Monday, January 21, 2013

Movie Monday: Blogger's Choice Edition

I'm sitting here, even as I write this, watching one of my favorite movies of all time, "To Sir, With Love". It's from 1967, and stars Sidney Poitier, Christian Roberts, Judy Geeson, and Suzy Kendall, and concerns a teacher (Poitier) who goes to teach in a state school in a poor section of London.

There are complications from the time he takes over a class, whose students drove their previous teacher to resign. These are rough kids, from a rough background. They are basically, most of them, good kids, but life is tough for them and they are about to leave school pretty much unprepared to face the real world of work and relationships and family. So, Mr. Thackeray (Poitier) starts from the beginning with them, and tries to teach them skills that will help them get along in the world. He also determines after a short time that the only way to get through to them is to treat them as the adults they will soon be, rather than the children that the rest of the staff considers them to be. He demands that they treat him, and each other, with respect. The film follows their progress, slow at first, until they leave school.

Some reviewers have called the film "sentimental", complaining that it isn't very realistic. While it might be sentimental, it is based on the 1959 novel of the same name by E. R. Braithwaite, an autobiographical telling of Braithwaite's experiences in teaching in an East End school in London directly after World War II. My view is that, while it does seem that the students' turn-around in their behavior comes awfully quickly, the film does look at realistic problems students of those circumstances in the mid-60s, which the film updates from the book's setting.

At any rate, this film does one of the things that I love films for - it gives a glimpse into a concrete time and place that the American viewer probably knows little about.

Another film that does that, that I watched again last night, is the original Japanese version of "Shall We Dance?", a Japanese film from 1996, the inspiration for the 2004 American version of the same name, which starred Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Jennifer Lopez, and Stanley Tucci. The 2004 film is okay, but the Japanese version, (which has nothing to do with another film of the same name from 1937, which starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) is superior in every way. It concerns a Japanese businessman who starts taking ballroom dancing lessons because he has seen one of the teachers at a studio standing in the window and looking down on his train home from work at night. His wife, who has encouraged him to go out and have fun, nonetheless comes to wonder if he is having an affair after his manner changes as he progresses in his lessons. She goes so far as to hire a private investigator to follow him.

Here is the trailer, in Japanese but with no English subtitles (it is available on DVD with English subtitles). Even if you don't understand Japanese, this trailer gives a good feel for the film, which is a sweet comedy that I recommend highly. I first saw it in a class right after it came out on DVD, and I've seen it a number of times since.

So, to review: If you haven't seen "To Sir, With Love" and the Japanese film "Shall We Dance?", you should.

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