Film No 30 (2014) : Dead Poets Society

dead poetsDead Poets Society‘ has been my favourite film for a long time. Watching it again hasn’t changed my mind. Sure, it’s sentimental and full of quotable soundbites, but its message is still important.

Mr John Keating, played by Robin Williams, encourages his young male students to think for themselves, achieve their full potential, seize the day (‘Carpe Diem‘). Using an imaginative mix of poetry, music and humour, Keating draws out even the most reluctant of his pupils. His methods are frowned upon by the school’s head and staff, who try to discourage John from developing free-thinking individuals. Nevertheless, his classes inspire the boys of the revived ‘Dead Poets Society’ to chase their dreams. But when Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonardlands himself the lead role in a local production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, against the wishes of his overbearing father, Mr Keating’s liberal lessons are called in to question.

I would have liked to have been a teacher – English to ‘A’ level. That is because I would have liked to have been the kind of teacher portrayed by Robin Williams in the movie. Education is about so much more than pumping children full of facts – Dickens knew that when he wrote ‘Hard Times‘ way back in 1854. Somehow  though, we don’t seem to have learned very much about what our young people need to know in order to make their own way in the world.

My guess is that most people who go into teaching do it with the intention of inspiring their pupils, touching their souls in some way. What a pity then, that these remarkable individuals have their talents reduced to pushing our kids through the system like sausages, churning out results which only have value if they can be measured and counted. Courage, kindness, creativity, humility, determination and may other important life qualities are not on the numbered scale.

Robin Williams has taken his own life. A cruel irony for a funny man. For me, it’s not Mrs Doubtfire or Aladdin’s genie which linger in my mind; it’s the inspirational Mr John Keating, teacher extraordinaire.

mr keating

Film No 26 (2014) : Beaches

beachesFriday night, end of a busy week, snug on the sofa with my teenage daughter. The film was my choice.

‘Beaches’ is a weepie. Cecilia Carol Bloom (Bette Midler) and Hilary Whitney (Barbara Hershey) meet at the beach as youngsters; Hilary is staying at a posh hotel, CC is hiding under the boardwalk, sneaking a quick fag. They are polar opposites as characters – Cecilia is brash and feisty, wants to be a star. Hilary is quiet and plans to follow her father into a career in law. Despite their differences, they strike up a friendship and communicate via letter for years. Eventually they meet again, each having fulfilled at least part of their ambitions. Hilary is an attorney, CC is beginning to hit the big time on the stage. The film follows their friendship through the years. It is like a marriage as they live together for a while, fight, break up and reconcile! When a crisis hits their lives, the women face it together with quiet courage.

The soundtrack to the movie is ‘Wind beneath my Wings, a soulful ballad which CC uses to illustrate the support which Hilary has always given her. ‘You were content to let me shine’. I obviously can’t claim to have risen on my wings to any great heights, but the song eagledoes make me think of the people who have inspired me – from schoolteachers to bosses, colleagues to relatives. I like to think of myself as a wind rather than an eagle.

The film is a testament to the strength of female friendship, the kind which stays with you a lifetime. Actually, the person who lent me this film is one of the people in my own life for whom I would cross continents if she needed me. Knowing she would do the same for me is what is at the heart of ‘Beaches’.