How long have movies been an important part of life? Well, consider this. The painting above, John French Sloan’s Movies, Five Cents, was painted in 1907! It depicts what most of us, up until a few years ago, would have considered to be a fairly modern scene. A group of people sit in a theater and watch a movie. Well, almost all of them are watching. The center of the painting is the one woman who is not watching the movie but who instead appears to be staring straight at the observer. Is she watching us or has she caught us watching her?
Of course, today, things are changing. There are so many new ways to watch movies that it’s hard not to feel that the whole ritual of going down to a theater to see the latest release will soon be as passé as dial-up internet or having a landline phone. Right now, you look at this painting and you marvel at the very idea of being able to see a movie for five cents. In the future, we may find ourselves marveling at the idea of actually leaving the house to watch a film. We may look at this painting and say, “This painting reminds me of what it was like when movie theaters still existed.” And then our children will say, “What’s a painting?”
Til then, I love this painting. Movies, Five Cents is a prime example of the Ashcan School of art. Inspired by socialism and Marxism and all that stuff, The Ashcan School rebelled against both impressionism and academic realism and instead, attempted to capture scenes of real life, especially among the poor. John French Sloan was one of the leading artists in the Aschan School and he remained a fervent socialist for his entire life.
Is there a political subtext to Movies, Five Cents? Honestly, who cares? I’m more interested in trying to figure out what movie they’re watching. It looks romantic!