Film can be a particularly useful medium in the classroom if used properly. Most students consider it easier to watch a film than read a book. Film, after all, is a medium that engages its audience primarily as spectators, through the use of images. And images are incredibly powerful, even if they act subtly on the brain of the spectator. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a two-hour movie with twenty-four frames per second would be the perceptual equivalent of book of 500,000 pages. Yet I want my students to go beyond the stage of spectator and rise to the level of analyst. This I can accomplish slowly and carefully by opening their capacity for reflection and provoking thought by continually juxtaposing the images on the screen with information from other sources.
My unit will focus on the following films: “American Graffiti,” (1973) “Dead Poets Society,” (1987), and “Imitation of Life.”(1959) All three films are set in the fifties, or immediately after. All three films deal with young people learning about relationship dyads, with all their tensions, insights, and possibilities: male/female, older/younger, teacher/student, black/white, rich/poor, good girl/bad girl, mother/daughter, father/son, brother/brother, life/death. These films also deal with four main themes that will be explored in the lesson plans at the end:
1. The search for identity
2. The tension between authority and autonomy.
3. The tension between choice and restriction.
4. The tension between community and “the territory ahead” (I borrow this phrase from Huck Finn America’s most lovable good bad boy and the model for future generations of rebellious adolescents – as he put it at the very end of his story: “Well I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and civilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”)