Before any teaching graduate is let loose on a class of unsuspecting teenagers, the following mantra should be tattooed on their foreheads, “Preview all visual material before showing it to the students. This includes films, recordings of sporting events ( streakers) and documentaries. Ignore it at your peril.” Fortunately most teachers have large, alien foreheads.
The laws as they relate to Australian schools are clear. Any audio visual material above a General (G) rating cannot be shown to students without a permission note from parents. Is it always safe to trust the ratings system? Oh no, no, no as the lady said. Hysteria, tears, pyschological trauma and a tsunami of complaints from hypocritcal parents (who let their kids watch all sorts of crap at home) awaits the teacher who trusts the G-rating.
As a first year teacher in a remote country school, I was eager to enrich my students’ appreciation of the curriculum by using films. It also meant I could avoid the drudgery of lesson plans and well, teaching, for a few lessons while we vegged out in front of the television. In the pre-laptop days of 1995, nothing prompted more exclamations of joy from my Year 8 Social Studies class than the sight of the huge Phillips TV being wheeled across the quadrangle.
In keeping with our theme of “technological change” or some similar rubbish, I decided to show a G-rated film I had found in the local service station/video store called Caveman Monkey Sex. Okay. It may not have been called that, but it should have been. The film was Quest for Fire made in 1981 and directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. It won a 1983 Oscar for best makeup and 10 other awards. According to the blurb, the plot centered around 3 prehistoric tribesmen who search for a new fire source after their fire is extinguished during an attack by another tribe. They are unable to make fire themselves. The film is based on a 1911 novel by the Belgian J-H Rosny (1856-1940). It sounded harmless enough.
Excitedly I took the film home to watch in the evening before showing it to the class. I had a vague idea I should make up a worksheet, so the kids wouldn’t think we were having a complete skive.
I watched the film and was completely shocked.
Obviously Annaud wanted to explore what would happen in a world shared by 3 different species of humans; Homo erectus, Homo Neanderthalis and Homo sapiens. Apparently the main thing that would happen is a lot inter-species casual sex. It’s impossible to understate the casualness of caveman sex, as imagined by Annaud. Cavewomen couldn’t bend over to dig up a tuber or attend an infant without some hairy fellow taking her by surprise.
Being relatively mature farm kids, the students would have coped with the numerous sex scenes without being too scandalised. It was another aspect of the film that disturbed me. At some point in the film the Homo sapien woman is captured by an ugly ape man. He promptly cuts off her arm and hangs her in a tree, like a leopard with its kill. Evil ape man squats under the tree, makes a fire and barbeques her arm for lunch. Ignoring her loud protests, he gnaws away at her arm while she watches. We assume she will be forced to observe her own cannibalisation as her captor hacks of limbs whenever he feels peckish. Fortunately she is rescued but this scene alone gave me nightmares for weeks.
Despite the General rating allowing teachers to show this film without parental permission, I decided it was too graphic for students barely out of primary school.
Foolishly I had told the students the previous day we would be watching Quest for Fire in class (not doing any work) so they were disappointed when we had to drudge through a chapter on the wonders of the spinning Jenny.
“So why aren’t we watching Quest for Fire?” whined Trent, the primary work dodger in the class, besides me.
“I decided it had too much caveman monkey sex and cannibalism.” I replied, thus ensuring Quest for Fire became the most borrowed film in the town’s history.
Anyway, the students had been promised a film so I had to find one. After feverishly searching the rack at the service station/video store for G-rated movies, I found the 1993 film, The Silver Brumby. This was more like it- a sweet kids’ movie about a wild horse (brumby) based on the series of books by Elyne Mitchel. It also starred a young and dreamy Russell Crowe. By now I had abandoned all educational pretext for showing a film but thought I could work in something about technology, horses and cars or whatever. No need to preview this film. What could go wrong?
Quite a lot, it appears. The hero of the film, Thowra (the silver brumby) commits equine suicide at the end of the film rather than be captured. Oh the trauma! Eighteen years later I can still see their pathetic tear stained faces staring at me in horror as the final credits rolled on the screen.
The following year I showed Quest for Fire to the Year 8 class after devising an ingenious way to show G-rated films that include dubious scenes. Every time I showed a film I brought along a large pillow that I (or a trusted minion) could hold against the screen, blocking the offending image.