The feeling of being caught between immersion in cinematic fictions and having one’s attention pulled away from them by a range of distractions has shaped the experience of cinema for many decades. In the 1910s, several developments emerged in tandem with each other: the promotion of films and their stars/directors, narrative becoming the dominant form of cinema production, and the materialization of tension between immersion and distraction for audiences. The environment in which 1910s promotional and narrational strategies thrived set the stage for how we have thought about the bodies of women on screen, behind the camera, and in the seats of the theater. This essay focuses on the example of Cleo Madison as a filmmaker, actress, and a site of discursive energy to explore these issues.

Oscillation between immersion and distraction—the feeling of being drawn into a movie or of being ejected from it and back into whatever space where one is watching it—has long been a source of fascination for cinema studies. Roland Barthes describes the feeling when coming out of a movie theater as both “dazed,” and doubled: “fascinated twice over, by the image and by its surroundings—as if I had two bodies at the same time: a narcissistic body which gazes, lost, into the engulfing mirror, and a perverse body, ready to fetishize not the image but precisely what exceeds it: the texture of the sound, the hall, the darkness, the obscure mass of the other bodies, the rays of light, entering the theater, leaving the hall.”1 Bodies in and out of the cinema have been shaped by decades of seesawing between immersion in fictions and various intertextual, situational, and other distractions. A spectator might well feel divided between knowing they are planted firmly in a seat in a specific row, theater, city, and time, and finding they are cast out of the body into the imaginative immersive space among the stars—or both at once.

This feeling develops in earnest and in tandem with promotional discourses that spring up in relation to the film industry around the mid-1910s, which is also not coincidentally the moment when narrative features take definitive hold of the cinematic imaginary. Together, these developments—film promotion, narrative dominance, immersion/distraction oscillation—not only happen at once but also seem to mutually reinforce a specific way of being at or near the cinema. Earlier cinema held a deeper imprint of attraction aesthetics than the cinema that came after this moment, such that the development of conventions leading to narrative integration was in one sense an effort to tame distractions in favor of immersion. Narratives thus developed parallel to the psychic shuttling between immersion and distraction. A similar dynamic characterizes the moment when promotional campaigns for films emerge. Associated discourses, accidental distractions, and intentional allurements have the power to tap into the film experience and to draw one away from it. The tension derives from the experience of the film coupled with everything off the screen (and offscreen) clamoring for attention—things that impinge on a spectator’s consciousness while watching the film, or that inform a spectator going into a film, or that haunt a spectator long after seeing the film.

I am especially interested in identifying issues relating to women that result from the tension I’m outlining here. As several scholars have pointed out, the female moviegoer holds sway over the development of these discourses in the United States and is a source of focus for industry and narrative concerns in films of the time.2 For this reason, I will focus on a couple of examples of films that categorically engage women—those on the screen, those in the theater seats, and those behind the scenes and the camera. Reflecting on how films courted female audiences, I attend to the example of Cleo Madison, as a filmmaker, actress, and as a ready site of discursive energy for these issues. The environment in which 1910s promotional and narrational strategies thrived set the stage for how we have thought about the bodies of women on screen, behind the camera, and in the seats of the theater (or at home, leafing through fan magazines); what follows here rethinks those relationships and reconfigures issues of identification within an environment where spectators are invited to accept the immersive and distracting features of the larger movie experience.

Narrative films as they developed through the 1910s increasingly cultivated immersion. Stories move forward by soliciting care and concern for situations and characters, their plights or pleasures. The idea is that by becoming empathically invested in these elements, the spectator becomes involved—if not entirely lost—in the drama. Immersion may also incorporate aspects of the cinema’s physical means of involving the spectator (e.g., larger screens, 3D, phantom rides). Tracing several strands of film theory that have addressed narrative absorption from the 1910s forward, Frank Kessler distinguishes among the many accounts that address its governing status: accounts that attribute immersion to the “dreamlike” qualities of the cinema experience, those that focus on the effects of cinema’s dispositif, those that encourage the spectator to accept the fictional mode of address, and those that try to “‘trick’ the body into being in that specific situation.”3 Immersion is seen to have a powerful (and sometimes dubious) effect on the spectator. A sense of the potency of immersive moving images effects has both buoyed and terrified spectators and reformers seeking to marshal these effects for good and not unhealthy purposes; it has galvanized filmmakers as well as motivated theorists to identify the causes and ramifications of these effects. These multiple perspectives speak to the range of influences immersion has had on engagements with cinema, equally from the perspectives of filmmaking and filmgoing.

