This ambitious documentary/drama/animation hybrid stars Pete Postlethwaite as an archivist in the devastated world of the future, asking the question: “Why didn’t we stop climate change when we still had the chance?” He looks back on footage of real people around the world in the years leading up to 2015 before runaway climate change took place.
I’m a language teacher and teacher trainer at Eötös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary. Ever since I saw The Age of Stupid first, I’ve created some space in my first-year language development courses at university where the students and I could watch the film together. It’s a powerful film and I feel that with every year passing (we’re now close to the projected ‘tipping point’) its message hits harder. This is also why I usually give the students time to digest the experience and invite them to share their thoughts and feelings in writing. Interestingly, their responses over the years have not changed much, so this short selection of comments from this year’s group is quite representative:
“In my opinion, this film was quite unsettling. Controversial feelings and thoughts came to my mind while I was watching it, an optimist and a pessimist view were “fighting” inside me. Of course I have known about the environmental problems and global warming and those effects already, but – at least for me – it is always a shock to face them. I think everyone on this planet knows that this phenomenon exists, but very few of us know exactly what we should do to turn the global warming’s effects back or at least to stop them.”(Péter)
“If people weren’t living in their own bubbles, they would be able to see humanity as a whole. I am not saying that minority problems don’t matter, what I’m trying to express is that a sense of unity is the only answer to solving issues like the problem of our extensively damaged planet. There is no current issue that would be more important than wars, oppression, pollution, starvation, the wasting of non-renewable resources and climate change. We can already feel the differences caused by global warming, and there will be much more in the foreseeable future. The sad thing about this is that people sink into depression, despair or what is worse, ignorance, believing they can’t do anything about it. We could at least try to convince the 1% by global movements or regularly holding speeches to masses, as it is essential to stop polluting Earth from oil and switch to environment-friendly energy resources.” (Gabi)
“After watching the movie one of my first thoughts was that I will definitely persuade my companion not to buy a car (which she has been planning for a while). That’s a credit to the movie, as it seems to be impressive, but later on some aspects of it started to make me object to its direct influence on me. It was simply too unscientific and put the emphasis very much on feelings, operating with scenes that create feelings in us instantly. Sometimes it was even pretentious. I accept that it’s a criterion to earn wide interest among the masses but it’s also the same property that forces those who don’t like to be manipulated to refuse it at some point.” (Tibor)
“To be honest, this film shocked me. I’ve known about these problems – as everybody else does – but it is completely different to face them through personal examples. Unfortunately, people will not do anything until the situation gets so serious that change will be the one and only opportunity. I’m afraid that every living being on Earth will be heavily harmed by that time.” (Eszter)
The film is available in full on the Internet. Just search for the title on YouTube. Here for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHLCPzfkh2E
Watch also EARTH 2100 extraordinary film as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUWyDWEXH8U
TEACHING WORDLESS VIDEOS AND CLASSIC SILENT FILMS IN EFL
Contemporary ‘wordless videos’ and silent films from the classic age of the silent movie/cinéma muet (1905-1930) offer an intriguing film-based medium for the EFL classroom and broader syllabus. As Kandybovich (2017) stresses, introducing wordless videos : “These films are short (about 2-4 minutes), highly engaging, and appropriate for learners of all levels. … Such films can be used to warm up the class before your lesson begins, during the lesson – you may tie them into your lesson topic or use them to give your students a break – or at the end of class to assign a ‘mission’ to your students.”
They encourage student active oral production as learners discuss (or write about) what they see, what may come, what characters might be saying to one another or thinking to themselves. They also hone visual literacy, turning students’ attention “to cinematic language; instead of concentrating on dialogue, the students focus on visual clues to the genre of the film” (Bloom 1995: 25).
