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I love this film. My father, a teacher for 37 years, loved this film. It's
not the greatest cinematic effort in the world, it's not even the best film
about teaching (see "The Blackboard Jungle" or "Goodbye Mr Chips"). It is,
however, a fine effort and an entertaining film.
There are some great comedic moments in this film: the school psychologist flipping out and squirting Ditto in the face with ink, Richard Mulligan as a mental patient who becomes a substitute history teacher, the theft of a teacher's desk, the whole "Ditto" character. There are problems, however.
The chief problem in this film is the inability to strike a balance between comedy and drama. The film tries to raise vital issue facing schools: funding, apathy amongst staff, lack of parental involvement, safety, administrators who worry more about image than the education of their students, teen angst, conformity vs. individuality. Much of the comedy is used to highlight many of these issues, and some of it works quite well. At other times, it devalues the issue at hand.
There are fine performances from Nick Nolte, Judd Hirsch, Morgan Freeman, Jobeth Williams, Crispin Glover, and Laura Dern. Richard Mulligan and Royal Dano are hysterical. Ralph Macchio is Ralph Macchio; not much depth, but some good moments.
I don't think this is an insult to teaching, as it tries to show different styles. Nolte is the idealistic teacher who tries to reach his students and get them involved, but has lost his passion in an uncaring system. Royal Dano, "Ditto", is a teacher who has removed any responsibility in actively teaching his students and just marks time until retirement. Allen Garfield tries to teach his class, but doesn't seem to be able to reach them and is reduced to an object of ridicule amongst his students. Richard Mulligan is a mental patient, who through an absurd set of circumstances, becomes a substitute history teacher. He literally brings history to life, by dressing up as various figures of history, and acting out their achievements. He uses different methods to engage his students and they respond.
In the end, this film is a mixed bag. It tries to illuminate the struggles of education, offers some solutions, and entertains; but, its message gets a bit lost. Still, it's definitely worth viewing.
Incidently, one reviewer remarked about the scene where Ditto is squirted with ink, saying he is using some kind of paper machine. For you younger viewers out there, that is a ditto machine. In the ancient days before photocopiers became standard, teachers had to prepare their tests and hand-outs on ditto machines. It was a kind of simple printing press. Many were hand-cranked and required a lot of effort to churn out a stack of tests. God help you if you had several pages to print. The ink had a very distinct smell and was often the center of student jokes about getting high off of the tests. Ah, those were the days! Nowadays, the best students can hope for is getting a little toner on their hands from the copier, or a faded screen on their computer. And we used to have to walk ten miles to school, through fifty feet of snow, uphill, both ways; and we liked it!
When I first saw this movie shortly after it came out I thought it was a little over-the-top, despite the many memorable comic moments. Having had a chance to see it again many years later on cable I find it has more depth than I had seen in it originally. It is definitely a critique of public education, but it does not set up any easy enemies. Everyone here is complicit in a failing system - the unions, the school board, the lawyers, parents, complacent teachers, go-along- to-get-along administrators, &c &c. It is also touching to see how many of these people are not bad people, but are just trying to make a flawed system work (in this respect I find Judd Hirsch, as the put-upon assistant principal, the hidden gem of the movie). Having seen it again after all these years I find it provocative and, surprisingly, touching, especially Nolte's final peroration. And the best part,after all these years, is still Richard Mulligan, as the certifiable lunatic who turns out to be the best teacher in the whole damn school (a brilliant touch on the part of the writers) !!!!!
I just wanted to comment on the previous/first commenter's comments.
You mentioned that you didn't think there was any point to having the
teacher who doesn't teach & sleeps all day in class. You couldn't
possibly be more mistaken! Of course there was a point -- his LACK of
teaching/presence makes one think about who is teaching our kids. I am
a teacher, in fact, and I can tell you that there are many teachers out
there who are ONE step away from retirement & choose to "not" teach
every day in their classrooms. What's interesting is seeing what the
students do in the absence of a really good, effective teacher.
This move was "over the top" and felt pretty cheesy at times, but overall, it has a good, interesting, and important message about what real teaching is about. The needs of our youth have changed in the past 20, 30, 40+ years. This movie is TWENTY-THREE years old and yet it was onto something -- kids need teachers who are REAL people. They need teachers who maintain high standards of both work habits AND personal behavior BUT who also model what being a REAL human being/adult looks like.
Nolte's character definitely got himself into hot water -- and nowadays, it could have been much hotter actually -- and overstepped many, many boundaries in his attempt to help his struggling students. But, overall, what he did to inspire and connect with them definitely outweighed the mistakes.
