literary and cinematic texts

Length: 2,000 words

Write an essay on one of the following questions. Your essay must focus on one of the following pairs of literary and cinematic texts for close analytical discussion: 

James Joyce: ‘The Dead’ and John Huston: The Dead

Tennessee Williams: A Streetcar Named Desire and Elia Kazan: A Streetcar Named Desire

Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon and John Huston: The Maltese Falcon 

Alternatively you may base your essay on a critical discussion of Kaufman and Jonze’s Adaptation but you should also include discussion of ideas elaborated in Robert Stam’s ‘The Dialogics of Adaptation’. 

1. ‘If we accept the auteur theory, the concept of literal fidelity becomes almost impossible. A true ‘auteur’ must have their own vision, style and themes, and therefore any film he or she makes must reflect their interpretation of the source text and the ideas they wish to explore cinematically, which are not necessarily the same as those held by the author of that text.’ 


2. The shift from a single-track, uniquely verbal medium such as the novel, which ‘has only words to play with,’ to a multitrack medium such as film, which can play not only with words [written and spoken], but also with theatrical performance, music, sound effects, and moving photographic images, explains the unlikelihood — and I would suggest even the undesirability — of literal fidelity. – 

Robert Stam 

Use this observation as a starting point for an essay on the problems and advantages of translating from one medium to another, basing your discussion on an analysis of a particular adaptation on the course, or Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, with some further consideration of Robert Stam’s ‘The Dialogics of Adaptation’. 

3. In his chapter on adaptation (available online via Fisher) Dudley Andrew discusses the concept of ‘fidelity to the spirit’ of the literary original in cinematic adaptations. How important, or how problematic, do you regard this principle when it comes to the practice of adaptation? Critically elucidate your view by reference to one or more of the cinematic adaptations of literary sources on this course. 

4. What I do is to read a story only once, and if I like the basic idea, I just forget all about the book and start to create cinema. 

Alfred Hitchcock 


5. How might gender politics complicate the process of adaptation? Choose one adaptation in particular and develop your ideas on this through close critical analysis of the literary and cinematic texts. 

6. John Laroche: You know why I like plants? Susan Orlean: Nuh uh. 

John Laroche: Because they’re so mutable. Adaptation is a profound process. Means you figure out how to thrive in the world. 

Susan Orlean: [pause] Yeah but it’s easier for plants. I mean they have no memory. They just move on to whatever’s next. With a person though, adapting is almost shameful. It’s like running away. 

In your view to what extent is there, or should there be, an ethics of adaptation when translating from literature to film? 

7. Compare and contrast the use of literary and cinematic techniques of point of view, interiority and subjectivity in the short story and film of The Dead and evaluate the usefulness of these to the aesthetic success of each. 

8. Given that in the case of the story and film of The Dead Joyce wrote a work of contemporary naturalism while John Huston produced a period picture, certain changes in textual form and style seem inevitable in the adaptation process. Of this Huston himself said: 

I don’t think we can avoid interpretation. Even just pointing a camera at a certain reality means an interpretation of that reality. By the same token, I don’t seek to interpret, but to put my own stamp on the material. I try to be as faithful to the original material as I can. This applies equally to Melville as it applies to the Bible, for example. In fact, it’s the fascination that I feel for the original that makes me want to make it into a film. 

What sort of ‘stamp’ do you think Huston has put on the material in this case, and to what extent, in what ways, and to what effect, if any, do you find his film departs from Joyce’s story? 

9. Explore the ways in which Adaptation addresses questions of origin and originality, creation and creativity. 

10. “Why can’t there be a movie simply about flowers?”

– Charlie Kaufman, Adaptation 


11. It doesn’t pretend to be literal realism, much less a gutter-type of realism; it is a heightened realism and it was so directed and so played. 

Elia Kazan Critically discuss the nature of dramatic and cinematic ‘heightened realism’ in both the 

play and the film of A Streetcar Named Desire. 

12. Because film, being based on photography, possesses better resources for eroticizing and idealizing the human body than live theatre, Kazan was able to make Brando’s Stanley, with his complex mix of sympathetic vulnerability and terrifying aggressivity, even a more central, affecting part of the film, of which Brando became the undisputed star. 

R. Barton Palmer 

Consider the nature of performance and cinematic intimacy in Streetcar. While the film appears to be a relatively faithful adaptation of the play, aspects such as these – where film undeniably has a greater ability to communicate certain things to the audience – could cause the film to differ from the play version. To what extent do you think the medium (theatre or film) affects the impact and meaning of the play text? 

13. Blanche is dangerous. She is destructive. She would soon have him and Stella fighting. He’s got things the way he wants them around there and he does not want them upset by a phony, corrupt, sick, destructive woman. This makes Stanley right! 

Elia Kazan 

Our illusions are all we have, any of us. That’s what Streetcar is about. Some people, maybe most people, can only live by illusion, and the cruellest thing in the 

world is to deprive them of those illusions, which is what Stanley does to Blanche. 

Tennessee Williams 

Discuss either one or both of these views of A Streetcar Named Desire. In your essay you should offer critical discussion of both the play and the film. 

14. According to legend, John Huston’s film of The Maltese Falcon was unusually close to the book because a breakdown transcript of the novel became the shooting script. This does not, however, account for the matter of style. In your view how have stylistic elements been translated from novel to film, what new cinematic elements have been incorporated, and how successful are these in translating the novel to the screen? 

15. “The streets were dark with something more than night.” – Raymond Chandler 

Discuss the ways in which Chandler’s observation might illuminate the genre of hard- boiled detective fiction and film noir, basing your answer on a detailed discussion of the novel and film of The Maltese Falcon. 

16. The moral ambiguity of the crime and mystery genre provided a setting for the exploration of exotic and transgressive characters largely excluded from 

conventional realist works. 

Basing your essay on a detailed analysis of two major characters, use this statement as a point of departure for your own consideration of exotic and transgressive characterization and how they figure in both the novel and film of The Maltese Falcon, giving some analytical attention to the nature of the medium in each case. 

17. Part of the value of studying literature and cinema in tandem arises from the fact that the narrative and figurative style of the cinematic text is sometimes best revealed through an appreciation of literary techniques which precede and inspire it. This is particularly evident in the practice of adaptation. 


Discuss, basing your answer on close analysis of one of the literary adaptations on the course. 


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