One semester course
Open to grades 10, 11, 12
Range of difficulty: 1-4
The purpose of the course is to study the development of the narrative in both literature and film. Because today’s students at Lincoln-Sudbury are often sophisticated viewers who receive much of the information they need through movies and television, we think it is important for students to have an opportunity to think about and discuss the relative merits and differences between film and print media. We also feel that an informed study of redaction – the many lenses through which we view the world – can help our students understand and appreciate the way the media (both print and visual) influence and often manipulate our perceptions of the world around us.
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 cinema. 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, with special attention paid to how works are adapted from literature to movies, and how the narrative can change from one medium to another.
2. Topics and Themes Emphasized
Which medium works best to tell a specific story? Why are some stories best told in print, and others in 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? Can all literature be adapted to film?
Some themes addressed in this class:
Power – as seen in government, in relationships, in societal gender issues
Identity – how outside forces influence, shape, contribute to, and alter evolving
identities and individualities
Coming-of-age stories – differences from one decade to another, and from place to
The outsider – women/minorities
*Our classes look at the power of film, and work to develop critical thinking and appreciation of cinema as a separate, effective art form.
3. Methods and Sample Assignments
Students work as a class, in small groups, and individually. There are in-class reading assignments, film screenings, and discussions. Students are responsible for individual note-taking as well as homework assignments (reading, writing, viewing).
We work on developing a critical vocabulary, emphasizing the literary terms and cinematic terminology necessary to explore, understand, and discuss works on the syllabus. We read reviews and commentaries on film to help grow a working vocabulary (beyond “Two thumbs up”) to talk about on films.
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:
Creating a story board for a scene 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
While many students expect this class to be a lot of fun, it is, nevertheless, an academic course, and there are expectations similar to those in all English classes.
Reading: Students are required to do reading assignments that may comprise 20-30 pages per night. The readings will vary; the range includes some poetry, short stories, articles, and novels. Topics vary, and the range of difficulty may vary as well.
Writing: There will be responsive work, including reading/viewing quizzes, “think pieces” involving a paragraph or two, one-page reflections, and papers based on study units. Students may be asked to keep a (non-graded) reading/viewing journal, too.
Speaking and Listening: The nature of this class leads to frequent discussion, analysis, and, naturally, the ensuing debates that airing of opinions will inspire. Students are expected to participate in and to listen carefully to information and viewpoints brought up in class by their peers as well as by their teacher.
Viewing: Students are expected to view all cinema assignments. After an absence, a student must make arrangements to watch the video/DVD in school at a convenient time, or the student will arrange to rent/borrow a commercial copy of the movie to watch at home. Movies are not considered “extras” in this class; they are a integral part of the syllabus.
- Materials Used
The fluid nature of this course dictates the constant updating and revising of our materials. Every section of this course covers a “Coming of Age” unit, including:
The Graduate (author: Webb, director: Nichols)
Goodbye, Columbus (author: Roth)
Other materials include the following:
Spurlock, Supersize Me
Becker, Goodbye, Lenin!
Yimou, Raise the Red Lantern
Altman, The Player
Orlean, “The Orchid Thief”; Jonze’s adaptation
Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey; Kubrick adaptation
Scott, Blade Runner
Goldman, Marathon Man;
Hitchcock, Rear Window, Vertigo
Singer, The Usual Suspects
Huxley, Brave New World
Gondry, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Moore, Bowling for Columbine
Anderson, The Royal Tenenbaums
Coppola, Lost in Translation
Ellison, “King of the Bingo Game” (story and film)
Bierce, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (story and film)
Levin, Rosemary’s Baby; Polanski adapatation
Mamet, The Spanish Prisoner
Barker, Regeneration; film adaptation, Behind the Lines
Kubrick, Dr. Strangelove
Kramer, On The Beach
Bogdanovich,The Last Picture Show
Tornatore, Cinema Paradiso
Dubus, House of Sand and Fog (novel and Perelman film)
Guterson, Snow Falling on Cedars (novel and Hicks film)
Some possible additions:
Maria Full of Grace
Born Into Brothels
Good Night and Good Luck