Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bad Kids and Broomsticks

It's hard following the rules sometimes, especially in something as pointless and demeaning as study hall.  I make no secret about disliking the way study hall is being done this year although I can't say it isn't a better alternative than having regular periods around lunch rather than blocks.  You see, in our school, we have a lunch room that is shared with the middle school and thus requires that certain times be used for lunch and never ever changed regardless of two hour delays or schedules that otherwise don't match.  It leaves a large gap in our day where nothing is happening unless there is a class...or a study hall.  In the past we simply had class before and after lunch (6A and 6B) and certain teachers would either be teaching or at lunch depending on whether they had Lunch 1 or Lunch 2.  Now every teacher has a study hall (X or Y) that coinsides with first or second lunch respectively.  Sadly, it is mainly extended babysitting and kid corralling.  Student come into the room with no expectations and no grading and essentially it is either a silent detention-like environment, or it is a social half-hour with kids talking loudly and otherwise behaving like kids.  I could probably stand this if I had kids that I like...but unfortunately I have a few students in study hall that have an excess of personality (I prefer to say that than other choice words) and revel in causing drama.  Earlier in the year, it became common place for kids to move between study halls in order to work (read: socialize) with friends or to complete tests with other teachers.  This removed some of the 'excessive personality' students from my room and made me happier...but now, due to several issues because kids weren't where they were supposed to be...administration has asked us to only send kids using passes and making sure a call is made from teacher-to-teacher to confirm that the student did indeed arrive.  I have simplified this even more by simply not allowing anyone to leave anymore, at all.  I made this announcement today under the guise of being forced into it by administration (not that I want them to hate admin. but I think this is just easier) and I think most of the kids were fine with it.  Then there were the ones who weren't...and I could feel their eyes burning into me like hot coals as I resumed my spot behind my desk.  I wondered to myself what they would do if they thought they could get rid of me at that moment, which put me in mind of a film I began showing my sophomores today.  I love to read literature and then watch the corresponding film after we complete it so that those kids who "got it" can get even more from it by seeing a visual representation and those that didn't can hopefully get a better grasp of the material as we move on.  This particular piece is based on a famous play by Arthur Miller that on the surface is about the Salem Witch Trials, but on a deeper level is about the more figurative witch hunts that plague important moments through history (like Miller's own dealings with the House Un-American Activities Committee).  It is also a fantastic piece of interpersonal and psychological drama and one I think every student should see.  So let's head off to the trial and experience The Crucible.

Early morning in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts, some young village girls meet in the woods with a Barbadian slave named Tituba (Charlayne Woodard). One of the girls, Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder), kills a chicken and drinks the blood, wishing for John Proctor's wife to die. They are surprised by Abigail's uncle, Reverend Samuel Parris (Bruce Davison), who discovers them. As the girls run away, Parris' daughter, Betty (Rachael Bella), falls over unconscious. Parris questions Abigail about the events that took place in the woods; Betty will not awaken, nor will Ruth (Ashley Peldon), the daughter of Thomas and Ann Putnam (Jeffrey Jones and Frances Conroy), who was also dancing. This strikes Mrs. Putnam hard as she has had seven other children before Ruth who died at childbirth. The Parris house is also visited by Giles Corey (Peter Vaughan), who suspects that the children are just acting their sicknesses, and John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis), with whom Abigail had an affair and whose wife she wants dead. Abigail still loves Proctor, but Proctor feels that he made a mistake and leaves her. The Putnams and Reverend Parris believe that Betty and Ruth are demonically possessed, so they call Reverend John Hale (Rob Campbell) from Beverly, to examine Betty. To save herself and the other girls from punishment, Abigail claims that Tituba was working with the devil. After a brutal whipping, Tituba confesses to being a witch. Struck by their newfound power, the other girls begin naming other women whom they "saw" with the devil. What then transpires is a whirlwind of finger pointing and a real test of truth as Proctor, Corey, and Nurse all try to fight against the lies of the girls while Abigail continues to gain power and support.

The Crucible is simply an amazing adaptation.  Most people who see it would never know it was a play first because of the skillful way that Miller opens up his own work and incorporates the town and characters that are only mentioned in passing within his rich original text.  The addition of people who were accused but never seen in the play is masterful and allows for some very filmic montages of innocent yet unusual happenings followed closely by rabid accusation by Abigail and the girls of Salem.  The performances are also top notch, as should be expected in an adaptation of a largely character and performance driven piece.  Ryder crafts Abigail in a highly complex way so that she is soft and victim-like when she needs to be, and then vicious and hateful when the scene calls for it...she also never lets you see whether the softness is her mask or if her viciousness is.  Day-Lewis as Proctor is tremendous (as always) and has the perfect foil in Allen's Elizabeth, for which she won an Oscar.  Day-Lewis's Proctor runs a careful balance between stagey over-the-top campiness and quiet, film-like subtlety which plays perfectly against Allen's quiet coldness.  She makes Elizabeth much more complex than she usually appears in the plays as she slowly lowers her walls and builds subtly to her final dramatic scene with John in the jail.  Im short, there is a reason she won.  So much works in The Crucible that it makes anything that doesn't stand out just a little bit more.  Yes some of the scenes seem to favor screaming for actual emoting and some of the court moments veer toward campy...but isn't that also the point?  These girls were faking these events so shouldn't they come off as over-the-top and unrealistic for us as a matter of dramatic irony?  In any case, this is a solid adaptation and one I am anxious to enjoy through the eyes of my students as they react to the powerhouse performances and the fantastic drama.

I Couldn't Find a Good Youtube vid to here's a link instead

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