretsky, Paul Baran, and Paul Sweezy, she posits the emer
gence of a consumerist culture in which elements of the traditional private
sphere and public sphere shifed location, were drawn out of, or intruded on,
one another. 43
For immigrant, in Mayne's account, the experience of moviegoing be
came a focal point for this transformation of spheres, a site of mediation
beteen them. Movie theaters provided a sense of community, as well as
the spectacle on the screen of a consumerist private sphere. "While cinema
became an agent of the new culture of consumerism," Mayne writes, "the
response of immigrants to the movies suggest' that cinema kept alive fanta
sies of resistnce to that culture. . . . The fantasy component of the movies
g a unique imaginary shape to private and public space .... Fantasy may
imply 'escape,' but it is also a form of resistance, an imaginary refusal of real
conditions of existence."44
Was Mayne aware how closely this last phrase echoed Althusser's def
nition of ideology (in Ben Brewster's English translation) as "the imaginary
relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence"? 45 A longer
essay might have examined more thoroughly this perhaps fortuitous rhetori
cal link between fantasy and ideology and considered the implications of the
disparity-dearly a fundamental question-between the scholar's notion of
refsal and the philosopher's of interpellation. Unfortunately, under the cir
cumstances, Mayne derives her concept of resistance from an analogy with
the rise of the eighteenth-century middle-class novel, a somewhat tenuous
basis for her argument. Her viewpoint is not so much historical (or quite
sufficiently theoretical) as it i heuristic, a challenge to a model of the im
migrant and working-class spectator as a passive receptor. It suggests at least
the possibility of reconceptualizing that spectator as someone capable, in
both imagination and collective activity, of striving to protect or construct an
autonomous cultural space.
Hansen's essay "Early Silent Cinema" deals with American cinema insti
tutions and discourses-including all the texts discussed so far here-princi
pally to provide a comparative counterexample for her primary subject, early
silent cinema in Germany. Her concept of "public sphere" was drawn spe-
27
cifcally from recent theoretical debates in West Germany about the notion
of "proletarian public sphere" propounded in the writings of Oscar Negt/
Alexander Kluge'' This formulation, in Hansen's paraphrase, has a highly ab
stract quality; however, Negt/Kluge argue, she contends, that the theoretical
category of "proletarian public sphere" can be developed even in the ab
sence of positive evidence of its existence in working-class life. Its possibility
could be derived fom it "negative determination" from "hegemonic efforts
to suppress, repress, destroy, isolate, split, or assimilate any formation of a
potential proletarian public sphere and to appropriate its material substance,
exerience, in the interest of private profit-maximation."47
From this persective, Hansen gives a somewhat ambiguous assessment

of the possibility that American early silent cinema may have constituted to
some degree a "proletarian public sphere." Early cinema would qualify as
such an instance, she writes, "if only for the comprehensive eforts ... to rid
the institution of its class-specifc stigma." Still, "the cinema's transition from
an anarchic cottage industry to a monopolistic branch of American Business"
was not a totally unifed process; "the unequal development of productive
relations, spectatorship and individual authorship lef traces of resistance in
the flms themselves." (Although no specifc evidence is adduced, it is likely
she is referring to remnant of narrative style and images of proletarian life
that survived fom an earlier period when cinema was putatively more class
specifc.)"
"In a more radical sense," she goes on, "as a medium for a fundamen
tally diferent organization of public experience, the cinema's potential for
resistance hinges on the formal organization of spectatorship," in the inter
action between flms and the spectator's mental life. '' Hansen's analysis is
closely linked with Mayne's, but with a more pessimistic outlook. "I hope
to have elucidated the precarious status of the notion of early cinema as a
proletarian public sphere,'' she concludes, with the added caution that, "as a
theoretical construct, this notion is useful only insofar as it acknowledges the
contradictory dynamics of its historical reference point." 5o
D All right, then, we are two discourses. The gap or diference earlier
alluded to between the two disciplines, cinema studies and academic history,
may appear afer this brief survey to be a chasm. On one hand, works by
revisionist flm historians appear to be fueled by an underlying ideological
purpose that leads them to significant absences and distortions in their use
of evidence; on the other, theoretical approaches to the subject that are more
sophisticated and challenging ideologically also may appear, from the per
spective of academic history, arcane and abstract in terminology and woeflly
lacking in documentation. It may seem clear, from this one example, that the
doing of film history within cinema studies has much to lear from the pro
cedures and standards of evidence that prevail in academic history. It remains
28 Obi Althuse!
to be asked whether, and what, academic historians may need to learn from
cinema studies practitioners. American early silent cinema and its audiences
are perhaps the single subject to which both flm historians and radical social
historians have given substantial attention. To turn from the former to the
latter is to perceive at once fndamental differences of approach.
