30 October 2010

For Your Halloween Enjoyment, The Wilhelm Scream

I'll let Wikipedia explain: The Wilhelm scream is a frequently-used film and television stock sound effect first used in 1951 for the film Distant Drums. The effect gained new popularity (its use often becoming an in-joke) after it was used in Star Wars and many other blockbuster films as well as television programs and video games. The scream is often used when someone is either pierced with an arrow or falls to his death from a great height, or because of an explosion.
The Wilhelm scream has become a well-known cinematic sound cliché, and is claimed to have been used in over 216 films and even certain video games.
The sound is named for Private Wilhelm, a character in The Charge at Feather River, a 1953 western in which the character is shot with an arrow. This was believed to be the second movie to use the sound effect and its first use from the Warner Brothers stock sound library.

24 October 2010

A Streams of Unconsciousness Classic: Trick or Treat or Movie, In it's Third Edition, This Time With No New Content

It is my pleasure to bring to you my third annual Halloween appropriate films post. Last year I added a few films to the last. This year I've nothing to add, so comprehensive were my first two posts. The paragraph below starts last year's post.

In October of last year I wrote a widely acclaimed post with recommended Halloween season films for your viewing pleasure. As a service to my readers (both of us) I am reproducing that post in toto below. As an added bonus I am suggesting a half dozen other Halloween appropriate films that you may enjoy, all good for scare, a laugh or at least your amusement. So within this post you'll find films that feature isolated castles, terrifying ghosts, hideous monsters, strange apparitions, mysterious powers, blood curdling screams and things that go bump in the night. Most of all you'll find some wonderful cinematic alternatives to bumming candy off your neighbors or enduring a silly costume party.

First the post titled "Trick Treat or Movie" from October 23, 2008.

Halloween is just around the corner (how's that for hokey intro!). Many of us old geezers no longer play dress up. And if the kiddies are too old to trick or treat (at least with parents in tow) we're free to stay at home and enjoy a scary movie or two.

Hollywood has been churning out horror films since the silent era. Sadly, the genre has recently morphed into slasher films that emphasize gratuitous gore. But there's still plenty to choose from from days of yore. Here's a sampling of choices for your Halloween viewing pleasure.

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Not just the best of the classic horror films of the Thirties, a wonderful film in its own right. The great James Whale's direction along with an intelligent script for a seemingly preposterous story outshine even the magical performance of Boris Karloff. Colin "it's Alive!" Clive is the now conflicted scientist and Elsa Lanchester is the blushing young bride. But Ernest Thesiger as the evil Dr. Pretorious is an absolute scene-stealer. This is a must-see film.

Frankenstein (1931) How about a shout out for the original? While out shined by the sequel its still an excellent film. Clive, Karloff and the prototype of the angry mob star. Excellent cinematography and some touching moments highlight this classic.

The Old Dark House (1932) It was a dark and stormy night. Let's see a group of travelers seek refuge from a driving rainstorm in a forbidding looking mansion. What could go wrong? You'll see. The residents are a decidedly odd lot with a temperamental butler. Amazing cast including Melvyn Douglass, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Charles Laughton that man Karloff again and the delightful Thesiger (watch and listen as he offers his guests potatoes). This is my third straight Whale selection. Obviously he had the Gothic horror story down cold.

Alien (1979) No, no, no it's not science fiction it's a horror film. This time the role of the haunted mansion is played by a space ship and the victims/heroes are astronauts. This does not change the fact that all the elements of the horror film are at work. While the Alien is terrifying (and set the standard for many years to come) it's those moments when it is lurking off screen that are tense and scary.

The Exorcist (1973) I was reading the book in college on a weekend when my roommates all happened to be out of town. I slept in the living room with lights on and though not a religious man I've worn a cross around my neck ever since. The movie is just as frightening even after repeat viewings.  An innocent young lass is possessed by the devil (don't you just hate that). Satan is profane, duplicitous and oh so dangerous. A great film by any standard.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) I like this better than the original (my God I've got a sequel and a re-make on this list, who'd of thunk). An absolutely terrifying concept expertly done by director Philip Kaufman. Alien clones are invading bodies and the human race is in peril. Will star Donald Sutherland save humanity or fall victim to this alien plot? The very notion of retaining your human form but your mind being taken over is chilling (hey, that sounds like Scientology!).

Psycho (1960) I know you've seen it a few times already but like a lot of Hitchcock's finest it gets better with each viewing. It never loses its suspense (how did Hitch do that?).  Just don't think about it in the shower. Janet Leigh and Vera Miles star along with the creepy Anthony Perkins and his..um "mom.."

Young Frankenstein (1974) Why not some Halloween chuckles? I've never been a huge Mel Brooks fan but I love this film. This is, of course the classic send off of the Frankenstein film with Gene Wilder as the doctor and Peter Boyle as the monster. The all star cast includes Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman and Marty Feldman as the funniest Igor you'll ever see.

The Ring (2002) What's this? I have a film of recent vintage? Yes. I obviously quite liked it. It's a mystery as much as a horror film (many scary movies are) with an intelligent plot. The opportunity to enjoy Naomi Watts is a plus. She's both a great beauty and a great actress.

The Shining (1980) If he'd a mind to Stanley Kubrick could likely have directed a lot of good horror films and Jack Nicholson could have starred in them. Their respective directing and acting styles lent themselves to the genre.  The Shining is proof. A family of caretakers in a snowed in mountain resort. The father goes bats. Supernatural events take place. Kudos to Stephen King's story and Kubrick's adaptation of it.

