Juno

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This film opens with a blacked-out screen. On the soundtrack we hear a scratching noise, the source of which becomes clear when the word Autumn appears in the top right-hand corner of the frame. A long shot of a row of houses in the middleground fades in. There is a figure on the left of the screen facing an armchair which sits on the lawn outside one of the bungalows. The season is indicated by the bare trees and the evening sun. The sound of birdsong comes on the soundtrack. The world of the film is referred to as the diegesis. Sound that emerges from that world is referred to as diegetic sound. Such is the case with the birdsong. The scratching that revealed the word Autumn is non-diegetic. It is superimposed onto the world of the film to accompany the titles. The writing disappears to the sound of an eraser rubbing out the letters.

The King's Speech

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The opening title card informs us that King George V reigns over Britain and its Empire which contains one quarter of the world’s population. He has asked his second son, the Duke of York, to deliver his closing speech at the Empire Exhibition. The year is 1925. The film opens with a close-up shot of a microphone which fills half the frame. The background is slightly out of focus adding emphasis to this prop. It looks like a bomb or a torpedo. This impression is strengthened by the next shot which reverses the angle. The panelled background is bright, colour co-ordinated and modern looking (for its time). A piano theme plays on the soundtrack. The final shot before the film’s title appears places the microphone in the middle of the frame. The fact that it occupies so much of the composition gives it an importance far in excess of its actual size in the set itself.

I'm Not Scared

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Once the production credits have played the picture fades in and the camera tracks quickly from left to right revealing a damp rocky surface.  It then rests on the title which seems to be scrawled in chalk or scored on a dark rock face.  Drops of water are heard on the soundtrack and a simple piano theme starts up.  It resembles the sound that might come from a child’s toy piano or music box.  To the sound of something rustling, the camera tracks back from the title which consists of a phrase that might be used by a scared child who is trying to convince him/herself that they are not afraid.  The screen fades to black as the camera continues to the right.  It passes over a barely discernible grey blanket which might pass for rock before craning upwards out of what, it is now clear, is a cave or a hole in the ground.  Insects can be heard and a crow sits above the opening of the hole cawing ominously. Its black colour contrasts starkly with the rich golden tones of the corn that gleams in the brilliant sunlight beneath a clear blue sky. This scene is shot in one sweeping camera movement.

Children of Men

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OUT OF PRINT

Note: We have a photocopiable version of this title in our International Series for €30.00 and extra notes for the Comparative Study free on Google Docs. Go to PUBLICATIONS and/or ORDER (above) for more details..

Over a black screen the urgent voice of a newsreader is heard: “Day one thousand of the siege of Seattle. The Muslim Community demands an end to the army’s occupation of mosques. The Homeland Security Bill is ratified. (Credits begin.) After eight years British borders will remain closed. The deportation of illegal immigrants will continue. Good morning. Our lead story …” The visual track starts at this point. We hear that the world has been stunned by the news of the murder of the youngest person on the planet. The screen shows people packed into a crowded coffee shop and the newsreader continues with the story of Baby Diego Ricardo who was murdered in Buenos Aires by a fan outraged when he was refused an autograph. An old lady holds her dog, a man drapes his arm around the shoulder of his girlfriend, two English bobbies stand at the rear. All stare intently at a television screen out of frame to the right.

Billy Elliot

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The film opens with a statement of where and when the action is set: Durham Coalfield, Northeast England, 1984. Margaret Thatcher is the British Prime Minister and she is locked in conflict with the striking miners’ union. A slim, artistic-looking hand takes an LP record from its cover and places it on a turn-table. A correction is made as the arm is replaced onto another track. This person seems to know what he wants. Dropping the needle on a record like this can cause damage and is not the best way to ensure its long life! This is Billy Elliot and he begins to bounce on his bed to the rhythm of T-Rex’s Cosmic Dancer. “I was dancing when I was twelve” sings Marc Bolan. We can clearly see that Billy is bouncing on his mattress, but in his mind he has gone to a special place and has a fantasy that he is flying through the air on a trampoline.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

