What to Do First

Hello everyone, and welcome to the class blog for ENG 781: Film Adaptation. Here’s what you should do first:

1) If you have not done so for another class, sign up for a qwriting account (you do not need your own blog for this class, but you’re welcome to create one on the system). Once you have a username, join this blog by clicking the “Join this Blog” link to the right. You will be added as an “Author” to this blog, which means that you can create, edit, and publish your own posts to this blog (you’ll need to do this for assignments). You won’t be able to make changes to the course documents or other students’ posts, so don’t worry about that.

2) Change your display name: When you write posts and leave comments, they will be signed with your username, which is what you use to log in to the qwriting system. You should change your display name so instead of showing your username it shows your real name. To do that, log in and look to the upper right of your screen where you’ll see “Howdy, Username.” Click the dropdown to go to “Your Profile,” and then scroll down until you see the place to change your Display Name. Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom to “Update Your Profile” and save your changes. Here’s more info: http://help.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu/customizing-your-display-name/

3) Familiarize yourself with the blog layout and the syllabus materials I’ve uploaded. You’ll find a link to the syllabus at the top along with assignments, policies, and the course schedule with links to all the readings. If you’re new to blogging, take a peek at some of the qwriting help pages: http://help.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu/.

4) Leave a comment to this post when you’re all signed up and introduce yourself (like: give a first impression of the class, ask a question, tell us your favorite film adaptation, or say what you want to get out of the class).

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About Kevin L. Ferguson

Assistant Professor of English and Director of Writing at Queens
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19 Responses to What to Do First

  1. OK, OK–I’m not above bribing you if it gets us off on the right foot:

    Extra credit for everyone who can make it through all the above steps in this post and leave an introductory comment by Tuesday at midnight. On Thursday, be ready to discuss the Stam reading.

  2. amelia daly says:

    I was excited to see this particular class offered because I have several questions regarding this subject. Like many people, I am sure, I have been involved in several discussions and debates over the value of film adaptations of literature. I am hoping to broaden my view of this genre of writing.
    My first question stems from the Anna Karenina article. Are we going to discuss/compare/investigate story to film specifically? I was surprised that the author of the article had not read Tolstoy. So that was a discussion on film adaptation of film. Were the latter films based on the 1935 film or the novel?

    There are two and a half questions there. This is my first time using a blog. I am looking forward to its ability to expand discussions that could otherwise get cut short in class time.

    Finally, are we to comment on the Stam reading here before midnight tonight for extra credit or just be prepared Thursday to discuss it?

    Amelia Daly

    • Hi Amelia–thanks for going first!
      To answer one of your questions–no, we’re not going to simply “read a book and watch the movie.” In fact, I don’t plan on us reading any novels (although we may as a group decide to look at a short story or novella). I hope instead we’ll gain a better understanding of the theoretical issues behind what the media of film and literature can/cannot do. We’ll talk more about that on Thursday.

      And no, you don’t need to comment on the Stam reading just yet. After you do the four steps in this post, just read the Stam introduction and be ready to discuss it Thursday.

  3. Marie Mosot says:

    I love movies, and I took many film classes as an undergrad (not at QC), so it was a no-brainer for me when this course popped up. In fact, this isn’t my first class on film adaptation. In my senior year of college, I took a course on film adaptations of cities – a more focused version of this course, I suppose, and one that involved many intersecting themes: film, literature, modernity, and urbanity. Among the titles we read and watched, I remember Metropolis; The Big Sleep; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which became Blade Runner; The Day of the Locust; and The 25th Hour, which is certainly one of my favorite film adaptations (Fight Club probably tops my list, though I’ve yet to read the book; that Edward Norton appears in both films is not entirely a coincidence).

    In everyday conversation, most discussions of film adaptations devolve into questions of fidelity, but I think that misses the point and oversimplifies a more complex issue. I recently reread Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (for the summer session of ENGL 636, just to clarify – I generally don’t seek out theory in my free time), and Benjamin’s conception of aura got me thinking: when it comes to film adaptations, where would the aura, or essence, lie? (Benjamin argues that film destroys aura, but for argument’s sake…) Blade Runner, for example, exists in multiple cuts – theatrical, Director’s, Final, and I think there’s a fourth one – all of which differ significantly from each other and yet credit Philip K. Dick’s novel as the source material. Of these various versions, which then is the real Blade Runner? (A fitting question for a story concerned with reality.) You could argue that the novel came first and is therefore the real story, the essence or aura, but as anyone who’s read Do Androids Dreams of Electric Sheep knows, the novel and the film adaptation in its many cuts are dramatically different (the various endings, for example). So, which is the real story? Does favoring the source material, or literature, mean devaluing film? What about different adaptations of the same novel (the 1962 versus 1997 films based on Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, for example, not to mention the many incarnations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula)?

    I hate it when friends bemoan the absence or alteration of certain details in adaptations. “They left out so much” – well, of course they did! It would be impossible to translate one medium in its total means and effects to another; adjustments have to be made to accommodate the demands of each. In fact, comparing the source story and its film adaptation seems fruitless to me, so what is the better question? Among the things I hope to discover through this class is an effective argument against nitpickers who avoid certain film adaptations because it would “ruin” their experience of the source story. (It seems so absurd and close-minded to me – to limit your experience of art, of storytelling, just because you want to preserve the purity of the original.) Generally, though, I’m just excited to discuss film.

