Turning the Page:
Digitalization, movie magazines and historical audience studies
A Conference organized by NoRMMA, CIMS and DICIS
Ghent University, 12-14 November 2015
Keynotes: Geneviève Sellier, University of Bordeaux
Eric Hoyt, University of Wisconsin-Madison
NoRMMA, the University of Kent’s Network of Research: Movies, Magazines and Audiences, and CIMS, the Ghent University’s Centre for Cinema and Media Studies, held a conference on the impact of digitalization for the study of movie magazines and historical audiences. The conference was supported by the Digital Cinema Studies network DICIS.
The recent advances in research made by proponents of New Cinema History underline the importance of extending the field of scholarly focus beyond the film text to the wider movie-going experience. While material objects such as company records, theatre ledgers and fan letters have now gained a respectable place in this research, the movie magazine, whether fan or trade, still seems to be neglected or regarded with suspicion. This is perhaps due to the fan magazines’ reputation for purveying scandal and gossip, their frequent mingling of gushing tone and blatant falsehood. Since the trade papers were aimed at industry insiders, theatre owners and exhibitors, studio employees and agents, periodicals such as Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and Motion Picture Herald have also been overlooked as somehow biased towards business interests.
However, by treating movie magazines as the objects of primary rather than secondary research, important findings can be generated.
As Anthony Slide has noted, in their heyday from 1920s to 1950s, there were around 20 major movie magazines on offer every month at American newsstands (2010: 3), with more offered in Europe and across Latin America; trade publications, though sold to and for different markets, were also produced in steady numbers within each country involved in film production and distribution. This resulting material gives investigators a huge potential resource for study, especially now that the digitalization of periodical collections is becoming more common. With the Media History Digital Library making multi-issues of both fans and trades available for download, one of the major problems with working on these publications – access – is partially solved, for researchers now and in the future when even fewer of these ephemeral artefacts may remain physically available.
Robert Scholes and Sean Latham, modernist magazine scholars, announced the birth of a new academic area of interest in 2006, periodical studies, and noted further that “The rapid expansion of new media technologies over the last two decades…has begun to transform the way we view, handle, and gain access to these objects. This immediacy, in turn, reveals these objects to us anew, so that we have begun to see them not as resources to be disaggregated into their individual components but as texts requiring new methodologies and new types of collaborative investigation.” (PMLA 121.2) The networks hosting this conference believe that the study of movie magazines can be just as revealing to film and cultural historians as the highbrow Modernist and Little Magazines, and that the fans and trades equally demand “new methodologies and new types of collaborative investigation.”
This conference therefore aimed to bring together researchers whose work examines movie magazines intended for any audience and from any period or locale. We attracted colleagues from a wide range of disciplines who wish to pose questions about how to read these artifacts, how to interpret them, and how to assess the impact of digitalization on periodical research.
Conference committee: Daniël Biltereyst, Liesbeth Van de Vijver, University of Ghent, Belgium; Tamar Jeffers McDonald, Lies Lanckman, University of Kent, UK.