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THE CRAMPS: YOU'VE GOT GOOD TASTE

Posted by Cole Smithey on April 19, 2014 in Culture, Music | Permalink

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CANNES 2014: SHORT FILMS SELECTIONS

While the Official Selection of feature films for the 67th Festival de Cannes will be revealed on Thursday 17th April, the list of Short Films is unveiled in advance.

The Cinéfondation and Short Films Jury, presided by Abbas KIAROSTAMI, will nominate the prize-winners for the Short Film Competition and the Cinéfondation Selection.

THE 2014 SHORT FILMS COMPETITION 

This year, the Selection Committee received 3,450 short films, representing 128 production countries.

Nine films will compete in 2014 for the Short Film Palme d'or, to be awarded by Abbas Kiarostami, President of the Jury, at the Awards Ceremony of the 67th Festival de Cannes on Saturday, May 24th.

For the first time, an azeri and a georgian film will take part in the Short Films Competition.
 
SHORT FILMS IN COMPETITION:

Ran HUANG THE ADMINISTRATION OF GLORY 15’ China
       
Dea KULUMBEGASHVILI UKHILAVI SIVRTSEEBI
(Invisible Spaces)
10’ Georgia
       
Sato MASAHIKO, Ohara TAKAYOSHI, Seki YUTARO, Toyota MASAYUKI, Hirase KENTARO HAPPO-EN 13’ Japan
       
Simón MESA SOTO LEIDI 15' Colombia United-Kingdom
       
Sergey PIKALOV SONUNCU
(The Last One)
15’ Azerbaijan
       
Petra SZŐCS A KIVEGZES
(The Execution)
14’ Hungary
Romania
       

Clément TREHIN-LALANNE

AÏSSA

8’ France
       
Laura WANDEL LES CORPS ÉTRANGERS 15’ Belgium
       
Hallvar WITZØ

JA VI ELSKER

(Yes we Love)

15’ Norway
       

* The Italian film A PASSO D'UOMO by Giovanni ALOI was removed from the Short Films Competition because he has proved to break the regulation of this Selection.

THE 2014 CINÉFONDATION SELECTION 
 

The Cinéfondation Selection selected 16 films (14 fiction films and 2 animation films) among the 1,631 submitted this year by cinema schools from all around the world.

This year sees a very significant broadening of scope of the Selection, with a 38% of the schools being selected for the first time and one country – Egypt – which has never previously been selected. Besides, more than half of the sixteen selected films (9) have been directed by women.

The three Cinéfondation Prizes will be awarded at a ceremony prior to the screening of the winning films on Thursday 22nd May in the Buñuel Theatre.
 

THE CINEFONDATION SELECTION: 

Max CHAN OUR BLOOD 25’       Hampshire College
USA
       
Pierre CLENET 
Alejandro DIAZ 
Romain MAZEVET 
Stéphane PACCOLAT
HOME SWEET HOME 10’ Supinfocom Arles
France
       
Omar EL ZOHAIRY THE AFTERMATH OF THE INAUGURATION OF THE PUBLIC TOILET AT KILOMETER 375 18’ High Cinema Institute, Academy of Arts
Égypt
       
Reinaldo Marcus GREEN STONE CARS 14’ NYU Tisch School of the Arts
USA
       
HAN Fengyu LAST TRIP HOME 25’ Ngee Ann Polytechnic
Singapore
       
Meryll HARDT UNE VIE RADIEUSE 
(A Radiant Life)
17’ Le Fresnoy
France
       
Chie HAYAKAWA NIAGARA 27’ ENBU Seminar
Japan
       

Atsuko HIRAYANAGI

 

OH LUCY!

