ESL/EFL lesson about hotel experiences, reservations and complaints, based on clips from the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink
Barton Fink is a film situated at the beginning of what I think it is fair to call the Coen Brothers’ heydey in the 1990s, preceding as it does Fargo in 1996 and The Big Lebowski in 1998, a run interrupted only by the fine, but admittedly lesser work The Hudsucker Proxy in 1994. A satire of the Hollywood system in the 1940s, it came out a year before Robert Altman’s more contemporaneous, multi-protagonist “comeback” movie The Player in 1992. I mention the latter as each film delves into the more soul-destroying undercurrents of Tinseltown with a metafictional twist: the eponymous playwright turned screenwriter in the Coen brothers movie and Tim Robbins’s studio mogul in The Player both – in their quest for Hollywood glory – seem to become literally authors of their own dramas. Continue reading
Communicative English class about Australia and desert survival based around clips from Nick Roeg’s Walkabout
A film I have returned to a number of times in my teaching is Nick Roeg’s Walkabout. Although unashamedly art-house, my students – both adults and teens – have responded well to it, the emphasis on the visual and non-verbal making it rich in potential for description and speculation. It also seems a fitting to post an article about the maverick British director as he died at the end of last year, leaving behind a small but beguilingly strange back catalogue, most of which dates from the 1970s.
Communicative English lesson about surveillance based on Francis Ford Coppola’s classic film The Conversation
A companion piece to Antonioni‘s Blow-Up, or even Rear Window, Francis Ford Coppola’s Watergate-era surveillance thriller The Conversation (1974) may well be the director’s best film. A bold statement by a fan of the original Godfather films and Apocalypse Now, but Coppola’s self-proclaimed favourite strikes me now as the subtlest and most insidiously rewarding of his movies. Moreover, it is arguably the best of the Watergate inspired or themed movies, of which there was a glut in the mid 70s, including prestige productions such as The Paralax View and All The President’s Men.
“Nail house” in Shanghai: Lucas Schifres/Getty Images
Film, music and photography-based ESL/EFL lesson about urbanization and nostalgia
My last post featuring Frank Sinatra’s It Was A Very Good Year reminded me of a grammatical structure I have seldom had cause to teach. Twice in the song we see the modal “would” used not in the conditional context that most students will encounter first, but rather to express habits in the past (“We’d hide from the lights / On the village green”, “We’d ride in limousines / Their chauffeurs would drive”). To build on this, as well as the structure “used to + verb”, to talk about our past routines, there is fantastic song which is also a rich basis for discussion about our relationship to the past, particularly as concerns urbanization and the irrevocable transformation of the natural environment into the built one. The song is Tar & Cement, a one-hit country-soul wonder by Verdelle Smith, written by Lee Pockriss and Paul Vance. Continue reading
Louis Faurer, Accident New York City, 1952
Film, music and photography-based ESL/EFL class about the stages of life
After my last – rather academic – post about Bladerunner and optical illusions, I thought a more lighthearted approach was in order today. Saying that, it begins with a corollary to that discussion, namely the photo above, Louis Faurer’s Accident New York City (1952), which is anything but lighthearted. As with in the scene featuring Deckard’s Esper machine, it is a photograph that keeps on giving, the reflection of what might be a storefront window affording a near panorama of simultaneous activity that seems to tell two or more stories. Continue reading
M. C. Escher, Still Life with Spherical Mirror, 1934
Communicative English class on perspective & optical illusions featuring the Esper Machine scene in Bladerunner & its inspirations in art
My previous post about Blow-Up, and especially the scene in which the hero enlarges the photographs in his dark room to reveal that he had unwittingly witnessed a murder, put me in mind of another great scene from cinema. Among the many evocative scenes from Ridley Scott’s sci-fi opus Bladerunner that could be used in language teaching (indeed, I hope to come back to the film in future posts) is this one in which the hero Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, runs a photo through his Esper machine, a rather dated-looking bit of kit with highly prescient technological capabilities. Continue reading
Video-based ESL/EFL lesson plan on image rights, voyeurism and street photography featuring Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up
Following on from my post about Rear Window, a film I often like to use in class following Hitchcock’s masterpiece is Antonioni’s 1966 classic Blow-Up. While the main character’s casual mysogyny is jarring today, the film has not lost its intriguing power and ambiguity. I won’t reiterate the debate around what actually happens in the film here, suffice to say there are good grounds to doubt the veracity of what we see, particularly in relation to film’s central murder mystery. The film also includes one of my all-time favourite scenes, in which the hero photographer works – with increasing intensity – in his studio as he develops the photos that convince him he has unwittingly witnessed a crime, an extract of which features in my lesson plan below. Continue reading
Edward Hopper, Night Windows, 1928.
English class on surveillance, voyeurism and neighbourliness, featuring Alfred Hitchcock, Edward Hopper, Avril Paton and Ole Marius Jøergensen
Following on from my previous post about The Prisoner, which evokes among other things the theme of surveillance, and the post about Brainstorm, which imagines a dystopian technology allowing users to vicariously experience other people’s memories, this class focuses on the subject of neighbourhood watch, privacy and voyeurism. The clips I have used that best elicit discussions on these themes are from one of the all-time greats, Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Continue reading
Video-based ESL/EFL lesson plan about virtual reality, featuring iconic tv series The Prisoner and forgotten ’80s sci-fi movie Brainstorm
Blogging about The Prisoner the other day reminded me of a great episode of the cult series in which Patrick McGoohan finds himself playing a role as a gunslinging sheriff in a western. Watching a repeat of the series as a youngster in the 90s, I was totally thrown by the way the series removed the normal opening credits and plunged us into what was ostensibly a totally different genre. The only thing that linked us back to the show was the presence of McGoohan, but none of the series’ other hallmarks were present. I have even written a paper on this episode, entitled ‘Living in Harmony’, published in French in this volume. Continue reading
Communicative English class about the Cold War, brainwashing and individual freedom
I have done many variations of a class based around clips from Patrick McGoohan’s iconic 1960s tv series The Prisoner, focusing in particular on the opening sequence and the first scenes of the debut episode. These work especially well as a basis for discussion as there is minimal dialogue and the narrative is almost entirely shown, with plenty of scope for description and vocab-building. The first episode is also rich in mystery, allowing lots of opportunities for student speculation. Continue reading