Film historians have tended to emphasize institutions and processes,
while radical social historians, not necessarily neglecting either of those sub
jects, have nevertheless placed their emphasis on the lived experiences of
people. Those radical social historians who have so far written about early
cinema have in general not made it their central focus of inquiry, but have
considered it as part of immigrant and working-class lives, as one of many
sites of leisure and communal activitiesthe dance halls, saloons, amuse
ment parks, and other private and commercial entertainments that have been
the focus of the past decade's resurgence of historical study on working-class
life and popular culture.
Within this perspective, they draw on a broad range of social history
sources not ofen utilized by flm historians, including frst-person account
both contemporary and retrospective, survey research by social science and
social work professionals, and popular periodical literature. "Secondary ma
terial fairly contemporary to the period under investigation is ofen more
useful in analyzing historical trends than contemporary flm scholarship that
asks diferent questions," Elizabeth Ewen asserts in her 1980 article "City
Lights: Immigrant Women and the Rise of the Movies." 51 While Ewen does
not specif what she means by "different questions," one may assume her
remark is an implicit rejoinder to film history reisionist texts and cinema
theory that seemed more determined to claim bourgeois hegemony over
movies than to examine the evidence of working-class experience in relation
to them. "Failure to appreciate the viewpoint of the past," she adds, "produces
a one-dimensional present-mindedness" (S51).
Ewen's article was the frst signifcant writing by a historian on early
American cinema to follow Jowett's and the author's books. A in Mayne's and
Hansen's slightly later articles in the cinema feld, Ewen's feminist perspective
began to shift attention to women's experience at the movies and to ques
tions of female spectatorship. Because her focus is on the relations between
immigrant mothers and their daughters, however, her emphasis is on the
generational composition of movie audiences rather than, directly, issues of
class. Whereas "the outide world of American culture was viewed with hos
tility by most immigrant mothers," she writes, the movies "became the one
American institution that had the possibility of uniting generations and was
cross-generational in appeal" (SSO). Ewen does point out that the moviegoing
experience was "an emanation of community," but, as the previous quotation
suggests, her concern was more with how the movies "became for immi
grants a powerful experience of the American culture which was often denied
29
to them" (S52, S51). While she could hardly be accused of an uncritical or
benign account of Americanization for which Mayne faulted earlier historians,
the emergence of a new consumerist mass culture is the process she seeks to
chronicle. Therefore her accourit quickly leaves the early period and moves
into the 1910s and 1920s.
Ultimately Ewen views the experience of immigrants at the movies as
a multiple mediation "between an historic uprootng and an unknown and
threatening urban society" and "between traditional culture and the emergent
terms of moder life" (this latter aspect of mediation was taken up several
years later in Mayne's article). Citing Walter Benjamin, Ewen sees flm as a part
of mass culture, participating in "the liquidation of the traditional value of
the cultural heritage." 52 From a feminist perspective, she concludes her essay
ambivalently: "The form and content of domination changed, but new au
thorities replaced the old" (S65). A part of this process, she suggests, cinema
provided elements of pleasure and new kowledge.
Roy Rosenzweig's 1983 book Eight Hour for What We Wil was the frst
historical work to focus on (though from a different perspective, and in difer
ent terms) the question raised by Hansen that same year about the possibility
of a "proletarian public sphere" in the context of early cinema." Conceived
in the framework of both American and British scholarship on nineteenth
century working-class culture, Rosenzweig's monograph was one of the most
thorough studies of workers' time and space for leisure, "a sphere of life free
fom the constraints imposed by their employers" (52). Focusing on Worces
ter, Massachusetts, as a case study, Rosenzweig found that public sphere
in saloons, recreational spaces, and holiday activities, and in the workers'
struggle to retain control over leisure time and space against middle-class
efforts to "reform" and reshape them.
