Category Archive • Movies
September 30, 2004
To be and to have and to have not

Georges Lopez, the teacher and reality movie star whom I wrote about here and here, has lost his case against the makers of the movie he was the star of:

It was a moving portrayal of everyday life in the rural classroom, and became an huge and unexpected French cinema success when it was released in 2002.

And, as the star of the prizewinning documentary film, Etre et Avoir, Georges Lopez felt it was only fair that he should get a cut of the &euor;2m (£1.3m) profits.

The director disagreed, triggering an acrimonious lawsuit which has raised uncomfortable ethical questions about the exploitative nature of fly-on-the-wall film-making.

This week a Paris court ruled that the schoolteacher, who allowed his tiny one-class village school to be filmed in lessons and at play over the course of a year, had no grounds to demand a €250,000 (£170,000) payment.

This was essentially a contract argument. What was the deal? According to that deal, do the film makers owe Lopez any money? No, said the French court.

Lopez himself says that this is an intellectual property argument, which means that tomorrow, I may well be writing about this case in my weekly bit for here.

Personally I think Georges Lopez should have stayed away from the courts, and written a book about his life and his educational beliefs. And it need not have been a long book. That is, he should have turned the massive reputation that the movie bestowed upon him, into a river of cash. It would have sold a bomb, would definitely have been translated into English, and I would definitely have bought a copy. As it is, his saintly image has been hurt by his decidedly unimaginative behaviour. Now, he says, he is going to appeal.

Sad. Everyone knows you make nothing from the movie that makes you into a star. It is your next few ventures that make you your money, even if they flop. And in his case, who says they would flop?

It seems that there are quite a few things about the world and its ways that Monsieur Lopez has himself yet to learn. Yet one more proof of how brilliant people can be in one setting, and then how inept they can then be when they stray beyond that.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:20 AM
Category: MoviesPrimary schools
August 04, 2004

187.gif On the first day of this month of August I announced a blogging pause here, and I meant it, and it is in place. The rules of this pause are not that I don't post anything, merely that I don't have to.

I announced the same rule on my Culture Blog and since then, nothing. There will be cultural things there, this August, but for the time being … But here, I still find I have a lot of things to say.

Tonight for example, I'm watching a truly excellent education-based movie. It's 187, starring the truly excellent Samuel L. Jackson. It is as good as that grotesque Michelle Pfeiffer thing was absurd.

And here is what the Radio Times has to say about it:

Samuel L. Jackson's typically intense performance is the sole merit of this over-directed, uninvolving school drama, which shows the nasty flip side of the Michelle Pfeiffer vehicle Dangerous Minds. Jackson plays a viciously assaulted New York teacher who transfers to a school in Los Angeles to rebuild his life. It's all shot in a jumpy MTV pop video style by Waterworld's Kevin Reynolds. JC

Now I don't know who JC is, but I suspect him of holding many of the opinions that caused the civilisational catastrophe described so gruesomely by this movie. He's right about that Michelle Pfeiffer movie, but, faced with this one, he feels got at. And he feels got at because he is being got at. The message of this movie is that you, JC, and all the idiots who think as you think, have re-established barbarism. And rather than deal with that message, JC retreats and blames the handwriting of the message. That's a guess, and maybe an unfair one. Maybe JC is wholly in favour of civilisation, and just thinks that this movie is uncivilised. But I doubt this. This is a movie in which the central character says things like: "You are responsible for your actions." And I suspect that JC feels uncomfortable about ideas of that sort.

I've just got to the bit where one of the Senior Barbarians has had his finger cut off. Did Samuel S. Jackson do this? I'm guessing yes. My education proceeds. Just because it's the vacation doesn't mean I stop learning.

By the way, "187" is the police radio code for murder. Or something like that.

SLJ did cut off the finger, and then kill someone. He dies, as does the finger loser, in a somewhat over the top rerun of the Russian Roulette scene in The Deer Hunter.

Final word of 187: "A teacher wrote this movie."

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:10 PM
Category: MoviesViolence
July 16, 2004
I command you to rebel! Yes sir!

Last night I watched School of Rock, which is now out on DVD.

It's a strange movie. I can't decide whether it has a lot to say about education or nothing at all, whether it tunes in to significant new trends or is pure fairy tale, proving nothing and illustrating nothing, other than the fact that people like to be entertained. On the whole, I would say, the latter.

So, given that I'm somewhat confused about what, if anything, it signifies, I'll retreat to describing what happens. There should probably be a SPOILER warning here. I may well be about to tell you the entire plot. If you don't want to read this, probably best to stop now. But on the other hand, would you really be amazed to learn that the teacher at the centre of this movie, played by Jack Black, is keen on rock and roll, that he infects his pupils with his enthusiasm, that they do a performance of some rock and roll which goes very well, and that this process is at first opposed by surrounding adults, but that said adults end up being won over? Did you expect the movie to end in a mass execution, or to be about a bunch of hard core juvenile rock and rollers who turn against rock and roll and switch to Indian Classical? Or to be about geology?

