Thursday, June 26, 2008

The power of a quick conversation

Our school does something kind of retarded. We give final exams on Monday and Tuesday, but we still have school Wednesday through Friday. As you can imagine, we have a lot of absences those three days and there's not a whole lot you can do with kids whose grades are done, so the kids like to refer to those three days as "Movie Days." That's all anyone can do with them. For almost eight hours they watch movies.

Some teachers will put in whatever they have available to keep the kids entertained but this annoys me because there's no reason you can't show a film relevant to the material that you can still use to teach. Every film I show in class I use to teach, even on Movie Days.

So today I'm showing O Brother! Where Art Thou? (because it's a modern retelling of The Odyssey) to my sophomores and The Joy Luck Club to my juniors. And as I'm sitting and listening to O Brother, I noticed why this film is so much genius.

After Everett (George Clooney), Pete (John Torturo), and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) break out of prison they try to jump onto a train. And after they are unsuccessful they discuss their situation. Everett clearly takes the lead.

Pete: Wait a minute. Who elected you leader of this outfit?

Everett: Well Pete, I figured it should be the one with the capacity for abstract thought. But if that ain't the consensus view, then hell, let's put it to a vote.

Pete: Suits me. I'm voting for yours truly.

Everett: Well I'm voting for yours truly too.

They both look at Delmar. He looks at them.

Delmar: Okay... I'm with you fellas.

So look at what we've learned about these boys within the first five minutes of the film. We've established that these boys are chained together and escaping from prison. We know that Everett fancies himself the leader and an intelligent man. We've learned this is a comedy. We know that Pete resents Everett's leadership. And we've learned that Delmar is kind of slow.

Right there in that one moment, we know where we're headed. We can see that this will be an adventure filled with hijinks as these personalities clash against each other. Their voices are completely clear from the minute they open their mouths. Brilliant.

I don't love everything the Coens have made but this film is right at the top. They don't waste any time letting us know what we can expect from this film and making sure we enjoy it.


  1. Anonymous11:49 AM

    And the way it turns out, Delmar may be the smart one of the trio.

    Which says a lot about the lessons of life.

  2. Anonymous1:12 PM

    I liked that movie.

  3. Why do schools do that? My fiancee is a teacher as well, and I'm always baffled by the choices they make in regards to scheduling. I'm assuming there must be some kind of an administrative reasoning in there somewhere. Right...?

  4. We are legally required to spend a minimum of 163 days in school, but since we're year round we barely meet that amount of time, and since we are year round we don't have any extra days for teachers to do grades because we start right back up next week. So we do exams early enough to let teachers do grades before the semester ends.

    Year round is stupid.

  5. Year round. Wow. They like that out here. I think I last remember a school I lived right by in Valley Village when I first moved to LA that I believe had altered schedules due to over-crowding, so the kids were stagged as to when they had vacations or "summer breaks."

    With year round schooling, you just have more frequent little breaks, instead of a big summer break, right? I'm curious, and very clueless about it all. I grew up in a Wonder Years environment where everyone went to either the public school or the catholic school, and the concept of year round schooling or block scheduling was just communist talk.

    So I take it you're not of the summer-breaks-suck-because-kids-forget-everything camp?

  6. Anonymous2:06 AM

    I loved Delmar's moment by the fire with Pete, Everett, and Tommy strumming the guitar:

    "I'm gonna visit those foreclosing son-of-a-guns at the Indianola Savings & Loan, slap that money on the barrelhead and buy back the family farm. You ain't no kind of man if you ain't got land."

    Love that, because quite simply, he wants a piece of home. That's what we all try to aim for, wherever we are.

    And Pete's moment rings true too in that scene when he talks of wanting to be a maitre'd. He wants respect, which he hasn't had a lot of over time.

    Damn Emily, you did a hell of a job with this entry. Now I want to see it again. Lucky I bought it up right away when Circuit City had it on sale a few months ago.

  7. Since we're here, let me just ask...

    Do they still use substitute teachers in the public schools? How about teacher's aides?

    The reason I ask, I have a character (in my script) I think would make a good Substitute Teacher. She has her own business (and business is slow)and she can use some parttime money.


  8. Tell you guys what - I'll just do a whole post on what it's like to teach in year round high school because it's too much to explain right here.

    But not today. I've got something else for today.

  9. That sounds like a wonderful idea Emily. Please don't forget my questions.

    My family and I have been running the "Homeschool System" for so many years...I am clueless about the goings on in the public schools (except for 1. what I read on your blog...

    Which is an education.)

    And sadly 2. what I see in the news (which is why our "Homeschool" was born.)


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