Distraction likewise plays a part in the relationship between spectator and screen. Often conceived as a stance (or an experience) that opposes immersion, distraction can be highly personal or part of a mass appeal. A single spectator may feel herself to be individually addressed by some aspect of moving images both inside and outside of the theater itself; she may, for instance, be randomly reminded of another film or some aspect of her own life while watching the film. Then again, any number of interventions by the film industry may aim to enrich the film in front of her, but with the added effect of distracting her from it, by design. These interventions include everything from star or production discourses (telling readers about the filming of a movie or its stars’ successes or foibles) through theater design (starry ceiling, exotic decoration) or basing a film on a well-known novel that invites constant comparison. All have potential—whether tapped explicitly or not—to take the spectator a little distance from the film that exists within these contexts. Of course, they also have the potential to deepen the experience of a film by offering multiple entry points to its charms.

The interplay between the twin poles of immersion and distraction suggests that although in one sense each carries an opposite charge, they do not completely repel each other, but rather serve a similar purpose in activating spectatorial engagement. While immersive narrative strategies expanded through the 1910s (culminating in feature length, even epic narrative films as well as longer and more complex film serials), methods of advertising for films also began to evolve in shape, size, and structure. These include both direct promotional schemes such as posters, press books, and items in fan magazines that advertised coming films, as well as indirect methods of advertising—what Janet Staiger has called “a general human interest appeal” of film advertising.4 With the goal of creating an atmosphere of excitement and investment in a specific film or in filmgoing more generally, indirect promotion includes print entries not about the respective film’s story, exactly, but about surrounding discourses, such as film production circumstances (“Cleo Madison and her company have left San Francisco where they made Barbary Coast exteriors for a five reel feature, ‘A Soul’s Crucible.’”5) or the lives of stars in fan magazines (“Cleo Madison umpired a baseball game last Sunday when members of Yale Alumni played a game. She made good, believe me!”6). Tie-ins also developed in this moment, leading, for instance, to variations on films (short story adaptations of film narratives, e.g.) in print media.7

Other parts of the industry innovated ways of activating spectators a bit differently, with exhibitors offering a range of film-related events or gimmicks. For example, contests were proposed, aimed at bringing aspiring members of film audiences a bit closer to the films and stars they admired. In one case, Universal held a beauty contest in which the winner would appear in a film. Individual theaters might hold a parade or set up a giveaway connected to a specific film or as a prize for coming to see any film. For Staiger, these more indirect methods of advertising can be linked with twentieth-century monopoly capitalism, in that they saturate the market with adjacent, film-related products.8 In fact, these methods also generate a simultaneously immersive and distracting environment in which the lines between films and their spectators blur but without losing all definition. Indeed, most film spectators did not find their imaginative lives transporting them literally into the movies. There was only one winner of the beauty contest, after all, though the other competitors may have dreamed themselves a little closer to that realm. These strategies parallel the ways advertisers in other businesses addressed readers of movie trade journals like Photoplay. Ads began to associate actresses with beauty and luxury products, extending the allure of the stars into commercially available products one might bring into her very own home.9 Alongside these types of invitations to cross over into the world of the stars, there is also the appearance of advertisements for training to become photoplay writers, songwriters, and even (paralleling the storylines of many films of the time) detectives (figure 1). Such appeals entwine the impulse to sit back and watch AND the impulse to project oneself into the action. In being asked constantly to think of actors’ lives, brand preferences, and activity behind or in front of the camera, audience members productively oscillate between immersive impulses and distractions. This oscillation underpins and describes the nature of an experience of cinema for the canny female producers and consumers of cinema in this moment and well beyond it.

Figure 1.

Motion Picture Magazine, 1915.

Figure 1.

Motion Picture Magazine, 1915.

