Finding Forrester The film “Finding Forrester“ can serve two useful purposes. It can give us images of the Bronx and New York City of the 90s and it can serve as a bridge to enable us to compare the first two chapters of Auster’s Moon Palace to J.D. Salinger’s classic The Catcher in the Rye. Film Sequences Sequence One: assignments for pupils. 1. Take notes on the neighborhood: What kind of buildings and businesses do you see? How new or well-repaired are they? What kind of people do you see? Describe their appearance, clothes or activities. 2. What do you find out about Jamal? 3. What is meant by “the window”? Sequence One (8 minutes) titles a young rapper high-rise housing, the projects Spanish language sign street vendors homeys pigeons flying church barber shop book titles: Ken Kesey, Chekhov, Kierkegaard Voice: “Jamal! … I’ve got to work late. Take care of yourself for dinner.” Basketball court, an isolated Victorian building, binoculars at the window, a BMW parks High school class, Poe’s “The Raven”, no one reacts, no one takes part in class The football team, the cafeteria Talk in the cafeteria. “The window is a ghost. Sherita, this girl, she lived right under his apartment and heard this tapping sound. It was “the window” right outside her door with a knife.” The dare: “Go up there and check.” The lockers at school. Jamal takes out a litle notebook and writes, puts the notebook back in and locks it. Shooting baskets: the window. Sequence Two: assignments for pupils 1. What does the teacher, Miss Joyce, tell Jamal’s mother about his teast scores? 2. What advice does Jamal’s brother, played by Busta Rhymes, give him at Yankee Stadium? 3. What exactly happens during “the dare” and how does it end? Sequence Two (8 minutes) Miss Joyce tells Jamal’s mother that the state education department requires all students to take assessment tests. (See: the Regents’ Examination in New York State schools) Jamal’s scores are excellent, but he doesn’t stand out at school. He just plays basketball. Busta Rhymes is parking cars at Yankee Stadium and the boys want free tickets from him. He had a dream once of “playing some college ball” and getting ahead and encourages his little brother to take the opportunity offered by the good test scores. Jamal wants his brother to keep quiet about the test scores. The older brother urges Jamal to get home on time. Jamal goes up the fire escape to “the window”. He is told he has got to bring something out. He enters the apartment by a window, goes directly to the front door and opens the deadbolts so he can escape quickly. He sees baseballs, old-fashioned furniture and décor, a knife, books. Something stands up and Jamal flees, leaving his backpack behind him. Jamal is bouncing a basketball at home in the kitchen. His mother asks him where his backpack is. Sequence Three: assignments for pupils 1. Where does Jamal see his backpack? 2. What do you learn about BMW and Jamal from the conversation he has with a young white man? 3. What does Jamal find inside his backpack? What does he decide to do about it? 4. What is the tone of the conversation he has with the older white man? Sequence Three (6 minutes) Jamal is at the basketball court and sees his backpack hanging out of “the” window. The BMW parks again and Jamal goes over to it. The young white man is obviously nervous, so Jamal say he won’t hurt the car. Jamal feels slightly insulted by the young man and tells him a lot about BMW that the young white man didn’t know. He also takes a dig at the young white man by asserting that the BMW isn’t owned by him but only “leased”. As Jamal leaves, the backpack lands. He finds his red notebooks inside, with corrections like “constipated thinking”, “passage fantastic”, “specificity!” and “unworthy of this reader”. Jamal returns to the apartment, stands in the pale green stairwell, knocks and tries to explain himself. “Write 5000 words on why the fuck you should stay out of my home.” That is rather rude, as is, “Keep your goddamned hands off my doors.” Sequence Four: assignments for pupils 1. Describe the offer that is made to Jamal by the Mailor-Callow School. 2. Who does Jamal decide to discuss the offer with? What is the upshot of the conversation? 3. Give your impression of Mailor-Callow School and of Claire Spence. 4. What is the name of the novel which Jamal must read for English class and who is its author? 5. What is a “soup question”? Sequence Four (14 minutes) Jamal is taken out of choir class to meet his mother and an unknown white gentleman in the Principal’s office. The Principal is also white. The unknown gentleman is from Mailor-Callow Academy in Manhattan, “one of the city’s finest prep-schools”. “Prep” comes from “college preparatory school”, that is, an exclusive, expensive and highly academic secondary school, which really only wishes to get its graduates into Harvard, Yale, Princeton or some other Ivy League school. Jamal’s mother immediately protests that, “We could never pay”, but the offer is one of a full scholarship. In passing one learns that Mailor-Callow is also very interested in Jamal’s basketball skills. Jamal visits “the window” again and, after a rude exchange, may enter the apartment. The old white man, played by Sean Connery, listens to Jamal and then provokes him with some “racist bullshit”. We see Jamal and his mother and brother Tyrrell at the dinner table saying grace. Jamal takes the crowded subway to what appears to be Park Avenue on the Upper East Side, a very expensive neighborhood. The street is full of black limousines. He is greeted by Claire Spence. Everyone wears a school uniform with blazer and tie. In English class the book Avalon Landing by William Forrester is distributed: his one novel is required reading, the great American novel. Claire takes leave of Jamal remarking “…that you both might get what you want.” Back at “the window’s” Jamal remarks on how quiet everything is there. He asks why he should stir the soup while the older man does some bird watching, a Connecticut warbler. The object of a question is to obtain information that matters to us and to no one else. And the older man knew Jamal would come back and he knew that Jamal would go to the new school because Jamal is asking himself the question of what he is going to do with his life. Sequence Five: assignments for pupils 1. What happens to Jamal at basketball practice? 2. What does he discover later at the library’s computer workstations? 3. Who does he confront with his new knowledge and what agreement do they reach? 4. How does attending Meilor-Callow affect Jamal’s relationship to his old friends like Fly? 5. Who is Mr. Crawford and what is his attitude towards Jamal? Sequence Five (11 minutes) By now the pupils should have a pretty good idea of what is going on in the film. They should be able to discuss the differences between rich and poor in the Bronx and the Upper East Side, they should be able to compare Jamal’s new school to his previous school. It might be a good time to locate Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden, Park Avenue, the New York Public Library and 301 East 156th Street. They might also want to discuss the choice of music used for background music in the film. It might be a good time to explain what the Pulitzer Prize is, what the New Yorker magazine is, what newspapers like The New York Times or The National Enquirer are, and then just let the movie run its course. It is probably time to look at passages written by other authors about New York City, especially J.D. Salinger, who wrote The Catcher in the Rye and then became a complete recluse, publishing little or nothing, just like William Forrester. Other films might include Woody Allen’s “Everybody Says I Love You” for a portrait of New York City’s fabulously rich people, or the opening of the film “The Bonfire of the Vanities”.