Film and Literature

I’ve been a busy girl lately.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been turning around in my head the courses I’m going to be teaching next term.  Since we’re essentially starting the English department from scratch, I’ve had a lot of freedom in putting together new syllabi and curricula for these courses.  With all that freedom comes an almost crippling absence of guidelines, though; I fear that, without boundaries, I’ll go too far afield.

That’s where you all come in, Dear Readers.  I’m planning to post the syllabi for each class I create here so that I can get your input, questions, comments, or suggestions before I print them up to submit to my director.  The fine print of each course is going to be the same – I have identical expectations for attention and productivity for each group of students – so I’m more interested in what you think about my content; am I missing something rich or vital or just fun?  Do you have any winner lesson plans to share that have worked for a course like this?  If you were taking this course, what would you expect to emerge from the other side knowing, having experienced, or understanding?

Aaaaannnnd, GO!

Film and Literature
Charter High School
Fall, 2010

Course Description: Stories are an essential part of every human culture; they help us to make meaning and to understand ourselves, each other, and our place in the world.  The means by which these stories are told – whether they are written, spoken, or acted on stage or screen – influences the way we approach and interpret them.  Film, while it may be influenced by written work, should always be considered an entirely unique piece of art for the purposes of critique and analysis. This course explores the complex interplay between film and literature. Selected novels, short stories and plays are analyzed in relation to film versions of the same works in order to gain an understanding of the possibilities—and problems—involved in the transposition to film.  We will also investigate films that do not have written work as their inspiration to discover the ways in which these stories work in terms of our understanding of the nature of literature and the role it plays in our lives.

*Students are cautioned that this course requires extensive reading and writing in addition to viewing films and taking part in class discussions. Students not prepared to read (up to 150 pages/week) and to write on a regular basis and to take an active part in class discussions should not consider taking this course.*

Objectives: In this class, students will;

• Enhance their ability to understand, appreciate, and discuss works of literature through extensive reading and discussion of short stories, novels and plays.

• Analyze works of fiction and drama for plot structure, setting, characterization, theme, and narrative point of view.

• Develop an understanding of critical analysis of film through careful examination of  adaptations of literary texts, focusing on character development, dramatic structure, and performance.

•  Learn and utilize the terminology of film analysis, both those terms shared with literary discussion (character, plot, theme, setting) and those specific to cinema (lighting, dialogue, special effects, etc.).

•  Demonstrate an understanding of the possibilities and problems involved in the transposition of literature to film, applying terminology and critical skills acquired during the semester to analyze a cinematic adaptation of a text not discussed in class.

Texts, Materials & Films:
Required Texts:

•  Monk Kidd, Sue.  The Secret Life of Bees
•  Lewis, C.S.  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
• Grisham, John.  The Client
• Rowling, J.K.  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Access to a good dictionary (online is fine)

*A note about texts: I have no investment whatsoever in how you access these texts; you may buy them (new or used), you may borrow them from friends or the library, or you may obtain them online or as e-books.  If you choose to go the electronic route, however, please understand that you must – must! – have the text with you in class; excuses about computer or printer problems will not be accepted.*

Films:

•  The Secret Life of Bees. 2008; Gina Prince-Blythwood, dir.
The Kite Runner. 2007, Mark Forster, dir.
•  The Sixth Sense. 1999, M. Night Shyamalan, dir.
•  Willow. 1988, Ron Howard, dir.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. 2007, David Yates, dir.
The Chronicles of Narnia; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. 2005, Andrew Adamson, dir.
Empire of the Sun. 1987, Stephen Speilberg, dir.
The Client. 1994, Joel Schumacher, dir.
•  Finding Nemo. 2003, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich, dirs.
•  Karate Kid. 1984, John Avildsen, dir.
•  Hook. 1991, Stephen Speilberg, dir.
* this film list is subject to change and/or addition.

