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Scenes of Instruction

Scenes of Instruction: The Beginnings of the U.S. Study of Film

Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    Scenes of Instruction
    Book Description:

    This engaging book chronicles the first classes on the art and industry of cinema and the colorful pioneers who taught, wrote, and advocated on behalf of the new art form. Using extensive archival research, Dana Polan looks at, for example, Columbia University’s early classes on Photoplay Composition; lectures at the New School for Social Research by famed movie historian Terry Ramsaye; the film industry’s sponsorship of a business course on film at Harvard; and attempts by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to create programs of professionalized education at the University of Southern California, Stanford, and elsewhere. Polan examines a wide range of thinkers who engaged with the new art of film, from Marxist Harry Alan Potamkin to sociologist Frederic Thrasher to Great Books advocates Mortimer Adler and Mark Van Doren.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94020-8
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Toward a Disciplinary History of Film Studies
    (pp. 1-32)

    In 1929, a glossy movie magazine,Motion Picture Classic,ran a series of short reflections by editors of college newspapers on Hollywood films’ image of campus life. After a number of months on “What College Men Think of the Movies,” the magazine turned over its October issue to editors at women’s colleges. In one article, Eugenie M. Fribourg, writing for theBarnard Bulletin,found the movies wanting in accuracy of depiction of college life, although their flaws of representation did not seem to repel students, who flocked to the cinema in droves. In fact, as Fribourg noted,“[T]he movie industry, at...

  5. 1 First Forays in Film Education: The Pedagogy of Photoplay Composition at Columbia University
    (pp. 33-89)

    Among the handful of letters between Will Hays, head of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA), and Columbia University president Nicholas Murray Butler in the university’s archives, the very last one, from 1945, is particularly amusing.¹ Hays and Butler maintained over the years a correspondence that was simultaneously professional and somewhat personal: for example, in 1920, Butler asked if he might receive tickets for himself and his family to the Republican National Convention (of which Hays was chairman), and Hays wrote back with his willingness to oblige. The correspondence also offers an ongoing glimpse of the busy life...

  6. 2 A Brief Interlude as the Movies March On: Terry Ramsaye and the New School for Social Research
    (pp. 90-112)

    At the beginning of the 1920s, New York City’s New School for Social Research shifted its emphasis from that of a Progressivist institute of scholarship concerned, as its name originally intended, with social science reflection on pressing issues of the day to a much lighter, less research oriented extension program seeking to offer cultural diversion to the city’s citizens. By the middle of the decade, the New School’s pedagogical mission thus came to focus on culturally uplifting adult education in ways that led its curriculum to resemble that of Columbia’s extension program—and, in particular, that university’s Institute for the...

  7. 3 “Younger Art, Old College, Happy Union”: Harvard Goes into the Business and Art of the Movies
    (pp. 113-174)

    On March 21, 1927, H. R. Hunt, a professor of zoology and geology at Michigan State College (and a Harvard class of 1916 graduate), addressed a letter to A. Lawrence Lowell, the current president of Harvard. Hunt inquired: “Do moving pictures and vaudeville shows in very close proximity to a college or university have the effect of tempting students to attend them to the extent that their scholarship suffers? We have never had a moving picture show in this town but one is scheduled to arrive soon. I would like to get your opinion on the matter as based on...

  8. 4 Between Academia and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: The University of Southern California Ventures into the Cinema
    (pp. 175-235)

    Karl Waugh, professor of psychology and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Southern California, came up with an interesting invention at the end of the 1920s. He had devised a sort of galvanometer, which he believed could test the extent to which people registered the sincerity of those around them. The idea was to hook test subjects up to a machine that would clock the emotional impressions being made on them by other persons. Waugh called his device the “Psycho-galvanoscope,” although some newspaper articles simply referred to it as the “emotionometer.” As one newspaper...

  9. 5 Politics as Pedagogy, Pedagogy as Politics: The Rather Brief Moment in Time of Harry Alan Potamkin
    (pp. 236-262)

    Ironically, one of the most legendary of early film curricula was never actually put into effect. In the papers of the influential film critic Harry Alan Potamkin—who died tragically of abdominal hemorrhaging at age thirtythree in 1933—there was found “A Proposal for a School of the Motion Picture,” and this project has garnered an important reputation over the years.¹ Potamkin appears to have drafted the proposal, as Lewis Jacobs (the editor of the posthumously published volume of Potamkin’s writings) explains, “when it was considered possible that a large university was interested in establishing a separate college to be...

  10. 6 Appreciations of Cinema: Syracuse Discovers Film Art
    (pp. 263-298)

    In the middle part of the 1930s, as he crafted one of the weekly film analysis assignments for the class Cinema Appreciation, Syracuse University undergraduate William Ashley found that he had to disagree with some of the aesthetic principles that the course instructor, Sawyer Falk, had so emphatically established.¹ Falk’s position, so often restated as to become a veritable mantra, held that film most attained the status of Art when it exploited its essential nature as a medium of visual dynamics. For Falk, cinema was fundamentally an art of visual tonality, kinesis, and energetic graphics. Story and drama were secondary...

  11. 7 Cinematic Diversions in Sociology: Frederic Thrasher in the World of Film Appreciation
    (pp. 299-343)

    In his faculty biography folder in the New York University archives, there is a brief but interesting autobiographical detail offered up by Professor Frederic Thrasher (1892–1962), who taught in the School of Education from 1927 on. Under hobbies, he succinctly notes: “Motion Pictures—Gardening.” The movies, indeed, seem to have had an important place in Thrasher’s affections as well as a decisive impact on his career development.¹ Thus, his one single-authored book, the still-cited volumeThe Gang: A Study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago(1927), had a short chapter on the possible causal relationship of popular culture (especially film)...

  12. 8 Middlebrow Translations of Highbrow Philosophy: The Film Fandom of the 1930s Great Books Intellectuals
    (pp. 344-376)

    An anecdote: In the mid-1990s, I was asked to be part of the external evaluation committee for an English department, with a strong film component, at a midwestern university. The arts and sciences division had recently acquired a new dean who had come from the hard sciences. The English professors, especially those who concentrated on cinema, wondered not just about his view of the humanities but of popular culture curricula within the humanities. They expressed the hope that in my meeting with the dean I might get some sense of his attitude—positive or negative—toward their program’s devotion to...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 377-400)
  14. Index
    (pp. 401-406)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 407-407)