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Film illiteracy

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I was trying to explain why the Ark of the Covenant is a symbol for Mary to my eighth grade religious education class Sunday. I first realized they had no idea what the Ark of the Covenant was so I asked how many of them had seen Raiders of the Lost Ark. Blank stares. So I said, "You know it has Harrison Ford in it, the guy from Star Wars?" More blank stares. Nobody, 20 kids, had seen either Raiders or Star Wars. One girl asked if you get get the movies at Redbox. I said, "I didn't think so."

Is this typical?

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Yes. This happens to me in CCD class All. The. Time. Heck, I get teenagers and young adults who've never seen The Matrix.

Welcome to You Are Old.

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I am 32. I have never seen Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Dale

Edited by M. Dale Prins

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I guess I just find it kind of odd. One of the great joys of parenting is sharing with your kids all the things you think are great and enjoy. At every stage of my daughter's life (she is 14 now) I have anxiously awaited for her to be old enough to show her the next bunch of films I think she should see. We just watched To Sir with Love and next up in the queue is Up the Down Staircase. We are also excited about watching The Beatles Anthology together (she is a Beatles fan). So I guess I am wondering what the parents of these kids are doing? Do they just let them watch whatever they want and don't try to guide their viewing at all? I think I will ask some questions next Sunday to find out more abut their viewing habits. Seems like both the parents and kids are missing out.

Maybe it's because we are in the homeschooling ghetto? :)

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As I had no one guiding my early years with great cinema suggestions, I can only blame my poor choices on myself. On the other hand, it has provided great opportunities for a late - but fun - learning curve (such as recently watching Dr. Strangelove from my sickbed.) So good on you for making good suggestions to those who are younger - I can only hope they appreciate their education.

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I am 32. I have never seen Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Shut. UP.

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Posted · Report post

No, really, I am 32.

Dale

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No, really, I am 32.

Ha! After posting I was thisclose to going back and adding "You're 32???" but then I had to go to choir practice so I didn't. Ah, great minds. And also ours.

BTW, I'm 41, as of tomorrow.

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I was trying to explain why the Ark of the Covenant is a symbol for Mary to my eighth grade religious education class Sunday. I first realized they had no idea what the Ark of the Covenant was so I asked how many of them had seen Raiders of the Lost Ark. Blank stares. So I said, "You know it has Harrison Ford in it, the guy from Star Wars?" More blank stares. Nobody, 20 kids, had seen either Raiders or Star Wars. One girl asked if you get get the movies at Redbox. I said, "I didn't think so."

Is this typical?

In 8th grade I knew very well what the Ark of the Covenant was but had not yet seen Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars. But this raises a few lines of thought to me:

Had any of them seen Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?

Are youngsters becoming less and less familiar with artistic classics of any medium, film included, by mere virtue of more of it being made and existing now than at any point in the past?

What films were adults asking this same question about in 1976, before Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars? Who was Roger Ebert's equivalent before Roger Ebert? Does anyone ever read historical film criticism?

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No, really, I am 32.

Ha! After posting I was thisclose to going back and adding "You're 32???" but then I had to go to choir practice so I didn't. Ah, great minds. And also ours.

BTW, I'm 41, as of tomorrow.

Happy birthday, SDG! I'm an October baby also. I turn 39 on the 15th.

Edited by MrZoom

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I was so caught up in making my ohsoclever joke that I forgot to mention my worst anti-bonafide.

I have seen Episode 1, Jar-Jar and all. I have seen Episodes 2 and 3. I saw maybe the last half of Episode 4 on TV two or three years ago. I didn't see any of Episode 5 until the rerelease when I was in college. I have never seen any of Episode 6.

Ban me now.

Dale

Edited by M. Dale Prins

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Darryl A. Armstrong wrote:

: Had any of them seen Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?

