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Anyone ever taught a History vs. Hollywood class?


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Yes, knowing ages would help! :)

 

And also, I am being really dense here, but I have to confess, the title *didn't* say it all for me. ;) Could you explain the goal a little bit? Do you mean:

 

- History VS Hollywood, as in: specific history events, as presented in a textbook (which comes from the textbook author's perspective), and then contrast with a movie version loosely based on that event, in order to compare/contrast? (Examples: read about the "Scopes Monkey Trial", then watch the film Inherit the Wind. Or read about WW2 German POW camps, and then watch The Great Escape, or, Stalag 17. Or read about 12th century crusades, and then watch Kingdom of Heaven.)

 

- History VIA Hollywood, as in: read about History, supplement with feature films to help a visual learner click with the written text, by seeing the people and events, getting a strong feel for the times through the clothing, architecture, customs, music and overall "look" of the film's set design. 

 

- Or something else entirely…??

 

I know I am very likely just missing the boat here, but I really want to be able to help here, as I do love film and I might be able to suggest things for a DIY course, if I can just figure out what exactly you're looking for. :)

 

One thing that is important to take into consideration in going into such a study is the time in which a film is made. A film being made about a past event may have a mood or display attitudes that are very far off of the real events -- because the film is actually reflecting emotions and attitudes about a current or recent event, and the "distance" of the past history makes it easier to wrestle through the strong emotions about the current or recent event.

 

For example: Sergeant York (1941) is about the WW1 war hero, and is set just before/during WW1. The film was made 21 years after the end of WW1, far removed from the reality and horrors trench warfare that *were* portrayed in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), a film made just 10 years after the end of WW1. Also, Sergeant York was made at the start of WW2, while the U.S. was still on the undecided edge of whether or not to enter the war; Sergeant York is a patriotic propaganda film in that it is biased towards entering the war: the film portrays a past war hero who earns a medal and comes home safe to marry his childhood sweetheart, the fighting is shown as "clean", painless, and without emotional trauma; and the film is suggesting the idea that it would be good for America to enter WW2 -- "just as in WW1 it was a good thing for Americans to go overseas to put an end to the European war." BTW, I'm not knocking the movie at all, but just saying that it does come from a very specific bias and a very specific background.

 

But then, *all* presentations of history have a bias/point of view -- textbooks, biographies, historical fiction, non-fiction documentary films, and Hollywood fictionalized versions. Some versions may be more factual and some more fictionalized, but just by virtue of what aspects an author/filmmaker chooses to focus on -- or brush over -- or leave out entirely -- is a bias. And while it is usually subtle/slight, the author/filmmaker's own personal worldview or beliefs come through, coloring the presentation of the History to a larger or a lesser degree. So, yes, while a fictionalized Hollywood film is frequently overtly "glossing and glorifying", History textbook authors do so as well, although typically in a more subtle and perhaps less conscious way… ;)

 

 

Okay, now all I've done is muddy the waters, when what I really meant to do is ask for clarification…  :tongue_smilie: Back to you, 5LittleMonkeys: what is your goal, or what do you want to see happen or accomplish with this approach? :)

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Okay, now I am sidetracking, but I really got excited by the train of thoughts that the original post question raised for me… ;)

 

 

I further got to thinking about that idea of "History vs. Hollywood" as a comparison of two very different things -- it is comparing / contrasting the thoughts, ideas and works of a documentarian with that of a storyteller. Historians or documentarians focus on primary sources and piece together overviews based on the factual bits they find; a documentary filmmaker works in a similar way. In contrast, a Hollywood film set in a historical time or based on a historical person/event, is made by an artist -- a storyteller -- in the same way in fine arts an artist paints a picture of a historical event or figure, or an author writes a novel or a work of historical fiction on a historical event or person.

 

The purpose of artists and storytellers is not detailed historical accuracy, but attempts to point out what they see as important points, ideas or themes, and often is something that is important in the artist/author's own time, not necessarily something that was important in the historical time that the artist/author is working with. The artist/author focuses on some facts/details and leaves others out in an attempt to focus attention on the Truth the artist/author wants to share.

