Author: Francesco Orestano
Original Title: Il cinematografo nelle scuole
Journal: Istituto Nazionale “Minerva”
Date of Publication: 1914
Pages: translation pages 5-11
Nationality: Italian
Original Language: ITA


Scholastic educational motion pictures complete and raise to the highest level of efficiency and resourcefulness that positive method which, invoked and prescribed by great educators for centuries, has remained till today a timorous and ineffective teaching method aspiration. It is true, in spite of the fact that theoretically all the needs of this method are well recognised, we continue to find ourselves in the condition of having to give almost all our lessons verbally, as in the past (this is no exaggeration) without the help of any adequate illustrative material. A few faded maps and charts on the classroom wall; meagre and invariably out of date collections in the so-called scholastic museums; experimental equipment that is rudimentary and lacking in precision when it exists at all; all the educational material of the method so pompously called modern positive method, is limited to so little.

However, this method establishes that the foundations for knowledge, and therefore, for teaching as well, should be based on:

1. – Intuition,  direct and immediate relations between subject and object;

2. – Observation and experimentation, which include the condition that the experiments can be repeated, both in identical situations, and where possible, also with variations;

3. – Genetic – evolutive investigation of certain processes.

Motion pictures can fulfil these three method postulates completely, thoroughly, and not limited simply to educational information but also for scientific ends. We only need to remember that while some phenomena is never repeated in an identical manner, we discover to our surprise that by using motion pictures methods, these phenomena remain permanently available for our analysis for as many demonstrations we may require. However, let us leave to one side the considerable help that motion pictures can provide for scientific investigation, even making available for observation and control by any scientist, results obtained or experiments attempted in any laboratory anywhere in the world; and let us focus simply on the educational function it can provide. We have discovered that there is no longer any object, fact or phenomenon, in any case, and in any place, visible to the human eye that cannot be reproduced for direct and immediate perception by any other person. There no longer exists an observation or experiment that once performed cannot be repeated as desired hundreds of times in any situation, in any place or at any time; and finally, because of motion picture methods, we are no longer limited to fragmentary images, stationary and isolated from reality, but we can reproduce these phenomena in their successive stages whenever necessary, throughout their complete cycle, from beginning to end.

We would also like to add that for teaching purposes motion pictures provide a better manner for direct observation, on condition that this possibility is accessible. And although this may seem a paradox, it is fully justified by the following considerations:

1. – by using motion pictures we are able to concentrate on the particular aspect that we wish to study, in this way intensifying the focus on that aspect alone, whereas when observation is carried out in actual working conditions, more complex, the attention can be distracted in various directions, provoking associations which do not serve the purpose or that can be harmful, and that in any case make analysis of the subject all the more difficult;

2. – Motion picture viewing does not require any effort other than focussing the attention, which can be concentrated on the object in question; whereas a visit to another area, a factory etc., requires an effort by the whole body and in a certain measure provokes a dispersion of forces;

3. – Motion picture screening is far more rapid than an other form of inspection, and saves considerable mental effort, not to mention the question of the time that any form of on the spot inspection requires;

4. – Motion picture screening can be repeated hundreds of times as required, totally, or partially, while this is not possible in field trips, where it would be impossible to reproduce the same conditions;

5. – Motion pictures can collect and assemble in a same group the images of objects and phenomena which are remote from one another both in time and distance, a fact that is extremely helpful for any comparisons, any work for analysis or synthesis, for more accurate and efficient identification of contrasts, similarities, analogies, etc., and this is something that is impossible under any other conditions.

In short, the advantages to be gained by using motion pictures for teaching methods are so great that it is perfectly valid to conclude with another seeming paradox: if motion pictures did not exist, then they would need to be invented purely for scholastic reasons.

* * *

On the other hand, motion pictures cannot simply enter the scholastic system in its present form, but must be adapted to the needs of the system, from a technical point of view, in relation to the method with which the screening is performed, and from the viewpoint of the particular method to be used in selecting and coordinating the material to be screened.

The technical aspects.