Yeah, this was my question too. It was one of the top-grossing films of last year, and it was marketed up the wazoo (at Burger King, etc.), so I'd be surprised if they didn't at least know the Indiana Jones CHARACTER. But if they didn't even know who "Harrison Ford" is ...

: What films were adults asking this same question about in 1976, before Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars?

Or, to look at this from another angle, it has been 28 years since Raiders came out in 1981, and 32 years since Star Wars came out in 1977. 28 years before 1981 is 1953, and 32 years before 1977 is 1945. What 1945 films were familiar to grown-ups but completely unknown to youngsters in 1977? What 1953 films were familiar to grown-ups but completely unknown to youngsters in 1981?

For that matter, it has been 10 years since The Matrix came out in 1999. What 1989 films had already been forgotten by the "young people" by the time The Matrix came out?

SDG wrote:

: BTW, I'm 41, as of tomorrow.

FWIW, I turned 39 last Thursday.

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: What films were adults asking this same question about in 1976, before Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars?

The Ten Commandments, possibly?

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The Ten Commandments (1956) had become something of an annual Easter/Passover tradition on TV by then, no? I remember it was such a long film that, when you added the commercial breaks, it really did consume the entire evening. I don't think this was just a church thing; I think people in general still knew it fairly well, whatever their age.

Singin' in the Rain (1952) comes to mind as a film that I discovered shortly after Star Wars, and for me the big hook was that it starred Debbie Reynolds, the mother of Princess Leia. I soon came to enjoy it for other reasons, too, but I don't know if it was particularly well-known to other kids my age. (And hey, THAT film takes place about a quarter-century earlier, circa 1927, when movies went from silent to sound -- so there's an EXTRA layer of nostalgic throwback for ya!)

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On a related note (and hey, is this why the Jack Black movie Year One didn't do so well at the box office!?):

- - -

Religious illiteracy alarms educators

MONTREAL -- Half of American high-school seniors surveyed recently thought Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple. A McGill University professor's reference to the patience of Job drew blank stares from students in his religion course. An art history teacher in France found children were mystified by the "strange bird" (a dove representing the Holy Ghost) common in Renaissance paintings.

Until recently, such confusion was little more than fodder for faculty-room jokes, evidence of the increasing secularism of Western societies. But educators attending a conference at McGill University yesterday heard there is growing recognition in Europe and North America that religious illiteracy creates serious barriers between cultures. . . .

National Post, October 2

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Happy Birthday SDG, you sweet young thing. Ah, 41. I knew it well.

Jim, this is more universal than you think. Early in my experience navigating cyberspace at the beginning (literally) of this millenium, I stumbled on a film site that asked me to write about "old" movies. The married couple running the thing were in their 20's at the time and had ties locally. We met a few times before parting ways and at one point I brought up references to The Sting, from 1973 a pivotal year in my film experience. Young wife looked away off into the distance and quietly mentioned that she hadn't seen anything from before she was born (1975).

Other than e2c's mention of The Movie of the Week and Saturday Night at the Movies (even before the advent of objectionable content, heavily editted to allow for commercials and precise timeslot schedules), I'd say this experience is universal. It should be noted that there was little escape from such TV programming back then except for family night board games, shining your shoes for Sunday morning and such.

Edited by Rich Kennedy

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: BTW, I'm 41, as of tomorrow.

FWIW, I turned 39 last Thursday.

And it's Jeff's birthday, like, tomorrow, isn't it? Did we ever know that all our birthdays converged like that? And I'm in the middle (month sequence wise, not age wise). How interesting. :)

Suz had a similar birthday convergence with two of her best friends in high school; I remember attending a joint birthday party for the three of them (yes, I knew her in high school).

Edited by SDG

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: What films were adults asking this same question about in 1976, before Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars?
The Ten Commandments, possibly?

I don't think so. In 1975 The Ten Commandments played on television every year around Easter, and I think it was still part of the general culture. Not to mention, say, It's a Wonderful Life (at Christmas) and The Wizard of Oz.

