A secondary goal of this unit is to introduce students to the history of film or “motion pictures.” The history of film goes back to 1889 when Thomas A. Edison developed a clear celluloid that was coated with developing chemicals. This celluloid strip contained a series of photographs. Edison did not think his invention was important, but other European inventors continued inventing cameras and projection equipment. The Lumiere brothers filmed outdoor scenes for their 1895 showings. Some early viewers were not pleased when people were captured in action . They thought there was a danger in presenting humans as “soulless parts” because their only previous art representations of people were paintings. These replicas of the human form followed rules of art that consistently used a whole figure style. People in the 1890’s were shocked to see the photographs start to move and began to attend displays of this new marvel. Some of the ladies actually raised their skirts as to stay dry when a scene of ocean waves was shown. The invention of moving pictures caught on quickly but as the shock wore off, the business almost died. The motion pictures rebounded because they learned to tell a story and not just show a scene. By 1907, there were 5,000 nickelodeons in the United States. These silent film halls were a popular treat for just a nickel and the price included piano music. (Knight 1976) Children enjoy watching a Charlie Chaplin film like
and paying a nickel admission price can reinforce an historical perspective. The pranks of Chaplin can be compared to the pranks of a current children’s show called “Nickelodeon.”
This historical perspective is present in the unit. The three films I selected are older movies that span the decades of the 1930’s to the 1980’s. The first film,
, is a black and white classic horror movie from 1931. As I first watched this movie, I thought there would be no interest in the over-done gothic setting and primitive science fiction-style special effects. But after viewing this film as a piece of literature, I discovered that it had classic themes that children could grasp and enjoy. Children need many opportunities to make a connection between literature and a film. Most public libraries have a large section of children’s books about these old horror and science fiction movies. Ian Thorne’s book entitled
does an excellent job of describing the plot and it provides photos from the film. It describes other science fiction genre movies that were based on the
story. It also has an author study of Mary Shelley, the author of the original story. It was written when she was eighteen years old and at first her name did not appear on the first editions of the book. (Thorne 1977).
The second film of this unit is
The Wizard of Oz
. Although usually labeled a musical, it contains the elements associated with the genre of science fiction. This 1939 release offers a dramatic comparison to
. The Wizard of Oz has color, better sound, enormous sets and loads of special effects.
E.T., The Extra Terrestrial
may seem fairly new to many adults, but children are often unaware of this 1982 film. Like the monster from
, this alien creature was terrified and could not speak. Students would be interested to learn that this was one of the first films to take full advantage of the toy business associated with a popular film. Most parents will gladly recall the many products that were out at that time. Public libraries often have a book version of