What to Teach?

      Selecting film/literature combinations to teach a course would take a lot of forethought and research to decide whether or stay with a particular author (i.e. Henry James) or one director (i.e. William Wyler) or to vary the works to give great contrast. Although I may not have liked all of the works in this course, they certainly have their place in our realm of knowledge. As mentioned in class, many of these works, like A Doll's House, A Streetcar Named Desire, Pygmalion/My Fair Lady, and Washington Square/The Heiress, would not necessarily have been chosen to view on our own. Literary history is a very important part of the education process; and these, most of which I would have awarded Oscars to, bring it to our lives (wilfully or not

      The two movie versions of A Doll's House are the least likely candidates for an Oscar award for a cinematic adaptation of a written work. Neither 1973 film version of A Doll's House, directed by Patrick Garland and Joseph Losey respectively, seemed to correctly capture Henrik Ibsen's intent in 1879. Neither Claire Bloom nor Jane Fonda seemed to really capture the true "Nora" I got from reading the play. Neither film version seemed to depict the frustration Nora felt at not feeling she could be honest with Torvald (Anthony Hopkins/David Warner) about where the money had come from for their "saving Torvald's health" trip. The emotional conflict, as depicted in the two films, was much too dry to really achieve the true limits a Norwegian woman felt during the 1870s.

      My Oscar award for best actress would go to Kim Hunter for her role as Stella in Elias Kazan's 1951 cinematic adaptation of Tennessee Williams' 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire. Kim seemed to experience, not just act, the tug-of-war relationship Tennessee Williams created between her sister (Vivien Leigh), and her husband. Her emotional loyalty was played with great honesty toward her sister no matter what she, Blanche, had done in the past. Her physical attraction and marital ties to Stanley (Marlon Brando) were expressed with very genuine real life fervor. Kim played a very difficult role of genuine unbalanced favoritism better than I have seen in recent films.

      My Oscar award for best costumes and music would go to George Cukor's 1964 film version of Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe's 1956 play version of My Fair Lady, based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion. Audrey Hepburn's carriage of herself in the many wonderful costumes was superb--from her hunched shoulders in the raggedy street clothes to the chin-up, head-high regal air in a ballroom dress--all these were carried out exquisitely. Eliza's song "Just You Wait, Henry Higgins" was sung with such genuine feeling I wanted to hold my fist up in the air at Henry's image and join her.

      The film 1949 cinematic version of Ruth and Augustus Goetz's 1948 play The Heiress would have been my least likely choice of an Oscar for an "opening up" as Henry James's 1880 novel Washington Square was written. This film was similar to William Wyler's 1939 Wuthering Heights, based on Emily Brontë's 1847 novel, in that, if one had not read the book first, the first twenty minutes of the film would be spent trying to analyze what had led up to that point. Henry James's book gives one a background on the way Dr. Sloper's family had come to be as it is, whereas the film version starts in with all characters in place with no real history up to that point. His sister Mrs. Penniman (Miriam Hopkins) is already living there with no history of the way she had come to be with him (widowed, etc.); and Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) is already an adult with no leading up to her treatment by her father (Ralph Richardson) as she was growing up to make the person she is today.

      All of the above films-A Doll's House, A Streetcar Named Desire, My Fair Lady, and The Heiress--most of them deserving of at least one Oscar award, would be worthy of inclusion in a film and literature course.

Julie Kinder

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