Cinema Hat Trick

Three films that I try to find a way to use every year.

I was a film student at Northwestern back in the days of the feminist film aesthetic of the late 70s.  What I discovered then (along with the fact that I can fall asleep watching a film in a minute) is that are there a few films that I can watch over and over and over again and find something wonderful in them every time I see them.  Citizen Kane is not one of those, although I  think I watched it six times for classes before I graduated.  These three are, and I try to find a way to watch them every year in class.

Modern Times

Directed by Charles Chaplin, Starring Chaplin and Paulette Goddard.

Most of my students have never seen Charlie Chaplin, but they certainly understand feeling like someone is watching them all the time, like they are part of a machine.  They love watching Chaplin react to the world around him.  This year we watched it at the same time we were reading Thoreau’s On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.  Thoreau claims that we are all cogs in the machine.

The Iron Giant

Brad Bird – director

This is Brad Bird’s first feature film, and after years of working on the Simpsons, he begins to develop the themes that he brings to full expression in The Incredibles and Ratatouille.

What is Art?
How can we be true to ourselves?
I can be who I believe I am, not who you say I am.
We must think for ourselves.

This is cell animation, not the Pixar style work of the last two films, but the art looks to the comic books of the 50s for inspiration.  There is cartoon violence (lots of explosions and rockets) and some potty humor, but even my most jaded second semester senior girls hold their breath at the end of the film.  I cry every time I see it. Hogarth and the Giant. Don’t miss them.

Smoke Signals

Chris Eyre directed based on the book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

“Hey, Victor!”

This film is like poetry. Not quite linear, it tells the story of Thomas and Victor, two young men locked into each others lives. It begins and ends on the Coeur d’Alene reservation in Idaho and is a buddy film, a road movie, bildungsroman, hero’s quest. The Dick Lourie poem at the end that is recited in voice over breaks my heart every time I hear it. This is a film about how storytelling and embracing the past can save your life.

“Some days it is a good day to die.  Some days it is a good day to have breakfast.”

I also like to show Trevor Nunn’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to my upper school kids (especially seniors – it makes them so itchy). What films are on your list?

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Renee Hobbs says:

    What three great choices, Kate. These films are perfect for teenagers— and each has a particularly rich complexity and nuance that makes them terrific as study objects, too. You could do a whole media literacy class with a deep examination of each of these around the themes of authors/audiences; messages/meanings; and representation/reality. Trust me: your students are so lucky to have you as their teacher!

  2. Kate Tabor says:

    Hi Renee –
    I’m delighted to see you here. Thank you for taking time to read and to comment.
    It was a real pleasure last year meeting you and taking part in the Chicago conversations about Fair Use as it applies to teachers. I posted about it shortly after the evening, and I haven’t had time to post a follow up on your project’s excellent clarification and publication. My colleague across the hall at school came over the day NCTE endorsed your publication thrilled with it! She teaches a class that relies heavily on news stories and popular media as it examines issues of race, class, sexual orientation, and gender and she has published about her work. She’s always been nervous writing about the texts that she uses because of copyright issues. So, thanks from the halls!

    But to these films – you connect with exactly what I love about them. Each of these films has an obvious narrative that covers the delicious center. They all speak to identity; when I teach middle school, students see the films one way, and when I teach high school, they see them in another. And you are right, I could frame an entire class around these films!

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