I have now watched two different cinematic versions of “Left Behind” and I can’t help but wonder why it is they can’t make a film about a supreme being zapping all of his/her/its/their adherents off the face of the planet in order to mess with the rest of his/her/its/their creation by torturing them, and make it entertaining. Seriously, that premise is killer both literally and figuratively!
And one more thing before veering off in to a topic of more salient interest urbanisticly: how is that people won’t know, like, immediately that “The Rapture” has taken place when only Christians, mostly “pre-trib” evangelicals…and the children…all vanish at once into thin air? We’ve heard the story people, however tenuous its biblical roots may be: we’d figure it out.
In any case, the first of our double feature of futility was the classic “Blackboard Jungle” with Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier. What a huge flaming pile of crap. It was, however, gratifying to see that the ridiculous rhetoric regarding “failing urban schools” hasn’t changed at all in 60 years. Oh, the Irish and the Italians have done the Jeffersonian thing (Weezie and George, not Thomas) and “moved on up”, but the Puerto Ricans and Blacks are still there, not learning and wreaking havoc.
Where to begin? I’m not a film critic so I will focus on the anti-urban propaganda and not the nuances of film making. To begin with even the hate filled, bitter, cynical, and angry teachers turn out to be overly optimistic when it comes to their expectations of city kids: on day one only our reluctant hero Mr. Dardier keeps a crazed high school kid from raping the new lady teacher in the library. You know, like we always hear about happening when people tell us about public school in the 1950’s! Mr. Dardier alternately threatens and encourages the kids, kind of a schizophrenic good-cop, bad cop routine all the while zigging and zagging to avoid the sexual advances of the hot to trot middle aged sexual assault victim in order to stay faithful to his pregnant wife at home.
On the urbanism side of things crazy kids rule the streets making parked cars flip in defiance of the laws of physics by only slightly bumping up against them, newspaper delivery men get car jacked by rubber mallet wielding hoodlums, and teachers get drunk and then decide to walk down dark and dirty alleyways at night in order to get to their bus stop only to find that their students are awaiting them in ambush.
Mr Dardier, who attended an all-women’s college after the war because vets could do that apparently, (And why would you not? “Hi girls, I’m a war hero AND the only man on campus. Whose up for an all-night pajama party study group?”) and so he visits his former college professor now inexplicably teaching at a clearly co-ed suburban high school. The Star Spangled Banner rings out while professor Gurzerflunken (or something) shows Mr Dardier room after room of studious children eagerly learning Latin and heating liquids in beakers unthreateningly, finally ending up in an auditorium full of Stepford children finally finishing the National Anthem. “But it’s easy to teach here!” Mr. Dardier exclaims as, now perambulating by the sprawling athletic fields, he converses with the professor. Oh, but someone needs to teach those barbaric ruffians and make them care about life and learning, at least until the whiter ones can move out here to Levittown, and so he decides to carry on.
He returns to the classroom and shows his students classic cartoons of fairy tails like “Jack and the Bean Stalk” and the nearly illiterate city kids finally understand nuanced ideas like “stealing is wrong” and “people generally don’t want to be murdered”. Audio-visual aids are the key to reaching these kids says Mr Dardier, (the Internet enabled laptops of the 50’s) but don’t bring your “priceless irreplaceable” Jazz albums to school to teach math, those same kids will destroy them and the turntable! (The foreshadowing on that one was so heavy handed old man Oedipus could have seen it coming!)
The claims about failed urban schools were as accurate then as they are now. Of course socially isolated, culturally separate, economically disadvantaged kids are not going to achieve the same type of success with the same facility as their wealthy majoritarian counterparts: that’s what it means to be DIS-advantaged! I’ll let you decide whether or not this line from the trailer for the film was hyperbolic : “It is fiction, but fiction torn from big city modern savagery.”
Millions of children went to school in the 1950’s in poor urban and rural schools and in wealthy urban and suburban ones. Given the enormity of the nationwide educational system of course horrible things did happen from time to time, from teacher stabbings, to rape, but given that the 50’s in particular are now held up as a sort of Golden Age of American culture and education, doesn’t it call into question the accuracy of our perspective, then and now, when even the New York Times was convinced that this film gave some important insights into the so called “crisis” in urban public education?