Kandybovich (2017) emphasizes: “The most valuable feature of stories based on wordless videos is that they can be told any number of ways according to your learners’ interpretation of the story and their level of proficiency in English, taking the form of a dialogue, narration, comic speech/thought bubbles, as a story told by a particular character, in writing, etc.” Bloom (1995: 25) notes: “Using silent film to teach a foreign language may seem counterintuitive. …Certainly, authentic cinematic dialogue is a valuable linguistic tool for improving oral comprehension as well as speech, but fin de siècle films … are excellent resources that might supplement the use of sound films in the French classroom.” And of course also in EFL. Moreover, as Bloom (ibid.) underscores: “The pedagogical value of cinéma muet also stems from its depiction of cultural history through the portrayal of turn-of-the-century people (ranging from a magician to factory workers), places (such as Paris), and attitudes (for instance, ambivalence toward technology).”
Quite neglected in ELT and an intriguing fresh angle is to encourage experimentation using such classic silent films, like Chaplin’s ‘The Immigrant’ (1917 http://goo.gl/VWSnvv ) [I have an article in preparation], or ‘Falling Leaves’ (1912 http://goo.gl/WP6MyE), directed by the pioneer French silent filmmaker Alice Guy Blaché (see below). All this is closely intertwined with key aspects of “the image in ELT” (Donaghy & Xerri 2017) and fresh departures in multimodal pedagogy. As Taylor (2011) observes: “To me, the joy of the narrative form is in the characters, the story, the mood, the message and the opportunity to react with an opinion. By using videos which have hardly any dialogue, if any at all, the distraction of language is removed. The students can then focus on the much more important task of reacting to the content with their own beliefs, ideas and their own language, which you can then work on together.” Of course, teachers can always mute the sound in any scene in a sound film or video as an exercise in ‘guessing’ or recalling what was said; yet that is obviously not the same. Many teachers use sound film to offer all kinds of speech varieties for listening, imitation. But how much have you experimented with how your students respond to genuine silent films, contemporary or perhaps a century old, where little or indeed nothing is actually audible, except perhaps a musical background and a few ‘intertitles’?
EXPLORATORY ACTION RESEARCH BECKONS
One productive option is also to plan to conduct “exploratory action research” (Rebolledo et al. 2016), analyzing and writing up your own findings on such an EAR mini-investigation for presentation in a newsletter, a journal or at a conference. Or on this website of GISIG. Such hand-on research by teachers using silent film is needed. It can become part of Critical Practitioner Inquiry (CPI), as a counter-hegemonic model of action research developed at Umeå University in Sweden and foregrounding “practitioner knowledge” (Dahlström & Mallberg 2013; Dahlström 2016).
SHORT CINEMATIC SAMPLER
Show and discuss this memorable recent silent: ‘The Power of Words’ (http://goo.gl/NQ7bdt). As Kandybovich (2017) suggests: “Pause the film and ask students to guess what the woman wrote. Get them to write a ‘flashback’ scene for this film that tells us more about the man and his life.” What is the man now? How do students react when they see ‘beggars’ on the street, perhaps sick, homeless? Another excellent silent is ‘The Man and the Thief’ (http://goo.gl/WPC734) . Students can describe what they see, what the girl is thinking. What the young man does. How does the film end — a ‘twist-ending,’ unexpected, as in an O. Henry story? And what further development the story can take. Also look at ‘Black Hole’ (http://goo.gl/aEHp59) and the prediction game based on it. You can also explore Donaghy’s ‘The Seven Best Silent Short Films for Language Teaching’ (2016 http://goo.gl/Ci58ES), each with a lesson plan.
LOOKING TO SILENT FILM CLASSICS
Chaplin’s ‘The Gold Rush’ (1925 http://goo.gl/fVQu4P) is often considered the “quintessential Chaplin/Little Tramp film” (http://goo.gl/kJLzcD) and Chaplin himself said he wished to be remembered most by this movie: show students a brief trailer (http://goo.gl/9piUAg). Here the 135-min. film in its entirety (http://goo.gl/sg4ZP5). The film is discussed for presentation to a class on pp. 20-25 of my article in BETA E-Newsletter (Jan.-Feb. 2016, pp. 9-31 http://goo.gl/jezbxC).