Omen (1976) What could possibly be scarier than the anti-Christ?  I can't think of anything either. Gregory Peck is an American statesman who's got the bad fortune of being the anti-Christ's father (and you thought your kid was a little devil). Richard Donner was the perfect man to direct this. It's got grisly deaths, tension and excitement and maybe a little something for bible thumpers and agnostics alike to think about.  There are sequels and remakes aplenty but stick to this, the original.

Rosemary's Baby (1968) What could be worse than fathering the devil? How about giving birth to it? That was Mia Farrow's lot in this wonderfully scary Roman Polanski film. The worst part is that everyone seems to be in on it. Not knowing whom you can trust is scary stuff indeed. What's really scary is when there's such a sense of normalcy but you gradually discover something is amiss. Horribly so.

Dracula (1931) We close with this absolute classic. No one will ever be better in the title role than was Bela Lugosi. His performance is one of the reasons that this Dracula version ages so well. A seductive and intelligent demon is the worst kind to deal with. Repeat viewings only increase the film's allure.

And now for this year's addendum.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). Here's a real poser, try providing a synopsis of this movie. Suffice it to say everyone should see it at least once. Many have seen it dozens and dozens of times. The ultimate cult classic. Tim Curry as...whatever he is, steals the show So what is it? Why it's....

It's just a jump to the left.
And then a step to the right.
With your hand on your hips.
You bring your knees in tight.
But it's the pelvic thrust.
They really drive you insane.
Let's do the Time Warp again.
Let's do the Time Warp again.
Poltergeist (1982). I watched it again this weekend for the first time science it first hit theaters (thanks TCM). I'm pleased to say it holds up pretty well. By no means a classic but it does tap into some very real fears: loss of a child; not safe in your own home; unseen forces at work and goblins in your TV set of all places. It's also a cautionary tale about building tract houses over graveyards.

The Invisible Man (1933). I love this movie. The feature film debut of the great Claude Rains (photo above) and what a debut it was. He's a cackling but diabolical mad scientist who's gone and got himself invisible (don't you just hate when that happens?). He checks into a typical English country tavern to try to sort things out and the next thing you know Una O'Connor is screeching left and right. Another horror classic from my man James Whale.

Carrie (1976). The granddaddy of all oh-my-God-I-totally-didn't-see-that-coming-I-thought-all-the-scariness-was-over movies -- to coin a phrase. Brian DePalma directed, Sissy Spacek  stars in this story of a teen with telekinetic powers This is not someone you want to p*ss off and wouldn't you know, pretty much all of her classmates conspire to humiliate her, and at the prom no less. Hell hath no fury like a girl with telekinesis scorned.

The Mummy (1932). Our old friend Karloff again, this time he's all wrapped up in his work (pause while readers roll on the floor emitting gales of laughter). For God's sakes folks don't waste your time with any of those silly Brendan Fraser mummy movies of recent vintage, you want this classic. British explorers discover an old Egyptian tomb  and let loose a killer mummy. This was an easy sell for audiences back in its time because of the supposed curse on discoverers (disturbers) of King Tut's tomb. Karloff is wonderful as is a supporting cast that's mostly unfamiliar to today's viewers.

Nosferatu (1922). Today silly vampire movies are a dime a dozen. We've even had silly vampire TV shows with equally silly slayers of said vampires. It's being done -- you should excuse the expression -- to death. But here we have the original, preceding even Lugosi's blood loving count by nearly a decade. Moreover it comes from legendary German director F.W.  Murnau. I'll not say more about it now because I'm going to screen Nosferatu in a day or so and do a separate post on it soon.

A few of other titles to consider: Aliens (1986), Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), The Blob (1958), The Blair Witch Project (1999), Tremors (1990), The Wolf Man (1941), The Haunting (1963).

20 October 2010

Movie Titles Available, All You've Got to Do is Ask (And Pony Up Some Dough)

I've tried but I just don't see myself writing a film script. Hell, it's all I can do to maintain a film blog. But I can come up with film titles. This is not so easily done and as the folks in marketing will tell you it is key to selling a picture. So I've exercised my modest talents to come up with some ready made titles. It's up to the rocket scientists in Hollywood (I'm kidding of course, they're are a bunch of idiots) to take advantage of my labors. Here are 21 film titles applicable to the standard fare that Hollywood churns out like so much spam. Anyone interested in one of these for their next blockbuster or bomb simply email me and we'll discuss terms. I've also offered some ideas for the type of film each title could be used for. Dig in.

Lethal Margin You could make this a cop film, or pile on the special films for an action feature.

XTreme Man The definitive action super hero film. No one, but no one can get the best of someone called XTreme Man. And you know how he does everything? To the extreme>

Death Ray Outer space. Explosions. I'm spit balling here...how about a giant laser?

Tex Lucy and the Terror Train I've done half your work by coming up with the title, the rest should be a piece of cake.

Brother's Keeper Just off the top of my head I'm thinking this is a drama with a pair of siblings. Life lessons learned that sort of thing.

Harbor City Hokies This would be the the story of a rag tap assemblage of misfits who magically come together under a gruff but lovable coach for one magical season.

Triplets! Hilarious complications ensue when a mismatched pair not only have a baby but three at once!

The Wedding Caterer We've already had films about just plain old weddings, and about a wedding singer and a wedding planner so this must be next.

Demon Pirates of Tangiers You've got the title, the movie practically writes itself, get to work fellas.

Heart of Candy Maybe an indy film. An offbeat love story set against the harsh backdrop of meth country.

