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Media Films

Home to Ontario Media Literacy Main Page
Sample Chapters of Returning Light to the Wind
Sample Chapters of Racing Through the Times

Possible Films to Use When Teaching Media Literacy

The Truman Show

Peter Weir directed this comedy-drama, a commentary on all-pervasive media manipulation.

Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is unaware that his entire life is a hugely popular 24-hour-a-day TV series. In this real-time documentary, every moment of Truman's existence is captured by concealed cameras and telecast to a giant global audience. His friends and family are actors who smile pleasantly at Truman's familiar catchphrase greeting, "In case I don't see you later, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!" Employed at an insurance company, Truman is married to merry Meryl (Laura Linney), and they live in the cheerful community of Seahaven, an island "paradise" where the weather is always mild and no unpleasantness intrudes. This is the basic situation of the series, which has grown over the years into a billion-dollar franchise for the TV network. As an unwanted pregnancy, Truman was adopted by the network and raised in the zoolike environment of a TV soundstage. Thus, the TV audience became hooked when Truman was very young. Now, at age 30, he still doesn't know he's a prisoner on an immense domed city-size soundstage, simulating Seahaven. Both the illusion and the ratings will collapse if Truman ever leaves Seahaven.

There are many layers on which this movie can be discussed. Choose one of the topics below and then a written form to express your viewpoint about the film.

Topics:

Religious imagery in the movie

Destiny

How close is our world to the world of Truman?

Clever advertising/product placement

Christof's quote: "We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented."

Christof's quote: "The world is a sick place; Seahaven is the way the world should be."

We're all "adopted" by corporations.

We exist in a world today of cameras and hidden cameras.

Truman's choice to walk through the door is not a good one.

Truman's choice to walk through the door is a good one.

Christof to Truman: "I've been watching you since your birth" (look at how corporations pay attention to demographics).

Possible forms of writing:

A letter to a newspaper or a friend.

An article for a media literacy magazine.

Song lyrics expressing a view point.

A poem.

A dialogue between two people (i.e. a media student convincing a parent of something.)

A journal response.


Tomorrow Never Dies

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) learns billionaire media mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) is manipulating world events via an exclusive flow of information through his satellite system reaching all corners of the planet. With a stealth battleship sinking a British naval vessel, Carver sees that the Chinese are blamed. Crashing Carver's party in Hamburg, Bond meets "journalist" Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), later revealed as a Chinese agent. In a brief tryst, Bond renews his past relationship with Carver's wife Paris (Teri Hatcher). Carver dispatches Stamper (Gotz Otto) and other goons to cancel Bond, who eludes attackers with some of his new gadgets. In Southeast Asia, after Bond and Wai Lin scuba dive into the sunken British ship, they are captured by Stamper, handcuffed, and taken to Saigon where they make a motorcycle escape. To thwart Carver's plans for WWIII, the two agents head for Carver's stealth ship where a cruise missile is aimed at Beijing.

This film is for senior high school students only due to subject matter (some romance and violence). Some teachers may not feel comfortable showing a film that relies on violence. In fact, many "sins" occur in this film: extra-marital sex, violence, murder, lying, illegal entry, etc, etc. The fact Hollywood doesn't blink at some of these blatant crimes to tell a story may be a good discussion.

Like many action-adventure films, Tomorrow Never Dies follows a formula. I've tried to plot the film and found 18 significant scenes from beginning to end. I also provide for you significant quotations given by the main villain, Media tycoon Eliot Carver. These can also be excellent for discussion or journal ideas in a media literacy class.

Scene 1: show the hero doing something heroic; scene probably related to plot in some way we find out later.

Scene 2: highlight bad guys (Carver media group); they are invincible

Scene 3: Back to the good guy (James Bond & Co.); classic scene of Bond getting an assignment while with a woman; James' connection to Carver (he had a relationship with Carver's wife once); time: they have 48 hours to prove Carver's involved or the English will bomb the Chinese

Scene 4: scene in which we are introduced to Bond's new gadgets; remote control car

Scene 5: pleasant confrontation with Carver at party; Bond meets Carver's wife and she doesn't seem committed to Eliot Carver; obvious feelings between Bond and wife; we meet Wai Lin briefly; a scene which highlights the Carver Global Satellite Network: carver says he doesn't want to reach every corner of the globe for profit but for higher understanding.

