Dead Poets Society (1989)

PG | 125 mins | Comedy-drama | 2 June 1989

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HISTORY

       In a 23 Jun 1989 LAT article, writer Tom Schulman stated that Dead Poets Society was inspired in part by his school days at Nashville, TN’s conservative Montgomery Bell Academy. Producer Steven Haft first read the screenplay as a writing sample after it was rejected by “by every studio, including Disney,” according to a 7 Jun 1989 HR item. Signing on to produce, Haft circulated the script to agents and elicited a positive response from actors and directors. He then received an offer in spring 1987 from a production company that wanted to further develop the script. However, around the same time, Disney’s chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg alerted Haft of the studio’s new interest and made a production commitment shortly thereafter. A 10 Jul 1988 LAT brief noted that Dustin Hoffman was considering directing and starring in the project before actor Robin Williams and director Peter Weir came aboard.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, over seventy private schools and universities were scouted before St. Andrew’s School in Middleton, DE, was selected as the setting for the fictional Welton Academy. A 12 Oct 1988 Var news item stated that principal photography was slated for 14 Nov 1988--15 Jan 1989, primarily during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays so that St. Andrew’s academic schedule would not be disrupted. Keating’s classroom scenes were filmed in a replica classroom built on a soundstage in Wilmington, DE. Other locations included the Everett Theatre in Middletown, a mansion in Westover Hills, and the town of New Castle, where three sets, including the interior of a cave, were built in a warehouse.
       Serving ... More Less

       In a 23 Jun 1989 LAT article, writer Tom Schulman stated that Dead Poets Society was inspired in part by his school days at Nashville, TN’s conservative Montgomery Bell Academy. Producer Steven Haft first read the screenplay as a writing sample after it was rejected by “by every studio, including Disney,” according to a 7 Jun 1989 HR item. Signing on to produce, Haft circulated the script to agents and elicited a positive response from actors and directors. He then received an offer in spring 1987 from a production company that wanted to further develop the script. However, around the same time, Disney’s chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg alerted Haft of the studio’s new interest and made a production commitment shortly thereafter. A 10 Jul 1988 LAT brief noted that Dustin Hoffman was considering directing and starring in the project before actor Robin Williams and director Peter Weir came aboard.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, over seventy private schools and universities were scouted before St. Andrew’s School in Middleton, DE, was selected as the setting for the fictional Welton Academy. A 12 Oct 1988 Var news item stated that principal photography was slated for 14 Nov 1988--15 Jan 1989, primarily during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays so that St. Andrew’s academic schedule would not be disrupted. Keating’s classroom scenes were filmed in a replica classroom built on a soundstage in Wilmington, DE. Other locations included the Everett Theatre in Middletown, a mansion in Westover Hills, and the town of New Castle, where three sets, including the interior of a cave, were built in a warehouse.
       Serving as a style consultant, Lisa Birnbach, author of Official Preppy Handbook (New York, 1980) and wife of producer Steven Haft, took Weir to Ralph Lauren’s Polo stores for inspiration, and forbid leather jackets and greased hairstyles according to 1959 dress codes, as stated in a 26 Jun 1989 People brief .
       In its opening weekend, Dead Poets Society took in a promising $340,456 in box-office receipts at eight theaters, as reported in a 7 Jun 1989 HR column. The film went on to gross $35.6 million in its first four weeks, according to a 28 Jun 1989 LAT article, and a 7 Feb 1990 Var item noted that the picture went on to become an overwhelming box-office success in France.
       Critical reception was mixed. While the 2 Jun 1988 LAT review referred to Dead Poets Society as “one of the best American movies of a so-far undistinguished year,” the NYT review of the same date deemed the picture “dim” and “sad.” However, Robin Williams’s performance received consistent praise, with the 30 May 1989 HR describing his role as “delicately balanced and compellingly delivered.” Tom Schulman received an Academy Award for Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen), and the film was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Picture; Actor in a Leading Role (Robin Williams); and Directing. Dead Poets Society also won Best Foreign Film at Italy’s David of Donatello Awards, the country’s equivalent to the Academy Awards, according to the 4 Jun 1990 DV, and was ranked fifty-second on AFI’s 2006 100 Years…100 Cheers list of the most inspiring films of all time.

