Tag Archives: film/television/photography

Mina Loy

“Mina Loy: (Born Mina Gertrude Lowy; 1882-1966) English poet and painter. Daughter of a Hungarian Jewish father and English Protestant mother, her first avocation was art. During her years in Florence (1906-1916) she was immersed in Italian Futurism. Loy gradually disassociated herself from the movement as it became increasingly fascist; a number of early satires take aim at the ‘Futurist genius’ as an example of male suprematism. Her first published work appeared in Alfred Stieglitz’s magazine Camera Work and Carl Van Vechten’s Trend (1914). Her controversial work ‘Love Songs for Johannes’ were considered shocking for their frank expression of female sexuality. In New York, she met Arthur Cravan, an infamous Dadaist “poet-boxer.” Divorcing her first husband, she married Cravan in Mexico City, with whom she had one child. Cravan later disappeared in Mexico and was never found. Her first collection of poems, Lunar Baedeker, appeared in 1923, and she did not publish another one until 1958 (Lunar Baedeker and Time Tables). Her work is distinguished by a satiric and feminist sensibility, an unusual polysyllabic and abstract diction, alliteration, internal and slant rhymes, and a combination of the image with the with the epigram. Some of her poems convey rage at the injustices done to women, the poor, and the homeless. Late in life she became more and more reclusive. Her collected poems, The Last Lunar Baedeker, appeared in 1982.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Cultural Literacy: Muhammad Ali

Here is Cultural Literacy worksheet on Muhammad Ali. He was the greatest, you know? This is a full-page worksheet that can be used as independent practice.

Muhammad Ali really requires (or I hope he doesn’t) much explanation or amplification. He was ubiquitous in the media in my childhood, meeting with The Beatles and appearing in a series of photographs with them, and writing a poem with Marianne Moore in addition to his public and principled refusal to fight in the Vietnam War (even as a little kid, this thrilled me). So when an actor friend argued that Ali was one of the most exposed figures in the history of media, I had to agree. My friend’s point, though, was this: it took real courage for Canadian actor Eli Goree to take on the role of Ali; how does one portray such a profound, well-known, and ultimately sui generis personality? If you want to see, take a look at Regina King’s great new film, One Night in Miami on Amazon.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

The Weekly Text, February 19, 2020, Black History Month 2021 Week III: A Reading and Comprehension Worksheet on Robert Johnson

This week’s Text, in this blog’s ongoing observation of Black History Month 2021, is this reading on Robert Johnson with its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet.

If your students know anything about Robert Johnson, it is probably the legend that surrounds his acquisition of his breathtaking facility in playing the guitar: to wit, that he made a deal with the devil himself. In exchange for endowing Robert Johnson with preternatural ability in playing the guitar, the devil took ownership of Robert Johnson’s soul. This has been the stuff of popular culture for a long time, and I’ll cite Walter Hill’s 1986 film Crossroads–a title derived from one of Mr. Johnson’s best-known songs, made a rock-and-roll standard by the British trio Cream–as a conspicuous example. The number of guitarists Robert Johnson inspired is as impossible to overstate as the influence of his songs in American popular music over the years.

Put another way, this is probably very high-interest material for some students. If you want to consider the role of Papa Legba in Robert Johnson’s crossroads story, you and your student very likely have the makings of a synthetic research paper. There are, in the final analysis, West African cultural touchstones behind the story of Robert Johnson’s encounter with the devil at the crossroads.

Incidentally, the great music writer Robert Palmer, in his book Deep Blues, reported that Robert Johnson was given an “ice course.” i.e. a glass of poisoned whiskey, by a jealous husband in a rural juke joint. You probably won’t be surprised that there is a lot of speculation on this floating around on the Internet. As the headline to one of these articles rightly puts it, “The only solid fact about Robert Johnson is his music….” Which, in fact, is a pretty good place to start in writing about this towering figure in American culture.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Cultural Literacy: Black Muslims/Nation of Islam

Here is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on Black Muslims. The minute I saw the text that serves as the basis for this reading comprehension worksheet, let alone wrote the document, I was uneasy. In fact, I was and remain so uneasy about this worksheet that I rewrote it as a worksheet on the Nation of Islam.

