Class Warfare

I only found two years of it tough going – my first and last – and with the latter, it was really just that final term. For the first time since 1974 I was struggling, having some difficulties managing my classes. The kids were in danger of winning. In footy parlance – I knew I couldn’t front up for another season of that so I put myself out to pasture. Luckily, I was past sixty. Sure there was, over my duration in education, cohorts of students I didn’t look forward to – as well as a few individuals I couldn’t connect with and whom therefore also gave me bother – but I was always on top, doing my job reasonably well and actually teaching my charges something. Towards the end I did struggle with other aspects – the damage NAPLAN was doing and the unreasonableness of it, the convoluted reporting process, winters, the imposed inability to be innovative with curriculum – and then there was that close call on Boat Harbour Beach, regarding student safety, that gave me the heebie jeebies. But always, right up till the death, I was king of the classroom – and loved being thus.

So my experience was a far cry from what I read in the Trent Dalton article, ‘Class Warfare’ in ‘The Weekend Australian Magazine’ (July 18-20, 2014). What a dire, sobering picture that paints. The abuse of the teachers interviewed was so alien to my overall experience in the gig. It seems now my former fellow professionals rank alongside police and prison officers as our country’s top mental stress claimants. So many are afflicted by ‘…smear campaigns and panic attacks and online trolling and knife threats and teachers locked in storerooms and false accusations and depression and suicidal tendencies…’ Would that have been me too had I battled on?

Like me, Jack (Clive Owen) and Dina (Juliette Binoche) were the king/queens of their respective classes. Their charges were ‘normal’ – not perfect, but non-threatening and at the start, sort of engaged in what was going on. In this school the teachers’ voices were dominant. No, the problems the pair were having, like mine towards retirement, weren’t student based. They were struggling with their own demons – for Jack, once a prominent wordsmith, it was the grog and writers’ block. Now he is reduced to exposing students to the great canons of literature. Newbie, dour Dina, with a reputation of iciness preceding her, is suffering from a creeping debilitating disease making it increasingly difficult for her to paint, thus her need to earn extra cash passing on her skills to the younger brigade. Neither have the fire that burns any more to be at the top of their pedagogical game. Jack’s position is becoming particularly tenuous. As a result of somewhat one-sided banter – in Jack’s favour – between the two, along comes and inane idea toenthuse the student body with a contest between the word and the image, thus the film’s title – ‘Words and Pictures’. What starts as a tease becomes a school wide obsession, motivating the kids to produce output of heroic proportions – as if!

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Yep the narrative is pretty naff. Fred Schepsi has made many a better movie than this. That being said, in the characters of Jack and Dina, there is a sort of dynamic going on that raises it above the admittedly pretty low bar of typical Hollywood rom-coms. You know, ditzy blonde eventually wins the heart of buff-bodied, but wayward hearted, male lead. These two veterans do more than simply go through those sort of motions. As one would perhaps expect, this is more mature playing to an older demographic – and more considered in nuance. If only it had a better framework for the actors to work with

In a way this movie is a throwback to the screwball comedies of tinsel town’s golden era – the outcome is a given, but there’s much fun getting there with all the antics of the leading participants before the final kiss and happy ever-afters as the credits roll. Those were purer times and the Aussie director’s offering is redolent of that period.

This is not a film that will resonate down through life’s journey, but watching it, one day after the aforementioned article appeared, it was a pleasant enough salve to the ugly view of the guiding profession that piece of reportage portrayed. Afterwards, for an instant of time, I wanted to be king of the classroom again, like Jack and Nina. Then sanity clicked in.

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Movie website = http://wordsandpicturesthemovie.com/

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