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December 1, 2004

Back to the Future

Now that I've completed my fall tour, I'm in grading mode. I find that I grade best in relatively short bursts of 10-12 papers at a time, which means that I've had a little more time than usual to rent (and even watch!) a few videos and DVDs. For some reason, I've been primarily in the mood for films from the 1950s, specifically the films of Douglas Sirk, whose Written on the Wind and All that Heaven Allows have recently received the Criteron treatment, likely on the strength of Todd Haynes' loving re-interpretation of Sirkean melodrama in Far From Heaven. I've been wanting to revisit Sirk's films ever since watching Imitation of Life in a feminist film theory course I took at Purdue, but often found myself distracted by other things. Side note: a 1979 interview with Sirk on the All that Heaven Allows DVD, in which Sirk discusses his decision to leave Germany in the 1930s, is well worth watching.

But last night, I watched (and deeply enjoyed) Sirk's 1958 film, Tarnished Angels. an adaptation of William Faulkner's novel about barnstorming pilots, Pylon. I'm not sure quite why I enjoyed the film so much, but the airplane races (featuring Robert Stack as a daredevil pilot and Troy Donahue as one of his biggest rivals) were lots of fun, but the film really belongs to Rock Hudson's Burke Devlin, a reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune who becomes drawn into the story of the World War I flying ace, Roger Burnham (Stack), and his "gypsy family," including a wife, a son, and a loyal mechanic, Jiggs. The film clearly struggles between the nomadic life that Burnham and his "family" lead and the imperative towards a "normal" life.

I also caught Guy Maddin's The Saddest Music in the World on DVD the other night, and found it to be one of the most inventive, exciting films I've seen in a long time. In fact, I really regret missing it when it was in theaters here in Atlanta a few months ago. I'll try to write a longer review later (no promises), but Maddin's inventive mixture of styles (German Expressionism, Surrealism, with occasional bursts of bright color) was simply breathtaking.

Posted by chuck at December 1, 2004 11:16 AM

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Hmm, I like that idea. Grade 10-12 papers, then take a break and watch some film. I have some DVDs ripped onto my hard drive (purely for fair use, of course): I should try that approach.

Posted by: George at December 1, 2004 5:39 PM

It has been working pretty well, actually. I'm returning papers tomorrow, and I only have three left to grade. I've found that my pace and my concentration level vary wildly once I've graded more than ten papers, anyway, especially for freshman composition classes. So, in the long run, I'm certainly being fairer to my students by *not* grading when I'm starting to lose focus.

Posted by: chuck at December 1, 2004 7:24 PM

Yeah, but try explaining to students that you're doing them a favor by not grading essays at certain points. Actually, I think I did once find a day when I'd promised I'd finish a set and return them, but then something came up and I told them "I was in an extremely bad mood and decided you'd rather wait another couple of days rather than have me grade them now" and they seemed to understand.

Posted by: Scrivener at December 2, 2004 11:44 PM

That was roughly the line I used. Most of the students seemed to understand, and at 10 papers a day, that's only one week (for our usual total of 75 students), which isn't bad for turning papers around, especially given the amount of time we spend on each paper.

Posted by: chuck at December 3, 2004 11:11 AM

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