1. DIDACTIC ELEMENTS FOR A CONSTRUCTIVE INTERPRETATION OF THE CONTENT OF THE MOTION PICTURE MEDIUM
Today, as soon as they are capable of a minimum degree of attention, our children are dumped in front of the television (Lyle and Schramm describe the TV as a baby-sitter), and, at first, most probably see programmes intended for their age-group. But at the same time they learn how to work the television machine, to change channels and, if there is no control on the part of adults, to stay with the picture that interests them, regardless of whether or to what degree it is suitable for them. Added to this, in many homes where both parents work, mother and father can enjoy more time with their children if they allow them to stay up late. Due to lack of discernment or indifference, however, the TV programmes they watch are not chosen with any consideration for the age of the junior viewers. The youngest levels of our society by now consider the television as a normal household appliance, regardless of what it transmits; as a result, more hours are spent in front of the TV screen by small children and adolescents than by the successive age-group, since youngsters who are self-sufficient enough to go out on their own go to the cinema if they want to see a film. The average age of the cinema-goer in the USA is nineteen, in Italy twenty-three. So, the greater part of today's cinema audience is made up of young people.
On the other hand, all television channels, both state and private, show a marked preference for fiction (ignoring its specific association with the original topicality of the subject matter). Consequently, serials, soap operas and above all films of any and every period flood the small screen. It has been calculated that Italy's combined TV networks transmit a total of three thousand films every day.
And the fact that our children and adolescents can see, in the same day, two film versions of the same story, in one of which a principle is affirmed and defended and in the other opposed and attacked (think of Geronimo, the Apache, until recently portrayed with ridiculous chauvinism by US film-makers and today rehabilitated in Walter Hill's fine film), cannot fail to confuse them, not only with regard to cinema-on-TV but also with regard to TV as a whole.
The film, in my opinion, cannot be considered exclusively as an emanation of the society which produced it; it must also be seen as a product of that same society in a specific historical period.
This problem does not arise in circuit cinema, since films have approximately eight months of intense life in the movie theatres, after which they pass to the home video and then to television.
It is therefore necessary to pay more attention to the mass of messages our youngest viewers receive from the TV screen, since they can lead them not merely to a mis-reading of audio-visual language but also to a confused, at times discordant and contradictory, series of sensations and items of information.
What instructional and operative steps can be taken to counteract this situation?
A) Creating a greater awareness in parents, to encourage them to supervise their children's approach to TV as much as possible;
B) The use of film index forms and questionnaires by educators and teaching staff.
FILM INDEX FORMS AND QUESTIONNAIRES
The index form we have in mind is a sheet with entries regarding all the necessary information about a film: cast, artistic and technical direction, synopsis of the story, biographical notes concerning the director, screen-writer(s) and actors, and extracts from press reviews. Generally this form is more useful to teachers when they wish to take their class to see a film at the cinema or on video and discuss it with them afterwards.
Then there are other kinds of forms which can be used to investigate more deeply the message a film has communicated to the pupil. These questionnaires deal with the following types of information:
A) The questionnaire for cognitive information, which can be presented to children of from 9 to 14 years of age, asks the child to provide the following:
1) Name and description of the leading character
2) Name and description of the second lead
3) Name and description of the "heavy" (villain)
4) Description of the supporting characters
5) Function and presence (or not) of crowd scenes
7) Effect of the experience.
The effect can be considered:
-positive = evidence of social gratification and personal satisfaction
-semipositive = evidence of social gratification but absence of personal satisfaction
-negative = absence of both social gratification and personal satisfaction.
Obviously the answers will be more or less complex according to age. However, with these questionnaires one can begin to give young spectators some critical requirements to elucidate, which little by little they will apply when they see other films, instead of continuing passively to accept their message.
B) The psychological data questionnaire, generally addressed to the younger viewer, sets some quick questions requiring equally quick answers, in which the children do not feel themselves involved or being tested and hence give impressions and opinions very close to what they really think.
a) Give five adjectives describing the character you liked most;
b) Did you find a positive element (something good) in the negative character (the baddie)?
c) After the children or adolescents have seen at least three audio-visual films, get them to state the characteristics which the three heroes (or villains) have or do not have in common - their courage, their sense of friendship, their respect for others, etc.
C) The sociological information questionnaire is dedicated to older adolescents and consists of research into the historical period or the social environment in which the story of the film is set, to find out whether, in each one's opinion and without trying to be objective, this has been treated in the right way and, where it has not, how and possibly why, a "false" narration has been built up.
D) The general information questionnaire is intended for older pupils. In addition to investigating aspects of the film based on the Cognitive form and the deeper study inspired by the Sociological form, this questionnaire prompts the pupil to examine the film document from its origins, on the basis of any of a wide variety of themes: where the film is an adaptation of a book or a stage play, what is the relationship between the two authors; where it is based on a historical fact, why and how did the author/director decide to commit himself to its creation (Spielberg and his "Schindler's List", for example); if the work is based on a real incident reported in the press, which elements were related truly and which not, and, in the opinion of each person, were the omissions and falsifications a matter of choice or due to production requirements.
Opportunites for using these forms are innumerable, and in the end the teachers and councillors will possess reports prepared by the pupils as exercises which can also serve as clues to a deeper understanding of the young people themselves.
The exercises can be done with video-cassettes or, where schoolteachers are concerned, by telling the children to watch a film on a particular day on a specific channel as homework, or, best of all, by taking the class to a cinema and then getting them to fill in one of the questionaires provided.
In my opinion it would be a good thing to start using these questionnaires immediately, so that our children, our little ones, our adolescents and our youth, can learn to "live" their growing knowledge, not absorb it passively through the media. For although the media use a fascinating language combining the moving image, the spoken word and music, what they communicate may resemble reality, but it is not Reality.
Professor Luciana Della Fornace
Vice President, AGIS (Schools)