Friday, November 20, 2009

Talkies and Continuous Showings

In 1930 -- several years after the arrival of the talkies -- The New Yorker continued to make references to the phenomenon, indicating that talking pictures were still a bit of a novelty. Here's a cute story from the January 11, 1930 issue:
No doubt about it, the talkies do complicate life. A talkie-goer has made this complaint: The other day she arrived in a theatre just before the conclusion of the feature picture. In the old days, to remain in pleasant ignorance of the outcome, she would have had merely to lean back and shut her eyes. Now, in addition to doing this, she has to put her fingers in her ears.
To understand this you need to recognize that movie theatres at the time showed "continuous showings." Unlike today -- when your ticket only buys you admission to a single showing of a film -- the early theatres repeated the same program all day: for example a newsreel, then a cartoon, then a short subject, then the feature film...and then right back to the newsreel again. You could watch the film multiple times if you wanted, though I imagine the ushers -- another bygone aspect of movie theatre culture -- would kick out loiterers, snoozers, and groping flappers eventually.

I mention this because I don't know if many people are aware that the continuous showing method ever existed. What's more, I can't even find out when it was certainly happening in the '50s (I'm sure that Wally and Theodore alluded to it in "Leave It To Beaver," which is probably where I first heard about it), and it certainly ended before I was a child (in the early '70s).

So I wonder: when did theatres switch to the current method? And why?

Incidentally I AM old enough to remember when theatre seats had ashtrays build into their arms. I can also remember the playing of the national anthem before the feature began: after the coming attractions, the curtain would lower, and then as it rose the anthem would begin to play. We'd all stand up and sing. The curtain would come down at the end, then finally rise at the beginning of the feature.

Hard to imagine that today, somehow.


Gary said...

Maybe it's the opposite of TV in the '60's - when there was a definite station sign-off, accompanied by the National Anthem; the image was a flag waving, or military aircraft flying in formation.

Then, of course, the test pattern, NTSC bars, or - nothing!

When did TV become 24/7? I don't remember.

GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I remember Penrod engaging in this behavior in Booth Tarkington's books. And that's all I can say about that.