      Producers thank the following organizations and individuals in end credits: The trustees, headmaster, faculty, staff and students of St. Andrew’s School, Middletown, Delaware; Delaware Office of Development; The people of New Castle, Delaware; Charles Harrington; Derin Seale; and Wally Williams.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
4 Jun 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 May 1989
p. 4, 8.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jun 1989.
---
LAHExam
4 Jan 1989.
---
Los Angeles Times
10 Jul 1988.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 Jun 1989
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
23 Jun 1989
Calendar, p. 16.
Los Angeles Times
28 Jun 1989.
---
New York Times
2 Jun 1989
p. 8.
People
26 Jun 1989.
---
Variety
12 Oct 1988.
---
Variety
31 May 1989
p. 26.
Variety
7 Feb 1990.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Touchstone Pictures presents
in association with Silver Screen Partners IV
a Steven Haft production in association with Witt-Thomas Productions
a Peter Weir film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
2d asst cam
Chief lighting tech
Best boy elec
Rigging gaffer
Key grip
Best boy grip
Dolly grip
Still photog
Loc liaison
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
Assoc film ed
Assoc ed, Australia
1st asst film ed
Asst ed, Australia
Asst ed, Australia
Asst film ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed, Australia
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Leadman
Leadman
Prop master
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Const coord
Const foreman
Standby painter
Cave constructor
Greens foreman
COSTUMES
Cost supv
Set cost
MUSIC
Supv mus ed
Triad Music, Inc.
Asst mus ed
Mus rec and mixed by
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Cableman
Supv sd ed
Sd ed, Australia
Sd eff/Foley ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Asst sd eff ed
Supv ADR ed
Asst ADR ed
Supv dial ed
Dial ed
Dial ed
Asst dial ed
Asst dial ed
Asst dial ed
Asst dial ed
Re-sync
Supv foley ed
Foley asst
Foley asst
ADR group coord
Re-rec, Australia
Re-rec at
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
Spec eff foreman
Title des
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Delaware casting by
Scr supv
Loc projectionist
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Transportation capt
Prod accountant
1st asst accountant
Asst prod coord
Asst prod coord
Asst to prod
Asst to prod
Asst to Mr. Weir
Asst to Mr. Haft
Asst to Mr. Witt
Asst to Mr. Thomas
Asst to Mr. Williams
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Studio teacher
Tech adv
Loc liaison
Loc liaison
Post-prod facilities
Prod counsel
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
SOURCES
MUSIC
George Frideric Handel, "'Water Music': Suite III In D 'Allegro'," performed by The Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Karl Münchinger, courtesy of London Records, a division of PolyGram Classics
"Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 9," performed by Fritz Reiner and The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, courtesy of RCA Victor Red Seal, a division of BMG Classics
"Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 In E Flat Major, Op. 73 'Emperor'," performed by Wilhelm Kempff with The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Ferdinand Leitner, courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon GmbH, a division of PolyGram Classics.
SONGS
"Rainbow Voice," written and performed by David Hykes, courtesy of The Harmonic Arts Society
"The Fields Of Athenry," written by Pete St. John
"The Battle Of New Orleans," written by Jimmie Driftwood
+
SONGS
"Rainbow Voice," written and performed by David Hykes, courtesy of The Harmonic Arts Society
"The Fields Of Athenry," written by Pete St. John
"The Battle Of New Orleans," written by Jimmie Driftwood
"Let's Have A Party," written by Jessie Mae Robinson, performed by Wanda Jackson, courtesy of CEMA Special Markets (Capitol Records, Inc.)
"Ridgeway Fight Song," written by Jerry Rehberg
"Sound Off," written by Willie Lee Duckworth and Bernard Lentz
"Stranded In The Jungle," written by Al Curry, James Johnson and Ernestine Smith, performed by The Cadets, courtesy of Kent Records
"Hey Little Girl," written by Henry Roeland Byrd, performed by Professor Longhair, courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corp., by arrangement with Warner Special Products.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
2 June 1989
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 2 June 1989
Production Date:
14 November 1988--15 January 1989 in Delaware
Copyright Claimant:
Touchstone Pictures a.a.d.o. the Walt Disney Company
Copyright Date:
5 June 1989
Copyright Number:
PA415024
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color by Dolby Stereo® in selected theatres
Color
DuArt Film Laboratories
Lenses/Prints
Camera and lenses by Panavision®; Prints by Metrocolor®
Duration(in mins):
125
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
29797
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