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Whether direct or indirect in their way of addressing a film’s audience, these promotional strategies engaged imaginations and motivated certain actions on the part of potential or actual viewers of films. A film industry environment that highlights what goes into that industry and invites spectators to engage with it from the outside shapes the resulting daydreams to the measure of knowing well (“but all the same…”) its manipulations and allurements.10 Cross-medial synergies can be energizing; the experience of the film is simultaneously channeled and amplified through engagements with media outside of the film. Association becomes indispensable to the film text; it becomes indistinguishable as part of one’s cinematic experience. Related discourses, signs, and products wind up playing a key role in engagements with the text. As Jonathan Gray puts it, “rather than simply serve as extensions of a text,” such paratexts and intertexts of a film “are filters through which we must pass on our way to the film or program, our first and formative encounters with the text.”11 Vibrating at the intersection of these discourses and the films they serve is the tension between being in and out of the film. Narrative conventions developing in the 1910s work to efface the methods for making the film and instead enhance the spectator’s identification with the characters’ actions and motivations within the story. Meanwhile, rampant paracinematic discourses heighten an awareness of filmmaking processes and the lives of film performers among other related topics external to the narrative.

Inherent in paratextual operations is a notion of being, as Gérard Genette has characterized it, somewhere between the inside and outside of a text, on the “threshold” or, as he borrows from Borges: “a ‘vestibule’ which offers to anyone and everyone the possibility either of entering or of turning back. ‘An undecided zone’ between the inside and the outside, itself without rigorous limits.”12 The spatial quality of this metaphor is apt for discussions of the cinema experience, where the body and the screen are situated (at least for the moment) in relation to each other. In certain ways, the tension between being drawn into the film and being pushed out of it hinges on such spatial relationships, with the screen dividing the spectator from the drama and the camera dividing the actress from the maker of the film (even when she is the same person). Further, the zone of indecision between the seat and the screen is precisely marked by a tension, push and pull, tug of war between entering the text or remaining aloof from it. When one gives in to it, the notion of being absorbed, immersed, drawn in to the image and/or the screen itself encapsulates that quality. The threshold of the screen may invite tumbling in. A favorite metaphor from an early passage by Jean Epstein harkens to this phenomenon.

Between the spectacle and the spectator, no barrier.

One doesn’t look at life, one penetrates it.…

Projected onto the screen, I land on the line between the lips.…Compared to the drama of muscles moving in close-up, how paltry a theatrical performance made of words!13

Here, the spectator osmoses into the spectacle. What is on screen, to quote Epstein elsewhere, is “life itself,” which one doesn’t just look at, but joins. It is present both within the image and just outside of it. The pull from the opposite direction, rather than inviting a merger between spectator and spectacle, prompts an ejection of the body back into the anteroom. In this case, one either occupies the liminal space between one world and another or departs from the immersion of the filmic diegesis altogether for worldly realities. Did I, after all, turn off the oven?

The push and pull between the world of the film/the space in which it is screened and the before/behind the camera has consequences for aspects of identification. Operations of identification, empathy, and imagination propel women-centered films of this period, such as The Mother Call (Ruth Ann Baldwin, 1916) and Shoes (Lois Weber, 1916).14 Whether through melodrama, action and adventure, or social dramas (some dominant genres of women-centered films), the aspirations of young women in this moment coupled with the economic and social realities they faced materialized in the ways movies narrativized, channeled, encouraged, and reined in their expectations. Narrative devices figure into the spectrum of immersion and distraction as well. On the level of narrative, immersion is assisted by centering the development of the film’s story in character development, encouraging identification, or on the level of image-making, using deep staging or harnessing continuity editing and sound to draw the viewer into the relay of images. Yet the very causes for identification—asking spectators to imagine themselves fulfilling acts of compassion or derring-do as enacted by the actors—lead to the very realms of the personal that might well derail investment within the film and route the spectator outside of it.

Cleo Madison’s short film Eleanor’s Catch (1916), featuring the director as the titular heroine, emblematizes these dynamics. Not only does Madison occupy positions on both sides of the camera (as the film’s director and principal actor) but the story also suggests the need for keeping one’s thoughts slightly removed from immersive fictions. Eleanor’s Catch relays the story of Eleanor, “tenement blossom,” who labors with her mother doing laundry in the scant space afforded them outside their shabby home. Early in the film, “Flash” Dacy, charming ne’er-do-well, approaches them with wads of money and the temptations of dancing, stockings, music, sausages, and beer. He wins Eleanor over from her current beau, a stand-up fellow going to night school, and begins to train her in his schemes—principally a slick move whereby she pretends to yawn and stretch but actually picks the pockets of unsuspecting gentlemen, who are also, it is suggested, lured into the scam by being in the presence of a pretty girl and the types of promises that might suggest. So far, everything proceeds much as any number of contemporaneous movies would do: a naive young girl is taken in and ensnared by a slick con man into a life as a criminal and/or prostitute. For comparison, in the same year, D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance develops this familiar story in the modern thread: the Friendless One leaves her home when the strike causes unrest, landing in the clutches of a rogue who handily turns her into a woman of ill-repute. As Russel Campbell has examined, sensational and often melodramatic narratives of this ilk were popular throughout the silent era and partly derived from tropes in Victorian literature, paratexts that offered familiarity and another point of potential departure from the story at hand. Such is the case with many films in this vein that offer cautionary tales, like Protect Us (1914), which follows a formula by which the girls in question don’t listen to the protective advice of their guardians and are lured into disrepute.15 It is a narrative with which viewers would be familiar.

