The filmmakers chop up bits and pieces of captured, vital life and reproduce it into something new.
It's magic to us. We're mesmerized by the dancing light and the larger-than-life figures haunting us in their "not-really-here but not-really-gone" since of permanence. Everything is smoother, grander and more seductive than the terrestrial reality of a school yard.
Yes, I know it is about light hitting a photograph and moving. "Motion picture" sounds tame. But given the nature of light, the paradox of ray and particle, I can't help but see the magic of the motion picture. When they perfect the art of phonography, we'll have talking motion pictures. Perhaps a century from now we'll have it all at the palm of our hands - the ability to pick apart and edit life and present it as something new and magical.
* * *
"Why can't we get a film studio on campus?" a student asks me.
"I'm not sure about the medium," I tell him.
"So, just teach like you normally would and add some motion picture parts. I bet it would be fun. Imagine what we would produce."
I'm thinking of the Roman notion of bread and circus. I always assumed bread was the more powerful element. I'm now understanding the pull of circus. It's not that I am opposed to fun, per se. It's just that often "fun" is the cheap replacement of "intriguing" or "meaningful" or "beautiful" or "life-changing." Edison's studio is, in fact, a fun factory. I cannot and should not reproduce it.
* * *
Educators often believe that they have the power to wield each tool to fit their own purpose. They assume that a lesson can remain virtually unchanged when a new medium is added. Often, the metaphor is one of a tool - though, they would never use a tool in this way. Who would ever say, "We need to screw this in with a hammer?"
There is something inherently dangerous about taking every technological device and applying it to learning without ever asking the intended meaning of a medium. A pencil, for example, is inherently individual, deliberately vague (shades of gray, ability to erase), intellectual, portable and text-based. A film is, by contrast, visual, collective, emotional, geography-bound, visual and non-linear.
If I begin with a lesson plan and simply pick a tool based upon "fun" or "productivity" or "student engagement," I am running the risk of teaching something entirely unintended. If I introduce a telegraph as a source of knowledge, we send an implied message that knowledge should be portable, consumable and in small increments.
I am not opposed to adding new tools to learning. I simply want us to recognize that whatever tools we choose will reshape learning in ways that we often fail to recognize.