The movies occupy only one chapter out of eight in Eight Hour. They
come at the chronological conclusion of Rosenzweig's narrative, in a context
that permits the historiographic problematic to be posed in an entirely new
way: What happened to the pre-existing proletarian public sphere when its
participants signifcantly shifed their leisure activity into the temporal and
spatial setting of the motion picture theater? Rosenzweig's answer to this
question may apply only to Worcester, but it provides a model in research
and interpretation against which competing theories and explanations may
be tested.
In Worcester the beginnings of motion picture exhibition seemed to
follow a patter conforming to the Merritt-Allen revisionist thesis: movies
mixed with live entertainment in the central downtown vaudeville theaters
then the conversion of several such theaters to fll-time movie program in
(though whether their vaudeville or movie audiences were "middle class" in
the Merritt-Allen sense of the term is not clear). But the next development
divere from the revi,ionistmodel: "ne, cheap movie houses" open, and "a
28 Oh! Althuser!
to be asked whether, and what, academic historians may need to learn fom
cinema studies practitioners. American early silent cinema and its audiences
are perhaps the single subject to which both flm historians and radical social
historians have given substantial attention. To turn from the former to the
latter is to perceive at once fundamental diferences of approach.
Film historians have tended to emphasize institutions and processes,
while radical social historians, not necessarily neglecting either of those sub
jects, have nevertheless placed their emphasis on the lived experiences of
people. Those radical social historians who have so far written about early
cinema have in general not made it their central focus of inquiry, but have
considered it as part of immigrant and working-class lives, as one of many
sites of leisure and communal activitiesthe dance halls, saloons, amuse
ment parks, and other private and commercial entertainments that have been
the focus of the past decade's resurgence of historical study on working-class
life and popular culture.
Within this perspective, they draw on a broad range of social history
sources not often utilized by film historians, including frst-person accounts
both contemporary and retrospective, survey research by social science and
social work professionals, and popular periodical literature. "Secondary ma
terial fairly contemporary to the period under investgation is ofen more
useful in analyzing historical trends than contemporary flm scholarship that
asks diferent questions," Elizabeth Ewen asserts in her 1980 article "Cit
Lights: Immigrant Women and the Rise of the Movies."51 While Ewen does
not specif what she means by "different questions,'' one may assume her
remark is an implicit rejoinder to film history revisionist texts and cinema
theory that seemed more determined to claim bourgeois hegemony over
movies than to examine the evidence of working-class experience in relation
to them. "Failure to appreciate the viewpoint of the past,'' she adds, "produces
a one-dimensional present-mindedness" (551).
Ewen's article w the first signifcant writing by a historian on early
American cinema to follow Jowett's and the author's books. A in Mayne's and
Hansen's slightly later articles in the cinema feld, Ewen's feminist perspective
began to shi attention to women's experience at the movies and to ques
tions of female spectatorship. Because her focus is on the relations between
immigrant mothers and their daughters, however, her emphasis is on the
generational composition of movie audiences rather than, directly, issues of
class. Whereas "the outside world of American culture was viewed with hos
tility by most immigrant mothers,'' she writes, the movies "became the one
American institution that had the possibility of uniting generations and was
cross-generational in appeal" (550). Ewen does point out that the moviegoing
experience was "an emanation of community," but, as the previous quotation
suggests, her concern was more with how the movies "became for immi
grants a powerful experience of the American culture which was ofen denied
29
to them" (552, 551). While she could hardly be accused of an uncritical or
benign account of Americanization for which Mayne faulted earlier historians,
the emergence of a new consumerist mass culture is the process she seeks to
chronicle. Therefore her accourit quickly leaves the early period and moves
into the 1910s and 1920s.
