“Enter the dream-house”: evaluating the role of English cinemas in public emotion, spatial appropriation, and notions of modernity, c.1930-1960

Jones, James (2018) “Enter the dream-house”: evaluating the role of English cinemas in public emotion, spatial appropriation, and notions of modernity, c.1930-1960. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

This thesis asserts the importance of cinemas as influential sites of public emotion within mid-twentieth-century England. It argues that, as institutions, they offered much more than a recreational experience, allowing the formation of emotional communities within an environment which, on an affective level, differed from many other forms of public leisure activity. It combines approaches from the history of emotions and the history of space to introduce a novel methodological approach which allows a reassessment of the role of cinemas in twentieth-century life. The intersection between space and emotion is strengthened by using the records of Mass Observation, an archive imbued with powerful emotional narratives. In conjunction with two case studies of cinemas in Brighton and Bolton, which offer vivid local perspectives on historical cinema-going, the thesis argues that cinemas allowed cinema-goers to enhance, suspend, or even invert, their emotional comportment. This was permitted within a physical environment which fostered a hazy emotionality attractive to many people wishing to escape the dominant social codes of the age, such as the much-debated “stiff-upper-lip”.

The thesis suggests that whilst cinema-going was a universal activity, the economies of different towns affected the types of cinemas and the emotional landscapes within. It also highlights how cinemas were caught up in contemporary debates on working-class passivity, the considerable strains affecting the emotions of the nation’s youth, the face of the modern, and the value of emotional authenticity. Public emotion within the cinema auditorium was moulded by many factors, including gender, the darkness of the space, the reactions of one’s fellow patrons, film taste, and the emotional ambiguity of the space. The case of mid-century cinema-going reveals how public emotion developed in England within the context of mass culture, straddling a permeable line and oscillating between the private and the communal in spaces such as the cinema, allowing people to develop and contest their sense of emotional self.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > History
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion pictures
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 04 Jan 2019 10:59
Last Modified: 04 Jan 2019 10:59
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/80921

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