Okay, I’m starting to get serious about this Film as Literature course. Here’s what I’m thinking so far. Keep in mind that I’m still very much in progress and am looking for feedback and suggestions and critique:
For the purposes of this class, literature is defined as the stories we tell to help us define our place / navigate our way in the world. They are the stories we tell to solidify our culture, to express our values and investigate our fears, and to set down our history and to predict our future.
Literature, in this context, has no specific qualifications beyond those definitions – literature can be books or movies, it can be an oral tradition or an interpretive dance (though we’ll likely not get into those last two categories in much detail). What I’m looking for here is to get students to start thinking of literature in broader terms than just canonical books.
I’d like to start the course with a film that WASN’T first a book. I’m considering The Last Samurai or Mississippi Burning, but I’m open to other suggestions – got any? What I envision doing is showing the film almost immediately – before we get too much into the purpose for the course – so that students can get the experience of seeing a film the same way we’d investigate a novel without getting bogged down in technicalities or overly-academic notions. We’ll look at plot and setting, characterization and conflict, motivation and resolution in the film in much the same way we’d look at it if we were reading it; I’d ask the students questions that would encourage them to think about different aspects of the film in ways that they may not have considered if they were watching the movie for entertainment. I’ve not come up with specific questions yet, but I’m not too far away from composing a few targeted inquiries that get at the kind of thinking I’m looking for my students to do.
I would then consider doing a side-by-side comparison of a text and a film. I’m leaning heavily toward a Shakespeare piece – there have been a lot of interpretations of King Lear and a few good ones of Othello, and I really am in love with Hamlet, but I think that’s only because I’ve taught it so much that I’ve developed a real sense for the play- though I’m also strongly considering looking closely at either The Green Mile or A Dry White Season. My intent here is to get the students to form an impression of the story in their minds through the reading, and then to look critically at the film versions of the story not so much as a comparison to the text, but in terms of how well the screenplay echoed the themes of the story as the students understood them. What did the director do well and what did the students think fell short? Why? Does the class agree that this or that was well or poorly done? How does what we, as individuals, bring to a literary experience influence how we judge a piece (or an interpretation of a piece)? How does our collective understanding of stories or storytelling influence how we, as a class, judge that piece? Are our individual judgments different from those of us in our role as members of a society?
There’s a lot more to this, but these are the things that have been foremost in my mind and, consequently, the things I wanted to get out into this forum for discussion, critique, and development.