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Archive for the month “February, 2013”

Fresh approaches to Blade Runner and Frankenstein, Part Two


This is an addition to my earlier post about a top ten screenshot-based approach to Blade Runner. I was working collaboratively with one of my students and together we came up with this personal commentary on this shot. I’ve left our notes in so you can see how we’ve moved from them to the personal commentary. The next step is to take this writing towards an exam-style paragraph – hopefully one with a personalised academic voice!

I like what this activity does for students. It gives them a step on the way towards the formal essay, one that values their voice. It gives them permission to use original thoughts and observations, humour and pop culture knowledge in exploring their texts.

I’ll attach something else, too. This is really just a revision activity, so keep it to one side for the day you know you’re going to be away. It’s match the character to the description, then make the links to Frankenstein. It can lead to interesting discussions: where is Elizabeth in Blade Runner, for example? Rachel? Zhora? Here’s this one: Blade Runner character activity

And now, the notes and commentary.

Discussion Notes

  • Shows that no matter what they were made for, replicants wanted to be different – they wanted to establish their own identities away from their designation. Zhora is designated as a combat model but in this scene she is only ever the victim.
  • Purity of the fake white snow and the redness of the blood
  • Like any normal human, she’s trying to protect her head.
  • Crashing through a glass window is a Hollywood cliché.
  • Filmed at night. Neon lights dominate the background.
  • “man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.” (Rousseau) In this scene it is the mannequins who are ‘chained’ by the rope lights.
  • The different deaths – every replicant dies in a unique way – reinforces their individual humanity.
  • Zhora takes longer to die than every other replicant. She’s the only one who runs.


First Draft Commentary

‘Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.’ The mannequin on the right of the shot is chained by the rope light. Earlier in the scene, other mannequins have worn ‘slave collar’ neon chokers. It’s the filmmaker’s way of reminding us about the place of replicants in this society. They do the dirty work, they don’t get paid and they have the life expectancy of a Star Trek character in a red shirt.

Zhora takes longer to die than any of the other replicants. There is a chase scene, she crashes through two sheets of glass and she is shot three times by Deckard before she dies. It all makes us feel sympathy for Zhora, something Scott highlights further when he shows Zhora kneeling in the broken glass, her hands bleeding, shortly before this point in the film.

This is different from the deaths of other replicants. Leon dies instantly after being shot in the head. Pris is shot twice in the stomach and dies in a manic, convulsive fit. Roy ceases to be with the release of a convenient dove. It’s another way of reinforcing one of Scott’s key ideas – that the replicants are ‘more human than human’.

Crashing through a glass window is, of course, a Hollywood movie cliché. But there’s something different about this particular window, and that’s the fake snow. It’s a reminder of what is missing in this society: religious belief has atrophied and with it has gone any celebration of living. The snow is the last remnant of an absent Christmas.

Mind you, when it comes to clichés, Elizabeth’s death on her wedding night is making use of every narrative trick in the book. How much foreshadowing can one reader take? It’s Shelley’s way of building our sense of the tragedy of the death – and there’s the link with Blade Runner. For Scott, it’s film techniques: the chaos of the chase scene, the broken glass, the final close-up on the face of Zhora…

Zhora’s is a very human death. In this shot she is protecting her head, the most important part of a human body. And her death will enrage Leon and cause him to act rashly – which will lead to his death, too. In the film, it isn’t the ‘real’ humans who have meaningful relationships. It’s the replicants. Their very real deaths reinforce this point.

(394 words)

Here’s the whole thing as a word document, too: Fresh Approaches to Blade Runner Part 2


Kenneth Slessor’s Darlinghurst Nights

 Slessor Daringhurst Cover

Slessor Darlinghurst nights. What’s most interesting for me in this is that it shows me how little I know of Slessor‘s context. I’ve always made assumptions about him: a bit of a leftie, a bit of a radical – but this gives me a very different picture.

A couple of weeks ago I promised I’d find the other collection of Slessor’s works from Smith’s Weekly, and here it is. Darlinghurst Nights was first published in 1933 and matches Slessor’s lighter poetry with the illustrations of  Virgil Reilly.

I was hoping it was going to include some of the poems set for HSC students. It doesn’t but it’s still a window into Slessor’s world. The illustrations are curious. Apparently the streets of Darlinghurst are filled with semi-clad girls gazing wistfully from their windows. It seems that the Smith’s Weekly audience were as much entranced by the hope of a whimsical romantic encounter as by the sexy lingerie.