I underline these parallel narratives from the years surrounding the production of Eleanor’s Catch because they shape expectations for how the story will resolve, both then and now. They provide an atmosphere in which the viewer’s anticipation, experience with similar narratives, and present experience come together. In Eleanor’s Catch, the heroine’s own apparent lack of concern for her fate (or sheer naivete) seems to make the story’s tension hinge on the question of whether she will learn her lesson in time. The parallel treatment of her sister’s fate—she is a fallen woman, a “forgotten thing of the shadows,” forced to sell herself or to beg—only underlines Eleanor’s narrative predicament by showing the audience the aftermath of bad decisions such as the ones she is making. The surprise ending works as surprise because it runs counter to expectations prompted by that atmosphere of reception. It capitalizes on the familiarity of the story before upending it mid-yawn-stretch. That is: Eleanor has been apparently coerced into doing the clichéd pickpocket move against her will. In fact, however, when she makes this move against her would-be suitor, she lifts Flash Dacy’s pistol instead. Brandishing it, she triumphantly announces that she is a secret service agent who has been monitoring Dacy’s movements all along (figure 2).

Figure 2.

The “gotcha” moment in Eleanor's Catch (Cleo Madison, 1916).

Figure 2.

The “gotcha” moment in Eleanor's Catch (Cleo Madison, 1916).

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Traditional roles are swapped at certain points along the way, most obviously when Dacy dons an apron to help Eleanor with the laundry and when Eleanor’s big reveal happens. Both instances set into motion a turn in the plot. Dacy seemingly is successful in drawing Eleanor into his scheme by identifying with her role as a woman and a worker; Eleanor dashes his plans and asserts the law with bold, almost-manly action.16 When Eleanor does so, a fight ensues, in which her steadfast boyfriend, her mother and fallen sister, and a police officer all play a role. The communal aspect of their collective arrest of Dacy reunites the heroine with some of the traditional roles her jubilant foiling of the criminal had upended. The film ends with a sentiment and a song that further recollect the heroine to tradition. A title reads, “Having run down her last case, Eleanor returns to her home life.” An irised line of music appears on screen, sheet music for “There’s no place like home.” Next, an irised Eleanor appears, singing as she scrubs at the washtub alongside her mother. Red enters from behind her, and they kiss. The End.

In his book on women directors at Universal during this period, Mark Garrett Cooper reads Eleanor’s Catch as a film in which we might feel tempted to sense “an unexpected complicity between Eleanor and the film’s narration” such that the film “invites us to…pretend that the director has somehow been in cahoots with the character she portrays.”17 However, he argues, the film actually leaves ambiguous the amount of agency inherent in both the heroine and the director’s situation. In this observation, Cooper discerns the coordinates for a crossroads in an industry that capitalized on women’s involvement in the movies (as makers and consumers) and actively sought to contain it. This ambiguity finds purchase in the films and the imaginations of their spectators. As Miriam Hansen has noted, in both this preclassical moment and the postclassical moment in Hollywood, there is a

measure of instability that makes the intervening decades look relatively stable by contrast, anchored in and centered by the classical system.…[P]re-classical and post-classical forms of spectatorship give the viewer a greater leeway, for better or worse, in interacting with the film, a greater awareness of exhibition and cultural contexts.18

In part because Eleanor’s Catch comes into being at the transitional moment when shorts programs were giving way to feature-length films, it reckons simultaneously with finding ways to sustain longer arcs (for instance, in serial films and longer feature films) and to reinforce engagements outside of the theater to bring women into it. By any measure, the film embraces a degree of the instability Hansen identifies.