    Marie Mosot

    • That’s funny–at the very last minute I took off Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” which I had assigned for next week. You’ll have to tell us about it in class!

  4. Mike Salerno says:

    “Should I read the book first?” That’s a question I’ve heard many people ask and one that I’ve always had a difficult time answering. In the past, if I had only seen the film adaptation of the work in question, my answer would be to watch the film. But if I had read the work, I would recommend reading it first. Which way is better? Is either way better? Which version of the story is the “true” version?

    I do find it enjoyable to compare adaptations to their original versions because I feel that this conversation can enrich my appreciation for the work in question. An actor’s performance might bring out a particular character trait that was only briefly highlighted in the text and add an entirely new layer of depth to the original work. A director’s delicate hand may shed more light on a specific theme or message. On the other hand, adaptations can be executed poorly and serve simply to magnify the achievement of the original work.

    But then again, what makes one adaptation better than another? Are their objective criteria by which one can assess this or is it all merely subjective.

    I’m looking forward to discussing these questions and the many others that have already been proposed. I also hope that this course will give me an expanded toolset in teaching film in my classroom.

    P.S. – any luck in getting that extra credit? I’m a sucker for that type of thing and very frustrated that I missed the deadline!

    –Mike

    • I like the idea that “adaptations can be executed poorly and serve simply to magnify the achievement of the original work.” Even if a film version is terrible, it does a good thing by making the book look even better?

      Sorry on the extra credit! But I’m sure you won’t need it . . .

  5. Dana Choit says:

    Well, I’m definitely one of those people that Mike and Marie have referred to when debating between the differences of “the original” or the book version vs. the movie version. I do tend to try really hard not to see a movie adaptation prior to reading the book as not to “ruin the story”. While I completely understand that they are separate works of art and I try to see each work as such, I think when you have either read the book first and then watched the movie or vice versa you almost can’t help but enter into the experience with some level of bias or expectation because of your exposure. I really like that Amelia brought up the possibility of multiple film adaptations over a number of years. I think it gets even more complicated with such a variety of versions. This is something many experience as they hold such loyalty and appreciation for one film adaptation, that a new take on the story is almost instantly met with dislike and deemed unworthy. Is it about personal connections and nostalgia or is it that the story just can’t be touched again and more often than not a second time around is doomed to fail? (perhaps much like when movies come out with and second or third film)

    I’m excited to talk more about all this and about film in general with everyone!

    See you in class,

    Dana

  6. Raj says:

    Like some of those who’ve posted earlier my interest in this class stems from a desire to introduce more salient points into discussions with friends about film adaptations. “If you think the Watchmen movie didn’t suck, then you suck” is, while accurate, not a productive statement off of which to construct any sort of dialogic endeavor.

    I’m also interested in myth-building and its presence in art (lit, films, etc.) so the issues presented by Stam regarding context and censorship seem quite relevant. When lets say an older novel is commercialized into a modern film what gets left out, or reconstructed, or added creates an interplay between a myth in a more formative state and the myth as it has survived over time. So the demands introduced onto a myth in the interpretive community of studio-film maker-audience in a film’s adaptation of a novel can be used to highlight ways in which a myth has adapted over time.

    Natty Bumppo/Hawkeye in Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans isn’t described as attractive…he’s more of a useful tool in assisting his charges in crossing over from Europeans to Americans. He is the prototypical pioneer/cowboy; a hero but not one to idolize too closely (he winds up alone, with no family, in the rest of the Leatherstocking tales). In Mann’s film from the 90s, Bumppo (an odd name) is only referred to as ‘Hawkeye’ (much cooler) and played by let’s say the ruggedly handsome Daniel Day-Lewis. From what I recall he becomes a love interest in the movie, so he is now something to be idolized and coveted. The pioneer has moved from tool to an object of desire. Why? Perhaps the consumers demand a love interest. Why select Hawkeye? Perhaps he’s the most dynamic character in the story (although Chingachook is fairly bad-ass–but a Native). Why do consumers demand that the most dynamic be desired/wanted/etc.?

    • I haven’t seen that since it came out. It doesn’t seem to be a very “Michael Mann”-type movie. Wikipedia has this interesting sentence, though, saying that Mann’s film version “owes more to George B. Seitz’s 1936 film adaptation than the source novel.” Hmmm.

  7. Mike Ketive says:

    I have had a keen interest in film for a few years now, but I have never actually taken any film-related courses prior to this one. I am also taking Richard McCoy’s seminar on Shakespeare In Hollywood this semester, so I am curious to see what sort of overlap exists between the two discussions, if any. A lot of the things I have been curious about (“the book versus the movie” argument, nostalgia factors, crucifying filmmakers for their versions of the story, etc.) have all been touched upon already so there aren’t any burning questions that immediately come to mind.

