Cameo Theatre

620 56th Street,
Kenosha, WI 53140

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LouRugani on March 1, 2022 at 4:06 pm

(continuing -) To better understand the cinema of the past, a turn to some notion of ‘the popular’ seems a logical step. But determining what ‘the popular’ means is not straightforward. At the very least, popularity has both quantitative and qualitative dimensions, as Janet Thumim observes. Some of the more recent movie histories that have attempted to engage with notions of ‘the popular’ employ a ‘top-down’ approach which considers only the quantitative aspect of the popularity of movies, typically using the trade press as a source of movie rental revenues which are employed as a rough-and-ready index of movie popularity. This approach certainly comes closer to objectivity than simply choosing which films to look at, but it introduces other problems, which mainly arise because of the stratified nature of movie production and distribution under the studio system, and the implications that the structure of these industries had for the revenue-earning potential of movies of different classes.

Simplifying the intricacies of the movie business for the purpose of illustration, the American movie industry produced three broad classes of feature film: prestige ‘A’ movies destined initially for the larger first-run cinemas; lesser ‘B’ movies which either played as supporting features for ‘A’ movies or headlined in smaller cinemas and, finally, what might be thought of as sub-‘B’ feature films — generally from poverty row and independent producers — which played as supporting features in larger cinemas, and/or provided the main feature film or one half of a double feature in smaller independently owned theatres. The contracts under which films were distributed had different rental terms for different classes of movie. So while ‘A’ and some of the better ‘B’ movies were generally rented on a percentage basis that gave the distributor a cut of the actual admissions receipts taken at the box office, the lower classes of movies usually earned a flat fee for each booking (often a very small amount. This flat rental rate effectively functioned as a ‘cap’ on the potential earnings of those movies; it determined the maximum a film could earn from any booking regardless how popular it proved to be with the audience. Furthermore, ‘A’ movies played larger, more prestigious cinemas and thus had the potential to attract larger audiences to each show; audiences that were paying higher prices. The net effect of these typical rental practices was the creation of a commercial environment which was structurally biased in favour of the prestige movies. This bias militates against the use of published revenue figures as a simple index of popularity. A high rental revenue figure for a film only tells us that the film earned a large amount of money. It is true that, generally, it will follow that a film which earned high revenues was widely distributed and popular with moviegoers, but what is missing from this picture is any sense of the qualitative popularity of the lower classes of films, whose earnings were inevitably smaller than those of prestige movies and which are thus effectively excluded from any quantitative measure of popularity based on revenues, but which nevertheless may have possessed a resonance for contemporary audiences. To gain a better sense of what cinemagoers saw and liked, a more nuanced approach to the appraisal of popularity is required.

The case study presented in this article does not purport to resolve all of these difficult issues, but it provides a suggestion of what a more fine-grained method of assessing audience engagement with movies might look like and gives a glimpse at the results that it can achieve.

The study looks at movie exhibition in a single small cinema, The Chief in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1941. It is, therefore, a study on an extremely small scale, and no claim is made that the results of this research can be simply extrapolated to larger scales. On the contrary, the argument made here is that larger-scale patterns of cinemagoing would need to be examined with the same attention to detail as this study. This case study outlines a method and an example; it does not providea simple scalable model. The primary source of data used in the case study is a set of microfilmed copies of the Kenosha Evening News held in the Kenosha Public Library. Cinema advertisements contained in the newspaper list all the films that played each of the city’s cinemas, including all of the supporting features. This permits the development of a detailed picture of what films were playing, where and when. The advertisements do not, however, provide any sense of the size of the audience at the Chief on any given day. For this reason these data are supplemented with box office data obtained from the collection of film billing sheets contained in the Stanley Warner Collection at the Warner Brothers Archive at the University of Southern California. This collection of film billing sheets is not complete, resulting in some gaps in the financial data. However, where available, these documents provide detailed information about the admissions receipts (box office takings) for individual shows and reveal the rentals due from the exhibitor in respect each movie. Finally, in order to provide a way of classifying the films contained in these datasets in terms that are meaningful within film studies, the American Film Institute film catalogue is used to identify the genre of each movie.

 Moviegoing at the Chief Theatre, Kenosha,Wisconsin, 1941.

