All entries for Saturday 13 September 2008
September 13, 2008
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, 2008. Dir: Mark Herman
From The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, 2008. Directed Mark Herman
Released this weekend this looks like its a film to make a point of seeing - just forget the feelgood factor. I heard a review on the Francine Stock film programme on radio 4 in the car and then on the News 24 review from Mark Kermode (You can subscribe to the podcasts here). For Francine Stock's Film programme you can find the podcast here including a discussion with director Mark Herman.
I have to confess the original book targetted at younger teenagers passed me by, however, I have discovered quite a lot of controversy so far with a considerable degree of scepticism being voiced with perceived weakness of both the original book and the film being highlighted. The comments by Linda Grant in the Guardian are quite harsh (beware plot spoiler) in this respect complaining about a "Disneyfication of the Holocaust". Certainly the distributor Miramax is owned by Disney but in terms of some of the films which it has distributed in the past you wouldn't know it, in this respect this is perhaps a piece of gratuitous journalism. In the light of these comments the comments by young readers in the comments box of the CBBC Review of the book deserve some respect. As anybody who teaches media studies knows reaching the target audience is paramount. In this respect the book seems to have worked and this gives me hope for the film.
Linda Grant in criticising the film seems to want to have a her cake and eat it. She is on the one hand arguing that this is a Disneyfication (It may be -I haven't seen it yet), but then she comments upon the irony that it took Hollywood and Stephen Spielberg with Schindler's list to make the first really big film on the Holocaust. For Grant Life is Beautiful is anodyne. Personally I have found it effective whilst teaching teenagers and, despite my initial doubts when it came out, I decided that I think the film is worthwhile. Of course it should not be the only perspective on the Holocaust, but there are a lot of clever points embedded within it and I think it was a brave film that deserves respect.
Grant then discusses the failure of European cinema to cover Shoah (The Holocaust). The Diary of Anne Frank played down the Jewish component of the genocide (a contradiction), Alain Resnais powerful short film Night & Fog was primarily news footage intercut with some recent footage of the time, and Shoah is the other film she mentions:
In Europe, Alain Resnais' Night and Fog (1955) and Claude Lanzmann's Shoah (1985) both wrestled with the Holocaust, but Resnais' film fell back on newsreel footage. Only Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter (1974) attempted inexpertly to explore the themes of guilt and complicity. (Linda Grant Guardian Feature)
Well, whilst there is some strong justification in terms of The Holocaust not being covered well by European cinema -certainly in a direct sense - I have a feeling that she hasn't much wrestled with Lanzmann's Shoah for example. Well I've had a review of Shoah in the making for over a year and I have now opened in up in response to this current film (apologies to Eureka for being so long with it.) The review is unfinished because the film became almost too hard to review if you are engaging with it at all. It is less of a review than a response. In fact I found it too difficult. I spent a full day watching it, and it is traumatic.
From The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, 2008. Directed Mark Herman
Its very sparseness and feeling of interminabilty evoke feelings of guilt. After all watching this for only a few hours is nothing compared to the real traumas. It is a film which was extraordinarily difficult to make and it needs to be be seen but even then Shoah (The Holocaust) is something almost beyond comprehension. How does one represent such an absence? I have written a review of a book of essays on Shoah edited by Stuart Liebmann which came out shortly after I received the review copy of the film. It is academic and at times hard going intellectually but it pales into insignificance with the emotional hardness of the film. Perhaps part of the problem with dealing with Shoah (The events) is a psychoanalytic one concerning what Lacan describes as Das Ding:
The same phenomenon, a fatal attraction to the black hole of Das Ding, the site of a traumatic, vacuous horror, threatening to overflow social structures with a terrible organic vitality and force, appears to be at stake in horror movies. From this perspective, the site of the monsters in horror films and horror fiction in the psychic economy can be defined precisely: it is at a point of intersection between a social and a psychological space. (Stefan Gullatz)
This comment relates to the horror movie genre but perhaps we need to think about this sort of thing in terms of Europe and the representations of the Holocaust.
You cannot look directly into the core of 'the real' you can only circle around it otherwise you are sucked into it. Exactly of course what happened in Life is Beautiful. The difficulties directors have had in dealing with anti-semitic themes specifically the Holocaust in European cinema are highlighted by the hostile response in France when Louis Malle made Lacombe Lucien. This generated so much hostility with worthies like Foucault accusing Malle of creating a right -wing plot that he did his film making elswhere for a few years.
