Let’s have a perfect ending(s), at least cinematically, to our very imperfect Film Festival and school year. There will almost certainly be “afterparty” clips next week, but 57 days “celebrating” anything is enough…just ask the parents of a currently graduating 2015 high school Senior. How many ceremonies must one sit through?

But I both digress and whine, and we don’t want to end on such a note. Let’s instead indecisively look at two of the most perfect film endings ever, right down to Marilyn Monroe riding a bicycle (sorry, obscure bike nerd reference) and my all-time favorite actor, Jack Lemmon, prominently holding a bubbling champagne bottle. Oh, and two of the greatest closing lines in the history of everything.

Your humble bike and film nerd blogger actually spent way too much time thinking what this last clip should be. When faced with the indecision that comes from such pondering there is only one choice: Billy Wilder.  We’ve featured Mr. Wilder’s work with other screenwriters (“Ace in the Hole”), yet his collaborations with I.A.L. Diamond, particularly the “early, funny ones,” are written and directed to a level of perfection almost never achieved either before or since. The problem was determining which of two early Wilder/Diamond films to go with.

So I’m going with both.

First, there’s Marilyn riding a bike (and it’s technical riding, too, steep downhill single-track and wearing a tight dress and heels, no less!), a feature almost unnoticed amid the nutty madcap that is the ending of “Some Like it Hot” (1959). Yeah, there’s the line at the end, but I prefer to think this scene fits NMPSPE 2015 best for its forcing teachers/kids to figuratively wear flapper dresses (not that there is anything inherently wrong with that) in an effort to survive/satisfy the MAFIA that is the New Mexico Public Education Department. Oh, and there’s the final line, too.

But there’s also Wilder/Diamond’s next film, an even better one in many ways, particularly its finding romance in realistic scenes of modern business dysfunction and moral corruption. “The Apartment” (1960) is arguably an even better film than “Hot” and that’s amazing, given its core theme of adultery. Center to its figurative purpose here in the Festival: How do we personally and professionally survive the Fred MacMurray’s/Hanna Skandera’s of the world? How do we avoid literally shooting ourselves and just enjoy playing some cards with Shirely MacLaine in a pageboy haircut?  How do we stop kvetching and blogging about all the malfeasance and educational maltreatment of Standardized Testing Gone Wild…and just “shut up and deal”?

You can probably tell I’m still working on that. I’m still working on being a better Jack Lemmon. We’re all still trying to get over dealing with Fred MacMurray.  But ya gotta stop sometime.


Have a great weekend, everybody.



We’re having the final Staff Meeting of the school year this morning and the birds are outside my window furiously chirping at the Too Damn Early hour of 5:30 a.m. Definitely time to get off this educational rocket sled to nowhere. I hear tell one or more Albuquerque Public Schools will be forced to administer End of Course (EOCs) exams right up to the final last half-day of middle school on May 22nd. Tomorrow, my school is distributing yearbooks on a day with both EOCs and the wrap-up of our somewhat time-honored tradition of having kids go off-campus to conduct mock trials at a local courthouse (this year it’s the NM Court of Appeals).

Things be crazy and the wear/tear shows everywhere you look.

Embodying that wear/tear this early morning is The Band’s Richard Manuel. From Martin Scorsese’s take on the “The Last Waltz” (1976), here’s Manuel looking impossibly good for someone on a eight-bottle a day Grand Marnier habit. Maybe it’s the beard or the snazzy as Hell suit jacket, but you can hardly tell Richard has almost been dead from booze, grief, cocaine and Los Angeles since the early 70s. His look and performance on “The Shape I’m In” is an amazing illustration of the, sometimes creaky, perseverance of both humans and the human spirit, and this clip goes out to all of us in the New Mexico teaching profession who have, somehow, professionally survived to Day 173 of the absolute stupidest, craziest, most soul-crushing year any of us can ever remember.

