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#Movies

  • ENLIGHTENED...by "BLINDED BY THE LIGHT"

    ENLIGHTENED...by BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

    By

    Chuck Cascio

         My students were adamant: "You have to listen to this guy, Mr. C.! You love Dylan, so you have to hear this guy!" One young woman waved a cassette tape in my face.

         Me: "Whoever this guy is, he is not Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan is a poet, the voice of the heart and of the conscience."

         Students: "But, Mr. C., you always tell us to try new things! You always say: 'Trying new things broadens your thinking and creativity.' So come on!”

         It was 1973 and I was a young English and Journalism teacher at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, VA. I loved my students' reactions when I had them analyze lyrics by Dylan and apply them to the socio-political climate of the time, or when I would play a Beach Boys song and ask them something seemingly bizarre like, “Equate their harmonies with the textured flow of a Dickinson poem.” At first, they would look at me confused, skeptical, but gradually they would dig in and they would come up with analogies I never dreamed of. Now, they were convinced, it was my turn to grow.

         So I relented: “Okay, so who is it that you want me to listen to? This ‘Dylan Equivalent?' "

         They did not waste a second. A cassette player appeared, the  tape was snapped in, and the entire class stood in a circle, smiling in anticipation as they awaited my reaction.

         The first sounds I heard from the recording were surprisingly appealing--a couple of engaging guitar riffs, a subtle drumbeat, another guitar floating through, hinting at something different. A few seconds passed and I was interested--not yet hooked, but interested. Then I heard the raspy, almost whispered words…

         "Sandy, the fireworks are hailin' over little Eden tonight

         Forcin' a light into all those stony faces left stranded on this fourth of July..."

    …and just two lines in, I knew I had to hear the rest. I listened intently, while my students nudged one another and some softly sang along with Bruce Springsteen's "Fourth of July, Asbury Park."

         My students did what they knew they could do--they hooked me on Bruce, and over the years I have thought often about that classroom experience (and many others)—and about how much we all have to learn by listening, looking, sharing. 

         That day, and those feelings, rushed back recently when my wife and I went to see the movie Blinded By the Light, which is based on the true story of a young Pakistani man facing the racism of late 1980s England. A friend turns the young man on to Springsteen, and his life is changed by The Boss's lyrics and music. 

         In the movie, Springsteen’s songs contribute to the young man’s development of personal strength. He experiences new insights into society. His thinking is influenced by many of Springsteen's lyrics, including one that especially hits home with him…and me… from the song "The Price You Pay": 

              “Now they'd come so far and they'd waited so long

             Just to end up caught in a dream where everything goes wrong

             Where the dark of night holds back the light of the day

             And you've gotta stand and fight for the price you pay…”

         I won't go into what are, to me, the rather obvious applications those particular lines have to life today. But it makes me think back to the 1970s when the kids I taught were experiencing a continuing era of overt racism, conflict over segregation versus desegregation, worldwide economic turmoil, a foreign war that was not formally termed a “war” by politicians of the time, talks of impeaching the president and more...and I wonder:   

         Exactly how far have we come? 

         Those kids in my classroom found a reality in the songs of Springsteen, and they shared that reality with one another and, fortunately,  with me. But they also heard and shared an element of change and a sense that life is fleeting, that people must determine what is right and what they want to pursue, and that the opportunity for personal or social change always exists…though sometimes with a price.

         Sure, they might metaphorically catch their shirts, as “Fourth of July, Asbury Park” says, on that "tilt-a-whirl down on the south beach drag" that "kept me spinnin'/I didn't think I'd ever get off…" but there is also this bit of hope at the end of the song:

              “…the aurora is rising behind us

             This pier lights our carnival life forever

             Oh, love me tonight and I promise I'll love you forever…”

         None of this is to imply that Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan or some singer-songwriter today has all of the answers to the looming socio-political issues we face or to the vast personal questions today’s youths confront. But the movie Blinded By the Light  emphasizes the importance of capturing the elements of hope and change, grabbing onto them, and not being afraid to “stand and fight for the price you pay.”

         Our natural instinct is to hope that the price we pay is not too high and that what we pay for will have a lasting positive effect for us and for all. As Springsteen warns in his song "Better Days," we shouldn't be "just sittin' around waitin' for my life to begin/While it was all just slippin' away." 

         I don’t know what happened to most of those students I had all those years ago, the ones who felt comfortable enough to have me listen to Springsteen, knowing that I would be captivated by The Boss. I do hope that they are all and that they still enjoy his music, that they also see how his words apply to today’s world, and that they have lived with this simple lyric in mind from Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”:

              “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”

         If you want to rekindle that fire, go see Blinded By the Light. It brings back memories, but more important, it serves as a reminder that art can spark meaningful thought, and that we are all responsible for starting our own fires.

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio. All rights reserved.

  • The Movie "Just Mercy"--See. Think. Act

    The Movie Just Mercy

    See. Think. Act.

    by

    Chuck Cascio

         If you have not yet seen the movie Just Mercy, you should put it on your "must do" list, especially during Black History Month. It is a true story that provides viewers with reminders of past injustices, the realization that injustices still exist, and the sense of how much must be done to eliminate those injustices in the future. 