The Chief was a small cinema in downtown Kenosha, an industrial city situated on the Western shore of Lake Michigan between Chicago and Milwaukee. Kenosha had slightly fewer than 49,000 inhabitants by the early forties and was the home of Nash Motors and Jockey, the underwear manufacturer, both of which had large factories in the city, which provided the main sources of employment. Established in 1835, Kenosha had grown considerably in population between the turn of the Twentieth Century and the 1930s as large numbers of immigrants to the USA moved to the city to take up residence and employment. Like the nation as a whole, Kenosha suffered economic and social hardship during the Great Depression but, by the city’s centenary celebrations in 1935, there were signs of recovery and returning confidence, with the local newspaper asserting that ‘Kenosha can look forward to a future of promise’.

Republic 1940: Come on Leathernecks - Republic 1938: Covered Wagon Days - Republic 1940: Damaged Goods - 1937 Dezel: Dance Girl Dance - RKO 1940: Danger Ahead - Monogram 1940: Danger Flight - Monogram 1939: Dangerous Lady - PRC 1941: Death Rides the Range - Superior 1939: Desert Bandit - Republic 1941: Doomed to Die - Monogram 1940: Dreaming Out Loud - RKO 1940: Drums Along the Mohawk - Fox 1939: Drums of the Desert - Monogram 1940: Emergency Landing - PRC 1941: Federal Fugitives - PRC 1941: Flying Deuces - RKO 1939: Footsteps in the Dark - WBFN 1941: Forty Thousand Horsemen and a “Girl” - Teitel 1941: Frontier Crusader - PRC 1940: Fugitive From Justice - WBFN 1940: Gambling Daughters - PRC 1941: Gambling on the High Seas - WBFN 1940: Gambling With Souls - Superior 1936: Gangs of Chicago - Republic 1940: Girl From Havana - Republic 1940: Girls of the Road - Columbia 1940: Girls Under 21 - Columbia 1940: Great Train Robbery : Republic 1941: Haunted Honeymoon - Metro 1940: Hell’s Angels - Astor 1930: Heritage of the Desert - Paramount 1939: Hidden Gold - Paramount 1940: High School Girl - Astor 1934 High Sierra - WBFN 1941: Hit Parade of 1941 - Republic 1940: I Want a Divorce - Paramount 1940: I’m Still Alive - RKO 1940: In Name Only - RKO 1939: Jesse James - Fox 1939: King of the Lumberjacks - WBFN 1940: King of the Newsboys - Republic 1938: Kit Carson - UA 1940: Kitty Foyle - RKO 1940: Knights of the Range - Paramount 1940: Law and Order - Universal 1940: Law of the Pampas - Paramount 1939: Law of the Wolf - Superior 1939: Legion of the Lawless - RKO 1940: Light of Western Stars - Paramount 1940: Lone Wolf Meets a Lady - Columbia 1940:,Marked Men - PRC 1940: Melody and Moonlight - Republic 1940: Men Against the Sky - RKO 1940: Midnight Limited - Monogram 1940: Military Academy - Columbia 1940: Murder in the Air - WBFN 1940: Murder on the Yukon - Monogram 1940: Mutiny on the Elsinore - 1937: Mystery Plane, Monogram - 1939: Notorious But Nice, Astor - 1933: Oklahoma Renegades, Republic - 1940: Only Angels Have Wings, Columbia - 1939: Outside the 3 Mile Limit, Columbia - 1940: Panama Patrol, Superior - 1939: Paper Bullets, PRC - 1941: Penny Serenade, Columbia - 1941: Phantom of Chinatown, Monogram - 1940: Pony Post, Universal - 1940, Pride of the Bowery, Monogram - 1940: Private Detective, WBFN - 1939: Ragtime Cowboy Joe, Universal - 1940: Rain, Astor - 1932: Rancho Grande, Republic - 1940: Robin Hood of the Pecos, Republic - 1941: Rookies on Parade, Republic - 1941: Rustler’s Valley, Paramount - 1937: Saga of Death Valley, Republic - 1939: Santa Fe Marshall, Paramount - 1940: Santa Fe Trail, WBFN - 1940: Savage Gold, Superior - 1933: Scarface, Astor - 1932: Scatterbrain, Republic - 1940: School for Husbands - 1937: Secret Evidence, PRC - 1941: Secret Valley, Superior - 1937: Secrets of a Model, Dezel - 1940: Shadows Over Shanghai, Superior - 1938: Shenandoah Valley Showdown, Paramount - Sinful Souls Sis Hopkins, Republic - 1941: Sky Bandits, Monogram - 1940: Sky Devils, Astor - 1932: Smashing the Money Ring, WBFN - 1939: Smashing the Vice Trust - 1937: Soldier and the Lady, RKO - 1937:Something to Sing About, Superior - 1937: Son of the Navy, Monogram - 1940: South of Panama, PRC - 1941: South of the Border, Republic - 1939: Stagecoach War, Paramount - 1940: Stagecoach War, Paramount - 1940: Strawberry Blonde, WBFN - 1941: Streamline Express, Astor - 1935: Submarine Patrol, Fox - 1938: Swanee River, Fox - 1939: Tear Gas Squad, WBFN - 1940: That Gang of Mine, Monogram - 1940: The Bat Whispers, Astor:- The Crime of Dr. Crespie, Republic 1935 - The Crouching Beast, Superior 1935: The Devil Bat - PRC 1940: The Human Monster - Monogram 1940: The Letter - WBFN 1940: The Lion Has Wings - UA 1939: The Monster Walks - Astor 1932: The Phantom Strikes - Monogram 1938:- The Sea Hawk WBFN, 1940 - The Sea Wolf, WBFN 1941 - The Virgin Bride/The Wrong Road, Republic 1937 - Three Faces West, Republic, 1940 - Tomboy, Monogram, 1940 - Torpedo Raider, Monogram, 1935 Tough Kid, Monogram, 1938 - Trail of the Silver Spurs, Monogram, 1941 -Two Fisted Rangers, Columbia, 1939 - Una Donna Fra Due Mondi,1936 - Under Texas Skies Republic, 1940 - Undercover Agent, Monogram, 1939 - Vampire Bat, Astor, 1933 - Wallaby Jim of the Islands, Superior, 1937 - Winners of the West, Universal, 1940 - Wyoming Outlaw Republic ,1939 - Young Bill Hickock, Republic,1940 - Young Buffalo Bill, Republic, 1940 - Yukon Flight, Monogram, 1940.

