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Sure Seaters

The Emergence of Art House Cinema

2000
Author:

Barbara Wilinsky

Sure Seaters

An engaging look at the development of the movie theaters that introduced American audiences to the masterpieces of world cinema.

By examining the development of the theaters that introduced challenging personal, and artistic films, Wilinsky offers a more complete understanding of postwar popular culture and the often complicated relationship between art cinema and the commercial film industry that ultimately shaped both and resulted in today’s vibrant film culture.

[A] thoughtful examination of the history of nascent art house cinema in America. Though art house cinema may loathe them, a sequel is indeed in order.

Journal of Popular Film and Television

By the end of the Second World War, a growing segment of the American filmgoing public was wearying of mainstream Hollywood films and began to seek out something different. In major cities and college towns across the country, art film theaters provided a venue for alternatives to the films playing in main-street movie palaces: British, foreign-language, and independent American films, as well as documentaries and revivals of Hollywood classics. A skeptical film industry dubbed such cinemas "sure seaters," convinced that patrons would have no trouble finding seats there. However, with the success of art films like Rossellini’s Open City and Mackendrick’s Tight Little Island, the meaning of the term "sure seater" changed and, by the end of the 1940s, reflected the frequency with which art house cinemas filled all their seats.

In Sure Seaters, Barbara Wilinsky explores the success of art film theaters in light of changes within both Hollywood and American society in the immediate postwar era. After defining what an "art film" was in this period, she looks at the rise of art house cinemas, their prewar predecessors, and the traditional film distribution system dominated by the Hollywood studios. She next looks at the appeal that art film theaters had for a certain audience, the efforts made by cinema owners to create an appropriately intellectual and exclusive environment, the role of film critics and censors, the expectations and attitudes of art house filmgoers, and the experience of attending art film theaters in the 1940s. By examining the development of the theaters that introduced such challenging, personal, and artistic films as The Bicycle Thief and The Red Shoes to American audiences, Wilinsky offers a more complete understanding of postwar popular culture and the often complicated relationship between art cinema and the commercial film industry that ultimately shaped both and resulted in today’s vibrant film culture.

Awards

A Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Sure Seaters

Barbara Wilinsky is assistant professor in the Department of Media Arts at the University of Arizona.

Sure Seaters

[A] thoughtful examination of the history of nascent art house cinema in America. Though art house cinema may loathe them, a sequel is indeed in order.

Journal of Popular Film and Television

Looks at art-house cinemas, how they operated outside the traditional distribution system, and the pivotal role of film censors and critics.

Library Journal

Sure Seaters takes us into the alternative to the mainstream movie palaces and their double features. British, foreign-language, and independent American films, as well as documentaries and revivals of Hollywood classics, again saw the light of day in these magical caverns. Superb photos depicting some of the theaters and advertisements are thoughtfully included. Sure Seaters is informative, nostalgic, and a nice read for anyone interested in the cinematic medium.

Brooklyn Spectator

A well-researched, workmanlike study.

The Moving Image

A valuable contribution to film scholarship. Wilinsky’s investigative study into an often under-explored area of film history, the art house cinema, is important.

Film and History