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Human-Interest Lesson

 
 
Seizan
 
Reply Mon 2 Dec, 2019 06:28 am
Hi Folks.

Some of you may know that I am also a teacher at an Okinawan middle school. About 700 kids ages 12 to 15. All behaved and courteous, thoughtful, and well-mannered.

Each week I prepare a PowerPoint presentation lasting about 5 to 10 minutes, usually using a short YouTube video clip from a popular movie, all suitable for show in a school environment. Mostly, I use clips from recent movies the kids may have seen (dubbed into Japanese), but I use only the English versions (so, mostly American movies). Sometimes I use news from my home, or seasonal topics (this month I will do a Christmas presentation, as I do every year). But I mostly use movie clips.

This gets shown to 18 to 21 classes per week (usually 6 classrooms per grade, 3 grade levels in middle school here).

Last week I used Mel Brooks’s “Young Frankenstein”, and featured the clip of “Harold the Blind Guy”, with the “Monster” dropping by Harold’s secluded home in the woods. The students found this hilarious, not having seen the movie before. After the clip, I asked questions (on slides to go with the clip) and the questions were all multiple-choice:

What was Harold praying for?

1. An English teacher
2. Fast pizza delivery
3. A visitor

... And other such questions.

The students rely on their memory of English words from the movie, and almost everyone responds correctly. Not a hard “test” of their comprehension, and a good way to wake them up after lunch...

This week I opted to show the original clip from “The Bride of Frankenstein”, which the students (and most other teachers) had neither seen nor even heard of before. All youngsters...!

Now we have Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein creation, and O.P. Heggie as the blind hermit. The students were easily able to follow the actions and parallel the comedy video with the original ... but ...

This was a serious movie. Most of them had never seen the original Frankenstein movies or the original makeup on Karloff before. They actually thought Frankenstein was just a sort of “made-up” thing for Halloween or such. Until now.

First, I always introduce the characters. I showed a publicity photo of the Frankenstein creation and the blind hermit seated at the rough old table, with the hermit lighting a cigar and the creature shying away, waving his hands from fear at the small match-flame.

They recognized the creature but most had not actually seen a photo of him before. They realized that this was the "real thing".

Then I asked “What kind of movie do you think this is?” Most of them said horror film, some said monster movie, or science fiction, and a few were just puzzled. When I asked “Is the Frankenstein Monster good, or bad?” they almost all responded with “Bad!”

On the next few slides, I explained in both English and Japanese to save time and clarify the back-story:

~~~~~
Dr. Frankenstein made a Monster.

The Monster was ugly. People chased him, shot him, burned him, and chained him.

The Monster ran away.

The Monster is hurt, lost, and hungry.

He found a house. A Hermit lives there. The Hermit is blind.

The Monster is “mute”, but is learning to speak.
~~~~~

Of course, the story is more complex and there is a body count before the featured scene. But I had only 10 minutes, so...

The students expected to see a monster tearing at people and crushing them beneath his enormous shoes. They half-expected the monster to charge into the house and kill the blind hermit, pillage whatever food he could find, and stalk back out into the forest looking for more victims.

They were fascinated to see the realism and sensitivity that Karloff put into his acting, and the students became lost in the emotion and the action. They had never even thought the “Monster” could feel emotion other than anger, or that he could smile, laugh, or shed tears. In short, this clip completely changed their understanding and outlook regarding the humanity of the Frankenstein creation. The bond formed between the creature and the blind hermit was deeply touching, and some of the students cried (several of them suddenly had chalk dust or something in their eyes).

Despite the extremely heavy, thick makeup restricting movement of his facial muscles, Karloff was able to convey hope and anxiety in the creature’s expression when he threw open the door of the hut and growled, uncertain and fearful of the reaction from the frail old man who had been playing the violin. Would there be only shock, cold rejection, and the violent anger he had always received up to this time? Would this be different?

