Almost an Institution: Sustaining Rural Exhibition in South Australia (1897-1935)

Author: William Walker

Walker, William, 2017 Almost an Institution: Sustaining Rural Exhibition in South Australia (1897-1935), Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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This thesis is a study of film exhibition in rural South Australia up until the mid-1930s, a time when film exhibition in remote townships was threatened by advances in technology, economic depression and the tightening of government regulations. Unlike traditional film histories that focus on the production and aesthetics of film, the thesis aims to give agency to those who worked in the exhibition arm of the film industry and the major role they played in making cinema-going central to the culture of rural townships. A secondary purpose is to highlight the activity of film exhibition in general South Australian history, which has to date failed to recognise the importance of cinema-going in rural communities.

The thesis will explore the history of silent film exhibition in South Australia as a background to the structure of the industry in operation at the advent of the talkies and the onset of the Great Depression. Through the use of primary sources, mainly newspapers and government records, it will identify how the exhibition industry developed, how cinema as an institution was challenged by other institutions such as the church and morality groups, and how it was regulated at two levels of government – State and Federal. It will examine the models of exhibition that operated in rural South Australia, which ranged from cinemas linked to capital city circuits in the few large industrial towns to remote halls with wooden forms as seating. It will present two case studies of rural exhibition models, which were sufficiently different from each other to demonstrate that the diversity of exhibition and cinema-going.

The thesis will look at how the Great Depression, which began in South Australia one year before the Wall Street Crash of 1929, affected the exhibition industry and how this was compounded by new technology – the introduction of the talkies. A further challenge to the industry’s survival was the extension of government regulations to remote townships. The ability of the small end of the industry to survive these challenges demonstrates how entrenched cinema-going was in the culture of rural communities. It will also examine the hierarchy of film distribution throughout rural regions and investigate whether, in the absence of detailed box-office information, film popularity can be determined by other measures.

Keywords: New Cinema History, Rural Film Exhibition, South Australia, Itinerant Exhibitors, Cinemas

Subject: Humanities thesis, Creative Arts thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2017
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Mike Walsh