The way to present each story and film will differ per classroom based upon time, resources, and teacher inclination, of course. I recommend journal-writes as warm-ups, checks-for-understanding, and monitoring of progress and synthesis. It is a strategy I use regularly and, as long as the prompts are interesting and thought-provoking enough, there usually isn’t a problem with student engagement.
To make the prompts engaging, often-times general questions that can be applied to the material you’ve just gone, or are about to go over, work. These questions can be about anything from the meaning of life to the meaning of a scene in the film. Two general ones that come to mind when dealing with adaptation of classic stories are:
What can we do with pictures that we cannot do with words? (When analyzing the value of adaptations to film)
What comes first, the art or the “rules”? (This question is meant to begin a lesson on the strategies surrounding adaptation)
Quotes, and student response to them, are also apt for warm-ups. Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow in
pulls from his patchwork and recites phrases from great literature, such as “’Heavy is the head that wears the crown.’ – W. Shakespeare.”
This can employ both the strategies of film analysis and general life questions.
Once we deal with how to begin class, engage students in the topic for the day, or check for understanding, it is time to begin analyzing the stories and adaptations themselves.
Utilizing the appropriate strategies, students will compare and contrast scenes from each film that coincide with those of the original story, either by plot, theme or both. This will be a good way to synthesize the different facets of the Leitch strategies. Also, we will begin to develop film appreciation during this time (beginning with
, students will spotlight scenes of dialogue between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth and compare them to the coinciding characters in the film. For example, if we want to draw on the question “how does it change the conversation about ambition if the director implies that Lady Macbeth was on drugs when convincing Macbeth to kill the king?” we will be drawing on the scene in
when Maura Tierney as Mrs. Macbeth is convincing her husband to take over his boss’s business only after they spend time smoking marijuana.
The Little Mermaid
, students will focus on the different actions and desires of the little mermaid as compared to the differences for Ponyo – for example, that Ponyo is saved by her future love, that she attains humanity mostly on her own (i.e., without the help of a sea witch), and that her true test is if Sosuke loves her as both a human and a fish.
, students will focus on passages that highlight the experience of aristocracy versus peasants, and compare that to the peasant scene in
The Holy Grail
. For example, from
, “The count is such a man that he listens. . .and if he hears others slandered suffers for them, whoever they may be.”
This can be compared with such legendary comedic lines as: “You think you’re king just because some hag threw a sword at you?” And, “Help, I'm being oppressed. Come and see the violence inherent in the system.” It can make for interesting class discussion.
The Wizard of Oz
, the conversation can continue about lines of text/dialogue, or can be focused on the visual or audible, as
is a feast for the eyes (and ears!). This re-imagining updates a classic story with classic themes to not only modern day, but provides for appreciation of modern trends in culture: apparel, language, style, choreography, and art. It doesn't hurt that Diana Ross as Dorothy, along with really the whole cast, are irreplaceably spectacular. It says something about the power of movies to tell stories. They bring to our senses, and sensibilities, the most talented, entertaining, engaging acting, editing, directing, drawing people into the story. It’s why audiobooks by fabulous narrators are effective; films hit so many senses at once, we barely need to acknowledge consciously that we are even experiencing a story – this sentiment may sell the pairing of films and books to students, if it can be expressed without it making them think it’s a reason to skip reading the actual story. Therefore in lieu of using just lines, I will be asking my students to compare how a story element was communicated. For example, compare Dorothy meeting the Munchkins in
The Wizard of Oz
with how it is executed in
, where the “munchkins” (energetic and exhibiting clothing styles, sensibilities and song of teens in late 70’s Harlem) break out from being trapped in, and indeed as, wall graffiti.
When I conceived of utilizing film adaptation to teach literature, it began with the notion that students need to spend more time reading, and if they are responsible for adapting what they read, they will need to do the actual reading first, during, and throughout. The students’ final project therefore will be designed first to reflect the culmination of their learning on adaptation, and second to prove they’ve read the book or story. They will be required to choose a classic story (with a minimum length) available online. There will be a limited list to choose from as well as links (see Teacher Resources). Students will be grouped, based on story choice, and be tasked with creating their own “re-imagined” film adaptation of the original classic story. This could mean that they update it to be culturally relevant in a modern socio-cultural context. This could mean that the students
the historical context through which to re-imagine the story.
They’ll start with a plan. In their story-based groups, they will be assigned the task of drafting a rough overview of their idea for the adaptation. Once this 1 – 2 page journal-style brainstorm is approved, they will construct either a script or storyboard, checking in when they feel it is complete. If they require filming equipment, I am lucky enough to be able to offer them that resource at my school. However, I believe my students are representative enough of the American population they at least one group member will have (and prefer the use of) a modern enough cell phone that the camera function will be more than adequate for this purpose. They will then plan and shoot scenes (between 3 and 5, but could be more or less based on time, resources, and what may be needed for any given story to prove the major aspects of the story have been read and understood).
Presentation of the work will be paramount to successful completion of this project. Groups will present their adaptations and then recap and reflect upon the process, including identifying which of Leitch’s strategies they employed and why, the reason(s) they made the artistic decisions they did, and a general reflection on their experience.
The spirit behind this process was inspired by and is meant to reflect the spirit of adaptation itself. It starts with something that is already established, respected, and even treasured – both stories and indeed the very reading of them. It then provides an opportunity for an artist – like the director of a film, in this case a (hopefully) enthusiastic student – to take this great original piece and form it into something new. We will extrapolate the nature of storytelling and why it is important and enjoyed. We will confront the universal themes held therein and challenge ourselves to understand why they, and the stories that contain them, have persisted over time. We will see and appreciate that adaptation is a process that not only proves this persistence but can contribute to it. All the while the hope will be that once we are done, students will go on to see great movies and ask, “was there a book for this?”