One of the special and surprise joys of this year has been getting to teach an evolving humanities "Choose Your Own Adventure" program for for 6th and 7th graders, in which the "specials" teachers (i.e. art, music, library, tech) were encouraged to dive into our more passionate professional interests with the children in a long-term subject-area exploration, with a focus on material the children would enjoy pursuing (how refreshing, in an age of testing and standards, to remember why we love to learn!). For me, one of my great passions is media literacy, so I was so delighted to have the opportunity to introduce this unique and intelligent group of students to some of the best movies in film history!
Movies are selected by me on the basis of established excellence in media, largely pulling from established lists generated by Facets Multimedia, AMC, The British Film Institute and the New York Times (click here for some of them!), and the Frazier Thomas Family Classics and Morning Movies we of a certain generation might remember so well. Special preference is given to movies that are connected in some way to literature, biography or history, though some movies are shown because they demarcate something special about the history of film itself, and we are learning to appreciate different aspects of the craft: cinematography, special effects, makeup and sound, for instance, and different genres: musicals (the favorite of our kids), silent films, squashbuckling films, melodramas, comedies. The films are mostly American-made, for now, and classic with a capital C; no films from the 21st century! My hope is to introduce students to films they might not otherwise experience, and even on the occasion that they are familiar with them, they engage in discussions that hopefully give background knowledge and put the film into a social context, and will add to the richness of the experience and our conversations.
The Gold Rush, with Charlie Chaplin
Trip to the Moon (by director Georges Méliès, one of the first motion pictures ever made!)
The Red Balloon (wordless French classic, tapping into the universality of film)
Singing in the Rain (the introduction of "talkies" and sound to the movies!)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (with Charles Laughton! French revolution and the art of makeup!)
Boy's Town (with Spencer Tracy, about Father Flannigan and the real Boy's Town of Nebraska)
Oliver! (a great opportunity to talk about the Industrial Revolution, and Charles Dickens)
It's a Wonderful Life (in December, with an exploration into the Great Depression and World War II and the great Frank Capra)
The Little Princess (in December, with Shirley Temple or Eleanor Bron, I haven't decided, maybe both, we can compare and contrast! Set in Victorian England, based on the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the same author who wrote the beloved novel The Secret Garden!)
Plus, we have been enjoying great clips of movies as well, with a special session devoted to "hoofers." Hard to imagine going through life without seeing Fred Astaire's slow motion grace in "Stepping Out with my Baby," Eleanor Powell charming audiences from behind her mask in "Rosalie," or the Nicholas Brothers making lightning in "Stormy Weather!" I consider these movies and clips to be treasures, and part of our students' cultural heritage as Americans. I also think the beautiful language and dialogue, nuanced narratives and opportunities for the development of a moral imagination that these films impart have the potential to be every bit as valuable and transformative as the experience of reading. As one girl expressed to me: "These movies are so wonderful. I feel like I'm seeing everything with new eyes. And sometimes in black and white." Please enjoy a few favorite moments on the clips posted here, and also consider taking your child to see It's a Wonderful Life at the glorious Music Box Theater on Southport this coming month! And don't forget, you can look up most any movie on the IMbd database and find a parental guide and advisory notes. Enjoy!