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

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

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.

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

We need to talk about high school massacres

Communicative activity for the ESL/EFL classroom based on clips from films by Lynne Ramsay and Gus Van Sant

Following my recent post about fatherhood, one of the most striking and memorable depictions of motherhood I have seen in the cinema in recent years is that played by Tilda Swinton – in Lynne Ramsay’s 2011 adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s epistolary novel We Need to Talk about Kevin. Ramsay brings her impressionistic signature style – honed on breakthrough works like Morvern Callar (2002) – to the source material, a disturbing and topical story of a mother’s attempts to understand what led her son to commit a horrendous high school massacre. Continue reading

Uniforms and Uniformity


Henri Cartier-Bresson, School children, Moscow, USSR, 1954

Ideas for a photography and film-based ESL/EFL class around the theme of uniforms and uniformity

Writing about Walkabout the other day got me thinking about another theme that normally inspires debate in the English classroom, that of school uniforms and, more broadly, what constitutes a uniform or uniformity more broadly in society. The first clip from my Walkabout-themed lesson plan is particularly evocative in this regard, framing the school uniform as just one form of costume in a vision of Western society that is highly prescriptive and regimented: we see not only the blazered boys and girls at school but marching soldiers and besuited office workers all busying about as if in rhythmic unison. 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.

Continue reading

Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation

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.

Continue reading