This pack contains a photocopiable Student's Guide and a Teacher's Commentary

In the Student's Guide the film is segmented into units of 10-15 minutes duration. This facilitates work in the normal class period. There is a series of questions for each sequence that guides the viewing of the students and encourage them to keep a personal Response Journal.

The Teacher's Commentary is a well researched separate booklet which covers issues raised in the guide.

Each pack is priced @ € 35.00, postage free. Titles are shipped on receipt of payment. Delivery is by Standard Post: next-day delivery in Ireland, and 2-10 days for international orders.

 

 

Extract from Teacher's Commentary: 

SEQUENCE 1

Going to Another World

Let the film roll until Samuel walks off to the bathroom

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.

Another series of six shots, this time interior and in close up, show the faces of women, many of them tear-stained. The lighting is very dim. The black clothes contrast sharply with the elements of white in the costumes and we get the first in a series of compositions in the film that suggest interior scenes painted by the Dutch masters. Many of these paintings show women in sombre costume by doors and windows. These openings act as the main source of light for the composition. As the mournful voice of the preacher comes over the soundtrack the music fades and the camera rests on Rachel. The preacher stands beside an open coffin speaking in a German dialect of the two hundred and fifty years since the community arrived in this country. The camera rests on a heartbroken trio. We hear the names of the dead man, Jacob, his wife Rachel, his son Samuel and his father Eli. Rachel glances at Samuel and Eli as their names are mentioned. Over a shot of the company we hear the words “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, although he is dead, still shall he live.”

We cut to the women working in the kitchen and the camera, which has been still during the ceremony pans to the right after two children. It picks out the blonde man again and tracks after him. He pats Eli affectionately on the shoulder as a token of condolence. He moves to a group of men. He fits in easily with them and their earthy humour. We cut to another interior as he separates from the men and moves into the company of women circled around Rachel. Again the main source of light is the window and we have the painterly effect as the man stands before Rachel and pays his respects. He is Daniel, Daniel Hochleitner. The women talk on when he leaves. They may view his move as the opening of a ritual of courtship.

The next series of four exterior shots begins, once again, with the waving grass. The life of these people is bound up with nature and its cycles. The days are long and filled with labour. With Jacob gone, work on the Lapp farm will be even harder. This waving grass is now established as a token standing for these people, the Amish. Directors often make connections between characters and settings, props and theme music. Once the link has been established, a pattern is set, and the setting, object or sound become a symbol standing for the referent, in this case the Lapp family, and the Amish, in general.

As the buggy travels along the road an articulated lorry is forced to snail along behind it. The soundtrack has the music and horses’ hoof-taps being drowned out by the roar of engines. We cut to a low-angle shot of the lorry and traffic. This angle emphasises the size and power of the lorry. The buggy looks even more out of place, and time, at the intersection. We use the term mise en scène to cover all that appears in front of the camera. This film taps into the Hollywood tradition, seen especially in melodramas, of letting aspects of the mise en scène - objects, colours, furnishings etc. - take on a symbolic role that adds to the meaning of a scene. The lorry and buggy here can be read as symbols of two worlds - the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, rural and urban, and as the film progresses, the god-fearing and secular, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia.

On the platform in the train station Daniel moves courteously through the waiting crowd, excusing himself. He touches his hat as he greets Eli in the dialect. Rachel is paying a visit to her sister in Baltimore. She is travelling via Philadelphia. Daniel tells Samuel that he will see so many things in the big city. This turns out to be very ironic in the light of what Samuel witnesses later. He has a very simple, wooden, hand-made present for Samuel who is delighted with the gift. They are a simple people. His line “So! First time in the big city?” actually begins the expansion of the polarities, the binary oppositions, mentioned above.

The train is photographed from a low angle. This emphasises its size and power. The shot is accompanied by a loud roar from the train's hooter. Like the articulated lorry, it is presented to us as huge and noisy. Daniel is making his second move in his courtship of Rachel. “Come back soon” he tells her. She smiles back at him from the train but hugs only Eli. She is still in mourning, after all. Eli warns her to be careful in the outside world. He sees his community very clearly as being separate and apart. Rachel and Samuel are very excited as they set out on their train journey. Daniel’s sense of humour is to the fore again as he races heroically with the train for the amusement of Rachel and Samuel. The shot from the train as the two of them look back at Daniel is another example of Weir letting the mise en scène add a layer of symbolic signification to the narrative. The technology of the modern world leaves that of the Amish way behind. That doesn’t bother them, though. They want life kept simple, close to the earth. That is their world-view, their Weltanschauung. The shot of the balloon drifting slowly and silently across the sky acts as a symbol for the quiet traditional way as opposed to the noisy modern one.

