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Movies & the Working Class

New York Construction Workers A study of the rise of movie attendance in Worcester, Massachusetts 1904 - 1920, makes virtually no reference to individual films or film programs. The focus is on the sociology of the film experience: the appeal of the medium to the working-classes; the competition between movies and other forms of leisure including live theatre and the saloon; the democratic seating; licensing regulations as one explanation for the rise of storefront nickelodeons in New York and Chicago; the short nickel programs and the long working days; the lack of a structured time scheme, in contrast to the exacting job-related time demands; the numbers of women and children and the boisterous nickel atmosphere; the "graded aromas" of American period entertainments: "...part of the shocked reaction of middle-class observers was not to the actual physical conditions of theatres themselves but simply to the presence of large numbers of working-class people, who acted, looked, and smelled differently from themselves." Not until the end of WW1 did the cinemas of Worcester succeed in attracting a sizeable middle class audience. There are here specific references only to two films, both directed by D W Griffith. THE FATAL HOUR (1908) "...may have offered a moralistic attack on the white slave trade, but working-class viewers may simply have seen it as an action-packed melodrama." There is information relating to the sociology of the period but not much on the films themselves or Worcester audience reactions to individual films. An exception: in 1915, the city's mayor said that BIRTH OF A NATION was "the greatest thing I have ever seen in the way of a moving picture." In a 1978 interview, one-time movie entrepreneur, Fred Fedeli, who arrived in Worcester from Italy in 1907 at the age of 13, spoke of the appeal of the film experience to fellow immigrants. The audiences that frequented the Bijou theatre he operated with an older brother and a cousin were "of every nationality under the sun." Apart from those two titles, there are no references to any of the numerous films projected at the Bijou or to varieties of audience response.

1.^ Roy Rosenzweig, "From rum shop to Rialto: workers and movies" in Eight hours for what we will: Workers and leisure in an industrial city, 1870-1920, Cambridge University Press, 1983, pp.191-221.

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