At Welton Academy, an elite, all-boys preparatory school in Vermont, headmaster Nolan welcomes students and parents in a ceremony celebrating the start of fall semester, 1959. The boys are asked to repeat the school’s “four pillars” – tradition, honor, discipline, excellence – and are reminded that seventy-five percent of last year’s graduating class went on to study at Ivy League universities. Mr. Nolan introduces a new English teacher, a Welton alumnus named John Keating, and, later, greets parents as they bid goodbye to their sons. An introverted new student, Todd Anderson, meets his roommate, Neil Perry, whose overbearing father barges into their dormitory room and demands that Neil drop one of his extracurricular activities in favor of his studies. Meanwhile, Todd suffers from feelings of inadequacy because his older brother, Jeffrey, graduated Welton as valedictorian. On the first day of class, John Keating leads his students into a hallway to view old photographs of former students, reminding everyone that they are now dead. He quotes Walt Whitman’s poem about Abraham Lincoln, “O Captain! My Captain!” and invites the students to address him as their captain. Next, he instructs Gerard Pitts to read a line from a Robert Herrick poem, “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” and acquaints the boys with the phrase “Carpe diem,” Latin for “Seize the day.” As Neil and Todd examine the photographs of their predecessors, Keating whispers “Carpe diem” into the students' ears. That evening, Neil invites Todd to join his friends in a study group, but Todd declines. Another study group regular, Knox Overstreet, leaves campus to have dinner at the home of family friends, the Danburrys. There, he meets Chris Noel, ... +