Ghost Caller We clearly need more films in which people encounter and talk to ghosts. This has got to be in the offing.

Never Man You can go a million ways with a title like this. Could be anything from a Sci Fi thriller to the dramatic story of a man's mid life crisis.

Rock and Darcy They're a lovable duo. Could be a hetero teen couple, maybe gay, maybe a girl and her dog. The possibilities are endless.

Johnny Best My first thought is guitar wielding country boy, but then again this could be a super hero or the son of short time Beatle Pete Best.

Glitz A rollicking musical!

Switchblade 2 This presupposes that someone first makes a slasher film called Switchblade. I'm thinking any day now.

The Poke-Along Gang Finally a movie for the kids that the whole family can enjoy. The darling misadventures of...You get the idea.

Fantastic Beloved If you've got a simply AMAZING love story with a hint of the mystical, here's your title.

Steel Magnum The perfect cop action movie title.

Attack of the Killer Otters Admittedly this one's a long shot but just in case.

Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood A ridiculous title I know but...what's that? I'm being told this has already been used. You're kidding right? What moron would call a movie -- aw, skip it!

19 October 2010

Don't See This Movie -- At Least Until After Reading This

Imagine if during the height of the recent US war in Iraq, politicians, academics and  Ordinary Joes started blaming the debacle on the soldiers. "Soldiers need to be held accountable," they'd opine. "There are too many who are under performing. We need to start evaluating them more carefully. Maybe establish merit pay for those who are getting the most kills."

Unthinkable, right? But teachers go about their duties in trying conditions, often poorly supplied and without the overwhelming public support afforded soldiers. As US schools continue to struggle relative to some Asian and many European countries, teachers have become convenient scapegoats. It is infinitely more difficult to face the fact that education is grossly under funded, that American culture similarly undervalues educations (leads to elites!) and that a huge percentage of struggling students come from not only non-supportive homes, but ones with severe problems. Teachers are expected to be miracle workers.

I have seen first hand the terrible disparity in education in this country. It represents a form of economic oppression and classism. I've been to private schools in San Francisco where predominantly white student bodies roam carpeted halls on their way to classrooms that boast the latest educational technology. All the facilities are new, modern and clean. I've also been to public schools in East Oakland that are almost exclusively comprised of African American and Hispanic students. The facilities are adequate at best, school supplies are old and shabby and classrooms are crowded. This is 21st century America but there are shades of the time before Brown v. Board of Education.

(By the way I have a simple and guaranteed solution for curing what ails our schools, though it could never happen. Outlaw private schools. Politicians, whose children and grandchildren would all be forced to attend public schools, would allocate funds as generously to education as they currently do to the military. Meanwhile, all the time, energy resources and money that the wealthy funnel into private schools would now find their way to public ones.)

I bring all this up now because of the recent release of a documentary on the "crisis" in America's schools called Waiting for Superman. All I need to know about is that takes pot shots at teachers. I am proud to have taught for 18 years at a public middle school and don't take kindly to people talking smack about teachers. You've no idea, unless you're in the biz, what dedicated, hard-working, industrious, imaginative people  most teachers are. We deserve the kind of adulation so freely given to athletes, entertainers and the military. (Yes, I recognize that there are a few bad apples. Can you name a profession in which that is not the case?)

So do I mean to write about a movie I've never seen? Indeed do I presume to dissuade people from seeing a movie I've never seen? No. But I would ask that you read the article below that I copy and pasted from the Washington Post. It was written by Rick Ayers. His son was a student of mine and my youngest child was a student of his. So I know the man and he's aces. He took a bullet for a lot of us by seeing the film and writing about it.
Here it is:

What ‘Superman’ got wrong, point by point
This was written by Rick Ayers, a former high school teacher, founder of Communication Arts and Sciences small school at Berkeley High School, and currently adjunct professor in teacher education at the University of San Francisco. He is the co-author, with his brother William Ayers, of the forthcoming "Teaching the Taboo" from Teachers College Press. This post is long, but it is worth your time.
By Rick Ayers
While the education filmWaiting For Superman has moving profiles of students struggling to succeed under difficult circumstances, it puts forward a sometimes misleading and other times dishonest account of the roots of the problem and possible solutions.
The amped-up rhetoric of crisis and failure everywhere is being used to promote business-model reforms that are destabilizing even in successful schools and districts. A panel at NBC’s Education Nation Summit, taking place in New York today and tomorrow, was originally titled "Does Education Need a Katrina?" Such disgraceful rhetoric undermines reasonable debate.
Let’s examine these issues, one by one:
*Waiting for Superman says that lack of money is not the problem in education.
Yet the exclusive charter schools featured in the film receive large private subsidies. Two-thirds of Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone funding comes from private sources, effectively making the charter school he runs in the zone a highly resourced private school.Promise Academy is in many ways an excellent school, but it is dishonest for the filmmakers to say nothing about the funds it took to create it and the extensive social supports including free medical care and counseling provided by the zone.

In New Jersey, where court decisions mandated similar programs, such as high quality pre-kindergarten classes

and extended school days and social services in the poorest urban districts, achievement and graduation rates increased while gaps started to close. But public funding for those programs is now being cut and progress is being eroded. Money matters! Of course, money will not solve all problems (because the problems are more systemic than the resources of any given school) – but the off-handed rejection of a discussion of resources is misleading.

