Scary Films Are Hard to Watch

Movies can overwhelm me, and a scary movie will make me so uncomfortable that I cannot look. I have been watching the mini-series 11.22.63 based on a novel by Stephen King….yes, that Stephen King, master of the macabre.Screenshot 2016-03-25 21.26.02

I have read the book, so I know what is going to happen. Even with this “more-historical-than-horror” film series, I have (more than once) had to cover my eyes, or squeeze my eyes closed and hold my ears.

I am aware that there are elements in cinema that cause my brain to signal my heart to race or my hands to sweat. The psychologist Birgit Wolz, author of E-motion Picture Magic states,

“Because many films transmit ideas through emotion rather than intellect, they can neutralize the instinct to suppress feelings and trigger emotional release. By eliciting emotions, watching movies can open doors that otherwise might stay closed.”

I have interpreted this quote to mean that I should keep the door open so I can run out when the film gets too frightening!


Messing with the Iconic “Hur”

They are remaking the film Ben-Hur (for the 5th time)..a dangerous challenge to Director William Wyler‘s 1959 iconic cinematic achievement. The trailer was recently released; unimpressed reactions could be summarized as, “This looks like Fast & The Furious with horses.”

The basis for each film’s screenplay is Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. The novel was published in 1880, and tells the story of Judah Ben-Hur and his encounter with Jesus of Nazareth. There are allusions to the film’s chariot scene in Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace (Pod Race), in The Muppets (“Ben Hare”), and in The Simpsons episode Saturdays of Thunder.

The many films of Ben-Hur have been parodied, but no parody was a successful as the ad for Turner Movie Classics that was created as a promotion for the Academy Awards in 2007. In this short commercial, second and third grade students perform scenes from the film: the slave ship, the leper scene, and of course the climactic chariot race. The juxtaposition of having these children recite such serious lines with deadpan delivery-all under the watchful eye of a teacher playing the accompanying soundtrack- results in a comic masterpiece.


Politics in “The Quiet Man”

The Quiet Man (1952) is the film director John Ford’s film portrait of an Ireland that he loved and understood. It is also one of my father’s favorite movies, and he would let us stay up late (into the wee hours) to see the American boxer Sean Thornton (John Wayne) woo and win the hot-tempered Irish lass, Mary-Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara).

When I was younger, I enjoyed the love story and the rollicking, country wide fist fight between Thornton and Squire Will Danaher that is the climax of the film.

Lately, however, I have noticed the more political undertones of the film. Ford, who was awarded the Academy Award for Best Director, was obviously aware of the impact of the Easter Rising of 1916 on the Irish consciousness. Some of the dialogue from Frank S. Nugent (screenplay) is laced with political views of Ireland as independent, yet rurally cooperative as in the peaceful village of Inisfree.

When the film opens,  Sean Thornton arrives to reclaim the cottage his mother left to him:

Father Peter Lonergan, Narrator: Ah, yes… I knew your people, Sean. Your grandfather; he died in Australia, in a penal colony. And your father, he was a good man too.

The narrator-a Catholic priest- was making a reference to British policies Irish political prisoners were transported to Australia; 1200 sent in 1815-1840 and 279 in 1869. Many of the convicts were Fenians.

Left off at his family cottage on the first night, Sean Thornton says goodnight to his mentor, Michaeleen:

Michaleen Flynn: Well it’s a nice, soft night, so I think I’ll go and join me comrades and talk a little treason. G’night, Sean.
Thornton: G’night, Michaleen.

Those  same who regularly hang out at the pub to talk a little treason gather to watch Sean Thorton when he tries to “return” Mary Kate to her brother:

“Red Will” Danaher: So the I.R.A.’s in this too, huh?
Hugh Forbes: If it were, Red Will Danaher, not a scorched stone ‘o your fine house’d be standin’.
Michaleen Flynn: A beautiful sentiment!

John Ford’s film is scenic and the soundtrack by Victor Young is exceptional, combining lush themes and Irish melodies. The movie  is well worth watching, for any number of reasons.  Watch it for the politics…. or the fist fight (see below)…. or both…a great film for the Irish!

The Cantankerous Couple at the Movie

“Is that seat taken?” the elderly woman demanded, stopping at the end of each row.

She was in a crowded theatre, and the lighting was dim. It was hard to see, and the film was about to start.

She was obviously frustrated and a little dangerous…she had a cane.Cranky

“It’s being saved for someone,” she was told each time she asked.

“Selfish,” she responded.