At Welton Academy, an elite, all-boys preparatory school in Vermont, headmaster Nolan welcomes students and parents in a ceremony celebrating the start of fall semester, 1959. The boys are asked to repeat the school’s “four pillars” – tradition, honor, discipline, excellence – and are reminded that seventy-five percent of last year’s graduating class went on to study at Ivy League universities. Mr. Nolan introduces a new English teacher, a Welton alumnus named John Keating, and, later, greets parents as they bid goodbye to their sons. An introverted new student, Todd Anderson, meets his roommate, Neil Perry, whose overbearing father barges into their dormitory room and demands that Neil drop one of his extracurricular activities in favor of his studies. Meanwhile, Todd suffers from feelings of inadequacy because his older brother, Jeffrey, graduated Welton as valedictorian. On the first day of class, John Keating leads his students into a hallway to view old photographs of former students, reminding everyone that they are now dead. He quotes Walt Whitman’s poem about Abraham Lincoln, “O Captain! My Captain!” and invites the students to address him as their captain. Next, he instructs Gerard Pitts to read a line from a Robert Herrick poem, “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” and acquaints the boys with the phrase “Carpe diem,” Latin for “Seize the day.” As Neil and Todd examine the photographs of their predecessors, Keating whispers “Carpe diem” into the students' ears. That evening, Neil invites Todd to join his friends in a study group, but Todd declines. Another study group regular, Knox Overstreet, leaves campus to have dinner at the home of family friends, the Danburrys. There, he meets Chris Noel, the girl friend of Mr. Danburry’s son, Chet, and becomes smitten with her. Returning to the dormitory, Knox announces that he has just met the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. The next day, Keating asks Neil to read a chapter from their textbook titled Understanding Poetry, which outlines a metric to determine the value of a poem. Denouncing the concept of measuring a poem’s worth, Keating instructs the class to rip the chapter from their books. Later, when they find the Welton annual from Keating’s senior year, the boys pore over his entry and notice “Dead Poets Society” listed as one of his interests. When they ask him about it, Keating explains that he and his friends used to gather at an Indian cave on school grounds and read poems by the Romantics, in addition to their own works. Inspired, Neil forms a new Dead Poets Society, including the free-spirited Charlie Dalton, bookish Steven Meeks, strait-laced Richard Cameron, Gerard Pitts, Knox, and Todd, who agrees to participate by taking meeting minutes instead of reading aloud. Keating leaves Five Centuries of Verse, the book used by the original Dead Poets Society, in the dormitory for Neil to find. At their first meeting in the cave, Neil reads Keating’s opening statement, scrawled inside the book, a quote from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. For the rest of the meeting, the boys share food hoarded from the dining hall, read poems, and listen to Charlie Dalton’s original verse. In another class, Keating asks the students to stand on top of his desk to gain new perspective and find their own voice. He assigns the boys to write an original poem, to be read aloud the following Monday, and tells Todd he knows the assignment must terrify him. Later, as Todd works on his poem, Neil announces plans to audition for a local production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Todd remarks that Neil’s father will not approve, but Neil does not intend to tell him, insisting that he is going to do what he wants for the first time in his life. After he wins the role of “Puck,” Neil forges permission notes from Nolan and his father. Back in class, Knox reads his love poem, “To Chris,” aloud, and the boys mock him. Keating calls Todd to the front of class, but he refuses, saying he did not complete the assignment. The teacher encourages Todd to believe in himself and draws him out of his seat. Upon Keating’s prompts, Todd composes an impromptu poem that impresses his classmates. At another Dead Poets Society meeting, Charlie plays saxophone and Knox complains that he will kill himself if he cannot have Chris. He is inspired to call her, and Chris invites him to a party at Chet’s house. When Keating takes his class into a courtyard and asks three boys to walk together, the boys quickly match their strides and begin to march. Keating uses their behavior to demonstrate the dangers of conformity, then encourages the boys to establish their own style of walking as Nolan observes the exercise from afar. That night, Neil finds Todd sitting alone with a shrink-wrapped desk set. He admits that it is his birthday, and his parents sent him the same gift they sent the year before. Neil makes light of the situation by suggesting the desk set is aerodynamic and encouraging Todd to toss it over a ledge. Knox goes to Chet’s party and gets drunk, eventually sitting down next to a sleeping Chris and daring to kiss her forehead. As his friend points out the transgression, Chet attacks Knox and threatens him to stay away. Charlie tells the others that he entered a column in the school newspaper on behalf of the Dead Poets Society, demanding that girls be admitted to Welton. The group panics as Nolan announces an inquiry into the offending article. Charlie confesses and receives corporal punishment, but refuses to name his cohorts. Later, Keating reprimands Charlie, telling him to use better judgment. Although Neil’s father finds out about his participation in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and forbids him from appearing onstage, Neil decides to perform anyway, lying to Keating that his father reluctantly gave him permission. Meanwhile, Knox goes to Chris’s school and reads her a poem in front of classmates. In turn, she comes to Welton to warn him that Chet plans to retaliate, but Knox charms her with his persistence and convinces her to accompany him to Neil’s play. With Keating and the Dead Poets Society in the audience, Neil delivers a bravura performance as “Puck”; however, his father arrives during the play and forces him to return home after the performance, announcing plans to remove Neil from Welton and enroll him in a military academy. Devastated, Neil waits until his parents are asleep, then retrieves a gun from his father’s desk and shoots himself. Hearing the gunshot, Mr. Perry rushes downstairs to find his son’s dead body. Nolan announces to grieving students that an investigation into Neil’s death will be conducted. At a meeting of the Dead Poets Society, Cameron reveals that he confessed about the group to Nolan, who plans to implicate Keating in Neil’s suicide. Only Charlie is unwilling to comply with Nolan’s investigation, and he is expelled. The others sign a document that claims Keating abused his authority and encouraged Neil to perform onstage despite his father’s disapproval. Keating is fired, and Nolan arrives to take over his class. He begins by asking Cameron to read from the Understanding Poetry chapter that was ripped out upon Keating’s orders. A frustrated Nolan provides his own text for Cameron to read, while Keating arrives to collect his personal belongings. Todd apologizes for signing the letter, then stands on his desk and says, “O captain, my captain.” Nolan shouts at him to get down, but Knox follows suit, as do Pitts and Meeks. Before he leaves, half the students stand on their desks, and Keating tells the boys, “Thank you.” +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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