Movies under the Influence

2024
Author:

Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece

A cultural history of the enduring relationship between film spectatorship and intoxicating substances

Exploring the effects of intoxicants on film spectatorship, Movies under the Influence charts their entangled histories from early cinema through the psychedelic 1970s. Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece examines the implicit relationship mind-altering substances suggest between mass media, spectatorship, and governmental regulation, offering a new angle from which to understand cinema’s lasting role in evolving American culture.

In this fascinating history of the ‘intoxicated spectator,’ Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece wisely avoids an ethnography of stoners fondly, if hazily, remembering the first time they saw Eraserhead. Instead, she takes on the more ambitious and useful task of considering how the film industry attempted to understand, regulate, and occasionally exploit the various ‘substances’ circulating in the bloodstreams of their theaters. Deftly combining a cultural and industrial history of drugs, cinema, and theatrical exhibition, Szczepaniak-Gillece persuasively demonstrates that all cinematic spectators, be they sober or variously dosed with nicotine, caffeine, booze, dope, or psychedelics, present exhibitors with patrons who are at once uniquely embodied individuals and abstract targets for control.

Jeffrey Sconce, Northwestern University

Movies under the Influence charts the entangled histories of moviegoing and mind-altering substances from early cinema through the psychedelic 1970s. Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece examines how the parallel trajectories of these two enduring aspects of American culture, linked by their ability to influence individual and collective consciousness, resulted in their being treated and regulated in similar ways. Rather than looking at representations of drug use within film, she regards cinema and intoxicants as kindred experiences of immersion subject to corresponding forces of ideology and power.

Exploring the effects of intoxicants such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, and psychedelics on film spectatorship, Szczepaniak-Gillece demonstrates how American movie theaters sought to cultivate a dual identity: as both a place of wholesome entertainment and a shadowy zone of illicit behavior. Movies under the Influence highlights the various legislative, legal, and corporate powers that held sway over the darkened anonymity of theaters, locating the convergence of moviegoing and drug use as a site of mediation and social control in America.

As much as substances and cinema are points where power intervenes, they are also settings of potential transcendence, and Movies under the Influence maintains this paradox as a necessary component of American film history. Recontextualizing a wide range of films, from Hollywood to the avant-garde, this book examines the implicit relationship intoxicants suggest between mass media, spectatorship, and governmental regulation and offers a new angle from which to understand cinema’s lasting role in evolving American culture.

Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece is associate professor of English and film studies and director of film studies at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.

In this fascinating history of the ‘intoxicated spectator,’ Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece wisely avoids an ethnography of stoners fondly, if hazily, remembering the first time they saw Eraserhead. Instead, she takes on the more ambitious and useful task of considering how the film industry attempted to understand, regulate, and occasionally exploit the various ‘substances’ circulating in the bloodstreams of their theaters. Deftly combining a cultural and industrial history of drugs, cinema, and theatrical exhibition, Szczepaniak-Gillece persuasively demonstrates that all cinematic spectators, be they sober or variously dosed with nicotine, caffeine, booze, dope, or psychedelics, present exhibitors with patrons who are at once uniquely embodied individuals and abstract targets for control.

Jeffrey Sconce, Northwestern University

Eminently readable and brimming with amusing anecdotes, Movies under the Influence argues that drugs and cinema have been discursively and ideologically entwined since the early twentieth century. Through formidable archival research, Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece shows how U.S. exhibitors and government agencies’ fearful fascination with inebriated spectatorship developed as part of larger attempts to mediate and control the American experience.

Caetlin Benson-Allott, author of The Stuff of Spectatorship: Material Cultures of Film and Television

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Archives under the Influence

1. Efficient and Erotic Pleasures: Cigarettes and Coffee and the Movies

2. Getting Drunk with the Movies: Exhibition and Prohibition

3. Drowsy Drugs: The Inside Dope on Dope

4. Escape from Selfhood: Psychedelic Exhibition and the Escape from Self

Conclusion: Magic Mirror in My Hand

Notes

Index