My Film and Literature Class

      There are so many things one could do with a film-literature class. There are hundreds, probably even thousands, of film adaptations of books. Some, of course, are better than other. For example the 1964 musical film, My Fair Lady, and the 1951 movie, A Streetcar Named Desire, are wonderful adaptations; but the two 1973 film versions of A Doll's House are absolutely awful. If I could choose the course material for a film-literature class, I would teach My Fair Lady and Streetcar, along with a couple other good adaptations, such as Interview with a Vampire, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone but not A Doll's House or other bad adaptations, especially The Three Musketeers.

      My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor, is a wonderful adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion and definitely should be included in any film and literature class. Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison are incredible as Eliza Doolittle and Prof. Higgins. They capture the characters exactly. Even the supporting characters are masterfully portrayed. The vibrant colors used in My Fair Lady bring the play a vividness it otherwise lacks. Simply reading the play or watching it on stage does not convey the life and passion that the brilliant colors of the flowers and the elegant pastels of the sets give the musical. The addition of the songs in My Fair Lady also contributes to the film's success as an adaptation. The songs reveal more about the characters' feelings and motivations. The audience gets to know them better though songs and dance. The success of the songs in the film also shows that an original work can be altered for the film version and still be a great adaptation. That, along with the film's just being an overwhelming good film, is the reason why I would include it in a film and lit course.

      I would include A Streetcar Named Desire for similar reasons. The film version, directed in 1951 by Elia Kazan, was wonderful. It portrayed the story of Stella and Stanley Kowalski without much deviation from Tennessee Williams' 1947 play. The film brought out the gritty feel of New Orleans in summer better than any words could have done. Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh were perfect as Stanley and Blanche. The lack of color was great in this film. I still cannot put my finger on why, but it was perfect. Also, the lighting in the film was very good. It never allowed the other characters, or the audience, to get a good look at Blanche. All of these things combined made the film a great adaptation that I would want in a film-literature class to see and learn from.

      There are other book/film combinations that I would love to add as well. Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire made a great movie, as directed in 1994 by Neil Jordan. Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Antonio Banderas were wonderful as Lestat, Louis, and Armand. The dark quality to the movie gave it an unearthly, scary feel; and the special effects were very well done. Also, there are a few tiny differences between the book and the movie, such as the tears Brad Pitt cries not being blood tears; that would be interesting to analyze. This film also has the added benefit of being somewhat contemporary. It would interest the students and make them want to learn.

      Another film that would interest students is the new Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone movie that just came out. I would teach this film because it follows the book so closely. Also, even though I am not a Harry Potter fan, I have to admit that the special effects are spectacular. It is also interesting to me to analyze why some parts of long books are cut out of the movie version but not other parts. What makes a section of a book necessary for the film?

      The directors of both of the 1973 versions of A Doll's House, Joseph Losey and Patrick Garland, had no idea how to answer that apparently. These movies were incredibly bad adaptations because the directors did not know what to show and what to cut out. The directors added scenes that were not in Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play. They created background that made the dialogue redundant. They expanded the setting to include more that the Helmer household, which was a mistake because it took the film's forces off Nora (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom). Nora was supposed to be the central character. She was the "doll" in the "doll's house." The films made the story about as much more than the play was supposed to be about. They were about blackmail, betrayal, and finding true love, not about a woman's search for adulthood. Add these things to the fact that both films are excruciatingly boring and painful to watch, and I come to the conclusion that they have no place in a film-lit class, unless I really want to punish my students for some misdeed.

      I also would not want to punish my students by making them sit through the film version of The Three Musketeers, by Alexander Dumas, that came out in theatres a few years ago in 1993. Although this film, starring Chris O'Donnell, Charlie Sheen, Keifer Sutherland, and Oliver Platt as the four musketeers, was entitled The Three Musketeers, it should have been called An Insult to Dumas, as I am sure that it is what this movie really was. It had very little in common with Dumas' masterpiece. The plot was totally different from the book's plot. The acting was atrocious, except for Tim Curry's performance as the Cardinal. Not even the fight scenes were enough to save this movie. I suppose it could be considered successful; but, as a film adaptation, it was horrible.

      Film adaptations of books or plays should strive to bring the work of literature to life. The film makers should at least attempt to stay true to the author's visions. I believe that films, such as My Fair Lady, A Streetcar Named Desire, Interview with a Vampire, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, do this. They improve upon already great works of literature without detracting from them, as the versions of A Doll's House and The Three Musketeers do. A film-literature class should study what makes films successful adaptations and why. To do this, bad film adaptations are not necessary. So, if I could teach a class on film and literature, I would only include the good versions, like My Fair Lady, A Streetcar Named Desire, Interview with a Vampire, and Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone, and kick A Doll's House and The Three Musketeers to the curb.

Meg Schoenman

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