The short film ‘Falling Leaves’ (silent, 1912 http://goo.gl/LKwYjw), directed by Alice Guy Blaché, set in New York City, was partially inspired by O. Henry’s story ‘The Last Leaf.’ Trixie, maybe 5 or 6 years old, tries to cure the fatal TB (consumption) of her beloved sister Winifred by hanging leaves in the late fall garden. That is because a doctor has said when the last leaf falls her sister will probably die, nothing can be done. Then by chance tiny Trixie meets a bacteriologist, Dr. Headley, passing by the house — who, it turns out, knows how to cure Winifred, and he does, a happy ending. Ms. Guy Blaché was the first truly famous and influential female film director, who worked in France and for a time in the U.S. Here a brief overview (http://goo.gl/PJGAVz) on this great filmmaker. Today US showbiz bemoans the striking lack of female film directors (http://goo.gl/z61gdf). Students can watch ‘Falling Leaves’ and discuss what is being said, what can be seen, the power of silent film to galvanize speaking. Here a slapstick silent film by Alice, ‘A Sticky Woman’ (1906 http://goo.gl/S4WKPW), sheer mayhem in a post office.
Here two early classics by Edwin S. Porter: ‘The Life of an American Fireman’ (1903 http://goo.gl/izC4KL) and ‘The Great Train Robbery ‘ (1903 http://goo.gl/76oFZ3), produced at Edison Studios, (http://goo.gl/UzrDPA) which made close to 1,200 silent films (1894-1918).
Students can also be introduced to D.W. Griffith, The Birth of a Nation (1915 http://goo.gl/jbxDwf), certainly the most controversial and extremely ‘political’ silent feature film before WW I in the U.S. The film follows at great length two families, the Northern Stonemans and the Southern Camerons during the American Civil War and the Reconstruction era (1861-1877).The core thesis of the film is that the Ku Klux Klan was the organization that saved the South from the ‘anarchy’ of black rule. The Birth of a Nation is quite unique in its combination of innovative film techniques and outright highly racist content. See an analysis: http://goo.gl/fRiv8m. The series ‘One Hundred Years of Cinema’ (http://goo.gl/ZqiJVN) looks at many classics, including silent films, like Fritz Lang’s extraordinary and highly political Metropolis (1927 http://goo.gl/KLbjaA).
A RANGE OF RESOURCES FOR USING WORDLESS VIDEOS AND FILMS
A basic introduction is Donaghy (2014), with links to many useful relevant sites. See also Donaghy’s book Film in Action (2015 http://goo.gl/dEDuTK) and his website http://film-english.com . Useful is Fink (2017), a generous handful of diverse links. Here ten absurd wordless videos (http://goo.gl/mFGxwX) that teach describing, and here over 100 videos, (http://goo.gl/iacsw3) mainly silent, that teach something in grammar or lexis, like ‘Simon’s Cat’ (http://goo.gl/mHBoc7). Ddeubel’s tips on ‘Using silent video in the EFL classroom’ (http://goo.gl/CtfnPk) are also instructive, as is Ana Maria Menezes’ ‘EFL Activities Using Silent Videos’ (http://goo.gl/D8935c) and Taylor (2011). Fascinating and very instructive to explore is the Silent Film Guide for Teachers and Students (http://goo.gl/MsPpoY). Here a range of silent film lesson plans and worksheets (http://goo.gl/p9vCEA).
FILM AS A RADICAL PEDAGOGICAL TOOL
Also of especial interest inside GISIG is O’Neill (2018), Film as a Radical Pedagogical Tool, soon to be published. The study is based on a film-making project Inside Film in the UK involving prisoners and ex-prisoners, a project that “can be regarded an explicitly activist, cultural, and political intervention: the purpose of which is to challenge the generally accepted marginalized positioning, negative (mis)representations, and ignored knowledge (cultural and political) of the working class” (ibid., p. 1). Watch this trailer of ‘The Acting Class’ (http://goo.gl/BcLnnS), a prize-winning film by Deirdre O’Neill & Mike Wayne. Chap. 7 of O’Neill (2018) deals with her documentary The Foodbank Film (2016 http://goo.gl/MdCFN1) and the politics of foodbanking from a working-class perspective, very powerful.
