Creativity Breadcrumb 48: Scrapbooks and the Movies

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After World War I, women in America were involved in a number of cultural changes, from the prohibition and women’s suffrage movements to the rise of the flapper and the vamp. One mode through which these changes took place was through film and cinema.

Leslie Midkiff DeBauche, former professor of film at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, discovered the ways in which scrapbooks can be a window to the world of female movie-goers in the early twentieth century. She first discusses how scrapbooks were an important part of culture during this time period, and how they served as “a means for autobiography and a method of keeping family history.” At first, keeping a scrapbook was common practice for all types of individuals, including Mark Twain himself. By 1905, however, scrapbooks became “a commodity, mass produced, sold at stationery shops, and complemented by auxiliary businesses which supported them.” At the same time, women became the targeted consumers of the scrapbooking industry, and so the purpose and contents of scrapbooks tended to cater to this group. Not all women prescribed to these guidelines, however; for “often and idiosyncratically, girls changed and adapted their books.”

Through studying more than 45 scrapbooks, DeBauche discovered that many girls included documentation of films they had seen at the theater, such as ticket stubs and advertisements in newspapers. In addition to these documents, many girls included their own commentary on the films and actors, showing that “by the mid-teens, Americans were widely and deeply aware of information about movie stars, narrative conventions, movie-making itself, and the nuts and bolts of film exhibition.” For example, one scrapbook refers to Theda Bara’s character “Baby Vamp” in the 1915 film A Fool There Was, which ultimately inspired the “vamp” culture and style of fashion that became popularized in the late 1910s and early 1920s. As evidenced by these scrapbook pages, the film industry has always had, and still has, a huge impact on American culture, as well as the individual lives of American teens in particular.

To read more about scrapbooks, the film industry, and vamp culture, read this piece on David Bordwell’s website on cinema.

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