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The film opens to the sound of an explosion that lasts only an instant. A high pitched musical theme follows with notes that seem to fall downwards from a great height. The credits roll as these two motifs interchange. On the screen a scroll rolls upwards giving the audience details of developments that the Tyrell Corporation has made in robot evolution. The capitals give the company and the machines status. The latest phase of robot is virtually identical to humans and is referred to in red font as Replicant. Red is the colour that signifies danger in European culture. The Nexus 6 Replicants are superior in strength and agility, and at least equal in intelligence, to their human creators. They are used as slaves in the exploration and colonisation of other planets. All of this information is given in the past tense getting the audience to read itself into a future time setting. 

Casablanca

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The credits roll over a map of Africa. Music reminiscent of Morocco and exotic bazaars plays. As the music credit appears there is a change, and the notes of the French national anthem, the Marseillaise, sound. Music and credits fade after the director’s name (Michael Curtiz) appears. So the film opens with its setting suggested by the map and the music. The action will take place in French-occupied Morocco. The themes of imperialism and conquest have been introduced and will run through the film. Europe has moved into Africa and set up provinces there. The imagery, in the form of the musical score, reinforces this theme; the French anthem has replaced the native African music. The Marseillaise will become an important motif as the story unfolds.

Inside I'm Dancing

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As the screen lights up we hear a woman’s voice saying “A prima ballerina is a ballet dancer, the chief ballet dancer, the most important dancer of all, who dances all by herself.” She speaks in an exaggerated tone, as if she is talking to children. The reference to dancing in the title of the film is picked up and repeated three more times. This will become an important metaphor later in the film. Then we hear the squeaking mice from the 1974 children’s television series Bagpuss. Another voice introduces “The marvellous, mechanical prima ballerina” and an electric floor polisher glides smoothly from the right of the screen. The music is gentle. Single notes pick out the dreamy, melancholic theme. The ability of the prima ballerina to move on her own initiative across the dance-floor and the smooth motion of the polisher combine to suggest independence and freedom of movement. One of the principal themes of the film is being introduced to us.

Into The West

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A sense of wonder and excitement is built up in this sequence. The lighting and soundtrack music add to the exuberance of the horse's movements. It's as if the horse has just been released from some confinement. The music adds a Celtic flavour. The horse acquires a ‘leitmotif’ - signature tune that will be associated with it throughout the movie. The contrast between the horse and the darkness of the night deepens this sense of mystery. From the outset this horse is connected with the sea.

The old man is immediately recognisable as a traveller by his costume, caravan and general ‘look’. To give us an idea of what a character is thinking the camera will get close-up to show his/her facial expression. He is overawed by this horse and the music reinforces this.

My Left Foot

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The film opens with a shot of a record being placed dextrously onto a turn-table by means of a left foot. Before moving up to Christy’s face, the camera pans slowly, in big close-up, across a typewriter, some sketches and the record. This sets up the wheel motif that will run through the film as Christy journeys, by means of his art (painting, literature and music), from a small cramped house, to a mountain-top where he will be entered into the pantheon of great Irish writers. Christy's formal attire, the white cars, the elegant streets and, later, the mansion fit in with the music we hear. It hardly suits the environment of the narrow streets that the white cars end up in, though. They wind their way through elegant streets of fine grey neo-classical buildings, but soon come to poorer streets. We see a low angle shot of the magnificent white car passing another means of transport - a humble horse-and-cart. This signals the transition to the poorer world of narrow streets and cramped houses.

Shane

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The opening scene fades in to the sound of a lush orchestral soundtrack, as a rider enters the fertile valley. It is a peaceful place, rich in nature’s goodness. Joey, from the start, is associated with guns. In this case he plays ‘hunter’ with his small rifle. We will see, later, how fascinated he is with Shane’s weapon and the idea of what being a ‘real man’ is. The two are closely linked in his mind. Joey is timid and bashful as Shane approaches him, like the deer he was stalking earlier.

