The History of Film History
Eric Smoodin
There are other people who make the movies besides the artists and technicians
in Hollywood. Eighty-five million Americans go to see a picture every week . . .
[and] it is undoubtedly true that no art has ever been so shaped and influenced
by its audience as the art of cinema.
o began Margaret Farrand Thorp in her 1939
sociological study America at the Movies.1 We
learn a great deal about Thorp’s method-
ology from the title of her book as well as the chap-
ters in it—for example, “Eighty-Five Million a Week,”
“What Movie Tonight?” “Glamour,” “Cinema Fash-
ions,” “The Industry,” and “Reforming the Movies.”
For Thorp, the proper study of cinema was the audi-
ence, the relationships between films and consumers,
and the practices of the film industry. With her frontis-
piece photograph of a theater full of viewers watching
a movie she turned the audience into the stars of her
At about the same time as Thorp’s study, Robert
Gessner at New York University began teaching a
class titled “History and Appreciation of the Cinema”
(the syllabus I found dates from 1938). Gessner exam-
ined a different facet of cinema each week, with such
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