Professional Collaboration

Are you up for a little professional collaboration?

I want to put together a 16 week, college-level course in Film as Literature. My vision for this course is that it would be set up in a seminar format – viewing, discussion, writing, discussion, reading, discussion – and would focus almost entirely on film as works of literature. I would want to have at least two – maybe more – crossovers of novels/plays to films (I’m thinking specifically of Hamlet, The Prestige, and To Kill a Mockingbird, but I’m open to other suggestions and am also willing to have the books/plays rotate from semester to semester) so that the students can get used to the idea of seeing the written word and film as separate works of art, even when one is based on the other. I want to include these films in the course:

The Last Samurai
Mississippi Burning
A Dry White Season
Schindler’s List
Dances with Wolves
Willow (or LadyHawke)
The Green Mile
I Robot

I’m sure there are other films I’ll want to investigate, but these are the ones I’ve been itching to do with a class.

What I’m looking for from you, Dear Readers, is both some collaboration and some guidance. Can you all help me put together something that would hold up to the rigor expected in an upper-level course? What kinds of objectives do I need to put on a syllabus for such a class? How do I design the work and the assessments so that the students can demonstrate mastery of those objectives?

My goal is to have a complete packet – syllabus, lesson plans, sample assignments, the whole thing – put together so that when I start interviewing for jobs, I can show them this work. I’m hoping to eventually be able to TEACH this as a special topics class, and I’m really looking to wow my perspective employers with my comprehensive and academically valid course.

So, what do you say? Are you up for doing a little brainstorming with me?



Filed under colleagues, film as literature, job hunting, Learning, Literature, out in the real world, popular culture, Questions, reading, self-analysis, Teaching, The Job, writing

27 responses to “Professional Collaboration

  1. If it’s a choice between those 2 I’ll always vote Ladyhawke vehemently but why are either of them on the list? Are they books as well? Why isn’t Princess Bride also an option in this category? Or Stardust?

    I’d be interested to see something that clearly diverts from the way the novel was written. Practical Magic is a great movie and it’s based on the book, sure, but VERY loosely. Also, it’s interesting to see a director like Clint Eastwood who sticks super closely to a text, so closely that his films completely lack drama (Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil, among others). It’s very cool that he’s so faithful to the text but is he hamstringing himself? (See also the director’s cut of Apocalypse Now) Then perhaps look at someone like Neil Gaiman who made changes in a very successful novel (Stardust) to make it work on screen.

    Most of what I’m saying, though, is from what I would want to teach in such a class. Without at least one objective from you I don’t know that we can help you teach the course you want to teach.

  2. Jaqui

    You need to visit this site:
    Way back when, you could get the plans for free. Now, you have to have a subscription–but it is totally worth it. I have the plan for Schindler’s List somewhere… If I find it I will send it to you.

  3. I Robot is interesting because the central notion about decision-making reverses from the book to the film.

  4. Why have you been itching to do THESE films with a class?

  5. Could you say a little more about this idea, mrschili? I’m not entirely clear what you’re wanting to do. Is it to compare and contrast the movies and the original novels/plays? Or do you have some other goal in mind? Guess I’m with Clix on this – not just why THESE films – but what is it you want to teach about these films?

  6. Kizz, I don’t necessarily WANT to have all the films be direct descendants of books – I want to be able to look at a film AS a work of literature. A movie is a story, too, just like a novel. One of my objectives for the course would be to get students into the mindset of seeing past the entertainment and into the STORY and its value as a work of literature.

    Jaqui, thanks for the link!! Also, if you have the Schindler lesson plan, I’d be most, most grateful if you’d share. I’m not particularly interested in reinventing the wheel here.

    Dr. Prezz, I’ve got to admit here that I’ve only SEEN I Robot; I’ve not read the book. Can you tell me more, please?