♫Ohhhhhhhh…you don’t know the shape I’m in…..♫

This one goes out to all the New Mexico teachers who don’t quite fit the numbers and profile needed to be found consistently “effective” in the horribly constructed, statistically irrelevant and arrogantly flaunted bullshit that is the *Public Education Department Teacher Evaluation System.  Of course, that category includes just about all teachers, so let’s narrow Dustin Hoffman here in David O. Russell’s 2004 oft-reviled (I’m guessing Hanna Skandera isn’t a fan, for instance) “I Heart Huckabees,” as cinematic manifestation of those teachers who resolutely continue to teach “the blanket” instead of PARCC test prep or EOC study sheets.

Alright…time for me to get ready.  Only eight more school days  to teach “blanket.”  And just like the previous 172, I’ll love every one of them.

*The blackboard in the back also serves to symbolize the math/statistics behind the “System.”  I’ve checked exactly one teacher evaluation so far and found that the math in it is 100%, absolutely, incontrovertibly…wrong.  The numbers just don’t add up properly.  Period.  Makes you wonder just how garbage the numbers are within the black box that leads to what teachers see in their “informative” five-pagers.

I swear it’s taking longer to finish Testing Season 2015 than it takes this damn 747 to take off.

Urban freeway traffic is the focus of the still frame of the clip above from Godfrey Reggio’s 1982 look at modern life, “Koyaanisqatsi,” but it’s the damn airplane I remember most from this scene. Philip Glass singers and that damn airplane. Only trouble is, we can’t have Philip Glass playing through the school intercom system. Hell, we can’t have school bells most days of Testing Season. Disrupts the testing process; you know, what used to be called the “educational process.”

When is this damn airplane gonna take off?

Day Two of EOC testing for my school today. Yesterday we learned we’re to give EOCs to kids who just enrolled at our place in the last week or so. Test ’em all, let Skandera sort out the teacher evaluation scores, I always say. Okay, I never say that. Not once.

When is this damn airplane gonna take off?

You know when Testing Season 2015 is over? When the kids ain’t coming to school anymore. We’re gonna test ’em right up to the shaving cream/water balloon fight at the nearby park. Hell, we might give ’em an EOC on shaving cream/water balloon fighting. Why the Hell not? We’re testing Art, P.E. and Home Economics. If we can test creating a still-life, chin-ups and making pancakes, we can sure as Hell test throwing water balloons.

Do I have to ask the question again? You know, the one about the plane? Let’s change the question to this: Can I just get off the plane? Now?

I’ll be even more brief than this short scene from Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” (1957).  The character Death saws down the tree holding an actor who is first blithely unaware, then unable to argue his way out.  His upcoming performance at the All-Saints Festival is cancelled on “account of death.”  Teachers, as we administer our own destined for one-quarter bell curve-ordained deaths via EOCs this week, grab that tree…or, perhaps, consider a hasty unplanned descent before it all comes crashing down.

Me, and a few hundred/thousand of my teaching colleagues are in varying states of climbing down.  Some are choosing well-timed jumps down to land on Death himself.  We call this option the “Rule of 75.”

Many films claim to be the “Worst Movie Ever Made,” but almost all can only dream of truly being “Worst.”  Even our good friend “Troll II,” while awful, is only awful in a funny way that has led it to become a cult classic.

El Paso insurance company manager Harold P. Warren’s immortal 1966 film “Manos:  The Hands of Fate” is the only film worthy of this most lofty title.  It’s SO bad it’s not funny.  It’s amateurish, yet lacks kitsch potential.  It’s boring, overly long and not only has no point, it has no semblance of an endearing lack of a point.  It’s the worst.

Hence, it’s the perfect cinematic embodiment of the 2015 PARCC test.  PARCC fits every characteristic of this film.  I’d argue that students, teachers and parents would have gotten the same exact level of educational information (not to mention entertainment) from kids watching “Manos” over and over instead of taking the five sections of “Language Arts” and four of “Math.” Looking back (which is funny because we’re STILL doing PARCC make-ups), I really wished I’d just sent kids to an online viewing of this PARCC 2015 of cinema.

