Sunday, July 12, 2009

Brave Writer at the Movies, Week Two

Last week was very busy as I facilitated my first online movie discussion class at Brave Writer. The kids, ages 11-17, really seemed to enjoy our light-hearted first film, Topper with Cary Grant and Constance Bennett, 1937. I hope that I've encouraged them in exploring the world of classic films, even if merely screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby and Arsenic and Old Lace. As we closed our discussion of Topper with lists of classic films rather like it, plus well-known films featuring actors and actresses from Topper. And although Topper is indeed a "screwball comedy," it also speaks a great deal of truth about love, marriage, how to live one's life with joie d' vivre rather than as a slave to what society may or may not think.

In the last week we discussed such topics as Colorization vs. Black and White, Character Actors, Love and Marriage, Belief in Ghosts, the Value of Good Deeds, the Old Cinema Experience and Drive-In Movies, Favorite Characters, and Teaching with Film. We focused in especially on the character of Clara Topper (Billie Burke) as well as a comparison between the characters of Topper (Roland B. Young) and George Kerby (Cary Grant). We certainly read some perceptive ideas, some astute comments, some wonderful comparisons by the students, so I'm quite happy with the quality of the replies, even if I often need to post follow-up questions to most of the students to encourage more in-depth analysis in their writing.

Really, film discussions like these at Brave Writer serve as an excellent precursor to literary analysis later in high school or even in college. The same elements of film analysis must be considered as it is in literary analysis: plot, sequence, characters, themes, conflict(s), quality of writing, social commentary, etc. So talking about elements of movies with teens is a wonderful way to prepare them for doing similar analysis on literature in a year or two.

And, teens + movies = tons o' discussions! Yay!

So this week we embark on a very different film, ITV's production of My Boy Jack with David Haig, Daniel Radcliffe, and Kim Cattral, 2007. (ITV is a British television channel.) This sad story of Rudyard Kipling's family during the early days of the Great War, also known as World War I, asks many questions about family and country. Jack, the Kiplings' youngest child (their eldest died at age 7 in America), is just as gung-ho on joining up as is his father whose political speeches calling for volunteers are quite effective.

But Jack's eyes are severely myopic; the British Navy and Army turn him down, but Rudyard pulls some strings to get Jack into the Irish Guard where he is, at 17, training men far older than himself, gaining their loyalty along the way for his skill and fairness. He struggles a bit with the challenges of his bad eyesight, but he manages to work everything out, at least until Jack and his men "go over the top" and Jack is proclaimed "Missing, Believed Injured." Based on the true story of the Kipling family, it is named for the poem Kipling wrote in 1915 which is repeated at the very close of the film:

"My Boy Jack"

"Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

Rudyard Kipling, 1915
So we will have much to discuss this week: background of World War I, patriotism, father and son relations, artist and society, family dynamics, biographic works, etc. I'm looking forward to the discussions as the students are learning so much more about discussing movies, looking for motivations in characters, themes, settings, etc. It's going to be a very busy but a very good week, I think.

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