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1. Films for entertainment

1. Chinatown (1974)

This film was released as early as 1974, that is, in all likelihood, it is the oldest of all films which, either in a monograph or in a comprehensive article, has so far been recommended for foreign language teaching purposes. The production is fascinating to view even today: it was directed by Roman Polanski, and it is much more than a normal detective film for entertainment. In 2002, it was suggested for teaching purposes by Günter Burger (cf. note below), who thinks it to be a well-structured film, with careful clusters of symbols and metaphors (p. 151). The major role, that of the detective Gittes, who is neither a hero nor a role model, is acted by Jack Nicholson.

The film story is based on true events, namely on the so-called Owens-Valley-Affair (1904-1928) referring to a man-made water shortage in California in order to cheat people and to earn a lot of money (p. 151). Against this background the destruction of a family takes place (incest theme).

As is the case in all his contributions to film teaching, Burger describes different methodological possibilities for classroom procedure. He repeatedly emphasizes the difficulties of film comprehension: he never suggests that the teacher shows a full-length film uninterruptedly. Instead, he prefers dividing the presentation of a film into different segments. Furthermore, in order to facilitate the comprehension of Chinatown he recommends comparing the film and its script, which means the students are expected to read some parts of the text before they view the film (p. 150). In addition, he pleads for the use of viewing and creative tasks (p. 152) as well as for the analysis of freeze-frames (p. 153). Moreover, the students should find reviews on the internet, try to evaluate them and to write reviews of their own (p. 153). In this way, Chinatown may be part of a sequence on detective films or detective literature (p. 153f). For more information cf. below.

Günter Burger, "'Chinatown' - zur Arbeit mit einem Spielfilm auf DVD", in: Neusprachliche Mitteilungen aus Wissenschaft und Praxis 55:3 (2002), pp. 150-155.

2. Matrix (1999)

This action film, which was produced by the brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski in 1999, certainly appeals to young people's taste and mentality. And there can be no doubt about the fact that effective entertainment may be a good foundation for language work. At the same time, the film is very ambitious in technique since there are some impressive special effects: in computerized sequences for example, bullets can be seen to leave the guns in what may be called a kind of super-slow-motion.

It was Peter Bruck who wanted this film to become a subject in Foreign Language Teaching (FLT; cf. note below). According to the author, the film may be understood on four different levels (p. 426). To begin with, its most obvious aspect is the confrontation between good and evil, as it can also be seen in Star Wars as an early cinematographic example of that subject in science fiction. In addition, the film shows a (dystopian) future world in which machines have become the masters of men. However, there is some degree of hope left: a small minority of human beings has formed a resistance movement and fights for mankind's redemption: they are in need of a saviour. Furthermore, men think that the artificial world created by the computer programme Matrix is the only world imaginable. Therefore the fight against evil is also a search for the discovery of the real world. Finally, the film, because of its allusions to the Bible and to classical mythology may be understood as a postmodern production (p. 426).

Matrix was followed by a second part entitled Matrix Reloaded and by the computer game Enter the Matrix in which the players could take an active part by 'helping' the characters (p. 426). Yet the first part remained the most successful product.

Interesting as all this may sound, it seems difficult to me to put Bruck's concept into practice. His suggestions for teaching are rather brief and to a high degree teacher-centred (pp. 429-430). He lists a number of viewing tasks for several thematic sequences, which are supplemented by some assignments for group work and which refer to an analysis of character and of cinematographic devices (p. 430). According to the author, experience has shown that feature films which are not based on a literary work may become motivating subjects for teaching (p. 430). For more information cf. below.

Peter Bruck, "Endzeitfantasien und Illusionsspiele: 'The Matrix' im Englischunterricht der Sekundarstufe II", in: Praxis Fremdsprachenunterricht 6 (2004), pp. 426-430.

3. Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)

This film, which was released in 2001 and directed by Sharon Maguire, represents a particular way of entertainment: it is, no doubt, as funny as Sue Townsend's The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. The film may be regarded as a particular kind of literary adaptation since the writer of the novel is also responsible for the film script.

Bridget Jones describes only one year of her life, and the novel resulting from her diary entries, like many autobiographies, possesses an episodic structure. Although the film is more coherent than the book, it calls for a selective procedure in class. There can be no doubt about the fact that the book and the film may easily be taught in class separately.

Like the protagonist in Muriel's Wedding or the high school girl Angela in American Beauty (both films are also discussed on this website), the single 'heroine' thinks herself to be unattractive and, therefore, makes more or less desperate attempts to get a male partner. In the film as well as in the book, there occurs a very open depiction of sex life, in which clichés are ridiculed. There also occur parent-daughter conflicts, which have a very humorous dimension.

Probably an analysis of the film and/or the book is less motivating than viewing or reading them. The film was recommended for teaching purposes in 2005 by a team of authors (cf. below): they plead for an analysis of several selected scenes in order to work out "how Bridget Jones's diary is put into film" (p. 265). In doing so, the authors focus on sound (pp. 265-266), image and movement (pp. 266-267). This analytical approach is to be supplemented by productive tasks (p. 270). Since the genre is open-ended, the students may develop a plan as to how the events may be continued. They may also produce a filmed version of a scene, for example Bridget's supper with her "smug-married friends" in order to apply what they have learned so far (p. 270). According to the authors, an approach combining analysis and production tasks is recommendable in order to develop film literacy (p. 270), and concerning such assignments there are hardly any limitations to creativity (p. 271).

Thus this contribution contains some rather stimulating suggestions with its focus on analysis and imaginative extensions.

Günter Nold/Anika Steffenhagen, "Have you met Miss Jones? - Eine authentische Begegnung mit Literatur und Film im Fremdsprachenunterricht", in: Andreas Müller-Hartmann/Marita Schocker-v.Dithfurt (Hrsg.), Aufgabenorientierung im Fremdsprachenunterricht. Festschrift für Michael K. Legutke (Tübingen: Narr, 2005), pp. 257-273.

Last updated by Dr. Willi Real on Thursday, 21 June, 2007 at 10:30 AM.

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