Tag Archives: Rear Window

On ending the year

Year 2 I did finals on the last day of class, because the school required it and my room was in the center of campus. I was returning—probably. (I looked for new jobs; an offer came in too late to accept). Better part of something not to flout administration, so I did the final on the intended day.

Every other year, I’ve a series of finals or one big one in the days before, and show a movie during the two hour final period. I’d misplaced my copy of Rear Window the year before, so on Friday it was the featured film in all three classes.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t really give a damn if my kids love math or just survive it, find “Hamlet” enthralling or torture, or are really interested in what the Founding Fathers thought of strict vs. loose Constitutional construction. But they will by god not turn up their noses at classic films.

And so three times, my film buff’s heart just went pitty-pat thump thump with satisfied joy as twenty to thirty kids shrieked in horror when Lars Thorwald came around the corner of the hall while Lisa was still in the apartment, or gasped and flinched when Burr realizes who’s been watching him.

One girl had seen it already, and she confided that the beginning was slow.

“That’s because you’re used to a different style of movies. But think of this as a novel you’re analyzing for lit class. Look for subtle changes in Stewart’s behavior, for the first time he openly reaches for Lisa instead of fending her off. Or look at the window stories and see how many of them are just reinforcing the different outcomes for women and relationships. And remember this: at the end of the first 30 minutes, Lisa asks if either of them can ever change. Consider that the rest of the movie as an answer to that question.”

She came up to me after it was over to say that she’d never before realized that movies were “just like books”.

“I could write an essay about Rear Window for the SAT!”

“You could indeed. Make a nice change from Martin Luther King.”

Anyway. A richly rewarding experience. Maybe even for my students.

On to the year-end check out.

While the last days of school are usually pretty easy, the very last day of duty is a hassle. Teachers have to get signed off on a bunch of things over the summer, turn in their keys, and leave. You can tell the teachers who count every second of the summer, who have been preparing their room for the end days for at least a week, who know the checkoff list by heart and have it all done before the last bell rings. They’re the ones waiting in line on Friday morning for an admin signoff so they can prove to the principal’s secretary that they’ve changed their voicemail password and turn in their keys.

Then there are teachers who make a day of it–eh, summer’s here, they won’t rush. These are teachers for whom the most significant task—room cleaning—is something they’d rather not think about. They come in late, sigh at the mess of their room, do some grading, get grades in, lackadaisically pack up a few boxes, go get coffee, come back and sigh at the mess of their room, shove a bunch of stuff into their car, go get lunch, toss a bunch of stuff they’d been saving in case they needed it, jam anything left over into their cars, and then look at the sign-off sheet to see what other tasks they need. By this time it’s usually late afternoon and everyone’s left, so they skate the things like turning in two copies of grades, turning in keys, changing voicemail and so on. They email the principal’s secretary and drop by a few weeks later to turn in their keys.

You’ll never guess which sort of teacher I am. Go ahead, guess.

Year 1 and Year 3, I was leaving the schools, so I’d taken all my belongings home earlier. The actual last day, I looked at the various things acquired at the school, remembered where I’d found them, realized no one would give a damn if they were gone, so shrugged and took them, too. Like the really cool geometry book I found stuffed into the corner of a box of books the previous teacher had left for the trash, or the white board found jammed into the back of a junk room that had “3/5/04” on the meeting agenda written (but still removable) on it. Or the massive trunk of fantastic manipulatives, taken from a room stuffed with such trunks that the book clerk told me had been there for five years because “no one used them”. Indeed, at my school, I was the only one who used them, along with the set of 30 student-sized white boards that I talked up to all my colleagues, who all looked at me perplexedly. “They’d just use them to draw on, or scribble obscenities.” “Sure. but sometimes they do math.” No takers. They’ve been put to good use. Those years I was usually the last one out, or close to it, but would usually turn in my keys early and then just prop my door open.

Years 2 and 4, I didn’t leave schools but changed rooms, which required me to pack my car much as if I was leaving because lord knows what gets lost in a move. Last one out both years, had to drive back to the schools to turn in my keys later.

