Rebel Pedagogues, Part 1: Creationism vs. Evolution, and Being in One’s Prime

March 7, 2015 | By

A favourite sub-genre that still endures is the Benevolent Teacher – the free-spirited pedagogue or rebel who breaks staid, starchy administrative protocol for the betterment of students, and sometimes society as a whole – but there are some striking variants which don’t follow the genre’s rules, and don’t necessarily culminate with arm-raising ‘Yay! moments followed by hit songs available on  music-from-and-inspired-by soundtrack albums.



The frankly weird U.S. poster that resembles an ad for a kid’s movie about old men behaving like monkeys.


The German poster that features three primary moods: pouty-lipped Spencer Tracy, sly Gene Kelly, and ebullient Fredric March who seems to know what the big joke is all about. Nice use of colours and rectangles, though.


Stanley Kramer’s version of Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee’s play about the Scopes Monkey Trial is less about a teacher dragged into court for breaking state law for teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and more about how two smart figures with opposing theologies must argue their positions in order for society to evolve. Challenging bad or flawed laws is how societies mature and survive, and it’s a view that seems to radiate from Kramer’s splendid (and often dryly funny) film version of Inherit the Wind (1961), which Twilight Time released on Blu.



The banal U.S. poster that makes this cutting edge drama look frilly and dull.



The striking British poster that’s more in tune with the swinging sixties, yet evocative of the film’s Art Nouveau setting, and teasing allusions to the film’s provocative conflicts.


Also from TT is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), the untouchable film version of Jay Presson Allen’s hit play in which the heroine is fatally flawed, almost grating in her arrogance, yet undeniably forward-thinking in using art in poetry, painting, and stills to convey aspects of history and human emotions. Maggie Smith is amazing as Ms. Brodie, and as an aside, one could play a drinking game based on the times the word “prime” is uttered in the film, but there’s another reason the Benevolent Teacher film may resonate with broad audiences.

Minus the arrogance and delusion, Brodie actually reminds me of my high school English teachers – Miss Bollefer and Mr. Myers – who were eccentric, unconventional, and sometimes ridiculed behind their backs by my classmates (and yeah, me), but whom I regard as important in my life because they not only encouraged imagination and creative writing, but made it fun, if not something to take seriously.

I’ve a soft spot for Ms. Bollefer because she actually liked my writing when I thought it was crap, and as any former student will tell you, it just takes one teacher to show a little support and motivate an otherwise lackadaisical, annoying brat to think seriously about applying oneself towards work that’s personally rewarding.

The saddest aspect of growing up is the curve one travels: initially lost as a kid, discovering a creative outlet in young adulthood, getting a succession of rushes from studying and practical assignments in university, and wondering where the focus and passion went decades later. Few who intended to pursue a career in the arts actually end up remaining there, often because economically, it’s unsustainable; shit happens; or more gratingly, time seems to become a luxury (or one’s time management skills become more complicated).

Perhaps that’s the draw for adults in seeing a Benevolent Teacher film: they’re primarily feel-good stories, but they’re also reminders of what was possible, and what may still be possible. What’s missing – and what these films may temporarily fulfill – is an imaginary mentor who can pat the adult’s shoulder, and provide a little guidance through the distractions, self-doubt, paranoia, mood swings, and assorted full-blown ailments with which adults have to wrestle.

Nonsense? Maybe. But when watching one of these entries, formal or genre variants, are you the teacher imparting wisdom and a hunger for curiosity and rule-breaking among the people in your life, or one of the students, yearning to step away from a meh career, even on a part-time basis, and pick up where you left off and continue towards becoming a painter, writer, filmmaker, poet, actor, photographer, musician, etc.

Coming next: reviews of Jon Stewart’s Rosewater + docs by Maziar Bahari.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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