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

Hearts of darkness – Deliverance and Wake in Fright

Kangaroo hunting in Wake in Fright

Death, debauchery and survival in two early ’70s film classics

I’ve recently acquired an interest in the so-called Aussie New Wave cinema of the 1970s and 80s. Although encompassing a range of genres and often overlapping with what is known as Ozploitation, the period really identifies a period of resurgent confidence and productivity in Australian cinema rather than any kind of aesthetic stance. That said, a number of the stronger works of the ‘Wave’ seem to capitalize on the country’s geographical peculiarities with strange and often sinister results. Notable filmmakers who came of age during the period include Peter Weir and Philip Noyce, who went on to enjoy successful Hollywood careers. Continue reading

The Draughtsman’s Contract

A review of Peter Greenaway’s 1982 period film The Draughtsman’s Contract

Currently on holiday, I am using the blog not to sketch out lesson ideas but to jot down thoughts on films I have recently watched. One such movie is Peter Greenaway’s first feature, The Draughtsman’s Contract, a surreal 1982 costume drama. Having grown up in 1980s Britain, I am extremely grateful to have witnessed the arrival of Channel 4 and its groundbreaking support for British cinema via what was then Film on Four. Continue reading

Chocolat

Giulia Boschi as Aimée and Isaach de Bankolé as Protée

A review of Claire Denis’s 1988 directorial debut Chocolat

I’ve recently acquired an Artificial Eye Collection of Claire Denis movies. By no means an exhaustive anthology of her work – there are just four films (Chocolat, Nénette et Boni, Beau Travail and White Material) – it provides the introduction to her oeuvre I was hoping for. Having read a lot about Denis’s films, and long harbouring the suspicion that I have long overlooked her, I decided to have a binge. I should add that I have seen 2009’s White Material before and that, while I found it unsettling and beautifully photographed, I don’t think I quite gave it the attention it deserved. Continue reading

This is England

Comparing montages in the ESL-EFL classroom with Shane Meadows’s This is England

I have recently finished watching This is England ’90 on DVD. Clearly I am a bit late in the game, the series having first aired on Channel 4 in 2015. A long-time fan of director Shane Meadows,  it is purportedly the final installment of a saga that began with coming-of-age movie This is England (2006, above), set in the aftermath of the Falklands War. Examining the racism and disaffection of the early Thatcher years, it was followed by three mini-series made for television: This is England ’86, ’88 and ’90. Continue reading

Dreamchild

Review of the 1985 fantasy film Dreamchild, written by Dennis Potter

This post heralds a change in tack for this blog. I initially wanted to channel all my critical energies through the prism of ESL/EFL lesson plans but have begun to feel I had imposed unsustainable limits on myself. Henceforth there will be no such constraints: English language-specific content will be filed under the category ‘Lesson Plans’, as well as any other pertinent categories (Cinema, Music etc.). But from this point on I also hope to use the blog to sketch out ideas I may decide to explore in more detail in my research or simply to post reflections on things of interest to me culturally, notably cinema. This will begin with the following post on Dennis Potter’s 1985 film drama Dreamchild.

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Escaping the gridlock

Communicative English class about traffic and congestion, featuring cinema, rock videos, adverts and more

My last post about Michael Patterson’s work and portals to other dimensions put me in mind of one of cinema’s mindblowingly strange opening scenes, namely that of Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963). The sequence shares much of the urban claustrophobia and anxiety that characterizes Patterson’s Commuter, as well as its framing of that unease within the context of travel and transport. Continue reading

Protest songs and lords of war

ELT class about protest music based on Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth and its use in cinema

Following my last post about the exploitation of natural resources and Seth Boydon‘s animated short film An Object at Rest, I have been thinking of films and scenes which chart the progress of an object through time. The Hudsucker Proxy‘s key scene does something similar with the hula hoop, as I described here, while the canonical movie of this type might be said to be Albert Lamorisse’s classic 1954 short The Red Balloon (Le ballon rouge). Setting aside these fine works for the moment, a scene that belongs to this tradition is the opening credits to Andrew Niccol’s 2005 movie Lord of War, starring Nicolas Cage. Continue reading

Offices, workplaces and working conditions

Film clips for communicative English lesson on the theme of workplace environments

I have to thank Kieran Donaghy at Film English once again for alerting me to this clever and biting animation The Employment by Santiago ‘Bou’ Grasso. In a darkly comic critique of our value system, people are seen fulfiling absurd everyday functions such as being a stand for a lamp, the legs of a table, or a place to keep keys for the central character, whom we see going about his daily routine and commuting to work. In an ultimately bleak vision of society, everyone is apparently someone else’s dogsbody, with the protagonist himself revealed not to be above this exploitation, ending his commute in an office building where he literally prepares to be someone’s doormat. Kieran structures his class around employment and jobs vocab, as well as the expression “to work as”. I would like to expand slightly on that by comparing the representation of working life in The Employment with other darkly comic interpretations from cinema. Continue reading

Airports and the flying experience

Martin Parr, Chicago, 1997

Communicative English class on the theme of airports and flying, based around photography and film clips

I teach a lot of business English and often find myself doing lessons about air travel. At the university where I work in France, I also do a lot of general English conversation classes and it is a theme that is often requested. Frequently in the past I have opted for bog-standard lesson plans found online or from a student manual but I have got bored of doing this and wanted to do something more student-led, based around film and photography. Continue reading