Expectations: There are certain things that I will expect from you and, likewise, there are a number of things that you can expect from me. First and foremost is respect. As a community of writers and thinkers, we must be able to trust one another. Writing (and thinking) is a process that most often involves missteps and risk-taking. We need to create an environment where it’s okay to express half-developed ideas, where we won’t feel ridiculous if the thought we started chasing turns out to be silly or unsupportable, and where we challenge each other to expand thinking beyond the safe and expected. To that end, it is vital that we approach this class – and each other – with a high level of respect. We’ll learn a lot from each other – this class is not about me imparting learning on you, but rather is a collaborative effort on all our parts – and we’ve got to be able to trust that we’ll support one another in the process of learning. Everything else that we do at a community of writers and thinkers will expand from that sense of trust and respect; without it, we’ll get no where.

Beyond that, there are certain day-to-day expectations that need to be made clear. You can expect me to be in class every day on time and prepared. You can expect me to take you seriously and to be entirely supportive of your own learning process. You can expect me to be clear about what I want from you in terms of work, both in class an out of it, and you can expect me to assess your work according to those standards. You can expect me to respond to your questions and concerns (whether they be class related or not) in a timely and respectful way. In short, you can expect me to be present and mindful and wholly engaged.

I expect you to be in class every day on time and prepared; that includes having completed any assigned reading and having all necessary materials with you in class. I expect you to be present and engaged in class and to take the time we have together seriously. I expect you to complete all the assignments I give, to participate in group activities, and to be a careful and conscientious participant in workshops with your classmates. I expect you to ask questions, to stretch beyond what you think are the “safe” answers, and to take full responsibility for your own learning. I expect you to come to me with any questions, problems, or concerns you have and, if your concerns are about an assignment, I expect you to come to me well before that assignment is due. I expect you to behave in a mature and respectful way toward the material, yourself, your classmates, and me. In short, I expect you to be present and mindful and wholly engaged.

*A word about participation: please be aware that my definition of participation does not include hiding behind a computer screen or a doodle pad.  Unless we are actively working on a writing or research project, computers are to be completely closed and put away altogether.  There will never be a time during class discussion that it’s okay to have earphones in your ears.  Finally, while I understand that some people are able to focus better on what they’re hearing if they’re drawing or doodling, if I feel that your participation while you do such things is suffering, I will ask you to put them away.*

Assignments: As a practice, I don’t map out an entire course on a syllabus; I feel that limits the class too much and stifles our ability to follow fruitful tangents that may come up as a result of our thinking. That does not mean, however, that you won’t know about assignments in plenty of time to complete them. For day-to-day work, I will usually write the assignment on the board or simply tell you what we’re doing for the class. All homework is always posted on our class Haiku page. For major projects, I will print out an assignment sheet with detailed instructions and the assessment standards I will use to grade the work. These things will also be posted on the class webpage. It is your responsibility to understand the assignment completely before you begin; telling me that you “didn’t get it” is not an acceptable excuse for not having completed an assignment or for doing it poorly.

Unless you are absent from school, work not handed in on the due date will not be accepted and will count as a zero in your grade. If you are absent from class, it is your responsibility to find out what, if any, homework was assigned that day and to have it ready when you return to school. I do not offer make-up or extra credit work; I do, however, negotiate due dates with students who have legitimate reasons for not being able to complete an assignment on time. If you think you’re going to run into trouble getting something in when it’s due, let me know and we’ll come to an agreement that meets both of our needs. I will make every effort to have your work graded and returned to you in a timely fashion. Please keep in mind, however, that you only had to write one paper; I’ll have to read and assess everyone’s work.

Books and Permission Forms: All students must have all required texts by the second week of class.  Failure to obtain the texts will result in your being administratively dropped from the course.  Permission forms for the entire semester’s film schedule must be signed by a parent or guardian and returned before the first scheduled screening (likely the third class of the term).  Failure to return the permission slip will result in your being administratively dropped from the course.  Please email me directly if there are any questions or concerns about the films we’ll be viewing; I’ll be happy to address specific goals and objectives for the film(s) in question.

