A distinguished panel gathered Saturday night to explore the phenomenon of going to the movies. Hosted by the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University, the program was titled "What Exactly Is Going On There in the Dark?"
Rutgers University philosopher Colin McGinn spoke about his new book, "The Power of Movies: How Screen and Mind Interact" (Pantheon). He said there was a difference between "what we see and what we look at" on screen. The viewer sees images on screen but looks through them at the actors.
He said the film medium takes three-dimensional objects and transforms them into a two-dimensional, weightless pattern of light.
Mr. McGinn compared the process of watching film to dreaming. Both involve discontinuities and sudden shifts ("cuts in scenes") that the moviegoer and dreamer do not find particularly troublesome.
Jonathan Miller, the English medical doctor and theater director, disagreed: "I don't think there's anything dreamlike about films unless the film is actually representing a dream."
WHEN TELEVISION WAS YOUNG What was it like to work in educational television in its infancy? As part of the Margaret Mead Film & Video Festival, a panel on Friday at the American Museum of Natural History explored two early science shows: "What in the World?" (1951-55), an archaeology quiz program hosted by Froelich Rainey of the University of Pennsylvania, and "Adventure" (1953-56), a show produced by CBS television and the AMNH that introduced the public to the work of anthropologists, astronomers, and archeologists.
By today's television standards, these early shows hewed to the basics: simple sets with maps, globes, and the like. In one segment of "What in the World?" sculptor Jacques Lipchitz and actor and art collector Vincent Price studied an artifact, trying to guess "what in the world" it was.
"Adventure," hosted by figures such as Mike Wallace and Charles Collingwood, aired at 5 p.m. on Sunday evenings. Speaking on the panel on Friday evening was Perry Wolff, a producer and writer for "Adventure," who said he had first approached the Museum of Modern Art about collaborating on the program, but when they were snobbish, he went to the AMNH instead.
Mr. Wolff told a humorous anecdote about a visitor who asked a guard where the CBS office was at the museum: "The guard replied, 'Well, they used to be with the reptiles, but now they're between the primates and man.'"
The audience watched clips from an episode in which paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson discussed the principles of evolution. The episode also showed a piece of choreography that featured modern dancers portraying a sequence of DNA, with male chromosomes flexing their biceps and female chromosomes demurely curtsying. "We used dancers," former associate producer Jac Venza said, "because then we couldn't afford animation. Today it would be the other way around. Animation would be cheaper."
A segment about the travels of Marco Polo was hosted by guest Eleanor Roosevelt, and another involving Mayan architecture featured the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, holding his porkpie hat. The floor director for that show was Joe Papp, who would later become well known as the Public Theater impresario. Charles Collingwood and Wright had enjoyed a three-martini lunch prior to the taping. Wright was scripted to say that Mayan architecture had been an "an influence" on him. But when Collingwood asked him about it on film, a slightly tipsy Wright denied any Mayan influence on his work. As Mr. Wolff quipped, "There was another 'influence' on Frank Lloyd Wright" that evening.