Monday, March 23, 2009


Movie notes

First Milk. Excellent film and a terrific performance by Penn. He does passion and nuance well and never chews the scenery. The film documents that period in the 70s, when the gay movement appeared in the national news like a slowly swelling wave. It asked the question “Do you know someone gay?” And Milk was correct. Gays need to come out so that the rest of us could see them as people Obviously, it took a while. But when the AIDS epidemic hit, despite all the ridiculous reaction to that as a gay disease, the idea that we all knew someone who was gay was easier to take in, to absorb as a culture. The cinematography is good, the set dressing spot on. Especially the geek glasses from the 70s.
A good score, lots of opera. So I turn to my husband and ask “What’s a straight guy to do?” I mean all that opera in this film and in Philadelphia. And the stereotype of gays and opera. How does a straight guy ‘come out’ and admit he likes opera?
This has been keeping me up.

Second Twilight. Egad what a dog of a movie. It stinks from the beginning to the end. The acting is dead. Maybe it is supposed to be that way? A joke I missed? “Vegetarian” vampires who only drink animal blood. Oh please. Bella is so unreactive to anyone or anything, despite her protests that she adores Edward, that she could be a stick with hair. Edward is funny looking and the Indian boy who would be a good match for her and is hot, is simply disregarded. Her mother is about as emotive as a teddy bear. And her father, who is supposed to be taciturn succeeds marvelously.
Oh did I mention the feud between the vampire people and the vampires? Some hint at myth there, but it goes nowhere, beyond glaring, that is. Lots of glaring between the Indians and the vamps. And why is the Indian dad in a wheelchair?
There are scenes of Edward carrying Bella on his back while he climbs trees and leaps about in treetops. After Crouching Tiger, no one should try that. They just look silly. The scenery is good, though it would be hard for it not to be out there in Washington along the coast.
I know, I know. It is aimed at 13 year old girls. That is the real evil of this film which is otherwise just stupid. It replays, albeit chastely, which I do applaud, the old love at first sight, girl in need of rescue, story, that no young woman needs to fixate on. I am not against love. Or crushes. Really they are fun. Vampires as the ultimate high school outsiders are a great metaphor. But how many 13 year old girls get metaphor? Bad boys, even good bad boys, don’t get better just because a girl loves them. The Vampire as good guy is fascinating metaphor in our time. Didn’t they used to be soulless and un-redeemable? Apparently this is changing, e.g. Spike and Angel. There appears to be a scholarly reaction:

Margaret L Carter , a scholar of vampire literature, has defined good guy vampires as vampires who act morally when dealing with mortals, and, as a whole, conform their moral perspective to a human ethical perspective. They obtain blood without killing or "raping" their victims, and generally acquire their blood from animals, blood banks, or willing human donors. A few use synthetic blood substitutes. Carter also maintains that the good guy vampires retain personality and freedom of choice, and are not so consumed with blood lust that ethical decisions become impossible. Good guy vampires tend to emerge in one of two situations: First, they are basically good people who discover themselves trapped in the evil condition-vampirism-and are forced to continually fight against it; second, vampirism is pictured as an ethically neutral state, in which vampires could make ethical decisions on how to find their needed sustenance ... blood.

The moral dimension is hinted at, but not really explored. Bella just accepts that her dream boy/man, love for all time, belongs to a mythical group of mostly nasty folk. And wants him to make her part of the group. Again I believe some 13 year old girls could be so love struck. Bella, however, is not 13. She is smart and independent. Until Edward spurns her in chem lab and she turns into a dishrag, overcome with love, and wants to become the undead? And what I seriously don’t like is that the movie emphasizes this transition, even if Edward doesn’t. Movies have few enough smart girl characters (don’t ask about Hermione, I am cranky about the way she is treated by Rowling throughout). Still this series was written by a Mormon woman, so perhaps I expect too much. Perhaps this old feminist should just stick to gardening and not watch movies made more recently than 1945. :-}

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Grinding my teeth flat.

Rage in the Classroom 4 March 2009

To quote Jane Austen, I am all astonishment.
Yesterday, fully half of my Global LIterature class, a 300 level class, confessed that they had yet to hand in one paper. Three of which were due by 5 March. Without them, one could not take the midterm.

Silly me for putting such draconian threats in the syllabus. What to do? I have two dilemmas. The midterm, obviously. And then there is the revision class I scheduled for the day we return from spring break.Students think revision means fixing the commas and handing the paper back in. And for this they should get an A. I will be gone to the south to visit family for the first time in three years. But, being a responsible person, I arranged to get the class covered. And in doing that to give students a chance to revise one of the papers they have already handed in.

Somehow, when I started out, it all seemed benign. Now. It is a nightmare. I asked who hadn’t handed in a paper and clearly there were so many I would have to shift somehow. Or not. And my rage is about that. More later. Add to the mix of slackers, two women who are in the midst of personal tragedy. Three actually but she wasn’t in class and I got that news later in an email. One’s partner was having some breast cancer complication. She starts off, loudly proclaiming that giving any accommodation to the slackers is unjust to those who did their work(despite enormous personal cost, in parens to me). I mean she is loud and says she is going on a rant, looking defiantly at me. And she is very red in the face. Did mention loud?

After years of aikido training, I finally manage to use it. I sidestep the attack.I look her straight in the eye. I hold up a hand “Five minutes,” I say. “You can have five minutes.” She stops completely and says very softly, “I’m done.” I breathe and say “That still leaves us without a solution.”

Says the woman next to her, who unbeknownst to me was crying throughout class, “Well how about if people get what they can to you tomorrow by 3. And those who don’t, don’t get to rewrite.” Everyone agrees that might work. Notice no one has mentioned the midterm. Nor have I. Hence the rage at my own cowardice. I should have brought it up. I should have said no last minute papers that I have to print and rush to grade while I am fasting, running my own kid around and trying to get ready to leave on my trip tomorrow. I should have just left every last one of them swinging in the wind.

So why didn’t I? Fear. Cowardice. Not wanting to face the hassle of a pack of angry students who think the world revolves around them or are so scattered about the work they are at that they can’t read the syllabus. At the moment I hate them. I hate myself.

Oh and then there is the student who wasn't in class but emailed me a paper. She was a wreck because her partner had recently become disabled and suddenly the burden of that, school, work all fell on her. She’ll be ok.

Me. The last term I ever teach, I swear I am going to say whatever pops into my head.
For now I have to go file points back on the teeth I ground down.