    Clix, I’ve been itching to teach THESE films for a lot of reasons. They are gorgeous. The stories they tell feel significant and substantial to me; they have something important to say. Several of them – really, ALL of them – have a central theme of one’s place in the larger society and how we are to negotiate that place among others. Not lastly (though I don’t want this comment to turn into a post on its own), I love these films, and I very much enjoy sharing literature that is important to me with others so I can get the benefit of their perspective, so part of my motivation for wanting to use these films in class is selfish; I want to love them more, so I want to teach them and see what else I can learn.

    Does that make sense?

  7. Sorry for being absent for such a long time. As you saw at my blog, the last few weeks were kind of packed and stressed so I fell behind on reading your blog.

    Teaching through movies is a great approach. I love how movies can bring home a message to my students the way I could never do it. We have to realize that today’s students are members of a ‘visual’ generation. I will give it a thought. I have just made a project on the Truman Show, apart from that I don’t have much experience with it. But I’ll let you know if something does come up.

    Enjoy your weekend!

  8. Moonstruck. It is all about the words…
    The Women. It is all about the women…

  9. The “original” women, not this idea of bette midler redoing it…

  10. One more: RAN, japanese feudal lord interpretation of King Lear. OH! and A&E (i think) Did King of Texas with Patrick Stewart as a Texas Land Baron, again an amazing adaptation of King Lear.

  11. Can I take your class? LOL.

  12. Oh Brother, Where Art Thou (The Odyssey)…
    Ok. I’ll stop now.

  13. You know, it is very difficult to detach from books that inspired movies. However, I absolutely love it when a movie adapts a book well. So, now I am wracking my brain for “literary” movies that were not based on novels or plays.

    I have also noticed that there are some movies that are actually much, much better at telling the story than the book was. Sometimes, I wonder how the book even was noticed. An example of this one is Field of Dreams. That book is poor, IMHO.

  14. nhfalcon

    There’s a version of “Beowulf” with Gerard Butler that wasn’t half bad…

    I’m absolutely amazed that “Hunt for Red October” isn’t on the list – or did you and Mr. Chili just plan on doing the movie live yourselves in front of the class? 🙂

    I am shocked and apalled that none of the “Lord of the Rings” films made the list! 🙂

  15. Julius

    Have you ever seen a film called In America?

  16. I actually took a Film as Literature class as my sophomore literature credit. Wonderful introduction to the concept, but the teacher focused on the history of American film and the distinguishing aspects of the different film genres. Nothing we watched was made after the 1970’s. It was a fantastic class and I now watch movies with totally different eyes. Understanding that part of the literature that describes our society comes from the movies which reflect that society is so important.

    That being said, I have to say that your film list is a bit lacking (for me), as I have become a “classics” junkie. The class I took really gave me the background information I needed to properly analyze other movies. Understanding how camera angle and different camera shots, or even the lighting, can alter the viewer’s perception is very important.

    Okay. I’ll go back to lurking now. 🙂 Good luck with the class. It sounds very interesting!

  17. If my memory serves:

    First, the book explains (through a series of short tales) how robots have essentially saved mankind from themselves using an economic solution.

    Second, the robotic laws are the same except that Asimov seems to say robots should make decisions for mankind (absence of emotion). However, the movie reverses this and creates an ominous controlling power.

    Also, Asimov mentions that he devised his robot stories and laws because of his aversion to the stereotypically menacing and destructive robots of his time.

    There is virtually no true connection to Asimov’s intent, but the book is great and the movie has its moral dilemmas. It is an interesting example of how Hollywood reinterprets literature to create an old-fashioned thriller.

  18. Godsweigh, no, no – no lurking! I need to have these kinds of conversations!

    I have no background in film MAKING, so the discussion of camera angles and lighting would be lame at best. Yes, I recognize that these things are important in the feel of a film, but I don’t feel confident teaching something about which I know next to nothing. Would you suggest that I brush up on these aspects of film, or can the conversations that get spontaneously generated about these things suffice for our purposes?

    You mention that you felt my list was lacking. What would you add? What do you mean when you say “classics”? Are you thinking 12 Angry Men and Citizen Kane? Give me more information, please.