21’ NYU Tisch School of the Arts Asia
Singapore
       
Inbar HORESH THE VISIT 27’ Minshar for Art, School and Center 
Israel
       
Stefan IVANČIĆ LETO BEZ MESECA 
(Moonless Summer)
31' Faculty of Dramatic Arts 
Serbia
       
Daisy JACOBS THE BIGGER PICTURE 7' National Film and Television School
United Kingdom
       
György Mór KÁRPÁTI PROVINCIA 21' University of Theatre and Film Arts
Hungary
       
KWON Hyun-ju SOOM 
(Breath)
33' Chung-Ang University
South Korea
       
Léa MYSIUS LES OISEAUX-TONNERRE
(Thunderbirds)
22' La Fémis 
France
       
Fulvio RISULEO  LIEVITO MADRE 
(Sourdough)
 17' Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia
Italy
       
Annie SILVERSTEIN  SKUNK  16' The University of Texas at Austin
USA
       

Posted by Cole Smithey on April 19, 2014 in Film Festivals | Permalink

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Torture is an All-American Value: By Ted Rall

https://filipspagnoli.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/torture-devices.jpg

Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and long-time-until-recentlyNSA apologist, claims to be shocked by an internal CIA report that documents the agency’s grisly record of torture after 9/11. “The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation,” Feinstein said April 3rd. “It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen.”

Among the “stunning revelations” that have leaked out of the still-classified 6,600-page CIA torture report are stories that long-time followers of my writing have long been aware of, having read about them in my column during the Bush years. Guantánamo isn’t just a concentration camp; it’s also a CIA “black site”/torture dungeon, as was a joint US-UK “extraordinary rendition” depot on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. The CIA outsourced torture to Third World shitholes/U.S. allies, knowing/expecting/hoping that they would be murdered.

Disgusting stuff. For sure. Yet there’s something even more nauseating — and infinitely more dangerous — than a country that tortures:

A nation in denial about its true values.

Feinstein speaks for most Americans when she characterizes War on Terror-related torture as an aberration. But she’s mistaken. Conventional wisdom is wrong.

Torture is as American as red, white and blue.

Like the citizens of Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II who had a pretty good idea that those eastbound trains were a one-way ticket to hell, Americans have known since the beginning of the War on Terror that their government was going to torture, was torturing and had tortured. It is still torturing today. Yet hardly anyone complains.

Five days after 9/11, on September 16, 2001, Dick Cheney told Tim Russert on “Meet the Press”: “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”

At the time, everyone knew what that meant.

The Vice President of the United States, speaking on behalf of the President, had announced to the world that the gloves were off, that the “quaint” Geneva Conventions were history. That the U.S. would torture.

Had Cheney’s endorsement of “brutality” been “in stark contrast to our values as a nation,” as Feinstein puts it, there would have been political blowback. Imagine if the president of, say, Sweden, had said the same thing. The dude would’ve been out of a job.

Au contraire — Cheney’s siren call to the “dark side” drew mainstream political approval, even from self-identified “liberals” in the corporate media.

In October and November of 2001, Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter, FoxNews’ Shepard Smith (usually the network’s calm voice of reason), and CNN’s Tucker Carlson jumped on the torture bandwagon. All three reporter-pundits called torture a necessary, lesser evil in the fight against Islamist terrorists. Carlson (he’s the one with the bowtie): “Torture is bad. Keep in mind, some things are worse. And under certain circumstances, it may be the lesser of two evils. Because some evils are pretty evil.”

“Mr. Alter said he was surprised that his column did not provoke a significant flood of e-mail messages or letters,” reported The New York Times. “And perhaps even more surprising, he said, was that he had been approached by ‘people who might be described as being on the left whispering, I agree with you.’” (Or, more precisely, by people who were formerly on the left.)

If torture were repugnant to Americans, Cheney — and his pet pundits like Alter — would have met with a firestorm of criticism. They would have been fired. They were not.

By January 2002, the United States had defeated the Taliban and installed Hamid Karzai as the leader of a U.S. puppet regime in Afghanistan. Still, public tolerance/approval of torture continued. A famous legal scholar, Alan Dershowitz, published an op/ed calling for the creation of “torture warrants”: “The warrant would limit the torture to nonlethal means, such as sterile needles, being inserted beneath the nails to cause excruciating pain without endangering life.”