But we don't watch movies on television any more. I welcome the wider availability of more movies via DVD etc., but it does seem that something has been lost too. When you watched It's a Wonderful Life at Christmas, you were sharing an experience with countless other Americans. The broadcast tradition said something about who we are as a culture, as a people. When I watch It's a Wonderful Life every year on DVD with my kids, it tells them something about who we are as a family, and that's a good thing too, but not the same good thing. In our house, the movie is on because Papa puts it on. When I was growing up, the movie was on because everyone put it on.

Nine years ago I wrote, "The Wizard of Oz is one of a very few shared experiences that unite Americans as a culture, transcending barriers of age, locale, politics, religion, and so on. We all see it when we are young, and it leaves an indelible mark on our imaginations. We can hardly imagine not knowing it. It ranks among our earliest and most defining experiences of wonder and of fear, of fairy-tale joys and terrors, of the lure of the exotic and the comfort of home."

That was true for me growing up, and it's true for people of my age or older, but was it true nine years ago for younger generations? It's certainly not true now.

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For the second time I'm co-teaching a college honors course "Faith and Pop Culture." We're just wrapping up the film portion of the class. Among other things, we asked the students to take a look at the last two A&F "100 Spiritually Significant Films" lists. OK--no surprise that they hadn't seen any foreign films (one exceptional young person had seen Jean de Florette/Manon de la Source). They also had not seen most of the English/American films (with the exception of Fight Club from 2004). What do they want to do their projects on? The Matrix movies, Star Trek movies.

Informal surveys of British lit students suggest that the only common sources of information about King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table are Disney's The Sword in the Stone (becoming rarer) and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. For Alice in Wonderland, Disney version is it, if at all, which means no comprehension of allusions like "down the rabbit hole," "looking glass world," "jabberwocky," "curiouser and curiouser," etc.

We are big fans of "old" movies in my family, and my sister brought her kids up watching 1930s/40s musicals and classics such as Casablanca or His Girl Friday on TCM and DVDs. My 18-year-old niece is dismayed that none of her friends are familiar with these gems.

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<!--quoteo(post=205497:date=Oct 8 2009, 09:23 AM:name=BethR)--><div class='quotetop'>QUOTE (BethR @ Oct 8 2009, 09:23 AM) <a href="index.php?act=findpost&pid=205497"><{POST_SNAPBACK}></a></div><div class='quotemain'><!--quotec-->(with the exception of <i>Fight Club</i> from 2004).<!--QuoteEnd--></div><!--QuoteEEnd-->

IMDB lists <i>Fight Club</i> as 1999. I just did my Tops of 2000-2010 list and it wasn't on there. You gave me a scare. <img src="http://ArtsAndFaith.com/public/style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/smile.gif" style="vertical-align:middle" emoid=":)" border="0" alt="smile.gif" />

Edited by Persona

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BethR wrote:

: We are big fans of "old" movies in my family, and my sister brought her kids up watching 1930s/40s musicals and classics such as Casablanca or His Girl Friday on TCM and DVDs. My 18-year-old niece is dismayed that none of her friends are familiar with these gems.

FWIW, I didn't discover those two films until I was at least 18 (which would have been in 1988), because I got a job in a video store then, and I bought Leonard Maltin's film and video guide, and I decided to do some self-teaching. (I also took an intro-to-film course at UBC that included a screening of Casablanca.)

However, my father did buy our first VCR when I was 8 years old (circa 1978) so that he could tape some of HIS favorite films off of TV, which is how my siblings and I became fairly well-versed in Bob Hope and Danny Kaye movies from the '40s and '50s -- and thanks to us, many of our friends did as well. Expressions like "Mitty! What are you and that CONFOUNDED pigeon trying to do!" (from Kaye's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) were very popular in our little circle. (But, curiously, of, say, all the Bob Hope movies my dad videotaped, very few of them were "classic" Bob Hope films; he didn't tape any of the Road movies, which I didn't get around to watching until a few years ago; instead, he taped lesser-known films like Caught in the Draft and The Princess and the Pirate.)

