This historical epic, set in South Africa, concentrates on Stephen Biko, his stand against apartheid and his friendship with journalist Donald Woods. This is a sweeping film in visual and emotional terms, and an interesting instance of the capacity of film to deal with the large issues of the modern world with force and intensity.
Dead Poets Society (PG)
Directed by Peter Weir
Set in the 1950s in an exclusive and very traditional private school in America (with serious English overtones), the film depicts the story of a group of boys in their final year of high school. With the arrival of a new English teacher, Mr Keating, the boys are encouraged to ‘seize the day’ (carpe diem) and ‘suck the marrow out of life’. His inspirational lessons give the boys insights into the world beyond Welton, with its rigid thinking and codes of behaviour. Keating encourages the boys to pursue their individual dreams and aspirations in order to discover who they truly are. But it is not without a cost. This film’s poignancy and dramatic impact are enhanced by Weir’s tight direction. The effective use of symbolism, wide outdoor nature shots contrasted with close, restricted interior shots, innovative camera work and a musical score that enhances meaning, all combine to emphasise the difference between the world of Welton and that of the boys’ hopes and dreams.
Edward Scissorhands (PG)
Directed by Tim Burton
20th Century Fox
This is a modern-day fairytale that tells, in a long flashback, the story of Edward, the man created by an inventor who died before finishing him, leaving Edward with scissors where he should have had hands. The film takes place in an artificial world where a haunting gothic castle crouches on a mountaintop high above a storybook suburb, a ‘sitcom’ neighbourhood where all of the houses are shades of pastels. The film is another inventive effort by the director Tim Burton in which the hero is strangely remote. Edward is intended as an everyman, a universal figure who exists on a somewhat different plane from the people he meets. His character is a commentary on humanity and our contemporary world and values. In the film Burton produces elements of humanity’s darkness as well as its beauty. The film also reflects Burton’s reputation for pictorial flair as he uses special effects and visual tricks to engage his audience. Students could benefit from a comparison study with Shelley’s Frankenstein or the dramatisation of her novel.
Directed by Peter Weir
A period film rather than an historical one, Gallipoli is notable for both its script by playwright David Williamson and its portrayal of Australian-British relations as the product of British arrogance rather than Australian compliance. It follows the adventures and experiences of two young men, Archy and Frank, during World War I. The boys are successful sprinters and have a friendly rivalry in competition but their friendship is truly formed once they enlist in the army. Archy is a fervent young man who believes in the cause and his duty to fight but Frank provides an alternative view. Weir’s directorial style together with the cinematography emphasise the wide, open spaces of a free Australia in sharp contrast to the dugouts and cliffs of Gallipoli. The poignant ending of the film, presented in a classic freeze-frame of Archy being shot, evokes a strong emotional response in the audience as it is left to ponder the futility of war.
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (PG)
Directed by Hugh Hudson
This film is an appropriation of the classic Tarzan tale. A man who thinks he is an ape rescues Captain Phillippe D’Arnot in the African jungle. From evidence in an abandoned treehouse, D’Arnot suspects that Tarzan is the direct descendant of the Earl of Greystoke and eventually convinces him to return with him to England, and civilization. The film is a realistic attempt to examine the parallels and contrasts between Victorian society and life in the jungle. The politics and hierarchy of the ape world are presented convincingly in the early scenes as is the world of the English aristocracy and its imperialistic views. The film is also noted for the director’s careful consideration of the quality of the look and the sound in the film. Students would benefit from a comparison study of the different visual representations of Tarzan such as in Disney’s animated film, Tarzan, and the classic Tarzan films starring Johnny Weismuller.
Il Postino (G)
Directed by Michael Radford
Il Postino (The Postman) is a subtitled film that explores the friendship between the famous Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, and a simple and shy fisherman. Mario lives on a remote Mediterranean island where Neruda spends some time, exiled because of his political beliefs. Mario delivers the mail and the two develop an unlikely friendship. Pablo provides help for Mario in his attempt to woo Beatrice, the beautiful waitress at the village inn, by showing him the beauty and power of poetry. Mario encounters the poet within himself as he tries to express his love. The film provides a visual approach to poetry writing as well as opportunities to explore its themes of friendship and love.
The Importance of Being Earnest (PG)
Directed by Oliver Parker
This adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play has a scintillating cast to deliver the witty lines that have made the play so famous. Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Dame Judi Dench, Reese Witherspoon, Frances O’Connor and Edward Fox combine creditably to bring the play’s somewhat farcical plot to life on the screen. Set in the 19th century world of English aristocracy, the film effectively captures Wilde’s satire, wit and humour. Highlighting Victorian society’s hypocrisy and social dictates, Parker’s adaptation takes full advantage of the film medium. Parker is able to add characterisation elements, some minor plot developments and visual jokes while retaining the wit and charm of Wilde’s original text. The inclusion of a song whose lyrics were written by Oscar Wilde also adds further interest to the film. The cutaways to music halls, tattoo parlour and restaurants, the anachronistic musical score and the inclusion of visually appealing fantasy sequences and tableaux that suggest pastoral scenes, all serve to capture the mood, fun and spirit of Wilde’s text.
A League of Their Own (PG)
Directed by Penny Marshall
Set during World War II, this film is based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the USA. The men’s national league was on the brink of folding as so many of its players were being drafted to fight in the war. To counter the void left by their departure and save the sport a national women’s league was established. The story begins in the present and is then told in one long flashback. It follows the experiences of two sisters involved in the competition, the promoters’ efforts to gain the public’s and professionals’ acceptance of a women’s league, and how their participation in it impacted on the women’s lives. This film invites discussion on gender stereotypes and women’s role in sport.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (PG)
Buena Vista Home Video
This appropriation of Shakespeare’s play, starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Kevin Kline, is set in 19th century Italy and furnished with bicycles and operatic interludes. But it is founded on Shakespeare’s language and, while edited, is reasonably faithful to the original play. Shot in Italy, the opening sequences set a rich romantic tone. From its setting in the Tuscan countryside to the grand dream sequence in a magical forest of deep shadows and strange happenings, this film is a visual tour de force, with just the right touch of zaniness.
Much Ado About Nothing (PG)
Samuel Goldwyn Company
This fast-paced film version of Much Ado About Nothing is filled with laughter and sunshine as well as misunderstandings, deceptions and conspiracies. The film’s opening sets the tone and mood for the action to come. Strong visual images of picnics, banquets, laughter, fun and frolic in the open fields abound. Benedick and Beatrice begin the film as enemies and end it as passionate lovers while Claudio and Hero are almost torn apart by the treachery of the Duke’s brother. Branagh’s direction, the spirited performances of the cast and their fluent rendering of the language provide students with a wonderful introduction to Shakespearean comedy.