Monday, November 19, 2007

"It's Only a Flesh Wound"

This is one of my favorite topics (no, not flesh wounds). I love looking at modern adaptations of literature through movies and TV shows and I think integrating these in to the curriculum not only makes your job fun, but creates a less painful environment for your students. It also sets your class up to be culturally relevant as it seems media art is shifting from books to movies and shows. Our society is becoming increasingly visual through the use of film so it's important to prepare students for what they will be exposed to and how media is altered, presented and used as a form of art.

In my classes this week, we discussed satire. Expecting this to be a really difficult topic, as they're 11 and 12 year olds, I was surprised how well they caught on. I showed the episode of The Simpsons in which Sherry Bobbins (not Mary Poppins) comes to help the family. Not only was it an excellent example of satire, but the students really enjoyed watching TV in class. Later, I showed a large chunk of the beginning of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and they loved it, even Denzell, the kid who hates everything. I'd stopped the movie every couple of minutes to explain some of the jokes, British history and social atmosphere that the movie is referencing, but by the end of class, students were able to pick up on it and call it out for me. I think this is great because not only was I expecting students to really struggle with the language, but also because English humor can be so dry.

Among other great uses of modern works, for example the movie Clueless in a unit on Jane Austen, I came across a great movie for class. I'm still trying to figure out how to exactly use it though. I'm thinking I will spend some time talking about artistic representation of the creator versus the interpretor, or even for a unit on poetry. The movie for this is Across the Universe, a love story using the Beatles music. It's a little cheesey, yes, but it does an awesome job of taking a song you've always had a clear grasp on what it's about and changing it entirely in the context of the movie. I don't like giving away things, but this scene was so interesting: Using the Beatles song, "I Want You," the film creates an intense look at the draft during the Vietnam War. In the beginning, Max shows up and is quickly stripped down and given a physical. The officers of the military are singing the song while he goes through his training and is then deployed. At that point the song transitions into the end with the line, "She's so heavy" and the soldiers are tracking through the field carrying the Statue of Liberty. I thought this was very powerful, especially since I never really thought about that song as an anti-war statement. Beyond that, the guitar part is one of the best I've ever heard, enough said.

Another film I'm excited to look at in the classroom is Moulin Rouge. I'm not a big fan of the movie personally, but the filming and symbolism are outstanding. Much like Across the Universe, the imagery and use of color are very important to the themes and plot. My argument, and I'm beginning to think it's only my argument, is that the director wanted to make make sure the characters did not embody any of the key ideas in the film, "truth, beauty, freedom and above all things love." I'd like to study with a class how each of these concepts are held up in the movie. To me, it seems like each character fails miserably at achieving truth, beauty, freedom or love in the end. The entire movie is more like a massive web of manipulation and destruction. This makes the movie better to me for some reason. I know that the movie is based on another story, but I like this look better. Instead of making it into this soft love story, I'd rather look at how none of the characters actually lives up to what they believe and are all around weak characters. What can I say, I'm optimistic in that way.

And finally, I want to figure out a way to show Scotland, P.A. because it is hands down the best Shakespearean adaptation ever. It is based on "MacBeth," but in 1975. It takes place at the dawn of fast food and has some pretty kick ass classic rock for the soundtrack as well. Like the play, Pat (Lady MacBeth) and Mac (I shouldn't have to explain that one) have a very ambiguous relationship in terms of power and no one is really sure who (Lady MacBeth, the witches or MacBeth himself) is to blame for putting the idea of killing other characters into MacBeth's head. The problem with this movie is it has a lot of graphic language. And it has some sexual scenes. And there's a lot of drug and alcohol use. Oh and it's pretty violent. Okay, so maybe it's not the best movie for class, but it's still pretty awesome.

1 comment:

  1. First of all, it's never too early to start watching Monty Python. Kids can handle humor, and I'm glad to see that you helped teach students to understand it better. The more people understand various forms of humor, the smarter they'll end up. And as for Rated R movies, I say Tipper Gore can just simmer down and let the kids watch the bad stuff. The real problem is not discussing language, violence and sex, and allowing kids to watch graphic images without explanation. Oi.