Southern screens : locating early cinema in Dunedin
This thesis sets out to investigate the development of, and the audience perspectives of, cinema during its first three decades in Dunedin. This thesis argues that the "American Model" of early cinematic development should not be applied to a history of Dunedin's experience of cinema. Instead, this thesis argues that the development of cinema in Dunedin was shaped by the "frontier town" nature of its nineteenth century beginnings, the lack of a rigid class structure typical of Old World societies, and the duality of American and British cultural influences. First arriving in Dunedin in November 1896, the cinematic medium charted a precarious path during its infancy and its long-term survival was by no means guaranteed. The popularity of vaudeville and live shows, the difficulty and the technical problems that plagued early exhibitions led many to believe that it would soon be condemned as merely a "passing novelty". However, Dunedinites' enthusiasm for cinema never waned and by the conclusion of the First World War, it had surpassed live shows as the predominant entertainment medium in the city. Unlike previous studies that have investigated the roles that filmmakers and exhibitors played during Dunedin's early cinematic history, this thesis is primarily concerned with audience experiences of early cinema. In particular, it explores how early cinema was received by its citizens, and the impact that cinema had upon their lives and social interactions. In its first three decades of existence, the cinematic medium was peerless in its ability to provide an hour or two of escapist pleasure which afforded adults and children alike the opportunity to relax from the stresses of daily life and indulge their imaginations. Much of the information gathered in this thesis comes from first hand recollections of early cinema from Dunedinites who were there to witness it, by way of Otago Daily Times editorials and St. Kilda Memory Bank interviews. By and large, its findings support the belief that early cinema developed in an entirely different manner in Dunedin to European and American cities. From the outset, cinema going was regarded as an activity for all classes and a "special occasion" for Dunedin audiences. To an isolated and largely untravelled audience, it educated and entertained viewers in equal measure, thrilling them with depictions of exotic scenes from far away locales. By researching audience perspectives of early cinema, this thesis offers a new insight into the social and cultural habits of early twentieth century Dunedinites and provides a template for future similar projects in other New Zealand cities.
Advisor: Kearsley, Geoff
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Media, Film and Communication
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis