Katherine Ann Watson has accepted a position teaching art history at the prestigious Wellesley College. Watson is a very modern woman, particularly for the 1950s, and has a passion not only for art but for her students. For the most part, the students all seem to be biding their time, waiting to find the right man to marry. The students are all very bright and Watson feels they are not reaching their potential. Altough a strong bond is formed between teacher and student, Watson's views are incompatible with the dominant culture of the college.Written by
The negative reaction by Wellesley alumnae to the film's inaccuracies generated a number of newspaper articles which interviewed 1950s graduates regarding the school. "Modern art was not shocking at Wellesley,'' said alumna Judith Jaffe Silber. "How could it be when it had been taught there since the late 1920's? Nor do any of us remember faculty members encouraging us to choose marriage over a career." Another alumna stated: "There were no lights out at 8 p.m. We drank, played bridge, and talked about sex into the morning." See more »
Katherine Watson is harassed for introducing modern art to her students. Wellesley was the first liberal arts college to teach modern art, and its program was well-established by 1953. See more »
All her life, she had wanted to teach at Wellesley College. So, when a position opened in the Art History department, she pursued it single-mindedly until she was hired. It was whispered that Katherine Watson, a first-year teacher from Oakland State, made up in brains what she lacked in pedigree. Which was why this bohemian from California was on her way to the most conservative college in the nation.
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The end credits for the prominent cast and crew are set in front of vintage footage and advertisements showing women in the 1940s and 50s. See more »
Finally, a film that doesn't insult our intelligence!
I didn't expect much going into "Mona Lisa Smile". I figured it was going to be a rehash of all the movies ever made about teachers. You know, from "Goodbye Mr. Chips" and "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie", to "The Dead Poets' Society" and "Mr. Holland's Opus". But "Mona Lisa Smile" pleasantly surprised me, especially the uncompromising, principled ending.
Another thing that pleased me was the film's assumption of an intelligent, educated audience that does not require any dumbing-down of art and culture. "Mona Lisa Smile" rattles off names of artists and their works as if it fully expected moviegoers to be conversant with them. In at least one case, the film names neither the artist nor the work (Picasso's "Demoiselles d'Avignon"). All of these things are taken as givens, as part and parcel of a sophisticated audience's cultural baggage -- quite a change from the usual pap that Hollywood spoonfeeds us!
Moreover, the film sometimes speaks volumes by what it doesn't say but simply shows, taking for granted that we will fill in the blanks from our knowledge of the history of the period (that is, the early 1950s). There is one oblique reference to McCarthyism. A photo of an atomic explosion reminds us of the post-WWII, Cold War era. A game show on TV triggers a memory of the payola scandal. Again, "Mona Lisa Smile" credits us with brains rather than insulting our intelligence.
Mercifully, the title of the film is not simply a reference to Julia Roberts' famous beestung, collagen-enhanced lips. As Kirsten Dunst's character explains toward the end of the movie, Mona Lisa's smile is not necessarily an indication that she is happy and content -- any more than the women of the 1950s with their dream homes and seemingly perfect lives. "Mona Lisa Smile" is ultimately an indictment of those in society who perpetrate and perpetuate secrets and lies, and a tribute to those through whom the truth prevails.
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