Jefferson Lecture Honors a Master of the ‘Language of Cinema’

By Jennifer Howard

When Martin Scorsese was 8 years old, growing up in New York’s Little Italy, he went with his father to see a 1951 British movie called The Magic Box. It features a scene in which Robert Donat, cast as the British cinema pioneer William Friese-Greene, shows moving pictures to a policeman (Laurence Olivier) who can’t believe what he’s seeing.

Like the bobby, the young Mr. Scorsese was astonished by the experience. “I believe this is what ignited in me the wonder of cinema and the passion” for it, he told the audience on Monday night at the 42nd Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, held here at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Mr. Scorsese’s talk, “Persistence of Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema,” was full of cinematic language. The director mixed reminiscences from a moviegoing childhood with sound and film clips from Vertigo, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Intolerance, The Great Train Robbery, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and other movies he has known and loved. He began not with words but with that scene from The Magic Box, after a warmup slide show of movie scenes and candid shots of the director on set with actors, all of it accompanied by music from Vertigo.

The Jefferson Lecture is the highest recognition the federal government gives for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities. In honoring Mr. Scorsese, the renowned director of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Age of Innocence, and many more movies, the National Endowment for the Humanities departed from tradition.

Jefferson Lecture recipients “until now have been masters of the written word,” James Leach, the endowment’s chairman, said in his introduction of Mr. Scorsese. The filmmaker’s work demonstrates that intellectual achievement can take place “outside the realms of the classroom and the word,” Mr. Leach said.

Mr. Scorsese said American culture is more and more inclined to judge a movie’s success by how big its box-office returns are. That “trivializes film,” he said. “We have to remember that there are other values beyond the financial.”

It’s time to throw out the idea that visual and verbal literacy are separate things, Mr. Scorsese said. His own parents “weren’t in the habit of reading,” he recalled, but they found in movies a way to connect with family and with life. What continues to fascinate him isn’t just the picture on the screen but what it conjures up in the viewer—”the image in the mind’s eye,” he called it. Cutting just one frame can change that image. “This is what’s called the language of cinema,” he said.

At times Mr. Scorsese sounded nostalgic for the kinds of movies that he grew up with and that his generation of di- rectors made. That kind of cinematic experience is “almost gone,” he said, “overwhelmed by images coming at us all the time.” But one can lament the passing of celluloid, as he does, and still be excited by the possibilities of the present and curious about where young moviemakers will take things next, the director said.

“We have no choice but to treat all these images coming at us as a kind of language,” he said. “In the end, there is only literacy .”

Mr. Scorsese has become very involved in the cause of film preservation, and he brought the curtain down with a pas- sionate call to preserve our movie heritage. Vertigo and many other films now considered masterpieces were neglected and almost lost, and 90 percent of all silent movies ever made have vanished, he told the crowd.

“We really have to take good care of what’s left, from the acknowledged masterworks of cinema to industrial films and home movies,” he said. “The moment has come when we need to treat the moving image as reverently as every last book in the Library of Congress.”

Why should we preserve everything we can of this exuberant art form that, while not unique to America, has come to be so closely tied up with American culture? “Because we can’t understand where we’re going until we know where we’ve been,” Mr. Scorsese said.

Posted (but not written) by Prof. Harry Mathias

Things that concern us or soon will: We are creating important feature film content digitally without a means of really preserving it for future generations.

If all dramatic Cinema and TV production in film and digital cinema were to end today, the film would still be viewable by audiences in 50 – 100 years, but would the digital cinema?

In its landmark report, The Digital Dilemma, the Academy’s Science and Technology Council examined “ways in which key players in the movie business and other major industries currently store and access important digital data. The goal was to better understand what problems these industries face today and what, if anything, is being done to avoid full-fledged data access disasters down the road.”

This report is available at the Academy’s Science and Technology Council website at:

This is an excellent study that was done by the Academy, with far reaching implications.

The real issue here is that directors are shooting more digital footage than they ever shot in film (film was expensive). Data bits are cheap to shoot, but not to store and preserve in archives.

You can’t just put hard drives full of data on shelves, and then spin them up once a year to keep their bearings oiled for the next 100 years. Solid State Drives (SSD’s) are very expensive, haven’t yet got the capacities needed for movies and there is no evidence that they are permanent as yet. Data storage tapes, like LTO cassettes, are very expensive, and not practical for 100 year storage. One hundred years from now no one will know what an LTO tape is, much less be able to play one.

Remember, there have been over 79 different formats of video tape deployed so far. Ever try to playback a 2″ quad tape or a 1″ A-format tape? Can you even find a working machine to play it on? Yes, just barely, and it’s not easy!It’s even harder to find someone that can align and operate these 40 year old machines.

