Altering the Curriculum

         As for a curriculum of my choice, I would have to omit a few of the current selections and go with some more modern adaptations. This is so because I feel that the current course curriculum is too redundant. Nearly every single one of the film adaptations covered over the course of the semester can be categorized as a story that involves a woman in distress who is subverted by a male counterpart. The woman protagonist either does or does not overcome this obstacle and move on with her life in search of self-discovery. The problem with this curriculum is that, as a whole, I do not think it sends a clear message to all of the students. I think some additions to the curriculum that are from a more modern time period would allow for a much better discourse, on a much more involved level with the students.

         One adaptation that does not necessarily hit the mark for me is Emily Brontë's 1847 Wuthering Heights, although I would be inclined to remove this one entirely for the fact that it is on the curriculum for many high schools. I had the novel as a summer reading assignment before my senior year, and we covered the material of the book for nearly two weeks at the beginning of the semester. Granted, we did not watch the films adapted from the book in high school, but the novel is fairly large, and we watched two adaptations this semester in Film and Literature, for a total of three weeks on the assignment. I think that this consumes too much time in the semester that could be used for other material. Wyler's ending to his 1939 film is atrocious too, and the ambivalence of the characters in the novel is something that is very difficult to pull off, and I do not think it was done as well in his film as in Luis Buñuel's 1954 Los Abismos de Pasión, which captures this relationship better in the performances of the actors, but the remainder of the movie is not accurate much at all, having been adapted for an entirely different culture.

         Another novel that I would consider removing from the course would have to be A Doll's House, as Ibsen's 1879 play is usually covered in Humanities 212. However, I could just as equally see this one being kept, so long as other adaptations, such as Joseph Losey's and Patrick Garland's 1973 versions are removed. I think a clear focus of the curriculum should be one film adaptation per work of literature. In this way, it would be more interesting to view film adaptation as it progresses through time, as opposed to film adaptation from one director to the next. Much of the material that is covered is situated between 1930 and 1970. Some more modern inclusions definitely need to be made.

         Another film, George Cukor's 1964 My Fair Lady, should definitely get the boot. Most people have seen this movie, some of them several times, and Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard's 1938 Pygmalion is a more faithful adaptation to the original work, written in 1913 by George Bernard Shaw anyhow. My Fair Lady is too long, has too many added scenes that drag out the events, and the characters are not as authentically portrayed as in the earlier adaptation.

         I am somewhat divided on whether Henry James's 1898 The Turn of the Screw and Jack Clayton's 1961 The Innocents should stay. I enjoy the quality of the highbrow writing in the novel; however, the film is very weak and blatant on its interpretation. The whole mystery and point to explore the horror of having to face the unknowns is removed from the equation in the film. It could be argued that dealing with ghosts, no matter if they are apparent or not, is still a venture into the unknown; but I think the most disturbing thing about the novel is not being able to see, but being able to sense something intangible, because of its effects on the surrounding world, the changes that it causes to occur. This, of course, is not present in the film, and this kind of material is naturally difficult for a film adaptation in general, but that is only more proof in the quality of the novel's writing. I think a more modern version, if it were to be made, could pull it off, but The Innocents does not, so this one might have to go too, if I were teaching the course.

         A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan in 1951, should definitely go. The film is overrated, and the quality of the characters, even in Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, is very nonsensical and flat. I did not like the film at all, and I think that Marlon Brando's role is very two-dimensional, despite the quality of his acting. Streetcar might be the film that I would choose to remove from the curriculum first, next to Wuthering Heights. I think that the relationships portrayed in both of these adaptations are very similar in respect to an ambivalent psyche, on part of the protagonists. Heathcliff and Stanley are very similar characters, although Stanley is certainly more violent and debasing towards women. For me, this all lends to that aspect of redundancy in the selection of material throughout the course: helpless women in distress who are forced to do something to elevate their status and subjugate men for a change, be it sane or not.

         I think William Wyler's 1949 film The Heiress, which is adapted from Henry James's 1880 Washington Square could probably stay. The female protagonist is more resolute with her final decision in the film, and the delivery is more delicately put. The film also covers nearly the entire scope of the thematic qualities of the films on the current curriculum, and would be a good start for the semester. It could be followed up by Pygmalion, which I would also keep. Throughout the course of the semester, the quality of acting stood out the most to me in these two films, and the storylines are quite different, even though the trend of "damsel in distress" is still apparent. If there were to be just one more film from the semester that I would have to choose, it would have to be A Doll's House. I mentioned before that it should probably go, but the reading is quite short, and the film's feminist qualities are very apparent, and would make for a good discussion in the class.

         I believe that another focus of the course should be to examine how the adaptations relate, respectively, to the time periods in which they were released to audiences. For example, A Doll's House is clearly engaging in the public dialogue of the 70's.

        For the film adaptations that I would add to the curriculum, this focus would become more relevant with each assignment. A novel and film adaptation that I would have to suggest adding to the curriculum would be Phillip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly, as the new film that was released earlier this year is now available, and I think it is one of the most accurate and relevant adaptations out there. The visual quality of the film, as it is all done with computer cell shading, would make for a much different experience with the students as well. I would probably place this film at the end of the semester

         If A Scanner Darkly were not considered, then perhaps Michael Radford's 1984 direction of the movie based on George Orwell's novel, 1984, or, while we are still in the sci-fi arena, the 1968 film adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick. I think that the visual quality of this film is incredible, considering the year in which it was produced. The aesthetic of modernist architecture is very apparent in the film, and I find this amusing, considering that the film was done during a time in which Abstract Expressionism was in full swing, and artists like Jackson Pollock were still the focus of attention. I suggest these films because I think that a very diverse selection would maintain the focus of the students throughout the course of the semester.

         I also have to suggest something much more relevant to the culture of the body of students in the classroom, which would be the adaptations of Fight Club, directed in 1999 by David Fincher, and American Psycho, directed in 2000 by Mary Harron. Both go through some very interesting changes in making the transition to the screen. Fight Club would be a great selection because most students have seen or heard of the film, but many of them do not even realize that it was adapted from a novel and came very close to never being made. American Psycho would be a great choice too because the film strays away from many aspects of the novel in order to deliver a more coherent experience. The violence is toned down quite a lot, and the quirkiness of the character Patrick Bateman is put under a stricter magnifying glass. In the novel his character is quite chaotic, and being written in the first person, very unreliable at times.

         If something else were to be added, I think that the adaptations of Alice Walker's The Color Purple, directed in 1985 by Steven Spielberg, and Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, directed in 1998 by Terry Gilliam, would make for a more interesting mix. The Color Purple is greatly focused on more than one female character and the women's struggle with the other sex. Fear and Loathing is a modern adaptation of a novel written about times during the 70's, and I think that while it is an exaggerating experience of that culture, the quality of the novel and the dedication of the film to not only adapt, but also revise, is superb and without rival.

         I believe that a curriculum involving more diverse works such as these would make the class a much more forthcoming experience. It seems that many students are disengaged for the whole semester walk away without having gained much insight into works of literature.

Eric Pitman

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