 

So it sounds like one thing you would be looking at in a "History vs. Hollywood" course is what is the *purpose* of each work, and how well did each accomplish their purpose? -- The historian piecing together primary documents into a cohesive overview, and the feature film maker telling a story, expressing a theme/idea, that very likely has resonances with the filmmaker's time, as well as with the historical time period. Both are important and needed ways to help us work toward understanding cultures and times that are not our own.

 

An even more extreme type of contrast to try and capture what I'm trying to get out -- Philosophy vs. Poetry. Philosophy tends to use a logical set of arguments or a systematic approach to directly study reality, existence, values, etc. (So, a little like the historian and the primary documents and facts.) Poetry gets at those same "big ideas" indirectly, through image, metaphor, and evoking meaning. (So, a little like the artist or filmmaker.)

 

 

Okay, I'm done sidetracking. My brain hurts now. ;) Warmest regards, Lori D.

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My first thoughts were along the lines of Lori D's.

 

I have taught both Film History and Historical Fiction, which each hit on many of the same issues, to middle school classes. Both were good courses, so if it's a question of will it work, I think the answer is yes... at least, if it's what I'm thinking, which I'm not totally sure.

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- History VS Hollywood, as in: specific history events, as presented in a textbook (which comes from the textbook author's perspective), and then contrast with a movie version loosely based on that event, in order to compare/contrast? (Examples: read about the "Scopes Monkey Trial", then watch the film Inherit the Wind. Or read about WW2 German POW camps, and then watch The Great Escape, or, Stalag 17. Or read about 12th century crusades, and then watch Kingdom of Heaven.)

 

 

 

But then, *all* presentations of history have a bias/point of view -- textbooks, biographies, historical fiction, non-fiction documentary films, and Hollywood fictionalized versions. Some versions may be more factual and some more fictionalized, but just by virtue of what aspects an author/filmmaker chooses to focus on -- or brush over -- or leave out entirely -- is a bias. And while it is usually subtle/slight, the author/filmmaker's own personal worldview or beliefs come through, coloring the presentation of the History to a larger or a lesser degree. So, yes, while a fictionalized Hollywood film is frequently overtly "glossing and glorifying", History textbook authors do so as well, although typically in a more subtle and perhaps less conscious way… ;)

 

 

 

 

First, sorry about my initial post.  You are right that it truly does not say it all. :)  I was in a hurry and just wanted to start getting some responses in - in retrospect I realize it's completely vague.  

 

However, my vague post prompted some amazing  thoughts from Lori, which I always LOVE reading. :)  

 

I'll admit that I originally didn't have a specific idea of how I wanted to proceed with the class and was hoping to get some ideas.  This is for 6th-8th graders in a co-op setting.  We will meet for 16 weeks alternating meeting at my home to view the movie one week and then meeting at co-op the following week for a 60 minute class.  These dc are wonderful, creative, artistic sorts but are not heavily academic so I need to keep the reading\researching and writing requirements on their part to a minimum.  After reading Lori's posts I think I definitely want to address the history VS. hollywood aspect but think that getting into the storytelling part of it - maybe exploring why the filmmaker choose to adhere or not to some facts, how through their depiction of the events or people they slant the viewers opinions one way or another, and if as a viewer we feel we get an accurate sense of what it was really like to have been there.  This isn't something I can "teach" but am looking forward to exploring this right along with the dc. :)

 

I'm swamped today and tomorrow but am going to think more on this and will be able to get back to the computer on Tuesday.  

 

Thanks so much for everyone's help.

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So you're looking at doing 8 movies in all probably?

 

Given your goals, I'd aim to get a real mix of stuff - some movies that are less historically accurate and some that are more, some that are newer and some that are older. Some that are about specific historic events you can actually pick apart and some that are just historically set. I'd definitely want to have at least one and possibly two pairs of movies. Like two Westerns or two views of WWII. Or something like two views of Civil Rights and show something like To Kill a Mockingbird alongside Selma - what does it look like when we try to discuss something (mostly) before and (sort of) after. Sometimes watching a less historically accurate, more entertaining movie can yield the best discussion.

