6/20/10

RVOD015 Individual Differences

(1953? Educational/Short, b&w)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

Pity the different, for they are weak.

Rating: ***

In a Nutshell:


Miss Hart alternately builds up her students and scars them for life.

Summary:

A young and chubby Yahoo Serious.The “How Not to Do It” section of this teacher instruction film comes first. Miss Hart welcomes her students to class on the first day of school. One of her charges is a boy named Roy, whose older brother George was a star pupil in previous years. Miss Hart welcomes Roy and challenges him to live up to the very high bar set by his brother. She spends the rest of the year putting him on the spot, shaming and belittling him in front of his peers after every failure. Deciding that he needs to overcome his natural shyness, she railroads him into performing a large role in the school play. Roy stumbles over half his first line and then flees in tears.

The next section repeats the first, diverging at the point where Miss Hart sends her best wishes to Roy’s brother instead of challenging Roy to do better. Throughout the year, she accepts what Roy’s abilities allow him to do and encourages him improve rather than trying to force him to follow her own agenda. The school play rolls around, and rather than humiliate Roy with a speaking role, she has him use his piano skills for the incidental music.

Thoughts:

For the most part this is some of the dullest, most obvious cinematic advice you could offer anyone, let alone a teacher. If there’s any humor to be found at all, it’s in the ridiculously wide range of teacher behavior on display: the bad examples are unmistakably evil and the good examples improbably benevolent. I said “most obvious” earlier, but that’s with the acknowledgement that some people need the obvious spelled out for them. But then, the kind of person who needs this sort of thing spelled out is probably also the kind of person who thinks it doesn’t apply to them. Which makes this one of many, many training films I’ve seen, both at Rifftrax and elsewhere, produced for the sole purpose of setting up an administrative “I told you so” somewhere down the road.

A few favorite comments: When Miss Hart drills the class on the major exports of Massachusetts, Bill guesses, “Kennedys?” While Miss Hart waxes eloquent about Roy’s failures in comparison with his older brother, Mike says, “He was blameless and holy.” Somewhere around the middle of an endless scolding, Kevin speculates, “The song Do You Know the Muffin Man is running endlessly through [Roy’s] head,” and then hums it to himself at intervals thereafter. You’d think that twenty-five minutes of dull, obvious advice would feel like a living death, but the riffers keep it lively. It’s not the funniest short in recent memory, but Mike, Bill and Kevin have made it far funnier than it deserves to be.