The students were rapt with attention and a few even stopped breathing at this point (they unashamedly told me later).

The rest of the clip held them glued to the screen. I chose this scene for its human-interest value, as well as its very simple English. Heggie used such simple but powerful words and spoke so clearly. The students told me they were able to understand and follow nearly the whole English communications exchange between the hermit and the creature.

I haven’t spoken in-depth to the students about this yet, but I believe (from their reactions) that they learned a valuable lesson for this movie – that not all or everyone is as they seem on the outside, or are what others say. People don’t have to match their stereotypes simply because there is a stereotype. Plus the students got a decent if simple English lesson from Boris Karloff and O.P. Heggie...!

What more could have made my day...?

:-)
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Type: Discussion • Score: 4 • Views: 640 • Replies: 23
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hightor
 
  2  
Reply Mon 2 Dec, 2019 06:34 am
@Seizan,
Nice.
0 Replies
 
chai2
 
  2  
Reply Mon 2 Dec, 2019 07:44 am
@Seizan,
Oh that is such a beautiful story and experience Seizan. Thanks for sharing.

Things are not always as they seem.
0 Replies
 
edgarblythe
 
  2  
Reply Mon 2 Dec, 2019 08:15 am
Yes. Very good.
0 Replies
 
chai2
 
  2  
Reply Mon 2 Dec, 2019 08:59 am
2 things Seizan.

Regarding the perception of "monster"

This clip from the movie version of "To Kill a Mockingbird" where we finally meet who the children had mythologized into a monster always touches me.

I can think of no better acting than this young Robert Duval, who shows a universe of emotions in this scene, just in his eyes.




2nd, on a humourous note, maybe your kids would like to see a more silly take on the "monster"

0 Replies
 
Linkat
 
  2  
Reply Mon 2 Dec, 2019 10:02 am
@Seizan,
I have to say that your recap of this movie portion had me memorized as well.

I can see why these students had such a reaction - I think your description in your story telling of this was very touching.

It is a very important lesson - one I personally have experienced myself - looking at someone and having a vision of maybe not as strong as "monster" but due to their appearance felt they were one thing when they were quite kind.

Curious did you discuss this with the students? Asked them if they have done this/experienced it?

Would be a great discussion item and would love to hear their thoughts.
0 Replies
 
Seizan
 
  2  
Reply Mon 2 Dec, 2019 02:42 pm
Hi Everyone,

First, a bit about my job here on Okinawa...

My government job description is that of an “Assistant Language Teacher” (ALT), but I seem to have successfully changed the role to that of “communication skills teacher”. The job description directs that I read the English textbook aloud, correct pronunciation and spelling, and assist the Japanese English teacher in any way required. BUT – I teach communications, not language, diction, sentence structure, etc. I was chosen for this job (I did not apply, I was approached in 2002 by the Board of Education) based on my previous years as the local TV and radio weatherman, and my ability to smoothly ad lib my way through otherwise complex technical information exchanges. By day, I was a USAF Weather Forecaster, and gave takeoff, en route, and destination weather briefings to pilots and commanders for thousands of flights, ground activities and troop movements, issued thunderstorm, lightning, and typhoon warnings and forecasts, prepared weather charts and maps to forecast icing and turbulence en route for military aircraft operations, etc. Every evening after the day shift I went to the local military TV station and presented the recreational forecast for the next few days, which was an easy piece of cake after the daily routine. I went on the air live, and not need a teleprompter. I knew my subject well enough to deliver a smooth presentation without the distraction of reading a prepared script aloud. Though I retired from the USAF in 1992 and hadn’t been on the air since 1991, I was quite surprised to be informed that many local Japanese English teachers (and Japanese pilots, policemen, and government officials) had practiced their English speaking skills based on my nightly TV weather presentations...! I believe I speak well and write OK, but I feel the real power in communications is the simple ability to convey one’s meaning and concepts to another. All else is window dressing...

