g The Film Panel Notetaker: 2009 Tribeca Film Festival - "Inherit the Wind" - April 25, 2009

Friday, April 24, 2009

2009 Tribeca Film Festival - "Inherit the Wind" - April 25, 2009

Tribeca Talks: After the Movie
Inherit the Wind
Saturday, April 25 at 1pm (SVA Theatre 2)


Inherit the Wind was a 1960 film that covered the “monkey trial” in 1923—a real life case about teaching evolution in public schools. It centers around the teacher, played by Dick York, who broke the law by teaching kids evolution in his science class. Spencer Tracy swoops in to be his Chicago-based lawyer just trying to fight for a human’s right to think, who is then opposed by Matthew Brady played by Frederic March.

Fascinatingly, we, as a country, haven’t seemed to have changed much since 1923.

Jon Amiel felt Stanley Kramer’s point of view was apparent in this film as the selected shots. As the filmmaker on the panel, he felt that Kramer did one of the worst mistakes in story telling which is undermining the opposition. He made a bombastic idiot of Brady. With that Kramer undermined the potency of the moral victory.

In the scene in the preachers meeting, where Brady spoke passionately of humanity- that was one of the few moments where you saw the man’s principles for what they were. They were not shrouded in his own crisis of faith. In reality, the Brady character was in fact very pro-working people, as for women's' suffrage, child labor laws and other progressive ideas. The wife in the mo vie was also a descent reflection of what he was capable of, yet in this movie the focus was on picking apart his take on the Bible.

The film seems to more reflect the culture in 1960 than in 1923 when the trail took place. It was a period of McCarthyism. The Crucible was a hit play. Kramer himself was directly subjected to the Nuremberg trials. Secularism was taking hold. Also, in retrospect, people’s take on the trial was shaped by the movie over the decades. And since then, it’s been warfare between creationism and secularism.

Apparently, the actual trial was even more riveting.

Amiel continues that the film works now because of the strong characters. I know when I was watching the film, I found it seamless how it went between the character’s inner conflicts (the fiancé’s pull between father and husband-to-be, the school teacher’s back and forth about if it’s worth taking a stand- and further illustrated his dilemma with the innocent boy damned to hell, and finally with Spencer Tracy almost giving up on the town folks’ ignorance). It seemed so organic from one scene to the next—modern movies just seem so cliché when attempting to pull off what this 50 year old movie did. It may have even invented the cliché all the others were based on yet still pulled it off with me.

The panelists agreed that one of the most moving scenes was the last one where the conflict shows on Tracy’s face as he puts the origin of species on his bible, put them in the brief case and then left.

One of my favorite panelists was Dr. Eugenie Scott. She’s an expert on this issue as she specializes on science education in the US. I learned a lot from her.

First, it seems that creationists like to paint the picture as right or wrong and forces a situation of choosing sides. It is not a good/bad dichotomy in reality. But can evolution and faith coexist? Of course they can. Imperialistically, they can.

This is where I started to learn a little something about education in this country. In present day America, the ideas of our culture being susceptible to corruption by outsiders, and the media elite— is also the total rejection of reason, research and rationale. This in-your-face-you’re-not-gonna-tell-me-what to do attitude is hysterically ridiculous when choosing the fate of our culture… common sense should not even be debatable! The fearful insularity is a problem. It’s a factorial problem.

The politicalization of educational system, decentralized history and culture comes from 15,000 school districts. It turns out that only highly motivated people vote for the school board. Motivated people tend to be religious and conservative. In Kansas, there was a two year stretch of very extreme people in power who did not represent the people. This is a 50 year war and it is an education issue. It’s also not just an American issue.

The main thing people have to understand when pondering creationism versus evolution: Science is defined as testable information. Super-natural/faith-based stuff is not testable. Therefore, anything based in faith should not be taught in a science class. It can be discussed in religion class or something, but not biology.

Science isn’t something you “believe in.” It just is.

The author of The Beak of a Finch, Jonathan Weiner, said that the book’s subjects, Rosemary and Peter Grant were always asked if they were “for” or “against” evolution. As he followed their story, despite the repeated testing of evolution, it is still questioned as valid.

Darwin too was conflicted. He went to theological school, was a deist, and waited 20 years to publish his book knowing what it meant. He decided that the love of deity is a product of the human mind. It would be a betrayal of god’s given mind to not share his views. He realized that they could be considered disrespectable and that was something Darwin took very seriously.

Ironically, the creationist argument today is the opposite as in the trail of the movie. In it, the creationists were trying to ban the teacher’s freedom to teach something and nowadays they want the freedom to teach intelligent design.

After saying all this, a creationist columnist for NJ Voices still manages to get up and say that he thinks kids should be given a choice and should be taught both origination stories in schools. Obscenely, he seemed steadfast in this belief even though obviously we shouldn’t give kids the choice in what they learn. Otherwise, they wouldn’t go to school at all.

The moral of the story is that if you get flu shots, have domesticated pets, consume agricultural products or would get treated for cancer—shut up. The modern world utilizes concepts rooted in evolutionary theory and unless you riot against its boon as well, can it. Keep church and state separate. It’s like that for a reason.

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