Year 5: I am staying for a third year. No room change. My summer job doesn’t start until Tuesday, so I have an actual brief break to enjoy. Vowing to commemorate the occasion with a behavior change, I stay late both Wednesday and Thursday, finishing all but a bit of my grading, and get much of my room boxed up. On Friday, little to do but finish up grading and pack the boxes, computers, printer, lots of books, office supplies into my storage closet—nothing to come home! Then I bought a lock at the Dollar Store. Last thing in the closet, just before the lock, my class rules sign, made in Year 2, a big piece of thin yellow paper. I don’t like throwing things away.

What was left? Grades done. What was the stuff I usually skated because I was late? Oh, print out copies of grades. Check. Change voicemail. Well, I never set it up to start with, so that should be easy. But the preset password didn’t work. Oh, that’s right, our voicemail system had crashed. Use the system default. Didn’t work.

I sat there, perplexed. Wait. Is it possible that I did set it up after the crash? I vaguely remember the principal’s secretary telling us that the system would be upset if passwords were left in default. Could it be that I’d complied? I never do voicemail. Never. But if I had done voicemail, my password would be….

“You have three messages.”

Only three? Pretty good. Does this mean I’d set up a voice recording?

“Hi, this is Ed. I’m happy to get in touch with you, but to ensure a record of all my interactions, I prefer that parents contact me via email. If this is a problem, please send a note in with your student and I’ll be happy to contact you. ”

The only three messages were system-wides from other teachers. It worked!

I must have set this up in an extra five minutes I had between classes. Not a single memory of it, though.

I was done! Everything signed off, grades done. Turned in the keys. People were still cleaning their rooms. It was 3:30. I wasn’t last!!!!

Then I realized I’d left my laptop and the few take-home things in the classroom. To which I no longer had the keys.

Thank god a custodian was walking by right then. He didn’t even laugh at me.

And so summer begins.


Teaching Movies

I wrote this up five years ago for some friends and decided to add it here, because I wanted to start writing about the importance of movies in teaching. I’ve mentioned my enrichment class before; I teach summer school every year. The first year, I had an whole extra week without a book planned, so I asked the director if I could teach a week of movies. By some miracle, he said yes.
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I’ve been heading a summer school film festival this week, which thus far has been a roaring success.
My first plan, offered to assuage any concerns the director might have, included these three movies:

  • White Heat
  • Fort Apache
  • His Girl Friday

I liked all these films, but more importantly they included four quintessentially American film types: gangster and noir, Western, screwball comedy. I was concerned that if I just chose purely fun movies, the director might be worried.

Two things happened to change my plans. First, the director wasn’t even in the building the first day, nor did he have the DVD player and large screen monitor available (he’d forgotten). Second, I only owned White Heat, but had ordered the other films last week and damned if they weren’t late. They’re finally arriving today.

After tearing home and grabbing my 7 year old laptop, which I keep around only to watch DVDs when there’s no TV handy, I became far less concerned about what the director wanted. Fort Apache got booted, Singin in the Rain and Rear Window got added.

Learning objectives:

  • Taking notes in the dark, while someone else is talking. They have to do it in high school and college, so may as well start now.
  • Writing film reviews, writing a synopsys, and the occasional persuasive essay.
  • Reading film reviews.
  • Analyzing characters and motivations.

Day 1: White Heat

Popcorn: None. I wasn’t sure that Asian kids would like popcorn. They assured me they would.

They were interested in White Heat, but it was an academic interest. They certainly enjoyed the great lines, and watching Jimmy Cagney, but the investigation scenes didn’t make up in interest what they added in lack of excitement. I suspect that the film will always be associated with “dramatic irony” though, as most of them heard the term for the first time when I explained it.
Without my planned films, I resorted to my own library. I also hooked up an old monitor to the laptop, creating two viewing areas. Sound remains an issue, dammit–the sound quality is fine, but the volume is a bit low.

Day 2: Singin’ in the Rain

Popcorn: Two full batches. I brought paper bags and salt. They devoured it in 20 minutes.