 

There are really too many movies to list even a little bit of the possibilities. I remember a few movies being shown in school that really affected me - The Mission, Cry, Freedom, and Gandhi, but I don't know if I'd pick them as my favorite historical films. I think doing something like An American Tail could be kind of fun since it's animated and about animals and really cheesy, but sort of captures something about history that's interesting. Or something like The Great Dictator, which was satire at the time but is now historic. A lot of the newer historical movies are so gory, so they're off the table. A lot of the older ones feel so old fashioned but are still so good. I'll be curious what you choose.

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Love Farrar's thoughts on movies and ideas for going about selecting movies. :)

 

 

Just want to add: a few things you may need to consider with doing a film class, which comes from my own experience with doing at Intro to Understanding Movies class for high school ages:

 

1. If you will have very conservative families participating, hand out a list of movies in advance so parents can research or preview, and have families sign off on the movie list in advance of the class so that no one takes you to task later on about a movie having a swear word in it, or some other issue.

 

2. I found that students had an extra hurdle of learning how to watch a film not just to be entertained by it, but to actually be able to think about it and discuss it. I think middle school students are likely to have had even less experience in doing this. Handing out a sheet of "things to look for as you watch", and teaching them how to make notes (annotations) while watching are very useful for getting students over that hurdle faster.

 

3. While watching: Films are so visual and immediate that it's really hard not to get sucked in and just watch. Reassure your students that it is normal. Also, to help them, during the film you can give them occasional verbal cues: "Watch this scene closely!" "We'll be talking about this scene that's coming up." "After the movie, we'll discuss what this character said/did."

 

4. It helped to go over the learning material in advance of the film, rather than watch the film first and then keep referring to the film while teaching the learning material. So, for your class, that might look something like:

 

week 1 = 60 min. = intro / advance history info to go with movie #1

week 2 = movie #1 at your home

week 3 = 60 min. = first half = discuss movie #1 / last half = advance history info to go with movie #2

week 4 = movie #2 at your home

etc.

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2. I found that students had an extra hurdle of learning how to watch a film not just to be entertained by it, but to actually be able to think about it and discuss it. I think middle school students are likely to have had even less experience in doing this. Handing out a sheet of "things to look for as you watch", and teaching them how to make notes (annotations) while watching are very useful for getting students over that hurdle faster.

 

All good points, but especially this one. When I taught a middle school film class, it was really interesting to me how talking about all the elements of the film was a whole new experience for the kids. And I was really, really glad I had started with The Wizard of Oz because kids already knew it and could discuss it. If you have the time, you might start by showing - not even the whole film - but maybe just a key bit of a movie they would already know and get them to learn the basics for discussion. Like, look at the camera angles, the color scheme, the acting, the costuming, the score, etc. etc. For most of the kids in my classes this stuff was all completely new.

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Finally getting back here!  

 

Okay - so it's been very interesting trying to choose movies that I feel are worth studying but that fall within the parameters of what the parents are okay with their dc seeing.  I think I even have a couple that they weren't too sure about but agreed that they could open up some discussion that needed to happen.  So, for what it's worth here is the list...

 

The Grapes of Wrath

To Kill a Mockingbird

Something the Lord Made (this story starts out in our own backyard and will also lead into a discussion about the Nashville Sit-In)

A Raisin in the Sun

Rabbit Proof Fence

Freedom Writers (the movie itself is not the best but I really like the true events)

Apollo 13

Ben Hur

 

We have a few that are based off of a specific time period and a few that are based off actual events. 

 

As I talked to the parents and researched movies I decided that this was a great opportunity to hit on some deeper topics that I know these families have either skipped or not gotten around to yet.  While all of the movies deal with adversity and perseverance, many of them also deal with bigotry, racism, and human rights. Apollo 13 and Ben Hur, while also dealing with adversity and perseverance, are a bit more action packed and ... well, basically I just love those two movies and wanted to share them with these kids. :)

 

We have decided to meet at my house the Monday prior to our co-op class to view the movie and discuss the cinematic\theatrical aspects of it.  Then we will discuss the historical accuracy and bigger message of each movie during our co-op class.  I'm going to be relying heavily on the Teach with Movies website for guidance.  I've already given the dc the Introducing Cinematic and Theatrical Technique article to familiarize them with these elements, and then we will use the worksheet to guide us in discussion.  I'll also be giving them a quick summation of either the time period or the actual events prior to viewing so that they aren't completely lost with what is going on.  Several of these dc have had limited history studies so I know much of the events are going to be new to them. 