 Published in Colin MacCabe. The Eloquence of the Vulgar: Language, Cinema and the Politics of Culture. (London: BFI Publishing, 1999), 147-162. [2] Ibid. [3] See, for example, Balio, T. The American Film Industry. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985); Balio, T. Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise, 1930-1939. (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1995); Bordwell, D., Staiger, J. and Thompson, K. The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960. (London and New York: Routledge, 1988); Thompson, K. and Bordwell, D. Film History: An Introduction, 3rd Edn. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2009); Staiger, J. Interpreting Films: Studies in the Historical Reception of American Cinema. (Princeton: Princeton issue 2, November 2010, Page 310, University Press, 1992); Staiger, J. Perverse Spectators: The Practices of Film Reception. (New York: New York University Press, 2000); Waller, G. Ed. Moviegoing in America: A Sourcebook in the History of Film Exhibition. (Malden MA and Oxford: Blackwell, 2002); Waller G. and Musser, C. Eds Main Street Amusements: Movies and Commercial Entertainment in a Southern City, 1896-1930.(Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995); Gomery, D. Shared Pleasures: A History of Movie Presentation in the United States. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992); Gomery, D. The Hollywood Studio System: A History. (London: BFI Publishing, 2005); Allen, R. and Gomery , D. Film History: Theory and Practice. (New York and London: McGraw Hill, 1985), Klinger, B. Melodrama and Meaning : History, Culture, and the Films of Douglas Sirk. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994); Klinger, B. Beyond the Multiplex : Cinema, New Technologies, and the Home. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006); Maltby, R. and Craven, I. Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995); Stokes, M. and Maltby, R. American Movie Audiences : From the Turn of the Century to the Early Sound Era. (London, BFI Publishing, 1999); Maltby, R., Stokes, M. and Allen, R. Going to the Movies: Hollywood and the Social Experience of Cinema. (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2007); Fuller K. H. At The Picture Show: Small Town Audiences and the Creation of Movie Fan Culture.(Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996); Fuller-Seeley, K. H. Ed. Hollywood in the Neighborhood: Historical Case Studies of Local Moviegoing. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008); Jancovich, M., Faire, L. and Stubbings, S. The Place of the Audience: Cultural Geographies of Film Consumption. (London: BFI Publishing, 2003) and Chapman, J., Glancy, M. and Harper, S. The New Film History: Sources, Methods, Approaches. (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007). [4] Jameson, F. The Political Unconscious. (New York, London: Routledge,2009), 6. [5] Anon., ‘What the Picture Did For Me’, Motion Picture Herald, Vol. 146 No. 1, (3 January 1942), 46. [6] Anon., ‘What the Picture Did For Me’, Motion Picture Herald, Vol. 145 No. 12, (20 December 1941), 66.

