Joe Clark is an actual man who actually did whip a New Jersey highschool into form. I do know this as a result of I’ve been informed it a dozen occasions prior to now week by individuals who assume that explains the habits of “Joe Clark,” the hero of “Lean on Me.” But “Lean on Me” is just not a documentary about the true Joe Clark. It is a fiction movie a couple of character who’s so troubled, obsessed and offended that the movie isn’t in a position to say fairly what it thinks of him. After the film, neither are we.Clark is performed by 1988 Oscar nominee Morgan Freeman in a efficiency that’s highly effective and constant and thus all of the extra troubling. Although he has taught in colleges for greater than 20 years, he by no means has actually slot in anyplace. He has an unshakable perception in his personal opinions, a disinterest in anybody else’s, and a persona so abrasive it is no marvel his spouse left him and he has just one good friend.
As an administrator, he shoots first and does not ask questions afterwards: He’s form of the Dirty Harry of the Paterson, N.J., instructional system.”Lean on Me” opens with a short sequence displaying Clark beginning out at a well-run Eastside High within the 1960s, alienating his principal and being transferred out. It continues 20 years later, with Clark more-or-less fortunately educating in an excellent college in a pleasant neighborhood.Then we get an up to date take a look at Eastside High, which has turn into the city’s deeply troubled, largely minority highschool, the place violence, drug-dealing and intimidation are information of life, and little or no studying takes place. John Avildsen, the director, is so involved with displaying us the hell of Eastside High that he goes overboard; the corridors seem like a cross between a jail riot and a Hells’ Angel rally.There clearly is just one man able to turning this example round, and so “Crazy” Joe Clark is introduced again to Eastside.His first act is to name an all-school meeting, collect all of the druggies and troublemakers onstage, and expel them en masse. Then he begins to stalk the varsity corridors, implementing his personal reign of terror. He orders all the graffiti painted over. Fine. He orders everybody to study the varsity track, on ache of expulsion. Sort of high quality.He suspends a instructor for daring to stoop over and decide up a bit of scrap paper whereas Clark was speaking. Not high quality. He insults academics in entrance of scholars, behaves in an erratic and irrational approach, and conducts himself like an autocratic dictator. Bad.This is a critically troubled man. As the film progresses, we anticipate Clark to bear a persona change, to melt, to develop, to start out studying to respect the suitable of different folks to have an opinion. But excluding one halfhearted apology, Clark by no means does change.He is an boastful bully, a martinet who calls for prompt, unquestioning obedience.Yes, he does clear up Eastside High. And, sure, the scholars are in a position to go a state proficiency examination, so the varsity can stay underneath native management and never be taken over by the state. But we by no means see how that is accomplished. “Stand and Deliver,” final yr’s movie a couple of devoted Hispanic math instructor, was a couple of educating and studying course of. “Lean on Me” is a couple of disciplinary course of. The film’s most weird scene has Clark onstage at a pre-exam pep rally, ranting and raving and main the varsity track, as if the check had been a soccer sport. But you’ll be able to’t go a check just because your spirits are excessive. And I’m not satisfied that any sort of significant studying can happen underneath Clark’s reign of public humiliation. Discipline is just not the identical factor as intimidation.
“Lean on Me” has been extensively sneak-previewed, as a part of the studio’s advertising and marketing technique, and I’ve talked with a whole lot of the individuals who have seen it. They all admit they’re bothered by Clark’s persona. But some argue that (a) Clark actually exists, so this can be a “true” story; (b) out-of-control excessive colleges like Eastside want a powerful administrator to whip them into form, and (c) in addition to, Hollywood makes so few movies like this that it is a obligation to assist them, it doesn’t matter what we actually assume.I’ve already replied to the primary argument. The third is beneath contempt. But it’s true that robust colleges want mad-dog academics? One of the sneaky, uneasy emotions I bought whereas watching “Lean on Me” is that the film makes a delicate attraction to those that are afraid of unruly, loud, violent black youngsters. As Clark takes a baseball bat and begins to whip them into form (at one level even bodily combating a scholar), the viewers is cheered, not as a result of training is being served, however as a result of Clark is a mix of Dirty Harry and Billy Jack, implementing the regulation on his personal phrases.A few years in the past I gave an excellent assessment to “The Principal,” a movie starring James Belushi as a troublesome highschool principal who took a baseball bat to the drug sellers. Why did I like that film greater than “Lean on Me?” Both films are well-made and well-acted, however “The Principal” is extra trustworthy about its actual intentions. It’s an motion drama, relying on violence, comedy and a showdown to get its job accomplished. “Lean on Me” needs to be taken as a critical, even noble movie about an admirable man. And but it by no means actually seems to be at Clark for what he actually is: a grownup instance of the very troublemakers he hates a lot, nonetheless unable even in maturity to doubt his proper to do what he needs, when he needs, as he needs. How can he train, when he is unteachable? His values have little to do with studying how one can study.
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