Tag: film

August To June; Bringing Life to Palm Beach Schools


copyright © 2011 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

As any Mom or Dad might do on Parent Teacher Conference Day, Amy Valens, the Educator featured in the documentary film August To June, traveled from “classroom to classroom.”  This journey was not a conventional one. Indeed, Amy did not attend a series of Parent Teacher Conferences.  What she did was appear at Palm Beach screenings of her documentary.  The film follows twenty-six [26] third and fourth graders who studied with Amy in her last year of teaching.  The public school open classroom “Brings Life” to education.

After the movie was viewed, Ms Valens and the audiences engaged in conversations. They discussed what they saw and how it might relate to a broader dialogue.  The subjects of Education Reform, Classroom Standards, Teacher Quality, Merit Pay, Student-Rewards for Success, Parent Involvement, and Testing are but a few topics prominent in our national debate.  While the assemblies of viewers varied widely, the results were the same.  Every child, every class, all Teachers, and each parent, tells a unique tale.  Regardless of the individual or group, we see the world, or in this case the film, through our own lens.

The Bostonians: A Review

The late 19th Century American novelist Henry James commented on the emergent First-wave Feminist movement in his novel The Bostonians. In 1984, James’ book was adapted into a movie. Itself a selection of the Merchant Ivory school of period piece dramas, the film promises more than it provides, but is a minor gem nonetheless. James was a skeptic of Feminism and feminists, revealing both to be nothing more a collective of than uncompromising, ideologically polarizing fussy old maids. However, the author is also highly critical of the counter-weight to these passionate reformers, the charming, but manipulative Mississippi lawyer and frustrated writer, Basil Ransome. We will be formally introduced to him later in this review.

A great film

One mother’s day, my mother insisted that I watch a movie.  She has never done this before or since.  The movie is called Paper Clips, it’s out on DVD, and I urge everyone to see it. It’s about the holocaust, it’s about a small town in Tennessee, it’s about changing people and changing the world.

Why am I recommended a film on Docudharma? This isn’t a site about film, after all.  There are two big reasons: First, I am coming to think of myself as part of this community, and to count some as friends.  My friends should see this movie.  Second, although it isn’t totally obvious, this is exactly a Docudharma kind of film.

Before I go into a little detail, I will say that the movie, while uplifting overall, does deal with a lot of horrible information.  It’s a disturbing film.  It’s a good kind of disturbing, but I think that it might not be right for kids younger than about 10, and even older ones will need guidance with it, particularly if they do not know about the holocaust.

Paper Clips is about the Holocaust; but not really.  It’s not really a film about Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, it’s a film about Tennessee in the 1990s.  It’s not really a film about the genocide of millions of people, it’s about learning.  It’s not really about hate, it’s about hope.  It’s about changing the world.  And isn’t that what Docudharma is about?

OK, some details, without (I hope) spoiling it.  In 1998, in Whitwell, Tennessee (a small, all-white, all-Protestant town near Chattanooga) the high school principal decided that the kids should learn about some different people.  She decided that the school would study the holocaust.  They started off with not much idea of what to do.  Few of the teachers knew much.  One of the teachers admits to having been rather prejudiced.  The kids got the idea to try to collect a paper clip for every Jew who died in the camps.  This is their story.

Go see it.

It’s inspiring.

Two War Movies

I watched two war movies this weekend.  The luminous 1944 movie: Since You Went Away, a movie chock full of old fashioned Hollywood stars (and good ones at that) and a gritty 2010 movie,The Green Zone. Both these films were excellent, put me in a contemplative state and impressed me once again of the power of moving images with sound.

Since You Went Away, directed by John Cromwell (a journeyman studio director) and produced (and written for the screen by David Selznick) from a novel by Margaret Buell.  The cinematography of shadows and flickering, filtered soothing light was Stanley Cortez’ and Les Garmes’ and it is something to behold. (Cortez won an academy award) I’ve seen the film before but it seemed to be in pristine tones this time, so the film may have been salvaged and restored – and a glorious restoration it is.  Keep in mind that WW II was a necessary war (black and white war, one could say)- and in 1944 the tehnical skills of that medium was at it apex.

It starred Claudette Colbert as Anne Hilton, Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple as her daughters, Joseph Cotton as Lt. Commander Tony Willett, Monty Woolley as Col. William G. Smollen, Robert Walker as Corporal William G. Smollett II and Hattie McDaniel as Fidelia and the bitchy stand-in for all immoral, hoarding, selfish, unpatriotic Americans and the necessary dark shadowy female – Agnes Moorhead.

