By Bob Vornlocker
The Media History Digital Library and DOMITOR (“the international society for the study of early cinema”) have released a comprehensive digital collection of Moving Picture World, a film industry trade publication that reported on the important developments and releases in the growing movie business.
The years between 1907 and 1919 saw a transition of public media consumption to what we would consider a traditional film medium: the theater. Now that digital editions of the first 12 years of Moving Picture World are available online for free, researchers can begin to piece together a more complete account of what was going on in the film business as movies gained a cultural foothold.
The collection holds 12 years of information that should be incredibly valuable to film scholars, a category of academia that suffers greatly from a lack of primary sources suitable for scholarship. Historians and film critics alike should be excited by this work because it creates a definitive base upon which to rest our modern understanding of film history and how film theory has developed since the turn of the 20th century.
In its comprehensive coverage of everything film, Moving Picture World is almost an early-20th century, more professional Variety magazine. The 70,000 pages released hold film reviews, profiles of actors and directors, details of technological improvements, and ads for films that will allow readers to look back in advertising history.
Blogs and social networks serve many of the functions that Moving Picture World did in its time. However, they also allow people to interact with their media landscape on a greater scale; free blogs allow amateur and professional critics alike to practice their craft, aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes provide a rough gauge of how good a film is, and social networks like Twitter point people towards exciting social developments (like broken box office records, or an actress’ failed marriage).
The full-text search engine that is provided for perusing Moving Picture World will allow for greater interaction with the document. People will be able to pinpoint specific snippets of information that they want to consume and skip over the rest, as opposed to flipping through pages and passively consuming the advertising messages. On the other hand, these advertisements give a glimpse into old marketing, and so could also be valuable to scholars of communications. In a way, the efforts of DOMITOR and the Media History Digital Library have retro-fitted Moving Picture World to create a historical new media source out of an “old media” publication.