Ultimately Een views the exerience of immigrants at the movies as
a multiple mediation "between an historic uprooting and an unknown and
threatening urban society" and "between traditional culture and the emergent
terms of moder life" (this latter aspect of mediation was taken up several
years later in Mayne's article). Citing Walter Benjamin, Ewen sees film as a part
of mass culture, participating in "the liquidation of the traditional value of
the cultural heritage."52 From a feminist perspective, she concludes her essay
ambivalently: "The form and content of domination changed, but new au
thorities relaced the old" (565). A part of thL process, she suggest, cinema
provided elements of pleasure and new knowledge.
Roy Rosenzweig's 1983 book Eight Hours for Wat We Wil was the frst
historical work to focus on (though from a different perspective, and in difer
ent terms) the question raised by Hansen that same year about the possibility
of a "proletarian public sphere" in the context of early cinema." Conceived
in the framework of both American and British scholarship on nineteenth
century working-class culture, Rosenzweig's monograph was one of the most
thorough studies of workers' time and space for leisure, "a sphere of life free
fom the constraints imposed by their employers" (52). Focusing on Worces
ter, Massachusetts, as a case study, Rosenzweig found that public sphere
in saloons, recreational spaces, and holiday activities, and in the workers'
struggle to retain control over leisure time and space against middle-class
efforts to "reform" and reshape them.
The movies occupy only one chapter out of eight in Eight Hours. They
come at the chronological conclusion of Rosenzweig's narrative, in a context
that permits the historiographic problematic to be posed in an entirely new
way: What happened to the pre-existing proletarian public sphere when its
participants signifcantly shifed their leisure activity into the temporal and
spatial setting of the motion picture theater? Rosenzweig's answer to this
question may apply only to Worcester, but it provides a model in research
and interpretation against which competing theories and explanations may
be tested.
In Worcester the beginnings of motion picture exhibition seemed to
follow a pattern conforming to the Merritt-Allen revisionist thesis: movies
mixed with live entertainment in the central downtown vaudeville theaters
then the conversion of several such theaters to full-time movie programmin
(though whether their vaudeville or movie audiences were "middle class" in
the Merritt-Allen sense of the term is not clear). But the next development
diverges from the revisionist model: "new, cheap movie houses" open, and "a
30 Obi Althusser!
working-class movie audience" develops (193). "A> late as 1914," according to
Eight Hours-a good half decade afer the bourgeoise gained control of the
cinema in the revisionist account-"the Worcester working class still seems
to have dominated the city's movie houses" (208).
In Rosenzweig's view, the movie theater managed to accommodate the
proletarian public sphere that had taken shape in the saloon, the church,
and the fraternal lodge. It became "a central working-class institution that
involved workers on a sustained and regular basis" (195). Rather than specu
lating on the relation between screen representation and spectator response,
Rosenzweig emphasizes the viewing environment: "Whatever the degree of
control of the middle and upper classes over movie content, the working
class was likely to determine the nature of behavior and interaction within
the movie theater . . . . Together, the immigrant working-class movie manager
and the immigrant working-class audience developed a style of moviegoing
that accorded with, and drew upon, earlier modes of public working-class
recreation" (199). These included low prices and nonstratifed seating, "lack
of a structured time schedule,'' and "an air of informality and relaxed social
izing" (201).
In sum, in Rosenzweig's account, "not only did movie theater conduct
grow out of traditions of public working-class behavior based on sociability,
convivialit, communality, and informality, but movie theater conditions also
accorded with the realities of working-class life" (203). It was the autonomy
of the movie thea
t
er as a working-class institution-a proletarian public
sphere-that was the target of middle-class reform concern. Ultimately, this
autonomy was lost as "a national market insulated fom local pressures . . .
intruded itelf into the eveyda lives of working people,'' and moviegoing
became an interclass phenomenon (219). But, he argues, "in many ways the
development of moviegoing habits w a sharper break in middle-class cul
ture than it had been in working-class culture" (212).
Rosenzweig stresses in his conclusion that working-class culture in Wor
cester was "alternative" rather than "oppositional" (223). Did the end of the
nineteenth-century proletarian public sphere that had survived into the early
movie theaters therefore mean that the working-class audience was homoge
nized into bourgeois hegemony, the new form of domination of which Ewen
wrote? Rosenzweig argues no. The new desires, expectations, and sense of
entitlement fostered at the movies, he writes, could, when blocked by eco
nomic injustice or denial, lead to greater demand for flfllment. The road
fom the saloon through the cinema might, he suggests, have ended up at the
union hall, in a new oppositional mode.
