Constellations of Cinema

Comparative Statics - 6 Viewer Windows
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This visualization represents emerging constellations within an expanding universe of cinema. In 1910 this universe was on the verge of producing its first superstars, with luminaries such as Florence Lawrence, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Pearl White and Helen Holmes becoming increasingly visible both on and off screen.

The maps above depict Los Angeles, Denver, Kansas City, Boston, Atlanta and Dallas using data derived from The Billboard magazine’s inventory of motion picture theaters (1910). The maps offer a ‘comparative statics’ view of six key regional hubs that shows cinema’s uneven development as it transitioned from the dispersed and localized nickelodeon era into a national institution with a newly imagined movie community dominated by Hollywood (you can also explore the Billboard dataset for the entire U.S. using interactive maps). The spread of that institution was greatly aided by the railroads, which expanded the space of film distribution, and became an important element in the narrative space of many films.

For a case study of this era, including a detailed analysis of the transition from the Motion Picture Patents Company’s short film programs to the serial and feature length narrative film formats, see Space, Place and the Female Film Exhibitor: The Transformation of Cinema.

Helen Holmes, star of the Hazards of Helen adventure film serial, in The Railroad Raiders (1917)