 

That brings us to the part I've not pinned down.  Other than just presenting the dc with "this is what was in the movie - this is what really happened", I'm struggling with how to implement this part of the class.  I'd considered having each child look up specific things and then share what they've found, but I know from experience with these dc and their parents that about 1/3 of them will not complete work required outside of class.  How do I make this part of the class interesting and interactive? 

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I have found in my coop classes, that if I ask the kids to do the work "in-class" it gets done and I can guide it. Encourage them to bring laptops and do the research right then and there. It's a great opportunity to teach kids about reliable sources and the internet. Pairing them up works well. Maybe an old fashioned compare and contrast discussion with points on a board. Each week certain kids could be responsible for actively watching and taking notes on the film and the other group could do the research.

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My first thought is that I might want to ask the kids to imagine how they would have made the movie. Like, what would they have left out from history? What would they have changed for cinematic effect? What would they feel like was the most important thing to convey? Do those choices line up with the actual movie?

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So you're looking at doing 8 movies in all probably?

 

Given your goals, I'd aim to get a real mix of stuff - some movies that are less historically accurate and some that are more, some that are newer and some that are older. Some that are about specific historic events you can actually pick apart and some that are just historically set. I'd definitely want to have at least one and possibly two pairs of movies. Like two Westerns or two views of WWII. Or something like two views of Civil Rights and show something like To Kill a Mockingbird alongside Selma - what does it look like when we try to discuss something (mostly) before and (sort of) after. Sometimes watching a less historically accurate, more entertaining movie can yield the best discussion.

 

There are really too many movies to list even a little bit of the possibilities. I remember a few movies being shown in school that really affected me - The Mission, Cry, Freedom, and Gandhi, but I don't know if I'd pick them as my favorite historical films. I think doing something like An American Tail could be kind of fun since it's animated and about animals and really cheesy, but sort of captures something about history that's interesting. Or something like The Great Dictator, which was satire at the time but is now historic. A lot of the newer historical movies are so gory, so they're off the table. A lot of the older ones feel so old fashioned but are still so good. I'll be curious what you choose.

 

What about a movie like Remember the Titans, which is based on a real period and place, but is not strictly accurate.  You can find some pretty good descriptions of the historic liberties taken in the Wikipedia page on the movie as well as on a website devoted to that year's Titans.  (Just as an example, if I remember correctly, the high school depicted was not a high school that was having African American students added, but rather was a school that was resulted from the merger of other schools.  So all of the students were new to the school.)

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What about a movie like Remember the Titans, which is based on a real period and place, but is not strictly accurate. You can find some pretty good descriptions of the historic liberties taken in the Wikipedia page on the movie as well as on a website devoted to that year's Titans. (Just as an example, if I remember correctly, the high school depicted was not a high school that was having African American students added, but rather was a school that was resulted from the merger of other schools. So all of the students were new to the school.)

Coincidentally, I was teaching at that school when that movie came out.

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Just wanted to pop back in and say thanks again for all your help.  

 

Our first class was yesterday at my home.  We watched The Grapes of Wrath, and while some of the kids moaned a bit about it being an old, black and white movie, by the end they all said that they liked it and that the movie definitely made them more curious about this time period.  Our discussion afterwards centered on the cinematic and theatrical effects.  I was so pleased that these dc were very interested in comparing this movie to movies made now.  Several of them had never seen a black and white film at all, and one of the biggest "discoveries" for them was how film during this time was edited ... no digital editing!  When I told them that they had to actually cut and splice the film they didn't believe me so we jumped on youtube for a little video.  :)  

 

I also spoke to the kids about how the history part of our class could function and they all voted that they did want to do some work outside of class.  (Big surprise for me!!)   I let them grab the reigns on this and they decided that they would each take a question or point of interest that came up during the movie (I was taking notes of things they pointed out and mentioned while watching) to research at home and then present their findings in class for discussion.  I'll also have additional historical information and some clips to show during the class.  It is early to say, but if this momentum keeps up we are going to have a wonderful semester!  