I have a fond memory of showing the Bob Hope movie Son of Paleface (1952) to some friends during a sleepover in the early '80s, and one of them remarking that some of the gags in there were very Monty Python-ish (this was at a time when Python was still making new movies; Meaning of Life came out in 1983). I discovered years later that Son of Paleface had been the live-action directorial debut of Frank Tashlin, who up until that point had been a Loony Tunes animator (and Python, of course, owes much of its aesthetic to Terry Gilliam's animation); and what's more, I discovered that Tashlin is one of those directors that academics have taken a certain interest in, precisely because of how he brought animation-style elements to live-action films (and because of the way he commented on television and pop music in his big-screen movies, etc.).

Nowadays, of course, one might wonder how well-known even Monty Python is.

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(with the exception of Fight Club from 2004).

IMDB lists Fight Club as 1999. I just did my Tops of 2000-2010 list and it wasn't on there. You gave me a scare. :)

I didn't mean it was released in 2004. It's on the 2004 A&F Top 100 list. Sorry about my ambiguous phrasing.

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On a related note (and hey, is this why the Jack Black movie Year One didn't do so well at the box office!?):

- - -

Religious illiteracy alarms educators

MONTREAL -- Half of American high-school seniors surveyed recently thought Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple. A McGill University professor's reference to the patience of Job drew blank stares from students in his religion course. An art history teacher in France found children were mystified by the "strange bird" (a dove representing the Holy Ghost) common in Renaissance paintings.

Until recently, such confusion was little more than fodder for faculty-room jokes, evidence of the increasing secularism of Western societies. But educators attending a conference at McGill University yesterday heard there is growing recognition in Europe and North America that religious illiteracy creates serious barriers between cultures. . . .

National Post, October 2

Well, I like to think YEAR ONE didn't do well because it was awful. But I know quality or lack thereof doesn't always directly relate to success or failure, and thus you may be right. I imagine many of the jokes didn't really connect with the audience.

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The fact that film illiteracy is so common is pretty amazing actually in this age of easily acquired DVDs of almost any film you can ask for. Are younger kids film illiterates? Of course they are, because many of their parents are.

I still can't believe how many of my 20-something friends haven't seen the basics in film of what you have to see in order to be an American.

Die Hard

Raiders of the Lost Ark

The Terminator series

the old Tim Burton Batmans

And while these are must-see favorites, they aren't even necessarily contestants for great self-examining films. They are primarily light entertaining films rather than thought-provoking films, and yet I keep finding friends who have never seen some of these. I've had to actually bully some of my friends into seeing some of these. Clear downright inexcusable carelessness on their part.

I attribute this to our culture. Our modern culture, especially the popular culture of kids in their 20s, is a culture of SUCK. But I guess I wouldn't like movies too much either if all I saw was occasionally the latest box office hit - oooh, oooh, oooh, let's go see Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself!!!

You know what also makes me mad about this? I'm sounding like some old film snob right now. Film snobs are losers who stick up their nose at you for not seeing the latest French film about gay cowboys eating pudding. But now I'm sounding like a film snob about Indiana Jones and Die Hard? I ... can't ... stand ... it.

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I polled my 8th grade religious ed class yesterday to find out WHAT their favorite movies were. I have to admit I was kind of surprised. I expected they would all be watching inappropriate teenage comedies and slasher films. But all of their favorites were Pixar movies: Finding Nemo, Cars... The only choice that confirmed my suspicions was the Exorcist which about five out of the class had seen. So maybe they are not so much illiterate as immature. My daughter, as well as her parents, still likes Pixar movies (Up was one of the few films we saw in theaters last year) but she has pretty broad taste and has watched musicals, drama, scifi and adventure films. My guess is that her favorite film would be Pride and Prejudice.

Edited by Jim Janknegt

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