Tuesday, June 10, 2014
"Words and Pictures": a debate about art gets drawn out in a prep school drama
“Words and Pictures” (Fred Schepesi) brought to mind a friendship I formed with a coworker back in 1971, when I was working for the Navy Department. He had been a math teacher himself, and loved intellectual games and puzzles, and the idea of “visuality”. He wrote an essay in which he tried to explain what “art” is. (He also got a mathematical paper published, but that’s another matter.) He used the example of “fog” as an experience that needs art to convey.
The film, set in a Canadian prep school, seemed a bit drawn out as it carried out its premise. Clive Owen plays Jack Marcus, a middle aged and apparently alcoholic (and divorced) English teacher struggling to keep his job. Why so, seems a bit of a stretch at first. He hasn’t “published” in a while, but this is high school. His classroom habits seem shipshod – he doesn’t write lesson plans, and is delinquent in grading themes. (I’ve actually seen a young male English teacher grade themes on the DC Metro, with red ink, and another physics teacher looking at differential equations.) He does offer his almost-18 kids interesting challenges, though, like to coin new words to enter the English language. (How about “tarea”, Spanish for homework.)
The school hires an honors art teacher, Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche) who really will challenge the kids to work with the passion of a Pollock. Marcus gets the idea he can anchor his job by holding a contest for the annual yearbook to see what holds the most sway, words or pictures. It seems odd that nobody thinks of Wordsworth (or of T.S. Elliot, or for that matter, J. D. Salinger).
There is the opportunity for adult romance, of sorts. There is also the issue of Marcus plagiarizing the work of his own grown son (Christian Scheider?), and that a student who uses a drawing, propagated nu cell phone, to harass a girl who has rejected him (unfortunately, very timely given what happened in California recently). In fact, Jack actually tires to stick up for the student, saying he would never be malicious.
The official site (Roadside Attractions) is here.
I saw the film at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA, early Tuesday evening, before a sparse crowd.