This article investigates women's roles as cinema projectionists, and transformations in women's spectatorship, in Britain during World War II. Between 1939 and 1945 the British Cinematograph Exhibitors' Association (CEA), among other organizations, encouraged women to train as projectionists when the government conscripted men into the armed forces. The “projectionettes” experienced unequal pay, often chaotic training programs, and patronizingly sexualized portrayals in contemporary press reports. Yet without women projectionists, British cinemas would not have been able to operate during the war. This essay traces their histories and daily working lives through archival materials and the trade press. Moreover, by situating their work in a broader narrative about gendered spectatorship, the article proposes that owing to changing labor conditions, women gained new perspectives through their experiences in the movie theater. Investigating women projectionists is a valuable strategy in a broader reexamination of British film exhibition, points of view, and the proliferation of “women's cinema” during wartime.
The Coming of the Projectionettes: Women's Work in Film Projection and Changing Modes of Spectatorship in World War II British Cinemas
Rebecca Harrison is a lecturer in British cinema at the University of East Anglia. Her research examines how cinema both shaped and represented encounters with modernity in British culture from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. Her work also investigates gender, national identity, and wartime filmmaking and exhibition practices. A monograph based on her research, From Steam to Screen: Cinema, the Railways and Modernity, is forthcoming from I. B. Tauris.
Rebecca Harrison; The Coming of the Projectionettes: Women's Work in Film Projection and Changing Modes of Spectatorship in World War II British Cinemas. Feminist Media Histories 1 April 2016; 2 (2): 47–70. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2016.2.2.47
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