    Dr. Prezz, there have been a couple of movies I’ve seen where the film takes a 90 degree turn from the book immediately after the opening credits. It used to bug the ever loving crap out of me, but it doesn’t anymore. I’m learning (it’s a process) to see the two – book and film – as very separate pieces of art, and it’s interesting to me to see where the crossovers in themes are (and how those themes are treated). I’ve rarely seen a film that COMPLETELY changes the themes of its inspiring novel, though; I’m waiting for my friend to dig out his copy of Asimov’s story so I can see for myself…

  19. Wow. Let’s see…to clarify, I would probably be the only one to feel that your list was lacking, but that’s because I’m biased due to the film as lit class that I took. I think that if you are just trying to broaden your students’ minds to accept film as a valid form of literature, then brushing up on film-making techniques might not be as important as the content. However, it’s very difficult to discuss any aspect of a movie without talking about the setting, and if you’re talking about the setting, well, this leads to discussions of lighting, sets, music, and yes, camera angles. Imagine a thoughtful discussion of Psycho without mentioning the multitude of shots that are involved in the shower scene!

    The course that I took was, “a survey of the history and development of motion pictures with emphasis on analysis and understanding of significant movements and schools of filmmaking, critical approaches, sociological impact, and visual aesthetics of motion pictures.” The course focused on American film exclusively and was based on the premise that, “motion pictures are a modern development in the continuing evolution of artistic endeavors, the results of which are collectively called “literature” – especially dramatic and narrative literature.” The basis for the class you are trying to put together sounds a little different.

    After taking this class, I can honestly say that it was an excellent foundation for any further studies of film – in any aspect. I don’t know that I would have had the background knowledge necessary to really “get” what other film classes would teach. Others probably feel differently about it.

    Just as an idea of what we watched and discussed, here’s the film list from that semester. Parenthetical notations are the genre or unit that we discussed that week.
    “Scarlet Street” (Introduction to the course)
    “Sunrise” (Silent Film Melodrama)
    “Citizen Kane” (Hollywood Style)
    “Casablanca” (The Studio System)
    “Treasure of Sierra Madre” (The Star System)
    “Psycho” (The Horror Film)
    “Singing in the Rain” (The Musical)
    “Some Like It Hot” (American Comedy)
    “Born on the Fourth of July” (War and Cinema)
    “Shane” (Western)
    “Sunset Boulevard” (Film Noir)
    “On the Waterfront” (Hollywood and the Cold War)

    Interspersed between the feature films were various documentaries that further illuminated (stretch of a pun there) the unit we were studying.

    I checked to see if my instructor has his syllabus on-line, just so that you could have a look-see, but he doesn’t. If it would help you, I could scan it and send it to you via email, but I won’t unless you give the word. 🙂 Let me know if there’s anything else you’d like to know about the class.

  20. Wow – thank you! THIS is VERY helpful!

    It seems that most of my blogging friends took a film course in college. I never had that opportunity (though, believe me, I would have if one had been available). My Master’s thesis was on using film as literature, and without any background in it from courses I’d taken, I ended up doing a lot of the research cold. I’ve got a couple of good books on the topic and I did human-subject research with my high school students during my internship, but I think it might be worth my while to sit in on a couple of film courses at local schools if I can find them. At the very least, I should track down some folks who are currently teaching this stuff and see if I can pop in during office hours. Conversations like these are helpful, too.

    I think that, to a certain extent, having a basic knowledge or understanding of the mechanics of film IS important – much like having a basic understanding of the mechanics of writing is important. I don’t want to get too bogged down in the technical details, though; what I’m after is getting the students to stop seeing film as purely entertainment and start looking at is as a contributor/mirror to our culture, much like the novels and stories that we consider as part of our human identity. I’m not training future filmmakers here; I’m looking to broaden some perspectives and to talk about some stories.

    Thank you very much, Godsweigh, for this input. This kind of community and collaboration is precisely why I blog!