(At this point it is only fair to note also Kathryn Fuller-Seeley’s observation that reports in ‘What the Picture Did For Me’ were not necessarily particularly representative of those of the general public either.) Fuller-Seeley, K. “What the Picture Did For Me”: Small Town Exhibitors’ Strategies for Surviving the Great Depression’ in Fuller-Seeley, K. (2008); Thumim, J. Celluloid Sisters: Women and Popular Cinema. (Basingstoke and London: Macmillan, 1992). Figures published in Variety and the Motion Picture Herald are typical sources of data for this approach to the measurement of popularity. See, for example, Chopra-Gant, M. Hollywood Genres and Postwar America: Masculinity, Family and Nation in Popular Movies and Film Noir. (London: I B Tauris, 2005).

This is an over-simplification and, particularly, omits a variety of ‘short subjects’, newsreels, cartoons and other material that supported feature films. It is, however, a sufficient account for the purposes of this article and, if anything, the existence of such an array of other material strengthens my argument for the need to examine closely the composition of cinema programs instead of focusing on the major feature films alone. The percentage rate for movies in the former category was variable, depending on the particular terms of each rental contract. Audiences which, incidentally, likely also saw lesser movies as supporting features in these shows. What cinemagoers liked might not always have been films. Live performances, bingo and promotions for consumer goods like dinnerware and books were often part of the cinemagoing experience. The possibility that cinemagoing in itself was a greater attraction for audiences than any particular film represents one of text-based film studies’ great blind spots. For a fuller account of these other pleasures of cinemagoing see Glancy, M. and Sedgwick, J. “Cinemagoing in the United States in the Mid-1930s: A Study Based on the Variety Dataset” in Maltby, R., Stokes, M. and Allen, R. C. Going to the Movies: Hollywood and the Social Experience of Cinema. (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2007). Not all the films in the dataset are listed in the AFI Catalog and in some cases the Internet Movie Database is used as an alternative. In the few cases where neither database has a listing for a film, genre is implied from the advertisement in the Kenosha Evening News. Wright’s Kenosha City Directory. (Milwaukee: Wright Directory Company, 1941), 13. ‘Kenosha’s First Century’ Kenosha Evening News 15 June 1935.

