Friday 7 July 2017

The Lure of the Big Screen

With the kids home and the temperature rising, many families will undoubtedly be heading to the movie theatres this summer for a few hours of air-conditioned entertainment.

The lure of the cinema has been attracting Toronto families since 1906, when the city's first permanent theatre was opened by John Griffin under the name of the Theatorium. Throughout the twentieth century Hollywood productions only grew in popularity, as did the number of cinemas and number of cinema-goers. You can see some fine examples of Toronto's past movie theatres here.

Crowds at the Theatorium. The line up rivals those found at modern day movie premieres!

[c. 1910]

Fonds 1244, Item 320A
City of Toronto Archives

The Williams family at the Long Branch Theatorium.
The movie theatre has been a family gathering place for over a century.

[c. 1915]

Call no. 964-6-16
Toronto Reference Library
Finding movies that the whole family could enjoy was surely a daunting task. These days we have the benefit of the Canada video rating system to help us choose what movies our children should see, but an age-based rating system was not established in Ontario until 1946. How did parents determine what films their families could see before this?

Here in our archives I uncovered a copy of a letter from the Canadian Council on Child Welfare entitled an "Experiment in Approved Motion Pictures". It was written sometime in the 1920s, and promises to provide (upon request) a 'white list' of movies suitable for families and children. The movies on the list are guaranteed to be stimulating for children while remaining "free from sordid, sensual, brutal, and criminal detail."

Experiment in Approved Motion Pictures


MN WL01.46
Archbishop McNeil Fonds

Compiling such a list was surely a ground-breaking yet tedious task for its time. Unfortunately we do not have a copy of the white list in question, but I'm wondering what would have made the cut from this list of 1920s blockbusters.

Now, if you're still on the hunt for some summer movie recommendations, look no further! I found a list of films available for distribution by Picture Service Limited from the early 1920s that has a little something for everyone.

A list of films available for distribution by Picture Services Limited


MN WL01.43
Archbishop McNeil Fonds
The variety of films on this list is quite interesting. It opens with some church films available for purchase and ends with some dark, secular dramas. Just check out this movie poster for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde:

"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"

Public domain image, via Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, starring John Barrymore, is available to watch on YouTube. But be forewarned, it's a thriller. Viewer discretion is advised.

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