Tuesday, November 04, 2008

How to make teenagers shut up and watch the damn movie

Chinatown went well. Today was a big testing day so I only actually had 11 kids, but you would have thought I had a Marine unit, they were so goddamn loud. They're really excited about election day. One kid was completely thrilled to learn that he leans Republican, I guess because it makes him a maverick.

But after I finally got them to shut the fuck up so I could start the movie they were mesmerized. I didn't have to shush them at all - just gave them a list of questions to answer and let them watch. I kept nearly breaking my neck to turn around and see the movie so eventually I just admitted I wanted to watch it again and moved to a student desk. That's how I noticed that I do not approve of Mrs. Mulwray's drawn-on eyebrows. She could be a chola with those sharpie-looking things.

One of the things I've noticed about kids and movies is they need to know what to expect. Once I showed a class Seven Years in Tibet. If you've ever seen Seven Years in Tibet you have no doubt noticed that although it is a very meaningful and wondrous film, it is also ungodly boring. So I told the kids "Hey kids," I said. "This is not the most exciting movie you have ever seen. It's very slow paced but it's about the message of ego and beauty and patience and all the typical Buddhist attributes. So you won't see a whole lot of explosions here, but it's a beautiful film and I really like it."

And you know? I didn't have a single complaint. When they know it's not an action film they know how they need to watch it.

My current class has been reading The Maltese Falcon so all I had to do today was tell them Chinatown is a lot like the book we've been reading. "It's not full of explosions and fun battles," I said. "But there is sex and violence and a great big tragedy. Plus it's about Los Angeles. I love this movie. If you want to love it you have to be a little patient and wait for the story to unfold at its own pace."

And it worked.


  1. heh. may i ask how old are your students? I remember jr high/high school all too well... nobody ever paid attention to movies in class, well, except me ;-D

  2. In this particular class they are 11th grade, which means they are 16-17.

  3. Sounds like you're really reaching them.

    So, where were you when I was in high school? (Don't answer that!)

  4. Yeah, Chinatown is storytelling perfection. It was a good one to start with.

    If you're worried about a particular movie becoming too boring, try pausing it at the end of each act and letting them discuss it. It will get them engaged in the story and looking for things to talk about at the next break.

  5. Man, the only movie I got to watch in high school was 'The Lion King' in Spanish.


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