Background and Balance
As I write today’s analysis of certain scenes in a favourite movie, I am worrying about “blog balance”. This is a condition that I continue to wrestle with as I progress on my learning journey with the online digital storytelling course DS106. In past, I have posted articles that I felt were of interest to students and teacher in K-12 classrooms. True some activities might have been immediately applicable and some readers might have said “Yes … I can use that resource or strategy with my students next week”. Others may have been shared more for information and the content may not have direct impact and or adaption by teachers. However, as I progress through the 8th week of my 15 week DS106 course and move into the video production segment, I worry that my required blog reflections may have little impact on most K-12 educators unless they are teaching a film study course.
In past, I have warned readers that my required DS106 assignments and reflective blog posts would make my learning more transparent. However, I still worry about “blog balance” since I want to try and ensure that there is some information that might apply to K-12 educators in the vast majority of my posts. I believe that I may have a possible solution. When I am writing a post that focuses heavily on a DS106 assignment which I feel may not have as wide appeal to my K-12 readers, I will try to provide some additional relevance to K-12 educators my inserting a “Teachable Moment” into the blog. This way readers who are not interested in the details of my DS106 reflection can look for my “light bulb” icon and quickly read the related “Teachable Moment” information which may be more meaningful or applicable to them and their students. Undoubtedly in today’s post where I look, through a new lense with a much more critical eye, at one of my favourite movies, I will attempt to provide better blog balance by inserting a later “Teachable Moment” in this lengthy post.
Bridge of the River Kwai
In past I have watched movies for their entertainment value and, I must admit, rather superficially. More recently, I have enjoyed looking at the “Extra Features” often included in DVD movie rentals. For example, while listening/viewing the director’s comments about certain scenes (together with the number of “takes”), seeing the attention to detail on an actor’s uniform to make it appear authentic, or watching how a certain special effect was created, all helped me to better appreciate the amount of work and detail that happened “behind the scenes” in the making of a particular movie.
In my DS106 video pre-production assignment, I have been challenged to pick a favourite movie, identify key scenes, and analyze the movie using some of the elements identified by Roger Ebert.
The movie that I selected was “The Bridge on the River Kwai” which won seven Oscars in 1957. Although fictionalized to some extent, this movie is based on historical reality in which British POWs were forced by their Japanese captors in 1942-43 to build a bridge on the “Death Railway” to link Bangkok, Thailand to Rangoon, Burma.
Undoubtedly the acting between the two adversaries, Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), – the senior officer of the British POWs and Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) – the POW camp commandant, was superb. Add to this the musical theme of the River Kwai March (sometimes referred to as the Colonel Bogey March) and you have a powerful movie that I remember every time I hear someone whistling this unforgettable tune.
It is obvious that “The Bridge of the River Kwai” fits quite nicely into the War or Adventure genre but the Drama between the two protagonists should not be overlooked.
DS106 has revealed so many new aspects of storytelling to me. I must admit that the following quote from Roger Ebert’s “How to Read a Movie” has caused me to view movies in an entirely new manner:
In simplistic terms: Right is more positive, left more negative. Movement to the right seems more favorable; to the left, less so. The future seems to live on the right, the past on the left. The top is dominant over the bottom. The foreground is stronger than the background. Symmetrical compositions seem at rest. Diagonals in a composition seem to “move” in the direction of the sharpest angle they form, even though of course they may not move at all. Therefore, a composition could lead us into a background that becomes dominant over a foreground. Tilt shots of course put everything on a diagonal, implying the world is out of balance. I have the impression that more tilts are down to the right than to the left, perhaps suggesting the characters are sliding perilously into their futures. Left tilts to me suggest helplessness, sadness, resignation. Few tilts feel positive. Movement is dominant over things that are still. A POV above a character’s eyeline reduces him; below the eyeline, enhances him. Extreme high angle shots make characters into pawns; low angles make them into gods. Brighter areas tend to be dominant over darker areas, but far from always: Within the context, you can seek the “dominant contrast,” which is the area we are drawn toward. Sometimes it will be darker, further back, lower, and so on. It can be as effective to go against intrinsic weightings as to follow them.
I admit that the above quotation, caused me to look at the following YouTube video excerpt of “The Bridge of the River Kwai” through a new lense:
As the whistling British POWs march into camp, they travel from the right to the left side across the picture. This subtly indicates that they are moving towards a much more negative environment demonstrated by the harsh treatment of the soldiers by the Japanese. A box or platform is brought out for Colonel Saito to address the POWs and this repeated action throughout the movie allows the camera angles to point down on the insignificant POWs while looking up on the superior commandant who controls the prisoners’ very existence.
This DS106 assignment introduced me to the term “trope”. As a former Mathematics and Computer Science educator, I must admit that I was unfamiliar with this term and was unaware that movies use a host of tropes or “metaphors” to convey their messages. Using the TV Tropes as a reference, I have identified the following tropes in “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and provide appropriate links to YouTube videos to illustrate their use:
- A Father to His Men & An Officer and a Gentleman & Face Death with Dignity – Colonel Nicholson demands that, according to the Geneva Convention his officers do not have to work along side their regular soldier prisoners building this bridge. He withstands torture in the iron box rather than issue a command to have his officers work on this bridge.
- Advising Colonel Saito of Geneva Convention – Clip 2 (1:30)
- Real Song Theme Tune – The Kwai River March or Colonel Bogie March, popularized by Mitch Miller, is a very powerful audio connection to this movie.
- Whistling prisoners enter POW compound – Clip 1 (0:18)
- Deadpan Snarker – Commander/Major Shears questions superiors as to whether he should jump … with , or without a parachute.
- Discussion of parachute training – Clip 5 (0:16)
- My God, What Have I Done? – At the end of the movie, Colonel Nicholson realizes that his pride has driven him to build a railway bridge that ultimately will befit the enemy.
- The brigde (sic) on the river Kwai ending – (0:51)
To the reader who has read to the ending of this rather lengthy post, I congratulate you.
Take care & keep smiling