American Memory Motion Pictures


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.


Using the Graphic Organizer


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?


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?


Viewing a silent film can leave students with many unanswered questions.

     Ask students to think about what they need to know to better understand the movie.

     What was the purpose of this event?

     Who were the people being filmed?á

     What written sources could students consult to find out if the activity filmed was normal for this time and place?

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. áSearch the American Memory collections for more films. Select "motion pictures" from the "Limit Search to:" box on the right side of the search page.