*Waiting for Superman implies that standardized testing is a reasonable way to assess student progress.
The debate of “how to raise test scores” strangles and distorts strong education. Most test score differences stubbornly continue to reflect parental income and neighborhood/zip codes, not what schools do. As opportunity, health and family wealth increase, so do test scores.
This is not the fault of schools but the inaccuracy, and the internal bias, in the tests themselves.
Moreover, the tests are too narrow (on only certain subjects with only certain measurement tools). When schools focus exclusively on boosting scores on standardized tests, they reduce teachers to test-prep clerks, ignore important subject areas and critical thinking skills, dumb down the curriculum and leave children less prepared for the future. We need much more authentic assessment to know if schools are doing well and to help them improve.
*Waiting for Superman ignores overall problems of poverty.
Schools must be made into sites of opportunity, not places for the rejection and failure of millions of African American, Chicano Latino, Native American, and immigrant students. But schools and teachers take the blame for huge social inequities in housing, health care, and income.

Income disparities between the richest and poorest in U.S.society have reached record levels between 1970 and today. Poor communities suffer extensive traumas and dislocations. Homelessness, the exploitation of immigrants, and the closing of community health and counseling clinics, are all factors that penetrate our school communities. Solutions that punish schools without addressing these conditions only increase the marginalization of poor children.

*Waiting for Superman says teachers’ unions are the problem. 
Of course unions need to be improved – more transparent, more accountable, more democratic and participatory – but before teachers unionized, the disparity in pay between men and women was disgraceful and the arbitrary power of school boards to dismiss teachers or raise class size without any resistance was endemic.
Unions have historically played leading roles in improving public education, and most nations with strong public educational systems have strong teacher unions.
According to this piece in The Nation, "In the Finnish education system, much cited in the film as the best in the world, teachers are – gasp! – unionized and granted tenure, and families benefit from a cradle-to-grave social welfare system that includes universal daycare, preschool and health care, all of which are proven to help children achieve better results in school."
In fact, even student teachers have a union in Finland and, overall, nearly 90% of the Finnish labor force is unionized.
The demonization of unions ignores the real evidence.
*Waiting for Superman says teacher education is useless.
The movie touts the benefits of fast track and direct entry to teaching programs such as Teach for America, but the country with the highest achieving students, Finland, also has highly educated teachers.
A 1970 reform of Finland’s education system mandated that all teachers above the kindergarten level have at least a master’s degree. Today that country’s students have the highest math and science literacy, as measured by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), of all the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries.
*Waiting for Superman decries tenure as a drag on teacher improvement. 
Tenured teachers cannot be fired without due process and a good reason: they can’t be fired because the boss wants to hire his cousin, or because the teacher is gay (or black or…)

Income disparities between the richest and poorest in U.S.society have reached record levels between 1970 and today. Poor communities suffer extensive traumas and dislocations. Homelessness, the exploitation of immigrants, and the closing of community health and counseling clinics, are all factors that penetrate our school communities. Solutions that punish schools without addressing these conditions only increase the marginalization of poor children.

*Waiting for Superman says teachers’ unions are the problem. 
Of course unions need to be improved – more transparent, more accountable, more democratic and participatory – but before teachers unionized, the disparity in pay between men and women was disgraceful and the arbitrary power of school boards to dismiss teachers or raise class size without any resistance was endemic.
Unions have historically played leading roles in improving public education, and most nations with strong public educational systems have strong teacher unions.
According to this piece in The Nation, "In the Finnish education system, much cited in the film as the best in the world, teachers are – gasp! – unionized and granted tenure, and families benefit from a cradle-to-grave social welfare system that includes universal daycare, preschool and health care, all of which are proven to help children achieve better results in school."
In fact, even student teachers have a union in Finland and, overall, nearly 90% of the Finnish labor force is unionized.
The demonization of unions ignores the real evidence.

*Waiting for Superman says teacher education is useless.
The movie touts the benefits of fast track and direct entry to teaching programs such as Teach for America, but the country with the highest achieving students, Finland, also has highly educated teachers.
A 1970 reform of Finland’s education system mandated that all teachers above the kindergarten level have at least a master’s degree. Today that country’s students have the highest math and science literacy, as measured by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), of all the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries.
*Waiting for Superman decries tenure as a drag on teacher improvement. 
Tenured teachers cannot be fired without due process and a good reason: they can’t be fired because the boss wants to hire his cousin, or because the teacher is gay (or black or…), or because they take an unpopular position on a public issue outside of school.
A recent survey found that most principals agreed that they had the authority to fire a teacher if they needed to take such action. It is interesting to note that when teachers are evaluated through a union-sanctioned peer process, more teachers are put into retraining programs and dismissed than through administration-only review programs. Overwhelmingly teachers want students to have outstanding and positive experiences in schools.
*Waiting for Superman says charter schools allow choice and better educational innovation. 
Charters were first proposed by the teachers’ unions to allow committed parents and teachers to create schools that were free of administrative bureaucracy and open to experimentation and innovation, and some excellent charters have set examples. But thousands of hustlers and snake oil salesmen have also jumped in.
While teacher unions are vilified in the film, there is no mention of charter corruption or profiteering. A recent national study by CREDO, The Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, concludes that only 17% of charter schools have better test scores than traditional public schools, 46% had gains that were no different than their public counterparts, and 37% were significantly worse.
While a better measure of school success is needed, even by their own measure, the project has not succeeded. A recent Mathematica Policy Research study came to similar conclusions. And the Education Report,"The Evaluation of Charter School Impacts, concludes, “On average, charter middle schools that hold lotteries are neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving student achievement, behavior, and school progress.”
Some fantastic education is happening in charter schools, especially those initiated by communities and led by teachers and community members. But the use of charters as a battering ram for those who would outsource and privatize education in the name of “reform” is sheer political opportunism.
*Waiting for Superman glorifies lotteries for admission to highly selective and subsidized charter schools as evidence of the need for more of them.
If we understand education as a civil right, even a human right as defined by the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, we know it can’t be distributed by a lottery.
We must guarantee all students access to high quality early education, highly effective teachers, college and work-preparatory curricula and equitable instructional resources like good school libraries and small classes. A right without a clear map of what that right protects is an empty statement.
It is not a sustainable public policy to allow more and more public school funding to be diverted to privately subsidized charters while public schools become the schools of last resort for children with the greatest educational needs. In Waiting for Superman, families are cruelly paraded in front of the cameras as they wait for an admission lottery in an auditorium where the winners’ names are pulled from a hat and read aloud, while the losing families trudge out in tears with cameras looming in their faces – in what amounts to family and child abuse.
*Waiting for Superman says competition is the best way to improve learning.
Too many people involved in education policy are dazzled by the idea of “market forces” improving schools.
By setting up systems of competition, Social Darwinist struggles between students, between teachers, and between schools, these education policy wonks are distorting the educational process.

