Teaching Classics: Movies in Education ©1999 David Bennun
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Teaching Classics
[The Guardian, 1999]

Movies should be a vital part of children's education, an official report recommended yesterday. Great idea, says David Bennun. He suggests films for the curriculum - and what the kids would learn from them.

Suggested syllabus: Trainspotting (dir. Danny Boyle, 1995), Brassed Off (dir. Mark Herman, 1996), Nil By Mouth (dir. Gary Oldman, 1996), Passport to Pimlico (dir. Henry Cornelius, 1948)

THE recent, gritty, Brit-pack films should all be shown in their American editions, with subtitles, thus encouraging pupils to appreciate the variety of English-speaking dialects across the UK, while boosting reading skills in the very young, who will soon be able to digest the most scatological of modern novels at a sitting. The presence of Ewan MacGregor in most of these films will encourage attention among teenage girls, while giving them a useful lesson in some of life's grimmer realities. Passport to Pimlico, meanwhile, can be shown in inner city comprehensives to illustrate a time when the lower orders talked proper and knew their place; and when children sounded like RADA graduates attempting stage cockney and wouldn't try to mug the teacher and nick the projector.

SAMPLE exam question: “Write sentences to illustrate the correct use of the words ‘Fucker’, ‘Scag’, ‘Junkie’, ‘Redundo’ and ‘Guv'ner’.”

Suggested syllabus: Frankenstein (dir. James Whale, 1931), War Games (dir. John Badham, 1983), Flatliners (dir. Joel Schumacher, 1990), Weird Science (dir. John Hughes, 1985)

TOO many students have been put off the sciences, seeing the subjects as too abstract, rigorous and austere. This syllabus aims to stimulate a hands-on interest in science by showing all the things that you can do with it - make a monster, hack into the Pentagon and start a nuclear war, come back from the dead, create Kelly LeBrock in your bedroom. Of course, you can't do any of these things at all; but by encouraging pupils to try, you may at least get the more adventurous ones to wrestle with a test tube every so often, or memorise the chemical equation for photosynthesis. After all, without the science students of today, we won't have the science teachers of tomorrow, and then where will we be?

SAMPLE exam question: “Using only your computer and a barbie doll, create a magic woman who will use her powers to gratify your fantasies. Once you've given up on that, chart the course of a little pendulum for two hours.”

Suggested syllabus: The Cruel Sea (dir. Charles Frend, 1952), The Dam Busters (dir. Michael Anderson, 1954), Reach For The Sky (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1956), The African Queen (dir. John Huston, 1951)

IF there's one thing almost everybody agrees on, it's that old-fashioned values are sorely missing in modern schools. What better way to inculcate national pride in today's kiddiewinks than with this rip-roaring festival of British pluck, ingenuity and all-round moral rightness? Witness how we vanquish our enemies at sea, in the sky, without any legs or in a tiny boat occupied by a missionary's widow and a drunk - both of them played by Americans, but if any of the brighter kids ask about that, just question their patriotism. It will also be intriguing to witness how teachers deal with the more frequent and inevitable enquiries, from classrooms in which all of this great nation's cultures and races are represented, about the name of Guy Gibson's dog.

SAMPLE exam question: “Explain why ‘Take That, Fritz’ is a suitable newspaper headline in this day and age.”

Suggested syllabus: Camille Claudel (dir. Bruno Nuytten, 1988), Vincent & Theo (dir. Robert Altman, 1990), The Agony and The Ecstasy (dir. Carol Reed, 1965), Sleep (dir. Andy Warhol, 1963)

IN Camille Claudel, the gifted title character goes completely mad while alternately sleeping with and learning from the egomaniacal August Rodin. In Vincent & Theo, brooding obsessive Vincent Van Gogh goes completely mad, deeply distresses his family and shoots himself. In The Agony And The Ecstasy, Michelangelo goes completely mad and half-blind while painting the Sistine Chapel and arguing with the Pope. Idealistic children will swiftly learn to shun the dreadful idea of an artistic career and go into IT instead. Recalcitrant youngsters can be made to watch Andy Warhol's five-hour film of an unconscious man over and over again, in detention, just to ram the point home.

SAMPLE exam question: “Artists: a bunch of nutters, or what? Discuss.”

Suggested syllabus: The African Queen (as above), Shocking Asia parts 1-3 (dir. Emerson Fox, 1975, 1976; unknown, 1995), Koyaanisqatsi (dir. Geoffrey Reggio 1983), anything by David Lean

WHILE watching the appalling goings-on in the scurrilous, pseudo documentary Shocking Asia exploitation series, with the fascination for horror that all children share, the pupils may be cajoled into making observations about the bits of landscape in which people are burying their heads, catching leprosy and so forth. The David Lean films contain sumptuous travelogue footage as well as the only things children like less: love stories and lots of dialogue. By default they will scrutinise the background, and may even note the odd mountain or valley. The African Queen has already been paid for by the History department, so you might as well use it as a freebie. And panoramic hippie eco-movie Koyaanisqatsi, with its Philip Glass soundtrack, will see the little beggars pleading to have their regular geography classes back and vowing to pay more attention.

SAMPLE exam question: “Illustrate the difference between a desert and a tidal plain, with reference to which is a better setting for camel mounted warfare.”

Suggested Syllabus: Betty Blue (dir. Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1986), Belle De Jour (dir. Luis Bu–uel, 1967), The Double Life Of Veronique (dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1991)

THE advantages of this program are threefold. Firstly, pupils will be so transfixed by the sex scenes that they will gaze at the films any number of times, and some awareness of the French language is bound to seep in. Secondly, it may encourage them into higher education, where everyone spends all their times watching these movies and talking about them loudly afterwards to people they hope to go to bed with. Thirdly, it will give them a thorough understanding of the real reason highbrow cineastes love any movie made in French.

SAMPLE exam question: “How long do you give it before somebody called Marie takes her top off?”

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