Monday, January 28, 2013

Skyfall: Heroism, and Women

Daniel Craig in "Skyfall"

My wife and I hit the dollar theater the other night to see the latest installment of the 50 year old 007 franchise. What most intrigued me about the film was the fact that Roger Deakins shot it (and that the film redeemed the series from the waste of Quantum of Solace), and I was not disappointed. However, as I began to think more about the film and my adrenaline stopped pumping I began reflecting on how it could be used in teaching. What has the 007 series taught us? I realized that this film offers some great opportunities to discuss elements of media literacy such as cultural heros and their reflection of the society that supports them, as well has the depiction of women. This post is intended to be a launch pad to discussion rather than a dissemination of well-packaged wisdom.

Who is this "hero" and why do we like him?

Obviously Bond, James Bond. The problem, however, is what happens if you were required to explain to an alien population why Bond is such a great hero. Well lets see . . . he kills people, he drives cool cars, he has nifty gadgets, and he never smiles or cries. Oh and don't forget, he usually travels with, travels to, or travels over a woman wearing something people call a dress . . . though it never really could be properly defended as such.

This depiction of a hero offers students the chance to talk about what it means to have a hero, and support heros. Washington was a hero to the newborn United States, Lincoln to the repressed Negro, Kennedy to Catholics around the globe. Why? I think more importantly than just naming the why is reflection on questions such as: "Who are your heros? How does what they do influence how you think and act?" 

What can be learned about the ideal man or ideal woman?

Bérénice Marlohe in "Skyfall"
If you have seen Skyfall, then you know why the picture to the left is deeply ironic. Marlohe's character is one of three women in the film that Bond makes sexual moves on. Interestingly enough, he comes at the woman after expressing his desire to help her escape the man who purchased her from the sex trade as a young girl. How does Bond "help"? He has sex with her, allows her to be captured and beaten, and then shot. All he can say about it is, "That was a waste of perfectly good scotch."

So a question one might ask their students: How is Bond's treatment of this woman different than that of her "owner"? Does this image help or hurt the idea of sex trafficking?

The Bond Girl has been around since the first film of the franchise (Dr. No). Over the years the role and impact of the women in each 007 film has changed, reflecting a continuing evolution of the role of women. This article gives a great summary and perspective of Bond's "psychosexual complexity" and reveals that there is more to discuss here than just how 'cool' the movie was.

Beyond heroism, women, and the journey of heros in film and literature, other topics of discussion include Bond's relationship with Q (the evolving use and love of technology) as well as the rule of law and military crime.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Teaching "Reflexive History"

Daniel Day-Lewis in "Lincoln" (2012)

History has always been one of my favorite subjects because of the stories, the people, and just the diversity that it offers. This NY Times article illustrates a large amount of nuance, history, and discussion material that many of us may completely miss if all we are interested in is the exciting plot (which isn't the biggest sin in in the world). History classes often use movies, some for better and others for worse. Sure, some teachers may just turn on Glory and call it good, but anyone who knows anything about history and teaching knows that is not enough.

What is the point of learning history? Well, obviously "those who don't learn history are doomed to repeat it" and all that, but really - why? I think one of the most important reasons to study history is to better understand ourselves and our times. We need to be reflexive.

When looking at a film there are at least 2 major parts of history being illustrated that encourage reflexive critical thinking.

Russell Crowe in "Robin Hood" (2010)
1. The moment the film was actually made. For example Hotel Rwanda was not made in the '90s. So why does that matter? Well, it might matter more than students can think? Is there anything the film makers could be trying to say by producing the film at the time they did? What were the political and global issues of the time the film was produced? Can anything be learned about the period of time of the film's creation based on the film itself?

Errol Flynn in "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938)

2. The time period being represented in the movie.  Robin Hood is one of the most well-known, and yet mysterious figures of our past. But beyond the general bio sketch we have of him, there is a wealth of history available when just looking at how he has been portrayed over the years. Robin Hood with Russell Crowe starring as the hero who is returned from the bloody failed crusades, is a much different rendition than Errol Flynn's portrayal in the early days of Hollywood. Much can be taught about what the life may have been like in the middle ages, and how our perspective has shifted.

I remember my 8th grade history teacher ripping on movies for not being very accurate, and yet he showed Pocahontas and How the West Was Won. What do you think I remember from his class? Well, it is obvious, I can tell you what movies we saw but I can't even remember if we used a textbook for that class. We should be taking advantage of media in the classroom by encouraging critical engagement, not apologizing for it! Students will begin to see how history is relevant and interesting to their own lives as the learn to think critically and be self-reflexive with their media choices.

"Pocahontas" (1995)

For more ideas (and evidence that what I am arguing above is not just the lame thoughts of a college kid) check out and list of the best 28 history movies to use in the classroom.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

5 Movies to Use in the Classroom

I had a great holiday season, not just because I spent time with my family and enjoyed a few days in the warmth of sunny California, but I also watched a good amount of movies. 

As the new year kicks off, I am filled with glowing visions of constantly cranking out insightful blog posts and interesting method ideas for using media. The reality is that it is going to be an up hill foray to keep going with this idea - but I am committed. While I may not have all the ideas, these are a few that came to mind over the Christmas break. 

Check it out.

1. Father of the Bride (1950): You won't see Steve Martin in this classic, however there is a great scene where Spencer Tracy (playing the father) and his wife (Joan Bennett) are laying in separate twin beds. How bizarre to today's audiences! Why aren't they in the same bed? Discussions about the Hollywood production code, censorship, and other historically significant topics abound. 

2. Star Trek (2009): Filled with excitement and wildly popular, the latest (not for long!) Star Trek movie is full of interesting topics that could benefit students. Black holes, Newton's laws and aspects of the atmosphere are just a few science related concepts that appear near the end of the film with the destruction of Nero. 

3. The Thin Blue Line: Errol Morris explores the somewhat complex and gray areas of uncertainty that exist when the lack of evidence is thin. Is truth something that always exists regardless of the facts? Can we really know something without all the facts? Watching just 10-15 minutes of this film can lead to a great discussion about evidence, point of view, and complexity are all an important part of our lives.

4. Fantastic Mr. Fox: Yes, this is somewhat related to Dahl's book and so there are many adaption-like discussion your class could have. However, one fun clip is when Mr. Fox begins calling out the latin names of all the animals. This is a nice short way to introduce a new unit in Biology, or illustrate in history class the influence of the dead language in our current sciences and society. 

5. The Man in the White Suit: When one man discovers how to make a fabric that is dirt-repellant and can't be ripped, it seems he has changed the world. However, the big businesses and concerned working class are so afraid of the innovation that they do all they can to stop it. This film is full of great discussion topics related to themes of progress, humanity, economics, class, race, and many more. 

These are just a few of the movies I watched in the last month, and though I haven't picked out specific clips from each of them, it is clear that there is a lot of content here. There is more than I can pick up on, that is for sure. What about you? What films do you like to use in your classroom?

Please share your ideas, clips, films, or other media that has helped your students take an interest to your lessons!