In Alfred Hitchcock's film Vertigo, Scottie Ferguson peers down the bell tower steps, sweating. Dramatic music plays as he freezes, unable to follow Madeleine up the steps to save her from jumping.
To view the scene today, you have several options: You can watch it on your smartphone or laptop, where James Stewart is a half-inch tall, climbing a tower the height of your thumb. You can scale it up a bit on your TV. Or, you can watch it in the theatre, with Mr. Stewart larger than life and the stairs seeming to fall away forever. Professor Eric Faden knows which format Hitchcock would say brought you closest to Scottie's acrophobia.
"Some films have a visceral impact on the large screen that they don't have on a laptop or phone," says Eric Faden, professor of English and Film/Media Studies. "Filmmakers include certain details for a reason, and sometimes they want something to look seven, eight, or nine feet tall. They design photography, color, sound and lighting in anticipation of the theatrical experience."
To help students understand the sophisticated visual and sonic grammar of film, Faden uses the Campus Theatre, an art deco movie palace in downtown Lewisburg, as a classroom. The pre-World War II-era cinema is one of about 100 of its kind in the country, and recently underwent a six-month renovation that included restoration of the original murals, an improved projection and sound system, refurbished seating, and a new air-conditioning and heating system.
"The Campus Theatre is the coolest classroom on the planet. Well, maybe not the planet, but definitely in the U.S.," he says. "We are able to show movies precisely as they were originally viewed. It's a rare thing to do, now that most of us watch movies on DVD, downloaded to our computers or on our cell phones."
One of Faden's students, Brian Ward '14, says of the unusual classroom experience, "We get to watch films the way they were intended to be seen, so that we can best see examples of whatever our class discussions have been about. I now watch movies, television shows and even commercials with a much more fine-tuned critical eye."