Breaking the Fourth Wall with Mr. Baxter (Social Studies Teacher)


How many movies do you watch on a monthly basis?

B: Probably 3 or 4.


Can you name any recently released movies you particularly liked and tell us why you enjoyed them?

B: Recently released? I think I’ve only seen one movie in the last two months in a theater. I should have made a list! Uh…the last movie that I saw was Money Monster, was it? [It was] with George Clooney, and I didn’t enjoy that. I had high expectations for it and it didn’t meet them. One movie that I watched…was The Big Short. That I enjoyed very much. I watched it on the plane, I thought it was fantastic. What I liked about it was that it was based on true events; it was informative and entertaining


As a history teacher, do you think it’s acceptable for filmmakers to occasionally sacrifice historical accuracy for the purpose of telling a better story?

B: To a certain extent, yes, absolutely. And I think it’s almost a necessity in that if it’s straight history, we’re limited to only the known record. If you try to take history and put it into a real movie, you almost have to step into the realm of historical fiction, because you have to create dialogue in all likelihood and that dialogue is historically lost. One of my favorite series is the HBO John Adams, which is based upon a book by David McCullough, which isn’t straight history, but there are things like taking letters and turning them into a conversation between john and abigail for example, that moves it from being history…into [being] historical fiction.


Is there a tradeoff?

B: A tradeoff? Yeah. In government and politics class, we watch Argo, and…because most of my knowledge of that rescue is based upon the film, so I can’t judge the film for all of its historical accuracy, but my understanding is that in the airport scene, with the plane taking off, the cars right behind the plane, that kind of action really didn’t occur. That’s not hard to imagine, right? So is it ok that they threw that in there? I think that, yeah. Probably an awful lot of people think that. But even if people do…does that really change the substance of the story?


Favorite political drama?

B: Game Change comes to mind, about the choice of Sarah Palin, I don’t know if that’d be my favorite of all time, but that’s one of the more recent ones that I’ve watched, that’s well done. Uh, All the President’s Men would probably be very high on that list, if not at the top. Another good one was Recount, about the 2000 recount in Florida


Was Game Change a comedy?

B: Was it a comedy? No, *laugh* you might think so, although there were parts that were quite humorous…Woody harrelson was in it, his performance was terrific; he was the advisor.


One of the themes that has appeared consistently in this month’s issue is the increasing dominance of dark, gritty atmospheres in Hollywood. Do you think this has to do with a more pessimistic national mood? How has film varied depending on the atmosphere of an era?

B: I think it definitely happens, because Hollywood is trying to tap into a mood to be successful. I’m not aware of the types of techniques they use, but I think the types of movies they choose are largely based on what’s going on in the public. In class, [one of the films we watch] is The Last of the Mohicans, and I tell the students that sometimes the film tells you more about the time that the film was made than the historical period that it covers. The Last of the Mohicans is pure fiction, in that it’s based upon a novel written in the 1820s. But that the book was popular in the 1820s…tells you more about the 1820s, than the French and Indian War. So I think, why was that film made in 1992? Well, if you look at it as the end of the Cold War, and you look at it as America being victorious, it’s largely about the French and Indian War, it largely sets up the American Revolution, portraying the British as the bad guys. My sense, (I have no reason to believe this), is that [at] the end of the Cold War, this was kind of a good time for America to return to its roots


What event or person in history deserves it’s own film or remake?

B: Right now there are a lot of films about the Civil Rights movements, and I think thats a period that’s very deserving, and getting a lot of attention now. A few years ago, there was the film Let There be Blood, about the oil drilling, lying and the famous line ‘I drink your milkshake’, and I think that was the Gilded Age period, and i think that right now, given what we’re going through, [it] might not be bad to show how [in] the Gilded Age and Progressive age, how the government actually did good things in terms of regulating business.


Are there any films that you think have in any way changed the course of history?

B: I think I mentioned All the President’s Men, I think the film and the underlying story [about] Nixon’s impeachment and the Washington Post’s role in that, I think that did change journalism in the US, and the relationship between the press and the presidency, and the national government overall.


What is your favorite movie of all time?

B: I’m reminded of what I said in first grade…The Son of Flubber was once my favorite movie. Let’s just throw that out there! What is now my favorite movie? We’re watching clips from the movie Lincoln….Amistad? That was another one. I want to say Lincoln, but I reserve the right to send you an email later today if another movie pops into my head.

Note: [Mr. Baxter later sent an email indicating that his favorite films are The Hours, Apocalypse Now, and Lincoln]


What is the perfect date movie?

B: *Laughs* What is a date movie? That’s a perfect movie for two people who are trying to get to know each other, without it being an uncomfortable [experience]?…I was going to say Pocahontas…I’m going to have to send you another email today [The result was When Harry Met Sally]


Do you prefer watching movies in the theaters or at home?

B: I think in a theater. I mean I enjoy watching them at home, and I love the access to movies [so] that you don’t have to go out, but I was just over at Market Fair, and my goodness, those chairs were just unbelievable! But even before that, I enjoyed watching with the big screen and the sound, with no distraction around you, in a dark theater. That’s more powerful, I think, and you’re pulled into it more, and the movie just flies. [That doesn’t] quite happen when you’re watching a movie at home; you’re attempted to put it on pause, and go n to the kitchen or something. I remember watching Apocalypse Now when that movie first came out, and I went to see it by myself, and I intentionally sat right in the front, so it was a little bit uncomfortable looking up *laughs*, but that big screen was great.


What goes into making a quality historical film? Political film?

B: I’d say it has a lot to do with casting. You really have to find the right personality. Costume [matters] obviously, you want to be true to the time period. So all of that is important, but ultimately what’s important is who’s filling those roles. I might want to throw in that I just went to see the play “Hamilton”, and the casting is fantastic, obviously historically inaccurate, but in some ways, the personalities that they choose work.


Could you provide some examples?

B: I mean Daniel Day-Lewis, he pops up in so many films about US history; he’s just this fantastic actor. I think Giamatti, who plays Adams in the HBO series, [and] the man who played King in Selma, I believe a British actor. I’m thinking about this one man who played Kennedy in the movie called…about the Cuban missile crisis, I just remember watching that film, and being distracted by the actor who was playing Kennedy. I know that others disagree, but I thought that was a poor casting choice. It was something about the actor using the Boston accent that just didn’t work. I understand the actor who plays LBJ in the current HBO series (Bryan Cranston) is fantastic.