"The key to a great story is not who, what, or when, but Why?"-Eliot Carver

Scene 6: Carver finds out Bond is a government agent and wife had an affair with Bond; arranges for wife's death.

Scene 7: Bond gets into secret lab-runs into Wai Lin (her second appearance); we get first major chase scene

Scene 8: Carver's wife dies; Bond is upset; he now has motivation to get Eliot Carver; big chase scene in which we see all the Bond gadgets at work; Bond escapes

Notice that there is a combination of luck and skill involved in Bond's surviving.

Scene 9: Bond goes down to check out the Devonshire (ship sunk at the beginning of the movie) to prove its position when it was sunk; James explores the ship and runs into Wai Lin (3rd encounter); they emerge from water and are captured by Eliot Carver's men.

"The world's my office."-American briefing Bond on drop to the Devonshire

--Eliot Carver tells Bond and Lin of his big plans and shows off the Global Satellite Network

"Words are the new weapons; satellites are the new artillery. Ceasar had his legions, Napoleon had his armies; I have my divisions: TV, newspapers, and magazines."-Eliot Carver

--motorcycle chase through Saigon (scores of machine guns but not one hit); development of relationship between Bond and Lin

"The difference between genious and insanity is success." --Carver

Scene 10: shower scene b/t Bond and Lin (she snubs him, doesn't want to work with him)

Scene 11: Chinese martial arts scene-Chang has sent his men to kill Lin; Bond comes in and helps her; now they link up together and figure out valuable stuff; Chinese gadgets highlighted; they go to find the Stealth boat on which Carver is running his operation

Scene 12: exotic trip-QUIET TIME, ROMANCE-the film is setting us up for something!; they get on Carver's boat; Carver is planning to send a missile at both the British and Chinese ships so they will think the other is shooting; Wai Lin gets caught by Carver's men

Scene 13: government scene: they get Bond's message about what is going on

Scene 14: on Stealth boat; Carver explains to Wai Lin why he is doing what he's doing

--Carver is working with Chang, the Chinese general-a missile is going to be sent to China where all the Chinese leaders are gathered, except Chang, who will order the Chinese army to blow up the English fleet; he will be seen as a hero in China and will come to power; he will give Carver 100 years of broadcasting rights in China, which will give Carver an audience of 1 billion people.

"Great men have always manipulated the media. William Randolph Hearst told his reporters, 'you provide the pictures, I'll provide the war.'" --Carver

Scene 15: Bond resurfaces (classic gun-to-everyone's-head scene);Bond kills Carver, blows up Stealth-he and Lin escape

"You forgot the most important rule in mass media-give the people what they want." -Bond to Carver before "the drill"

Scene 16: Lin is dropped overboard and is going to drown; Bond ends up overboard as well but saves Lin (even though she is half-dead, she has enough air to make out with Bond)

Scene 17: End joke: government sends out press release that Eliot Carver died on a yacht in the South China Sea, an alleged suicide (remember Wag the Dog).

Scene 18: Love scene.

Closing credits.


Pleasantville

The cheerful '50s TV sitcom "Pleasantville" is revived in the '90s for a loyal cable audience. One devoted fan is shy suburban teen David Wagner (Tobey Maguire), who has an almost obsessive interest in the series. Living with his divorced mother (Jane Kaczmarek), David sometimes has disputes with his ultra-hip twin sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon). She wants to watch MTV just when a Pleasantville marathon is about to begin. They struggle over the remote control, and it breaks. A strange TV repairman (Don Knotts) supplies their new remote, a potent high-tech device which zaps David and Jennifer inside Pleasantville, where their new sitcom parents are businessman George Parker (William H. Macy) and wife Betty (Joan Allen). As "Bud" and "Mary Sue," the teens take up residence in a black-and-white suburbia where sex does not exist and the temperature is always 72 degrees. Life is always pleasant, books have no words, bathrooms have no toilets, married couples sleep in twin beds, the high school basketball team always wins, and nobody ever questions "The Good Life."

David revels in Pleasantville's Prozac-styled peacefulness. He fits right in, but Jennifer's 1990s attitude upsets the blandness balance, painting parts of Pleasantville in "living color." Repressed desires surface, cracks appear in the '50s lifestyles, and the Pleasantville populace finds their lives changing in strange, wonderful ways.