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Just wanted to pop back in and say thanks again for all your help.  

 

Our first class was yesterday at my home.  We watched The Grapes of Wrath, and while some of the kids moaned a bit about it being an old, black and white movie, by the end they all said that they liked it and that the movie definitely made them more curious about this time period.  Our discussion afterwards centered on the cinematic and theatrical effects.  I was so pleased that these dc were very interested in comparing this movie to movies made now.  Several of them had never seen a black and white film at all, and one of the biggest "discoveries" for them was how film during this time was edited ... no digital editing!  When I told them that they had to actually cut and splice the film they didn't believe me so we jumped on youtube for a little video.   :)

 

I also spoke to the kids about how the history part of our class could function and they all voted that they did want to do some work outside of class.  (Big surprise for me!!)   I let them grab the reigns on this and they decided that they would each take a question or point of interest that came up during the movie (I was taking notes of things they pointed out and mentioned while watching) to research at home and then present their findings in class for discussion.  I'll also have additional historical information and some clips to show during the class.  It is early to say, but if this momentum keeps up we are going to have a wonderful semester!  

 

:hurray: Fabulous! Sounds like allowing them to have input and ownership will make this really fly! Awesome idea of you taking notes on their points -- that will definitely keep interest in reasearching at home high!

 

re: B&W films: I had a similar experience when I did my film class -- some students had never seen B&W, and none had ever seen a silent film. One of their favorites from the class ended up being the silent Buster Keaton film!  :laugh:

 

Bear in mind that as the semester progresses, interest may flag a little in doing outside work -- or, even more likely, they get really busy with work they have to accomplish at home and outside activities that suck up a lot of their time. I'm finding that definitely holds true with the Lit class I'm doing this year -- they have more time at the beginning of the semester, and then sports and theater and online classes etc. start taking over. ;)

 

My point is, try not to take it personally, but just have it in the back of your mind to be able to plan for activities that are largely in-class, if it looks like outside work becomes problematic... :)

 

 

Give us more updates along the way! I'm taking notes for myself for a possible similar co-op class! :) Warmest regards, Lori D.

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I once attended a talk on what they got wrong in that movie about the Buffalo Soldiers (Everything but skin color), and the true stories.  It was incredibly interesting.  It was obvious that the writer purposely didn't research the truth in order to not interfere with the creative process.   Because the true stories would have made a MUCH better movie.  I can understand that sometimes movies have to take shortcuts, or that something just aren't visual enough, so they don't end up in the movie.  But, that wasn't the case here.  

 

I know you already have your list of movies.  But for others that might copy this I thought I'd throw this movie into the mix.  

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  • 4 weeks later...

Coming back to update again. 

 

So we've watched and discussed our second movie now.  To Kill a Mockingbird was a hit and 2 of the students decided to read the book after I encouraged them.  

 

After watching the movie we briefly discussed the cinematic aspects (sets, costumes, lighting), but we didn't get very far with that since the dc were itching to talk about the treatment of Tom in the courtroom.  They were all quite upset that even though Atticus showed that Tom couldn't have done what he was accused of he still was judged guilty.  I assigned research based on points they brought up or questions they had.  Some included researching the Scottsboro Trial and the similarities between the real events and the fictional trial of Tom,  finding out what "due process of the law" is and how juries work, finding out when African Americans and women were allowed to be on a jury, and several questions centered around major events that led up to the Civil Rights Movement including what was going on when Harper Lee was writing the novel. 

 

When we met to discuss their findings I didn't even get to share the presentation I'd put together because they'd done such a good job of researching their topics and carried the conversation for the whole class period.   They even brought up connections to the Great Depression, which we'd gone over for The Grapes of Wrath, and events in Mockingbird.  Our next movie is Something the Lord Made, which will help us carry our investigation of civil rights even further. 

 

If anyone is thinking of doing something like this I highly recommend it!  

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