Cinema of Attractions and it relation to the perceived audience of early cinema. Early film makers used the new technology of cinema to display a variety of attractions to audiences in a style coined by Tom Gunning as cinema of attractions.

Authors Avatar

Cinema of Attractions and its relation to the perceived audience of early cinema


New technologies invented during the industrial era inspired the experimentation with

moving images that eventually lead to the birth of cinema. (Cavendish 2008, pp.

1001-1008) Early film makers used the new technology of cinema to display a variety

of attractions to audiences in a style coined by Tom Gunning as ‘cinema of

attractions’. (Gunning 1993) Cinema of attractions was a style used to address and

appeal to the audiences of the time, who were accustomed to a theatricalism,

display, and exhibitionist style in popular culture. (Lewis 2007, pp. 7-12) Ostentatious

media and advertising (Tungate 2007, pp. 25-29) along with extravaganza-style live

performances (Lewis 2007, p. 3) helped build the culture for which the style of

cinema of attractions was appropriate.

According to Gunning, cinema of attractions refers to a style of cinema that

interacted directly with the audience, luring them in and inviting them to partake and

immerse themselves in a show of exhibitionist images. (Gunning 1993) Jennifer

Bean describes “hysteria, or shock, or astonishment” as the key aesthetic of this

early cinema. (Bean 2004, p. 23) While the term ‘silent film’ is often used to describe

the films of this period, Andre Gaudreault explains they were in fact fundamentally

audio-visual, (Gaudreault 1990, p. 274) and presented in a style which appealed,

thrilled and, as Stephen Bottomore suggests, sometimes shocked the audience of

the time. (Bottomore 1999, p. 177) Eliciting these reactions in audiences was

common to the established forms of entertainment in that era, which helped

familiarise and popularise cinema as a new media. (Halle & Margaret 2003, p. 17)

Cinema of attractions is a term Tom Gunning coined to describe all cinema prior to

1908 (or so), when the style of cinema was focused on engaging the audience with a

variety of visually-arresting appeals and spectacles, spanning an assortment of

styles and genres. (Gunning 1993) Cinema of attractions was cinema that sought to

attract, and have a relationship with the audience, rather than to simply position them

in a voyeuristic role. (Gunning 1993) This style of cinema was used in order to

appeal to the audiences of the time, for whom spectacle and variety were deeply

engrained as accepted and popular forms of entertainment. (Lewis 2007, pp. 3-4)

Join now!

Showing an assortment of appeals in cinema of attractions was also a clever way for

early film makers to display the range and technical capabilities of cinema as a new

form of media. (Gunning 1993)

The perceived audience for cinema of attractions had been shaped by the

innovations and popular culture of the time. By the time early cinema began,

innovations in technology and the popularity of visual toys, along with an increase in

communications and marketing and the popularisation of variety act performances

helped form the culture in which cinema of attractions ...

This is a preview of the whole essay

Here's what a teacher thought of this essay


The conclusion is weak in comparison to the rest of the essay, which is a detailed, well researched and relatively insightful analysis of the cultural context of the cinema of attractions. What the conclusion mostly lacks is the acknowledgment that contemporary cinema is in many ways still the cinema of attractions, because it shares the same aesthetic aims, for the same reasons. In fact, what has changed? The most significant difference is not that the techniques and technologies have changed, because a progressive sophistication of technology is implied in the aesthetic of the original cinema of attractions. If one looks carefully, one sees that the most significant change is how passive the audience has become, how our participation in the spectacle has gradually been reduced... On the whole, an excellent essay that could be improved by a more critical grasp of the cultural theories that it touches upon. To me, what is lacking here is a sense of how this mode of cinema is an expression of the ideological framework of industrial society, and how these ideologies persist in the capitalist society which came to dominate Europe and America. Current grade, 3.5 - 4 stars (a good solid 2.1)