Mountain Humor in Folktales and Other Media
Intro Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Activities
What About Films?
- To adapt analytical skills to a popular medium
- To facilitate the importance of evaluating the attitudes and values reflected in plot, setting, point of view, characters
- To analyze the characteristics of a film review and incorporate them into an original review
Notes to the Teacher:
This lesson will probably take three to four days to complete.
Pages on AppLit that are relevant to this lesson (see also Complete List of AppLit pages on Film):
- Article: Once Upon a Time in Appalachia: Tom Davenports Fairy Tale Films (Abstract) by Tina L. Hanlon
- Bibliographies: Appalachian Folktales in Film, Drama, and Storytelling Recordings by Tina L. Hanlon
- Bibliographies: From the Brothers Grimm: Tom Davenports Fairy Tale Films by Tina L. Hanlon
- Bibliographies: Annotated Index of Appalachian Folktales: Jack and the Doctor's Daughter by Tina L. Hanlon
The film used in this lesson is Jack and the Dentists Daughter from Davenport Films. It was filmed in 1983 and is 40 minutes long. Recommended ages: 8-adult.
Analysis: "For Jack and the Dentists Daughter, Davenport selected an African American cast because the trickster tale is a strong African American tradition. The film contains parody of Depression-era prejudice between black and white characters as well as class snobbery among African Americans, when the dentist tries to prevent Jack from marrying his daughter, calling Jack a poor and lazy farm boy. The film avoids racial stereotypes by combining weak and strong traits in both black and white characters" (Tina Hanlon, "ATN Conference Questions," E-mail to Judy Teaford. 18 Sep. 1999).
In 1971 Tom Davenport and his wife, Mimi, founded an independent film company. Davenport Films is located in rural Delaplane, Virginia. Tom is Director, Co-script writer, and Co-producer of a series of films called From the Brothers Grimm. The films are live-action adaptations of traditional folktales and fairy tales in American settings. Many are based directly on Appalachian variants of older folktales.
Note: Teachers who would like to develop this lesson plan into a longer unit can consult the web site Davenport Films & From the Brothers Grimm.
Films include Ashpet; Bearskin; Bristlelip; The Frog King; The Goose Girl; Hansel and Gretel; Jack and the Dentists Daughter; Mutzmag; Rapunzel, Rapunzel; Soldier Jack; and Willa. Information about ordering videos, teachers guides, newsletters, and The Guide to Making Grimm Movies is available. The web site also provides links to other sites of relevance.
1. Ask students to define the terms trickster and anti-hero. Enlist the aid of a willing student to write the responses on the board.
2. Allow for open discussion of students responses.
3. Provide students with the following definitions:
- Trickster: "In the study of folklore, the term trickster is customarily reserved for characters combining the roles of the clever deceivernumskull and transformerculture hero" (Encyclopedia of Folklore and Literature. Eds. Mary Ellen Brown and Bruce A. Rosenberg. Santa Barbara, CA: Mary Ellen Brown and Bruce A. Rosenberg, 1998. 662.).
- Anti-hero: "The Protagonist . . . who has the converse of most of the traditional attributes of the Hero. This hero is graceless, inept, sometimes stupid, sometimes dishonest" (A Handbook to Literature. Eds. C. Hugh Holman and William Harmon. 5th Ed. New York: MacMillan. 28.). He is a character who does good but often does so in an unconventional way and is not necessarily liked.
4. Ask students if any story they have read includes a trickster or anti-hero character. Encourage discussion of student responses. Solicit another student volunteer to write responses on the board.
5. Ask students if they know of any real-life tricksters or anti-heroes. Advise students that unless the person is a public figure, they are to provide only gender and approximate age. Encourage students to share the characteristics of the person. Allow for open debate as to whether or not these characteristics identify the person as a trickster character. Another student volunteer may write responses on the board as they are discussed.
6. Before viewing: provide the following definitions for film shots:
- Frontal shots include:
Extreme close-up: only head, eyes, mouth, etc.
Close-ups: shoulder and head
Medium: waist to top of head
Full-length: head to toe
- Panorama: wide, unbroken view of landscapeoften used to open a film, to indicate setting
- Tracking shots: camera is placed on tracks (similar to train tracks) that run parallel to the subject, allowing the subject to be filmed with more smoothness
- Zooms: give the appearance of moving in or away from the subject
7. Before viewing: provide the following background information about the film.
- "Black actors in period costumes and vintage cars re-enact a variant of the Grimms comic story, 'The Master Thief,' in a small 1930s American town. Jack, a poor laborers son, wants to marry the dentists daughter, but the dentist insists that he earn money first." (Chases Appalachian version is called "Jack and the Doctors Girl" from The Jack Tales.) "A fine example of an American Jack Tale, closely related to traditional trickster tales found worldwide" (Davenport, Tom. Jack and the Dentists Daughter. 1996. 17 Sep. 1999)
8. Before viewing: ask students to focus on each characters behavior and whether or not it is justified. In addition, ask students to consider whether or not Jack is a trickster or anti-hero. Write the three areas of focus on the board and leave until the lesson is completed.
Prepare and Distribute Handout 1 "Two Thumbs Up! Or Down?" using the information provided below. Read and discuss the questions, ensuring that students are familiar with all terms. Students should be advised to keep these questions at hand while viewing, jotting down notes in order to complete the post-assignment.
TWO THUMBS UP! OR DOWN?
Directions: You have been asked to review Jack and the Dentists Daughter for a local newspaper. Remember that you are an Appalachian reviewing a film adaptation of a folktale for an audience of Appalachians. Use the following questions to help you prepare an original film review.
- What subject matter, issue, theme, or topic does this film consider?
- What are the main story line and source of conflict?
- What are the place setting and time period?
- Are the characters believable? Sympathetic? Heroic? Anti-heroic? Villainous? Humorous?
- Who are the major characters? What actors/actresses portray them?
- Is the acting style exaggerated, realistic, or understated? Is it uneven? Does it do justice to the characters?
- Is the actor or actress appropriate for the role?
- How does the film portray or distort real life?
- What values does the film communicate, challenge, or ignore?
- What tone (attitude) does the film take toward its subject? Is it tragic? Comic? Satiric? Romantic? Stereotypical?
- Is the film true to historical facts and truths?
- How does the film handle emotion? Is it sentimental or sincere?
- What elements unify the film?
- Is the film well paced? Are there tedious parts that seem to detract from its purpose? How could it be better edited?
- How do all of the images of the film communicate the mood? Does one mood dominate?
- Are any images repeated enough and in a specific context that they seem to be used as symbols?
- How does color (or black and white) enhance the film?
- How are light and shadow (shading) used effectively?
- How does the camera work (panorama, tracking shots, zooms, close-ups) produce specific effects?
- Why is this film worth seeing?
- How is this film similar to/different from other films like it?
- How would you rate this film?
9. After viewing: encourage students to discuss and debate each characters behavior and whether or not it is justified. In addition, ask students to discuss and debate the question of whether or not Jack is a trickster or anti-hero.
- Answers will vary
10. After Viewing: Students should also be encouraged to discuss and debate their responses to questions on Handout 1.
- Answers will vary
11. Advise students to follow the directions on Handout 1 as they write an original film review. (Students can access The Internet Movie Database to see examples of film reviews, or do a search in one of the search engines. Teachers may find it beneficial to provide one or two examples for students to discuss prior to completing this assignment.) Students should follow the writing process. Allow for in-class time for revision and editing.
Mountain Humor in Folktales and Other Media: Intro
Complete list of AppLit pages on Folklore
This Page Created: 11/08/2001
Last Update: 7/13/05