Fewer movies focus on what academics would pompously refer to as reception or spectatorship, but the cinetrix got into this whole racket to puzzle out just what goes on in the dark. And it's one of the reasons why she's a sucker for movies like Sullivan's Travels.
Preston Sturges punctuates John L. Sullivan's trajectory from pretension to populism with three moviegoing moments. The first, in the beginning of the film, takes place in the hyperbaric chamber of a Hollywood screening room, soundproofed by yes-men and safely insulated from incursions by actual members of the public for whom such trifles are intended.
In the second, Sullivan, newly on the road to learn about "what it's like to be poor and needy," is lured to the theatre by a set of spinster sisters, one of whom harbors designs on the idealistic naif director. His viewing experience is marred by crackling snack wrappers and bawling babes, but everyone else expects it as par for the course.
The final flicker kicker is delivered once Sullivan has landed himself in a southern prison farm. He and his fellow chained-together convicts are ushered into a local black church to see the picture show. It's the first time Sturges lets us as viewers see what's on the screen. The sheer joy these "simple-minded unfortunates" [African-Americans and indigent criminals] find in a slapstick Goofy short convince Sullivan to stick to his escapist metier and leave the social problem films to...well, academics in the future, perhaps.
Last summer, Choire Sicha revealed what your favorite Woody Allen movie says about you. Mine, The Purple Rose of Cairo, didn't make his list. But I doubt you need much help figuring out what that says about me.