Joe Starrett is at work on a huge tree trunk. His tool is the axe, and his own brute strength will get the job done. Later, Shane will talk of the gun as ". . . a tool no better or worse than any other." In the course of the film we will see that Starrett is dogged and hard to move - just like the stump he is working on.

Strictly Ballroom

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The screen lights up to a shot of red curtains. They open as at the start of a theatrical performance. This film originated as a stage production during Baz Luhrmann’s time at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in New South Wales. The notes of Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz can be heard. The star-burst graphics accentuate the stresses of the music. Images of couples swirling around a great ballroom may come to mind as we listen to this tune. It is quintessentially Viennese. It belongs to a previous age. It represents great art, art that is classic and art that has stood the test of time. It sets a standard by which all else is judged as inferior. As the characters are introduced, we see that the men are in formal dress. We judge from their body language that they are a happy and united group. Ladies in flouncing dresses enter. The characters look after each other’s costumes and slap hands affectionately. The ease of their movements suggest that they are comfortable in each other’s company.

The Birds

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We first hear the cries of the birds and then they appear to peck and claw at the film’s titles.

The bird calls carry over into the opening scene - a typical city scene with a trolley, traffic, lights, high-rise buildings, hoardings and pedestrians. Melanie Daniels crosses the street in a chic, black two piece and elaborate coiffure. Everything about her says ‘elegance’. She passes a shelter with the Golden Gate, and the words ‘San Francisco’ depicted on it. She looks up at the sky crowded with screaming gulls. The skyline is filled with buildings and hoardings that read ‘Jet B.O.A.C.’, and ‘Air France Paris’. This is the start of a major motif that will run through the film: role reversal. Humans want to fly, children will sing endlessly like chirping birds, birds will be freed from cages and humans will be locked up. Immediately after this, a boy whistles at Melanie and she stops and smiles, pleased with the attention. One might ask what species uses a whistle to communicate!

The Constant Gardener

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Before the production company logo fades from the screen the soundtrack presents the sound of a car engine shutting off. We hear a man’s voice as a door is closed. A woman answers. These are Justin and Tessa. Both sound British and upper class. Because Grace Mankanga will not be coming to Nairobi, Tessa is going to Loki to hear her speak. The visuals fade in as she tells Justin that it is too hot to be standing around. (Film is an audio visual medium and the director, Fernando Meirelles, will find many opportunities in the course of this story to exploit the artistic possibilities inherent in this dichotomy.) Tessa kisses Justin lovingly. A light aircraft waits for her on the tarmac. A shadow appears on the left of the screen and we learn that this is Arnold. He is going to travel to Loki with Tessa. As they head for the airplane he takes Tessa’s bag for her. We see Justin in silhouette in the foreground as they move away into the increasingly bright exterior. This is the beginning of a recurring motif: throughout the film Tessa will be associated with light and brightness

The Field

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The film opens with a shot of the dawn rising over a mountain. An uileann pipes plays on the soundtrack. Two men appear on the right of the screen hauling a loaded cart over the mountainside. The pipe theme fades and ominous base notes follow. One man is between the shafts of the cart where you would expect to see a draught animal. The other pushes the cart. Medium shots of the two reveal an older and a younger man - Tadhg and Bull. Bull nods to Tadhg. He is the leader.

The second scene shows the men in another activity involving loads - and Bull is portrayed as the stronger of the two. He helps Tadhg to pick up his loaded basket. The camera angle frames him leading and/or above Tadhg on the climb over the mountain. The musical theme that plays during this scene will become associated with the eponymous field. They move upwards, through the mist, over the rocky terrain to an old ruin.