It’s hardly how I’d pictured Slessor or his audience. I’m curious now. Anybody out there got a better contextual handle on this?

Fresh Approaches to Blade Runner and Frankenstein

If you had to collect ten – and only ten – screenshots from Blade Runner that captured the key moments of the film, what would they be? And (assuming you’re doing this because you’re in NSW and doing the Comparative Study of Texts and Contexts module for the HSC) how would these shots connect with Frankenstein?

Here’s something I’ve put together so that students can have this conversation: Blade Runner screenshots v2

I’ve designed this as a ‘best practice’ activity. It’s collaborative, at least in parts, it’s designed with a modelled/ guided/ independent cycle in mind and it asks students to write with a more personal voice.

 Basically it sets students a challenge: as a group, choose ten screenshots that are key to understanding Blade Runner. I’ve included some suggested shots in the powerpoint that you may wish to use to provoke discussion or assist the technologically challenged.

 Underneath the slides, in the notes section, you’ll find my modelled personal commentary and some teacher’s notes.

 My goal here is to give you a resource that will freshen up Blade Runner for you, and get your students away from the same old  ‘Pope’s bedroom’ stuff. Let me know what you think.

Better writing in Extension English



What I’ve collected here is something that I’ve been working on with Denise McKinna from Dungog High. We were looking for a strong work sample for students studying Science Fiction – and ended up collaborating on this project

Below is one student’s response written for a trial examination. It’s been transcribed but it was originally written in around an hour. If you’re familiar with the Notes from the Marking Centre, you’ll spot straight away that this is an average sort of answer.

What I’ve done here is to write the ‘feedback/ feed forward’ notes after several of the early paragraphs, then re-write the paragraphs in a way that I think would demonstrate a higher range answer.

This is intended to be a resource for students and teachers studying the Science Fiction elective. I haven’t worked through the whole essay, but if you’d like to work on a paragraph with your class and send me your version… I may return to this if i get some time and work on the Neuromancer paragraphs but I’d need to do a significant re-read first. There’s people out there better qualified than me to work on this.

Imp writing sample ext SF v2

Oh, while I was digging around, I found this interesting site: http://io9.com/books/. A good popular culture style site for people still new to the genre.

Kenneth Slessor, Ladies’ Man.

Backless Betty

I came across a very unusual collected Kenneth Slessor recently. It’s a collection of his work from the late 20’s and early 30’s, published as ‘Backless Betty from Bondi’.

I’ve taught Slessor occasionally, and still have a couple of his poems in my repertoire. This book adds something to my understanding of him. Slessor worked as a journalist for a number of papers over his lifetime, including Smith’s Weekly.

The book re-publishes a range of Slessor’s early poetry, illustrated by the cartoonists who were a big part of the paper’s success. If you’ve ever taught ‘Wild Grapes’, the original illustration’s in here.

There’s a story somewhere in my family about a grandmother being absolutely scandalised that a copy of Smith’s Weekly had arrived in her house, which gives you a sense of tone. Whoever told me the story was implying that grandma was a bit of a wowser who should just let the men-folk get on with enjoying life.

The paper was an illustrated tabloid, sensationalist, with a mix of sport, finance and satire. It promoted the image of the laconic ‘digger’, independent, free-spirited, fond of a drink and romantically inclined.

The poems give you a good sense of its flavour. If you’re interested in the depression years, it’s a revealing piece. I’d be tempted to use this if I were teaching Slessor for English (Advanced) Module B. How would the artists in Slessor’s time have illustrated the poems set for study?

The link to the pdf of three or four selected pages is here: Slessor Backless Betty. Oh, this is Volume 2 of his illustrated poems. I have Volume 1, Darlinghurst Nights, on order. When it comes in, I’ll scan anything that’s on for the HSC and share it here.

SF Formative fun

SF formative fun image

Bianca Hewes, in her blog, set the challenge:

“… there are the usual ways of getting students to do a quiz, answer a question or two in a discussion or write a brief reflection on learning in a learning journal. These are great but can become monotonous for students and for teachers. Variety forces people to think in new ways and fall out of over-used patterns of thought.”

Here’s my response: I’ve been working on a new syllabus unit for Year 9, based around Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, looking particularly at cyborgs in SF. The emphasis is on understanding the constructed nature of the genre. So here’s my high-interest formative activity that gives students a chance to play with constructing an image then checks out their ability to discuss some of the central ideas.
See what you think. The activity is here: SF formative fun

Details of the source of the article are in the link.

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