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CIN201: Film Cultures 1: Art & Industry

A comprehensive guide to scholarly resources - books, journal articles, primary source material.

Databases for Contemporaneous Film Resources (magazines, newspapers, film reviews)

1.  Media History Digital Library (1856-1996, depends on the publication)

An essential source of primary historical information on film covering the period before, during, and after 1928-1960. Includes digitized versions of Film Daily (1918-1948), Motion Picture Herald (1931-1948), Photoplay (1914-1943), American Cinematographer (1921-1942), Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers (1916-1954) and many more.

  • The search platform is called Lantern 
  • Great free online resource but it doesn't have many options for narrowing down your search results.
  • Quotations marks (search for  specific phrases, e.g., "It Happened One Night", "Audrey Hepburn", "studio system")
  • Avoid using "and", "or", "the" because database searches every word in every scanned publication. Instead use the advanced search option.

2. ProQuest (1800-current date, depends on the publication)

ProQuest is a platform containing 116 databases. ProQuest contains publications (i.e., magazine, journal and book titles) in different subjects areas including film. Remember you might find content in a non-film related resource from your time period - i.e., newspapers, business or tech magazines

  • Enter search terms on separate lines e.g., enter title of film on the top line, director's last name below, so as to articulate your search request. Use Boolean Operators to improve your search:
    • AND (narrows your search e.g., Paramount and Hepburn)
    • OR (widens your search e.g., blacklist or communist, MGM or Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
    • Quotations marks (search for  specific phrases, e.g., "It Happened One Night", "Audrey Hepburn", "studio system")
  • Sort your results (relevance, date) 
    • Sort by Date: It may be useful to arrange the results chronologically (oldest first) in order to follow the entire production process of a particular film, from gossip about potential stars to reviews and box-office grosses.
  • Narrow your search results using filters on left sidebar
    • Source Type (e.g., Historical Newspapers)
    • Publication Title (e.g., New York Times)
    • Document Type (e.g., Feature, Front Page/Cover Story, Article or try excluding advertisements)

3. Film Indexes Online (1893+) 

This resource for detailed production information on specific films (incl. release dates and other production-related information) as well as citations to contemporaneous reviews from newspapers (e.g., New York Times); trade & industry publications (Variety); popular magazines (Motion Picture Herald, Photoplay); and review publications (Monthly Film Bulletin), among others. 

  • N.B. There are no direct links to online content from Film Indexes Online. See How to Find Journal Articles below, for instructions on how to use a citation to find a journal article.

4. Film Review Index (1882-1985). Print only.

Only available in print, FRI is an extremely useful and easy-to-use two-volume set for film reviews. It lists films alphabetically by title, and indexes reviews from multiple sources. v. 1, 1882-1949; v. 2, 1950-1985.

  • Available at INNIS, ROBA, VIC. Citations only. See Innis Library staff for assistance. Or go to How to Find Journal Articles below, for instructions on how to use a citation to find a journal article.

5. Entertainment Industry Magazine Archive (1880-2000)

This database contains scans of "... the essential primary sources for studying the history of the film and entertainment industries, from the era of vaudeville and silent movies through to 2000. The core US and UK trade magazines covering film, music, broadcasting and theater are all included, together with film fan magazines and music press titles."

  • This is a ProQuest database so use the tips mentioned earlier. 

MPPDA Archive (Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America)

MPPDA Digital Archives (1922-1939)

  • This database contains the extant records of the General Correspondence files of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc.
  • "The MPPDA was the trade association for the motion picture industry, and included all the major companies producing and distributing motion pictures in the United States in its membership ... [This collection contains documents that] "describe the organization and operation of the industry's trade association, and include extensive correspondence and other documentation relating to industry policy and public relations, distributor-exhibitor relations, censorship and self-regulation. The great majority of this material is unavailable from other sources."

Note: Users must register to view the scanned documents clearly. 

screenshot MPPDA website with Register highlighted in menu toolbar

Individual Historical Publications (Magazines, Journals, Newspapers)

Remember - To find primary sources, remember you need to restrict your search result to documents published close to the time of your film or event. If they are published later, they are secondary sources.  

Below are some of the most common publications containing contemporaneous film reviews. Except where indicated, all are available online in their entirety.

  • Variety (1905-2000, with some exceptions, ProQuest). It may be useful to arrange the results chronologically (oldest first) in order to follow the entire production process of a particular film, from gossip about potential stars to reviews and box-office grosses. Variety (1905-1949 only) also available via Media History Digital Library.
  • New York Times (1851+; Note: 3 year delay [most recent 3 years] , ProQuest). It may be useful to arrange the results chronologically (oldest first) in order to follow the entire production process of a particular film, from gossip about potential stars to reviews and box-office grosses.
  • Monthly Film Bulletin (1934-1991, ProQuest).
  • Sight and Sound (1932+, via ProQuest)
  • Film Daily (1918-1948 only, via Media History Digital Library; 1948+ available on microfilm at Media Commons).
    Note: When searching within Film Daily (or anywhere within MHDL), use double quotes around phrases e.g., "scarlet street" OR "film noir" OR "jackie coogan". A small sampling of titles included in MHDL: American Cinematographer (1921-1942); Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers (1930-1949); cont. by Journal of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (1950-1954); Motion Picture [Magazine] (1914-1941); Photoplay (1914-1940).
  • Film Quarterly, v. 12(1958+, JSTOR) preceded by:
  • Films and filming (1956-1987) Print only - ROBA
  • The Chicago defender 1910-1967. The historical full-text of one of the most influential black newspapers in the United States.
    ALTERNATE VERSION: The Chicago defender 1909+ for this latter item only, enter Chicago Defender in top search box, then select Publication Title from drop-down menu on right. Enter search terms in boxes below, e.g., micheaux.