Reading Film (Fall 2011)

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Diagramming Difference Assignment

September 20th, 2011 by Denisha Bayley · 1 Comment · 1 Diagramming Difference

Denisha M. Bayley

September 19, 2011

ENG 110

Reading Film: Film vs. Literature

First and foremost, I would like to welcome you Prof. Fitzgerald, Prof. Kohl and Prof. Prowell and thank you all for giving me the opportunity to present this matter before you today. It was brought to my attention that some of my fellow Queens College students were interested in creating a film club in the English Department. However, in order to bring this club to life, they need your approval. To assist you with your decisions, I have created a short presentation, along with a diagram, demonstrating the differences and similarities found between film and literature. The motive of this presentation is not to give you my opinion on whether or not the addition of this club is a justifiable for the department, but its to give a general sense and overview of the two mediums.

In order to compare film and literature, we first need to classify them for they are, works of art. Traditionally, we tend to consider art as just paintings and sculptures, but this is not always the case. Art has such a deeper meaning, it is the product of symbolic expression and emotion usually with an intention to be thought provoking. It requires creativity, imagination and passion. This is seen throughout all the different forms of art especially within literature and film.

Literature is one of the most common forms of art. In itself, literature, has many forms; Poems, letters, novels, plays and even academic essays. They are to be viewed as one’s written thoughts and emotions, all constructed with carefully chosen words, structure and details. This a major difference between film and literature. Writers continuously have to go into great detail in order to get their points across or even describe a setting. Where as, we the readers have to rely on what the author tells us and our own imagination, in order to envision the narrative. We also have to critically think about what the author is actually trying to say in order to fully understand whats going on in the text. Without providing that substantial amount of details, the author’s motive and imagery can be severely misconstrued.

While film, on the other hand, is a more sensory based extension of literature. You, as a viewer, can actually see and hear whats going on in a scene. The focus that would be on all the details to support the make up of  the scene is shifted on to the cinematography. Instead of reading a two paged description of a beautiful autumn sunset, you will actually see the sunset in what could be one shot. This leads the discussion on to the adaption of literature. When it comes to adapting literature to cinema, it would be impossible to include all the details that the author would have provided. The film in question would be to long and boring to say the least. It is now up to the director and cinematographer to determine how the scene gets depicted.

One major similarity between film and literature is narrative. Most literary works and films attempt to convey a story. Authors and filmmakers create different worlds, alternate realities and amazing characters, all a apart of their storytelling. The creative possibilities and techniques are endless when it comes to creating a narrative, varying from genre to genre. Whether it is story following a couples budding romance or a young boy’s fight for survival in the wilderness, the author or director tries to get their audience to follow on with their tale. However, this is not to say that all films and literary works have a narrative. There are cases where certain films and literature have no point at all, but this is not to be said that they are unappreciated because of that. This is just another similarity of the two.

Interpretation also plays a valuable factor in differentiating literature and film. With some literary works, the author’s intention and vision can interpreted different from reader to reader. This is apparent when critical readers tend to “read between the lines” of a novel or academic essay. Most intricate literary works, like ones written by Shakespeare, tend bring this topic up for debate and leaves us with questions about our understandings. Considering, that certain viewpoints have changed from when Shakespeare wrote his classics to now, Who is to say your understanding is what Shakespeare really meant?

On the contrary, interpretation when it comes to films is a bit more straightforward. Your understanding of the film is not on what you have interpreted but of what the director, screen writers and producers have laid out for you. Movies in the general sense, are for entertainment purposes, which the goal being for the audience to enjoy the film. It going to be hard enjoy a film that you have to critically analyze every single thing happening on screen. By far, it seems that  most directors these days tend to go by the saying “what you see is what you get,” with the occasional exceptions. These exceptions like for example, Inception, tend to leave the moviegoer with more questions than answers. Films like these leave excellence room discussion the english film club might indulge in.

Furthermore, a common practice in both writing and film would be the use of idiosyncrasies. Idiosyncrasies, typically are a distinct habits or quirks that makes someone unique.These can be portrayed in film by the trademarks or habits the directors develop and embed in their films. Stanley Kubrick’s incredible knack for filming more than a hundred takes for one particular scene, is a perfect example of a cinematic idiosyncrasy. In terms of writing, grammatical idiosyncrasies are the form, which authors choose to use to make their writing their own.

The final distinguishable differences between film and literature, comes in a matter of limitations. Literature, as we all know, allows us to free our minds and write about whatever comes to us. Provided that they are descriptive and concise, writers can create and plan out wonderful fantasies. There is little to no limitations on where your narrative work can go. It is entirely up to the author’s imagination and interests. Want to write about an post-apocalyptic alien invasion? Go ahead. Want to make that a movie? Now that, on the other hand, will have some difficulties. It would be impossible for the set design to be exactly the way the author imagined it. Film adaptions can have its physical limitations, yet, with the advent of Computer-generated Imagery, the filmmakers can definitely try to depict such scenes as closely as possible. The last thing any author would want to do is compromise their vision for the sake of practicality.

Cinema and Literature, two powerful forms of art. Some say they go and hand, others don’t agree. I hope that with this presentation, you were able to determine your stance on the subject and further realize the similarities and differences of the two medias. Thank you, once again for taking time to listen to this presentation.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Kevin L. Ferguson

    Hi Denisha,

    I think you do a great job from the very beginning with a sense of your STANCE (Harvey’s term). You write in a straightforward manner, and you’re formal without being stuffy. I also liked that you briefly describe the structure of your talk. But, you start to lose some of these good qualities around the third paragraph. The beginning of the third ¶ feels a bit like a lecture, but readers don’t know why you’re saying this stuff about literature until the middle of the paragraph, with the sentence “This is a major difference . . .” Because you started off so general (the different forms of literature) I’m not really sure what the “this” is that is so different. Harvey would say you could make good use of KEYTERMS here–if you had one word or phrase to capture this idea (that you mentioned earlier) that would help readers understand this paragraph better. There are a number of possibilities (even in one sentence, where you mention “creativity, imagination and passion”); maybe one of those is more important than the others? One more example–the fourth paragraph’s first sentence mentions a “sensory based extension.” With a little tweaking and simplifying, that could be a keyterm. If you mentioned “sensory based extension” earlier and later, readers would better be able to process how this idea fits into the overall essay’s structure/argument.

    One other thing to consider when revising is what Harvey calls STRUCTURE, particularly his advice to have a logical but progressive structure, not just a list or repetitive structure. Note, for example, how you begin your body paragraphs: some of them do show a logical link between ¶s (“on the contrary” ” while film, on the other hand”), but some of them are more list-like: “interpretation also . . .” “furthermore, a common . . .” and “the final distinguishable . . .” With that last example, I wonder why “limitations” is the final difference? Does it just happen to come last in your train of though, or is there a good reason you’ve saved it to discuss last? You might consider that question when revising, and maybe you’ll see a way to strengthen your conclusion so that it shows a development and complication of ideas, and isn’t just stuck repeating things.

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