Bloom, Michelle, E. (1995). Using Early Silent Film to Teach French: The Language of “Cinéma Muet.” ADFL Bulletin, 27(1), 25-31.
Dahlström, Lars. (2016). An Autobiographical Narrative towards Critical Practitioner Inquiry and a Counter Hegemonic Southern Network. JCEPS, 14(1), 102-126. http://goo.gl/oaNfG6
Dahlström, Lars & Mannberg, Jan. (2013). Critical Educational Visions and Practices in Neo-liberal Times. Umeå University: Global South Network Publisher. http://goo.gl/ryc4vW
Donaghy, Kieran. (2014). How Can Film Help You Teach or Learn English. Voices Magazine (BC), 21 Oct. http://goo.gl/bUfE3H
Donaghy, Kieran & Xerri, Daniel. (2017). The Image in English Language Teaching. Malta: ELT Council. http://goo.gl/osKRCq
Fink, Lisa. (2017). Using Film as a Tool in the Classroom. NCTE, May 14. http://goo.gl/XGRCWT
Kandybovich, Svetlana. (2017). Wordless Videos for ELT. EL-CATION, 18 Sept. http://goo.gl/wxd3Uk
O’Neill, Deirdre. (2018). Film as a Radical Pedagogical Tool. New York & London: Routledge.
Rebolledo, Paula, Smith, Richard, & Bullock, Deborah. (2016). Champion Teachers: Stories of Exploratory Action Research. London: British Council. http://goo.gl/3nrwUz
Taylor, James. (2011). Silent Movies. theteacherjames, 20 Dec. http://goo.gl/nP2g3r
Guy Blaché’s Making An American Citizen (1912)
An extraordinary pioneering 16-min. feminist film (1912) against domestic abuse produced and directed by Alice Guy Blaché is MAKING AN AMERICAN CITIZEN.
The film was only recently put online in full: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7WPiHsOJ_4
The plot is the story of the mysogynist immigrant Ivan Orloff and his harried wife coming to the US. Ivan treats her like a slave, beating her, and encounters the active opposition of American men [!] to his brutal behavior, giving him several ‘lessons in Americanism.’ Arrested, he later is sentenced to hard labor in prison for his violent wife abuse. In the end, Ivan repents and accepts her as an equal. The film’s explicit gender-equality message contra misogyny is clear, although it may reinforce certain stereotypes about East European working-class men.
Students can analyze/discuss the striking scenes and imagine what is being said, what can be seen, the power of silent film to galvanize speaking. What is misogyny? What is domestic violence?
Scene 1 is set in Ukraine or Russia. Ivan’s wife is harnessed to the cart like the donkey. How are the poor migrating peasants dressed? In Scene 2 he brutally abuses his wife in public after arrival at New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty in the distance. The scene ends (min. 3:40) as they enter a tenement next to ОДЕССКІЙ ТРАКТИРЬ Restaurant. The sign visible indicates this is a part of a Ukrainian Russian Empire immigrant neighborhood.
Here a review: http://goo.gl/Ufe75X Perhaps the film in part “works to allay anxieties over Eastern European immigrant men bringing ‘Old World’ patriarchal values and practices to the ‘New World,’” and the “the lopsided power dynamics in an immigrant couple becomes increasingly equalized, as the couple spends more time in America”
(cf. overview http://goo.gl/oUJ6fj), here too the film has a ‘happy end.’
As mentioned above, Alice Guy Blaché was the first truly influential female silent film director, active in her native France and also in New York. Here an overview of Alice’s singular work. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trNfjvuuqbM Her cinema is finally being rediscovered outside France.