These are the words of a madman.

By objective standards, if the U.S. were a nation where torture stood “in stark contrast to our values,” Dershowitz would have been shouted down and ridiculed. It would be hard to imagine Harvard Law — Harvard Law! — keeping such a raging nut on its payroll. But they did.

Because torture is not at against our values. Not in the least.

Dick Cheney: not forced to resign.

Jonathan Alter, Shepard Smith, Tucker Carlson: all still legit, all still capable of landing big book deals and big speaking fees. They run in circles where real lefties like me — who bitched about CIA torture and kidnapping in countless cartoons and columns — are blackballed.

Which makes perfect sense. Because Americans love torture. A dozen and a half years after 9/11, 68% of Americans still tell pollsters — even though it’s been proven ineffectual — that torture is A-OK.

A polarized nation? When it comes to anally raping young men with flashlights and broomsticks — that happened at Gitmo and the U.S.-run Bagram torture center, and may be continuing — we’re still United, We Stand.

So when newly-minted President Barack Obama told Americans in 2009 that he planned to “look forward, not back“— i.e., not holding anyone accountable for Bush-era torture — andvisited Langley to assure nervous torturers that they could chillax, no one cared.

When government-sanctioned torture continued under Obama, no one cared.

Even when Americans rose up in 2011 to protest their government, as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, torture was less than an afterthought on the activists’ menu of complaints.

American “progressives” don’t care either. There has never been a mass demonstration against torture. (Well, not in the U.S. There have been big marches in Egypt and Bahrain.)

Torture against American values? Hardly. From American troops who mutilated the genitals of Native Americans to waterboarding Filipino independence fighters in the early 20th century to organized rape gangs in Vietnam, torture has been all-American.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

Posted by Cole Smithey on April 19, 2014 in Culture, Current Affairs, Politics | Permalink

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CONSUMED: DAVID CRONEBERG

Posted by Cole Smithey on April 19, 2014 in Culture, Film | Permalink

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JERSEY BOYS - Trailer

Posted by Cole Smithey on April 18, 2014 in Culture, Trailer | Permalink

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Maps To The Stars International Red Band Trailer

Posted by Cole Smithey on April 18, 2014 in Trailer | Permalink

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2014 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL LINEUP

Cannes-international-film-festival

OPENER

“Grace of Monaco” (Olivier Dahan, France-U.S.-Belgium-Italy) Nicole Kidman stars as Grace Kelly in Dahan’s 1960s-set biopic, which, is kicking off the festival out of competition. The Weinstein Co. is distributing the film Stateside. 

CANNES SELECTION

COMPETITION

“The Captive” (Atom Egoyan, Canada) Ryan Reynolds, Scott Speedman and Rosario Dawson star in this abduction thriller, Egoyan’s sixth competition entry; the Canadian helmer won the Grand Prix for 1997’s “The Sweet Hereafter.” 

“Clouds of Sils Maria” (Olivier Assayas, France-Switzerland-Germany) IFC has Stateside rights to this English-language picture about an actress who withdraws to the Swiss town of the title, starring Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moretz. Assayas was previously in competition with “Clean,” “Demonlover” and “Les Destinees sentimentales,” but has yet to win a Cannes prize. 

“Foxcatcher” (Bennett Miller, U.S.) Once slated to open last year’s AFI Film Festival before being pushed to 2014, this third feature from the highly regarded writer-director of “Capote” and “Moneyball” is an account of the murder of Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz. Sony Classics is releasing the film Stateside. 

“Goodbye to Language” (Jean-Luc Godard, Switzerland) Previously at the festival with 2010’s characteristically cryptic “Film socialisme,” Godard will make his seventh appearance in competition (if you count his contribution to 1987’s “Aria”). His latest offering will be presented in 3D.

“The Homesman” (Tommy Lee Jones, U.S.) Set around his period Western is the actor-director’s first helming effort since his 2005 debut, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” which won two prizes at Cannes (including an acting award for Jones). 

