A Syllabus with a Little Bit of Magic

        As I want to be a teacher myself when I am done with my studies, this study question was very interesting for me. It is always difficult to design an entertaining syllabus for students; and of course, nobody will like every point of the syllabus. Therefore, a compromise has to be found between teacher and students, and also between past and modernity. Furthermore, it is hard to find the right amount of readings and a fair length of the readings. As we did it in this class, I would certainly do the longer readings in the beginning and the shorter ones in the end; but I would make an exception if it was a prominent work that a lot of people have already read. But this will be discussed in the following.

        For the sake of the past, I would certainly insert Emily Brontë's 1847 Wuthering Heights with the film adaptations of William Wyler (1939) and Luis Buńuel (1954) in the beginning. It makes students aware that there was literature before Twilight and movies before American Pie Moreover, students are shown the contrast or similarities between American and European film productions because they have the comparison between the Wyler production and the Spanish version of Wuthering Heights. Additionally, it is important that students are shown black and white movies for their awareness of film history. What will also be significant with this combination is that not everything from the book is contained in both film adaptations and characters are even left out, changed or are played by an actor that does not fit the role. Wuthering Heights gives a lot of material for discussion and increases the student’s awareness for details in literary works and their films and is therefore a very good choice of getting in the topic of film and literature.

        Moreover, I would also insert Henry James and his 1880 Washington Square because it is impossible to make a film class without Henry James. He certainly belongs to classic literature and should not be left out. The comparison between Wyler’s 1949 film adaptation The Heiress and the novel of James is very interesting because of the characters in movie and playwright. With this work, students should realize the importance of choosing the right actors for a role in a film. Catherine’s father is certainly a strong character and Catherine herself is rather weak and if people read the work before watching the movie, they will certainly have certain expectations. Students should be made aware how difficult it is to choose the right actor or actress for a weak character that goes through a certain development.

        As Henry James is already in the syllabus, I would leave out The Turn of the Screw (1898). Henry James is a question of taste; and not everybody is as fond of him as I am; and, therefore, I would only restrict Henry James to Washington Square and would go on with Pygmalion. Of course, The Turn of the Screw contains the topic of having ghosts in a movie but this can be inserted otherwise.

        Bernard Shaw’s 1913 work Pygmalion is not only interesting and funny but has the advantage of not only having a film adaptation but also being a musical. Therefore, much space is left for discussion and comparison and gives students insight into the difficulty of making various film adaptations. Of course, it is a lot more difficult to make a musical than a normal movie because you to have to find the right music, the right lyrics and you have to take care of not exaggerating the situation. With the work of Pygmalion, there would even be the following experiment possible: I would tell my students to read Pygmalion before watching the 1938 movie, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, but I would let them read Alan J. Lerner’s 1956 My Fair Lady after having watched the 1964 musical, directed by George Cukor. After that, I would start a big discussion with the whole class about both readings and movies. They should think about the influence of reading a work before or after having watched the movie, and they should also realize the considerable differences between making a movie and making a musical-movie.

        A Doll’s House is certainly a good choice if I want to show students the difference of a very detailed movie and a superficial movie of a work, but I am not sure if I would include the work in the syllabus. After having discussed Wuthering Heights and Washington Square, I would try to choose something more modern in order to make class more interesting for students, or I would leave it out because of time reasons. I would rather think about going more into depth with the other works. If there was enough time, I would even start out a little project in order to raise the awareness of students for the difficulty of film making. I would offer the possibility of choosing any film they like and writing one chapter of the book for the film. This should raise their attention for details in both book and film and even supports their own creativity. They will realize then how difficult it is to convey a certain atmosphere or describe the surroundings. Most students will even make the mistake to forget about certain details that should be contained in books; and, therefore, this experiment could be very useful.

        After classic and complex works, I would give students a little break with Tennessee Willliams’ 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire, filmed in 1951 by Elia Kazan because it would certainly be a part of the syllabus. It is the perfect example of a very good film adaptation. The only details that were changed in the movie were due to reasons of censorship, so the film makers cannot be blamed. Moreover, this work is very short and certainly a little bit easier than the works mentioned before. This does not mean that A Streetcar Named Desire is a plain work; but, due to length and sort of work and movie, it will make it easier for students.

        After having left out The Turn of the Screw, I would choose J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter for the end of class because it is a work that most people already have read. This will be the substitute for the ghosts in The Turn of the Screw and should give the class a little bit of magic. So, the length of the work would not be very important. It would be an easy ending of class, and the students could even make a choice at the beginning of the class which Harry Potter they want to read or insert into the class. For this choice one of the shorter Harry Potter books could be chosen if students have not read the work. They would be given the time of the whole semester to finish the book in case they have not read it. Furthermore, students would be made aware that the history of film in connection to literature is a never-ending story and maybe, a greater interest in the topic could be raised. Additionally, there is the change that somebody who actually is not a fan of reading, can be made a Harry Potter fan and starts out with reading the books. In a time in which TV and cinema have a greater influence on people than books, this is very important, and teachers should try everything to wake the enthusiasm for reading.

Corinna Witkowski