Tag Archives: classic movies

Higher Education

Robert recently me a gentle note chiding me for silence.  Being a lifelong academic, I used a tried and true response: “I am off for the summer.”  Intellectually, I shut down from May to August–even if I do pick up a class or three over the three month hiatus.

The question sounded something a bit deeper.  And the sounding was reinforced by an article he included in the note:

Link discusses his loss of faith in academia.  The implied metaphor shook me.  Teaching has been a vocation for me.  And I have always considered myself lucky to have been able to make a living off of a passion and a vocation.  (As a friend once told me, “It is always better to be lucky than smart.  And I have always been smart.” )

In some part, my loss of faith is based in the very thing that has made my vocation a viable livelihood: the commercialization of higher eduction.

Michael Rowe, the Dirty Jobs guy, has made a strong created a foundation addressing what he terms “Profoundly Disconnected.”  He “challenges the absurd belief that a four-year degree is the only path to success.”

At first glance, the movement would seem to be an assault on higher ed.  In reality, though, it is an affirmation.


Equating success with college degrees is a form of reductionism that has cheapened skilled labor and higher ed alike.

I wonder if, like Oliver, my faith has been lost as well.

At the end of The Mission–a movie I have always wanted to live up to–one priest decides to follow his face and face death with the host.  Another embraces his roots and battles overwhelming odds.  I had always seen this as the two responses to that sort of injustice: embrace with love or battle for what you love.

What I failed to notice was the third option: the Indians, the believers, who melt quietly back in to the forest rejecting the options offered by the Church, Spain, and Portugal.

Leadership, Professional Development, and Anakin Skywalker

Back in ’77, watching Obi-Wan fall to Darth Vadar horrified me.  At fourteen years old, I saw in Obi-Wan my grandfather, my father, Msgr. Garcia.  I saw all of the father figures in my life being pulled down by the faceless forces of evil surrounding me.

Lucas cannot select actors.  His plots struggle.  He undermines his own genius. (The list continues.)  But he knows his archetypes. And he taps into them, mining us for the symbols lurking deep in the recesses of our shared unconscious.  I was shaken because the film captured the struggle of my world.

Years later, after having seen the prequels, after having studied literary theory, after having endured countless battles as a padawan, a Sith Lord, a Jedi Master, and a Greedo, I see the other side of the archetype. Continue reading Leadership, Professional Development, and Anakin Skywalker

Claude Rains

Dr. Z
Angel on My Shoulder (1948) was on TCM this Sunday.  I had some emails to send, so I left it.  The plot was much less interesting than the casting of Claude Rains as Nick.

Rains is captivating.  One of his most recognizable roles is that of Captain Renault from Casablanca (1942).  He moves from a despicable opportunist who uses his position to extort money and sex to the archetype of a loyal friend in the last few minutes of the film. The progression is convincing and, in retrospect, unsurprising.

The role encapsulates his career (perhaps with the exception of Hitchcock’s Notorious).   Whatever the part he plays, the same qualities are there: a cool, calculating distance always within the context of gentility and humor.  Whether hero or villain, he is the same.

Morality is not a definitive part of his character.  Like the color of his hair, it can shift without changing his identity.

He is a character from an Abercrombie or Martin novel.

(I love the subtext of the scene.  Never ever try to quick draw with an American.)

Truman and Jim Carrey

Dr. Z
I came home after a rough Monday.  (How is that for starting off with a cliche?) Retreating upstairs with a link of leftover Corkscrew sausage, I turned on the TV.  The Truman Show was playing.

It’s one of the Jim Carrey movies that moves me.  Majestic and Bruce Almighty are the other two pieces of that trilogy. Much like Cormac McCarthy’s The Border Trilogy, these movies form a part of a single work: a study or journey through a shared theme.  (Liar Liar might be included, but it is overshadowed in parts by Carrey’s manic.)

The characters in the movies are not the same.  Truman is the optimist.  Peter Appleton the realist.  Bruce the jaundiced cynic. But they share a commonality.  A desire to find, live in their dignity.  It moves beyond a desire to a quest culminating in an open struggle for dignity, for identity.  Each battles for a place in a world that notes their struggle only as a part of TV programming,  political grandstanding, or corporate infighting.

The world is not openly hostile–just aggressively indifferent. Perhaps the most telling scene in all of the movies is when Truman looks in the bathroom mirror, leaping into a brilliant piece of improv–a man landing on the moon–and then winks at the camera, assuring his unseen audience, “That one’s for free.”  His defiance is rooted in humor, love, and self, but it goes unnoticed.  The techs have turned away.

Carrey may not be a Tom Hanks or a Humphrey Bogart or a Richard Burton.  But his contemporary versions of Huckleberry Finn, Samuel Spade, and Jake Barnes are mesmerizing. His audacity as a comic transforms the tragic into the heroic, the mundane into the mythic.  He sees the hopeless and laughs, making nihilism irrelevant.  “In case I don’t see you.  Good afternoon, good evening, and good night.”  No need to read Waiting for Godot.

The audience cheers and cries for him; that though is irrelevant.  He is an Aurelius who has defined himself, exiting the stage into an unseen world and taking the show with him.