“Jimmy’s Hall” (Ken Loach, U.K.-Ireland-France) Reportedly the British realist’s final fiction feature, this drama about the Irish communist leader James Gralton will mark Loach’s 12th time in competition. He won the Palme d’Or in 2006 for “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” and recently received a jury prize for 2012’s “The Angels’ Share.” 

“Leviathan” (Andrei Zvyagintsev, Russia) A multi-character fusion of social drama and sci-fi set in a “new country,” Zvyagintsev’s fourth feature marks his first return to the Cannes competition since 2007’s “The Banishment”; his previous film, “Elena,” closed Un Certain Regard in 2011.

“Le Meraviglie” (Alice Rohrwacher, Italy-Switzerland-Germany) One of two female directors in competition this year, Italian writer-director Rohrwacher delivers her second feature after her 2011 Directors’ Fortnight entry, “Corpo celeste.” It’s the story of a 14-year-old girl in the Umbrian countryside whose secluded life is shattered by the arrival of a young German ex-con.

“Maps to the Stars” (David Cronenberg, U.S.) This satire of the entertainment industry will be the Canadian auteur’s fifth film to screen in competition at Cannes (following “Crash,” “Spider,” “A History of Violence” and “Cosmopolis”), and his second consecutive collaboration with star Robert Pattinson. It could also be his first film to win the Palme d’Or. 

“Mommy” (Xavier Dolan, France-Canada) One of the younger directors to crack the competition (at age 25), the Quebecois helmer scooped up multiple Critics’ Week prizes for his 2009 debut, “I Killed My Mother,” and entered Un Certain Regard with “Heartbeats” and “Laurence Anyways.” His latest is a relationship drama starring Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clement and Antoine-Olivier Pilon. 

“Saint Laurent” (Bertrand Bonello, France) Not to be confused with Jalil Lespert’s “Yves Saint Laurent,” the other recent biopic of the French fashion designer, Bonello’s film stars Gaspard Ulliel, Louis Garrel and Lea Seydoux. The helmer was previously in competition with 2011’s “House of Pleasures” (then titled “House of Tolerance”) and 2003’s “Tiresia.” 

“The Search” (Michel Hazanavicius, France) Berenice Bejo and Annette Bening topline this drama centered around the bond between an NGO worker and a young boy in war-torn Chechnya. A remake of Fred Zinnemann’s Oscar-winning 1948 film of the same title, it marks Hazanavicius’ return to the Cannes competition after his 2011 prizewinner, “The Artist.” 

“Still the Water” (Naomi Kawase, Japan) By now a Cannes competition regular, Kawase won the Grand Prix for 2007’s “The Mourning Forest” and received the Camera d’Or for her 1997 debut, “Suzaku.” Her latest film is set on the Japanese island of Amami-Oshima and centers on a young couple trying to solve a mysterious death. 

“Mr. Turner” (Mike Leigh, U.K.) A four-time veteran of the Cannes competition who won the Palme d’Or for 1996’s “Secrets & Lies” and director for 1993’s “Naked,” the British master will return to the festival with this portrait of the 19th-century painter J.M.W. Turner, starring Timothy Spall and Lesley Manville. Sony Classics is distributing in the U.S. 

“Timbuktu” (Abderrahmane Sissako, France) The Mauritanian-born, Mali-raised director, who was previously at Cannes with 2006’s “Bamako,” tells the story of a young couple who were stoned to death in northern Mali for the crime of “not being married before God.” 

“Two Days, One Night” (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium) Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione and Olivier Gourmet star in this story of a young woman trying to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so she can keep her job. Already acquired by Sundance Selects for the U.S., it will be the Belgian brothers’ sixth film to compete at Cannes; they have won the Palme d’Or twice, for 1999’s “Rosetta” and 2005’s “L’enfant.” 

“Wild Tales” (Damian Szifron, Argentina-Spain) Pedro Almodovar is one of the producers of this series of comic sketches from Argentinean writer-director Szifron, making his first appearance at Cannes.

