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boyhood_xlgThe relationship between movies and time is integral to the medium’s essence: film itself is a succession of still images moving so quickly that we feel they are existing in front of us like our experience of the world and of time itself.  In fact, the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky used the description of “Sculpting in Time” to distill the nature of what filmmaking was to him.

This month, Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking movie Boyhood, starring Ellar Coltrane, is released in theaters.  In this film, director Linklater has taken a bold approach in the depiction of a boy growing to manhood: He recorded  the feature over a number of years as Ellar Coltrane ages from 6 to 18 over the course of the story.  There have been movies that deal in a variety of ways with aging characters, such as the Up documentary series by director Michael Apted, or fiction series such as François Truffaut’s Antoine Doisnel movies or Linklater’s own Before… movies with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, but none have adapted as determined, lengthy, and particular approach to periodically filming the development of a young person and crafting it into a fictional world.

EllarColtraneBoyhoodThis article in the New York Times features a slide show titled “12 Years a Boy” in which one can view the physical transformations of actor Ellar Coltrane over the years during which this movie was made.  This article and topics discussed in Moving Images related to time and the relationships of reality to fiction in chapters 5 and 6 can be useful starting points in examining this movie.  Boyhood‘s content, moviemaking techniques, and media literacy-related discussion points can be a natural topical fit for students who are at the edge of adulthood, like the main character of Boyhood at the end of the movie (while it is important to note that this movie is rated R for language and teen alcohol and drug use).

As a final point, I find particular delight in one detail to this story: one of the links between father and son in the movie Boyhood concerns the ties that can be shared through music and time, and this manifests itself in the compilation of a Black Album of the Beatles (related to their “White Album” of 1968, actually titled simply The Beatles) made up of songs from after the group’s breakup and created by the father of the movie for his son (Ethan Hawke plays the father to Ellar Coltrane’s Mason).  The father writes, “Mason, I wanted to give you something for your birthday that money couldn’t buy, something that only a father could give a son, like a family heirloom.  This is the best I could do. Apologies in advance. I present to you: THE BEATLES’ BLACK ALBUM.”  Linklater and Hawke shared the 3-CD track list that they came up with (and which had originated as a real gift from Hawke to his oldest daughter).  Since every time my family and I get in the car my kids ask to put a Beatles CD on (and I can’t believe that I’m the one saying “could we try something else for a change”), I think it’s time that I made up our own family version of The Black Album, and I think I’ll have to make it a 4-CD package.

A few days ago, my daughter, who just finished 5th grade, called me over to the computer to show me “something neat.”  “Look at this animal, isn’t it amazing?  I hope they can save it,” she said.  I scratched my head at the pictures and descriptions of the tree octopus on this sharp, very official and scientific looking site, and responded to her, “Ummm, Lucie, who made this site?  It looks pretty cool and all, but I’m not so sure about this.  I think we should check on this.”

“Oh, yeah, I know,” she answered with a smile.  “Mrs. P showed us all about this stuff and how you need to really check on sources you find, like these other three…”  She was testing me.  Very deadpan, very funny.  Good job, elementary school teachers and kids!  I should add that I am looking forward to sharing this post with my daughter (and sons too) because she used my mediateacher.net site this year for a research project she did on stop-motion animation, which led to me sharing a number of books, other resources, and my input with her.

World Cup 1So as we review our previous school year’s work and look to the next cycle, it is imperative to look back at media literacy developments that might inform our ongoing work in the classroom and beyond.  Right now, the enormous media event known as the World Cup is going on, and what we quickly interpret as “reality” is often the one that is selected by the camera angles and lenses chosen for us.  Did we really see that?  Who was editing?  Did they cut out part of the whole story?  What might seem like a clear witnessing of an event could just be part of the story, and a distorted one at that.  Or not.

Twerk gone badFrom this past year, there was a media story that should enter right into any educator’s playbook: the viral event generated by the “twerking gone bad” clip with a woman in her room who falls over and catches fire.  As it turns out, this YouTube phenomenon was orchestrated by Jimmy Kimmel with a professional stunt woman (Daphne Avalon, using a pseudonym in the video) for his late-night show.  The piece from Jimmy Kimmel Live is really quite exceptional and can be used quite well in investigating authenticity and other issues associated with moving images and their role in society today.   In particular, the degree to which television shows reported the phenomenon as real, as shown in the clip from the show.

Sizzle in Paris this summer with Hepburn and Holden as they work to get the screenwriting juices flowing

Summer Movie about Screenwriting: Sizzle in Paris with Hepburn and Holden as they work to get the creative juices flowing

Chapters 3 and 7 (Sound and Image and From Page to Screen) are the sections of Moving Images that deal most explicitly and directly with screenwriting.  One of the topics introduced in Chapter 3 and pursued further in Chapter 7 is that of screenplay format.  Currently, there are many programs available to set up writing for proper screenplay format, such as Celtx (which offers a freeware version), Final Draft, Adobe Story, and many others.  Educators or students may wish to invest in any of these or access freeware versions, but here is another easily accessible option.  Microsoft Word can be programmed so that through the style settings the basic components of a script are ready to go.

Would you like a copy that is prepared for you?  Here it is: Screenplay template.  The titles for screenplay components in this document are those that I have used in Moving Images and are described in the definitions and descriptions in Chapter 3 (p. 101-106) and Chapter 7 (268-271).  This Word doc template has been set for Courier; you may have to change the font settings to Courier New depending on your version of Word.  Please review the style settings, because they can be problematic between software versions and they might need review or updating.

logoToday, the The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards, in partnership with Americans for the Arts, released a set of national standards for the arts, including Media Arts.  Here is a link to pages that provides documents and resources for these standards.  In reviewing these standards, it is clear that they are well aligned with national media literacy standards highlighted in the pages of this blog and that formulate the core principles of Moving Images and the coursework provided with this textbook.

