Reginald Marsh’s “Twenty Cent Movie” is a renowned masterpiece that depicts the seedy side of New York City. The painting, completed in 1936, portrays a group of people hanging around the Lyric Theater on 42nd Street, resembling a stage set with real-life stars, bit-players, and extras poised for action. Marsh’s work often focused on crowded Coney Island beach scenes and popular entertainments. He was renowned for his depictions of New York street life throughout the Roaring ’20s and the Great Depression.
In “Twenty Cent Movie,” Marsh highlights the culture of burlesque shows that were popular in New York during the 1930s. The painting is one of many he created depicting these shows’ backstage scenes following one’s performance. Through this piece, he gives insight into an era in America where burlesque was both scandalous and widely accepted to Americans across all socio-economic classes.
Marsh captures the essence of this era through his use of earthy tones coupled with intricate details that conveyed facial expressions and body language effectively. This technique enabled him to indicate society’s moral decline with dwindling opportunities; however, it wasn’t as straightforward as him taking sides against it or questioning its existence due to some of his artworks’ juxtapositions themes surrounding sex workers to humanize them instead indirectly cognizing humanity despite their line-of-work by how they are more than just prostitutes but rather people like anyone else who have dreams about living a good life regardless if they play bit-players or excess at night shows beside theaters like what Twenty Cent Movie depict visually nonetheless giving insight into a specific time period in America history.