Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Birds

I think that using films adaptations of novels or short stories in an English classroom can present many challenges. There are many film adaptations that take so many liberties with a text and seem to only keep the names of the main characters intact. Then there are the adaptations that take every excruciating detail and put it on screen. Because of the differences in adaptations, either between the adaptation and written text or differences between adaptations themselves, I think that using film would be a great way to teach students about author intent and the impact that context and culture can have on a film or written text. For example, students could read a novel or short story and then watch a film adaptation of that same story that had been made in a different time era or culture or that is almost completely different than the novel. For example, Daphne Du Maurier wrote the short story on which Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was based. The short story focuses on a farmer and his family who get attacked by birds. Through radio communications, they find out that everywhere has been attacked and they are some of the last people to survive. It ends bleakly, with the family waiting for one more bird attack. It is theorized that the story was written to protest war. The film is much less serious. It focuses on an heiress who visits a small town that gets attacked by birds. It ends with the heiress and her love interest escaping the town as it is the only place to be attacked by the birds. Clearly, the film takes very little from the short story and deals with a completely different theme that that of the short story. With this adaptation, students could compare the theme, setting, characters, and ending of the short story to that of the film. They could do research on the contexts of both the film and the short story, as well as find out more about du Maurier and Hitchcock, the audiences they were writing for, etc. Since it could be a large project, I think that this would work well to do in groups. For example, one group could focus on the story, one on the film, one on du Maurier, one Hitchcock, one the audience for the film, one the audience for the story, etc. Each group’s goal would be to become “experts” on their part of the project and then to teach the rest of their classmates about their topic. Then, once students have a thorough understanding of each aspect of the film and the short story, in their groups, they could work on their own adaptations of The Birds using either their community or the school as an audience. Each group would need write a new adaptation of The Birds to make, taking into account the context in which it will be set, a message they want their audience to leave with, and the audience who will be viewing the film, etc. I would like if students were actually able to film their story ideas with digital cameras and then edit them using iMovie or Windows movie maker. However, if that doesn’t work, students could also create digital comic books of their adaptations and then distribute them around school or the community. I think that this activity would be a good way to show students how film and print texts differ in the way that they make meaning and how an audience experiences each text differently. This project could also be done with other films and novels such as Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and the 1995 Demi Moore version of the novel, Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’ Diary, or Emma and Clueless. However, with longer works, students would need to choose a specific scene or section to adapt.

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