I selected Singin in the Rain first because I had it, second because it would be a nice change after Heat and finally, glory be, for relevance. As an opening lecture to the festival, I explained the history of movies, going through the impact of The Jazz Singer, the lack of technical expertise, and the problems that some actors had with squeaky voices. As part of the intro to this film, I naturally explained the difference between a Broadway and Hollywood musical, the importance of the Freed unit, and how the screenplay writers had been told that they had to write a story that fit this group of songs.

Big success. They loved every moment (confession: I skipped through the Broadway Melody section). They were riveted by the dance scenes; many of them noted that “they don’t chop it up, like in Chicago.” They laughed in all the right places. In their reviews, they all mentioned “the evil but funny Lina” and the great “dignity” speech. They were duly impressed that Cathy was Princess Leia’s mom, but even more stunned that Jean Hagen was dubbing her own voice, as Debbie lacked gravitas.

Day 3: Rear Window

Popcorn: 3 full batches, likewise devoured in 20 minutes. I am not sure where the bottom lies.
I wasn’t sure if they’d like Rear Window, but I thought it safer than The Third Man, and while I had It Happened One Night, I was still hoping my movies would come in and I didn’t want to preclude His Girl Friday.

Their note taking had gotten spotty, so this time I made them to track all the major characters, track all the “window stories”, and also the usual note good quotes, good scenes, and any questions. This did the trick; all of them had two pages of notes.

Three quarters of Rear Window is, as Roger Ebert notes, elegant foreplay. It then ratchets up the suspense with three exquisite shocks:

  • The Miss Lonelyhearts distraction cut to Thorwald’s return with Lisa still in his apartment.
  • Thorwald’s look from Lisa’s ring to Jeff, looking on.
  • Jeff answering the phone. “Hello, Tom? I think Thorwald’s cleared out. Hello?” and then his look of horror as he realizes who has called.

The students were fascinated throughout, commenting on the various “window plots” and speculating about what Thorwald had done. They gasped as one during the three shock scenes, laughing in horror and telling Lisa to “run!” And when it was over, they asked if they could have another Hitchcock today. I told them no! but you know, he’s at Blockbuster and on Netflix.

I was grinning like a lunatic during the last 25 minutes. As a teacher and a movie buff, I couldn’t have been more pleased by their response.

Day 4: His Girl Friday

I was worried it’d be a bit of a letdown after the huge success of Window and it was, just a bit. But still.

Their three biggest laughs:

  • After Walter has relegated Hitler, the Chinese earthquake, and the Polish corridor to page 6 or the funny pages, he says “No, keep the rooster story. That’s human interest.”
  • The entire scene with Bruce’s mother, from her entrance to her exit over Louie’s shoulders.
  • “Hey, I wonder if Bruce can put us up!”

Before the film, I had given them a good deal of info on Ralph Bellamy and Cary Grant (including Grant’s real name), so they got both of those jokes. I also told them what newspapers were like in that era, that big cities had 6 or 7 papers at least, and that newspapers were far more influential then. They absolutely got the message when the reporters gave fifty different versions (“Earl didn’t give up without a fight!” “Earl didn’t struggle!” “Earl tried to shoot, but his gun wasn’t loaded!”), and that for all our complaints about the media, things are a lot better these days.

They also loved the cameraderie of the press corps. One of my favorite moments in HGF occurs after the men have humiliated Molly and she leaves in tears. They know they’ve gone too far, and are sitting in silent embarrassment. It’s one of the only quiet moments in the film. Anna said, “Look, they feel bad” and the rest murmured in agreement. Later, when Molly shows up again, Michael pointed out how nice the reporters were at first, to make up for their rudeness.

So now it’s over. Lordy, I want to do that again. The whole summer was a great deal of fun, but this last week was teaching nirvana for me.

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This week was hugely influential in my teaching. To my elation, the kids really responded to “old” movies. Thanks to the ten kids in the class that day, a couple hundred kids have seen movie classics whenever I had a few spare hours.