On the other hand it is worth noting that the entry for the cinema on the website describes it as having a ‘checkered on-again-off-again history’, so perhaps the difficulties were particular to this cinema. (See, for example, Advertisement for Chief theatre, Kenosha Evening News, 27 March 1941, Advertisement for Chief theatre, Kenosha Evening News, 10 October 1941, Advertisement for Chief theatre, Kenosha Evening News, 8 November 1941, Advertisement for Chief theatre, Kenosha Evening News, 9 November 1941, Advertisement for Chief theatre, Kenosha Evening News, 24 January 1942, Gomery, D. The Hollywood Studio System. (London: BFI Publishing, 1986), As Kevin Heffernan notes, ‘the lucrative first-run theaters … comprised only 15 percent of the total theaters in operation but garnered 70 percent of the nation’s box office receipts’. (Heffernan, K. Ghouls, Gimmicks and Gold: Horror Films and the American Movie Business 1953-1968 (Durham NC and London: Duke University Press, 2004). It is perhaps worth emphasising here that small cinemas such as the Chief did play ‘A’ movies, but only late in their runs, often several years after release. This is certainly consistent with one of the findings of Handel; that almost half of the audience in his study was ‘nonselective’, going to the movies to see ‘any picture’ rather than a particular film. (Handel, L. A. Hollywood Looks at its Audience (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1950), 152-153). This is an area where this study could undoubtedly be improved by more sophisticated methods. Genre classifications in this article have been taken mostly from the American Film Institute listings for the films. The AFC catalogue lists genres individually so that if a movie is a ‘musical comedy’ it is listed as both a musical and a comedy but not as a ‘musical comedy’, which is not, therefore, recognised as a distinct genre in itself. For the purpose of this study it has been difficult to determine how to deal with such cases since it is not always readily apparent what weighting to give to the different components of the generic hybrid: should be given equal weighting where both appear in the catalogue listing, or is the film in question really a musical with a few gags or a comedy with a couple of songs? The compromise adopted has been to simply treat the film as whichever genre the AFC catalogue lists first. This accounts for the surprisingly low number of musicals in this table (most of the films are listed as comedies first). A more sophisticated method of analysis employing a system of weighting generic components for hybrid films would probably change the picture slightly from the one presented in this table. Reviewing the film under its alternate title, ‘Vice Racket’, Variety (19 May 1937), 23 classed the film as a ‘sex piece’. Film Daily (29 April 1937) called it a ‘sex film’ in an article on the banning of such movies in Council Bluffs, Iowa and neighbouring city, Omaha, Nebraska. Films of this type were also often referred to as ‘vice movies’. Unlike many of the films discussed in this article, Gambling With Souls has been released on DVD. Variety (19 May 1937) 23 judged the lead actress’s performance thus: ‘Her drama is atrocious, and her emotional display amusingly hammy. The Chief typically had three runs each week, a midweek, three-day run on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and two ‘weekend’ runs of two days each: Friday/Saturday and Sunday/Monday. It has so far proven impossible to identify this movie. Neither the AFI Film Catalogue nor the IMDB has a reference to it under any title. The only reference to the movie found thus far is in Boxoffice (26 January 1946), which reports that the movie had been rejected by the Chicago censors in 1945, and links the movie to the distributor, Dezel. 1941 Film Billing Sheets for this distributor — in the Warner Brothers Archive — make no reference to this film, however. Possibly it was being distributed by a different company in 1941. (Advertisement for Chief theatre, Kenosha Evening News 25 April 1941, Advertisement for Chief theatre, Kenosha Evening News 28 April 1941) No revenue figures are available for this engagement. Also released under the title Marriage Forbidden. If, as seems likely, word-of-mouth publicity played any part in the success of the two earlier adults only shows then it is quite possible that the midnight preview of Damaged Goods would have been counter-productive. Unlike Gambling With Souls, Damaged Goods contains no explicit scenes, and the fact that it is essentially a morality tale about the risks of contracting venereal disease from casual sexual encounters likely meant that it would have a limited appeal to audiences seeking sex and scandal. Mademoiselle Ma Mere (1936 Decoin France): No box office revenue figures are available. The existence of such a culture would explain the relative lack of popularity of Damaged Goods; a film which — on the face of its publicity — promised similar pleasures to sex films that succeeded in attracting a larger audience. Benoit Mandelbrot. The Fractal Geometry of Nature, San Francisco: Freeman, 1983), Dixon, W. W. ed. American Cinema of the 1940s: Themes and Variations. (Oxford: Berg, 2006) 180-181.

Acknowledgements: The research presented in this essay was made possible by a grant from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (project grant number: 119137). Mike Chopra-Gant is Reader in Media, Culture and Communications at London Metropolitan University. Contact Mike: .uk

LouRugani on March 1, 2022 at 3:46 pm

Dirty Movies, or: why film scholars should stop worrying about Citizen Kane and learn to love bad films (Mike Chopra-Gant, London Metropolitan University, UK, Volume 7, Issue 2 (November 2010) Abstract) This article presents an empirical case study of cinema exhibition at a small downtown cinema in an industrial city in the American midwest in the early 1940s. The case study is used to advance an argument that film scholars have too often based their selection of films for study on personal taste, and that film studies has thus evolved around a set of films that does not represent the films which ordinary moviegoers saw and enjoyed. The article argues for the need for film historians to pay greater attention to those films that demonstrably meant something to ordinary cinemagoers in order to produce a more reliable account of the cinema of the past.

In a lecture given in 1992, Colin MacCabe — borrowing an evocative phrase from Dante—spoke of the “eloquence of the vulgar”. ‘Text and society are not separate categories’ argued MacCabe, ‘but ones which mutually illuminate each other’, implicitly calling for an approach to the analysis of cultural ‘texts’ that pays attention to the most commonplace cultural texts andto the social contexts within which such ‘texts’ exist. While there are probably few scholars today working in film and cultural studies who would disagree strongly with this approach, it has more often than not been the case in practice that scholars have been drawn to the exemplary or exceptional in popular culture—auteur cinema,‘quality’ television, cult movies etc. — leaving the most ‘vulgar’, mundane, everyday cultural forms and contexts relatively unexamined.