Eleanor’s Catch in fact tries to have it both ways. The real threat to women in the modern moment finds thematic expression in a fear that Eleanor is making a bad decision (as well as through her sister’s past fall). And this narrative’s momentum finds resolution in the return to the fold of respectable domestic womanhood by both Eleanor and her sister, who are reconciled with their family during the dramatic climax. The usual tropes of damsel in distress, damsel saved (and the underlying threat of damsel’s honor damaged corrected by damsel’s lost honor redeemed or forgiven) are set purposefully against the fantasy world characterized by the mobility and agency of the heroine. The letdown of the resolution comes in the loss of that mobility to the circumscription of the enclosed yard, the laundry, and the respectability of coupling with hard-working but dull, duped Red.19 The rebellious (secret) life Eleanor enjoyed as a detective closes down as part of the film’s resolution. Incidentally, just months after this film was released, an item in the fan magazines announced Madison’s retirement from directing.20 Though Cooper is right to question the conflation of Eleanor/Cleo in terms of holding secret agency beyond the first fiction of the film, several aspects of their trajectories overlap nonetheless. And in that overlap we find asserted the productive ambiguity of projecting oneself into and out of the film at once.

That is, the “catch” in the title of the film might well refer not just to the play between a romantic “catch” (Red) for Eleanor and a professional one (arresting Dacy), but also extend to the viewer, who finds herself caught in a moment of frisson between narrative resolution and narrative upset, that is, between inside and outside the film. When the roles are reversed and the girl isn’t what she seemed, the viewer must radically adjust expectations, taking her out of the film’s immersive fiction momentarily and yielding a kind of release—she wasn’t in danger after all. (Perhaps aspects of the viewer’s knowledge about Cleo Madison’s own ambitions come into play as well.21) In the film’s denouement, the clichés carefully set up by the film in the beginning shift and then shift again at whiplash speed: girl in danger, girl in action, girl in domestic tranquility. Does the spectator feel herself shaken in the narrative certainties that seemed to be developing? Or does she accept these contradictions as a new way of configuring the balance of possibilities among reckless romantic love, danger, and steady marriage in her life? For a moment suspended in the ambiguity among the components of the film—its draw into characters’ predicaments, its hawking of the call to adventure, and its perfunctory call to settle down—the viewer’s equilibrium, the balance between the draw into the film and out of it, is unsettled.

Notably, the film bears traces of influence of heroine-helmed serial adventures from around the same time, including serial films like What Happened to Mary? (1912), The Perils of Pauline (1914), or The Hazards of Helen (1914–17). As Cooper and Nan Enstad have shown, these films were produced in ways that capitalized on fan interaction with the characters and actresses who played them. The line blurs between the risks involved in serial adventures and the rapidly changing circumstances of modern life for women in the 1910s. Both (serial adventure and modern life) find representation in these films in a way that drew female fans. They were helped along by the producers of these fictions through indirect promotional campaigns such as those described earlier: through writing contests (allowing the producers access to the fantasy lives of their fans and prompting a high level of engagement with the stories for the fans themselves), products related to the characters (the Mary hat), or the corollary written tie-in versions of scenarios in subscription journals or newspapers.22 The blur prompts identification that goes toward the fiction and leads outside of it. Commenting on an interviewer’s encounter with serial queen Pearl White, Cooper underscores how the resulting fan magazine article offers a portrait of White that blurs the line between adventuress and actress and “offers the star, rather than her character as a point of identification.”23

For the market of female consumers, such identifications simultaneously implicate them in the fiction—indeed, into the metatextual realm of its story, where they also help to fashion it in real time through the force of participation as a body of women responding actively to the development of the fiction each month—and take them out of it, into the dimensions of their real lives. For Shelley Stamp, fan culture developed around serials in such a way that “the integration of on screen and offscreen lives became the norm.” One impact on female audiences was such that they “were encouraged to translate breathtaking screen exploits into characteristics of strong femininity that they might introduce into their own lives.”24 As in the serials, so too in Eleanor’s Catch: the multiple positions occupied by Eleanor—working-class laundress, apparent dupe to a con man, damsel in distress, secretive and patient detective, triumphant dasher of crime, and finally traditional romantic and domestic partner to a good man—offer multiple points of entry for identification and fantasy. And that these roles are offered up by Cleo Madison, who works both sides of the camera and finds an outlet in the press for similarly blurring the line between screen presence and active filmmaking-working-woman, also matters for that identification.25