For the technical aspects, it is well to consider the following fundamental points:

1. – There is considerable concern about the effects that motion pictures may have on the eyes. Already back in 1908, in “Aerztliche Sachverständige-Zeitung” Dr.Paul Schenk published a strong warning on this subject: “The modern man is systematically destroying his eyesight. We are suffering from an excess of luminous stimulations. In motion picture theatres, even more than the intensity of the light used during screening in a dark environment, the incessant oscillations and flickering of the light at such frequent rhythms is even more harmful. The dazzling effect criticised so much, produced by motion pictures, is such a serious problem that this aspect alone eliminates any pretext of using motion pictures as a “hygienic” means of culture. This negative influence is made even worse by the far too rapid and unnatural succession of the various scenes. In addition, when the individual photographs are shown in rapid succession one after the other, there are slight deviations between one and the next that are increased even further when they are enlarged.

“Strained and overtired eyes are the inevitable consequence caused by incessant oscillation of luminous stimulation. The dazzling effect produced by the motion picture is none other than the even more intense glittering provoked by the light source, and it is damaging to the eyes.  Therefore purely for health reasons I feel I must protest against the introduction of motion pictures in schools”.

These comments by an expert eye specialist from Berlin, were not an isolated case, and is simply one of the many demonstrations of hostility and implacable aversion shown towards motion pictures for reasons which are certainly serious from an artistic and moralistic point of view, as well as that of public health.

But  if we wish to adopt motion pictures in schools, we fully intend to do so within the limits and measures that educational functions impose, and that are applied within the whole educational system.

And therefore, while paying close attention to the objections, which seem well-founded and serious, all the same we can avoid the radical and certainly excessive pessimism shown by many even authoritative adversaries of motion pictures; and we can attempt to reap the benefits of the best these means have to offer.

As far as the flickering and the consequential dazzling effect harmful to the eyes is concerned, it is a well-known fact that this depends mainly on the small number of images projected within a certain period of time (approximately 15 per second), whereas theoretically the established number should be more than double this amount. This disadvantage cannot be eliminated except through technical progress, but these techniques are so numerous and so continuous that we feel confident that the problem described previously will be soon resolved.  But since the problem is worsened by the excessive enlargement due to the distance from the projection box and the deficiency in the light source, then the equipment used for scholastic motion pictures must provide for reducing these causes due to incorrect function, as far as possible.

Moreover, care must be taken so that pupils are not subjected to long screenings, and the room must not be darkened completely, first of all for obvious disciplinary reasons, and also because the luminous stimulus produces a far more intense effect when surrounded by too dark a room.

2. – Another condition that must be observed is that the screen must be sufficiently large so that it can be easily seen by all pupils sitting at their desks… They must be able to see not only the complete scene, but must be able to see all the details clearly; this is not an easy task when we remember that the scenes could be filled with figures and rich in interesting small details, which must however be easily observed by the pupils without straining their eyes.

In fact, if the rapidity with which the scenes alternate, are combined with very small images, then the screening will occur before the dazzled gaze of the pupils without leaving any clear and distinct image in their minds.  It is extremely important to take this essential concept into consideration when constructing the scholastic equipment before spending sums of money that could be totally wasted.

3. – A third aspect, that concerns a special characteristic for scholastic motion picture equipment, should include the possibility to arrest the film rotation at any required time to maintain the stable image fixed on the screen.

The reason for this is obvious. In this manner, the teacher can attract the pupils’ attention to certain points, encouraging them to participate in analysing, identifying, proposing hypotheses, and inductions, providing opportunities that could otherwise be reduced or even lost completely if the images are fleeting or pass too rapidly. Another aspect not to be neglected is the fact that this could also contribute towards savings in educational costs because when the motion pictures contain the same images that are normally shown using fixed projection, this provides the possibility of observing the images, both still or in motion, using the same piece of equipment.

