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AFI (#110 of 7)

Summer of ‘89: Dead Poet’s Society...Do the Wrong Thing

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Summer of ‘89: <em>Dead Poet’s Society</em>...Do the Wrong Thing
Summer of ‘89: <em>Dead Poet’s Society</em>...Do the Wrong Thing

Dead Poets Society purports to be about the bravery of following one’s own path. This is a bright, shining lie, one the film is ballsy enough to tell to your face. It makes examples of those who march to the beat of a different drummer by crushing them with the drum kit. Those who stay in line get to cover their asses before making empty gestures of sympathy toward the people they helped destroy. A more conformist, less inspirational piece of cinema would be hard to find.

And yet, this was perceived as “inspirational” by the audiences that made it a hit in 1989; by the Academy, which nominated it for Best Picture; and by the AFI, which lists the film at #52 on its list of the 100 most inspiring movies of all time. That’s higher than A Raisin in the Sun, Sergeant York, Sounder, Shane, and two far better examples of its own inspirational-teacher genre, Fame and Stand and Deliver.

Dead Poets Society takes place in 1959 at Welton Academy, one of those enormous, stuffy prep schools beloved by old Hollywood, British people, and Academy voters. The students are as white as the snow that falls every winter, and just as cold and blasé. Into their standard, almost militaristic existence comes replacement English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams), an alumnus whose claim to fame was creating the titular institute. Keating, like all stereotypical move teachers, is a bit looser than his predecessor: He calls bullshit on the standard way of teaching poetry, takes the kids outside for lessons and, during his first day of class, utters the one of the AFI’s top-100 greatest movie quotes:

“Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

And how do these boys carpe their diem? By resurrecting Keating’s Dead Poets Society. There’s no mention of why this is a radical idea, because none exists. Any high school kid will tell you poetry is evil. The Dead Poets Society is a group of kids who sneak out into the woods to quote Thoreau and read poetry that isn’t assigned by their teacher. In other words, they’re doing extra credit work! What school would be against this? Welton Academy, of course, and the school’s objections lead, in most convoluted fashion, to the ouster of our beloved teacher.

The Best and Worst Reactions to AFI’s "100 Movies, 100 Years" Update and Hostel: Part II

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The Best and Worst Reactions to AFI’s “100 Movies, 100 Years” Update and <em>Hostel: Part II</em>
The Best and Worst Reactions to AFI’s “100 Movies, 100 Years” Update and <em>Hostel: Part II</em>

Best Reaction To AFI’s “100 Movies, 100 Years” Update: Eric Henderson, over email, stating, “I admit it…I watched the new AFI Top 100 list tonight and, despite a bunch of shit still being on the list throughout, I was overall embarrassingly impressed with the fact that they managed to move Vertigo into the top 10 and The Searchers and The General (which wasn’t even on the last list) into the top 20. And Nashville. Fuck yeah!”

Worst Reaction To AFI’s “100 Movies, 100 Years” Update: Gold Derby non-critic and “Hollyweird” award shill Tom O’Neill, who, after bemoaning the “slap” given to fucking Patton of all films, intones in what may be considered an impersonation of Rip Taylor, “The old list had a few other priorities right, too. Psycho is surely Alfred Hitchcock’s best film, not Vertigo, which just zoomed waaaaay up, up, up from #61 to where you’d think it’d get dizzy at #9.” Oy. Well, at least he thinks Taxi Driver is better than Raging Bull.

Best Attempt At Turning AFI’s “100 Movies, 100 Years” Update Into Something Valuable: Matt Zoller Seitz, responding to a comment made to his Links for the Day blog entry for The House Next Door, states that he kind of likes the list “because it gives you a better sense of how collective taste shifts over time than the critics polls or the Guardian-style, ’Let’s see what the readers think’ polls” before allowing the conversation to shift into a discussion of the suckitude of Godard’s post-’60s cinematic output.