Stamp notes that, for serial films, “The heterogeneous, multitextual, open-ended viewing practice that serials demanded stood in direct opposition to the less distracted forms of spectatorship fostered by classical narratives.”26 Fan discourses and appeals here coincide with a moment in the development of narrative cinema at a crossroads between the wild possibilities of multiplicity and the narrower directives of narrative focus. This collision of influences demonstrates the ongoing process of oscillation between distraction or immersion as part of the cinematic experience. It is both particular to the 1910s moment—in its harnessing of hopes and fears of modern women—and universal, in its appeal to the spectator to be always aware of the exit signs at the cinema, so to speak.27

A range of approaches to moving images—from studies of spectatorship, screens, sensuous cinema, and film phenomenology—has been inflected by the tension described here, which carry into the decades beyond the 1910s. Scholars focusing on spectators and/or sites of cinema have suggested elements that infringe on the boundaries of the film text, the people who experience it, and the locations where they do so. Ariel Rogers’s work on theatrical screens in the 1930s centers on the strategies of film producers and exhibitors for better harnessing the immersive qualities of screen images, including plans for multiscreen projections and even “directives to exhibitors about the elimination of house lighting and the need for ushers to keep aisle curtains and doors shut.”28 While apparatus theory in the 1970s speculated a cinematic experience that enclosed a spectator in the space of the film and/or of the film site, no guarantees yet exist for a hermetic, darkened, quiet space that will allow every spectator to retreat to such an enclosure. And this is all the more true for spaces not deliberatively designed for film spectatorship, as in the case of watching films on iPhones or screenings and installations of existing films in museums and galleries. In her writing on practices of exhibiting cinema in gallery spaces, Erika Balsom has pointed out the ways in which some screening situations invite a distracted viewership even when the film screened may have been originally meant for theatrical exhibition.29 This remains true, even while some installation work directly draws on strategies for immersive spectatorship found in traditional elements of theatrical exhibitions. In these types of screening spaces, the desire to achieve immersion has been helped along by what Tim Recuber calls “technologically immersive” designs, which “absorb the viewer within the film through the use of powerful surround-sound-scapes and giant curved screens that encompass most of the viewer’s peripheral vision.”30

As the continued interest in this question across decades of cinema studies suggests, the tension between a spectator’s position inside or outside the film remains strongly present, perhaps all the more so in recent narrative films, which serve as a site of fixation about media noise—the notion that media are consumed in a way that counts on the fact that a spectator’s attention will be, maybe even should be, pulled in several directions at once. Such practices ultimately derive from similar spectatorial oscillations at the crossroads moment in the 1910s. Immersion and distraction inform and direct the investment of spectators and makers of moving images and belie the notion of cinema experience as merely one or the other. Rather than simply asserting their power over viewers, moving images enlist a mobile form of attention and identification that goes beyond the screen and merges being here and there together at once.

My sincere thanks to Jennifer Bean, a brilliant interlocutor, whose editorial guidance and productively ludic reading of an early draft shaped the development of my thoughts for this essay in the best of ways.


Roland Barthes, “Leaving the Movie Theater,” in The Art of the Personal Essay, ed. Phillip Lopate (New York: Anchor Books, 1995), 418, 421.


Miriam Hansen, Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), and Gaylyn Studlar, “The Perils of Pleasure? Fan Magazine Discourse as Women’s Commodified Culture in the 1920s,” in Silent Film, ed. Richard Abel (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996).


Frank Kessler, “‘Spellbound in Darkness’: Narrative Absorption Discussed by Film Theory,” in Narrative Absorption, ed. Frank Hakemulder et al., (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing), 129.


Janet Staiger, “Announcing Wares, Winning Patrons, Voicing Ideals: Thinking about the History and Theory of Film Advertising,” Cinema Journal 29, no. 3 (Spring 1990): 10.


Motography 15, no. 3 (January 15, 1916): 145.


Motion Picture Classic (May 1916): 66.


These tensions of course persist to the present. Charles Acland has demonstrated how a blockbuster film is merely the epicenter of a phenomenon with aftershocks in multiple areas of the industry, noting: “the motion picture tentpole extends to other media and commodities, such that a blockbuster is as much a T-shirt, poster, television content, magazine article, video game tie-in, and advertising opportunity as it is a movie.” Acland, American Blockbuster: Movies, Technology, and Wonder (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020), 6.