It's liberating -- but there's also a darker side. Pleasantville doesn't open the door for the study of blatant media issues like ratings, demographics or commercial interests like some of the others listed here. What Pleasantville accomplishes is a social study of television; it contrasts 50s and 90s television's view of those eras. While the TV shows of early television depicted nuclear families and tradional values, 50s culture was probably more 'real.' Nineties television has almost done the opposite: presenting us with reality that is perhaps more harsh than real life. Good discussion material for senior level classes.

Be sure to visit the Resource Room and check out the first novel in Ron DeBoer's media literacy trilogy Returning Light to the Wind (ISBN#0-9698855-0-4) which makes an excellent companion piece for Pleasantville at the high school level. You can also read the first few chapters of Returning Light to the Wind by clicking at the top of this page.

Activities

Pleasantville is a movie of contrasts. Study the thematic contrasts that exist as well as the production techniques used to communicate contrast.

TV Quote: "I know what I'd feel like if my TV broke; like I'd lost a friend."--TV 'repairman'

Compare and Contrast Pleasantville with The Truman Show ("What's outside of Pleasantville?")

Look at the theme of destiny--everything is scripted, has a place. What about our lives?

Religious imagery: garden of Eden, offering of apple, rainbow over Pleasantville, trial of Bud, etc

Importance of books. Two books that were highlighted prominently in the film are Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye; going to the library becomes a fad (look at Chapters or Barnes and Noble today!)

Censorship: "It seems to me we must separate out the things that are unpleasant from the things that are pleasant."--mayor of Pleasantville. Personal expression and differences become unacceptable. Anything wandering from what is known is feared.

Racism: "No coloureds."--sign in Pleasantville window "Coloureds" are people who have become enlightened or who become passionate; they are rejected from mainstream Pleasantville. Interesting, in our world since differences are not tolerated all over the globe: World War II history, Kosovo

Review the "8 Rules of Pleasantville." See how they apply to certain institutions in our own world--church, schools, homes

Rule #8 is worth focussing: "Non-change-ist view of history is to be taught in all courses in the curriculum." Is our own education akin to a non-change-ist attitude?

Take a closer look at the mural painted by Bob the Soda Pop dispenser--analyze certain other symbols that represent freedom (he uses books, wings, etc.)

Scene at the end of the movie of a sign that says SPRINGFIELD 12 is significant on a number of levels: first, it indicates that people in Pleasantville now have a notion that a world exists beyond its own borders; second, Springfield is the setting of the real sit-com, Father Knows Best; third, Springfield is also the setting of The Simpsons' which is a parody of 50s family perfection, which, of course, never existed.


Wag the Dog

Two weeks prior to re-election, the President (Michael Belson) is accused of cornering a Girl Scout in the Oval Office. To keep the media from learning of this, Presidential adviser Winifred Ames (Anne Heche) brings in political consultant and spin doctor Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro), a specialist in such salvage operations. Brean suggests fabricating denials of non-existent emergencies -- such as denials about the B-3 bomber. The denial, of course, is true, since no B-3 bomber exists. Brean visits the mansion of Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) and gives him the assignment to create a patriotic campaign centered around a war in Albania.

This film took only 29 days to film; analyze the film more closely and see if the production of it shows how a short filming schedule like this could be possible.


EdTV

The turning point in the life of Ed Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey) comes thanks to the misfortunes of the NorthWest Broadcasting Company. After two years on the air, their flagship cable channel, True TV, has slid into obscurity due to competition from the The Gardening Channel. Program director Cynthia Topping (Ellen DeGeneres) brainstorms a last ditch effort to save the channel: broadcast one ordinary person's life 24 hours a day, unedited (while he sleeps, the day's highlights will be shown). When the network agrees to the idea, Topping must find the subject of her program. After endless auditions, she lucks upon Ed, a goofy but good-looking video store clerk. Ed has little time to get used to his new shadow, a three man video crew, before the show becomes a hit. Suddenly Ed's a cultural icon with fan clubs, stalkers, and imitators, but the media saturation has it's effects on his friends and family, who are now part of the program. Ed alienates his proud brother, Ray (Woody Harrelson), by falling in love with his girlfriend, Shari (Jenna Elfman). His estranged father Hank (Dennis Hopper) reappears after abandoning the family and creates tension between Ed and Ray's mother, Jeanette (Sally Kirkland) and her wheelchair-bound second husband, Al (Martin Landau). When Ed realizes the phenomenon has turned on him, he convinces Topping to stop the ordeal, but not her boss, Whitaker (Rob Reiner). To regain his life, Ed must find a way to cancel EDtv.