A page from the Lost Notebook showing work on Fantasia

A page from the Lost Notebook showing work on Fantasia

Two newly released books qualify as treasures: The Lost Notebook: Herman Schultheis & the Secrets of Walt Disney’s Movie Magic by John Canemaker and Genius, Animated: The Cartoon Art of Alex Toth by Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell.  The arrival of Canemaker’s new book is the cinephile’s equivalent of a newly unearthed Tutankhamen’s tomb.  Many of the details of the techniques developed by the Disney studios in crafting their groundbreaking first animated features have remained shrouded in mystery until now, and the discovery of the meticulously compiled notebooks of cinematic craftsman Herman Schultheis is an major event in the history of animation.   Suddenly we are offered this looking glass view into the unparalleled work of the Disney teams of creators during a period in which they were forging breathtaking new visions in media communications.  It’s truly astonishing.  Another inspiring and instructive new work is the final installment of biographies devoted to the œuvre of Alex Toth: Genius, Animated.  In an earlier post, I wrote about this pioneer in animation and comics, and this ultimate volume in a trilogy devoted to his work reveals new aspects to his achievements.  In particular, his storyboards are a revelation.  I have to say that authors Canwell and Mullaney understate the case when they say, “While fine in and of themselves,” when introducing storyboards for the Saturday morning cartoon “Superfriends.”  In particular, the boards to the episode “Battle of the Earth’s Core” highlight the depth of thoughtfulness, visual storytelling skills, design acumen, and complete mastery of motion picture language that Toth brought to work that many others would have just phoned in.  I bring these books up as suggestions for some inspiring summer reading and for great examples of pre-production tales from which young filmmakers can learn many lessons.

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This is where it started: the original story by Chris Claremont with art by John Byrne – the graphic novel can be used in a lesson comparing media and critiquing adaptations

Let’s take a visit to the world of writers today!  For those of you either teaching or learning about the meaning of the word “exposition,” please go and see X-Men: Days of Future Past.  There’s lots on display there.

Speaking of writing, there are two wonderful examples of the craft of fine writing to be found this weekend at the New York Times: A.O. Scott’s reviews of the X-Men movie and Blended are absolutely brilliant.  I particularly recommend his review of Blended; there you will find the best summary of the “Adam Sandler” movie experience that I have seen to date, such as “There are comedians who mine their own insecurities for material. Mr. Sandler, in his recent films, compensates for his by building monuments to his own ego. In Blended, he once again proclaims himself both über-doofus and ultimate mensch, disguising his tireless bullying in childish voices and the ironclad alibis of fatherhood and grief.”  A.O. Scott concludes the piece on Blended with the rating description: “Rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It will make your children stupid.”  

Every once in a while, some students will select Adam Sandler movies as a topic of study (for example, those directed by Dennis Dugan, or “Double D” as the last presenters called him), and I have to watch snippets from a variety of Mr. Sandler’s films.  I think I am going to have A.O. Scott’s review of Blended made into a poster and put on my classroom wall.  Media literacy includes examples of brilliant critical writing too, after all.

Barry Scheck of The Innocence Project and screenwriter Pamela Gray, seated

Barry Scheck of Innocence Project and Pamela Gray

I saw X-Men: Days of Future Past with my eldest son this weekend, and before the movie we were barraged with the onslaught of previews for brain-frying movies that are about to arrive: Let’s Be Cops, 22 Jump Street, The Expendables 3, Kingsman, and…oh, here’s a “woman’s movie” – Lucy (starring the consistently superb Scarlett Johansson).  Ah, Luc Besson is back with the latest incarnation of his adolescent “perfect woman” fantasies that he can’t move on from (La Femme Nikita, Fifth Element, Angel-A, etc.).  So, a propos of all this, I would like to bring up this article about a recent talk with screenwriter Pamela Gray (Conviction, A Walk on the Moon), who is featured in our From Page to Screen Close-Up interview.  Watching those trailers, I couldn’t help but think about these lines from the Golden Gate Xpress article, “Gray also said that what she really writes are character-driven screenplays, and that most of hers just happen to involve female leads. She said the challenge is not writing for these women, but instead lies in the sexism of the industry: ‘What’s more difficult is getting those movies made (and) finding assignments with good females roles,’ Gray said. ‘There are fewer and fewer of those assignments now.’”  So, perhaps that is your assignment right now for your media literacy and production class!

GodzillaVsMegalon4Ah, what did it take to bring Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche together?… GODZILLA!

Whatever the case, what an opportunity to look at issues of what moviegoers accept as “entertaining blockbusters” and “terrible movies” and everything in between (or outside of the boxes Hollywood dutifully assembles).  Particularly in terms of how what viewers – particularly kids – will accept evolves with time, technology, and taste.  As many cinephiles will explain to you, the original “Godzilla” is quite worth watching, and the various issues raised throughout this creature’s storied career also merit close analysis — but we’ll see if time will judge kindly the newest incarnation of the post-World War II quintessential Japanese-sourced menace of the silver screen who is reborn in the wake of Fukushima.  Well, for however long humanity has got, now that Godzilla is on the loose again… and never mind all of those enormous insect-creatures that are always the true bad guys: See, we’ve always loved those manly anti-heroes, well before Breaking Bad - just look back to Godzilla and his old pal King Kong

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