By way of a case study of cinemagoing and movie exhibition practices in a small Mid-Western city in the early 1940s, this article aims to demonstrate the divergence between the tastes of film scholars and ordinary historical audiences, and show what the analysis of hitherto neglected types of films, and the contexts in which they were consumed, can tell us about cinema andhistorical movie cultures. McCabe’s call for attention to be given to both vulgar ‘text’ and context appears unremarkable at first sight but, on closer examination, it is possible to see that it raises some problems when applied to the artefacts of popular culture and their relationships with the social contexts in which they are produced and consumed; the major problem being that of deciding which texts to look at when trying to obtain a reliable historical sense of the society, the culture, the period weare interested in. There have long been film scholars interested in grounded, historical understandings of films and their contexts. More recently, interest in contextualised understandings of films has grown considerably in importance within academic film studies as the seminal work undertaken by Tino Balio, David Bordwell, Kirsten Thompson, Janet Staiger, Gregory Waller, Douglas Gomery and Robert Allen, to name only a few of the pioneers of film history, has been taken up and advanced by Barbara Klinger, Richard Maltby, Melvin Stokes, Kathryn Fuller-Seeley, Mark Jancovich and Mark Glancy among others. .However, on the whole, historical and contextual interest in movies has been subordinated to the more dominant approach to academic film study, which is predominantly interested in the film as ‘text’, and has approached the study of movies through various theories of textual meaning and methods of textual analysis, often paying little attention to the larger social and cultural contexts in which those movies existed. Thus constituted, this dominant tendency in academic film studies has been built upon the repression of what Fredric Jameson has called the ‘political unconscious’ of the text, and around a framework that he described as a ‘rewriting’ of the meaning of film texts ‘according to the paradigm of another narrative, which is taken as the former’s master code or Ur-narrative and proposed as the ultimate hidden or unconscious meaning’ of the film in question.The dominance of this approach — itself a legacy of the way that film studies evolved historically from within literary study — has had a profound impact on the study of films. Insofar as this article is concerned, it is the way that emphasis on the film ‘text’ has tended to direct scholars’ attention toward a canon (or, more accurately, canons) of exemplary films that is problematic. In this respect one of the more recent developments in film study — and one that, to its credit, does direct attention toward movies ignored by more mainstream film studies —ultimately proves little better that the mainstream approach to which it sets itself in opposition. The growth of academic interest in what is frequently gathered together under the loosely defined and often misleading term ‘cult’ cinema has been one of the most dynamic developments in film study in recent years. However, ‘cult’ is a category that encompasses a broad range of lower grade movies variously alternatively described by scholars as ‘paracinema’ (Sconce),‘trash’ or ‘exploitation’ cinema (Schaeffer), ‘sleaze’ (Hawkins) and ‘body genres’ (Williams). This attention to hitherto neglected movies is to be welcomed, but this way of grouping together a disparate collection of often quite unrelated movies under the banner ‘cult’ (or, indeed, any other banner that might be used) appears to be driven more by a drive to legitimize these movies within a canon of their own; one set in opposition to the mainstream film studies canon, perhaps, but ultimately just another canon derived by particular intellectual processes and priorities rather than the historical realities of ordinary moviegoing. This is, then, a very different project from the one embarked upon in this article, which sets out to achieve the very opposite of canonization; to break down the distinction between one canon and another and reinsert the movies thus liberated from canonical captivity into the ordinary, everyday moviegoing culture of American in the 1940s. It is a central contention of this article that the focus on canons (whether mainstream or oppositional) and their component texts produces — or at least amplifies — a disjuncture between text and society by imposing an inorganic separation between equally artificial classes of films, thus circumnavigating the relationship between ‘text’ and its contexts of consumption, which McCabe rightly suggests is fundamental to the understanding of the ‘text’. Put simply, film studies’ focus on canonical movies raises an important question: can the ‘texts’ carefully selected for attention by a sub-group of ‘society’ that is as unrepresentative of society in general as film scholars undoubtedly are, really ‘illuminate’ much about society and its culture? Citizen Kane (Welles 1941 USA) may well be a preeminent example of the filmmaker’s art and it has certainly received its fair share of praise and critical attention from film scholars, all of which might seem to imply that it should be considered a ‘significant’ film in its time. But contemporary reports from cinema managers suggest a rather different conclusion, commenting that ‘it may be a classic, but it’s plumb “nuts” to your show-going public’ and that ‘we had a good many walkouts and the general consensus of opinion was that it was terrible’. Such reports imply a failure by Citizen Kane to capture the imagination of ordinary audiences at the time of its release and thus problematise any suggestion that it should be thought of as particularly emblematic of the cinema of its time. By extension, the same point could be made more generally of film studies’ canons of exemplary movies: they are the product of the tastes of an exceptional group (or groups) and, as such, reveal little about the ordinary, everyday dimensions of cinema in the past. If film scholars’ tastes can provide little insight into the preferences and practices of ordinary cinemagoers, then, the question arises again: how do we determine which ‘texts’ will illuminate the society that those cinemagoers inhabited?

