"The Great Gatsby" trailer has arrived with the familiar and era-appropriate tones of the Jay-Z and Kanye West collaboration, "No Church in the Wild." You crazy for this one, Baz Luhrmann!
Sure to rekindle the flames of pedantry and pedagogy alike. Film adaptations of great literature have always sparked controversy in English department meetings.
So did you watch the trailer? Would you consider seeing the film? Showing it to students?
I've found myself on both sides of the discussion regarding film adaptations. I loved DiCaprio's Romeo and Juliet. Other English teaching colleagues for whom I have great respect did not.
I liked the film adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird, as most English teachers do. But, I missed the dimensions abandoned by the exclusion of the powerful roles played by Aunt Alexandra, Miss Maudie and the extreme reduction in the roles of Dill Harris, Calpurnia, and even Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose.
When I taught Animal Farm in a satire course, one of my favorite learning experiences was that at the end of the unit I'd show the Ted Turner TNT adaptation. As an intentional spoiler, if you haven't seen it, TNT put a happy ending on the story based upon a simplistic assumption that the pigs were commpletely at fault, the other animals were completely without fault, and that if the good wait (and suffer) long enough, the bad will self-destruct. What I liked was the outrage my students felt at the insult to Orwell's intention. They knew the text! They recognized the insult. It was joyous to see their analytical critique of the film's many and serious shortcomings.
But, there is more to the book vs. film adaptation than the simplistic "purist" vs. "interpretative license" debate.
Expecting film adaptations to "be" visual mirrors of text is unrealistic.
So, after the kids thoroughly thrashed the TNT adaptation, I'd ask this question. "So, I'm kind of wondering if there were scenes in this version of the story that were not in the original text yet Orwell might have liked anyway in the way they expressed his intentions?"
The stunned pause was wonderful? "Wait a minute? Didn't we just prove this was an awful adaptation? And, now you want us to think that Orwell might have appreciated parts of the movie's inaccuracies?"
When the shock wore off, they'd eventually discover several scenes that, though not in the text, did reflect themes important to Orwell.
And have you considered that it is the text version of any Shakespeare play that is the "adaptation"? The stage version is the original.
Whether I wind up liking it or not, I'm looking forward to seeing this adaptation.
In any case, we would be well-adviced to use a bit of caution in expressing our strong opinions about film adaptations one way or another in front of our students who might just find that adaptations not in alignment with our personal opinions, to be exactly the bridge they needed to developing an interest in exploring the original text.