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American Modern

King Vidor's The Crowd

1. Origins to 1928

3. 1915–1928

  1. David A. Gerstner

Published Online: 13 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470671153.wbhaf014

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

How to Cite

Gerstner, D. A. 2011. American Modern. The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film. 1:3:14.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 NOV 2011


In his 1928 film The Crowd, King Vidor richly visualizes the strain on the modern individual. The film expresses anxieties that fall squarely within the Zeitgeist of the late 1920s, centered on the uncertain effects inflicted on humanity by the intersecting relationship of nature and machine. Vidor's treatment of two specific locations in the film — the tenement and the beach — an interior (machine) and an exterior (nature) — relay the director's understanding of the trappings that inform early twentieth-century culture. The tenement and beach are crucial to Vidor's philosophical thoughts on modernity, since they pointedly express a consistent theme that The Crowd is at pains to explore: loss of humanity at the expense of industrial and corporate progress. Vidor's treatment of these two locations illustrates, through mise-en-scène, the poignant, modernist tensions as they heavily weigh upon the family, in particular. As family-specific places, the tenement — as home — and the beach — as outlet for escapist recreation — mark the delimited spheres in which the individual (the man) and his family hope to seek refuge from modernity's high pace and chilling indifference. As one of the film's sobering titles proclaims, “The crowd laughs with you always but it will cry with you for only a day.”1


  • American silent cinema;
  • modernism;
  • American dream;
  • the crowd;
  • the city