The Outsiders

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Dallas looks, every inch, the ‘hood’ with his jerky movements, his leather jacket, his greased hair and shades. He looks cheekily after the girl who passes by. When asked about his plans he declares that whatever they end up doing for the evening it won’t be anything legal. The aggressive beat and vocals of "Gloria", by Van Morrison, suit this mood of rebellion and "aggro". The price in the shop window, 75c, and the automobiles set the action in the 1960’s.

The knife fight seems to spring from nowhere. It is a perfectly normal means of expression here. The police arrive and our three move on. This sets the atmosphere of confrontation and the use of violence to settle disputes. Adults are a rarity in this world and those who do appear are often shown as incompetent and as very poor role models. The exception is Ponyboy's parents but they are dead. The film is from his point-of-view so we get the impression that nobody can measure up to them especially to his father.

The Searchers

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From the start of this film a tension is set up between inside and outside. This will be highlighted in the composition of several shots, with the camera inside, in the home or in the shelter of a cave. The characters are divided into those who fit in with domestic life and those who are more 'at home' in the desert, the wilderness. The home offers shelter, comfort, warmth, civilised living and peace. All that is disturbing is kept outside. The desert is the site of violence and the dusty, arid landscape is populated by people who would live outside the law. To exist in that environment one must eschew the values of home life. We will see two households in the course of the film - that of the Edwards and the Jorgensens. The dominant personality in both is the mother. When the Edwards' homestead is destroyed all its functions are subsumed by that of the Jorgensens. A man like Ethan would leave this environment behind to go roaming in the desert. The song asks 'Why would a man do this?' and the film tries to answer that question.

The Truman Show

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The film opens with a man speaking directly into the camera. This is something we have come to expect from television news programmes, documentaries, talk shows etc. Characters in films and television dramas, however, avoid eye contact with the camera in order to maintain the illusion of reality. The convention is that the camera is capturing reality for the viewer unbeknownst to the participants in the action. This man, Christof, looks his audience in the eye and tells us that we are fed up with phoney emotions, pyrotechnics and special effects. He speaks to us and for us. He comes across as sincere and caring. He speaks calmly and makes no rash claims. He tells us that there is nothing fake about Truman himself. The show does not follow a script. Christof is not interested in great art, history or tragedy, as Shakespeare was. He is intent on presenting reality to his audience.

Witness

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To a sombre musical theme on the synthesiser the screen lights up to reveal a field of tall grass and a barely lit sky. A group of people in flat brimmed hats and bonnets move into frame on the right. The camera pans with them to the left. The group consists of old and young men, women and children. The latter move ahead but then stop and rejoin the group, taking up their place, at the rear. As this group travels on foot another is arriving by buggy. The buggy seems to sink right down into the grass and earth. As we watch the waving grass, another group approaches moving towards the camera in a wide line. They seem to emerge from the very earth. Their movement is steady and we get the sense of a group whose members are totally at ease with on another. The music adds to the tone and gives a sense of nobility to these sons and daughters of the earth. We get a closer shot of another group as a tall blonde man seems to wave a salute. In the sixth shot of the sequence the group walk down the country laneway toward a farmhouse in the brightening morning light. The caption “Pennsylvania 1984” appears on the screen jarring the audience slightly - the costumes and buggies had suggested an earlier era.

12 Angry Men

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Keeping costs as low as possible for students is a priority for us, so we no longer send out samples in the post. To let teachers see how our LC publications are formatted the Student's Guide and Teacher's Commentary for this film are available to read online or to download in PDF format. 

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The film opens with a low angle shot of the exterior of a massive neo-classical building. The huge columns are made to appear even bigger by the camera angle. A flight of steps adds to the sense of grandeur. The camera slowly tilts upwards positioning us, the audience, to stand in awe of the structure. The sounds of everyday life in a city are heard on the soundtrack but this does not distract us from the contemplation of the grandeur of the building before us. We reach the entablature and read the motto in grand Roman lettering “DEMONSTRATION OF JUSTICE IS THE FIRMEST PILLAR OF GOOD”. Thus a central theme is introduced at the very start of the film. The reference to ‘pillar’ connects the literal columns of the porch and the metaphorical sense of justice properly sopported out as a vital basis of society. The architecture harks back to ancient times and we think of the grandeur of Rome and the laws that have been passed down across time since the early days of Greek democracy.

