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Watching Movies Now January 2, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Information, Lifelong Learning, Online Tools.

Alice1   Back in 1974 I began working at my first after school job as an usher at a movie theatre in Canada. It was a very small theatre so I had the opportunity to do many jobs from taking tickets to changing the marquee to making popcorn. The first movie that was playing was “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore? starring Ellen Burstyn and Kris Kristofferson.

Back in those days, once that movie left the theatre there was little chance I would be able to see it again unless it came to television. Then came video stores and eventually DVDs. Now, when I watch a movie, like I did this week with “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,? I have to have the Internet Movie Database close at hand. Using that database, I review the cast members, look up biographies and filmographies, find out filming locations (so that restaurant with a giant cow skull for doors was in Amado, just down the road), and look up trivia (it turns out Laura Dern had a bit part as a child actor in one of the final scenes). The database adds richness and wealth to my viewing of a movie. But it doesn’t just help me to answer questions. It leads to even deeper research and pondering. We discussed the subjective camera the director was using and how it must have seen quite cutting edge back then. We also discussed the realism of the plot. 

Music from movies is also something that we can have more control over. I heard a song in the movie by Mott the Hoople. My daughter thought it was a pretty cool tune so I downloaded a copy from a Mott the Hoople fan site. She spent one Saturday afternoon listening to it over 100 times until it became seared into her subconscious. One day, years from now, she will recall that tune in some sort of musical epiphany or for a big prize in a game show.

Even more intriguing for my wife and I were the opening shots, supposedly of Socorro, New Mexico but which were really set in Tucson, Arizona. We spent much of our viewing trying to figure out where they made the movie in our town 30 years earlier. One of the last scenes of the movie showed a giant monkey over the stars’ shoulders. We knew that mini-golf location well. The next day we were off to the same physical place where the actors walked off into distance and snapped some digital photographs for comparison.

Alice2   Alice 3
Monkey then and now

Having a digital database at our disposal while watching a film is certainly helpful, but nothing beats the odd feeling of how images of a southwest city I watched as a teenager in Canada would someday be a part of my life as an adult. Of course, the next film my theatre showed was “Jaws? and that lasted for a month.

Watching films in class can never be the same experience for modern students as it was for students three decades ago. The new challenge for teachers is to learn ways of tapping into that new richness of experience with their students.



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