Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Finding Forrester”

Movies That Matter – The Social Network

Facebook – love it or hate, but it is here to stay (or at least until the next great innovation), and it is a central part of our lives. The fastest growing age group used to be students (no surprises), now it is the 40-60’s. When someone under 120 tells me that they are not on Facebook (usually followed by a tirade against social media), my immediate reaction is that they are simply not connected. I have, however, learned from experience to keep that thought to myself.

Authors actually seem to complain a lot, but this is, I think, a symptom of the I-want-to-be-writing-not-marketing syndrome. Truth is, while you need to be on Facebook, you are in control of how many times you check it and how long you stay on. Kind of like flossing.

But this post is about The Social Network, the movie about how Facebook came about. I read The Accidental Billionaires (the book about…) and really enjoyed it. I would enjoy this movie even if I wasn’t into Facebook. I have a small library of ‘brilliant students at school’ movies (Dead Poet’s Society, Finding Forrester, Good Will Hunting – you get the idea).

The Social Network fits into this theme. The portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook and Person of the Year 2010 for Time, is amazing (I have no idea if it’s true), but this is a brilliant mind who can’t fathom the everyday realities of dress (he goes to a business meeting in a hoodie – with the hood on his head), with little social talents, and yet his brilliance is a magnet for other brilliant minds.

It is for us too. As the movie continues, you begin to root for Zuckerberg, hoping he will win through. This happens, I think, without the writers compromising on the harshness or incompatabliity of the protagonist.

Tamim Ansary, a brilliant SF author, shares his recollection of a favorite scene. This is the most memorable scene for me too. It is written in Tamim’s words according to memory, but it is just great. In this scene, Justin Timberlake wakes up in the morning in the bed of a Stanford student that he has clearly only just met. He is lying in her bed and she is just getting dressed.

“What do you do?”
“I’m an Internet entrepreneur.”
“Oh,” she sneers, “In other words, you’re unemployed.”
“I wouldn’t put it that way.”
“Well how would you ‘put it’?”
“I’d say I’m an Internet entrepreneur.”
“All right. What have you entrepreneured?”
“I founded a company that lets people share music online.”
“Uh huh. Kind of like Napster.”
Exactly like Napster.”
“What do you mean?”
“I founded Napster.”
“No you didn’t! Sean Parker founded Napster.”
“Yes. It’s good to meet you too.”

I’m going to leave the last word to Mr. Ansary, primarily because it never occurred to me until I read his review.

“Even more fascinating is the understated way the movie conveys that all these plaintiffs are wrong: none of them invented Facebook, and neither did Zuckerberg. Facebook already existed in the world in potentia: the trick was to see it out there, know what it was, and then create the apparatus that allowed it to actualize itself, to materialize.  Facebook invented itself.”

Maybe this is the definition of brilliance. How many times have I read a great novel and thought: “Gosh, I wish I had thought of that plot/character.”

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Movies that Matter: Finding Forrester

I’m thinking a lot about mentorship these days and might dedicate a posting or two to the theme. There are plenty of movies that seem to touch on this and many figure in my favorites.

Finding Forrester is one such movie. A 16-year-old African-American (Rob Brown) from the South Bronx is on track to use his basketball skills to leverage a scholarship that will take him through a fancy school and then college. But this student’s intellect is as good as his ball handling but there doesn’t seem to be anyone interested in this side of him.

On a dare, he breaks into the house of a strange old man who lives near the basketball court only to discover that crazy man is a famous but reclusive author. Sean Connery plays William Forrester who four decades earlier wrote a Pulitzer-winning novel, and then abruptly disappeared a.k.a. J.D. Salinger. Fortunately, the author’s depressive and scathing attitude has not diminished his passion for writing.

This movie works because it is not a typical condescending cliché where a homeboy rescued by wiser white mentor. It is an inspiring fusion of meeting of minds, where mutual respect and intelligence overcome the boundaries of culture and generation.

But it sends an important message. Mentoring must always be a two-way street. Humility is a major ingredient. We often hear teachers and professors say that they learn more from their students. We need more of these teachers in our schools rather than the egocentrics and those who just go through the motions.

To be fair, Finding Forrester also works because the wit is so sharp – see some quotes below.

Prof. Robert Crawford: [to Jamal] Perhaps your skills do reach farther than basketball.
Jamal: “Further”
Prof. Robert Crawford: What?
Claire Spence: [whispered to Jamal] Don’t…
Jamal: [to Crawford] You said that my skills reached “farther” than basketball. “Farther” relates to distance, “further” is a definition of degree. You should have said “further”.
Prof. Robert Crawford: Are you challenging me, Mr. Wallace?
Jamal: Not any more than you challenged Coleridge.

****

Jamal: We’ve been talking about your book at school.
Forrester: People have been talking about it for years. They just haven’t been saying anything.
Jamal: I think I got it down, though. I figure you were writing about how life never works out.
Forrester: Really? You had to read a book to figure that out?

****

Jamal: Did you ever enter a writin’ contest?
Forrester: Yeah, once.
Jamal: Did you win?
Forrester: Well of course I won!
Jamal: You win like money or somethin’?
Forrester: No.
Jamal: Well, whadchu win?
Forrester: The Pulitzer.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

 

 

 

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