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25 Comments

Filed under film as literature, great writing, I love my job, lesson planning, Literature, popular culture, Teaching

25 responses to “Film and Literature

  1. Pingback: Ten Things Tuesday « The Blue Door

  2. writeitalready

    Love the syllabus. Can I take the class, please?
    I took a class in uni called “Shakespeare on Film.” We studied Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Henry (# forgotten). For each text we watched two movie versions. It was a great course–my favourite Shakespeare course by far because we got to SEE the plays and talk about the interpretations.
    If you ever think you may add some Shakespeare to this syllabus, perhaps Macbeth is a good choice and Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood. Macbeth set in Samurai Japan. TOTALLY AWESOME.

    • jamie lejeune

      I am teaching a film as literature course as well… I am thinking about doing a unit on “the hero’s journey…. with star wars. and Avatar…. also the small town critic has a good lesson plan for a movie reviews…

      • Cori Modisette

        I worked on a unit beginning with mythology, moving through major religions, considering science and artificial life, and ending with AVATAR, which worked perfectly in summation. The Hero’s Journey was a large part of it. I’d love to talk about it with you!

      • Anonymous

        Napoleon Dynamite is a great movie to teach the hero’s journey too!

  3. Oooh! INTERESTING! I would be interested to hear which other films you choose to teach in that unit. We tend to think of heros in terms of vast and sweeping significance, but I sometimes wonder if the small victories can be considered “heroic,” too (I’m thinking that The Secret Life of Bees might play in this unit, too…).

    Keep checking in; I’m eager to see where you go!

  4. Gail Marincovich

    Hello! I teach high school language arts and am in the process of planning my own film and lit. class for this fall. I smiled when I read about the courses that have been turning around in your head. I can relate! So much of my curriculum planning is mental. I love your film and lit. titles — some are on my list as well, but you gave me some new ideas to consider, so thank you! Also, I so appreciate your late work policy and your comments on returning graded work. In fact, I felt like I was reading my own words! Thanks so much for this informative website, and best wishes for the coming year.

  5. Anna

    Hi! I teach University Freshman in Zhuhai, China. I was supposed to teach Film and Lit next term, but Husband got a job in Dubai, so guess where we are going? 80K a year, so I guess I will be a housewife. I plan to read, write, plan courses. I incorporated film in both my literature and culture courses, with great results.
    I love your blog!
    I am going to miss teaching A LOT, and your words about grading and late papers were right on. I love kids, but they will do what they can get away with, and so spelling it out does them and you a favor. I do give them the rubric for papers right away, and spending time going over what I expect makes the good ones work a lot, and the less able to perform to expectations.
    . I also require them to present clips from films they love. So far, no one has caused issues with overly sexual or violent ones, but this is China.
    Two films I had enormous success with were “Crash,” and “A Taste of Honey.” One film is about multicultural L.A.-and being a” homey-” I’m talking the Brentwood Blackboisie, because the experience of ghetto is not happing to this Princess-actually evoked some really great questions.
    “A Taste of Honey” is about a working class British girl in the early 1960′s whose Mom is a Working Girl (that is what the called ladies of the night back then) and the girl gets pregnant by a Black sailor and her only pal is a Gay guy. It sounds very stupid, but it is funny and sad. I used it to discuss the Windrush-massive immigration to Britain by us Island folk.
    Most of my students had never seen, much less talked, to a Black person before, and iIam reasonable about this. Just my 2 cents.

  6. Joy Tansky

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas re. film and literature. I’m teaching (and currently creating) a course on the same lines which I will teach to grade 12 students next year. Now I’ve added some of your thoughts to the ones already rolling around in my head. Every little bit helps!