Rosenzweig's utopianism has a long tradition in leftist historiography,
but it is an afterthought, not an argument. His central thesis is suffcient here.
However much the Worcester model may be modifed by similar case studies
of other cities, Eight Hours challenges the revisionist version of early motion
31
picture exhibition and audience development. If only by his reminder that
the upper class belongs in any class analysis of control over motion pictures,
Rosenzweig complicates the standard view of middle-class cultural power
prevailing in cinema studies.s4
D These several works of radical social history clearly have the potential
to make indispensable contributions to flm history-and by their influence
already have begun to do so, particularly by restoring working-class experi
ence and class conflict to the discourse on early cinema, from which dominant
theories and revisionist histories had elided them. Yet i a dialogue now might
bgin between social historians and flm historians, it is bound to have it
own dialectic. Cinema studies practitioners may now be learning that there
cannot be satisfctory flm history without adequate social history, but one
may also ask if there can be satisfactory social history without an adequate
history of flms.
"The struggle over the movies," the author wrote in Movie-Made Americ
"was an aspect of the struggle between the classes" (123). In "Early Sileo;
Cinema,'' in direct reference to Elizabeth Ewen's social history perspective,
Miriam Hansen writes, "I was not merely the space [of viewing] that consti
tuted a new public sphere, a public sphere of a new type; it was the interaction
between the flms on the screen and the 'flm in the head of the specta
tor.' "55 From diferent viewpoint,, these remarks point to diffculties inherent
in social histo.ries' limiting their consideration of cinema to the social inter
action of persons within a theater space. Cinema in this sense i diferent from
the saloon and the dance hall and other cultural sites valorized in radical
social history of popular culture. Whatever cinema was as this type of social
experience, it was also a mass communications medium with esthetic, ideo
logical, and psychological dimensions. Its social contestation ultimately arose
in relation to flm spectatorship as a mental experience.
For more than a decade the influence within cinema studies of Athus
serian Marxism and bourgeois flm history reisionism has positioned that
nexus beteen "flms on the screen and the 'flm in the head of the specta
tor' " as a one-way process of hegemonic domination. Radical social historians
and radical flm historians have challenged the ideological underpinnings
as well as the historiographic wealmesses of flm history revisionism and,
from the author's perspective, have reafrmed and considerably extended
te argument about class and cultural struggle over cinema in Movie-Made
A.
The next task is to renew the debate-in the United States, perhaps
to engage it substantvely for the frst time-over Althusserian concepts not
only concering ideology as representation but also concering its purported
' capacit to interpellate subjects. One way to begin is through a reconsid
eraton of the value for this project of the Benjaminian notion of tentieth-
32 Oh! Athuse!
century mass media liquidating "the traditional valueof the cultural heritage."
In this perspective, the history of cinema is not a sidelight to contemporary
historiography, it assumes a central place within it. Film hL>tory is both a nec
essary and an appropriate site for a rlalogue within Marxian historiography
over cultural representation and reception.
NOTES O
Acnowledgment: The author would like to thank Adrienne Harris, Barbara
Melosh, Chrles Musser, and Daniel Walkwitz for their helpful critidsms of earlier
da of this essay.
1. Jonathan M. Wiener, "Marxist Theory and American Historians" (Paper pre
sented at a session entitled "Marxism as an Organizing Theme i Recent American
Historiography," 7 April 1983, Cincinnati, Ohio).
2. This talk was later expanded into the essay "The Poverty of Theory or An
Orrery of Errors," in E. P. Thompson, Te Pove ofTheory and Othe Essays (New
York Monthly Review Press, 1978), 1-210.
3. Ibid., 46.
4. Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Toward an In
vestigation)," in Lenin and Philosoph and Other Esays, trans. Ben Brewster (New
York Monthly Review Press, 1971), 12786. Jane Gaines gives a brief explanation for
the importance of Althusserian Marxsm to the development of cinema studies dis
course in Great Britain in "White Privilege and Looking Relations: Race and Gender
in Feminist Film Theory," Cultural Critue, no. 4 (Fall 1986): 62-63.
