The Film Experience: Part One

It’s been a few months now since my original Back to (film) school post, and whilst I hadn’t forgotten the idea, my attention was focused on other things.

Today however, I sat down and watched the first lecture in MIT Opencourseware series titled, The Film Experience. As the title suggests, the purpose of this course is to discuss film in a wider sense, from its early beginnings, through to present day, using close-analysis to look at films from different eras and countries.

Having already attended university eleven years ago, I could vaguely remember how monotonous most lectures were, but I was quite surprised by how much I had to concentrate when watching this video. Maybe it’s because I am a bit out of practice these days, but I found the lecture very dry.

Some bored students from

That’s not to say it wasn’t interesting however. Professor David Thorburn breaks down this introductory lecture into some very engaging points.

Two of the overriding points that stuck with me:

  • Film, at its core, is chemistry – The chemical process of light interacting with emulsions on the celluloid creates the image. Of course, this changes with the advance in digital filmmaking, and Thorburn touches on this point, noting that “nature is eliminated in digital forms“.
  • Film is a manufactured object – Yes this seems quite obvious, and something we are all aware of to a degree, but this point, more than any other in the lecture, provided me with a lot of food for thought. It was particularly effective due to Thorburn repeatedly comparing the process of manufacturing a film to that of a toaster, or an oven. He noted that although film was heavily manufactured in the early studio system, it is still a pertinent point in today’s world of sequels, prequels, and remakes.

The lecture then focused on the early days of film, where the novelty of motion, and the limited words onscreen were hugely appealing to audiences. At the turn of the 20th Century, large, industrial cities in America, had a growing immigrant population, and the rise in this new visual medium where knowing the language wasn’t much of an issue, was hugely captivating.

Thorburn links this point with a comment on a new ‘global’ film, such as the type of big-budget action that Arnold Schwarzenegger became famous for, that are effectively serving the same purpose. Dialogue and plot is not important, more value is put on the spectacle of the film.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando

This may seem like a simple introductory lecture, but after a while out of the habit I found it really helpful to have these points and comments laid out, even if I may have already been aware of some of the content. I found some of the parallels between the early days of film and the present quite thought-provoking, and have given me some new ideas for further articles and further research.


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