  7. Bayang Elisée

    bonjour à tous les visiteurs de ce site. je fais des recherches sur l’audiovisuelle et l’enseignement de l’oeuvre intégrale.étant donné que le savoir est une collecte,je souhaiterai recevoir votre contribution à cette exploration. merci

  8. Danna Bonfiglio

    I taught a film lit class for the first time this year. My students wer 11th & 12th grae boys, but next semester has mostly 10th grade girls. I must really re-evaluate my curriculum which is good as I was less than satisfied with what I created for this first semester. I have read through your syllabus several times; I find it very inspiring! I thought perhaps maybe you could email me with some information on what you DID with these selections. With novels & movies, was it mostly compare & contrast-type lessons? Did you watch all the films in their entirety? I am anxious to hear other ideas yiou might have; I feel like I’m floundering.

    • Danna Bonfiglio

      Man, I can’t type! I should have proofread.

    • Danna, most of my classes end up being exercises in critical thinking and connection-making; I want to teach the kids to look beyond the stories (what’s right in front of them) to what the stories are trying to TELL us.

      One thing I heartily discourage is compare/contrast between books and their films. That inevitably leads to the “the book was so much better” nonsense, which keeps them grounded in the what’s-right-in-front-of-them. I teach them to separate by starting with a book and movie combination that’s SIMILAR in theme and intention, but with different stories to get the point across (To Kill a Mockingbird and Remember the Titans, for example). I’ve found that’s REALLY successful; they look at how the stories are similar, even though they see huge differences. Because the narrative isn’t the same, they’re not tempted to do a one-for-one comparison. It takes a while, but eventually they learn to see the novels and their movies as different works of art.

      I do watch the films all the way through, and I NEVER pause a film to talk about something that just happened (I HATED when my teachers did that), though I WILL pipe up and say, “Something important is about to happen; pay attention!” or “That that just happened? Keep that in mind; it’s going to matter later…” though I keep that shit to a minimum. I know that, by about mid-semester, they’ll start to pick up on how to watch film critically.

      My technique is to watch the film all the way through, then turn it off at the ending credits, turn to them and say, “shut up and WRITE!” I’m looking for responses early in the semester – until they understand that I don’t CARE if they liked the film or not, that is, when I expect them to start working with themes and motivations and connections. Only after they’ve had some time to their own thinking will I get everyone together for a discussion, and MAN! We have some DOOZIES!

      Does this help?

  9. I love this thread! Thanks for all of the helpful information and ideas. This is my first year teaching a Film as Lit class and I am totally going to put the “Hero’s Journey” piece into my semester.

    My biggest question is: how long is your class period? We have 50 minute periods so I’m worried about retention and playing the films.

  10. I’m a first year teacher and have been given the brand new class, Film as Literature at the Junior High School (7th & 8th Grade) My first unit is well underway, and while it doesn’t suck there are few redeeming elements.I stumbled upon your post while reevaluating the rest of the semester and look to incorporate many ideas found here into my future lessons. I’m curious what you would suggest for Jr. High kids. Also, do you go into the art of film making and film analysis? Any help, suggestions, materials will be greatly appreciated.

    -JTOM

    • JTOM, congratulations! Being a first year teacher is the strangest combination of exhilarating and terrifying, isn’t it? I’m happy to help in any way I can.

      I’m going to answer your last question first; no, I didn’t go into the art of film making, but only because I have no training or experience with film production from which to speak to that aspect of a film class. I was most interested in the stories and the ways in which they were told. As a consequence, we DID talk about the choices that the directors and actors made concerning tone of voice, lighting, music, and camera angles (not to mention deviations from the texts of the novels we read upon which some of films were based), but that was about as “technical” as I got.

      Junior High, in my neighborhood, means everything from fifth to eighth grade, and that’s a really wide span in terms of maturity. My focus has always been older kids; I could probably help you choose relevant films for 8th graders, but I’m not sure how well I’d do with the little kids until I’d spent some time with the class and understood where they were in terms of critical thinking skills. I can see showing the older kids films like Nuremberg, Glory, Akeelah and the Bee, any of the Lord of the Rings films, any of the Harry Potter films – it all depends, though, on what you’re trying to get them to think about.