The fairy tale aspect of the movie is that a bunch of ten year olds prove so quickly to be expert rockers, after only the most rudimentary guidance from Teacher Jack. There is an expert guitarist in the class, an expert drummer, some expert backing singer girls, an expert keyboard player. Weird. It's almost as if they weren't a regular class of children at all, but rather a bunch of child actor/musicians who were chosen from among thousands of auditioners for their ultra-winning personalities and musical and drama excellence.

Which they were, of course, and that's the clue. This movie is at least as much an adult fantasy of juvenile efficacy and biddableness as it is a tale of juvenile assertion. These kids are not real kids – and certainly not typical kids – so much as adult fantasies of what kids ought to be like.

Which makes the placing of rock and roll at the centre of things so strange. The Jack Black character constantly insists that rock and roll is all about getting angry with authority, challenging those in power, screaming back at "the Man", blah blah. Well, maybe. But if so, what kind of rock and roll rebels, when told to do rock and rock, answer by saying Yessir!! and doing it, exactly as Mr Black wants?

At the start of the movie, the children first confronted by Jack Black's bogus substitute teacher are unwelcome to him only in the sense that they are excessively obedient. They all sit in quiet and obedient rows and demand homework and credits and proper teaching. They start out, in other words, as one adult fantasy of how children should be.

And they are then transformed by Jack Black into another such fantasy. The one where the kids all decide that they share their parents' tastes in pop music.

SchoolofRock.jpgJack Black appoints himself the lead singer of his juvenile rock and roll group, and in the final rock and roll show, he continues to be the lead singer. If that isn't Embarrassing Dad living out his schoolboy fantasies, I don't know what is.

Rock and roll used to turn schools upside down. Now it is just another school subject. I can remember how at my school all those years ago, there used to be something called the school "Dance Band", which was a dutiful and very pale imitation of the Glen Miller orchestra (which was itself something of a pale imitation of original twenties swing). That wasn't juvenile rebellion either. It was the final domestication of swing music.

It's tempting, so I'll do it, to say that this movie embodies the central self-contradiction of current adult views about education in particular and the life of children in general. Children should be completely free to do … exactly what we want them to do. They should be allowed to respond at an emotional level … with our emotions. They should be free to dream and to live out … our dreams. And then they should get great jobs as financial analysts and have two point four kids of their own.

Ten years olds are indeed extraordinarily willing to get excited about what their parents are excited about. But the stuff they eventually get seriously stuck into is the stuff they choose for themselves.

Meanwhile, further proof that this is as much a movie about adult fantasies as about childhood fun is that there is a rather sweet romantic subplot bubbling along inside this movie, centred on the lady head of the school, played by Joan Cusack. She becomes fond of Jack Black despite and then because of his rock and rollness. She, it emerges, is an ex rock and roll fan, a Stevie Nicks mimic, a former rock chick. But, faced with the demands of her school's parents, she has mutated into the Bitch Head Mistress from Hell who terrifies all of her pupils into sitting in those obedient rows and demanding home work and teaching. Sadly, however, just when Our Jack was about to take off her glasses and say "why you're beautiful" to her, the movie ends, with the triumphant rock and roll performance by Jack Black and the Kids From Fame, sorry, by Jack Black and his class of randomly assembled children.

This movie was written with Jack Black in mind and he holds it all together energetically, daring you not to enjoy it, demanding that you play along with all its absurdities and implausibilities. I did quite enjoy it, more than I feared, less than I hoped.

I see that in my earlier posting about this movie, written long before I'd seen it, I see that I said this:

… Most of the reviews say that it is good old-fashioned frothy Hollywood comedy with its heart in the right place and saved from schmaltz by being well and winningly performed.

That's about right. But this …

And when I do see School of Rock I will seek out the serious educational ideas that are sure to be contained in it, and report back to you all.

… didn't work out so well. Oh well. It makes a change from this kind of thing.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:49 PM
Category: Movies
June 23, 2004
Mean Girls doing well

MeanGirlsBoy.jpgA couple of months ago I reported on Mean Girls, basically because I had just introduced my Gratuitous Picture policy, and this was a fine excuse for pictures. (And of course mentioning this movie again is another picture opportunity. This time I've chosen a snap of one of the boys in the movie for my lady readers.)

However, quite aside from its pictorial possibilities, it seems that it is also quite a good movie.

It certainly, according to 14-year-old Ellie Veryard, serves up many lessons about the joys of all that socialisation that home schooled kids miss out on. The heroine of Mean Girls was home schooled before then being school schooled. And I'm guessing/hoping that if this movie does well in Britain, it will get more people thinking about home schooling, simply because home schooling is an important part of the story.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:11 PM
Category: Home educationMovies
May 14, 2004
I wonder what is being learned here?

Why do I get the feeling that this may not be about, you know, education? Not about essays, homework, algebra, and such, anyway.


Learn more here. Actually, it seems to be rather more that kind of thing that I expected. I assumed it was older woman young guy "education". But no, it's priests and catholicism, etc.. Education, in other words.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:51 PM
Category: Movies