         Be prepared to feel uncomfortable but in a meaningful, important way when viewing Just Mercy. And the movie will also make you aware that there are people who truly commit their lives to eliminating injustice...and those people are the real, little-known heroes of history.

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         Just Mercy is the story of African American Bryan Stevenson (played powerfully by Michael A. Jordan), a young, Harvard-educated attorney, who in the late 1980s goes to Alabama to defend prisoners wrongly imprisoned and those not provided proper representation. The movie focuses on one case in particular--that of Walter McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx, in a moving performance), an African American in Alabama sentenced to die for the murder of an 18-year-old girl despite abundant evidence proving his innocence. The movie captures the racism and the legal and political obstacles Stevenson encounters while fighting for McMillian's life and the lives of many other prisoners.  

       The film is produced by Participant, a media company committed to developing entertainment that inspires positive social change, and the story succeeds in encouraging viewers to recognize the inequalities that existed in the era of this movie and those that still exist today. For me, a Boomer who moved from Brooklyn to Northern Virginia as a kid in the 1950s, the movie brought back uncomfortable memories from my youth. And it reminded me that, 30 years later during the years in which Just Mercy takes place, those injustices were still evident...and that too many still exist today albeit in less immediately obvious ways. Some of the realities the film brought back to me from my childhood:

         >>> Seeing signs above restrooms and water fountains and elsewhere that said, "Coloreds" and others that said, "Whites."

         >>> The street signs on motels that specified, "Coloreds not allowed."

         >>> Raw anger rippling through some classmates as Northern Virginia started to integrate schools.

         >>> The time an African American musician friend of mine was given a different menu at a restaurant from the one I was given, the prices on his menu several times more expensive than the prices on mine. We walked out, and as we were leaving someone behind us said, "Well, you can't say that we refused to serve him."

         And, sadly, there are many more from my 1950s-60s childhood. Incidents that confused me, incidents that my parents made sure I recognized as wrong, incidents that still run through my head. They are especially vivid when I see a movie like Just Mercy, so much so that I believe the movie should be shown to high school students and discussed in depth with them. The story is ideal for a conversation around racial injustice, where it has been, where it exists today, and what needs to be done about it in the future.

         As Just Mercy reveals, Bryan Stevenson did more than commit himself to a couple of years worth of work for the unjustly incarcerated. He formed the Equal Justice Initiative in 1989, a nonprofit organization that, as stated on its website (www.eji.org),

    “…provides legal representation to people who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced, or abused in state jails and prisons. We challenge the death penalty and excessive punishment and we provide re-entry assistance to formerly incarcerated people.” 

         There is much work to be done. According to the Pew Research Center, African Americans represent only 12% of the U.S. adult population but 33% of the sentenced prison population. Hispanics make up 16% of the adult population and account for 23% of inmates. Whites comprise 64% of adults and 30% of prisoners.  

         In these swirling, fast-paced times it is important to remind ourselves of the realities of past injustices, to take time to look closely at the current lives of minorities, and to take steps for a more equitable future. So here are three things to consider doing, any one of which will stimulate thinking and expand the much-needed conversation:

    1) Just see the movie.

    2) Think about, document, and/or discuss your own experiences regarding racism.

    3) Go to the Equal Justice Initiative website (www.eji.org) and explore it, looking especially at the various materials developed for classroom use, which can also be used  in less-formal discussions with today's youths.

       Doing any of these will stimulate thoughts about where we were, where we are, and where we are headed. Sometimes mercy emerges from discomfort.

    Copyright Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.

  • Trump and "The Deer Hunter"


    A LESSON ABOUT DONALD TRUMP FROM THE DEER HUNTER

    by

    Marc Cascio

    (Note: Marc Cascio is a high school English teacher, father of three, soccer coach, and my son. I am pleased that he is an occasional contributor to my blog.)

    More and more, I keep thinking of the scene from The Deer Hunter where Robert De Niro’s character Mike explains to his friend Stan (played by John Cazale) that reality is reality by angrily exclaiming, "This is this!" The lesson is clear: Some things are just not subject to being false simply because you want them to be false or because you say they are false without proof.

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    For example, climate change is real. It just is. You can yell and scream and rant and rave, you can surround yourself with other people who deny it, and you can find a screwball or two with some fancy degree who offers some quackish data that supports your claim, but that doesn't outweigh the throngs of experts and the mountains of data the prove the truth: Climate change IS real. This is this.

    The dangers of Covid are also real. Just because you might happen to be living in an area where emergency rooms aren't packed with the sick and dying doesn't mean that the dangers aren't real. No one person is the center of the universe, and no one person's subjective experience dictates objective reality, so to run around foolishly without precautions puts everyone at risk. This is this.

    And the president of the United States incited a riot-- 

    >>>He fomented an insurrection. 

    >>>He got a police officer killed. 

    >>>He lied about a stolen election. 

    >>>He badmouthed governors and his own vice president. 

    >>>He vilified the Supreme Court because the justices upheld the law rather than saw it as their obligation to side with him because he appointed some of the justices. 

    >>>He is guilty of treason. 

    Maybe (?) there were a few antifa people milling around who jumped in, but those people rioting in the Capitol were radical Trump supporters doing Trump's bidding.

    That is that and this is this!

    (Copyright Marc Cascio; all rights reserved.)