5. Terry Eagleton, "Toward a Science of the Text," in his Criticism and Ideolog:
A Study in Marxist Literary Teor (London: NewLef Books, 1976), 64-101; Eagleton,
Marxim and LiterarCim (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976); Pierre
Macherey, A Teor ofLiterary Poduction, trans. Geofrey Wale (London: Routledge
and Kegan Paul, 1978; original French edition, 1966).
6. For an overew on the British debate, see Richard Johnson, "Three Prob
lematics: Element of a Theory of Working-Class Culture," in Working-Clss Culture:
Studies in Historand Tbeor, ed. J. Clarke, C Critcher, and R Johnson (New York: St.
Martin's Press, 1979), 201-37, notes on 282-88.
7. Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses," 173.
8. Ibid., 162.
9. Thompson, "The Povof Theory," 37.
10. Ibid., 30.
11. On the Society for Cinema Studies, see Ramona Curry, "25 Years of SCS: A
Socio-Political History," jourl ofFilmand Video 38, no. 2 (Spring 1986): 43-57.
12. Stanle Cavell's talk, "Leopards in Connecticut," was published in The Georgia
Revie
W
, Summer 1976, and eventually became a chapter in his Pruits ofHapiness:
Te Hollywood Comed ofRarge (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
1981), 111-32.
13. On the subject of refereed jourals, see Virginia Wright Wexman, "Editor's
Introduction," Cinema jourl 25, no. 3 (Spring 1986): 3-4, and a reply by Peter
Lehman, Cinema jour/ 25, no. 4 (Summer 1986): 59-60.
33
14. A rare debate in print on theoretical issues was launched in a monograph
length "review" of Stephen Heath's Questions ofCinema by Noel Carroll, "Address
to the Heathen," October 23 (Winter 1982): 89-163. Heath's response was "Le Pere
Noel," October 26 (Fall 1983): 63-115. Carroll had the last word in "A Reply to Heath,"
October 27 (Winter 1983): 81-102.
15. Althusser, "Lenin and Philosophy," in Lenin and Philosoph and Othe Esys,
23-70.
16. See Charles Musser, Before theNicelodeon: Edwin S Porterand te Edison
Manufacturing Company (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).
17. Patricia Mellencamp and Philip Rosen, ee., Cinem Histories, Cinema Pac
tices (Frederick, Md.: University Publications of America, 1984), ix.
18. Thomas Elsaes <er, "Fihn History and Visual Pleasure: Weimar Cinema," in
ibid., 47-84; other papers in the "Cinema Histories"-section are Edward Buscombe
"Bread and Circuses: Economics and the Cinema," 3-16; Philip Rosen, "Securing th
Historical: Historiography and the Classical Cinema," 17-34; and Michael Silverman,
"Italian Film and American Capital, 1947-1951," 35-46. Additional papers from the
conference with feminist perspectives were published in a separate volume, Re-Vn:
Esys in Feminit FilmCriticism, ed. Mary Ann Doane, Patricia Mellencamp, and Linda
Williams (Frederick, Md.: University Publications of America, 1984).
19. Siegfied Kracauer, From Caligari to Hit/ere A Pschologicl History ofthe
Gennan Film (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947).
20. Elsaesser, "Film History," 71, 77, 78.
21. Patrice Petro, joless Streets: Women and Melodramatic Representation tn
Weimar Gemany (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), esp. chap. 1. Other
Elsaesser essays on Weimar cinema include "Social Mobility and the Fantastic: German
Silent Cinema," WideAngle 5, no. 2 (1982): 14-25, and "Lulu and the Meter Man: Pabst's
PandoraS Box," in German Film and Literature: Adptations and Transformations
ed. Eric Rentschler (NewYork: Methuen, 1986), 40-,59.
'
22. Robert C. Allen and Douglas Gomery, FlmHistorc Theor and Practice (New
York: Aled A. Knopf, 1985).
.
23. Works cited are E. H. Carr, What Is History? (London: Macmillan, 1961); Carl
Becker, "Historical Relativism," in Te Varteties of Histor: From Voltaire to the Pesent
ed. Fritz Stern (New York: Vintage, 1972); and David Hackett Fischer, Hitorins' Fat
lcic Toward a Logic of Historicl Tought (New York: Harper & Row, 1970).
