By James Burns
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Additional resources for Cinema and Society in the British Empire, 1895-1940
But an economic recession, coupled with the over-construction of theaters, resulted in the near collapse of the movie (or ‘bioscope’ as it was called in Southern Africa) industry in 1913. W. 69 It is difficult to determine how many movie theaters there were in South Africa before the First World War. 72 While there is no comprehensive list of the theaters in the union, it is clear that the majority by 1918 were in the city of Cape Town. 74 These were not the only bioscopes in the district, and since District Six contained approximately 10% of the city’s population, it seems reasonable to assume that there were dozens of similar venues in the city’s other districts.
They saw the classic comedies and great epics of the early cinema age not long after they were released. Cabiria caused a sensation in Cape Town when it premiered there in 1915. Charlie Chaplin was the first movie star in South Africa, and from 1914 onwards his short comedies played perpetually throughout the city. South Africa from 1915 had its own entertainment magazine, South African Pictorial119 which was devoted to stories about Hollywood and London’s biggest stars. In sum, then, this region of the empire was fully integrated into the global film distribution network, and more and more came to be regarded as a ready market for European and American films.
The letter begins by explaining the broad threat posed by movies to social stability. ‘[T]he gasping sensationalism of these melodramatic picture stories, of which vice and crime supply the motive and movement, that is so deleterious, so demoralizing. Surprise following on surprise, shock succeeding shock, with crowded excitement and breathless rush of high-strung and violent action … . These moving pictures are shot into the brain with the flashing fury of a Gatling gun. And there is retained in the mind only those first, blinding images, a hurtling swarm of impressions.
Cinema and Society in the British Empire, 1895-1940 by James Burns