Movies Help Bring History Alive!
by C.K. Thomas
Recently I watched three movies: Trumbo, The Majestic, and The Dish. I got to thinking how much my classmates and I loved watching a “film” during class. In elementary school during the 1950s, the teacher would roll in a huge projector on a cart with one empty film reel on the bottom spindle and another full reel from a box labeled with the film’s title on the top.
She had a long pole with a hook on the end that she used to hook the blackout blinds over the tall classroom windows and pull them down. One of us got to stand by the light switch and turn it on or off as the teacher directed. It was a magical time – a way to avoid things like spelling tests and lessons played out in chalk on the blackboard.
When the lights went off and the projector started, the room instantly went quiet of children’s chatter as a clicking, whirring sound took its place. Then, a triumphant blast of music, light, and color filled the room, splashing moving pictures across a big white sparkly screen. I especially remember two films, one about Eskimos living in real igloos and one about the proper way to brush your teeth (I still use that method!).
As I watched the film Trumbo about the McCarthy years of Hollywood vigilantes and threats of Communist plots, I thought how much more real the film made that era seem than when I learned about it from the written page. Seeing history in action gives me a better memory of an event and a more enjoyable way to learn about it.
I hope schools today take advantage of the multitude of video and film to be found on the internet and then assign the students to research the actual facts surrounding what they’ve seen portrayed on the screen. See it, say it, hear it, and write it seems like a perfect four-pronged way to learn anything. The film The Majestic was historical fiction, but it also showed how the McCarthy Era affected both ordinary people and celebrities.
The Dish brought with it the excitement of the1969 moon landing. My youngest daughter had just been born on July 7, and on July 20 (my wedding anniversary), we heard what has become a hugely famous phrase from the television speakers: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for humanity!” What a day that was!
The movie’s namesake, The Dish, a huge radio telescope in the middle of a sheep paddock in Parkes, New South Wales, Australia, would catch the television picture and audio sent from the moon’s surface! Not only the excitement of that historic day leaps out at us from the screen, but the realization of what a small determined group of scientists in a tiny community of like-minded people can accomplish. “Believe,” it says! “Persevere,” it exclaims! And, never underestimate the capabilities of a person, no matter how you may perceive their looks, how they speak, or where they come from. Most of all, it reminds us of our own built-in prejudices and how we must learn to put those aside in order to see the real value of the person in front of us.
It’s astonishing what film can teach us. If we as writers can make our prose come alive with word images that come anywhere close to what plays out on a movie screen, then we’ve more than succeeded in satisfying our readers.
“Flip the light switch, please.”
C.K. Thomas lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Before retiring, she worked for Phoenix Newspapers while raising three children and later as communications editor for a large United Methodist Church. The Storm Women is her fourth novel and the third in the Arrowstar series about adventurous women of the desert Southwest. Follow her blog: We-Tired and Writing Blog.