Movie Flourishes in the Jungle

Caption reads: “Testifying again to the popularity of the movies, here is a movie theater in a jungle. The “Louris Kinematograph” is situated in Rabaul, New Guinea. Every Saturday night, a show is held and the laughter of the savages can be heard for great distances.”

The “ad” for a theater that I have chosen to analyze today will actually create more questions than answers about the particular theater, setting, and the politics related with such. In the September 24th, 1920 Issue of Independence, Oregon’s “The Polk County Post”, included is a photo of a moving picture theater located in Rabaul, New Guinea. The title of the theater is is “Louris Kinematograph”, and why the theater was constructed as well as for what purpose it was included in this particular paper are inquiries worth pursuing.

We are given essentially no context for why this snippet was printed. The most likely case is that there was room on the page that they needed to fill and this sounded like an interesting, maybe “exotic” (exotic in a racist sense, as evidenced by the final sentence of the caption) tidbit to print. Interestingly, the first sentence of the caption sheds light on the relevance of film in society in general for that time with “Testifying again to the popularity of the movies…”. This implies that moving pictures were so socially relevant at the time, that the fact that this seemingly non-sequitur-esque snippet was included was inherently contextual in that movies were in the forefront of most people’s minds at that time.

The theater itself is, as much as we can discern from the photo, in an area lush with vegetation, which apparently gave the editor the freedom to imply that the theater is located in the wilderness, despite the fact that this is not the case in all likelihood. The caption tells us that the theater plays shows every Saturday night. As we have learned so far in class, movie theaters ironically used to be more multifaceted in their utilization than they are presently. Often theaters were the sites of social activities, other forms of art/entertainment, etc., which leads to the question of: What was this space being utilized for when it wasn’t a Saturday night?

Something else to investigate would be who was attending this theater. A quick Wikipedia search reveals that the area was captured by the British Empire during the 1910’s in a war-related acquisition. Could the venue have originally been constructed to provide troops entertainment on Saturday nights as opposed to catering to the Native population?

What is revealing about this is the blatant racism on display in the final sentence of the caption. So flippantly referring to the people of Rabaul as “savages” puts into perspective how socially acceptable such mindsets were in the early 20th century, and compounded with Oregon’s ironically anti-progressive history with the treatment of minorities and non-Western peoples, it’s certainly worth taking note of. Overall, it’s fascinating how the history of moving picture exhibition can lead to such intersectional inquiries and discoveries.

Sources:

“Movie Flourishes in the Jungle”. The Polk County Post,¬†24, Sept 1920.

“Rabaul” Wikipedia,¬†https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabaul