To Film from Lit: A Proposed Course Structure

         Teaching the relationship between notable literature and its film counterparts is a vast subject with varied areas of interest. Since the birth of film it has been a vessel for adaptations of both classic literature and the modern pieces from every age. As such, a class could very easily dedicate itself to nothing more than the study of how an audience perceives adaptations of modern literature when compared to their perception and reception of classic literature adaptations. The development of film technology over time and the relationship of that technology to literary adaptations, when compared to the relationship new film technology shares with stories that were born in film, is also an interesting subject. These and many other topics all being possible, the agendas perused and literary pieces selected, were I to instruct such a class, would be varied.

         Wuthering Heights served as an excellent lesson in the adaptation of classic literature. Its usefulness in studying modern reception and ideas about a classic story are interesting and open many doors. For example, the fact that Brontė's 1847 Wuthering Heights story was modified considerably for its 1939 film adaptation by William Wyler, yet was still well received, possibly shows a different mindset in film audiences from the days of the silver screen and those now. A more modern audience might reject an adaptation of classic literature that omits almost half of the cast, cuts out an entire act, and ends the story halfway through. This alone is worth noting, and makes Wuthering Heights a choice selection for a film and literature study, and would even merit close attention being paid to early reviews of it compared to student reaction.

         George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion offers another interesting comparison, that of its original film adaptation, Pygmalion, directed in 1938 by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, and its later 1964 musical adaptation, My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor. Again, student reaction compared to reviews from each show's respective opening would be an interesting study, and discussion of the various changes made to each would bring to light evidence as to what elements of a story are suitable to change when adapting a piece of literature. Both films were successful but were entirely different. It would be interesting to then look at other situations where this might have happened, and perhaps one adaptation was successful while the other was not, and why.

          The book Psycho, by Robert Block, and its ever famous 1960 film counterpart, by Alfred Hitchcock, are a staple in the history of cinema. Psycho is also one of the best examples of a piece of horror literature successfully adapted to film. For this reason, I might be inclined to replace James's1898 The Turn of the Screw/The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton, with Psycho as the curriculum's piece of horror. Also, this gives way to an interesting discussion that Turn of the Screw does not, as The Turn of the Screw was arguably a more famous piece of literature than Psycho, and yet the film Psycho is certainly a more famous piece of cinema history than The Innocents. In fact, keeping both would pose the question of which happens more often--a famous piece of literature spawning a great movie, or a decent piece of literature spawning a great movie

         Following in the ideas that could be established by the relationship between The Turn of the Screw and Psycho, and adding an element of modern film and literature, it would be fun to look at things like Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk, and its film counterpart. Today, both are cult classics, though it can be argued that the book's success rides largely on that of its movie, allowing for a chance to study what effect a modern film might have on the sales of a modern book. Does having movies coming out almost right alongside the books keep some people from reading Harry Potter (since they can just experience an approximation in two hours time), or does it rather encourage more people to pick up the books, needing to know what happens next without having to wait for filming to finish? The effects of film on modern literature would be valuable to students interested in a career in writing, and those wanting to work in film. It would also be very accessible and entertaining.

         Finally, I feel that classic literature should extend to all classic literature-leading me to want to add something light hearted to the mix, such as Disney's incredibly successful adaptation of Winnie the Pooh, or perhaps a study of the upcoming movie Where the Wild Things Are, after it is released. Either of those would be a nice break from the more hard literature from Shaw and the like. After all, the Walt Disney Company actually won an Oscar (and seven little ones) for their first animated film, and in order to objectively recognize all forms of film and literature, the study of classic literature outside of the realm of novels, adapted in a form other than traditional cinema seems a bold venture with a nice amount of whimsy.

         In using so many varied pieces, discovering universal threads that produce a strong piece of literature, as well as a strong cinematic work, would be easily accomplished. The scope of work being varied allows for a wide amount of information to be covered while still concerning itself with the overall purpose of realizing what aspects of a story make strong literature, which ones make strong films, and how to adapt one to the next.

Elijah Phillips

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