      A lot – nearly everything, really – is going to depend on your objectives. I always chose my films AFTER I’d figured out what I wanted the kids to think about / wrestle with / understand. A lot of the choices I made in the core classroom were films that echoed an idea or a conflict that we’d read in the novels (I hit a frickin’ home run in pairing The Green Mile with our class reading of Interview with the Vampire); my film class selections were always based on the themes of the class and what I had in mind for the class objectives. My Aliens and Vampires Film and Literature class, for example, focused on the concepts of group/national identity, “knowledge” and “faith”, and morality and ethics (particularly within the context of immortality). I hit them with the “aliens” first, with films like 2001 (which blew their little minds) Contact (which they also read), Independence Day, Aliens, and Cocoon, then moved to the “vampires” with I am Legend (which they also read), Interview with the Vampire, and a double feature of Nosferatu and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The discussions we generated were astonishing once they got the hang of looking at the subtext of the film; kids are REALLY good at seeing what’s right in front of them; getting them to make inferences and connections to the not-so-obvious is always a focus in my classes. That was an incredibly successful semester.

      I’ve also taught film classes that revolved around the ideas of spiritual journeys and self-discovery (The Last Samurai, Schindler’s List, Dances with Wolves), systems and the roles we play within and against them (Nuremberg, Mississippi Burning, The Matrix) and relationships (Frankenstein (the Hallmark version), Rainman, The Lord of the Rings, The Blind Side). I have a pretty extensive personal collection of movies; chances are pretty good that if you’ve got a theme or an idea, I’ve got a movie that will work for it.

      Let me know if there’s anything else I can tell you. I’m more than happy to share my materials, my ideas, and my experience with you!

  11. Danna Bonfiglio

    I’m continuing with my HS Film Lit class for the second year (3rd semester). I always enjoy reading your comments & helpful tips. I especially like your thematic ideas (I wish I could really spend some time thinking about how to do that WELL). I, in only 2 semesters, have gotten into a “rut.”
    I did get a textbook this year (admin was less than thrilled with the still from “The Social Network” of JT & Jesse on the cover in a club with martinis & booze bottles on the table), and I’ve been having them take a look at basic technical elements: pre-production, production, post-production, mise-en-scene, camera angles, sound, genres, but as I too have no training in that area, that’s about as deep as we’re gonna’ get. We watched “Citizen Kane” (snoozefest), and I am just getting into my Hitchcock “unit” to be followed up with the “modern-day Hitchcock,” M. Night Shyamalan. After that, we’ll probably take a look at movies from various genres of film. I’m not sure if this is “fine enough,” or if I need to step it up & really delve into a more thematic approach to viewing film. I’m afraid that might be out of my comfort zone. Following the textbook is about as much as I can do right now to keep my head above water with my core classes and all the other hoops we are having to jump through.

  12. Leaving the inspiration for my Film and Lit course with you….Sydney Pollack’s quote about literature:
    “We all live rather prescribed and narrow lives. I’m just this one white guy, 60-something years old. I’ll never be anything else except older. I’ve got one set of kids. I’ve got one wife. That’s it for me. But then, there’s this great, great library of experiences that’s housed in the liberal arts. Fictional worlds created that I can put on like this gown or coat, eyes that I can borrow to see the world.

    I can be a black housewife. I can be a king. I can be a C.I.A. spy. I can be a warrior. I can learn what it is like to be tried and convicted, to confess, to win the beautiful girl, lose the beautiful girl. It’s a way of understanding the world that functions beyond intellect and it teaches and touches through feeling and experience even when that experience is part of the imagination. Compassion finally is the great gift of literature. Fiction, and by that I mean the aesthetic creation of all artificial worlds, must persuade you to interpret the world with compassion.”