Anyway, give it a shot and watch this. I grew up in the '80s but for some reason, never caught this one. If you want to revisit the era of cheese -- typical 80s soundtrack, 80s style, actors (Ralph Macchio, Crispin Glover, Laura Dern) and actually get a little insight into what it means to be a public high school teacher, check it out.
I'm finishing up my 7th year as a an 8th grade teacher at a typical
rural public junior high/high school, and I watch this movie at the end
of each school year. It does a few things for me: 1. Helps me realize
just how f'd up the people I work with/for really are. 2. Gives me
something to laugh about to take the edge off of a long school year. 3.
Motivates me to keep teaching year after year even when I've just
finished teaching some rough classes.
As for the movie itself, it's up and down. Nolte is his typical mid-80's drunken self. Laura Dern was outstanding as the slutty student, and the rest of the cast fills in the gaps. What I like about the movie is that the teachers, even as stereotypical as they are portrayed, are so real. I can name a fellow faculty member for each role, as most teachers probably could.
The movie itself shows nothing really new, but the acting is pretty good and everyone is well cast. Especially Ralph Macchio, who gives a great performance as a troubled youth, and doesn't give one of those annoying ones like he did in THE KARATE KID III. Nick Nolte is also enjoyable as the teacher who doesn't want to follow the school's standard procedure. Too bad the movie didn't get the notice it deserved.
I saw this movie again recently and even though it was exaggerated a
little, I thought it was pretty good. I went to both public and private
schools in the 70s-80s and saw many of the same sort of teachers and
administration in both types of school. I had teachers who didn't care,
who just couldn't teach, and those who actually did try to engage the
students and do a good job, and all of those types, although
exaggerated a little, are portrayed here. I've also seen clueless
principals who just hid out in their offices all day and were in their
car driving away 5 minutes before the final bell rang.
Around the time the movie was released, I read a news story about a girl who was valedictorian of her school, in the National Honors Society, but flunked out of college due to being unable to read because of dyslexia and she ended up suing her school.
This wasn't clearly the case in the film, but should a student who can't perform to a minimum academic standard or doesn't even show up for class and turn in work still pass and get a diploma?
The fact the school was more concerned with with its image than with addressing the issue is something I also saw in school growing up and even now. In my area recently, a local doctor sued his son's former school over unrefunded tuition money. He claimed his son was bullied there for a couple of years and complaints and meetings with school officials didn't help, so he enrolled his son elsewhere. When he unenrolled his son, the school would only refund the unused portion of tuition if the father signed a confidentiality agreement stating he wouldn't discuss what went on there. Sound familiar?
Although a bit over the top, Teachers is an example of what went on, and probably still goes on, in schools and is worth seeing.
While the story takes some liberties with realism this is actually a
very good film. As a 25 year teacher I can honestly say that what may
have appeared outrageous in 1984 is pretty close to reality today.
Frustrated teachers, out of the loop administrators, a total lack of discipline, students bringing a smörgåsbord of baggage to class and a stubborn school board that puts the money above the needs of the students.
Yes, an occasional affair does happen between teacher and pupil and the possibility that a school staff member would aid a young student in obtaining an abortion is not that far fetched. Teaching is like any profession in that there is excellence, mediocrity and total ineptitude. In some cases the issue of low pay is something of a myth although no one in education is getting rich. If so many believe that teachers have it easy why aren't college graduates breaking down the doors to get in?
What I like about "Teachers" is that it portrays professionals that truly place the needs of the students first even if their methods are unconventional. Give me one teacher like Nick Nolte's character instead of 10 Dittos. Forget the mantra "looks good, is good" and admit mistakes. The community responds best to the truth.
Students in any school situation respond to the sincerity of their teachers. Put the young people first and don't be afraid to walk around in their shoes once in a while.
I enjoy "Teachers" and I am happy with the used VHS copy I found on eBay. A DVD would be nice from MGM considering the crap from the same era that has been released.
Except for the shock of JoBeth Williams idiot-level strip tease, plus a few other sharp digs about school teachers you and I have hated or loved, I can't think of a single reason to pay any attention to this Arthur Hiller glob of pretentiousness. Whatever Hiller did to elicit what Judith Crist said was "arguably George C. Scott's finest screen performance" in The Hospital, he didn't do it here for Nick Nolte or Williams or anyone else involved. What we're left with is a stale attempt to expose the darker workings of an American high school, but unlike The Hospital and its wonderfully scorched-earth approach to the runnings of a major healing center, Teachers just makes you want to vote for vouchers--and get your money back from the place you rented this dreck.
