Classic Films of Francis Ford Coppola

Posted by Jim on Jun 22nd, 2017
2017
Jun 22

For an overview of SAIL, see this post.

Francis Ford Coppola is one of America’s greatest filmmakers. Although he has had some well publicized flops, his epic films about the Corleone family and the Vietnam war are some of the most important films ever made. I feel that while most students will have heard of the Godfather, and some may have seen it, an entire program of Coppola’s films would be beneficial for these budding film scholars.

Day One (half day)
The Outsiders (1983, 114 minutes)
Rumble Fish (1983, 94 minutes)
Evening Screening
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992, 128 minutes)

Day Two
The Conversation (1973, 113 minutes)
The Godfather (1972, 177 minutes)
Evening Screening
Apocalypse Now Redux (1979/2001, 202 minutes)

Day Three
The Godfather, Part II (1974, 200 minutes)
Tucker: A Man and His Dream (1988, 110 minutes)
Evening Screening
The Godfather, Part III (1990, 162 minutes)

The program begins with two coming-of-age literary adaptations. Both The Outsiders and Rumble Fish were originally novels written by S. E. Hinton, who collaborated with Coppola on these adaptations. Filmed in succession, they provide a good example of what Coppola was up to in the 1980’s. As both films deal with characters who are entering adulthood, I believe the will be of interest to high school students.

That evening we will screen a great horror film, Coppola’s version of Dracula. Gary Oldman gives an incredible performance as the titular vampire. This film does include a lot of the sensuality that is associated with the vampire mythos, and as such, I wanted to screen it outside of the school day.

The first full day of films begins with The Conversation, a highly acclaimed film that is often overlooked by the Godfather films that Coppola made on either side of it. The Conversation did win the top prize at Cannes. In the afternoon we will watch the first part of the Godfather saga. Much has been written about how important this film is, and I will not try to duplicate that here. I will say that I learned a lot about this film while taking a course on Gangster Films at Bowdoin, and I will share my knowledge with the students in association with this screening.

In the evening we will have a long screening of the expanded version of Apocalypse Now. Much has also been written about this film. I am confident I will be able to find academic articles to reference in our discussion of the film.

The final day of the program begins with the second part of the Godfather saga. Arguably a better film than the first, it is a movie that only really succeeds if you are familiar with Part I. Because we are watching it the next day, all the events of the first film will be fresh in the students’ minds.

Following lunch, we will screen a smaller Coppola film, but one I really enjoyed the first time I saw it (back in college). Tucker features a great performance by Jeff Bridges, and also features his father Lloyd. The story is also really interesting. A car manufacturer who is ahead of his time may remind students of the work Elon Musk is doing with Tesla. We will see what the discussion holds.

The final film of the series will be shown that night. It is the oft-maligned, but still worthy Godfather, Part III. I feel it is important to conclude the trilogy in this program. Having watched all three films in two days, I think we can have a meaningful discussion of Part III’s place in the trilogy and in the larger world of Coppola’s films.

If there is additional time in this iteration of SAIL, I think I would also show The Cotton Club (1984, 128 minutes). This is another Coppola film that I was first exposed to in college. It is also a gangster film, but noticeably different from the Godfather films. As it was made just after the two Hinton adaptations, I think it would fit in well on the morning of Day One.

The Films of Billy Wilder

Posted by Jim on Jun 16th, 2017
2017
Jun 16

For an overview of SAIL, see this post.

Billy Wilder is one of my favorite directors. He excels at comedies and dramas. He has made films that are textbook examples of many genres, including film noir, courtroom drama, buddy comedy, screwball comedy and romance. When I was young, my father rented Witness for the Prosecution for me and my siblings to watch. Our reaction was somewhere between skeptical and outright hostile. This was an old black and white movie that we’d never heard of with a cast full of names we didn’t recognize. He insisted we watch it, and I am certainly glad he did. It was my first exposure to Wilder’s genius. The movie was enthralling. I would love to recreate that experience for the students at my high school so they can feel the way I did upon my first exposure to Billy Wilder.

I’ve split the two and a half day schedule into three themes. Day one are movies about corruption. Day two are the play adaptations. Day three are the comedies.

Day One (Half Day)
Double Indemnity (1944, 107 minutes)
The Lost Weekend (1945, 99 minutes)
Evening Screening
Ace in the Hole (1951, 111 minutes)

Day Two
Stalag 17 (1953, 120 minutes)
Sunset Boulevard (1950, 110 minutes)
Witness for the Prosecution (1957, 116 minutes)
Evening Screening
The Seven Year Itch (1955, 105 minutes)

Day Three
Sabrina (1954, 113 minutes)
The Apartment (1960, 125 minutes)
Some Like It Hot (1959, 121 minutes)
Evening Screening
The Fortune Cookie (1966, 125 minutes)

Sunset Boulevard is not technically a play adaptation, but it was later adapted into a successful Broadway musical. If I am allowed to schedule screenings over three full days, Sunset Boulevard would be shown the afternoon of Day One, as it certainly qualifies as a film about corruption. Replacing it with the play adaptations would be The Seven Year Itch. The new evening screening that day would be The Front Page (1974, 105 minutes).

I feel this is a good overview of Billy Wilder’s films. It does skip over the early films which he only wrote, but it does cover all of the true classics he had a hand in making. There are a few films that I won’t have time to screen that are worth attention, such as Irma la Douce, Love in the Afternoon and The Spirit of St. Louis. The film he made for the US Dept. of War, Death Mills, is also deserving of attention. Like I did for the Hitchcock session, I will make up a sheet of additional recommended titles that I will share with the students at the end of the screenings.

