Hierarchy, bureaucracy and paperwork

Video-based ELT class on bureaucracy featuring clips from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and the Coens’ Hudsucker Proxy

France is a country that suffers somewhat from bureaucracy, excess paperwork and a rigidly hierarchical work culture. These issues are not unrelated. As a fonctionnaire in the Education Nationale I have suffered some absurd bureaucy to prove who I am to my own employer, processes which involve sending paperwork up the chain to be signed by those authorized to do so (i.e., the top brass). The fact that senior members of, say, the Human Resources department do not themselves have the authority to approve such documents is quite revealing: we are talking about a “top-down” culture here. Continue reading

Reconsidering Vanilla Sky

Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky

Some thoughts on rewatching Vanilla Sky twenty years after its release

Normally I disapprove of Hollywood remakes, especially when the original film was (a) not a direct adaptation of a novel, (b) released only a few years earlier, and (c) a well-regarded foreign language movie. However, having never seen Alejandro Amenábar’s 1997 Spanish film Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes), I feel entitled to review Cameron Crowe’s 2001 version starring Tom Cruise (who also produced) on its own terms. In fact I had seen it before, around the time of its release, but had only the vaguest recollections of the movie, and not wholly positive ones. Continue reading

Censorship and authoritarianism

Book censorship in Fahrenheit 451

Ideas for a class about censorship and authoritarianism based around clips from Fahrenheit 451 and Cinema Paradiso

I am on a bit of a Truffaut tip at the moment having also recently seen and enjoyed his historical dramas Jules et Jim (1962) and The Last Metro (1981). Fahrenheit 451 (1966) is altogether a different beast, and I have included my Letterboxd review here below. I have also sketched a few ideas about how the clip might inspire discussion about censorship and authoritarianism in the ELT classroom. Continue reading

The Other Side of Town

Paraisopolis, Sao Paulo

Resources for an ELT class on ghettos and ghettoisation

A recent class I have done that worked well with adults and undergraduates was on the theme of ghettos. Indeed, the picture above, for which I do not have a photo credit, was actually shared with me by a student who responded well to the material. Showing the vast social divide between the shanty towns and luxury apartment complexes of Paraisopolis in Sao Paulo, it captures evocatively a modern form of ghettoisation which even many comparatively egalitarian countries experience to lesser or greater degrees.

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“The mutations were subtle at first”

Entering “The Shimmer”

 

Some thoughts on Alex Garland’s horror sci-fi movie of 2018: Annihilation

I have got a backlog of Letterboxd reviews of varying depth and quality that I haven’t shared anywhere else. The last one I did, below, is of Alex Garland’s horror sci-fi movie of 2018: Annihilation. Continue reading

Smartphone addiction

Seeing the sights? Copyright: Marc Davenant

Some ideas for a video based ELT class on the subject of smartphone addiction

A popular theme for EFT classrooms, for adults and younger learners alike, is the role of smartphones in our lives. I myself only recently acquired one, having long resisted, and have now joined the massed ranks of perpetually distracted people. While I try to work out ways to be more responsible in my use of this new gadget, I have developed some ideas for class materials on this theme.

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Intercultural communication

Toni Collette and Gotaro Tsunashima in Japanese Story

Some ideas for a video-based ESL class on intercultural communication

It has been a long time since I blogged and I felt the need to get back in the saddle. Although the pressures of work and family life in the age of Covid have kept me away from Visual Language, I have been nonetheless been writing, but mostly film reviews of varying depth over on Letterboxd. I have also been using that site to archive some old Amazon reviews that have fallen into obscurity. At some point, I may polish up some of the more recent ones and post them here. Continue reading

Metafiction and the metaphysical detective story: Vertigo

A re-reading of the Alfred Hitchcock classic

The subject of my Phd thesis was in part what is referred to as the “metaphysical detective story”, a mostly literary subgenre of the detective novel (e.g., Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy). In their seminal study of such narratives, Patricia Merivale and Elizabeth Sweeney have identified some common tropes:

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Death, grief and rebirth

A reappraisal of two psychological thrillers starring Nicole Kidman: Dead Calm and Birth

Two films I have recently revisited strike me as being two parts of a piece, and not only because they both feature Nicole Kidman – the first being her final performance in an Australian-made film, Philip Noyce’s Dead Calm (1989), and the latter being Jonathan Glazer’s Birth (2004). Moreover, each film deals with the grieving process, with the lost loved one resurfacing in an Oedipal scheme as a vengeful son committed to possessing the mother and destroying the father. Continue reading

The accidental tourist

Jack Nicholson in The Passenger

Some thoughts on Antionio’s 1975 arthouse thriller The Passenger, starring Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider

My late conversion to Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up has had me checking out some of his other English-language films, including this slow-burning 1975 piece starring Jack Nicholson as a disaffected political reporter who has ostensibly reached the end of his personal road on a job in Saharan Africa. Returning to his hotel after a bitterly unsucessful day out in the desert, he siezes the chance to swap identities with a man named Robertson that he resembles and met only briefly the evening before, and whom he finds dead in his room unnoticed by the hotel staff. Continue reading