English 326 Literary Dimensions of Film
Literature and Film Comparison Assignment

Jon Stewart once opened a report on The Daily Show with the line, “Books: Most of us think of them as the basis for movies, but for some people they are enjoyable all on their own.” He was of course making fun of popular taste, where more people get their narrative entertainment from films than from literature. But one useful way of seeing what happens in literature and film is to compare a film adaptation of a literary work with the literary material that is the basis for the film. In this class we have been doing just that and emphasizing the differences by closely analyzing specific scenes in the literary original and then examining the way the same scenes are performed in their cinematic counterparts. This assignment allows you the opportunity to write an extended comparison of a book and a film from among a number of works similar to those we have been discussing in class. Pick one of the following assignments.

Alternative Assignment A. Comparison of a Scene in a Play and a Film

We’ve been reading plays by Shakespeare and Anderson. Select a work by one of these authors from the list below, read the play, see the film version, and write a paper comparing the two works by focusing on one or two important scenes in the book and how they have been represented or interpreted on screen.  Think, for example, of the ways we examined the Band of Brothers speech from Henry V. It may help to pick a work you have already read or are generally familiar with, or to pick a film which has a cinematic version and a literary original you'd like to read for the first time. Here are the works you can choose  among:

1) Read Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and compare it with Much Ado About Nothing  (1993; dir. Kenneth Branagh, w/ Branagh, Emma Thompson)

2) Read Shakespeare’s Richard III and compare it with Richard III  (1955; dir. Laurence Olivier, w/ Olivier, John Gielgud, Claire Bloom) OR Richard III (1995; dir. Richard Loncraine ) w/ Ian McKellen, Kristin Scott Thomas)

3) Read Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and compare it with Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000; dir. Kenneth Branagh, w/ Branagh, Alicia Silverstone, Natascha McElhone, Nathan Lane, Richard Briers) Note: This one is available only at Blockbuster.

4) Read Shakespeare’s Macbeth and compare it with Macbeth (1971; dir. Roman Polanski, w/ Jon Finch, Francesca Annis) OR Throne of Blood  (1957-Japanese; dir. Akira Kurosawa, w/ Toshiro Mifune)

5) Read Shakespeare’s Othello and compare it with Othello (1995; dir. Oliver Parker, w/ Laurence Fishbourne, Kenneth Branagh) 

6) Read Anderson's Anne of a Thousand Days  and compare it with Anne of a Thousand Days (1969; dir. Charles Jarrott; w/ Genevičve Bujold and Richard Burton)

7) Read Anderson's Joan of Lorraine and compare it to one of two different Joan of Arc stories: either The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999; dir. Luc Besson, w/ Milla Jovovich) OR Joan of Arc (1999; w/ Leelee Sobieski)

8) BONUS LITERARY ALTERNATIVE: Compare Anderson's Joan of Lorraine with the versions of her story in George Bernard Shaw's St. Joan AND/OR Jean Anouilh's The Lark (L'Alouette). (If you can find Otto Preminger's film of St. Joan, you could also use that for comparison, but it's very hard to find.)

Write a paper which compares one or more significant scene(s) from the book with the same scene(s) as presented in the film and be certain to describe and quote from both enough to make clear how print and cinema interpret events and characters in the scene. Be sure to give equal attention to the literary scene and the cinematic scene and to remember that one is a work in drama and the other a work in film. The paper should be 8-10 pages long, typed, double spaced, with the title and your name centered on the first page above the text. Bind with a paper clip in the upper left-- do not use covers, bindings, folders, envelopes, staples, title pages. The final draft will be due March 1.

Some Notes: You should start planning this paper early by thinking of several topics and locating available film versions (Some films are extremely hard to find.); reading the book version will take time as well. Make certain these comparisons are not merely superficial recording of similarities or changes in plot and character but rather focus on substantive issues of theme and characterization. When in doubt ask me. Further Notes: If you pick some work that has been made into a musical (or an animated film or an updated or transposed version), you should make sure you make the change in format part of your focus.

Alternative Assignment B. Comparison of a Literary Work and a Film inspired by it

This assignment is concerned less with straight adaptation of a book into a film than with the interpretation of a literary work as an element of a film which is otherwise independent from the source material. For example, one of the important films this year is Adaptation, a film about writing the screenplay for the nonfiction book The Orchid Thief. The works of William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde have had similar roles in films that use the plot or characters but veer off into a different kind of exploration. This alternative assignment lets you examine the role of a literary work in a film that is in its own way based on an original screenplay.  To write this paper select among the following alternatives:

1).  Read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night and explain how they are used in the film Shakespeare in Love. In order to successfully complete this assignment you will need to read or re-read the play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare and the screenplay Shakespeare in Love by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard and see the film Shakespeare in Love directed by John Madden.

2)      Read Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and compare it with BOTH the traditional version, The Taming of the Shrew (1967, dir. Franco Zefferelli, w/ Richard Burton & Elizabeth Taylor, AND a modernized version, 10 Things I Hate About You (1999; dir. Gil Junger, w/ Heath Ledger & Julia Stiles)

3)   Read Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and explain how it is used in the film Kiss Me Kate, a musical by Cole Porter.

4)   Read Shakespeare's Hamlet and explain how it is used in  A Midwinter's Tale (aka In the Bleak Midwinter) (1995; dir. Kenneth Branagh, w/ Michael Maloney, Richard Briers, Nicholas Farrel, Hetty Charnley)

5)   Read Shakespeare’s Othello and explain how it is used in "O" (2001; dir. Tim Blake Nelson, w. Mekhi Phifer, Julia Stiles, Josh Hartnett)

The assignments call for reading the works--you will have to quote from them and refer to specific scenes--as well as seeing the films mentioned in conjunction with them. You may also want to see a straight adaptation on tape or film of the original work, just to get oriented, but be wary if you see film versions, since the films are interpretations of the plays and may skew your reaction and also because they often alter or truncate the original play. (As exciting as Baz Luhrman's version of Romeo and Juliet is, the original play is really set in Renaissance Verona, not contemporary California.) Your task in this paper is to determine the relationship between the play and the movie, gather evidence of how the play is interpreted by the movie and how the movie affects or alters or misrepresents the elements and theme of the play, and present a paper that is carefully argued and well-documented with evidence taken from both texts. Whichever alternative you choose here, you should write a paper which discusses the interpretation or reflection of the literary work in the cinematic work. focusing on the intertextuality –the connection of one work with another—between the works and supporting your argument with reference to dialogue and scenes in both works. Be sure to give equal attention to the play(s) and the film alike. The paper should be 8-10 pages long, typed, double spaced, with the title and your name centered on the first page above the text.  Bind with a paper clip in the upper left-- do not use covers, bindings, folders, envelopes, staples, title pages. The final draft will be due March 1, 2004.

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