Alex Jurel (Nick Nolte) is wearied of his teaching job despite being
the teacher of the year a decade ago. His friend Roger Rubell (Judd
Hirsch) tries to hold the chaotic system together. Lawyer Lisa Hammond
(JoBeth Williams) is deposing the teachers for graduating a student
without teaching him to read. Mental patient Herbert Gower is wrongly
given a substitute teaching job. Danny (Crispin Glover) bites a
teacher. Alex takes an interest in Eddie Pilikian (Ralph Macchio) who
is a troubled student from a broken home. A teacher dies without anyone
noticing. Diane (Laura Dern) gets pregnant by the gym teacher and Alex
drives her to get an abortion.
This is compelling chaos. Some compare it to Paddy Chayefsky's satires while others compare it unfavorably. One may be second to Usain Bolt but that's still damn good. Some others argue about its realism. Certainly, this is hyper realism but that's part of the bargain in a movie. The main drawback I totally agree with is Ralph Macchio. He's never been a good actor but he lucked into a couple of iconic 80s movies. There are some great memorable chaos in this one.
The movie "Teachers" pledges to fight for the cause of education,
pointing out what's wrong in a damaged system that awards students who
don't even show up in class, mocks the school system and also guarantee
some laughs with it. The message is good, it's not anything out of this
world, but the intersection of genres and some choices get in the way
of making this a greater film.
Despite this being a 1980's flick, "Teachers" is not dated and feels more relevant now than ever. Schools like the one depicted here are quite common, with variations on the same tune: precarious places with uninterested teachers and even worse students, and directors trying to please themselves and the government with false statistics to get more funding, that always gets lost somewhere. It'll open some eyes about the obstacles inside the educational system and the politics behind one of the greatest tragedies of all: present students and future workers have their potential wasted under those circumstances, a present with no knowledge and a future without opportunities. You know the rest of the picture in real life, and it can only turn darker.
A high school is facing a lawsuit from one of their former graduated student who passed all exams but who doesn't even know how to read. This premise, so far, looks dumb cause this kid benefited, in a way, of the institution policies and then got mad he got shunned off by possible employers, then sue them? No judge in their right mind would accept that. Anyway...The prosecutor (JoBeth Williams) goes to the school to find out what really happened and if the teachers knew about this wrongful approval. One of the masters is a former teacher of hers (Nick Nolte), an idealistic man she saw as an example to be followed but at the current moment is deeply involved in the place's mode of conducting business: they need to get more budget and they can only guarantee that with results - which they don't have because they are a low quality school (but the government doesn't know that!). It's a game of pretending but he teaches, he cares about his students, and that's why the woman is convinced he can help her to make her case against the school, after knowing that no one's gonna help her there.
In between the battle of ideologies Nick's character has with the prosecutor (the institution's reality vs. the dreamy cause of education) and the obstacles he faces with the board of directors, he tries to save some conflicted students - a rebel boy (Ralph Macchio) neglected by his divorced parents, who is forced to take reading classes in order to pass since he was already pushed grades after grades by thousands of other teachers - and a girl (Laura Dern) who was knocked-up by a PE teacher, and I guess you can see that this will be the turning point of the story. Luckily, the movie escapes from the worn out clichéd of dangerous school filled with robbers, punks and thugs who threat colleagues and masters.
What attracted me the most was the level of reality brought into the story. Absurdity is a norm in that kind of movie, and "Teachers" has plenty of that, but it stays close to the truth in some aspects, with the teachers routine in class and in the meetings with their peers during breaks. Directors putting pressure on teachers to get results favorable to them? Sure, and they do that with students too. I personally seen during my high school years a director assembling the last seniors, explaining to all of us how important the state's exam was, rudely demanding to do our best. You know what everybody did? Boycotted the exam. By that, I mean, the majority flunked those tests on purpose. Why going right if no one's gonna stay there one more year? It's all about providing big budgets to the school.
The movie's a delight, humored, serious when needed but it's overloaded with baggage. It deals with problematic schools (avoiding some clichés though), some romance, the lawsuit, troubled kids (but never dangerous as portrayed in many existing realities and films out there), disenchanted masters vs. idealist types, and more. It's like Mr. Hiller wanted all and wouldn't want to settle for less, but in the end he accomplishes half way with everything he wanted because it's just too much to cover. By the time a murder takes place, it all falls out of place and the upcoming moment is an hilarious scene where the true nature of Richard Mulligan's character is revealed, cutting off any possible moment of sadness for the dead student. I think the writer and the director should settle with something: or invest in a real drama like "Lean on Me"; or be somewhat satirical; or an anarchic comedy like any other of its kind.
The final message provided here isn't all that easy to accomplish, and I'm not sure if it is even possible. Teachers challenging the system is a good cause but it can only work if students, parents and the community get involved, and the administration (governments included) be willing to fight for the best cause for all. Education is the fundamental right that paves the way to all the other rights. 8/10
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