“Winter Sleep” (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey-Germany-France) This three-hour-plus drama is set in the titular landscape of Ceylan’s previous film (and 2011 Cannes Grand Prix winner), “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.” The rigorous Turkish auteur also won the festival’s directing prize for 2008’s “Three Monkeys” and the Grand Prix for 2002’s “Distant.”

OUT OF COMPETITION

“Coming Home” (Zhang Yimou, China) Zhang’s 12th collaboration with Gong Li (star of his Cannes competition entries “Ju Dou,” “To Live” and “Shanghai Triad”) is a romantic drama set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution. Sony Classics is distributing the film in North America and other territories.  

“How to Train Your Dragon 2” (Dean DeBlois, U.S.) This Fox-distributed sequel to 2010’s smash hit “How to Train Your Dragon” follows in a long line of DreamWorks toons that have bowed on the Croisette, including “Shrek,” “Shrek 2,” “Kung Fu Panda” and last year’s “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.”

“Les Gens du Monde” (Yves Jeuland, France) Jeuland’s latest documentary pays tribute to the 70-year history of France’s daily newspaper Le Monde.

UN CERTAIN REGARD

OPENER: “Party Girl” (Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis, France) This directorial debut for all three co-helmers tells the story of a 60-year-old nightclub hostess who finally decides to settle down by marrying a member of her clientele. 

“Amour fou” (Jessica Hausner, Austria-Luxembourg-Germany) This follow-up to Hausner’s acclaimed 2009 drama “Lourdes” is “a parable about the ambivalence of love” inspired by the suicide pact of the 19th-century poet Heinrich von Kleist and his friend Henriette Vogel. (Sales: Coproduction Office)

“Bird People” (Pascale Ferran, France) Ferran’s first film since her acclaimed “Lady Chatterley” is a relationship drama with a supernatural element, starring Josh Charles (formerly of “The Good Wife”) and Anais Demoustier. 

“The Blue Room” (Mathieu Amalric, France) The French actor-helmer, who won a directing prize for 2010’s “On Tour,” stars along with Lea Drucker in this adaptation of a 1964 Georges Simenon novel. 

“Charlie’s Country” (Rolf de Heer, Australia) This third collaboration between de Heer and actor David Gulpilil extends the director’s commitment to exploring Australian Aboriginal culture. It world premiered at the recent Adelaide Film Festival. 

“A Girl at My Door” (July Jung, South Korea) Produced by Cannes competition favorite Lee Chang-dong, Jung’s debut feature centers around a young woman being abused by her stepfather.

“Eleanor Rigby” (Ned Benson, U.S.) Previously a two-part, 191-minute drama titled “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” this Weinstein Co. release starring Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy chronicles the dissolution of a marriage. 

“Fantasia” (Wang Chao) The Chinese writer-director was previously in Cannes with his 2006 Un Certain Regard prizewinner, “Luxury Car.”

“Force Majeure” (Ruben Ostlund) Formerly titled “Tourist,” Ostlund’s fourth feature was shot at a ski resort in France and deploys “aesthetic and narrative codes that are completely different from what we’re used to,” said Fremaux. The Swedish helmer was previously at Cannes with 2011’s “Play” and 2008’s “Involuntary.” 

“Harcheck mi headro” (Keren Yedaya) This is the third feature from Israeli helmer Yedaya, who was previously at Cannes with 2009’s Jewish-Arab love story “Jaffa” and her 2004 Camera d’Or winner, “Or (My Treasure).”

“Hermosa juventud” (Jaime Rosales) The Barcelona-born director was previously in Un Certain Regard with 2007’s “Solitary Fragments.”

“Incompresa” (Asia Argento, Italy-France) Argento has been a fixture of the festival as a director (2004’s “The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things”) and an actress (“Boarding Gate,” “The Last Mistress,” “Go Go Tales,” “Dracula 3D”). Her latest helming effort, which features Charlotte Gainsbourg, takes its title from that of Luigi Comencini’s “Incompreso” (“Misunderstood”).

