Toxic masculinity in four songs

American Girl in Italy by Ruth Orkin, 1951

Some song ideas for teaching gender politics and “toxic masculinity” in the ESL/EFL classroom

Following my post touching on toxic masculinity – an expression I don’t care for particularly but a topical one – and this one on murder ballads, I have been thinking of a few songs that respond to one another around the theme of gender politics. Rather than a structured lesson plan, I have just sketched a few ideas about the songs’ potential in class, thematically and linguistically. It is also the right moment to introduce a photo of which I am particularly fond, Ruth Orkin’s American Girl in Italy (above), one of a series featuring Ninalee Allen Craig – who died at 90 in May last year – on her adventures in post-war Europe. Continue reading

John Lennon versus Steely Dan

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan

A lesson plan for comparing songs in the EFL/ESL classroom

As my last post showed, I’m a fan of working with songs which respond to each other in some way. I’ve not yet devised a much-needed Lynyrd Skynyrd vs. Neil Young face-off, but this should do in its place. I am going to lay my cards on the table and say I am not a fan of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. I have nothing against Lennon or his music; I adore Revolver and Abbey Road, not to mention “Jealous Guy”. “Imagine”, though, is rather vacuous ditty, with Lennon asking us to contemplate the disappearance of war and religion from what could easily be described as his ivory tower, the spacious white mansion where he and a curiously joyless Yoko Ono appear in the accompanying video (see below). Continue reading

Hotel English with Barton Fink

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

Survival English with Nick Roeg’s Walkabout

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.

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Antonioni’s Blow-Up

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

Rear Windows

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