dallasmovietheaters on May 10, 2021 at 4:40 am

The Burke Theatre was announced in 1913 and launched May 16, 1914 as a movie house. As the Burke, the final film ran October 20, 1925 as “The Live Wire” with Johnny Hines. The theatre was gutted by a fire early the next morning. The Saxe Amusement Circuit took on the venue relaunching as the Cameo Theatre on July 10, 1926 with “The Wilderness Woman.” The Fox Circuit took over the Saxe theaters including the Cameo in January of 1928 with the Cameo not transitioning to sound and closing.

The Cameo was used for church services until Willard Miller took on the venue. he installed wide range sound equipment relaunching the Cameo on September 17, 1933 with “Hat Check Girl” at the grand reopening. The theatre was then renamed the Chief Theatre - a name it retained until new owners too over in July 1943. Francis Schlax changed the name to the Ken Theatre on July 23, 1943 as a continuous-run, popular price, second-run discount house or grind house. It relaunched with Mickey Rooney in “The Human Comedy” supported by “Yanks Ahoy.” Standards Theatres closed the venue as the Ken Theater in January of 1945.

LouRugani on February 17, 2021 at 3:19 pm

(July 7, 1926) Cameo Theater Opens Saturday On Burke Site - Restored Saxe Theater is One of City’s Finest Picture Houses Like a beautiful object of art chiseled by a master craftsman and set in miniature,, Kenosha’s Cameo theater will open Saturday on the site of the old Burke building. True to its name the theater has been fashioned into a compact work of beauty with beautifully blending colors and restful contours. The name, which won first prize in a recent contest directed by James E. Morrissey, manager of the Saxe-theaters in Kenosha, was suggested by Mrs. Eleanor Casey Schmitz and was chosen as particularly appropriate to the style of theater into which it has been made.

Lovely Decorating

The interior of the Burke theater which was razed by fire several months ago was almost entirely wrecked and in its place the Cameo theater was fashioned. Decorations throughout are characteristic of cameo design and the colors used are a soft shell pink blended with a dust blue. Wall panels are stippled in two shades and are framed in polychrome borders. Simplicity is dominant in drapes and mural decorations. The tiny lobby will contain a number of full length mirrors and will be hung with delicate shaded drapes on which are painted cameo medallions. Lighting effects in the theater will retain the cameo colors and blend the pink and blue into a soft laveder shade.

Is Cozy Theater

The Cameo theater seats only 400 people and is small in comparison to others of the city but its size adds to the effect of coziness and comfort aided by the most modern fixtures and conveniences. The new seats are broad and comfortable with wide aisles and ample spacing. A new ventilation system forces air through the building constantly and will maintain the reputation of the theater for its cool atmosphere in summer. To facilitate the showing of pictures a new Day-lite silver sheet has been supplied as well as the most modern of projection machines.

Picture Programs

It is planned by Mr. Morrissey to bring the cream of the year’s film offerings to the Cameo theater and there with artistic surroundings to show them to the best advantage. The program will begin on Saturday which is the official opening day of the theater. Thereafter the picture program will be changed twice a week on Sunday and Wednesday. One of the most remarkable features of the restored theater is its new $18,000 Barton organ which has been installed. Miss Edna Van Wald Tavlin will be organist. As a specialty, Orthman’s Harmony Orchestra of Janesville which played at the Burke some time ago has been engaged to furnish music for the new theater alternating with the organ.

LouRugani on October 20, 2020 at 9:59 pm

(July 21, 1943) – Announce New Policy for Chief – Chief’s Name Changed to Ken Theater and Also Inaugurates New Policy —– Francis' Schlax, manager of the Kenosha theater, announced today that a new policy had been adopted by the Chief theater for the future months — and in addition he also announced that the theater known as the Chief would undergo a change of name also. In the future it is to be known as the Ken theater. The change of policy according to Schlax is that the theater, starting this Friday and continuing each Friday, Saturday and Sunday thereafter, will show the main features which had been shown on the Kenosha or Gateway screens the first of the previous week. — Headline Attractions — As an example, Saroyan’s “The Human Comedy” starring Mickey Rooney together with “Yanks Ahoy” will open at the Ken this Friday and play through Sunday. These two films have been attracting large audiences at the Kenosha theater. In addition, next week’s showing will be “Lady of Burlesque” starring Barbara Stanwyck, which is the headliner attraction at the Kenosha starting this Friday. The new plan, according to Schlax, has been adopted to better accommodate the defense workers.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 12, 2017 at 11:36 pm

