I’m working on a new edition (the third) of The Hollywood Curriculum: Teachers in the Movies. No work is exhaustive even if extensive, and I missed two films in previous editions that complicate what I have termed The Hollywood Model of the “good” teacher in film.
There have been significant revisionist teacher characters I’ve written about in the past (in my scholarly work), most particularly those in the fine films Election (1999) and Half Nelson (2006). These are two unqualified recommendations if you have not seen them. Election remains my favorite Alexander Payne film, even though I liked Sideways quite a bit and thought About Schmidt had its moments. Half Nelson is directed by Ryan Fleck and written by Fleck and Anna Boden, the same team responsible for one of my favorite films of the year, Sugar. See Sugar – no need to wait for my top ten list because this will definitely make the cut.
Today I watched two of the earlier teacher movies that for one reason or another I missed along the way. While neither is quite as good as the two mentioned above, both are original and compelling in their presentations of troubled teachers. In Waterland (1992), Jeremy Irons turns in a strong performance as a history teacher who starts telling students stories from his own life as a way of coping with his wife’s deteriorating mental health and his own guilt over past events.
Even more disturbing is Blue Car (2002). Writer-director Karen Moncrieff has worked mostly in television (as has Stephen Gyllenhaal, who directed Waterland), but there is a subtle touch to this story of a predatory teacher (played by the superb David Strathairn) who encourages a student’s talent for writing at the same time he exploits her vulnerability.
I don’t want to end up writing an ad for any particular DVD rental service, but doing this type of research is so much easier now that I can get immediate access to some films on my computer and have unlimited access to others within a day or so. That reminds me! If you have not seen Mike Leigh’s film Happy-Go-Lucky (about a teacher, of course), take a look. I missed it last year when it played in the Triad for about a week, but it’s available for instant viewing by the not mentioned service able.
Yes, I know. This is tough work, but someone has to do it.