    As someone whose often created nit-picky distinctions between adaptation and source material rather than simply enjoying another version of an already enjoyable story, I’d like to think about the other side of the coin for once. Specifically, rather than tearing down the adaptation, I’d like to see how and why those choices were made to deviate or not deviate from certain aspects of the texts.

  8. As a high school English teacher, I face many challenges when trying to convince my students to read the novel before watching the movie. I am constantly promising them that the novel is much “better” than the film. It is very frustrating to think that reading is too challenging for them because they prefer to just sit back, relax, and watch a screen for two hours. Yes, I am a little bitter about the situation…

    With that being said, I hope that this course will challenge me to think outside of the box and see film adaptations in a different light than I currently do. I do not want to be a naive person describing film adaptations as “the enemy” of all literature. I want to discuss the origins of film adaptation, the benefits of film adaptation, and learn how to recognize all of the differences between literature and film.

    After reading some of my classmates’ earlier posts, I already gathered that we will not be directly comparing novels with their film adaptations… which is exactly what I originally thought I would be doing in this course. Now I am just excited to see what we will be reading and discussing this semester.

    – Lisa

  9. Darwin Eng says:

    I have always found the relationship between film and literarure strange. I will admit though, I was one of “those” who usually thought that film adaptations were pointless and just the director’s or writers way of taking a backseat role to creating original work. I think this idea originated from my experience as a child reading the Harry Potter book series and feeling cheated out of my allowance money after watching It in the movie theater. The actors did not match how imagined the characters-Harry was suppose to have black unruly hair!

    Something I do find interesting and hope will be addressed in class is adapting a film into a text. Normally, we tend to assume it is the other way around, but purusing the shelves of Barnes and Nobles reveals a huge amount of films being adapted into a short novel.

    -Darwin Eng

  10. I pursued a media studies minor here at Queens College. In media studies 300W, we went over film theory. We also discussed how aperture, camera shots and camera movements play a large role in the narration of film. This class interests me because it is particularly about adaptation. I believe this class will give me insight as to what makes a film adaptation successful, why we like one film adaptation more than others, and why directors even choose to make film adaptations. I believe I will also learn the many ways in which the written text is essential since that is the source of what is being adapted.

    My favorite film adaptation may be The Other Boleyn Girl directed by Justin Chadwick. I just feel that the story of Anne Boleyn was told in an interesting way. This class will allow mw to articulate and debunk what I mean by “interesting” relating to film adaptation.

  11. Sara Tener says:

    First, to briefly introduce myself, I am a perpetual student at Queens College. I received my B.A. in English Literature here with a minor in Russian Literature and Honors in the Humanities. In hopes of funding my graduate education, I attempted to get a job in publishing at Conde Nast. However, just as the interviews were looking promising, they fired 500 people. Then, I played another bad pony and came back to Queens for my initial certification to teach secondary school English. Though I received my certification as quickly as the program permitted, the bottom dropped out of the education sector. As a result, I switched to my true passion which is, of course, literature and criticism. Currently, I am working full-time, at the family business, in commercial real estate, and I am in route to completing my Masters. It is my hope that I will be able to secure a position as an adjunct and simultaneously pursue my PhD. We shall see!

    I was intrigued by this class for a number of reasons, but I will restrain myself. I consider certain films, adaptations and otherwise, to be high art and feel that they should be studied and treated as such. I am interested in learning more about film and adaptation theory because I have always utilized literary theory and criticism to approach films. I want to learn when this is a feasible approach and when it is lacking. Beyond criticism, I am also interested in adapting works myself, i.e. turning books into films, films into poems and oil pastels, novels into theatrical performances, etc.

    With respect to my viewing experience with film adaptations, it has been varied. I must admit that I have completely avoided certain adaptations, such as the latest Atlas Shrugged, for fear that they could not “live up to” my experiences with the sources. Luckily, I am not always so squeamish, and I have been known to devour adaptations of Shakespeare. I loved City of God and Titus and consider them to be distinct artistic creations that can be viewed as supplementing the texts or on their own merit. I also have to say that I prefer the film versions of A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. However, it is interesting to note that I watched them before I read them so, for me, the films were the sources. I was also greatly impressed with Aronofsky’s adaption of the mathematical concept of ∏ and Trevorrow’s adaptation of a Craig’s List ad in Safety Not Guaranteed. Right now, I am very much looking forward to Anna Karenina and the latest reboot of Les Mès. Perhaps, we will get the opportunity to discuss these films together? I look forward to learning with you all!

  12. Laura Callei says:

    When I had originally signed up for the class I thought that, like professor Ferguson said on the first class, we would be reading books and watching the film adaptations to the text. I am happy to learn now that we will be exploring more about the theories of film adaptations and the ways it could make or break a piece of text. I look forward to finding out more about these complex ideas and I’m looking forward to exploring such ideas in and out of class.

  13. trevor11 says:

    I’m Trevor, most likely no one will see this because I am a week late but nevertheless I am in the English Lit MA program here at QC. I teach English at Queens Collegiate High School in the Jamaica Building and I went to St. John’s for undergrad. I’m also writing a comic book, we’ll see how that goes.

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