The Magical Worlds of Miyazaki

Posted by Jim on Jun 9th, 2017
2017
Jun 9

For an overview of SAIL, see this post.

For my next SAIL session, I want to show films directed Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki is a widely celebrated Japanese animator and founder of Studio Ghibli. Not only is he one of the greatest animators of all time, he is possibly the worlds greatest living filmmaker.

Half Day
Spirited Away (2001, 125 minutes)
Evening Screening
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004, 119 minutes)

Day One
Porco Rosso (1992, 94 minutes)
Princess Mononoke (1997, 134 minutes)
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984, 117 minutes)
Evening Screening
Castle in the Sky (1986, 126 minutes)

Day Two
The Wind Rises (2013, 126 minutes)
Ponyo (2008, 103 minutes)
My Neighbor Totoro (1988, 86 minutes)
Evening Screening
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989, 102 minutes)

This schedule allows us to screen all of the films Miyazaki directed except his first film, 1979’s The Castle of Cagliostro. It also allows for the three films I think of as his ‘children’s films’ (Ponyo, Totoro and Kiki) to be screened on the same day.

There is talk of SAIL expanded to three full days, which I hope happens. If that is the case, I could alter the schedule to show all 11 of Miyazaki’s movies. The Wind Rises would move to the morning of the half day. Kiki’s Delivery Service would be screened first on Day Two, where The Wind Rises originally was. The Castle of Caglistro would be shown on the evening of the first day, with the other two evening screenings being moved forward one day. I think it would be wonderful to show all of Miyazaki’s movies, but even if I am only able to share 10 out of 11, it will still be a great series!

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock

Posted by Jim on May 31st, 2017
2017
May 31

For an overview of SAIL, see this post

The first SAIL Session was run as a pilot program. It went over two days in April 2017, with an optional half day before the two required days. Sign-ups were limited to members of the senior class. Based upon this session, future versions of SAIL may be modified. As this was a pilot program, there are a number of things that I would change if I ran this film series again. Instead of giving you a summary of how the event went, I will present this first SAIL Film Series post as an ideal situation, so it will include the optional half day and evening screenings.

Half Day
The Lodger (1927, 91 minutes)
The Lady Vanishes (1938, 97 minutes)
Evening Screening
Rebecca (1940, 130 minutes)

Day One
Notorious (1946, 101 minutes)
Rear Window (1954, 112 minutes)
Vertigo (1958, 128 minutes)
Evening Screening
Strangers on a Train (1951, 101 minutes)

Day Two
North By Northwest (1959, 136 minutes)
Psycho (1960, 106 minutes)
Evening Screening
The Birds (1963, 119 minutes)

This series will begin with an introduction to auteur theory and to some of the tropes common to Hitchcock’s films, specifically Robin Wood’s list of common plot elements from his book “Hitchcock’s Films Revisited”. Hopefully students will pay attention to these things while watching the films.

The first day will cover Hitchcock’s early films. We start with what Hitch considered his first real film, The Lodger. It was his first thriller and will represent his silent films period. This will be followed by one of his most popular films made in Britain, The Lady Vanishes. This film also represents one of his strongest female leads. The evening screening will allow all us to share Hitch’s first American film and one of his many du Maurier adaptations, Rebecca.

The first complete day offers a full schedule of films. Notorious will showcase his use of the MacGuffin and display how Hitch’s political films are really about the people involved, not the politics themselves. Rear Window gives students exposure to the films within a restricted settings (such as Lifeboat and Rope). I find this film the most effective example of this setting device, which is why I selected it. Lastly, we will screen what is arguably Hitchcock’s greatest film, Vertigo. We will examine the use of color and how the double is represented. The evening screening will allow us to share one of Hitchcock’s more famous plot devices, the murder exchange in Strangers on a Train.

The final day of screenings begins with Hitchcock’s longest film, North By Northwest. Again, we will examine the role of the MacGuffin in the plot. We will also look at how the gender roles in this film compare to Notorious, and how the outcomes differ when the victim is a man instead of a woman. The official screenings will conclude with the horror masterpiece Psycho. As this is Hitchcock’s most popular film, some students may have seen it before, but I feel it is important to include it in any overview of his work. The evening screening will be The Birds, another horror masterpiece, but one a little less accessible than Psycho. It is a film I would like to show during the daytime screenings, but I had to move it to the evening due to time constraints.

SAIL Film Series Overview

Posted by Jim on May 31st, 2017
2017
May 31

The high school where I work has piloted a new alternative education series named SAIL, which is an acronym for Student Adventures In Learning. What appeals to me about this program is that non-educators are encouraged to lead sessions. That means a systems administrator like me can share my love of film in an educational setting without a teaching degree! [I’ll let the admins and union reps work out how people like me teaching students for a few days works with the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement.]

My plan for the SAIL sessions is to share with students a thematic collection of films that we can watch together and then discuss, much like a book group would do with the printed word. Currently, SAIL takes place over two and a half days. I’ve created a ridiculous number of possible screening lists—many more than I could ever hope to actually put on. So, I’ve decided to share them here on my blog.

The opening half day is about three hours long, but in a few cases I’ve selected films that run a little longer than that. The two full days need to include a lunch break. The current HS schedule can be split between two three hour sessions, or one four hour block and one two hour block. I alternate between these two schedules depending on the lengths of the films I’ve chosen. Most series also include a selection of films to be screened in the evenings, allowing students optional additional exposure to some films I find important and/or relevant. It also allows me to greatly expand my number of selections.

I will begin posting these theoretical film schedules, along with any notes about the films I have and my reasoning behind the selections.