08 June 2014

Film and Literature Reading List

This year, my English challenge was Creative Writing. Next year: Film and Literature. Not that I wouldn't have liked a chance to tweak Creative Writing further, but dang is it cool to have a principal who supports my experimentation habit.

Here's what I've got to do:
This course explores the complex relationship between film and literature. Selected novels, short stories and plays are studied in relation to film versions of the same works to gain an understanding of the possibilities and problems involved in the transposition to film. Students will examine plot, setting, characterization, narration, theme, performance, and dramatic structure and learn the terminology of film analysis. The course requires extensive reading and writing in addition to viewing films and participating in discussions. 

Now this particular group (several of which are my special babies I have had every single semester since I started here) has already had a Film Appreciation college course, so I believe I'll be able to fill in most of the film terminology we need by activating ye olde prior knowledge, and that frees me to explore literary machinations a little more thoroughly. It does mean, too, that some of the classics are off the table, though.

So I've been doing a lot of film/literature brainstorming, and I've come up with a few units and accompanying discussions/writing assignments that I'm kind of excited about, if I do say so myself.

The Princess Bride: Characterization
This is the first book I read after the movie that left me feeling still totally fulfilled by both. Naturally, Goldman, who penned both novel and screenplay, had more room to go in depth with character backstory and motivation in the novel, so I feel that's where the most significant comparison and contrast can be made. Plus who doesn't have a favorite character after they watch The Princess Bride?
Choose a character and compare their portrayal in the movie to their portrayal in the book. Include the actor's choices, specific dialogue from both, the character's backstory, a scene that is included in just the movie or in both, and a scene that is only in the book. Explain which portrayal you find more effective and why.

A Raisin in the Sun: Plot, Theme
It so happens that we have a class set of this one already, and actually, I purchased my own class set years ago, too: it's a MUST--a secret-of-life type play in my humble opinion. The weird part is, Poitier or no, I have yet to see a film version that captured the depth and breadth of Hansberry's interpretation of The American Dream for me. In fact, I was not in the least impressed when my 7th grade teacher showed us back in the day, so maybe my young ones can help me capture why. Perhaps we'll even watch the Glover version too.
A Raisin in the Sun embodies a variety of life goals that could all be considered crucial elements of The American Dream. Which dreams did you find the most relatable, and how did elements of the movie (e.g actor portrayals, cinematography) affect your ability to identify with that dream? Using events from the play and parallels from real life (your own, those of friends or family, or historical examples), explain how you are able to connect with that dream personally. Elaborate with your personal response and opinions about the quality and nature of each dream. 

Shakespeare adaptation choice: Setting (& Plot)
One of the coolest things about Shakespeare adaptations in film is the sheer variety, and who am I to presume to pick which should be viewed? Of course we have paperback copies of 12 different plays, and any of them can be had, say, on the iPads I've got coming my way, for free online. And so I'd like to set up a bit of a jigsaw activity, wherein students choose the play they'll focus on and then choose the adaptation. Several students could (and maybe should?) choose the same play, as long as they choose different adaptations to view on their own time (some of which will require parent permission or alternate selections). Closer to roll-out time, I'll try to compile a list of what's up on Netflix or Hulu at the moment and perhaps build my own little library for checkout, amassing as many as I can reasonably afford from these lists:

Explain at least five specific elements within the movie adaptation that depart from Shakespeare's productions, why you think the director chose to make those changes, and how you feel they impacted the play's representation, for better or worse. Consider especially choices relating to setting (was it updated or relocated? how? why?) and plot structure (what scenes were cut or added and why?)

If we have time around Halloween, I'd like to spend a little time on something spooky. Since they already covered Frankenstein in their film class, that pretty much leaves Stephen King and Dracula--which is free online. With Dracula, so many depictions are R, but I can pick out some choice clips from Nosferatu, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and Shadow of the Vampire, perhaps, and maybe they could write about which is scariest.

Jigsaw sci-fi fantasy series
I think we may wrap up with a sort of group project, wherein students choose one of the following series:

  • Harry Potter
  • Twilight
  • Lord of the Rings*
  • Chronicles of Narnia
  • Hunger Games*?
  • Percy Jackson?
They can have as many in their group as there are movies in the series (so maybe not Hunger Games & Percy Jackson, which only have 2?), and everyone in the group will watch ALL of the movies in the series, but then each student will choose a different book from the series to read. THEN they would have to come together to discuss what worked and what didn't in their respective movies/books, what was better, worse, or inexplicable. I'm not sure exactly how long I want to spend on this, but mainlining a series of movies could be quite a time-consuming process, but surely we could find ample material for discussing all of the requisite elements within a series. I think ultimately what I'd want them to produce is their own outtakes, scenes (or even lines) they felt should have been included to make the series complete, perhaps with "actor commentary" or titles indicating references to the designated film/literary elements.

I'm thinking I may need one other unit, and I'm not sure where I want to go with it, though I'd love to do something with non-fiction. I had originally been thinking Mean Girls with Queen Bees and Wannabes, but the book is so undeniably geared toward parents that I think my seniors would have a hard time connecting with it. I considered Schindler's List, but there's a big ol' R in the way, plus a heaping helping of Holocaust in previous classes. We have Blind Side and Rocket Boys in stock at school, but I think a handful of that class checked those out for independent reading already. I've had Fast Food Nation suggested, but I hear the movie stinks. Right now I'm leaning toward In the Time of the Butterflies (what can I say? I'm a Spanglish teacher), though I'd really like to find something nonfiction that moviemakers transformed into a gripping narrative. I've even considered Il Postino with some Neruda poetry (again, Spanglish teacher, and sucker for Neruda), but I think it would be lost on my special babies. I may even just do a fairy tale comparison unit with Disney cartoons, who knows? I have a little time to ponder.

Final:Short story conversion
Depending on how time and the non-fiction piece work out, I'd really like my kiddos to do some adapting of their own. The course description calls for short stories (and maybe we could watch one of my faves, The Shawshank Redemption, as an example), so maybe they could group up and bring a short story of their choice to life. Of course the finished product would be more than the recorded film itself, as it would have to include discussion and explanation of characterization, plot, theme, and setting choices, perhaps in a group blog leading up to the recording.

Just for fun, here are some titles other titles I considered:
The Road*
Lesson before Dying
The Color Purple
O Brother,  Where Art Thou
Ender's Game
Doctor Zhivago
Jurassic Park
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

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