Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Newsreel Theatres

During late 1929, the Embassy Theatre in New York started a phenomenon: "The Newsreel Theatre." It was a massive hit, other theatres followed suit, and The New Yorker reporters -- though writing in their usual cynical way -- were obviously quite enchanted.

Whereas other theatres only played newsreels in between films, The Newsreel Theatre played them ALL DAY. They collected newsreels from all available sources and just kept playing them, morning and night, in ever-updated one-hour loops.

Radio had already been providing up-to-date news to listeners for several years, but this somehow struck a chord. Maybe it was the visual aspect, or the community feeling, or maybe it was the fact that it was the ONLY venue devoted entirely to news. The New Yorker, however, often mentions the simple joy of just dropping in at any time and never knowing what will come next: adventure stories, politics, opinion, debate, all put together without any logic whatsoever.

Interestingly, it wasn't long before smaller companies began shooting newsreels SPECIFICALLY for the theatres.

Anyway, in the December 28, 1929 issue of The New Yorker, here's a wonderful poem called "Recommendation" by Parke Cummings.
Shots of Mr. Hoover trouting,
Shots of weasels on an outing,
Speech by Czar of cruller-bakers,
Tricks employed by corset-makers,
Sounds of Bossy Gillis talking,
Sounds of albatrosses squawking,
Butterfly weighs sixty ounces,
Men in Denver take to flounces,
Crooning chants by Rudy Vallée,
Felines battle in an alley,
Clerk consumes, in South Dakota,
Twenty pies--his daily quota--
Kafir belles go in for blouses--
Here's to better newsreel houses.
If you're interested in learning more, Time Magazine wrote up The Newsreel Theatre here.


Gary said...

Yup, no doubt about it - newsreels were the visual medium of my parent's youth.

It's hard to conceive of a nickel or dime buying a Saturday afternoon's worth of entertainment - cartoons, two movies, and newsreels.

Of course, people used to snicker that it got the kids out of the house so that other entertainment could occur...

God bless the talkies!

Adam Thornton said...

Judging by the effects of 24-hour news on people these days, kids probably would have been better playing in the traffic!

Amazing to think that people still remember newsreels. I wish more of them had been preserved.