The May 1, 1926, issue of Moving Picture World said that Saxe Enterprises was engaged in reconstruction of the Burke Theatre in Kenosha. The house had been destroyed the previous October, and the company had been waiting for the $26,000 insurance settlement to come through before rebuilding. The house was expected to reopen in June.

LouRugani on April 29, 2014 at 2:08 pm

The architect was G. H. Pridmore of 35 West Dearborn Street, Chicago.

LouRugani on February 25, 2014 at 8:29 pm

(Film Daily, May 12, 1936) The CAMEO Theater, opened recently by Standard Theater Co., and operated for several weeks as a first-run, is again dark.

LouRugani on April 25, 2013 at 4:20 pm

The theatre was the BURKE between 1914 and 1925 and was renamed the CAMEO after the 1925 fire, then closed again in 1928. In 1934 it reopened as the CAMEO, then after 1937 it seems to have periodically opened and closed as the CAMEO, CHIEF and KEN before finally closing in 1945.

LouRugani on October 4, 2011 at 4:21 pm

(MOTION PICTURE, November 22, 1913) Kenosha, Wis.: Walter M. Burke and M. J. Isermann have invited bids for the purpose of building a theater, store and oilier building on Market square.

LouisRugani on April 27, 2011 at 4:04 pm

(November 15, 1934)
Kenosha, Wis. – An enthusiastic movie fan, who is collecting pictures of his movie stars, may be interrupted by a jail sentence if police catch him. The manager of the Cameo theater reports that almost every morning after he puts up new pictures in the display cases in front of his theater someone takes some of the photos. He asked the police to help catch the thief.

LouisRugani on January 8, 2011 at 11:01 am

Mike, thank you for that great and most-welcome essay on Kenosha’s long-forgotten CHIEF Theatre. I’ve posted a current photo of the CHIEF (nee BURKE/CAMEO) in the Wisconsin Theatres discussion group .

mikechopragant on January 7, 2011 at 9:32 am

My essay on the some of the films shown in this cinema in 1941 has now been published and can be found at:
View link

LouisRugani on August 11, 2010 at 3:12 pm

(August 11, 1921) Theater managers and owners of Kenosha held an important meeting on Tuesday evening in the offices of Dayton Brothers in the Dale Building and organised the Kenosha Theater Managers' association. Representatives of every theater in Kenosha were present at this meeting and became members of the new organization the purpose of which is to secure closer co-operation between the theaters on matters which require joint action. (Note: The Burke Theatre was next door to the Dale Building.)

LouisRugani on February 25, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Here is a spreadsheet with some early-1940s day-by-day bookings and other data at the then-CHIEF Theatre: View link

LouisRugani on February 8, 2009 at 4:26 am

Appleton Post Crescent, October 21, 1925: CHIEF HURT IN KENOSHA
Kenosha â€"</P)â€" Fire which broke out in the boiler room of the Burke
Theatre early Wednesday caused damages amounting to about $60,000. The building was completely gutted. In addition to the theatre a dozen offices above it were burned by the blaze. Chief John Schwartz was injured while fighting the fire when he fell down a rear stairway obscured by thick smoke.

mikechopragant on July 14, 2008 at 12:13 pm

Does anyone know where it might be possible to get hold of any old photos of this theatre, especially from the 1940s when it was known as The Chief? Also, if anyone has any contacts who worked at the theatre or even went there as audience members I woudl be very interested in getting in contact with them.

Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois
Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois on February 15, 2008 at 7:59 am

Actually 3 different organs were installed in this theater. While it was named the Burke Theater a Bennett Pipe Organ, Opus 881, a 2 Manual/9 Rank was installed in 1921. Again under the Burke name a Barton Pipe Organ, 2 Manual/3 Rank was installed in 1925. While the theater was under the Cameo name another Barton Pipe Organ, 2 Manual was installed. The Barton Pipe Organs were made in Oshkosh Wisconsin. It is not known what happened to any of these organs! If you know anything about any of these organs, please email us!

“Gee Dad, it was a "BENNETT/BARTON!”