24. Allen and Gomery, Film History, 17. The full discussion covers pp. 3-17.
Works by Carl G. Hempel cited are "The Function of General Laws in History,'' jour
nal of Philosoph 39 (1942); "Explanation in Science and History" and "Reasons and
Covering Laws in Historical Explanation," both in Philosophicl Analsis and Hitory,
ed. William H. Dray (New York: Harper & Row, 1966). The basic Realist text cited is Roy
Bhaskar, A Realist Theor of Science (Atlantic Highlands, NJ.: Humanities Press, 1978).
25. Paul Veyne, Wri History: Essay on Epistemolog, trans. Mirra Moore
Rinvolucri (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1984; original French edi
tion, 1971 ), 105 and passim.
26. Thomas Elsaesser writes of Allen and Gomery's book in a reew essay, "The
New Film History," Sight and Sound 55, no. 4 (1986): 248: "a possible sense of unease
- tomes from the fact that they only intermittently reflect on why they study flm at all,
rather than turning their formidable powers of analysis to the motor indusuy or the
tobacco trade."
34 Oh! Althus e!
27. Barbara Klinger, " 'Cinema/Ideology/Criticism' Reisited: The Progressive
Text," Screen 25, no. 1 Oan.-Feb. 1984} 41-42, commenting onjean-Luc Comolli and
Jean Narboni, "Cinema/Ideology/Criticism, Part I," Screen 12, no. 1 (Spring 1971 ), par
tial translation by Susan Bennett of an editorial from Cahies d Cnema 216 (Oct
1969). For flm theorists' approach toward historiography, see Iris 2, no. 2 (1984), with
nearly a dozen articles on theory of cinema history.
28. David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson, The Cls icl Holl
wood Ci
. Film Stle and Mode of Poduction to 1960 (New York Columbia
University Press, 1985). See also Dana Polan, Power and Paranoi: Histor, Narative,
and the American Cinema, 1940-1950 (New York Columbia University Press, 1986).
29. See Marcia Landy, Fascism in Film: The Italian Commercil Cinema, 1931-
1943 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), and james Hay, Populr Film
Culture in Fascit Ital: Te Passing of the Rx (Bloomington: Indiana Universit'
Press, 1987).
30. A sampling of historical studies by younger scholars at home both in history
and theory includes Jonathan Buchsbaum, Cnem Engage: Ftlm in the Populr Front
(Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1988); Ella Shohat, Israeli Cinema, East/West and
the Politics of Reresentation (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989); Antonia Lant,
Blckout: Women and Briti Cinea in World War Two (Princeton: Princeton Univer
sity Press, forthcoming); and Tom Gunning, D. W Gfth and the Origin of American
Narative Film (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, forthcoming).
31. Robert Sklar, Movie-Mad Amec: A Culural History of Americn Movi
(New York Random House, 1975); Garth Jowett, Film' The Democratic A (Boston,
Little, Brown, 1976).
32. Sklar, Movi-Md Americ, 3. Additional citations will appear in the text.
33. Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses," 173.
34. Ibid., 166. The postcript is on 183-86.
35. See Jean-Louis Baudry, ''Ideological Efects of the Basic Cinematographic
Apparatus," trans. Alan Williams, Film Quarterl 28, no. 2 (Winter 1974-75} 39-47;
original French publication, 1970;jean-Louis Comolli, ''Technique and Ideoloy: Cam
era, Prspective, Depth of Field," trans. Diana Matias, Film Rear 2 (1977); original
French publication, 1971.
36. Russell Merritt, "Nickelodeon Teaters, 1905-1914: Building an Audience for
the Movies," in Tino Balio, ed., Te An Film Induty (Madison: University of
Wisconsin Press, 1976), 59-82; Robert C. Allen, "Motion PictUre Exhibition in Manhat
t, Beyond the Nickelodeon," Ctnema jourl 18, no. 2 (Spring 1979} 2-15. See also
Robert Clyde Allen, "Vaudeville and Film 1895-1915, A Study in Media Interaction,"
Ph.D. dissertation, University of Iowa, 1977.
