Analysis of Literature and Film

One semester course
Open to grades 10, 11, 12
Range of difficulty: 1-4

1. Rationale

The purpose of the course is to study narrative forms, genres, and techniques in both literature and film. Because today’s students at Lincoln-Sudbury are often sophisticated viewers who access information and narratives through “screens,” we think it is important for students to have an opportunity to think about and discuss the relative merits and differences between digital and print media. We also feel that an informed study of the many lenses through which we view the world can help our students understand and appreciate the way the media — both print and digital — influence and often manipulate our perceptions.

We use movies and works of fiction based on common subject matter and themes. We often read a novel or story and watch the movie derived from that novel or story. We may also read and view several works focused around a similar theme, but with differing settings or viewpoints.

The course reinforces critical thinking about literature and film. Students are encouraged to note the differences and similarities inherent in telling a story using verbal imagery and visual imagery. One goal of this course is to make students more aware of what they are being told by the movies they see. For that reason, we are careful in selecting a wide range of authors, directors, and titles. Special attention paid to how idea are treated in literature and movies, and how narratives can change from one medium to another.

2. Topics and Themes Emphasized

The class explores the different approaches, tools, and techniques used across a variety of film and literature.

Which medium works best to tell a specific story? What aspects of storytelling are universal, and what opportunities and limitations are particular to literature and film? How are stories told differently in print and film? Are there specific formulas used to tell a narrative? In what ways can movies alter a narrative arc? What specific effects (black-and-white/color, music, voice-overs, flashbacks, in medias res) are used effectively in film? What are the narrative limits of movies? What can a novel or story do that a movie cannot?

Some themes addressed in this class:

  • Power – as seen in government, in relationships and society
  • Identity – how forces such as class, race, and gender influence identity
  • Coming-of-age stories – differences from one decade to another, and from place to place
  • Genre — traditions and conventions.
  • Membership and outsiders
  • Technology and humanity

3. Methods and Sample Assignments

Students work on developing a critical vocabulary, emphasizing the literary terms and cinematic terminology necessary to explore, understand, and analyze narratives. We read reviews and commentaries to help expand students’ working vocabulary to discuss literature and film.

Students work as a class, in small groups, and individually. There are close reading and close viewing assignments, film screenings, and discussions. Students are responsible for individual note-taking as well as homework assignments (reading, writing, viewing).

Writing assignments, both creative and analytical, are used to improve critical thinking and to hone writing skills. There are objective and subjective writing assignments. Some are relatively short, perhaps extemporaneous in-class responses to a reading or viewing of a scene. Others are longer, assigned in stages, and subject to peer edits, revisions, and final drafts.

Sample writing assignments may include:

  • Analytic review of a written story or film
  • Comparison between written and film versions of one story
  • Character studies; how does the character change over the course of the story?
  • Discussion of one particular element (voice/viewpoint) in a story
  • Portraying values in nonverbal ways (fear, suspense, peace, etc.)
  • Finding “the message” – an author’s/cinematographer’s goal
  • Ways in which a “message” can be presented/changed by author/director

Non-written assignments may include:

  • Storyboarding scenes or a short story
  • Video collage of similar scenes
  • Video collage of similar character nuances
  • Original 5-10 minute narrative film
  • Use of music/camera angle/other techniques to change the mood of a scene

4. Expectations for Students

Reading and Viewing: Reading assignments are typically 20-30 pages per night. The readings and topics vary, but includes poetry, short stories, articles, and novels. Assigned films are generally shown in class; in the case of an absence, a student should make arrangements to access class content.

Writing and Creative Assessments: There will be a variety of short and long writing assignments, both creative and analytical. These may include reading/viewing quizzes, “think pieces” consisting of a paragraph or two, one-page reflections, papers based on study units, storyboarding, skits, screenwriting, and short fiction. Students may be asked to keep a non-graded reading/viewing journal.

5. Materials Used

Literature:
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (Bierce)
Brave New World (Huxley)
Goodbye, Columbus (Roth)
On The Beach (Kramer)
Regeneration (Barker)
That Night (McDermott)
The Circle (Eggers)
All Quiet on the Western Front (Remarque)

Adaptations:
2001: A Space Odyssey (Clarke, Kubrick adaptation)
Barker, Regeneration (film adaptation: Behind the Lines, MacKinnon)
House of Sand and Fog (Dubus, Perelman adaptation)
Marathon Man (Goldman, Schlesinger adaptation)
Rear Window,  (Woolrich, Hitchcock adaptation)
Rosemary’s Baby (Levin, Polanski adaptation)
Snow Falling on Cedars (Guterson, Hicks adaptation)
True Grit (Portis, Coen Brothers adaptation)
No Country for Old Men (McCarthy, Coen Brothers adaptation)

Films:
Amelie (Jeunet)
Arrival (Villeneuve)
Blade Runner (Scott)
Bowling for Columbine (Moore)
Cinema Paradiso (Tornatore)
Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick)
Dunkirk (Nolan)
Jaws (Speilberg)
Juno (Reitman)
Lost in Translation (Coppola)
On The Beach (Kramer)
Rear Window, Vertigo (Hitchcock)
Rosemary’s Baby (Levin, Polanski adaptation)
Rushmore (Anderson)
Say Anything (Crowe)
Sunset Boulevard (Wilder)
Supersize Me (Spurlock)
The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gondry)
The Graduate (Nichols)
The Last Picture Show (Bogdanovich)
The Matrix (Wachowski brothers)
The Player (Altman)
The Royal Tenenbaums (Anderson)
The Social Network (Fincher)
The Spanish Prisoner (Mamet)
The Truman Show (Weir)

rev. 10/17

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