“Jauja” (Lisandro Alonso, Denmark-U.S.-Argentina) Viggo Mortensen stars in this drama about a father and daughter journeying from Denmark to an unknown desert. It’s the Argentine auteur’s first feature since his 2008 Directors’ Fortnight entry, “Liverpool.”

“Lost River” (Ryan Gosling, U.S.) Until now known under the title “How to Catch a Monster,” Gosling’s writing-directing debut, which was acquired last year by Warner Bros. for U.S. distribution, is a Detroit-shot fantasy-drama starring Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan and Eva Mendes. The actor has been a frequent visitor to Cannes lately in films including “Drive,” “Only God Forgives” and “Blue Valentine.” 

“Run” (Philippe Lacote, France-Ivory Coast) Ivory Coast native Lacote shines a light on his country’s violent history with this drama about a runaway who has just killed the prime minister of his homeland. 

“Salt of the Earth” (Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, France-Italy-Brazil) Wenders’ latest documentary is a portrait of the photographer Sebastiao Salgado (father of co-helmer Juliano Ribeiro Salgado), focusing on his eight-year Genesis project. 

“Snow in Paradise” (Andrew Hulme, U.K.) This Kickstarter-funded debut feature for editor-turned-director Hulme is “very contemporary,” says Fremaux. It tells the story of a petty criminal in London’s East End who seeks redemption through Islam. 

“Titli” (Kanu Behl, India) A rare independent feature financed by Bollywood powerhouse Yash Raj Films, Behl’s debut film follows a young man in Delhi trying to escape the oppression of his brothers. 

“Xenia” (Panos Koutras, Greece-France-Belgium) Two brothers head to Thessaloniki to look for the father they’ve never met in this dark portrait of contemporary Greek society. 

MIDNIGHT SCREENINGS

“The Rover” (David Michod, Australia) Michod’s follow-up to “Animal Kingdom” stars Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson and Scoot McNairy in a violent thriller set against the Australian outback. A24 has U.S. distribution rights. 

“The Salvation” (Kristian Levring, Denmark) “It’s a Danish Western, and that’s the best way to describe it,” Fremaux said. 

“The Target” (Yoon Hong-seung, South Korea): A remake of French director Fred Cavaye’s actioner “Point Blank.” 

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

“Bridges of Sarajevo” (Aida Begic, Isild le Besco, Leonardo di Constanzo, Pedro Costa, Jean-Luc Godard, Kamen Kalev, Sergei Loznitsa, Vincenzo Marra, Ursula Meier, Vladimir Perisic, Cristi Puiu, Marc Recha, Angela Schanelec) This omnibus work will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of WWI. Godard and Loznitsa, both of whom contribute shorts here, have features elsewhere in the official selection.

“Caricaturistes: Fantassins de la democratie” (Stephanie Valloatto, France) A documentary about 12 newspaper cartoonists from around the world.

“Maidan” (Sergei Loznitsa, Ukraine) A Fremaux discovery and two-time Cannes competition veteran (with 2010’s “My Joy” and 2012’s “In the Fog”), Loznitsa here directs a documentary on the protests in the Ukrainian capital’s central square.

“Red Army” (Polsky Gabe) A hybrid political-sports documentary that examines Russian hockey culture during the Cold War, directed by Los Angeles-based filmmaker Gabe.

“Silvered Water” (Mohammed Oussama and Wiam Bedirxan, Syria-France) A portrait of violence in modern-day Syria as filmed by multiple video activists in the besieged city of Homs, tied together by Oussama, who is currently exiled in Paris.

Soucre: Variety

Posted by Cole Smithey on April 17, 2014 in Culture, Film Festivals | Permalink

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THE LAST OF ROBIN HOOD — POSTER

Last_of_robin_hood

Posted by Cole Smithey on April 16, 2014 in Art, Culture, Film | Permalink
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Schools Should Teach Nowology

By Ted Rall

Everyone has a strong opinion about education. But the controversies are always about the same topic: testing, teachers unions, funding, merit pay, vouchers/school choice, charter schools. Is college a smart investment? Is affirmative action fair? Has political correctness supplanted the basics?