Staiger, “Announcing Wares, Winning Patrons, Voicing Ideals,” 10–12.


For example, Ingram’s Milkweed Cream was advertised with the following copy: “Stars of the Movies, who must stand the severe test of the camera, especially appreciate the great value of Ingram’s Toilet Creations,” and the signed testimonial of Mary Fuller, who insists: “Every woman should get the ‘beauty’ that is, truly, ‘in every jar’ and in every Ingram box and bottle, too” (Signed) MARY FULLER. January 31, 1916. What Ingram’s products do for famous beauties they can do for YOU,” Motion Picture Classic (May 1916): 1.


Octave Mannoni explores Freud’s notions of fetishism and splitting of the ego (“I know well, but all the same”). Both concepts resonate in the tensions described here. Mannoni, “I Know Well, but All the Same…” in Perversion and the Social Relation, ed. Molly Anne Rothenberg et al., trans. G. Goshgarian (Durham. NC: Duke University Press, 2003).


Jonathan Gray, Show Sold Separately (New York: New York University Press, 2010), 3.


Gérard Genette and Marie Maclean, “Introduction to the Paratext,” New Literary History 22, no. 2 (Spring 1991): 261–72.


Jean Epstein, “Cinema and Modern Literature,” from Poésie d’aujourd’hui: Un nouvel état d’intelligence (1921), in Jean Epstein: Critical Essays and New Translations, ed. Sarah Keller and Jason Paul (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2012), 272.


Examples of women-centered films made by women in the 1910s such as these are outnumbered by those made by male directors, who made up the larger part of the film industry at the time but often helmed projects featuring women and their concerns. See Mark Garrett Cooper, Universal Women: Filmmaking and Institutional Change in Early Hollywood (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010), 168–69.


Russell Campbell, “‘Fallen Woman’ Prostitute Narratives in the Cinema,” Screening the Past 8 (1999):


Mark Garrett Cooper points out that Madison was someone who would not have surprised her audience for her “knowledge of the manly art” of action and “derring-do.” Cooper, Universal Women, 144.


Cooper, Universal Women, 174–76.


Miriam Hansen, “Early Cinema, Late Cinema: Permutations of the Public Sphere,” Screen 34, no. 3 (1993): 203.


If he is in on the whole thing, as Cooper suggests is one possibility, then he’s a better actor than we may have suspected!


Motography, 16, no. 3 (July 15, 1916): 171. Cooper notes for the Women Film Pioneers Project that around this time Madison intended to form her own company, the Cleo Madison Film Corporation. Mark Garrett Cooper, “Cleo Madison,”


As examples from the fan magazines cited here show, Madison’s working and home life, beauty, and love of sport and activity send mixed messages about which one of these trajectories might be preferable to her personally, “behind” the scenes.


Nan Enstad, “Dressed for Adventure: Working Women and Silent Movie Serials in the 1910s,” Feminist Studies 21, no. 1 (Spring 1995): 73.


Mark Garrett Cooper, “Pearl White and Grace Cunard: The Serial Queen’s Volatile Present,” in Flickers of Desire: Movie Stars of the 1910s, ed. Jennifer M. Bean (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011), 179.


Shelley Stamp, Movie-Struck Girls: Women and Motion Picture Culture after the Nickelodeon (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 152–53.


Jennifer M. Bean describes actresses/directors like Madison chancing risk-taking in their screen roles. See “Technologies of Early Stardom and the Extraordinary Body” in A Feminist Reader in Early Cinema, eds. Jennifer M. Bean and Diane Negra (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 404–43.


Stamp, Movie-Struck Girls, 153.


Gaylyn Studlar’s work on fan magazines of the 1920s outlines some of the ways these magazines have been seen to uphold repressive ideas about femininity (like their espousal of marriage as a norm); she then upends this notion, arguing that, “As a result of the specific socio-historical and discursive circumstances of its emergent growth, fan magazine discourse of this decade [the 1920s] reveals complications and contradictions to received opinion about the extratextual cinematic construction of female subjectivity.” “The Perils of Pleasure,” 269.


Ariel Rogers, On the Screen: Displaying the Moving Image, 1926–1942 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019), 61.


Erika Balsom, Exhibiting Cinema in Contemporary Art (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2013), 42.


Tim Recuber, “Immersion Cinema: The Rationalization and Reenchantment of Cinematic Space,” Space and Culture 10, no. 3 (August 2007): 316.