A movie is a visual document comprising a series of still images. This media format captures multiple moments in time. Spoken dialogue, sound effects and music add meaning to the images. Movie files can provide lasting witness to historic events, special occasions or family happenings. Although today's students are frequently "tuned-in" to this medium, they may have had little practice in learning how to analyze what they view. The American Memory collections include late-19th and early-20th century movie files. Many of these relate to holiday and seasonal events in the United States. View this 1904 Edison movie of a Labor Day Parade filmed in Massachusetts. Analyze the film using the observe, think and ask process. Use the following questions to guide your students' analysis or create questions of your own. Have students take notes using the graphic organizer.
• Observe: Prior to showing the movie, provide students with background information including title, location and date of the filming. Based on this information, ask what they might expect to see. Ask them to decide what type of motion picture this might be (documentary, newsreel, dramatization, etc.) Have them watch for physical qualities (music, narration, special effects, live action, background noise, animation or dramatization). View the movie. Who are the people being filmed? How are they dressed? What is happening in the movie? During what season was the movie filmed? What buildings and vehicles do they see? What other clues in the film provide information about the culture, customs and styles of the time?
• Think: After viewing the film, draw on students' prior knowledge. When did this event occur? In what location was it filmed? Was this event a special occasion? Why would someone have wanted to film this event? Who might have viewed this film? Did the filmmaker have a message? How did watching the film make the students feel? What did students learn by watching the film?
• Ask: Viewing a silent film can leave students with many unanswered questions. Ask students to think about what they need to know in order to better understand the movie. What was the purpose of this parade? Were the people filmed wearing special clothing? What were the most common modes of transportation during this period? When did Labor Day celebrations begin in America? What written sources could students consult to find out the history of Labor Day in Massachusetts? Do we still celebrate this holiday with parades today?
Movies will continue to be a major influence in our students' lives. Learning to analyze films from the past will provide students with tools to better understand current media. After viewing the holiday-related films listed on the left side of this page, search the American Memory collections for more films. Select "motion pictures" from the "Limit Search to:" box on the right side of the search page.