Yes, I agree with Grant that cinema especially European cinema has not represented the Holocaust well and more must be done, however the responses of Mark Kermode and in the interview with Francine Stock give me confidence that this film is on the right tracks. It has a specific target audience and is likely to be shown in schools in due course. If it opens up knowledge and discussion about an almost unbearable and unthinkable process then that can only be a good thing. Unfortunately raising money for these projects is a problem with ordinary investors chary of investing as box -office success in the short-term is likely to be weak. This is a case for state funding either directly or indirectly. How is Poland representing the gross anti-Semitism which shocks so deeply in Lanzmann's film for example?
From The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, 2008. Directed Mark Herman
I've ordered the book and the film is on my to see list. This posting is underdevelopment as doutbtless there will be many more links to be made as the debate develops and there will be a review in due course. In the meantime fairly much on principle I would encourage readers to see the film either in the cinema or on DVD when it comes out and to form your own opinion, because I suspect these sorts of arguments will run and run. But please bear in mind that whatever its perceived weaknesses might be who the target audience is. Let the last word for now be with Shezheena of London because her review sold me a copy of the book:
This book was really gripping, I could not put it down and it is a really good book if you are about 11 or older as younger audiences might not understand the plot and genre of this masterpiece! (Shezheena Age 11 London)
YouTube Trailer Here
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. 2008. Directed by Mark Herman
An Apple trailer can be seen here in better quality.
Linda Grant Guardian Feature (plot spoiler here)
Guardian audio interview with David Thewliss (The Nazi Officer) on the film
The film comes from the original novel by John Boyne who also collaborated on the script. Below are some links to the book reviews online. Certainly the book seems to have been picked up upon in the US amongst the teachng profession. with history being destroyed in the curriculum in the UK some seem to think it is an endangered subject, good historical novels targetted at children have an increasingly important role to play. [Mickey Mouse vocationalism is obviously more important for the plebs].
The Schools Library Journal (US) had this to say review quoted in full:
Gr 9 Up–Boyne has written a sort of historical allegory–a spare, but vividly descriptive tale that clearly elucidates the atmosphere in Nazi Germany during the early 1940s that enabled the persecution of Eastern European Jews. Through the eyes of Bruno, a naive nine-year-old raised in a privileged household by strict parents whose expectations included good manners and unquestioning respect for parental authority, the author describes a visit from “the Fury” and the family’s sudden move from Berlin to a place called “Out-With” in Poland. There, not 50 feet away, a high wire fence surrounds a huge dirt area of low huts and large square buildings. From his bedroom window, Bruno can see hundreds (maybe thousands) of people wearing striped pajamas and caps, and “something made him feel very cold and unsafe.” Uncertain of what his father actually does for a living, the boy is eager to discover the secret of the people on the other side. He follows the fence into the distance, where he meets Shmuel, a skinny, sad-looking Jewish resident who, amazingly, has his same birth date. Bruno shares his thoughts and feelings with Shmuel, some of his food, and his final day at “Out-With,” knowing instinctively that his father must never learn about this friendship. While only hinting at violence, blind hatred, and deplorable conditions, Boyne has included pointed examples of bullying and fearfulness. His combination of strong characterization and simple, honest narrative make this powerful and memorable tale a unique addition to Holocaust literature for those who already have some knowledge of Hitler’s “Final Solution.”–Susan Scheps, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH
There is some disagreement voiced with the review quoted above within the Schools Library Journal which can be accessed here:
The BBC CBBC review of the book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas including some comments from teenage readers themselves.
Institute For Learning
This morning I had yet another missive from the irritating government police force for the FE sector the Institute for Learning. It is the sort of thing that gets government run organisations a bad name. It requires me to re-register for an organisation which I registered for by force only a few months ago. What kind of waste of money is that, as well as my valuable time?
The introductory blurb to this government inspired and controlled organisation provides the usual drivel about "stakeholders". Now I don't have a problem at all with the incorporation of "stakeholders" when it comes to planning for example. The sort of thing which Patsy Healy writes about. The concept of the stakeholder here is a notion that planning decisions concern large numbers of people and there must be due process, consultation and transparency. This developsa very Habermassian notion of the public sphere.
The Insitute for Learning states that it is a professional organisation organised along the following lines:
We are run by a Council, over half of which is elected from the membership.
We are supported by a wide variety of stakeholders across the sector. Please see our Stakeholders Details page.
Now just consider a true profession, dentists, doctors, planners, engineers, lawyers all have their own professional organisations to which they subscribe and which are self-regulating. None of these will be run by stakeholders and none of them will be run by government sponsored cronies who happen to subscribe to the government discourse of the day. Now check for yourself whether RIBA or the BMA for example is 50% run by non-Architects and non-Doctors. You will notice that there is none of that waffle about "stakeholders" here".