The lingering question is whether PARCC 2016 will be AS BAD as the 2015 “beta” version.  More interesting to ponder, however, is the possibility there won’t be a 2016 version and the PARCC “franchise” and Pearson will die.  Now THAT’S a film narrative I’d love anyone, Harold P. Warren included, to direct.  Does Hillary Clinton know anything about film editing?

I’m somewhere around the middle, this early morning, of a 24-hour sojourn that spans a veritable Mount Whitney and Death Valley of public educator experiences.  Last night I got to attend the Academic Letter Ceremony at Albuquerque High, celebrating graduating seniors who kept a 3.5 GPA or better through all eight semesters.  Medals were placed, Olympics-style, around the necks of amazing kids.  Teachers were thanked;  even your humble blogger was thanked.

So we’ll call that “Mount Whitney.”

Today, my Principal and Assistant Principal have the true Death Valley honor of sharing “Summative Evaluations” with staff via a ton of drive-by sessions in which Admin and each teacher will discuss the “much more detailed reports” courtesy our Public Education Department ostensibly illustrating teaching competency or lack thereof.  The previous sentence is probably longer than most of these sessions will last.  Like any grading, bullshit numbers in a bullshit “rubric” will be glossed over as each frantic teacher will not admit they are frantically looking for words like “Effective” or “Minimally Effective” somewhere in the blizzard of bullshit.  There will be much gnashing of teeth and various sincerity levels of laughter.  My guess is that Admin will have a box of kleenex within easy teacher reach throughout.

Which gets me to Hal Ashby’s “Harold and Maude” (1971) and zombies.  I showed “H&M” to my semester 7th/8th Grade Film class pretty much every Semester.  Each and every time the kids very slowly grew to love Harold, especially as his faux suicides grew more and more visually arresting and psychologically disturbing.  The faux hanging that starts the film got their attention.  The faux self-immolation a bit later had them laughing en masse.

Yeah, these kids were being taught, with your taxpayer dollars, to laugh at people setting themselves on fire.

But the film isn’t really about that, and it isn’t about death, despite the nearly countless numbers of faux suicides.  It’s about life and about being truly alive while we’re living.  The thing I’ve never got about the whole “zombie” thing is that we’re supposed to fear people who die and come back from the dead.  I’m not seeing many cases of this, so it’s not nearly as worrisome as what each of us sees around us every day, all the time.  I refer to humans who are, for all “intense and purposes” (as a former principal of mine used to incorrectly write), dead despite their beating heart and ability to locomote.  This type of living dead is a far, far scarier thing than any zombie movie can ever be.

In the film, this truth comes from the newly-turned octogenarian Maude, who illustrates in a set of faux suicide mirroring activities what it means to stop being the living dead and to once again truly live. And yeah, one of these activities is quite evidently turning her relationship with the somewhere around 19 year-old Harold sexual.  And boy did that creep the kids out.  Every Semester (although I ended up skipping this scene most Semesters for “time purposes”).

Yeah, these kids were being taught, with your taxpayer dollars, uh…whatever that teaches people.

More importantly, getting back to the zombie/life, thing, “Harold and Maude” teaches us to remain living, despite all the attempts to kill us off while still kicking.  To stop kicking, in fact.  Today’s “Summative Evaluations” are nothing other than an attempt to make us teachers stop kicking, to slip into the noose of kiss-ass, monotonous “differentiated instruction” or whatever today’s edu-Kool Aid is called, and, fundamentally, professionally, stop living.

The saddest evidence of this, for me, is that I no longer teacher a film class.  That’s a long story…some other time.

Instead let’s have the gloriously named actress Vivian Pickles, as Harold’s mother, embody “Summative Evaluations” via a stupid dating questionnaire and have the eternally lovable Bud Cort, as Harold, do what every single teacher is picturing in their mind as they sit at their little drive-by meeting with the Principal today.

Bang…you’re dead.  But we don’t have to be.  I have seen Mount Whitney;  I saw it only a few hours ago.  It’s beautiful.