By the way, my speech coach in middle school taught me something often attributed to Albert Einstein, that if you can’t present your subject simply enough for a child to understand, you don’t understand it well enough yourself...

And now back to our discussion, already in progress...

The simple English exchange between the “monster” and the blind hermit, amplified by Karloff’s exquisite facial expressions and hand gestures, was a perfect example of simple but powerful communications. I am seeking others similar to this.

In most Japanese middle and high schools, there is a class that amounts to “Morals and Ethics”. I must duly consider those teachers for that subject too, that I don’t step on his toes, so to speak. They teach social consciousness, respect for elders and authority figures, obedience to the law, proper behavior and manners, drug/alcohol/tobacco abuse, sex education, social customs, family obligations, the importance of student-teacher and junior-senior relationships, and much more. In short, all the things you would expect parents to teach as a child grew have been placed squarely in the hands of the school system...!

So – I have to be very careful about the material I present to the young students. I was actually a bit hesitant about showing the “monster” and his host drinking wine (presenting alcohol as an allowable social indulgence) and smoking (tobacco as being OK; Heggie’s lines go something like “Smoke – it’s good! You try...!” It doesn’t matter if the students see this in their own homes almost every day. In my mind, it has no place in a school environment being presented as acceptable. I am also highly sensitive to presenting anything in a religious context, such as when the hermit spoke of praying for years that a friend would come, etc. So this time I really took a chance based on my longtime reputation (17 highly-successful years at the same school – a record in Japan, I think) and used a video that, to my knowledge, had never before been shown in a Japanese public school, despite that it was released more than 70 years ago.

While I would love to take time to discuss in-depth such things with the students, I have to restrict myself to a short discussion of the English communications aspect of any material I present. I have only about the first 10 minutes for my presentation, then its back to textbook, spelling, and pronunciation for the next 40 minutes of class time.

My choice of a video clip from “The Bride of Frankenstein” treads the border, but thankfully it went over well.
Linkat
 
  2  
Reply Mon 2 Dec, 2019 04:41 pm
@Seizan,
Still very cool experiencing that --

But I can understand you need to respect the cultural of the country as well as your position/cultural within the school system.
chai2
 
  2  
Reply Mon 2 Dec, 2019 09:18 pm
@Linkat,
I want to hear more stories about this class.
0 Replies
 
glitterbag
 
  2  
Reply Mon 2 Dec, 2019 09:30 pm
@Seizan,
I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this story.
0 Replies
 
Seizan
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Dec, 2019 01:00 am
Update...

I showed this clip yesterday and today to 7 classes now (total 10 classes this week). Same reaction in each class. I was asked by 2 of the teachers to please provide the complete movie with Japanese subtitles since they now want to schedule time at the end of the semester for the classes to watch the movie in its entirety...

I told them that they would have to see the 1931 Frankenstein movie to make sense of the 1935 movie, Bride of Frankenstein (they are sort of Part 1 and 2). They said they were OK with that.

As a point of interest, at the beginning of the film when the creature was in the water under the burned windmill, Karloff slipped and dislocated his hip. Rather than take some time off to heal and decrease the pain, he had the hip joint strapped back in place, and went on with filming...! During the rest of the movie we can see the creature walking and running with a slight but noticeable limp if we know what to look for.

O.P. Heggie died the year after this movie was released. He was only 58, I believe. What a loss. And Colin Clive (Dr. Henry Frankenstein) was recovering from a broken leg, so most of his scenes were filmed laying down or seated (standing or walking scenes were rare). He died at age 37 from tuberculosis and chronic alcoholism in June 1937, just 2 years after the release of this movie. Interestingly, Clive was exactly 6 feet tall, one inch taller than Karloff. The elevated boots were necessary to make the creature tower over his creator...

