A movie is a visual document comprised of 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 1901 movie of President McKinley taking the oath. 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? Are any of them familiar faces? How are they dressed? What is happening in the movie? During what season was the movie filmed? 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? Who did President McKinley defeat in the election of 1900? In what location was this filmed? What was political climate in the United States in 1900? 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 student 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. Who might have been invited to attend a presidential inauguration in 1901? Who administered the oath of office? What written sources could students consult to find out more about President William McKinley and this time period? In addition, help students make connections to the present. Has the inauguration procedure changed in the last 100 years? How could they find out?
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.