4. – A fourth aspect of scholastic motion pictures concerns screening colour. Films should be coloured with natural colours. This condition is essential when the colour is an integral part of the filmed reality, as we will see for geographical, scientific and technological films, etc. It may not be so necessary for other films that represent contemporary aspects, partly because the colour is not necessary in order to understand the action, and partly because it is easy to compensate with a little imagination. However, when films concern historical representation, coloured screenings should be shown. Not simply because they are more captivating, attract the imagination and create more interest, but they also complete the realistic effect of the scenes that are shown.

The method.

AS far as the method is concerned, both for the educational content as well as for the way it is to be used, first of all it is established that the general standards to be followed for scholastic motion pictures, are the same as those applied for general educational programs, with special teaching methods for application to motion picture lessons. Naturally all existing pedagogical principles will be extended to cover the choice and use of motion picture screening in schools.

Moreover, still with the general standards in mind, we would recommend the following:

I. – all screenings should be used in moderation, even more – used sparingly and only when necessary; not for pure entertainment. In fact the sometimes irresistible influence exercised by motion pictures often leads to excessive use, creating an authentic passion, above all in the young, who are attracted to the motion picture for the simple fact that it is a motion picture but with the result that a single film can lead rapidly, in fact almost immediately, to boredom. It is for this very reason that motion pictures have to constantly offer something new, and this creates avid interest, but superficial, which is easily sparked, but just as easily switched off.  Each one of us may have had the same experience, no matter how much a motion picture may have interested us; it is extremely rare that we would watch it a second time. Having to sit through the same motion picture three times would be intolerable. This would not happen so easily if the motion picture had a truly useful content that inspired the viewers to want to learn more on the subject, in order to fulfil some cultural need felt more strongly. And therefore, this must absolutely not happen with scholastic motion pictures, precisely for the fact that were films of a more frivolous type be created, this could represent the greatest danger for the new application of the entire process. Therefore we must attempt to prevent and combat boredom, which is the inevitable result of overindulgence. Good motion pictures should be able to be seen more than once, like reading a good book. Scientific, technological films etc, should be shown again at appropriate times, each time analysis requires it, and the very opportunity of being able to see the film again should dispel any boredom.

2. – Each screening should be preceded by an introductory explanation, conversation or reading to attract the attention of the pupils and to awaken in them a feeling of anticipation which is the best way to stimulate curiosity.

The teacher can direct the pupils’ attention to salient points during the screening, stopping the film where necessary, either to analyse some image better, or to point out some important detail, or even to ask the pupils what they imagine will happen, or what they would like to happen later on.  This helps to stimulate their intuition, imagination, logical powers, deductive and inductive capacity,  as well as their critical sense, etc.

To help the teacher provide all these additional aspects, each film should be accompanied by an explanatory text for the teacher’s use, and if necessary also for the pupils, in order to identify the salient points of the film and to provide useful suggestions on how it should be used.  In this way, scholastic motion pictures can also be used to enrich general culture and the educational training of the teachers.

Following each screening, the class should be involved in long discussions, comments, summaries, exercises in learning nomenclature, etc. A clever teacher will first let all the pupils feel free to express themselves, and could even use this liberty of expression to make useful observations concerning the psychology of correct interpretation (not to mention many other activities), which are extremely important for practical daily life (an example is the explanation of the functions of justice), so that pupils learn to give a correct version of what they have witnessed.

3. – Each screening must contain exactly the number of images, (neither too much nor too little information) pertinent to the subject in question in a natural, logical and motivated order. The contents must not be shown in a manner that is fanciful, desultory, arbitrary or absurd, but must evolve naturally in a perfect concatenation of logical deduction, from introduction to consequence- a demonstration of cause and effect.

The essential requisites for good scholastic motion pictures should be, from a psychological point of view- authenticity, and for the logical point of view – coherence. Scientific films should demonstrate the causal connection between phenomena described.  Any form of deceptive or untrue portrayal of life must be prevented at all cost; no lack of correct logic, no insinuation of false notions to represent the real world must be permitted, when using a form of representation as realistic as a motion picture. Errors can acquire the unquestionable authority of images that have been seen, becoming implanted through the fascination of immediate intuition, in other words, that knowledge which for us assumes the highest level of obvious certainty.