Why was I uneasy? Well, first of all, thanks for asking! For starters, I think “Black Muslims” is an appellation contrived and articulated by White Americans in the 1960s to describe something they didn’t understand, and something, perhaps, that made them anxious. One thing I always tried to teach kids in my classes is that they possess a fundamental right, prerogative, indeed responsibility, to identify themselves–and not leave that important job to someone else. And I don’t know about you, but to my ear, the term “Black Muslims” coming out of the mouths of people who don’t identify as members of the Nation of Islam carries a note of derogation.

But it was an article of popular culture that supplied confirmation of my position on this worksheet–namely Regina King’s superlative new film  One Night in MiamiHave you seen it? It’s based on an actual night–February 25, 1964–when Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke met in a Miami hotel room. Based on the stage play by Kemp Powers, it is a powerful film of exceptionally strong dialogue (kudos to Mr. Powers for the strength of his exposition, which is among the best I have ever heard), stellar performances, and deft direction.

In any case, at one point in the film, as Malcolm X and Sam Cooke engage in a heated argument, Sam Cooke makes a sneering remark about “Black Muslims.” Malcolm X quickly retorts, “The Nation of Islam to you.”

And that, in the final analysis, is why this post contains two documents as well as a healthy dose of skepticism about the phrase “Black Muslims.”

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Mathew Brady

Moving right along on a Friday morning, here is a reading on Mathew Brady, the legendary Civil War photographer, along with its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet. Brady, it hardly needs to be said, is an important figure in the history of both the United States and the development of photography as an art and science.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

The Weekly Text, November 20, 2020: A Reading and Comprehension Worksheet on Walt Disney

This week’s Text is a simple one, to wit this reading on Walt Disney and its attendant vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet. This is relatively high-interest material for students, at least many I’ve served. There are relatively few children in our society (and arguably in any society) whose imagination Walt Disney and his characters haven’t colonized.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

The Blackboard Jungle by Evan Hunter

The Blackboard Jungle “The first novel (1954) of the US writer Evan Hunter (1926-2005), based on his personal experience. It is a somewhat sensationalized account of an American urban high school where the boys are rough, the headmaster a bully, and the teachers overworked and additionally plagued by personal problems. As a result of the book, the expression ‘blackboard jungle’ became a popular idiom for any undisciplined school of this type. The phrase itself is a variant on The Asphalt Jungle. A film version (1955), directed by Richard Brooks, is now chiefly remembered for its soundtrack, featuring ‘Rock Around the Clock’ by Bill Haley and the Comets.” 

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

Scarface

Scarface: A gangster film (1932) directed by Howard Hawks, with a screenplay by Ben Hecht and others. The 1983 remake was directed by Brian de Palma and had a screenplay by Oliver Stone. The name of the eponymous anti-hero is Tony Camonte (played by Paul Muni) in the 1932 version; in the 1983 version he is called Tony Montana (played by Al Pacino). The character is based on the real-life gangster Al Capone (1899-1947), who acquired the name Scarface from the scar on his left cheek caused by a razor slash in a Brooklyn gang fight in his younger days.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

Little Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors: A cult horror movie (1960) directed by Roger Corman (b. 1926) about a carnivorous talking plant that quickly outgrows the flower shop of its dimwitted owner and becomes a voracious man-eating monster. The success of Corman’s original inspired stage musical with the same title in the 1980s and an inferior film remake in 1986.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

Cultural Literacy: The Birth of a Nation

Here is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on The Birth of a Nation, the infamous 1915 film by D.W. Griffith. I think now is a good time for students to learn about this piece of racist propaganda.

There, I got that out on the page. I’ve been walking around this document, metaphorically speaking, for months. In fact, I have a good deal of material about this film–and know more about it than I care to admit. Suffice to say this: this film innovated production techniques and really represents the birth of the long-form, narrative cinema we take for granted today. Even the Marxist auteur Sergei Eisenstein admired D.W. Griffith’s advances in technique while deploring the racism of The Birth of a Nation.

Generally, this film in its “artistic” and commercial dimensions offers a lot of grist for the critical mill. I am still working up to posting more material about this hot-button issue. For now, this short exercise will have to suffice.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.