Valdespartera and Rosales del Canal are known for their original street names. In the first case, roads are named after well-known mainly American, British and Spanish film titles (some of them landmarks in the history of film-making). In the case of Rosales del Canal, street names transport us to the world of western classical music as you walk along Maurice Ravel or Johan Sebastian Bach Streets, for example.
Given their connections to the Anglo-Saxon world, many of the films and some of the composers to which these street names refer seemed interesting resources for a cross-curricular, multi-purpose class. Thus, a number of British and American films and music composers with links to the USA or Britain became objects of study.
Students from 1º B and D were requested to research on a given film/composer to later deliver an oral presentation that would allow them to share their findings with their classmates. Before starting their research, however, they were offered basic guidelines and theoretical advice on how to write a formal, academic presentation in English; conventions regarding contrasting of information and referencing, for example, were addressed.
The main aims of the project were the following: a) help students become acquainted with their closest surroundings –they are not always familiar with the area in which they live b) provide them with some strategies that will introduce them to the world of research and, by extension, independent, critical thinking c) improve their aural skills by watching films in their original version and d) develop their linguistic and cultural competence on subjects which are related to the Anglo-Saxon world. In many cases, it was the first time that they saw a classic film in English or, as they called it, an ‘old’ film.
I include below a summary of the work carried out by the students:
Alba S., Claudia and Nicolás watched Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window (1954) and talked about the importance of looking in the film (voyeurism). We also learned about Hitchcock’s biography and filmography. On the whole, they enjoyed the film and its ability to keep you in suspense.
Damián and Sara B. did research on another famous film by ‘The Master of Suspense’, namely, The Birds (1963). We learnt about the book on which the film is based (written by Daphne du Maurier), and about the fact that there were news reports in the USA a few years before the film was released which talked about mysterious bird attacks and deaths –apparently caused by toxic substances spread by humans. The students also reflected on the film’s (scary and threatening) open ending.
Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1994) was analysed by Ethan, Leyre and Sergio. Based on a real story, this modern black and white drama is mainly set in Nazi-occupied Krakow. It tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a businessman who managed to save over a thousand Jews from being killed by the Nazis. Students reflected on how hard it was for them to watch the film, and on how the film may be trying to move us and teach us a lesson.
As Alba A., Carmen, Juan and Pablo explained, John Huston’s The African Queen (1951) is also set in times of war in Africa (WWI this time). Much lighter in tone, it focuses on the romantic love story between British citizen Rose (Katharine Hepburn) and Canadian-born Charlie (Humphrey Bogart). It narrates their adventures and (eventually successful) efforts to sink a German gunboat. Students enjoyed the film but felt its special effects were not sophisticated enough, especially when compared to those enjoyed in today’s films.
Candela, David, Hugo, Marian and Óscar talked about another classic: Blake Edwards’ Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). We learnt about the peculiar relationship existing between the characters played by Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard; about the film’s omnipresent cat, and about its soundtrack (Mancini’s Oscar winning song Moon River).
AleJandra, Álvaro, Lucía and Unai watched and commented on Byron Haskin’s Treasure Island (1959). We learnt about the adventures in which the different characters get involved. The students also used this film to enrich their vocabulary and presented a sea-related glossary section. They likewise offered an interesting comparison between Spanish and British advertising posters for the film.
Andrés and Enrique talked about King Kong (1933), the black and white fiction film directed by M.C. Cooper and E.B Schoedsack. Their presentations focused particularly on how the protagonist Kong, a huge and scary ape, suffers a transformation as he falls in love with the female protagonist. As the students noted, King Kong became a classic and has inspired a number of remakes.
Quite different in tone and style, the musical Singin’ in the Rain, released in 1952, was directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly. David, Gabriel and Raúl explained that the film was about the world of cinema and the changes that occurred when sound was introduced to it. They also commented on some very funny scenes from the film. Although they are not too fond of musicals, they said they quite enjoyed this one.
Adrián, Sara C. and Javier analysed a film especially suitable for young audiences, namely, The Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming and George Cukor). The students highlighted that the characters’ journey to Oz can be seen as a learning experience for them all –as well as for the audience. They also reflected upon the film’s interesting alternation between black and white and technicolour footage.
Equally suitable for young audiences is Stevenson’s Mary Poppins (1964). As Ahinara, Antonio, Mario, Sol and Yoleinny explained, the young protagonists Jane and Michael are portrayed as spoilt children at first. Actually, they seem to be in urgent need of kind and loving but firm upbringing. This need is satisfied thanks to the supervision of their new nanny Mary Poppins (role played by Julie Andrew). As the students noted, Jane and Michael undergo an important change for the better as family relationships improve thanks to their beloved Mary.
Moving on to the world of music, Isabel, Sofía L. and Samuel talked about George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). As they explained, he lived, died and was buried in the UK. His attachment to Britain was so strong that he even became an English citizen. The students also offered an interesting comparison between Handel and J.S. Bach -who were born the same year. Finally, they also commented upon The Messiah, Handel´s best known masterpiece.
Amaia and Teresa researched on Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809). As they noted, this composer travelled to London a few times and his trips were very significant in his career –in fact, he was very popular there. His journeys to London inspired some of his most important musical compositions.
As Marcos and Shaimaa noted, Britain was also key to the musical career of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). This composer (and conductor) visited the country on many occasions and was always warmly welcomed by British audiences. He premiered a good number of his most famous compositions in the UK (e.g.: his oratorio Elijah).
Finally, Laura, Miguel and Vega researched on Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). As they noted, this composer had important links to the US and Canada. He played and conducted some of the most important orchestras while in North America, and both audiences and critics loved his work. The students also referred to some of his best-known pieces, including his famous Bolero.
Esther Pérez, English Teacher