32A

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As the credits begin to roll, we hear the chirping of birds on the soundtrack. Then a low drone starts and gets gradually louder.  The visual track opens with an extremely low angle shot of a suburban housing estate: the camera is at ground level. The road is lined with lush green trees. A milk float enters the frame from left to right and explains the low drone on the soundtrack. A clichéd blues intro leads into the song I’M A W.O.M.A.N. It consists of a catalogue of chores that the narrator of the song is capable of. The tone is ironic and comic. However, it points to a major theme in the film: what it means to be a woman. Two boys, the milkman’s helpers, sit on the back of the milk float. The delivery of milk takes place traditionally at daybreak, so this may explain the chorus of birds that opened the film.

A Room With A View

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The initial impression made by this film on the audience is one of gentility and of an age that is past. The Puccini aria adds to the gracefulness of the titles. We are given the two major settings for the action, Florence and England. The scene is set for a costume drama in a refined world of genteel taste. The fanciful nature of the figures in the titles suggests that the tone of the film will be light.

Puccini is associated with Florence. In the opera Gianni Schicchi, "O Mio Babbino Caro" is sung by Lauretta to her father. She is trying to ensure the happiness of herself and her young lover, Rinuccio. Eventually they overcome those who would thwart their love and look forward to a happy life together. The other aria used in this film, in the picnic sequence, "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" is from Puccini’s La Rondine. It is sung when a poet tells the story of Doretta, who refuses a king’s gold because it would not bring her true happiness.

Cinema Paradiso

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Films often begin with an action that sets the scene for the plot that follows. The location and some of the characters are established. Often the main theme and imagery are introduced as well. Sometimes an enigma is presented and the action of the film proceeds to solve that enigma to the satisfaction of the audience. At some point in the opening sequence the credits roll. These titles end, usually, with the name of the Producer and then the Director. In this film the titles end with the name of the film. The logo’s design unites the bowls, one outside and empty, the other inside and full of lemons. Over the evocative Mediterranean score by Ennio Morricone the camera has tracked back from the empty bowl on the brightly lit verandah with the sea in the background to an interior shot of a bowl full of lemons in a darkened room. The contrasts are notable between outside and inside, full and empty, light and dark.

Citizen Kane

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A deep brooding musical theme opens the soundtrack of Citizen Kane and sets an ominous tone. The visual track fades in almost immediately as a No Trespassing sign appears attached to a heavy wire fence. The camera begins to crane upwards, as if ignoring the notice and the barrier. As it climbs higher the image of the wire fence dissolves to another, then to a metallic floral design that looks like a gate and finally to a wrought iron design. The initial K can be seen in a circle as a huge palatial structure fades into view on the top right of the screen.

The next dissolve shows a pair of monkeys sitting on a metal railing in the left foreground. Another wrought iron gate can be seen in the right middleground. The huge building can, once again, be seen through the murk in the background. (It will occupy the same place in the composition for all the succeeding shots in this introductory montage of dissolves.) One large window appears to be lit up.

Garage

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This film begins with a high solo musical theme playing over a black screen. The violin is joined by other instruments in the orchestra as the visual track commences. The tone is melancholic and suggests a great sadness. Generally in a film the music will accompany the visuals to position the audience to take a certain view of a character or a situation. A long shot of a figure walking awkwardly along a railway line fades in. The screen is framed with lush foliage. The grandness of this musical theme is at odds with the shambling gait of this character. The railway tracks might suggest travel and communication with the great world beyond this immediate setting. After this shot fades out another image fades in. It is, once again a long shot, this time one of a train pulling carriages of turf over a boggy terrain. At once, any notions of these railway tracks leading to the great world beyond are dispelled and the range of our expectations are curtailed.