That Marvel – The Movie
June 16, 2009 § 2 Comments
Edward van Zile’s 1923 thoughtful and gently pedantic pamphlet, That Marvel The Movie: A Glance At Its Reckless Past, Its Promising Present, And Its Significant Future, is the classic locus of the concept (traced back at least to Griffith’s Intolerance pamphlet by Miriam Hansen) so prominent in 1920s discourse on cinema of movies as the new Esperanto, the Esperanto of the Eye. Consider the following:
The race has found at last its universal language, its Esperanto not of the ear and tongue of but of the eye. The evolution of the motion picture, developing in a few years from a toy kinetoscope to a Griffith wonder-worker, has made possible, for the first time in the history of humanity, an appeal to the heart and mind and sould of man that overcomes the ancient handicap of the confusion of tongues. After many centuries the check to human progress given at the Tower of Babel has come to an end at the enctrance to the motion-picture palace. It has made possible at last for history to reveal its secrets, and vouchsafe its warnings, not to the comparatively few who read scholarly books but to the millions who, as democracy conquers the earth, have become masters of the destiny of nations.
Clearly, this soaring rhetoric will come crashing with the introduction of sound back into films at the end of the 1920s. But for a while they’ll ride this trope quite actively. Both their despair over the carnage of World War I, and their uneasy perception of the miracle of film, part fancy, part reality, will find expression through it. For if you think Zile only has “educational” films in mind, think again: The Covered Wagon is more his idea of a candidate for that “Lighthouse of the Past”, that “university of universities” that the movies promise to mankind:
To-day I find the screen achieving wonders in conserving, for the sake of posterity, the memory of epic, epoch-making deeds of derring-do that not only glorify our past but inspire us with hope and courage and ambition for the future. (p. 196)
Passive spectator, you who now only has to sit to learn, since “seeing is believing”, beware ! The joys of post-modern simultaneity of heterogeneous points of view still lie in the distant, post World War 2 world…
On a related subject (thank you to the Bioscope Library for the links!):
- Knowlton, Daniel C. and J. Warren Tilton, Motion Pictures in History Teaching: A Study of the Chronicles of America Photoplays as a Aid in Seventh Grade Instruction deals with the Chronicles of America series of lavish short subjects produced 1923-1929 by Yale University Press, and how useful they might have been in terms of education (the assumption being that the photography was historically correct, that “seeing is believing”, again).
- Ellis, Don Carlos and Laura Thornborough, Motion Pictures in Education: A Practical Handbook for Users of Visual Aids, 1923, also looks at the intersection of films and education. I haven’t looked at it but I’m betting they define “educational” film as a pretty broad category…