Sunday, April 26, 2020

Gary D. Rhodes Interviewed by the Chicago Tribune

Back on March 15th, my BELA LUGOSI AND THE MONOGRAM NINE co-author, Gary D. Rhodes, was interviewed by Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune about the effects of the 1918 influenza outbreak on the film industry and its parallels to today:

“There is a connection to be made to 1918,” argued author and University of Central Florida associate film professor Gary D. Rhodes. He wrote “The Perils of Moviegoing in America: 1896-1950,” a compelling account of fires, stickups, anarchist bombings, poor ventilation and communicable diseases coloring the darker chapters of film exhibition. 

“In 1918 nobody knew how to respond to the influenza (pandemic) or how long it would last,” Rhodes said. No two cities or states implemented regulations regarding the opening or closing of theaters the same way, or at the same time. In New York City, bucking most trends, city officials allowed theaters of all kinds to stay open through the worst of the 1918-early 1919 pandemic.

Yet the death toll in New York “wasn’t any worse than any other city’s death toll,” Rhodes told me. “Though that may have been pure coincidence.” Later than most cities, Chicago closed its theaters that same month. The movie industry lost an estimated $40 million in revenue nationally by February 1919. That’s nearly $623 million in 2020 dollars.

World War I-weary audiences wondered if the movies, then silent, were dead and gone. Some are wondering the same now, at least in the traditional brick-and-mortar multiplex world. Will our collective moviegoing experience convert to moviestaying only? How soon?

Recently postponed film festivals range far and widely, from the massive Austin, Texas, mainstay South by Southwest to the regional boutique favorite Ebertfest, held (though not this year) at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, Ill. The local Chicago Critics Film Festival, held annually at the Music Box, announced postponement Friday. The Chicago Latino Film Festival postponed its April 16-30 festival, slated for the AMC River East multiplex,

On March 9 longtime critic and festival programmer Robert Koehler tweeted: “Film festivals must now stop being public events. They must shift to online access and viewing. This requires some infrastructure work, but it can be done. Tell me that I’m wrong.”

Perils of Moviegoing" author Rhodes, for one, won’t go that far, and doesn’t see the coronavirus as the end of traditional moviegoing. “Theatrical exhibition is fragile,” he said, "and has been for a long time. This thing is going to be tough on so many industries. But people are not going to stop congregating. I mean, they will for a limited time — that’s what happened in 1918 and early 1919 — but that’s temporary. I find it difficult to believe that theaters will ever disappear entirely.”

To read the original article, click HERE.

And if you'd like to read my 2-24-13 Cryptoscatology review of The Perils of Moviegoing in America, just click HERE.

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