The Optical Vacuum: Spectatorship and Modernized American Theater Architecture

ISBN : 9780190689353

Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece
248 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Sep 2018
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Between the 1920s and the 1960s, American mainstream cinematic architecture underwent a seismic shift. From the massive movie palace to the intimate streamlined theater, movie theaters became neutralized spaces for calibrated, immersive watching. Leading this charge was New York architect Benjamin Schlanger, a fiery polemicist whose designs and essays reshaped how movies were watched. In its close examination of Schlanger's work and of changing patterns of spectatorship, this book reveals that the essence of film viewing lies not only in the text, but in the spaces where movies are shown. The Optical Vacuum demonstrates that our changing models of cinephilia are always determined by physical structure: from the decorations of the palace to the black box of the contemporary auditorium, variations in movie theater design are icons for how viewing has similarly transformed.


Introduction: The Theater, the Film, and the Spectator
Chapter One: Nostalgia for the Dark - Ben Schlanger and the Beginning of Neutralization, 1920-1932
Chapter Two: A Field of Light - Optics and the Demasked Screen, 1932-1952
Chapter Three: A Mobile Gaze Through Time & Space: Neutralization in the Era of Widescreen, 1950-1960
Chapter Four: Cinephilia in Ruins: An Audience of the Elite, 1960-1970

About the author: 

Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece is Assistant Professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her research focuses on spectatorship, exhibition, technology, and American film history, and she has published in various journals and books including Screen, Film History, Color and the Moving Image, World Picture, and 2ha.

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