Monday, August 24, 2009

Early film in the classroom (HtM, ch. 10)

I have been very pleased with students' responses to early film repertoires over the past two or three years. For some time prior to that, students had seemed increasingly disinterested in almost any films released earlier than their own generation and it was often a challenge to teach those sections of the course. It is true that the available DVD materials have improved considerably and undoubtedly have made the experience better.

In connection with HtM, ch. 10, I show Princess Nicotine (1905), a short, humorous special-effects film included in the first NFPF Treasures set: go to NFPF site. Martin Marks provides a historically sensitive piano accompaniment that "plays the picture." I also use the film to demonstrate at least a minute or two of indifferent performance of the kind that readers of this blog will know was a common source of complaint after 1910. (I literally play the piano with my back to the screen and make no attempt to synchronize rhythms or mood -- students typically find it quite disconcerting.)

I also use The Wizard of Oz (1910) from Treasures II. Students know the story so well (in its MGM version) that the film keeps their interest for its entire one-reel duration and gives them a good example of early narrative film and relationships to small-scale theatrical practices.