The high angle shot of 30th Street Station in Philadelphia is notable. The Amish were introduced as a community moving in unison, in harmony. The station is full of ant-like people who scurry in all directions. All the shots that follow are taken with the camera at Samuel’s eye-level with the exception of the one at the ticket desk. This effect renders the building huge. All is new to Samuel - the sight of the water fountain fascinates him with its novelty. The little girl and her mother view Samuel as a curiosity. He is a “cute little Amish boy”. (This will be taken up again later in the film in Sequence 9 when a coach load of tourists visits the local town in Lancaster County.) The ticket seller is gruff and unhelpful. Weir inserts an amusing visual joke as Samuel mistakes a black-clad Jew with the Jerusalem Post under his arm for a fellow Amish. The old man has no time for him. Ironically, they have a lot in common. They both are part of a community that sees itself as separate and apart. They were their hair and costume as a badge of their separateness.

The music starts up again as something catches Samuel’s eye, and he gazes up at it in awe. We get a view from his point of view of a colossal golden statue of an angel. There is a suggestion of death, of violence in the composition. An angel, a force for good, helps a wounded or dead man - a victim of some evil force, we presume. This is followed by a reverse shot of the boy and the angle renders him tiny in comparison with his environment. His small stature is again emphasised by the extremely low angle long shot of him walking to the bathroom. The camera is static. As Samuel walks away from it he gets smaller and smaller on the screen. Rachel insists on him wearing his hat. Their costume is their badge, the sign that they are setting themselves apart from this huge, noisy world. She takes out some knitting to put her time to good use as she waits for the train to Baltimore. 

Extract from Student's Guide: 

STAGE ONE

SEQUENCE 1

Going to Another World

Let the film roll until Samuel walks off to the bathroom

What is the first image we see when the screen lights up? Why does the camera begin to pan from right to left? What kind of people are on the screen? What action takes place as they walk? Are there any differences between the characters? What impression of the people do you get as they move towards the camera? After the shot of the buggy is any character differentiated from the group? What is your response to the caption? How many shots were there in this exterior scene?

We now have a series of six interior shots before we get to the preacher. What have they all in common? Is any character differentiated from the others? If you haven’t got German can you nevertheless make out anything of what the preacher is saying to the congregation? Did you manage to pick out the names of the Lapp family photographed in the three-shot?

There is a transition to activity. Who is doing the work in the kitchen? What difference do you note in the camerawork and editing? Whom is the camera following? Have you noticed him before this? How does he get on with the men? How does his behaviour differ from theirs? What do we learn from the dialogue as he stands in front of the group of women by the window? Did you get his name?

Lighting and photography will be very important in this film. Does the way this group is photographed remind you of any paintings or style of painting?

Can you suggest a reading for the four exterior shots of the horses and carts? What kind of a life have these Amish people?

What new elements are brought into the action as we follow the buggy? What is on the soundtrack now? How does the little boy in the buggy, Samuel, feel about the trip he is taking? How does the buggy compare with the articulated lorry and the other traffic? Is there any way you could read the shot of the lorry moving slowly behind the buggy as a symbol?

At the station we meet Daniel again. Why does he join the Lapp family? How does he greet them? What has he got to say to Samuel about “the big city”? What present has he for Samuel? How does Samuel respond to the gift? What might this tell us about the boy and his world? How are we being invited to view these people?

Can you see any similarity between the way the train is introduced and the way the traffic was photographed earlier?

How does Daniel feel about Rachel? What advice has Eli, the grandfather, for her? What does this tell us about him? How does Rachel feel about Daniel?

How do the mother and son feel as they set out on their journey? What do you think of Daniel as he races the train? What kind of a world-view have these people? What kind of a world are Rachel and Samuel leaving? Think of the modes of transport we have seen so far in the film - buggies, cars, lorries and the train. How does the balloon fit into this list?