“A Good Show in a Good House to a Good Audience”: Early Film Exhibition in the Maritime Provinces, 1896–1919
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My dissertation investigates early English film exhibition in Canada’s Maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island) between 1896 and 1919. Particular focus is placed on the attempts made by exhibitors to attract and maintain targeted audiences throughout the transitional eras of motion pictures (1896–1919). The goal of this thesis is to investigate the history of motion picture exhibition in the English communities of the Maritimes while focussing on the moral, social, and practical concerns that this industry created in these communities during the transitional eras. This thesis links motion picture exhibition directly to the emergence of “modern life” which is also connected with enhanced discussions of mass entertainment, public health, public safety and moral betterment. Between 1896 and 1919 the early film industry experienced challenges from the “novelty era” of film exhibition (1896-1898), the rise of the nickel theatres (1907) to the close of the First World War and the end of the flu pandemic (1919)—a twenty-three-year time period which witnessed several “transitional eras” of film exhibition. It was also during these transitional eras that the Maritime provinces experienced the promise of advanced capitalism followed by the devastation of the Great War in popular society and the economy. This thesis explores the advertisements, give-aways and events that exhibitors used to attract and maintain a respectability as well as the government and public attempts to regulate the film industry, through licencing, regulation and censorship and the response of the film industry. Specifically this thesis investigates the baby give-aways, fire exit complaints and the films created in the Maritime provinces during the transitional eras. This thesis concludes that motion pictures were accepted in the Maritime provinces through negotiation, and it was the exhibitors who guided and championed this negotiation through advertising.