Her companion was equally irate…and left her in order to shove his way into a saved seat, much to the astonishment of the people waiting for their friend.

Abandoned and angry, she headed down to the front row.

Ironically, the film they were trying to see was love story…a passionate, tragic love story.

Sometimes the drama on the screen is not nearly as dramatic as what happens in the audience.

Cat – Chat – Chapeau

Celebrating Dr. Seuss’s birthday as part of Read Across America on March 2nd has meant revisiting some of my own “childhood” experiences.

Two of the schools held showings of the animated  Dr. Seuss‘s The Cat in the Hat . This short cartoon was a 1971 television special and by my calculations, I was 15 years old when it first premiered. That means that taking the average age of my brothers and sisters, the average age at my home for viewing this cartoon was 7 years old…exactly the audience for this cartoon.

Performing the voices of the Narrator/Cat and the Hat was the songwriter and lyricist Allan Sherman. As proof of his genius, the clever lyrics in this one song “Cat Chapeau” have stuck with me despite the years! I was singing the words as young teachers were hearing it for the first time….

1st verse:

CAT IN THE HAT:In English, cat, hat, In French, chat, chapeau.
It really is quite obvious, don’t you know.
In English, cat, hat, In French, chat, chapeau. Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, here we go.
I repeat, cat, hat, In French, chat, chapeau. In Spanish, el gato in a sombrero.
KIDS: He’s a cat in a hat, He’s a chat in a chapeau. He also is a gato in a sombrero. Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé-o.
CAT IN THE HAT: Cat, hat, in French, chat, chapeau. In Spanish, el gato in a sombrero.
And i’ll tell you something more now, you listen to me good. In German, I’m a katze und dies ist mein hut.
Ist das nicht ein katze hut?
KIDS: Ya, das ist ein katze hut! Katze hut! Katze hut! Ja, das ist ein katze hut!

Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat, and Allan Sherman, a shared experience from generation to generation.

Haunted Ellis Island in Film

In 14 minutes, social studies and ELA educators can take advantage of a haunting new film about the buildings on Ellis Island which served  as a United States immigrant inspection station from 1892 until 1954. The film titled  Ellis stars Robert De Niro, and the setting is the present day in the abandoned Ellis Island Hospital complex on the island between New York and New Jersey.

These empty buildings are in decay, but they are decorated with the artist JR’s  unframed installations of photographs, which have been enlarged and pasted around the complex.The screenplay is by  Eric Roth, and the promotional materials for the film explain that Ellis,

“…tells the forgotten story of the immigrants who built America. It is the story of the ghosts of our countries past, the individuals who fled poverty, discrimination, and dictatorships, for a chance at a new life and eerily foreshadows the plight of those who currently seek the same opportunities and safety in this country and other parts of the world.”

The film is available on Youtube (below) to share with students.

At one point in the film, the footage of the icy waters of the Hudson highlights the dangers of the passage hundreds of thousands made. The icy water is the short distance between Ellis and the US mainland.

To see the buildings in the New York City skyline,  even veiled in an snowy fog, was a welcome sign for so many immigrants. But for those in the Ellis Island hospital, there was a different story. Immigrants could be sometimes housed for illnesses or , worse yet, sent back to return to their native country.

While low on action, the film can provide talking points to help students discuss immigration that has been a large part of the Nation’s past….and continues to be a large part of the future.


Groundhog Day-“I am a god”

The are conflicting theories on how many story plots there are in the world…seven? nine?

OR One? That would be the plot that is repeated over and over and over…as in Harold Ramis’s (1993) film Groundhog Day.

The film comedy stars  Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell and observes both Aristotle’s Unity of Time (same day repeated); Unity of Place (Pennsylvania); Unity of Action (Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe”). 

My favorite conversation occurs in the film when the arrogant TV weatherman Phil Connors (Murray) tries to explain to his lovely producer Rita(MacDowell) that because he is repeating the same day, he is not only having a supernatural experience, but that he could be supernatural:

Phil: I’m a god.

Rita: You’re God?

Phil: I’m a god. I’m not *the* God… I don’t think.

Rita: Because you survived a car wreck?

Phil: I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned.

Rita: Oh, really?

Phil: …and every morning I wake up without a scratch on me, not a dent in the fender… I am an immortal.

Rita: Why are you telling me this?

Phil: Because I want you to believe in me.

Rita: You’re not a god. You can take my word for it; this is twelve years of Catholic school talking.

Maybe it’s the 12 years of my own Catholic  school upbringing that makes this scene so memorable….I can watch it over…and over…and over……