This is from Don Giovanni.
This is from Don Giovanni.
I want to stress for clarifications that the events described in this series took place between 2013 and 2014.
I went to my first interview for a substitute teaching profession a little over a week after I had been laid off. The school was very different from the school I had been working at just two weeks before. This was a traditional public school in an upper middle class neighborhood.
Before the interview, I had picked up my copy of The First Days of School from the library. I wish I had heard of that book before I started teaching. In the book, I recognized many of the mistakes that I had made. However, given my current state of mind, I probably should not have read certain passages. Throughout the book, the writers compare effective teachers vs ineffective teachers in a series of charts. Once again, I recognized myself in the ineffective teacher. There was nothing wrong with the charts themselves. Even so, the charts were not helpful because of how I took them. I took them to be characteristics of intrinsic teaching characteristics. They were not. They were lists of effective and ineffective teaching behaviors. There is a difference. Handing out bell work to students is not a innate characteristic. It is an action. A person can hand out morning work to students, no matter the person’s character and disposition.
I was surprised to discover that an interview for a substitute teacher seems to be largely a formality. I was asked a series of questions, some of which I had answered in my interviews the summer before. This time around, I felt myself struggling. In the summer, my answers were enthusiastic and confident. My answers were now uncertain and disinterested. Perhaps I was overly critical, but it did not seem to matter. Immediately after the interview, the women took me into the room with the secretary and I started signing contracts and filling out tax forms.
I would be able to start as soon as I was finger printed.
This process was repeated at a local employment agency for substitute teachers. I was asked to come in for an interview with a packet of papers filled out. This packet of papers included all of the tax forms needed taxes and payroll.
I was looking forward to working as a substitute teacher. I thought it would be a great opportunity to get a foothold into schools and to improve my skills. All that was left was to wait for my clearance from the FBI. In the meantime, I committed myself to reading books, watching movies, going for walks in the park, and trying to relax.
I saw this play back in college at the Cleveland Play House, Cleveland’s Tony Award winning companies (which finished its 99th season with Fairfield, which I saw twice). It was a very enjoyable show, well worth the time my college roommate and I spent waiting at the bus stop. I can’t give you that experience, but I this film does a good job of capturing the spirit of this play. Gweneyth Paltrow plays a young woman who has devoted herself to caring full time for her mentally ill father, a mathematical genius. When he dies, his daughter has an opportunity to come into her own as a mathematician. However, life, unlike numbers, are far less certain.
The play (and film) is called Proof, which is both ironic and fitting because there is a certain amount of ambiguity in the play. The story deals with themes of madness, genius, trust, and love. The characters search for proof, well aware that it may not exist.
2 The Accused
I have to give a trigger warning with this film. This film has an incredibly long rape scene. I’m serious, it seemed endless.
Jodie Foster won a well deserved Oscar for this film playing a rape victim. When she unleashes her fury at the prosecutor for making a deal with the perpetrators, the prosecutor responds seeking a daring indictment; she will charge the witnesses as accomplices to the rape.
The film tackles the subject of rape and what it means to be culpable. At what point does a person cross the line between a witness and an actor. It isn’t perfect; a key witness is found through the most ridiculous of means. However, Jodie Foster was wonderful in this difficult role. She was very brave to make this film. I also really appreciated the relationship between Jodie Foster’s character and the prosecutor.
3 Dance Girl, Dance!
Dorothy Arzner was the rare female director in old Hollywood. In this film, she tells the story of two women trying to make it in show business. Maureen O’Hara’s character is a classically trained ballet dancer who longs to make it in ballet; Lucille Ball plays a scheming woman who becomes a burlesque dancer.
This film is wonderful and has a lot going for it. Maureen O’Hara is wonderful in this film and Lucille Ball is striking as a scheming burlesque dancer. Plus, the heart of this film is a woman director examining the male gaze. There is a memorable scene where Maureen O’Hara speaks to the camera about this very subject. Go watch that scene. Now.
A few weeks ago, a friend and I went to the Cleveland Museum of Art. One of the exhibits was a video sculpture called Song. Song features the artist’s three blonde nieces singing a simple refrain over and over. They sit on a round platform (or table in the middle of a room in Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh. The artist filmed the girls for six hours in 360 degrees with the camera rotating around the girls. The singers slowly transition from sitting to lying down, from reading to brushing their hair. The girls occasionally sing together, or solo.
Before I watched a portion of the film, I saw a short video. The video explains that this video sculpture was made for America. The artist talks about how Pittsburgh is a steel city, full of factories. The Curator of the Cleveland Museum of Art feels that Song is an appropriate exhibition for Cleveland, due to its similarity to Pittsburgh. As a result of that similarity, the artist feels that the piece speaks to Cleveland. I must disagree. I liked Song, do not misunderstand me. But the piece has nothing to do with Cleveland, and nothing to do with America.
The sculpture has nothing industrial about it. The room in the Carnegie Museum resembles the Pantheon and the table is covered in soft, bright blue fabric and a series of books. The subjects are three young girls, or sirens as my friend pointed out. Further more, the girls are singing poetry.
Pittsburgh and Cleveland are cities built on the factories. We were built on steel and coal, fire and smoke. We were cities of labor; the work was dangerous and difficult. We were places of shift whistles and lunch pails. As we toured the art museum, we spent some time in the Cleveland room, which featured local artists. Many of the pieces celebrated that history. They were structures of bronze or paintings with a complete lack of white, blue, or green. The subjects were men, not women, most of them factory workers.