37. Robert A Woods and Albert J. Kennedy, T Zn of Emerence, abridged
and edited with a preface by Sam B. Warner,Jr. (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Universit
Press, 1962). The original manuscript was prepared in the years 1907-14.
38. Allen, "Motion Picture Exibition," 14.
39. Press accounts in New York Times, December 13, 21, 24, 25, 26, 28, 1908, give
details; New York's foreign language press is an unexplored resource for further study
ofthese important events.
4. Charles Musser has also challenged Allen's assertion that Italian workng
class immigrants were unlikely t be moviegoers, arguing that they attended those
35
very movi
'
theters hat Allen cotens were supported by middle-cla'S spectators;
see All

, Motion Ptcture Exhibiton, 9, and Musser, Beore the Nickelodeon 425.


For more extended critique of Allen's historiography see Musser, 'Aother Lok at
the Chaser Theory' "; Allen, "Looking at 'Another Look at the 'Chaser Theory' " nd
"M u l All "
a
24
;er s .. ep y to en, Studies in Visl Communiction 10, no. 4 (Fall 1984}
. .
41. Judith yne, "Immigrants and Spectators," Wide Angle s, no. 2 (1982} 32-40;
Mtrtam Hansen, Early Silent Cinema: Whose Public Sphere?" New German Critiue
29 (Wintr 1983): 147-84; an essay by Noel Burch, "Porter,.or Ambivalence," Screen 19,
no. 4 (tter?;78-79): 91-105, w also influential in reviving interest in the working
class wtthm cmema studies discourse.

.
42. Works cited include Russel Nye, T Uembar assed Muse. T Ppul Ar
t Amen
.
(New
.
York: The Dial Press, 1970); Lewis jacobs, The Rise of the Americn
Ftlm, A Cnucl Htstory (New York Harcourt, Brace, 1939); and Jowett, Film.
43. Eli Zaretsky, Capilim, 7be Famil, and Personal Lie (New York Harper &
Row, 1976); Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy, Monopol Capitl, An Esay on the Americn
Economic and S

cil Orde (New York Monthly Review Press, 1966).


44. Mayne, Immigrants and Spectators," 38, 39.
45. Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses," 162.
.
46. Oscar Negt/Alexander Kluge, 0
.
/entlichkeit und Erahrung. zur Organis
tions-analse von burgerlice und proletariche O.ff entlickeit (Franktt Suhrkap,
1972);
_
se als? Eberhard Knodler-Bunte, "The Proletrian Public Sphere and Political
Orgamzatton, New Geman Critiue, no. 4 (Winter 1975): 51-75.
47. Hansen, "Early Silent Cinema," 157.
48. Ibid.
49. Ibid., 158.
so. lbid., 159.
51. Elizabeth Ewen, "City Lights: Immigrant Women and the Rise of the Mo "
Si l
rwr
tes,
gn
:
Jour 0 women tn Culture and Socit 5, no. 3 Supplement (1980} SS1 n. 1S.
Addtttonal citations will appear in the text.
52. Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"
Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1968), 2
53. Roy Rosenzweig, Eight Hour for Wat We Will: Worker and Leisure in an
Indutril Cit, 1870-1920 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1983), 1. Addi
tional ctattons will appear in the text. Another historical study touching on early
cema ts Lary May, Screening Out te Past: The Birth of Mas Culture and the Motion
7tctur Indus? (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980). See also the chapter
Amencan Mtton Pictures and th Ne Ppular Culture" in Daniel]. Citrom Meda
and he Americn Mind: Pram Morse to McLuhan (Chapel Hill: University of North
Carohna Press, 1982} 30-59.
54. Kathy Peiss, Ch Amusen Workin Women and Leisure in Tur-of
te-Centur N York (Phtladelphta: Temple University Press, 1986), is an important
radical soctl htstory study concering places of heterosocial interaction such as the
dance hall and amusement park Her treatment of the cinema is broad and thorough
but breaks little new research ground.
55. Hansen, "Early Silent Cinema," 158-59. Words cited within the quotation are
fom Alexander Kuge.