Something I notice in the Bride of Frankenstein clip is the relative positions that the blind hermit and the creature take when shown together. When the creature throws the door of the hut open, he stays outside – hurt (and bleeding), fearful, and curious all at the same time. Yet he shows respect and does not enter the hut until the hermit takes him by the hand and invites him inside. He is so tall that he almost hits his head on the top of the entrance when he is led inside by the hermit. When the creature is told by the hermit to sit, he is at a much higher level than the hermit who sits before him on a low stool. Total trust from the hermit (indicated by being at the lower level and completely vulnerable with such a powerful being before him). When the creature lies down to sleep, he is at the lower level – total trust in the hermit, who just fed and comforted him. When they are seated at the table, and when the hermit is playing the violin, they are about the same level, as equals. Finally, when the two hunters enter the hut (invited in by the hermit), the creature rises from his stool and is suddenly looming tall, powerful, and protective of his newfound friend. And yet, he still obeys the hermit who throws his arm in front of the creature to stop any further violence, saying to the hunters “What are you doing – this is my friend!” When the distraught creature runs into the group of school children on the mountain path, they scatter and run but he does not chase or harm them in any way, despite his towering size and strength.

The relative height and positioning of characters presents them alternately as God-like and powerful, trusting, subservient, vulnerable, equal to others, etc. Maybe something to watch for in other old movies.

Those were the days when acting was eloquent and subtle, just after the end of the silent era, when actors trained themselves to “speak” with facial expressions and gesture.
chai2
 
  2  
Reply Wed 4 Dec, 2019 08:55 pm
@Seizan,
Not appropriate for you classes at all, but have you watched the series "Penny Dreadful"?

It's kind of a mashup of Frankenstein, Dracula, Dorian Gray, werewolves, etc.

Ha. Just typing that makes it seem like a really awful show. It isn't.

Honestly? I've never read Mary Shelly's book, but I feel like the Frankensteins creature subplot in the show tries to follow Shelly's premise.

Dr. Victor Frankenstein, in the show actually creates more than one creature out of dead people. The first one that he never gives a name. He was so frightened of the creatures screams of pain upon coming alive it scares him away, and he abandons this blank slate of a being. To me it was so very heartbreaking. Being born again, alone, scared, confused and immediately abandoned. I just hated Dr. F after that. What a coward.

Assuming and/or not caring this first experiment has disappeared into the city, he creates a 2nd creature, who he names Proteus. Not to get too far into the story, that does not end well.

In short, the first creature survived, and as much as he can, creates a life for himself. He's dreadfully unhappy, ashamed, and very sensitive. At the same time he is vengeful, and can be violent.

Looking back at what I wrote, I can see how I've poorly described how man can feel about religion.

Abandoned cruelly by an uncaring creator, being alone to make your own way.

The Frankenstein plot was my favorite part of the show.



Seizan
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Dec, 2019 09:57 pm
@chai2,
Hi!

Yes, I saw the first season and left it, disappointed. Bringing all those monsters and creatures together in one show seemed like a desperate bid for creating a "new" spectacle for the screen but reminded me of "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" (which was an acting disaster especially for Sean Connery). I appreciated (to a degree) the role and position of Dr. Frankenstein but it was such a departure from the classic novels in which those beings originally appeared that it just seemed like ... too much. there were some good moments and might have yeilded some good clips, but not appropriate for middle school fare, you're right.

Still looking. Clips don't necessarily have to be creature features, they can be like the "To Kill a Mockingbird" excerpt. But though that was indeed a great clip, the English is a little too complex at this student level.
glitterbag
 
  2  
Reply Wed 4 Dec, 2019 10:42 pm
@Seizan,
This might be too ancient for these children, but my 8 year old grand daughter was fascinated by Laurel and Hardy shorts/movies. Also old Foghorn Leghorn, and Daffy Duck (not the sanitized mind numbing ones produced recently)....I worry about the accents in all of these clips, but the physicality and nonsense seems to resonate with children. The accents might be hard to decipher, but if it has closed captions, just the sputtering and gestures and goofiness might translate.