Song is definitely made in America. The film was filmed in Pittsburgh, the girls are singing a refrain based on Allen Ginsburg, and one of the books is a volume of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. Yet, this is not a sculpture of America. Rather, this is a sculpture of European gentry and a celebration of a leisurely existence. It is certainly not a sculpture of a steel town.
I tend not to like paintings with muted color palates, and yet, I like it.
I think it actually works for the subject matter; it avoids sentimentality and sap.
The idea that you must prove yourself thoroughly competent, adequate and achieving, or that you must at least have real competence or talent at something.
I have to admit, I don’t know how this is an irrational thought. After all, we make our living in the modern era by our skills. I just finished my semi-annual review and I was, once again, compelled by custom and work to evaluate my competencies against strict criteria. Soon after this, we will meet with our managers who will discuss our progress throughout the year and what we need to improve. My job security, chance at promotion, salary, and bonus is based on these review. It is based on my ability to perform well on my job. How can I believe that I do not have to prove myself competent?
At the same time, I think the key is “thoroughly” competent. We cannot know everything, and it would be dangerous to presume that we can. Socrates’ journey began when the oracle declared that no one was wiser than Socrates. He did not believe it, because he knew very little. Yet, he did not believe that the oracle could be wrong. As he sought out and conversed with the wise men of the world, he realized the ignorance of the supposed wise men. Even more shocking, he discovered that he knew something very powerful; he knew what he did not know!
It is perilous to think that we have all the answers. I am faced with this all the time at my job. There are so many times when I do not know the answer at work. However, with time, patience, and perseverance, I can frequently find the answers. Plus, I learn more with each new problem. There are times when I can imagine how I am going to solve anything. And yet, each time, I learn and grow. Last week, I realized how much better I would feel if I received cases to solve as an exciting challenge rather than a terrible burden. Imagine if I changed my thought pattern from, “Oh no! I don’t know anything about this! This is a nightmare!” to “This is awesome! I am going to learn so much more from this case. This is an opportunity to grow!” If I thought like that, my life would be a whole lot easier.
As for talent, this is one that is difficult for me. When I was young, I had to be the best at everything, at least when it came to things I cared about, :) I dreamed, like many children, of being a famous actress or a Nobel Prize winning author. At times, I still do. Of course, I have only submitted one story for publication, and it was rejected. (Oddly enough, it didn’t hurt all that much.) On my better days, I accept the fact that I will never be a great writer.
At the same time, I rarely feel jealousy for Shakespeare, the greatest writer ever. I do not feel much envy for his talent; I feel a profound sense of gratitude that he existed at all. When I saw Timon of Athens or The Merchant of Venice, I was so thankful that Shakespeare existed, that he wrote, and that we are in possession of this great patrimony.
Perhaps these are the lessons of this irrational thought. Our worth is not tied to our talents. We must see ourselves as growing and our struggles as a natural part of this progress. Instead of being threatened by the talents of others, we should celebrate them and be grateful for the way these talents benefit us.
1 The Duchess
Keira Knightly, in the special features, lamented how difficult it is to find great roles for women. It is no surprise then, why she was drawn to the story of The Duchess. The film tells the story of one of Princess Diana’s ancestors, The Duchess of Devonshire. She married one of the most powerful men in England, but her marriage was not a happy one. Nonetheless, she finds her own way to make the most of her situation, and in the process, become a fashion icon and an 18th century celebrity.
The clothing in this film is amazing. I was also very impressed with Keira Knightly’s performance in this film. She realizes that this role is a tremendous opportunity and she relishes it. Moreover, Ralph Finnes is also excellent in the role as her husband. He brings a surprising amount of sympathy to this character who is, at the heart, a bad person. Or is he? He treats his wife horribly, no better than one of his dogs, as his wife bravely proclaims. However, is he really any different than any other wealthy husband at the time? I’m not so sure. Either way, see the film and decide.
I am so thrilled, at long last, to feature another silent film. It stars Clara Bow, one of the biggest stars and sex symbols of her era. She stars as a counter girl at the department store who becomes involved with a wealthy man. In this early screwball romantic comedy, misunderstandings emerge, disasters ensue, but all ends as it should.
Clara Bow’s own personal story did not end so happily. She was one of the many stars who could not make the transition to talkies, though she did star in several talkie films. Eventually, she began to suffer from mental illness and attempted suicide. She was placed in a psychiatric ward and, upon release, became a virtual shut in before dying of a heart attack at age 60. However, long before that, there was a film called It, which earned Clara Bow the title of “The It Girl.”
3 Gorillas in the Mist
This film is on my list for two very different reasons. This film tells the story of Dian Fossey, a woman who studied a troop of mountain gorillas in Rwanda. She originally had no training in anthropology or zoology, but she convinces an anthropologist to take a chance on her. As she studies the gorillas, she grows attached to them and concerned for their safety. This concern becomes an obsession and places her in an antagonistic position with the locals.
I am sharing this film for two reasons. One reason is that Sigourney Weaver is wonderful in this film. The second reason is that, while I support wildlife conservation, I find Dian Fossey’s actions deeply troubling. Perhaps I view the Rwandans differently, knowing that 6 years after this film was released, the Rwandan genocide would begin. I see that the gorilla trade exists within a fragile nation and wonder how the problems of the nation affect this trade. Moreover, Dian Fossey, a white woman coming to Rwanda and punishing the locals, seems to be a new kind of imperialism. I hope that as people watch this film, we might be able to encourage Africans to manage their resources responsibly without descending into paternalism (if this is possible) and whether Western influence in Africa is conducive or corrosive to wildlife.