    Full post at:
    http://usedbooksinclass.com/2013/05/22/a-film-and-literature-course-from-a-commencement-address-by-sydney-pollack/

  13. This made me SO happy. Thank you for posting it here; I’m going to print it out and stick it to my wall.

    This is exactly why I do what I do. Exactly.

  14. Jerry Jerome

    Thank you for posting this. I will be teaching a Film and Literature course this year. I am presently formulating the course description an syllabus and I have found your posting to be helpful in how I will articulate the expectations for the course.

  15. Stephanie

    Hi and thank you for the extensive information! You see, I am teaching a film and literature class for the first time starting this fall. You gave me some great ideas and instead of terrified, I am now excited! Do I have your permission to use some of your expectations, etc in my own class handouts?

  16. I would love to create/teach a class like this. Any tips?

  17. SRoda

    Thank you so much for a wonderful and informational website! I’m trying to develop a Film and Literature class for our high school and am trying to narrow down reasoning and ideas behind doing it. I love some of your book and movie ideas. I’m curious, how many books are you having the kids read a semester, and how many short stories, plays, etc. are you incorporating? I’m trying to get a realistic idea on what I should be able to expect from a group of seniors. Other questions…
    1. Do the kids question/argue about having to buy/find their own copies of the books (is that typical for your school or just for your class)?
    2. Is all of the reading done outside of class and on their own or do you provide some in class reading time?
    3. What type of introductions do you do before the chosen book or literature?
    4. After the movie is over, what exactly do you have them write on? Do you provide them with guidelines in the beginning or are they just able to write (“Shut up and write!”)?
    5. How are they graded on their writing? Are there certain things you are looking for or just grading them on their ability to identify how a story is told?
    6. I would love to see some of the assignments that you do.. Could I send you my email and maybe you could send a few of the things that you incorporate into your teaching?

    Thank you so much! I was feeling overwhelmed but am definitely feeling more excited after finding your site!
    Stephanie

    • SRoda! I’m excited for you! Film and Lit classes always go over really well, and I’m constantly amazed by how much the kids’ thinking improves over the course (though, by now, I should know to expect it).

      I’ll take your questions one at a time:
      1. I’m not in that school anymore, but it was the expectation that the students would obtain the books for themselves. I often had extra copies I could loan to them, but they also got them online or from the library.
      2. I used the class time for films and discussion. Reading was done on their own and films were NEVER assigned outside of class; I wanted to be sure I was with them when they watched the films so we could talk about the “good parts.”
      3 The introductions depended heavily on the media. If there were something I wanted the kids to notice, I’d ask them to look for it. When I showed 2001, I made sure they understood that the film was going to freak them out – that it was unlike anything they’d likely seen before and that they should try to think about it SYMBOLICALLY rather than literally. Some of the time, though, I just let fly without trying to influence what they saw or thought; some of the best stuff came from those “free” experiences.
      4. Again, it depended on the material. MOST of the time, it was “shut up and write,” because I want, maybe more than anything else, for my students to be confident that they have something important to say all on their own. If they got stuck, I’d ask them to write about a scene that moved them in some way (for good or ill) or to investigate any strong feelings they had about a character. One of my mantras is “if it pisses you off, have a closer look at it; there’s probably something important there.”
      5. MOST of the writing I had students do for these classes were response papers – in-class, informal interactions with whatever text we were working with. I tended not to “grade” those, per se; they’d earn the 10 or 20 points for DOING them, and I’d give them feedback on their thinking. The papers for the class asked the students to analyze two or more of the films in the context of whatever our essential questions were (for example, “consider the very different realities portrayed in Interview With the Vampire and I am Legend. How do these stories deal with the idea of immortality, and the undercurrent of loneliness that seems to inhabit all vampire stories?” These essays were graded based on a) how well the students understood the stories, b) how well they could control an analysis of the elements of the stories and apply them to a focused question and c) how well they could state – and then support – a claim about what the films did or did not do in service to that particular question.

      I would be MORE than happy to share my materials with you. Email me at mrschili at comcast dot net.

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