My son was nuts about Speed Racer, maybe your students would enjoy shortened clips of those ancient endeavors.
0 Replies
 
chai2
 
  2  
Reply Wed 4 Dec, 2019 11:20 pm
@Seizan,
Seizan wrote:



Still looking. Clips don't necessarily have to be creature features, they can be like the "To Kill a Mockingbird" excerpt. But though that was indeed a great clip, the English is a little too complex at this student level.


You're right regarding the English.
Not that the vocabulary is hard, but the way Scout, the girl, is speaking, her accent, etc.
Seizan
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2019 12:11 am
@chai2,
That's right... I have my job partly because I don't really have a discernible accent. Many temporary ALTs are from New Zealand or Australia, and they are great teachers, but the Japanese English teachers have a really hard time explaining to the students about the accents... I think someone with expertise can pin me down to New England, but mostly, I don't have much of an accent at all.

It would take too long to explain what Scout is saying. Language in clips has to be very simple, easy to understand (spoken clearly), and relatively slow. It really narrows down the field.

Older movies and old silent films aren't much of a problem if the action and/or narration cards/frames are easy to understand. I'v already used a few Charlie Chaplin films (The Kid, Modern Times, etc.). But I'm looking for meaningful content, not slapstick comedy, which seldom has a language lesson.
izzythepush
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2019 05:15 am
@Seizan,
Everybody has an accent. You've got an American accent. It may not be particularly heavy but if you were to come over here we'd spot it straight off.

Btw, the original isn't Karloff, it's Mary Shelley.
Seizan
 
  2  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2019 06:12 am
@izzythepush,
What the Japanese Board of Education meant by "no accent" was the lack of distinctive southern American, or California, or Australian or British, etc. accent. The obvious ones. Closest description of mine is "American Midwest bland"...

;-)

Of course other Westerners would be able to tell I was an American. It might be difficult to pinpoint where in the States I came from.

And by "original" I meant only relatively. The spoof was "Young Frankenstein. The "originals", off which the Mel Brooks comedy is based, would be "Frankenstein" (1931) and "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935). Karloff could justifiably be considered the "original Frankenstein monster".

The makeup by Jack Pierce would nowadays be considered by most to be the "original" Frankenstein creation makeup, which most of these Japanese kids have not seen except in parody (or as Halloween masks, or cartoons, etc.) up to know.

Actually, Edison produced a silent version of "Frankenstein" in the early 1900's, though it is not very much like the book (but then, neither was the 1931 James Whale version). The creature looked completely different too, and was "created" in something like a furnace...

I'm not a film historian, just having a casual exchange and sharing a teaching experience. The history of most movies, actors, makeup etc. can be found in many places (IMDb, for one).

Thanks for clarifying, though..
izzythepush
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2019 06:22 am
@Seizan,
I'm sorry if I sounded a bit off, but I've sat through loads of American telly where accents are seen as something people who aren't American have.

When I was on holiday Americans would tell me I had an accent, even though there's was overpowering.

Mary Shelley's version isn't an easy read. It's quite a slim volume but it took me a couple of days to get through it.
Seizan
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Dec, 2019 06:53 am
@izzythepush,
Oh no, you didn't seem that way at all!

When I was young, I traveled a lot and lived in various places where one sort of "picks up" the local accent easily. I was born in southwestern Massachusetts, lived in Maine for a time, then I lived in Montreal and picked the "Eh?" accent for about 2 years, then I joined the USAF. I was assigned out in central Illinois, then in New Jersey, and a few places around the world, until settling on Okinawa since 1979. So I have been out of mainstream American society for some decades. My "accent" ended up being no accent in particular except "Generic American". I was delighted that it was exactly what the local Board of Education wanted for their school.

Shelly's book is one of my perennial favorites. It is a hard read; much of the English is from an older era, and her writing style is quite complex for such a young (teenage) girl. But not as difficult as, say, Victor Hugo. I find I can barely get through any of his novels...
 

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