Thursday, August 6, 2015

you think that what you do makes a difference

Taking the music teacher (not that Dewey Finn was supposed to be a music teacher) a little more seriously today with Mr. Holland's Opus.

We start with Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) conducting an imaginary orchestra, playing the titular opus. Conducting music that isn't there (an important idea for what's coming). Like Finn, Holland didn't intend to be a teacher. He got stuck with it. Not the most positive portrayals of being a teacher. At least John Keating seemed to have become a teacher on purpose.

Classic teacher mistake, going to the textbook that early on day one. Me--the textbook is just support material; if the students read it they'll do better on the final, but if they just show up and listen/respond to my "lecture" they'll do just fine anyway.

(For now. Being a graduate teaching assistant, I've been stuck with a preexisting syllabus and book, and a final exam primarily written by someone else. The situation could change once I have more say. Depends on the class, I suppose.)

Maybe it was easier in the 60s (when this movie begins), but nowadays, you aren't going into a classroom for four years on a whim. At least not in this state. I completed part of the credential program for teaching secondary school level. (Ostensibly this was to teach history and other social science courses; this was before I shifted over to communication studies and the trajectory toward teaching at the college level.) Program takes four quarters, a year, and then, if you've done all the work and the teacher observation and the assigned in-class teaching, you get your credential and apply for a teaching gig for real.

(Everything happens quickly in movies of course...

Another classic (movie) teacher mistake, overreacting to the bad test scores. Not a very nurturing environment.

... You want to be a teacher, just go to a school and start. (To be fair, Finn cheated his way into his gig in School of Rock... To be fair to Holland, maybe he did whatever you had to do to get a teaching credential back then. I don't mean to assume that he didn't.)...

Nice bit from Principal Jacobs (Olympia Dukakis): "A teacher is two jobs. Fill young minds with knowledge, yes. But more important, give those minds a compass so that that knowledge doesn't go to waste." I like her.

... Another one that bugs me--and I'm surprised it hasn't come up in the blog by now. Gravemarkers. In movies, those things are in place either right after a funeral or sometimes at the damn funeral. Those things do not happen that fast. Especially, those big stone ones. Those take time.

But, that has nothing to do with this movie.)

Great moment when Gertrude (Alicia Witt) is going to quit the clarinet and Holland asks her the important question, "Was it any fun?" She's been trying to play because she wants to do something special (there was a whole rant earlier about the great things her family members can do), not because she actually enjoys it.

The movie is set in the 60s (right now) and Terence Howard just joined the marching band, and I'm not sensing a race-related storyline coming out of it. Is it just set in the 60s for some early rock and roll references and room for 30 years of teaching? (Actually, that last thing makes sense.)

Howard's character dies--in Vietnam is the implication; some shallow historical reference. The treatment of the deaf son and keeping him from "gesturing" to communicate might have a historical anchor in the 60s. Not sure... Just looked it up and apparently there was some stuff going on in the 60s and 70s with the promotion of the use of ASL as an actual language. Guy named William Stokoe at Gallaudet University.

(An aside, but not really: I hadn't thought about Jean Louisa Kelly, who plays the musical star Rowena who tempts Holland toward leaving his life, in quite a while. She was great in Uncle Buck and then this movie. And then... She's had regular acting gigs (a lot of TV parts) according to IMDb, even had a bit part in Ant-Man this summer. But, I swear I don't recall seeing her in anything. Like her character here, she has promise but disappears.)

The movie does an okay job of covering a long period of time. Only okay. It's good, at least, that it wasn't just a single year, or a single quarter like School of Rock. I mean, teaching can be a profound experience in a single lesson, but I like the idea of this guy just not getting that. It takes him much longer. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert writes, "High school teachers seem locked in time to us; we seem like a flowing stream to them." Having been on both sides of this, now, I can appreciate this description. (And, it applies to everyone that comes in and out of specific periods of our lives, really.) I occasionally have political debates on Facebook with one of my history teachers from high school. I didn't know him on a personal level back then, I suppose, but I imagine him as that same guy on the other side of the internet connection. He hasn't changed in 22 years. At least, not in my head.

Sometime, I imagine I haven't changed much, either. I mean, there were some fundamental aspects of my current self in me then, but I had to go through a few major things to get where I am now. For me, though--my experience of me, I mean--the changes were gradual; I can see them in from afar but couldn't always see them as they happened. I was always me. Similarly, my teachers remain my teachers. My first grade teacher was at the time and has remained one of my mother's friends, so she might be an exception. I've seen her get older... and, I suppose I have gotten just as much older in the same timeframe.

I never imagined myself as a teacher when I was younger. I was writing stories (some incomplete ones that I've still got, in fact) by the fourth grade. I wanted to a be a writer, then I wanted to be a filmmaker, then back to a writer. I still wouldn't mind either, I suppose. But, life is what happens to you while you're making other plans. Doesn't mean life isn't good. Life is great. Hell, sometimes it's the parts you didn't plan for that are the best because they are the most surprising.

Like the performance at the end of this movie. I still don't think Holland's composition is all that good, but I get it. I get its role in this film.

The confrontation with his son and the resolution thereafter is a bit quick. Then we get a jump forward 15 years... Act three is a bit simple, but otherwise the film works pretty well for what it's doing. And the end ties us right back into that opening scene. It's not the best film. But, it's good. It's solid.

No comments:

Post a Comment