Teachers will be motivated to gather the most promising students, to hide curriculum strategies from peers, and to cheat; principals have already been caught cheating in a desperate attempt to boost test scores. And children are worn out in a sink-or-swim atmosphere that threatens them with dire life outcomes if they are not climbing to the top of the heap.
In spite of the many millions of dollars poured into expounding the theory of paying teachers for higher student test scores (sometimes mislabeled as ‘merit pay’), a new study by Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Performance Incentives found that the use of merit pay for teachers in the Nashville school district produced no difference even according to their measure, test outcomes for students.
*Waiting for Superman says good teachers are key to successful education. We agree. But Waiting for Superman only contributes to the teacher-bashing culture which discourages talented college graduates from considering teaching and drives people out of the profession.
According to the Department of Education, the country will need 1.6 million new teachers in the next five years. Retention of talented teachers is one key. Good teaching is about making connections to students, about connecting what they learn to the world in which they live, and this only happens if teachers have history and roots in the communities where they teach.
But a recent report by the nonprofit National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future says that “approximately a third of America’s new teachers leave teaching sometime during their first three years of teaching; almost half leave during the first five years. In many cases, keeping our schools supplied with qualified teachers is comparable to trying to fill a bucket with a huge hole in the bottom.”
Check out the reasons teachers are being driven out in Katy Farber’s book, "Why Great Teachers Quit: And How We Might Stop the Exodus," (Corwin Press).
*Waiting for Superman says “we’re not producing large numbers of scientists and doctors in this country anymore. . . This means we are not only less educated, but also less economically competitive.”

But Business Week (10/28/09) reported that “U.S. colleges and universities are graduating as many scientists and engineers as ever,” yet “the highest performing students are choosing careers in other fields.” In particular, the study found, “many of the top students have been lured to careers in finance and consulting.” It’s the market, and the disproportionately high salaries paid to finance specialists, that is misdirecting human resources, not schools.
*Waiting for Superman promotes a nutty theory of learning which claims that teaching is a matter of pouring information into children’s heads.
In one of its many little cartoon segments, the film purports to show how kids learn. The top of a child’s head is cut open and a jumble of factoids is poured in. Ouch! Oh, and then the evil teacher union and regulations stop this productive pouring project.
The film-makers betray a lack of understanding of how people actually learn, the active and engaged participation of students in the learning process. They ignore the social construction of knowledge, the difference between deep learning and rote memorization.
The movie would have done a service by showing us what excellent teaching looks like, and addressing the valuable role that teacher education plays in preparing educators to practice the kind of targeted teaching that reaches all students. It should have let teachers’ voices be heard.
*Waiting for Superman promotes the idea that we are in a dire war for US dominance in the world.
The poster advertising the film shows a nightmarish battlefield in stark gray, with a little white girl sitting at a desk in the midst of it. The text: “The fate of our country won’t be decided on a battlefield. It will be determined in a classroom.”
This is a common theme of the so-called reformers: We are at war with India and China and we have to out-math them and crush them so that we can remain rich and they can stay in the sweatshops.
But really, who declared this war? When did I as a teacher sign up as an officer in this war? And when did that 4th grade girl become a soldier in it? Instead of this new educational Cold War, perhaps we should be helping kids imagine a world of global cooperation, sustainable economies, and equity.
*Waiting for Superman says federal “Race to the Top” education funds are being focused to support students who are not being served in other ways.
According to a study by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., and others, Race to the Top funds are benefiting affluent or well-to-do, white, and“abled” students. So the outcome of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top has been more funding for schools that are doing well and more discipline and narrow test-preparation for the poorest schools.
*Waiting for Superman suggests that teacher improvement is a matter of increased control and discipline over teachers.
Dan Brown, a teacher in the SEED charter school featured in the film, points out that successful schools involve teachers in strong collegial conversations. Teachers need to be accountable to a strong educational plan, without being terrorized. Good teachers, which is the vast majority of them, are seeking this kind of support from their leaders.
*Waiting for Superman proposes a reform “solution” that exploits the feminization of the field of teaching; it proposes that teachers just need a few good men with hedge funds (plus D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee with a broom) to come to the rescue. 
Teaching has been historically devalued – teachers are less well compensated and have less control of their working conditions than other professionals – because of its associations with women.
For example, 97% of preschool and kindergarten teachers are women, and this is also the least well-compensated sector of teaching; in 2009, the lowest 10% earned $30,970 to $34,280; the top 10% earned $75,190 to $80,970. () By comparison the top 25 hedge fund managers took in $25 billion in 2009, enough to hire 658,000 new teachers.

