Required Viewing: TCM Goes Back to School

blackboardjungleAh crud!!! You know, I promised I wouldn’t allow myself to get behind on my schooling this semester. And then sure enough, I got swallowed up in textbooks and caught under a growing mountain of papers, almost losing touch with the outside world. Eh, I’d been so busy I hadn’t noticed a new school of thought and academics had been introduced on February 1st.

Indeed, Turner Classic Movies has once again caught the attentions of this aspiring English teacher with its annual “31 Days of Oscar” programming. This year TCM honors our cinematic knowledge using the storytelling prowess of Hollywood to motivate, inspire and educate this month. Oscar -winning and Oscar -nominated films have been carefully organized into a university curriculum boasting interesting classes from departments like Zoology (2/11), Criminology (2/16), Political Science (2/27), and Psychology (3/1). “Dr.” Robert Osborne, the esteemed Dean of Cinema, playfully suggests, “In case you wonder why we call our Academy Award salute ’31 Days of Oscar’ and extend it three days past the 28 days of February, no college degree is required to learn the reason.” Traditionally, the Oscars ran in March and TCM juxtapose its schedule so it could recognize the pageantry of past Academy Award winners. When the Academy revamped its Academy Award focus in 2004 and made February the new time to honor the best films of the year, TCM gladly followed. Additionally, TCM has been no stranger to instructive programming. This year, the astute Professor Osborne will be instructing fervent students each night on the lore of Oscar as well as why certain people received Oscar distinction.

In today’s cultural upbringing, it might be hard to believe movies can be more meaningful than just explosions and Brad Pitt’s hotness quotient. Mm, but it doesn’t take a genius to understand that most film buffs not only regard films as highly entertaining, but also enjoy the escapism a movie provides. However, many also realize that film is undeniably a powerful and significant cultural medium with the ability to educate even the most reluctant “students”. Films are an amusing and engaging way to teach everything from history to science to architecture. Just imagine using Grand Hotel (1932) to teach the principles of modern architecture, or highlighting works from Woody Allen to draw thematic connections to the works of Shakespeare, or showing To Kill a Mockingbird not only to convey the importance of social prejudice, but also to emphasize literary point of view. Films can stir each of us by focusing on relevant subjects we might not have considered and provide knowledge in a sometimes unique and revealing manner. Film, just like school subjects, can be approached in numerous ways in order to gain a new focus and keep learning interesting.

TCM’s Annual 31 DAYS OF OSCAR Film Festival will take viewers to TCM University for a cinematic education in more than 90 different subjects. Would you believe some of these course loads? And just think, courses can be studied guilt-free and without worry of paying back student loans for the next twenty years.

Monday, February 16th – Criminology Department
Juvenile Delinquency
6:00a – They Shall Have Music (1939)
8:00a – Boys’ Town (1938)
10:00a – Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)

Thursday, February 19th – Education Department
SPEECH AND LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT
8:00p – Pygmalion (1938)
10:00p – My Fair Lady (1964)
1:00a – Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
3:00a – Born Yesterday (1950)

Oh, and it looks like I’ll be pulling a 24-hour cram session on the 24th of the month. Studying Italian, French and Japanese should fulfill my language requirements.

The “Department of Academic Affairs” is also to be commended for introducing 28 new subjects into TCM’s astute curriculum. Elia Kazan’s first film, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (1945) and Daniel Day Lewis’ landmark performance in My Left Foot (1989) signify noteworthy additions. Here are some others I know I’ll be studying…

Pygmalion (1938) February 19th – This story has seen many, many formative Hollywood adaptations (ex. My Fair Lady (1964) and Pretty Woman (1990)). Considering Shaw lent his talent to the script, I’d definitely take advantage of this opportunity to see the original.

The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) February 23rd – The staff here at FBOL have been dedicated students of William Dieterle’s films (The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Satan Met a Lady (1936), Juarez (1939), Kismet (1944) ) for quite some time. I assure you, we’ll take the opportunity to see his interpretation of Stephen Vincent Benet’s riveting story.

Gervaise (1956) February 24th – A visually stunning period film based on a lesser embraced Emile Zola novel, starring the beautiful Austrian actress Maria Schell. French love stories have always intrigued and delighted, and I hope this is no exception. Hmm, I wonder if the French or edited, Americanized version will play.

The Burmese Harp (1956) February 24th – After watching so many Kurosawa and Godzilla flicks I really need to expand my repertoire. The poetic syntax of the Japanese language has always captivated me and this film is scored by Akira Ifukube (renowned for his “Godzilla Theme”) so my attraction to the film is fueled. But I’m also drawn because veteran filmmaker Kon Ichikawa had already completed 26 films in his native Japan before he first began work on this poignant anti-war statement. Sure he did construct many works, but no film to date had attained international acclaim for Ichikawa until this masterpiece.

It Happened Tomorrow (1944) March 2nd – The more films I see starring Dick Powell, the more I like the guy. Here’s somebody who was respected for his musical-comedies and then leaves them behind to embraces a tougher persona as Philip Marlowe in Murder My Sweet (1944) and carries it through other remarkable film noirs and radio detective shows. I enjoyed the little run television series First Edition had a few years ago and this film seems to be a precursor to the notion of ‘seeing tomorrow’s news today’.

This month TCM has become the ultimate classroom, fostering a learning atmosphere punctuated by intriguing cinematic subjects and the cast willingly acting as our new teachers. For the complete list of “classes” available in TCM’s specialized curriculum, check their website.

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Congrats, you graduated Summa Cum Laude!