First Run Features // 2004 // 53 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // June 3rd, 2005
A great American teacher and the lives he influenced
Over the years, we've all heard many stories about teachers who have had a monumental impact on their students. Some of these stories have even made it to Hollywood where they've been turned into films, both good and bad. A Touch of Greatness is another such story of a magnificent teacher who left an incredible mark in the lives of the hundreds of students he taught over the years, but his story never made it to the big screen.
Albert Collum is the focus of this film, a teacher who truly believed in his children. Mr. Collum felt that students weren't stimulated and taught in the proper context. His teaching methodologies broke the rigid standardization of the era (the 1960s) and propelled his students down a path that few would ever take. The students he taught were only at the elementary school level, yet Mr. Collum introduced them to the works of Shaw, Sophocles, and Shakespeare, among others. Many students in high school have never been tasked to such important works, yet Mr. Collum easily brought such material to his classrooms. By interweaving art, poetry, and drama, Collum sparked the interest and imagination of his students. They jumped at the opportunity to act out Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet; they eagerly participated in debates over the works of Sophocles and Shakespeare; and all the while they had fun and they learned.
Mr. Collum's approach to teaching was well outside the norm of his time, and while his students lapped it up, many parents and teachers found his unusual methods shocking. A Touch of Greatness invites you to witness Mr. Collum's astounding results, as he diligently worked to find each child's inner greatness.
With all that said, I have to say that while the work and material of Mr. Collum is thoroughly impressive, the film itself didn't particularly move me. While it reminded me of the waning passion in the educational field, while it made me question the standardization implicit in the "No Child Left Behind Act," and while it showed me the power of one dedicated, amazing individual, A Touch of Greatness itself lacked the raw power of the man it works to exalt. I have no question that Mr. Collum was a unique man with unique methods who garnered impressive results, but as an outsider looking at his students, I felt that I've seen his story before. This inadvertently belittles his wondrous accomplishments, and that really should not be the final result. I believe that A Touch of Greatness will resound more fully with someone who had the honor of experiencing Mr. Collum in his or her life. They'll appreciate the subtleties and the stories we'll never know.
The DVD contains a full-frame video transfer supported by a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. As with other films released by First Run, the transfers here are simply average. The film is a combination of old black and white footage and new color film. Unfortunately, the older material is quite dirty and in bad shape. Luckily, the newer color segments are in much better condition, with no errors and accurate, albeit soft, colors. On the whole, the audio is a little worse for wear. In both the older and newer segments, the mix has some type of background noise, from crackling to hissing to buzzing to high-pitched whines.
Perhaps greater than the short film itself (53 minutes) are the bevy of bonus items included on the disc. These items help bolster the story of Mr. Collum and show what a remarkable program he had and its remarkable results. First up are three short films, directed by Mr. Collum and photographed and edited by Robert Downey Sr. These films are called "A Touch of Greatness" (27 minutes), "Literature Au-Go-Go" (26 minutes), and "From Sea to Shining Sea" (13 minutes). Honestly, each is rather amateurish, but that's not the point. Each highlights the students, showing their amazing grasp of art, literature, and beyond. Next up are two episodes from the old CBS television series Camera Three (28 minutes each). When Mr. Collum decided to put on a Shakespeare Festival and have children at all grade levels perform his works, the show came to interview Mr. Collum. Here we again get to see his remarkable methodology and results; even better, we get to hear the children proclaim their love of Shakespeare and of school. Rounding out the disc are a photo gallery, some filmmaker biographies, and a few trailers for other films from First Run.
Again, I found myself amazed by Mr. Collum but not necessarily by A Touch of Greatness. It's heartwarming to see his students so passionate about learning and wanting to go to school. As such, there is much to see and learn on this disc, and perhaps I was a bit too restrictive in my earlier recommendation. I think that I will also expand it to include anyone in the field of education. A reminder of putting the focus on the children and the learning and not on the method may help re-spark some enthusiasm in this very tough field.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 53 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Three Short Films by Albert Collum
* Two Episodes of "Camera Three"
* Photo Gallery
* Filmmaker Biographies