“Dangerous Minds” is a film about a class of deprived youths from a rundown, ghetto, style area. At school, the troublesome teenagers are constantly hard to educate and teacher after teacher tries their best to teach and guide these “challenging” pupils, but all hopelessly fail. Although, soon comes along a new, fresh teacher. Her name Miss Johnson, Lou-Anne Johnson. She’s then introduced to the class and told that it can be hers, although quotes from the deputy head including ” a passionate, energetic but challenging class”, don’t get in her way.
After hearing this Miss Johnson played by Michelle Pfeiffer becomes more determined to take the job, but not realising what she’s let herself in for. The film directed by John H Smith in 1995, deals with real-life issues within the ghetto, rundown community. Dark alleyways and dingy side roads create the typical inner-city life style. In 1995 the film was given a fifteen certificate making this film appeal to teens and young to middle aged adults including both sexes. However, since then the film may have been regraded as the original certificate seems to be harsh.
Within this essay, I will be analysing all the effects used to create the expectations for the rest of the film from the opening fifteen to twenty minutes. It is clear to see that Michelle Pfeiffer is a very well known actress. She has starred in films such as “Batman Returns”, “Scareface” and “What Lies Beneath”, alongside the likes of, Al Pacino, Harrison Ford and Keano Reaves. From this we have high expectations of the film although we can’t just rely on an actress to highlight the film totally.
By watching some of the other films Michelle Pfeiffer has starred in, we get the feeling that the film must be interesting, exciting and worth watching. The film title, “Dangerous Minds” gives the viewer the idea of criminal happenings and the word “dangerous” sets the film to be a thrilling and intense story line. Also from the title, drugs, murder and acts of an illegal kind immediately spring to mind. In the dictionary the word dangerous is described as, “possibly the chance of being killed or injured, person or thing may cause harm or injury”.
From this the viewer creates a high expectation that the film is based on murder, crime and drugs. But by watching the film, the film title certainly doesn’t live up to its expectations. As the films main story line is not based around anything of this nature, although the background is. Overall I feel that the title of this film does let the rating down and doesn’t fulfil the awaiting expectations from first reading the title. The music from the opening of the film titled “Gangsta’s Paradise” sets the image that the film is about Gangsters in America involved with drugs, murder and crime.
This is shown by the lines, “I see myself in the pistol smoke”, “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” and “I’m 23, but will I live to see 24”. These lines all create the expectations that the film will be based on ghetto, “bad boy” America and as the music is from a rap origin we instantly associate rap with street crime and violence as rappers create this image. From the rap stereotype the viewer creates the idea of the Bronx and inner city America, which sets the scene and background for the film but certainly not the plot.
This evidence proves that the gangster feel from the opening music doesn’t really match the film that well, it gives the viewer the wrong idea and prepares them for American gangsters and crime. The first characters shown in the film are shown just as the beat of the rap music is introduced. These characters include tramps and poor elderly citizens strolling round the streets with nothing better to do. From looking at this the viewer again creates the image of rundown gangster territory.
The film producers have tied in well the opening heavy music with the first few scenes of tramps, as the immediate impact of the film is hard and to the point. It instantly draws the viewer across the screen to pick out all the other images, which create the idea of the ghetto, inner city America. The camera angles draw the viewer to the darkest and most disturbing images on the screen to help enforce the rundown and derelict feeling of the setting. So now the viewer again gets the wrong idea about the film and is ready for violent and criminal action.
The black and white colour used at the opening of the film is used to create the effect that the black and white represents the dark, dull atmosphere surrounding the inner city setting. It contrasts well with the tramps and the dark alleys and side roads. When the film changes to colour the youths on board the bus and the viewer are taken to a considerably better neighbourhood. The effect of this is that the black and white show the dark, rundown area and the colour represents the new, safer place to be and the school is placed there to show it’s an enjoyable and friendly place. On the whole the colour change signifies the good and the bad.
The bad in the fact that the children have two sides to their lives. The murky side, where they live and where they’re from, and the good in the fact that the bright, colourful side where they go to try and learn. Miss Johnson chooses her clothes very wisely, the leather and the jeans are meant to signify toughness, just as her announcement of having been in the Marines is meant to signal means of control. It tries to show that she means business and is in control. The second day, Lou Anne wears more suttle and casual clothes as she thinks its best if she tries to blend in with the children.
During that day she is found demonstrating some karate moves for the pupils, putting one male pupil up against another, until the soft-spoken principal steps in and intervenes. Lou Anne soon realises that this is seen as the wrong management strategy and she is back to the books again. “Kicking ass” as a classroom management style results in more student noise, which runs counter to her plan. Lou Anne is ready for the job in hand, but not ready for the meeting on the first day. She comes into the classroom and is greeted with what she sees as chaos.
As the camera pans round, the different life styles of the pupils are emphasised. The filming shows pupils sitting on desks, some rapping, some listening to their cd players and tape players, some talking rubbish, and about everything to annoy the teacher and avoid contact with them. The whole idea of this filming is to reproduce the street scene in the classroom. Then the viewer is shown students taunting her, the male students, Emilio in particular, present themselves as threatening and noisy male bodies. She is told that the previous teacher, Miss Shepard, had a breakdown, and that Lou Anne is more to their taste.
One student admits that he would eat her, sexual innuendo easily understood. Failed attempts at gaining the classes attention bring Lou Anne almost to tears; student aggression changes her hopeful approach to teaching. During these scenes the lighting is constantly highlighted on the pupils causing the trouble and confronting the teacher. This lighting effect helps to show the first reaction of the pupils. The expectations of the film from the viewer change quite dramatically when the murky, black and white start to the film suddenly changes to bright, normal colours.
As the music, first characters and black and white colouring are all introduced, the viewer creates the image of a rundown, ghetto style America which sets the viewers expectations based on a storyline around a gangster run area with crime and murder. This changes when the colours become normal and the music dies out. The viewer changes their idea about the film and a light is used to emphasise the normality of the coloured scene compared to the black and white scene. Two totally different expectations are formed from these two different backgrounds.
During the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the film, the viewer creates mixed expectations for the film. At first, the viewer hears the heavy, rapping music and sees the black and white coloured images creating the rundown, ghetto, inner city, style area. This is also shown by what images are highlighted, for example, the tramps represent the loneliness and helpless society and the dark and dingy side roads and alleyways shows the permanent “rain cloud” overcastting the city. However, these expectations are changed as soon as colour is introduced. The change in colour is shown whilst the bus is on its way to the school.
This emphasises the idea that the school bus is taking the viewer and children to another place, a safer, friendlier place. I feel the title doesn’t suit the film well at all. It sort of creates a false image. It immediately sets a stereotype in the viewers mind of a gangster, drug related film which is not totally the case. Overall I feel that the director has used the title in a false, catchy sort of way, to draw you in to the film by the urban style image. Although, the image changes, you are still eager to carry on watching the film with the mixed expectations, as you want to find the final outcome of the story.