Hey! Olivia de Havilland’s Stealing My Popcorn!
(and How That Can Influence English Language Arts)
This is a guest blog post written by Regi Sargent, founder of Spike Literature (Spike Literature offers Clipped Classics Videos and Classics Study Guides)
OK, I might be stretching it. Olivia de Havilland is not stealing popcorn BUT there are ways to feel as if actors Olivia de Havilland, Henry Fonda, and the like are right there enriching, informing and engaging our students.
From the 1918 silent “Romeo and Juliet” to the recent version of “The Beguiled” a century later, to everything in between, we’ve seen hundreds of pieces of classical literature turned into films ranging from multi-million dollar star-studded “motion picture events” to Muppet movies! There’s a reason for that! Classic books contain classic stories and Hollywood, from it’s early silent start to the now interactive, high-definition movies, requires stories.
Good classroom teachers, teacher-parents, and homeschoolers use any and all opportunities to instruct and enrich. So indeed, the use of classical film in the study of classical literature can be a seamless (and painless)
Reading classical works is a student’s first pass at internalizing words spoken between characters or visualizing a description of something. But as both teacher AND student know, it is sometimes the very reading of these words that can be a student’s biggest challenge.
Comprehension and recognition of language and references is the key to basic understanding of these works, let alone exploring or enjoying them. These stories, being classic, were written, in some cases, hundreds of years ago. So before students can really begin to examine theme and/or character motivation, they have to figure out what’s being said!
The very nature of a film experience improves student internalization and subsequent understanding of a story. For, as true and overstated as this may sound, hearing a pivotal speech given by a person who looks like a description in a selection brings that piece to literally to life. That alone contributes to student understanding and enrichment.
Developing insights to and managing resources for the use of film in the study of literature can easily be done. It takes a little research and of course, the love of film! These three “Cs” can help:
There’s a real pay-off to the use of film in the study of literature and that comes from widening the discussion related to broader aspects of the piece. I learned this after my first classroom discussion of why the “Hatter” is mad in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”. My own reading and research revealed that historically, hatters at the time either went mad or died from the use of mercury in the sizing of hats and for some unexplained reason, Carroll chose to base his iconic character on this. My students always seemed satisfied that they knew this when we read the scene, but became absolutely “giddy” with insight when watching the film version of it; just an example of learning being enhanced by a film/book connection.
Compare and Contrast
The clear instructional benefit to using film in the study of literature is discovering and utilizing what is comparable between the two. Film versions of literary works can provide context to seemingly difficult works. Students can HEAR the words they SEE on the page. Again, this contributes greatly to comprehension. A good example of this is the 2000 film version of HAMLET with Ethan Hawke as Hamlet.
Set in contemporary New York City, the prince is an up-and-coming film maker and his father, the president of The Denmark Corporation. Shakespeare’s poetic text is preserved; but the settings, clothing, and energy are relate-able and recognizable. So while the film retains the literary integrity of the work, the choice of setting and costume also enhances its study.
But also the scope of study can be deepened and further extended by exploring the differences between book and film. An exhilarating example of this is the contrast between Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece Jane Eyre and the renowned 1943 20th Century Fox film version.
When Charlotte Bronte published Jane Eyre in 1847 under a male pseudonym, Currer Bell, it received notice. BUT once discovered it was actually (gasp!) written by a woman, sales exploded. Charlotte Bronte did EXACTLY what she set out to do: Show that a woman can not only function in a man’s world, she can succeed. Charlotte’s alter ego, Jane possessed intelligence, drive, and SPUNK!
However, some critics say the 1943 film version tamps down Jane’s spirit and independence. That’s attributed to when the film was made. An independent, spirited Jane was not the 1943 Hollywood version of a woman! This provides not only study of Bronte’s Jane Eyre but a study of the re-defining of women in the 20th Century. All through the use of classical film in relationship to classical literature.
YOU pick! If your student is trying to get through Dickens and even the most detailed study guide or annotated version is stumping them, go ahead and watch the movie! BUT depending on your expectations and viewing taste, you can choose the G-Rated musical version of “Oliver!” rather than the somewhat more violent 2006 PG -13 version. There are many film versions of many books, so YOU design the best viewing experience for your student.
Most of us already use recommendations or guides (such as Common Sense Media) for film, television, or game ratings and reviews. But for more insight into film quality, casting and production details, go to IMDb. Listings can help you determine what your student needs; would they benefit from a highly produced detailed version, or simply a “hit-the-high-points” rendering of a classic. IMDb helps you pick the right film.
So watch, read, and actually DO BOTH!….and see you at the movies!
Regi Sargent has been in the classroom for over 20 years and currently teaches in California. Prior to becoming a teacher, Regi was an actress and comedian in Los Angeles.
Video titles include: Shakespeare’s HAMLET, Shakespeare’s JULIUS CAESAR, LITTLE WOMEN, JANE EYRE, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, Poe’s THE RAVEN, Robert Frost’s THE ROAD NOT TAKEN, and FRANKENSTEIN.
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