Waiting for Superman could and should have been an inspiring call for improvement in education, a call we desperately need to mobilize behind.

That’s why it is so shocking that the message was hijacked by a narrow agenda that undermines strong education. It is stuck in a framework that says that reform and leadership means doing things, like firing a bunch of people (Rhee) or “turning around” schools (Education Secretary Arne Duncan) despite the fact that there’s no research to suggest that these would have worked, and there’s now evidence to show that they haven’t.

Reform must be guided by community empowerment and strong evidence, not by ideological warriors or romanticized images of leaders acting like they’re doing something, anything. Waiting for Superman has ignored deep historical and systemic problems in education such as segregation, property-tax based funding formulas, centralized textbook production, lack of local autonomy and shared governance, de-professionalization, inadequate special education supports, differential discipline patterns, and the list goes on and on.
People seeing Waiting for Superman should be mobilized to improve education. They just need to be willing to think outside of the narrow box that the film-makers have constructed to define what needs to be done.
Thanks for ideas and some content from many teacher publications, and especially from Monty Neill, Jim Horn Lisa Guisbond, Stan Karp, Erica Meiners, Kevin K

Yumashiro, Ilene Abrams, Bill Ayers, and Therese Quinn.

17 October 2010

More Film Quotes, This Time They're Strictly Woody

Long time readers of this blog (both of us) know of my fondness for film quotes. I have, in fact, dedicated five posts just to quotes. Two were comprised strictly of quotes from males, two from females and one was co-educational. With this post I provide quotes solely from films written and directed by Woody Allen. This was actually quite easy aside from restricting the total to 20. I also imposed a one quote per film quota on myself. Enjoy.

I was born into the Hebrew persuasion, but when I got older I converted to narcissism. - Allen as Sid Waterman in Scoop (2006).

For some miraculous reason, it's a wonderful feeling having a teacher you've seen dance naked in front of a mirror. - Allen as the narrator in Radio Days (1987).

To you, I'm an atheist; to God, I'm the loyal opposition. - Allen as Sandy Bates in Stardust Memories (1980).

I once stole a pornographic book that was printed in braille. I used to rub the dirty parts. - Allen as Fielding Melish in Bananas (1971).

Maria Elena used to say that only unfulfilled love can be romantic. - Javier Bardem as Juan Antonio in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008).

I never believed in God. No, I didn't even as a little kid. I remember this. I used to think even if he exists, he's done such a terrible job, it's a wonder people don't get together and file a class action suit against him. - Alan Alda as Bob in Everyone Says I Love You (1996).

Don't you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we're left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here. - Allen as Alvy Singer in Annie Hall (1977).

Hey, wait a minute! I know where we are. These are the flatlands. My husband's friends used to dump bodies here. - Mai Farrow as Tina Vitale in Broadway Danny Rose (1984).

Well, for anybody with any imagination. You know, life is manageable enough if you keep your hopes modest. The minute you allow yourself sweet dreams you run the risk of them crashing down. - Radha Mitchell as Melinda in Melinda and Melinda (2004).

Years ago I wrote this short story about my Mother called "The Castrating Zionist." - Allen as Isaac Davis in Manhattan (1979).

Tradition is the illusion of permanence. - Allen as Harry Block in Deconstructing Harry (1997).

I can't listen to that much Wagner, ya know? I start to get the urge to conquer Poland. - Allen as Larry Lipton in Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993).

You can't learn to be real. It's like learning to be a midget. - Jeff Daniels as Gil Shepard in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985).

She's perky all right. She makes you want to sneak up behind her with a pillow and suffocate her. - Dianne Wiest as Helen Sinclair in Bullets Over Broadway (1994).

I'm not really the heroic type. I was beat up by Quakers. -  Allen as Miles Monroe in Sleeper (1973).

You missed a very dull TV show on Auschwitz. More gruesome film clips, and more puzzled intellectuals declaring their mystification over the systematic murder of millions. The reason they can never answer the question "How could it possibly happen?" is that it's the wrong question. Given what people are, the question is "Why doesn't it happen more often?"  - Max Van Sydow as Frederick in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986).

That's why I can't say enough times, whatever love you can get and give, whatever happiness you can filch or provide, every temporary measure of grace, whatever works. - Larry David as Boris Yellnikoff in Whatever Works (2009).

I remember my father telling me, "The eyes of God are on us always." The eyes of God. What a phrase to a young boy. What were God's eyes like? Unimaginably penetrating, intense eyes, I assumed. And I wonder if it was just a coincidence I made my specialty ophthalmology- Martin Landau as Judah Rosenthal in Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989).

And to the, to the gentleman who's appendix I took out, I...I'm, I don't know what to say, if it's any consolation I... I may still have it somewhere around the house. - Allen as Leonard Zelig in Zelig (1983).

I know I could have been a better wife to you... kinder. I could have made love with you more often... or once, even. - Diane Keaton as Sonja in Love and Death (1975).

10 October 2010

In Honor of Today Being 10/10/10 I Offer 10 Lists of 10

The last time the date was 10/10/10 I did not have this film blog so this is the first such post I've ever done.  Yes when the calender last featured a trio of tens times were different indeed. The Kaiser ruled Germany, Babe Ruth had not yet debuted with the Red Sox and movies were still more than a decade from fully incorporating sound. The internet was in its infancy....But I digress.