I’ve never seen Claudette Colbert better – never.  Her role as a central force, a touchstone of the family during the dark years of conflict was an exercise of empathy, elegance,  relaxed confidence and quiet determination to keep the home as “normal” as possible even with the background of war.  There was no clanging patriotism in this movie – only quiet scenes like Jennifer Jones’ work with the wounded boys at the nearby hospital as she worked as a nurses’ aid.  Her growth from a l7 year old schoolgirl to a young woman witnessing the aftereffects of war on young men not much older than herself is clearly registered on her young, innocent face and in the kind of sympathy only a child can evince.  Because the two adults in the film were muted and strong at the center – Jennifer becomes a better young actress before our eyes.  While in the beginning Jennifer was somewhat overwrought – that changes completely.  Shirley Temple was the younger sister and the weakest of the cast but she played her role well enough – a ’40s young teenager, funny and quirky.

Joseph Cotton (whom I liked very much for once) played the stock character role of a male suitor who lost out to the husband who is away at war and remains a bit in love with Anne.  But he puts a bite into that role – a dangerous bite and his welcome charm and playful sophistication (hiding a deeply patriotic naval officer – he has a Navy Cross we discover) are a welcome force in the household of four women.  He looked pretty good in those whites. (Not as good as Redford in The Way We Were, but who ever did) Heck, I welcomed his presence myself.  At times, I considered myself a fifth woman in the home.  If there is a heaven, I’d like to visit Anne some day – show up spontaneously in her l944 life.  Offer myself as a new neighbor, with a cake or pie (I saved my stamps for the sugar) and in the hopes she would offer me a cup of coffee.  Of course, she would and I could enjoy that comfortable home.  The family is upper middle class – but not in today’s sense   but in that time when the home seemed just about right, not over the top but furnished warmly with those beautiful white billowing curtains and lovely chairs covered in chintz.  Ever notice all those chairs in the 40’s films.  Think it may have been because people actually sat around and talked instead of watching television.  

To Be Continued

Sundance Channel on Iraq: 6th Anniversary

The Sundance Channel just launched a website in observance of the sixth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

From a post by Anna Brew, found at After Downing Street hattip for the lead:

The highlight of the site is a large collection of webisodes and clips from two documentaries that will premiere on television on March 19th (the date of the 2003 invasion): Hometown Baghdad and Heavy Metal in Baghdad. Both films capture the day-to-day realities confronted by Iraqi citizens.

“CSNY: Deja Vu”

A film by Neil Young

Due in theaters July 25

The Trailer

The war in Iraq is the backdrop as the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young “Freedom of Speech Tour” crisscrosses North America. Echoes of Vietnam-era anti-war sentiment abound as the band connects with today’s audiences.

Musings on comedy

Comedy and humor are the hardest things to write.  Sure, Hamlet gets all the praise, because it is oh-so-serious.  Preston Sturges makes this point in Sullivan’s Travels, his film about a Depression-era Hollywood writer of screwball comedies who wants to do something serious.  The movie is a dramedy, in fact, but this scene shows Sullivan’s epiphany


as he realizes the curative power of laughter: the way it frees people, if only for a time, from their troubles.

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See this movie!

Last night on a whim I went to the movies with a friend, and I saw something that left me jaw-dropped and disturbed.  I’ve spent all day turning it back and forth in my head, and I’m stunned how rich and complex the ironies were, and how devastating the ending – like very few movies I’ve seen.  And all this in a film directed by Ben Affleck.

It’s that ending I want to talk about – without giving away anything concrete about the film, the movie ends with a dilemma so shattering that it causes you to reexamine your moral beliefs.  Not bad for a 2 hour crime thriller, but it works.  Maybe even too well. 

The key is this notion of dilemma, and I want to discuss that concept in a little more depth before I talk about the movie:

On Zombies and Suburbs

Inspired by last night’s frequent zombie-related comments in this essay, combined with my lack of a literature diary for this week (I had a very good fill-in on dailykos), I decided to post an actual essay on zombies.

If that seems too fluffy a topic, it shouldn’t be: genre fiction is very serious stuff among academics, because it sometimes has greater insight about contemporary social and political issues than mainstream art (for a variety of reasons, but that’s a whole nother topic).  Where genre fiction has its hardest time is with middlebrow critics: no horror films have won an Oscar for best picture, for example.

With that in mind, I want to turn back to what I’ll unapologetically call the greatest of all horror films – maybe not the scariest, maybe not the best-acted, but certainly the richest and most thought-provoking: a low-budget 1978 gorefest called Dawn of the Dead.  If nothing else, the film is an excellent snapshot of mainstream American culture on the cusp of a particular type of collapse (the 1980s), and a brilliant combination of social critique, dire prediction, and philosophical density.  It’s also funny as hell and set the high (low?) water mark on what was considered an acceptable display of violence and gore.  But let’s start with some background: