Regulating and mediating the social role of cinema in Scotland, 1896-1933

Bohlmann, Julia (2016) Regulating and mediating the social role of cinema in Scotland, 1896-1933. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis examines how early cinema’s social function was mediated by local and national institutions as well as civic agencies in Scotland between c. 1896 and 1933. It proposes a social-historical approach that is based on extensive archival research of documents such as local newspapers, town council minutes, education authority minutes and Scottish Office records. As an empirical and historical study it focuses attention on the social-historical circumstances of cinema exhibition and reception as proposed by New Cinema History.
The thesis’ main argument is that institutional responses fell into two categories – constraining and constructive strategies to negotiate cinema’s role in Scottish society. Parts 1 and 2 discuss strategies of control which sought to limit cinema’s social impact as a commercial institution while the third part is concerned with attempts to redefine cinema’s social purpose through the creation of alternative film cultures and exhibition practices.
The first part identifies for the first time the specificities of the legal and administrative framework within which cinemas were allowed to operate in Scotland before 1933. It contends that the legal basis of the framework was determined by the Scottish Office’s relationship with Britain’s central government, and that its application by local licensing authorities depended also on the dynamics of municipal power structures. A further argument is that Scottish licensing authorities were more resistant than their southern counterparts to interfere with the content of film shows and exercised control mainly through the regulation of the cinema space and negotiations with local cinema trade bodies.
Part 2 analyses British national debates about the legitimacy of cinema as well as film’s potential for education, providing a discursive context for the practices explored in the first part. Centring on the 1917 and the 1925 Cinema Commissions, it focuses especially on the perceived link between cinema-going and juvenile crime and film’s usefulness as a teaching aid. These themes are explored from a Scottish perspective incorporating local debates from Edinburgh and Glasgow. This part maintains that the discourse about the negative effect of children’s cinema-going and the debate on the potential teaching value of films were connected in that they both constructed the child as an impressionable spectator that required institutional guidance and protection.
Part 3 considers two constructive endeavours to shape early cinema’s social role in Scotland. It engages with the field of Useful Cinema and argues that this must not be confined to particular films or technologies but must include cinema exhibition practices that were religiously-, educationally- or politically motivated. First, municipal cinema is discussed as an alternative exhibition practice that tried to expand the role of the municipality as public service provider and match the ambitions of its organisers with the taste of local audiences. Second, the diversity of attempts to mediate cinema’s social role is once more illustrated in the case of the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society’s cinema and film work. This is explored diachronically and demonstrates that the Society’s engagement with cinema corresponded to broader contemporary debates discussed throughout the thesis. This part illustrates that the boundaries of cinema’s social function were constantly shifting during the period under consideration and that constructive strategies to define it anticipated characteristic strands of cinema culture emerging in Scotland subsequently.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: cinema history, Scotland, regulation, censorship, alternative exhibition, culture, civic cinema.
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GV Recreation Leisure
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts
Funder's Name: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Supervisor's Name: Caughie, Professor John and Velez-Serna, Dr. Maria
Date of Award: 2016
Depositing User: Ms Julia Bohlmann
Unique ID: glathesis:2016-7198
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 03 May 2016 09:56
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2016 09:39

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