Today I offer what I couldn't 100 years ago in recognition of the date. Ten film lists of ten films apiece. Please note that not all are in order and none are annotated.

Ten Great Films From Italy
1. Amarcord (1973)
2. 8/12 (1963)
3. Open City (1945)
4. Nights of Cabiria (1957)
5. Bicycle Thieves (1948)
6. Paisan (1946)
7. Umberto D. (1952)
8. Two Women (1960)
9. La Dolce Vita (1960)
10. La notti bianche (1957)

Ten Terrific Westerns
1. The Searchers (1956)
2. Stagecoach (1939)
3. Red River (1948)
4. The Wild Bunch (1969)
5. Westward the Women (1951)
6. Ride the High Country (1962)
7. The Naked Spur (1953)
8. The Big Trail (1930)
9. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1960)
10. The Westerner (1940)

Ten Movies That Crack Me Up
1. Animal House (1978)
2. Duck Soup (1933)
3. The Palm Beach Story (1942)
4. Stripes (1981)
5. Some Like it Hot (1959)
6. Trading Places (1983)
7. Safety Last (1923)
8. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
9. Bananas (1971)
10. The Gold Rush (1925)

My Ten Favorite Hitchcock films
1. Vertigo (1958)
2. Foreign Correspondent (1940)
3. Shadow of a Doubt (1942)
4. Psycho (1960)
5. Strangers on a Train (1951)
6. The 39 Steps (1935)
7. Notorious (1946)
8. Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)
9. The Lady Vanishes (1938)
10. I Confess (1953)

Ten Films I Like a Lot That Have A Person's Name For the Title
1. Annie Hall (1977)
2. Rebecca (1940)
3. Barry Lyndon (1975)
4. Arthur (1981)
5. Ninochka (1939)
6. Ed Wood (1994)
7. Ali (2001)
8. Vera Drake (2004)
9. Milk (2008)
10. Mildred Pierce (1945)

Ten Best American Films From the First Half of the 1970s
1. The Godfather (1972)
2. Cabaret (1972)
3. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
4. The Exorcist (1973)
5. The Godfather Part II (1974)
6. The Sting (1973)
7. Mean Streets (1973)
8. The Last Picture Show (1971)
9. The Conversation (1974)
10. Little Big Man (1970)

Ten Fantastic French Films From the 1960s
1. Shoot the Piano Player (1960)
2. Le Samouri (1967)
3. Band of Outsiders (1964)
4. Jules et Jim (1962)
5. Breathless (1960)
6. Vivre Sa Vie (1962)
7. Army of Shadows (1969)
8. The Two of Us (1967)
9. The Sorrow and the Pity (1969)
10. The Fire Within (1963)

Ten Great Films Based on Actual Events
1. Goodfellas (1990)
2. Raging Bull (1980)
3. Schindler's List (1993)
4. The Great Escape (1963)
5. JFK (1991)
6. Zodiac (2007)
7. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
8. Bonnie & Clyde (1967)
9. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
10. The Social Network (2010)

Ten Movies With Trial Scenes
1. The Verdict (1982)
2. Inherit the Wind (1960)
3. Paths of Glory (1957)
4. Wild Boys of the Road (1933)
5. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
6. Midnight Mary (1933)
7. Philadelphia (1993)
8. Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
9. Two Seconds (1932)
10. Amistad (1997)

Ten Films in Which People Watch a Film
1. Cinema Paradiso (1988)
2. Vivre Sa Vie (1962)
3. Sunset Blvd. (1950)
4. Sullivan's Travels (1941)
5. Shoe-Shine (1946)
6. The Last Picture Show (1971)
7. Gods & Monsters (1998)
8. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
9. The Aviator (2004)
10. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

08 October 2010

01 October 2010

Plenty of Pencils, Plenty of Books, Plenty of Teachers' Dirty Looks, in Movies No Less; Some of the Best Films Set in Schools

"Those who can teach
Those who can't become administrators."

According to my calendar it's October which means among other things that there's foliage aplenty and students across the country are settled into the new school year. The classroom is an ideal setting for a film and it's only surprising there haven't been more really good movies set in schools.

Perhaps one reason is that too many such attempts are well meaning but ultimately unrealistic portrayals of teachers as miracle workers who by dint of an impassioned speech can turn a failing student into Einstein. School movies also tend to create stock characters of teachers and especially students playing too much into stereotypes and not trying to say anything real about their lives and struggles. There are exceptions, some of which are in the list below. There are also films that satirize or parodize (I made that word up).

I know a little bit about the subject having spent over 20 years teaching, not to mention 13 years in public schools and umpteen years in various universities accumulating all manner of degrees, certificates and credentials (which are collectively worth something approximating the cost of the paper they were printed on). Anyway I thus claim to have some authority in discussing school films, both as a movie devotee and a long team denizen of classrooms in various roles.

(Long time readers of this blog -- both of us -- may recall last year's list of my ten favorite cinematic teachers.)

The list below is of films that show school days, either middle school, high school or college. They all have students, teachers, classroom scenes and all are damn good movies.

Sentimental Education (Not the Flaubert Novel) in Good Bye Mr. Chips (1939) Sentiment works if there's some substance to the story and there's just enough in Robert Donat's performance as the title character. This is a look back at an entire career. Many people teach for decades and enjoy, not every minute of it, but most of them. There is no better way to learn than to teach. There is no better way to get acquainted with people as a species and individuals than to teach. While this film is too quick to try to make us reach for our hanky, it does show the scope of a career and how meaningful such a life can be.

