White Pat Conroy was born and raised in Beaufort, South Carolina. In March, 1969 under the Beaufort School District, he starts a job teaching at a small poor school located on Daufuskie ... See full summary »
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White Pat Conroy was born and raised in Beaufort, South Carolina. In March, 1969 under the Beaufort School District, he starts a job teaching at a small poor school located on Daufuskie Island, an island in a South Carolina river delta, the island accessible only by boat. The island is inhabited exclusively by blacks. He quickly learns that his students, who have never left the island, lack not only a basic understanding of academic items such as the alphabet and simple arithmetic, but also of other basic necessities of life such as personal hygiene. They can't even pronounce his name, they who call him Conrack. The teachers before him, including the school principal Mrs. Scott, have always treated the students as being slow and basically unteachable of academics. Conrack, a free thinking man, decides to expose his students not only to the academic subjects, but also to the gamut of life skills from brushing one's teeth to human anatomy, and some of the fun things in life like ... Written by
Gang, we're going to learn all these records. We're gonna look like geniuses when we know all these songs. Visitors are going to come here, expecting nothing but stupidity and poverty - I'm going to switch on this record player - you're going to look those people right in the eye, and exclaim: "Are you perchance... familiar with the works of Rimsky-Korsakov?" We'll knock their behinds off... Now here we got something very sweet
[begins playing record]
... Brahms' Lullaby. You don't need any ...
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Martin Ritt seems to be a director who was always interested in social issues (as the son of immigrants, he had every incentive to be so, especially since he was blacklisted in the '50s). "Conrack" is based on Pat Conroy's novel "The Water is Wide", about his own experience in 1969 teaching a school of impoverished black children about the outside world, much to the chagrin of the right-wing superintendent (Hume Cronyn). What added to the movie's strength was the cultural and historical context: Conroy (Jon Voight) frustratedly tells another teacher how many of the children don't know about Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, the Vietnam War, or even where Vietnam is. He proceeds to enlighten them about all these factors.
Somewhere, I read a complaint that when Conroy played music for the children, he only played white music. The truth is, you can't blame the movie for that; it was based on Conroy's real experience. Either way, the movie's a real gem.
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