  21. Mary

    This is a great topic. Good lord, I could go nuts picking out movies to discuss. I watched Cool Hand Luke not long ago on AMC. The host discussed the references to Christ and the cross in that film. Really interesting stuff. Godsweigh put a good list up. Shane and Citizen Kane are the two on the top of that list for me. Just about anything that Billy Wilder, Frank Capra, or John Huston did could go on that list.

  22. Wannabe Renaissance Man

    Part of what makes a film, book, painting or album interesting to me is its place in history; the story behind it and what came out of it. I envision a course that is reading intensive where the book is read and a film adaptation is watched. In all this is a discussion about the author, it’s impact on pop culture, etc.

    For example: Frankenstein. Most people know him as the green monster with bolts in his neck. Maybe you could bring one of those plastic Frankenstein masks to the first day of class; bring a Frankenberry cereal box or bring the movie box to the Frankenweiner Porn movie. Buy them off EBay. The point of all this would be to one, get a laugh and two, open the class’s eyes to how much of a cultural icon he really is and then say…”O.k., how did we get here?” Then read the book and watch some films and discuss. Tapping into the pop culture stuff will really keep an audience interested and hopefully that interest will carry over into intensive reading if you choose to go that route.

    I’d recommend touching on every genre of film as well. Besides IRobot, your movies are very historical/period pieces. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE all those movies, but the class needs to appeal to all movie lovers and I think a fun challenge for you would be to show that there’s just as much of a lesson on humanity in something like Edward Scissorhands as there is in Dances with Wolves as there is in When Harry Met Sally.

    I’ll think of some more ideas.

  23. Darci

    I love this idea and will be seeing your progress as I hope to pitch this at my middle school as an elective. We have a film making course which includes a small bit of film appreciation but I what to focus on symbolism and similar theme through out various movies ie: Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story. Cool Hand Luke is amazing for it symbolism.

  24. Pamela Hunnisett

    The Truman Show
    Shawshank Redemption
    Fried Green Tomatoes
    Oh Brother, Where art thou?
    *These are wonderful films to teach film analysis and literary analysis of Elements of Fiction.

  25. Thanks, Pamela!

    Of your list, I’ve only seen The Truman Show and Shawshank. I’ve seen bits and pieces of Green Tomatoes, but never the whole thing. I’ve been told I MUST see Oh Brother, but I’ve not gotten to it yet. What’s Pleasantville?

    • Pamela Hunnisett

      Oh my! Pleasantville is wonderful and a must on my list to teach (with my 11’s). It has Toby McGuire and Reece Witherspoon starring in it (popular with kids still today). Two teens sucked into a 1950’s TV program that is black and white and perfectly pleasant. One is in heaven; one is in hell! As with any “back in time story”, these teens interactions start altering the world of Pleasantville. As the P world is exposed to sex, literature, emotions, knowledge they turn from B&W to colour. Eventually there is a divide between the B&W and the “coloureds”. Yes, there is an entire analogy to African American coming-of-age in the 50’s. Even to the point of a trial that looks like To Kill a Mockingbird with the “coloureds” segregated in the galley above. It is such an important film for studying film analysis, themes of moving from innocence to experience, and powerful societal connections of America’s coming-of-age.

      Others of note are:
      – Amelie (French with subtitles)
      – Chocolat
      – Crash

      Check out this resource:
      Pages 55-102 for USING FILM IN THE CLASSROOM
      * This is a document from Alberta, Canada Education

  26. Pamela Hunnisett

    Oh – Finding Forrester is very popular with kids and my “applied” Grade 11’s LOVED IT! Bonus is writing is made “cool” by the film. Plus the whole connotation to JD Salinger is relevant and timely.

    FREEDOM WRITERS is another popular one with kids and heroic for us teachers. Bonus is diary writing.

    Of course, DEAD POET’s SOCIETY is loved by many of us English teachers, but kids love it too. Bonus is the poetry study you can do with it.

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