MAIN STREET AMUSEMENTS by Gregory A. Waller

MAIN STREET AMUSEMENTS

Movies and Commercial Entertainment in a Southern City, 1896-1930

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Waller (who teaches film and popular culture at the University of Kentucky) uses the movies and their commercial reception in Lexington, Ky., as a lens through which to examine the evolution of the entertainment business in small-city America, and to see how racial divisions affected that development. When movies arrived in 1896, Lexington was a ``small city with little heavy industry, few first-generation immigrants, a substantial African-American community, a preponderance of native Kentuckians, and a sense of itself as being southern.'' That was a time when the mere use of Thomas Edison's name could constitute a selling point, a time of high-diving horse acts and embalmed curiosities. From the start, though, movies were an attraction that crossed class, education, age, race, and gender lines in Lexington. By 1911 the motion picture was the city's most popular form of commercial entertainment. But Waller shows that the price of that ascendancy was controversy, from protests against the showing of D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation to repeated assaults on Sunday showings by religious leaders. Taking the history of Lexington's movie-going up to the coming of the sound film, Waller is able to trace how other forms of entertainment competed for an audience and how local exhibitors fended them off. The result is a valuable portrait of how a city and its culture were altered by the forces of technology, as well as an instructive history of early 20th- century culture wars that anticipated our own heated battles of today. Regrettably, Waller tells this fascinating story in academic prose that will probably limit his book's readership. That said, it is a useful work that earns a place on the shelf next to Scribner's superb History of the American Cinema series and the pioneering work of film historian Douglas Gomery. (34 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
ISBN: 1-56098-504-6
Page count: 320pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1995




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