Realistic Education French Style in The Class (2008) In terms of capturing the experience of being a teacher today this is the best school film ever made. There is very little difference between this French classroom and some I've labored in here in the US. Same type of daily struggles to deal with recalcitrant or down right mean spirited young people. Mind you, most students are well meaning young people who truly want to learn. However, being too young to know better, they often act out in inappropriate ways (not always without some reason) and serve as their own worst enemies. The teacher's challenge is to channel their energy into positive directions while variously ignoring or dealing with bad behavior. In addition to individual personalities, classes form types as well. A teacher must negotiate a whole class, individual students and still teach the subject in as meaningful and engaging a manner as possible. Suffice to say its complicated and its a bloody wonder that all of us in education don't go completely mad every day. But there are rewards too. It is tremendously satisfying to see young people grow and learn and to fancy oneself as part of the process. If you're not sure what I'm about, just see this picture. It tells the story far better than I can.

Party School Education in Animal House (1978) Yes, I'm quite serious about including this semi farcical look at college life circa 1963. There's nothing farcical about its depiction of college students partying like there's no tomorrow (I know from personal experience -- a lot of it). In addition to being one of the funniest movies ever made, Animal House captures the rapturous abandon that can accompany college life. The booze, the parties and best of all the s-e-x. Yes college is first and foremost about one's studies, but neglecting to study life itself and all its wild possibilities is to miss out on one of higher education's most important benefits. And when there is engagement against the stuffy, moneyed classes, all the better. John Belushi led a hilarious cast but not to be overlooked is Donald Sutherland as the pot smoking prof. Nothing like a totally cool teacher.

Teacher Shenanigans in Election (1999) Teachers are not perfect, teachers have personal lives, teachers are not finely tuned machines dispensing  data and rendering perfectly objective judgments. No matter how much administrators want them to be. Then again rigging a school election is a no no. Matthew Broderick is the all too human teacher. His nemesis is the ridiculously chirpy Tracy Flick played by Reese Witherspoon in what was a star making vehicle for her. It's a movie that throws the kitchen sink of high school life at us. Sex, including homosexuality, popularity, drugs, friendship and oh yeah, homework.

Old School of Hard Knocks in The Blackboard Jungle (1955) Sure its dated but only just and anyway there is realism in its look at the harsh realities of teaching and learning in a troubled inner city school. Glenn Ford is perfectly believable as the idealistic young teacher. His biggest problem is student discipline and boy don't that sound familiar to those of with experience in the biz. Discipline problems are the number one reason so many young teachers quit teaching before their careers get started. Who can blame them?

Smart Lads in a British School in The History Boys (2006) Believe it or not, not everyone in school is a spitball throwing little snot. In fact there are entire classes full of nothing but terribly bright, precocious young men and women who want to learn. Witness this film, a wonderfully told drama of such a circumstance. Watch intelligent students and teachers discuss weighty issues, unafraid of intellectual challenges even those that can lead to journeys of self discovery. In an ideal learning situation students don't compartmentalize knowledge but see learning as an organic experience. History Boys is a celebration of intellectual curiosity and that is a very, very rare thing in a film about a school.

Marxist Education in Horsefeathers (1932) Any list that includes a Marx Brothers film is a good list. Of course Horsefeathers qualifies here because it is set in a college, Huxley, whose rivals are Darwin, the fictional college not the real person. (Many years ago a friend and I who revere this movie had hats made with Huxley on them.)  The movie opens with Groucho's appointment as president of the college. To show you how little has changed these past 80 years, he proposes tearing down the university and building a bigger football stadium. In addition to a skewed and hilarious look at a college classroom, see a skewed and hilarious look at a college football game. All courtesy of the brothers Marx.

Hey My Teacher is a Drug Addict in Half Nelson (2006) The story of an excellent teacher who oh-by-the-way happens to be a druggie. This is an indy film starring Ryan Gosling in what was an Oscar nominated performance. Like Broderick's character in Election, Dan Dunne is no saint. Few saints would snort illegal substances during school lunch time. He is, however a dedicated teacher, coach and mentor who has a positive impact on his students in an inner city middle school. There are teachers like Mr. Dunne who inspire and enlighten beyond the call of duty. And there are those whose personal lives are not rated G. So while Half Nelson is merely a glimpse of a school, a teacher and some students, it is a very real and thus important one.

I'm Going Out for the School Football Team in The Freshman (1925). Who better than Harold Lloyd to capture the excitement of going off to college for one's freshmen year? Okay that wasn't a totally serious question but then this isn't a totally serious movie. It is a classic though and one that does in fact capture a lot of the naive enthusiasm experienced by a naif leaving home for the first time properly equipped with out sized and unrealistic dreams. So many go off to college with grand plans of conquering the campus and instantly becoming the big man on it with all attendant privileges. What a shock to find oneself the proverbial small fish in a spacious pond. Of course this is a Lloyd comedy so realism is otherwise not the order of the day. Great fun is including some classic grid iron action. Yowzah!

What No Ginsberg? In Dead Poet's Society (1989) Any movie that promotes unconventional teaching is okay in my book. Also, any movie that promotes the appreciation of poetry is aces too. Robin Williams is the teacher and of course he runs afoul of those brain dead types who operate too many schools. Peter Weir directed this story of carpe diem and walking to the beat of your own drummer. Williams may hold the record for appearances in terrible films, but this one is just fine and his performance as John Keating is one reason why it succeeds. There is nothing more thrilling for a teacher to light a fire under students by introducing them to new ideas, new concepts and new ways of looking at the world. You get a look at that miracle here.