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Sinister Activities of Clerical Swine – including MP shows

June 28, 2013

100 years ago today, in an Italian-language paper La Parola dei Socialisti [The organ of the Italian Socialist Federation, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago], a reporter railed against the recent “religious revival” among Italian immigrants on Chicago’s North Side. Among the tactics that these “self-styled Catholics” were planning on using in their “attemp[t] to ensnare women and children in their nets” [which, according to our reporter, was “not a difficult feat since women are more amenable to persuasion than men”] was a moving picture outfit in the basement of an unnamed Italian church on Grand avenue:

The basement, in particular, is to be made into a modern retreat where at night the most sinister element of the colony may congregate.

There will be a pool-room and also moving pictures which will show the miracles wrought by their God.

This article does not mention specific films, but they likely wanted to show films like From the Manger to the Cross, and Quo Vadis

Poster for Quo Vadis (Enrico Guazzoni, 1913)

This article is significant for film history for three reasons:

1. It provides another example of early non-theatrical film exhibition–a field of historical study that scholars now recognize as a crucial element of film history.

2. It challenges the widely held assumption that the American Catholic Church was anti-movie all along.

3. It gives us a clue about how people envisioned the power and function of the movies in 1913. The idea that moving pictures could be harnessed in order to “show the miracles wrought by their God” is something that Vachel Lindsay would pick up on in his Art of the Moving Picture,  originally published in 1915.

The full text (translated into English) of the article can be accessed via the Newberry Library’s new digital transcription of The Chicago Foreign Language Press Survey, a WPA project whose aim was to document and preserve Chicago’s rich ethnic heritage. You can read more about the project here. Although the archive has been around on microfilm for a long time, and although it has been available to view via the Internet Archive, the Newberry’s digital transcription and interface now allows users to perform more sophisticated searches on the entire archive no longer bound to the organizational logic imposed by the original indexers. Here’s another example of a digital humanities resource that helps us do media history on the digital age. I hope it will prove to be a useful resource for film historians to look more closely at immigrant film reception in Chicago.

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