I keep waiting for someone to bring up Now. As in the study of now — what’s currently going on in the fields of politics, history, literature, mathematics, science — everything.

Can we call it Nowology?

From K through 12 through senior year of college, American education focuses obsessively on the past. No matter what you study, the topics either relate to the past or the knowledge is dated.

Since I was a history major in college, I’ll focus on that.

I’ve never understood why history is taught chronologically. A book’s opening is crucial; either you get hooked straight away, or you get bored and turn blasé. So how is it that textbook publishers think it makes sense to start a fourth-grade history textbook with prehistoric humans who lived 10,000 years ago? It’s tough enough for me, at age 50, to relate to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. How can a typical American 9-year-old, who lives in the suburbs, connect intellectually to people who foraged for food (not in the fridge)?

Another problem with teaching history chronologically is that teachers rarely make it to the relevant, interesting history students might actually care about — what’s going on now. From junior through senior high, my high school teachers got bogged down in the battlefields of the Civil War. We never once made it as far as Reconstruction (which is actually fascinating), much less to the controversies of my childhood (Vietnam, Watergate, the Iran hostage crisis).

TV, radio and newspapers — that’s where what mattered was discussed. My classmates and I had fathers who served in Vietnam. We had neighbors who’d dodged the draft, whose faces stared at us from wanted posters at the post office. We argued over Nixon and Ford and Carter, but all that stuff — the controversy, the drama, the Now — took place outside school.

The not-so-subliminal message soon sunk in: school is where you learn about old stuff. Now stuff is everywhere else.

This is, of course, exactly the opposite of how we choose to teach ourselves.

Example: pop culture, like movies and music. No one’s musical education begins with recordings of recreations of primitive music, simple claps or banging objects together. Most children start out listening to contemporary music — whatever they hear on Pandora, Spotify, the radio, TV, etc. Those who decide to dig further usually work backward. They listen to older works by their favorite artists. They hear a musician talk about the bands that influenced them, and they check them out.

(When I was a kid, friends were surprised that Paul McCartney had been in some other band before Wings.) They might wind up getting into ragtime or Bach. Last. Not first.

Ditto for movies. No one starts out watching silent films.

There is some discussion of teaching history in reverse chronological order in other countries. Writing in the UK Prospect last year, Christopher Fear of the University of Exeter argues: “We should begin by showing children how to scratch the surface to find the recent pasts of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations — pasts which they can talk about together.” But the British too continue to teach history the boring/chronological way.

We’re constantly worrying about whether our schools are preparing children to compete in the global marketplace. To support their calls for reform, activists (mostly, but not exclusively, on the political right) point to surveys that show that Americans are woefully ignorant about basic facts such as evolution, essential geographic knowledge as the location of the country where U.S. troops have been fighting, killing and dying for a decade and a half, and evenheliocentricity.

Sure, it would be nice if more Americans cracked open a newspaper (or its online edition) now and then. On the other hand, a lot of this material ought to be taught in schools — and it isn’t. Day one of American history class should begin with Obama, Congressional paralysis, the early jockeying for the 2016 presidential campaign, America’s clash with Russia over Ukraine, and the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. All of these subjects naturally require digging deeper, back in time, to explain why and how what’s going on now is happening.

And it’s not just history. Studying physics at Columbia in the 1980s, no one taught us about the latest advances in cosmology and quantum mechanics — some of which, ironically, were being discovered in labs in the same buildings by the same professors who were filling our heads with obsolete material.

Nowology: better late than never.

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Posted by Cole Smithey on April 16, 2014 in Culture, Politics | Permalink

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CANNES 2014 POSTER

CANNES 2014 POSTER

Posted by Cole Smithey on April 15, 2014 in Art, Celebrity , Culture, Film, Film Festivals | Permalink

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