Even more importantly you will notice that these are truly professional organisations maintained and operated by the practitioners to develop and oversee and represent the profession as a whole. Now the IfL simply is not that kind of organisation. It is not operating in the interests of the profession it is operating in the interests of the government. The fact that only around half the ruling council is elected by the membership as absolutely apalling. It is not for industry, parents or anybody else to try and control practitioners about how they practice it is for practitioners to do this. It is one thing for professional bodies to consult with other stakeholders it is quite another to be run by them.
Continuing Professional Development
Now I don't have a problem at all with the concept of continuing professional development. It is clearly very important. Knowledge is always moving in whatever sphere of practice one is in and it is important to try and keep abreast of developments. The fact that I do this blog, researching its content, and learning how to manage and develop it more than satisfies by a considerable margin any demands for the tokenistic 30 hours a year for a full-timer demanded by the IfL (read government). Furthermore I have got lots of bits of paper accreditation. Lee Davis the "Operations Manager" of the IfL explains CPD quoting David Blunkett at length:
Why is professional development important? After all we have completed our teacher training and are recognised as being qualified to do the job we are employed to do. When I first started to respond to this question I quoted David Blunkett, who made the case for the continuous professional development by comparing teaching with other professions. “Nobody expects a doctor, accountant or lawyer to rely for decades solely on the knowledge, understanding and approach which was available at the time when they began their career. Good professionals are engaged in a journey of self-improvement, always ready to reflect on their own practice in the light of other approaches. This is certainly true of the very best of our teachers...”
Please believe that I hadn't read this before starting this posting. What do I find? The example of doctors, accountants, lawyers being cited by Blunkett. There is though a significant difference between teachers and lecturers in the FE sector and the aforementioned professionals. All these practitioners are run by self-governing bodies! Another significant difference is that members of these fully established professions are paid significantly more than the Cinderella section of education! Large numbers of people I work with do other work to generate the income. You don't see lawyers and doctors needing to have "Key-Worker status" to find somewhere to live! Certainly large numbers of people working in the sector are not paid according to their paper accreditation.
funding continuing Proffesional Development
Most colleagues that I know would really like to participate in a professional development course tailored by them. As practitioners we are probably more aware of change in subject areas and potential shortcomings in our knowledge / skills base than anybody else. If the government was genuinely interested in in developing a properly professional stance within the sector (they obviously don't think there is one at present) they would seek practioner advice.
For myself I would like to see the government fund individual training programmes for one week courses which are suited to specific subject areas. Each lecturer should be given a specific budget allocation which can be administered by their own employer. This should be used each year. This should also mean that a specific time after summer exams is set aside for training purposes.
A proper week long course with no other concerns would be an extremely productive time. As one would be likely to be doing it in the company of other practitioners there would be a highly productive cultural milieu established. As it is, there are training budgets but frequently one day courses which may well be very good in themselves are often too short for longer-term learning to take place.
Should Lecturers Have an Independent Professional Organisation?
Yes is the short answer with the emphasis on independent. Perhaps those people who are practitioners on the IfL Council could use their previous knowledge to put in place the bones of a properly democratic structure, because I don't remember being asked to vote for them!
The IfL so Far
It seems like a product of governmental box-ticking control freakery. It is neither democratic, nor independent, nor is it likely to achieve maximum effectiveness in terms of its core aim of maintaining and developing professional development at the deeper levels needed.
Lets organise ourselves discuss our CPD needs and get the government to fund it. The trouble is, the government clearly doesn't trust us otherwise there wouldn't be threatening things like 'you might lose your teaching licence' if you don't re-register. You already treat the sector badly, and the crass managerialist discourse which has taken over is a de-professionalisation. The IfL is yet another police-dog not to be taken seriously in terms of its intent. We want professional pay and conditions and we want to be treated as autonomous and serious people not pushed around thanks!
Oh and while I'm at it I wish to be associated with EDUCATION not Learning and Skills. As Goering was heard to say "everytime I hear the word skills I reach for my pistol".
The Production Process
Whilst you are making your project you should be making a record of what you are learning. Whether you are working on a moving image project a web project or aa audio project you will need to be keeping a record about any problems you find learnng the relevant software, any criticisms of the software.
You must keep a record of the different tools and features of the software by making print-screens as you go along. The project is word counted so it is advisable to use images to illustrate what you have learned. This can save words and be far more exaplanatory. I suggest to my students that they keep a table open in a Word document with two columns. In one column insert the printscreens as you r project develops and in the other column provide some annotations.
This method allows you to make a brief summary of what you have learned about the software and frees up word count for areas such as the industrial context of your project and also creates space to allow for more effective feedback when researching the responses of your target audience.