Hero

Hero is about a two-bit criminal named Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) who saves several passengers from a plane crash and leaves the scene without being identified, leaving only a lost shoe for identification. One of the passengers happens to be news-reporter Gale (Geena Davis) who is intent on finding her savior, and offers a million dollars to the "hero" of the crashed flight. Bernie has since given his remaining shoe to a homeless man named John (Andy Garcia) who decides to cash in on the offer. A handsome, charming man, John wins the hearts of the entire city. Soon, Bernie realizes that he's been cheated out of a million dollars, and he begins an effort to get his proper recognition--and his money.

Hero manages to be quite funny and satirical while sticking to a story that is essentially a Hollywood fable. It is an excellent companion piece to a unit on TV news, ratings, image, public perception, the shaping of thought, news slant, etc.

Be sure to visit the Resource Room and check out the second book in Ron DeBoer's Media trilogy of novels, Racing Through the Times (ISBN #0-9698855-1-2) about a media villain who is attempting to buy up all the newspapers in the world and renaming them The Times. For you Canadians, does this sound like Conrad Black? For you Americans, does this sound like Rupert Murdoch? The author patterned the villain--Comrad Zwart--after these two newspaper barons. Go to the top of the movie page to click to the book and to read the first five chapters.


Broadcast News

Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) is an ambitious producer at the network news division's Washington D.C. branch. Jane works well with Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), an excellent reporter who lacks the visual charisma to make him a star. Into their lives comes Tom Grunick (William Hurt), a regional newscaster who admits he can't write news and doesn't understand many of the events he's covering, but has the presence and physical appeal that the increasingly entertainment-oriented network wants for its news programs. Jane is also physically attracted to him, which drives her crazy, because Grunick stands for everything she's fighting against in the news business, while Altman is devastated by her attraction because he secretly yearns for Jane. As Grunick becomes a rising star at the network, and layoffs of the old guard loom, the three leads deal with their feelings for each other, their careers, and their values.

The parallel of the relationships between the three main characters to what's popular in the modern news is excellent. Despite what Jane knows about relationships, she picks the flashy/"popular" guy over the intelligent guy. She represents a news audience who desires image over substance.


Running Man

Running Man (language and violence issue alert!) is set in the year 2019 and involves a cop (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who is wrongly accused of committing a heinous crime. In this future world, criminals are given a chance to beat their rap by competing in a federally-supported game-show of sorts, where highly trained assassin athletes stalk the criminals. The fleeing criminals must either elude their stalkers or overcome them in a life-and-death battle. This is, of course, Schwarzenegger's cup of tea, for he's better prepared than most for the deadly encounter. This movie analyzes media manipulation, government controlled media, and a study of parallels to our own televisoin formats (violent talk shows like Gerry Springer, wrestling, etc). The violence and language issue is a big one; for mature audiences only.


Citizen Kane

The movie opens with a fade-in on foggy, forlorn Xanadu, a palatial estate off the Florida coast, where Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), one of the world's wealthiest and most powerful men, dies whispering the word "Rosebud."

Fade-out, then a flat cut to a "March of Time"-like documentary which presents a thumbnail sketch of the life of publishing magnate Kane (a brilliant and entertaining means of dispensing a maximum amount of exposition in a minimum amount of time). Managing editor Rawlston (Phil Van Zandt) insists that the Kane obituary film is missing something and "needs an angle." Rawlston orders his top reporter to discover what "Rosebud" means, and Thompson's search leads him to five key players in Kane's private life.

In the end, Thompson has nothing to show for all his legwork except a jigsaw puzzle with a missing piece. The viewer, however, has better luck, and the mystery is resolved by the story's end. A thinly veiled biography of powerful publisher William Randolph Hearst, Citizen Kane has probably inspired more directorial careers than any film short of Pulp Fiction; as with Quentin Tarantino's later film, Kane became influential through the sheer rule-breaking audacity of its young filmmaker (Welles was 25 years old when he made it). Welles uses his March of Time gimmick to fragment conventional notions of space, time, and character, suggesting that no one can be known other than through varying perspectives. Widely cited as the greatest American film, Citizen Kane is neither comforting nor stale, and its energy and invention set the pace for new movies many decades later.


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