More about this serious issue later…

Prof. Harry Mathias


Cinequest will preview Spartan Film Studios’ latest feature, “ALWAYS LEARNING” on March 5th at 9:30p.m. at the San Jose Repertory Theatre.

This coming-of-age story is relatable to director Robert Krakower, ’11 radio-television-film, since he was homeschooled just like the main character. Spartan Films spotlight event will include a sneak peek screening of Spartan Films latest, Always Learning, preceded by a highlights video of company productions and an interview with Spartan Films principals, Barnaby Dallas and Nick Martinez, plus the directors of All About Dad and Super Hero Party Clown.

SJSU Today’s Article provides a great overview of Cinequest’s showing of SJSU, Spartan Films and Animation-Illustration films.

Spartan Film Studios was recently featured in the Metro’s Cinequest preview and on the front page of the San Jose Mercury News.


Congratulations, Alison McKee!

Herrick Library

Dr. McKee has been awarded a sabbatical for Fall 2013 in order to finish revising her forthcoming book manuscript for Routledge, tentatively titled The Woman’s Film of the 1940s: Gender, Narrative, and History.

Dr. McKee explains, “I’ve always loved ‘woman’s films’ (or ‘weepies’) from the 1940s, perhaps in part because they reminded me of my mother and the period when she was a young woman.  They’re generally love stories, often unhappy ones, and they deal with issues of gender and romance in really interesting ways.”

Because of her expertise in American film history, theory, criticism, and research, Dr. McKee wrote her doctoral dissertation for UCLA’s Department of Film, Television & Digital Media about the woman’s film.  She says, “There hasn’t been a book on the subject of the 1940s woman’s film in almost ten years. What makes mine different from existing literature is that it takes a historical approach:  I explore the relationship between these films and the larger social and cultural context of World War II, as well as the industrial relationship to the film industry and the Production Code Administration at this time.”

As part of her research, Dr. McKee is conducting research this spring and summer at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science’s Margaret Herrick Library, where the PCA files from 1927-1967 are currently held.

In addition to her book for Routledge, Alison is also writing a work of fiction that she anticipates beginning to pitch to literary agents and editors in 2014.




The celebration features presentations by:

RTVF Faculty members Scott Sublett and Barnaby Dallas!

This writer’s day provides a great opportunity for our students to hear from the Academy Award winning writer of Crash, the writer of Fight Club, a Hollywood agent (and Sublett and Dallas as well.)

Normally a day like this would cost hundreds of dollars…Cinequest created a 50% discount deal for students and faculty giving them the entire day for $10.

RTVF Students and Faculty will need to enter the promo code “CQLovesWriters” via the Promotional Code button when purchasing tickets via: THE CINEQUEST WRITER’S CELEBRATION page.

Writers Celebration

“What if…?” A simple two-word question with endless possibilities that storytellers have been posing for thousands of years. What we experience on the screen began as words flowing across a page, emerging from a writer’s imagination. Whether an emerging or pro, or somebody who would like to write his/her first screenplay, join Cinequest’s Writers Celebration.

The Writer’s Celebration will take place on MARCH 2nd

10:00am to 11:15am


Academy Award-Winner Bobby Moresco (Crash) takes experienced writers on an inspiring exploration of making a truly exceptional movie. Moresco will explore innovative ways to make a good script great and how best to hone the writer’s skills to up their game.


Bringing the “What-ifs?” to life. Screenwriting expert Scott Sublett will engage participants on effectively crafting their ideas into successful screenplays: focusing on concept, characters, overall structure and scene development.

11:30am to 12:30pm

Your script is finished and good, but now you need someone to believe it and back it. Finding just the right pitch for those precious face-time seconds could make all the difference. Discover the art of the pitch in a dynamic presentation led by Sean Davis, James Dalessandro, Barnaby Dallas and join the Top Ten Screenwriting Competition Finalists and selected audience members as they pitch their work to industry professionals.Top Ten Finalists, Screenwriting Competition
Philip Chidel, Open Book
Michael Clevenger, Black Mustard
Claire Fowler, Snapper
Mark Heck, Blindman’s Land
Thomas Heys, Accidentes
Nate Lane, Dime Store Saint
David Rich, Through Maria’s Eyes
Melanie Schiele, Butterfly Children
Marie-Juliette Steinsvold, Mrs. Seyerling
Steven Wolfson, Hancock Park

1:30pm to 2:30pm

Closing this tremendous celebration, Cinequest will present the Maverick Spirit Award to Chuck Palahniuk, world-renowned novelist and writer of Fight ClubChokeLullaby, andDamned. Join us for a moderated conversation with Palahniuk to reveal his keys to writing and storytelling. Award presentation and moderated discussion with Palahniuk preceded by director Andy Mingo’s short film Romance, a love story of our time.