Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

some thoughts on adaptation

July 11th, 2014 · 1 Comment

Our group’s presentation on adaptation led to some interesting class discussion. One point worth considering is that of authorship. Some link authorship more tightly with ownership. For these, the process and product of adaptation might be more touchy—the notion of honouring the original text is important, which is to say the new adapted material must uphold a particular artistic standard. It somehow must be “true” to the original. I’m curious what drives these feelings of loyalty toward novelists, screenwriters and directors.

The negative reaction to Van Sant’s Psycho is a curious one. Having seen many film adaptations, the criticism I’m accustomed to reading often outlines how the new film fails to capture the spirit of the former. Key details were missing; the performances lacklustre; the director somehow missed the point. In these instances, the places of deviation are problematic for the critic. And yet when a skilled craftsman remakes a classic, honouring it so carefully and particularly that the outcome is a virtual replica, critics don’t like that either. They snivel, “What was the point?” A loose adaptation is dubious and a facsimile futile. My conclusion here is that when source material is considered a masterpiece, there is simply no winning. The emotional attachment to the former is too powerful for the critic to use an objective eye.

The piece by Bortolotti and Hutcheon is useful because it potentially liberates us from that challenging position. Adaptation is central to who we are as a species; we continuously evolve— socially, mentally, even physically. Our narratives evolve too; they adapt and survive. Written work, film and television continue to be produced at a dizzying rate. Clearly we have an insatiable appetite for stories despite the fact that identical scenarios and similar plot lines are revisited over and over again. When our position is less emotional, we allow ourselves to study work for what it is and not what it was. As teachers, it seems this is a better place to be to help students engage with the growing body of material around them. Those that disagree with this point might consider the usefulness of their position as well as what drives it.


Tags: adaptations · Uncategorized

1 response so far ↓

  • boyce14 // Jul 12th 2014 at 3:01 pm


    Your group’s presentation posed some very important questions about who we are and what our arts mean to us. The juxtaposition of the two versions of Psycho was extremely effective. While viewing the two films, I couldn’t exactly say why the new film was ineffective and flat. It was something I just felt – some sort of frustration that just made me want to reject it. And, yet, I cannot say exactly why. Sure, the Hitchcock film was more subtle, had more tension and was (from my limited understanding of film) more technically sound. But these differences were not so big as to cause this response. Sure, Hitchcock was a great film maker who I know, but I don’t have a big emotional investment as one of his fans. More than that, I even consider myself a part-time fan of Vince Vaughn. So what was it?

    In your group’s reflection, you mention: “Our narratives evolve too; they adapt and survive. Written work, film and television continue to be produced at a dizzying rate. Clearly we have an insatiable appetite for stories despite the fact that identical scenarios and similar plot lines are revisited over and over again.” This made me think of my adverse reaction to Psycho. Here was a story revisited – a hard reality of human nature: some people are sick and have a strong desire to harm others. Hitchcock captures the suspense, cruelty and subtlety of its time. The characters suit their ethos and fall into their cultural constructs fittingly. As a result, the film is a classic that is adapted to its environment’s tensions and is carried forward to the next generation. And then, years later, Vince Vaughn and friends want to reenact this genius to pay tribute, and perhaps to make a few bucks. But it flops. It more than flops. Critics and movie goers’ derisive reactions to the film become more memorable than the film itself.

    We evolve and sometimes we become nostalgic for the “good old days.” The days when we could drive our cars to the drive-in on Summer nights, and those days when a young girl would roller blade up to your car and bring you a tray to eat your food on in an A&W parking lot. When people bring these things back – things that brought us together and made us feel good – the ugly old Canuck’s Jersey’s, the coke bottle glasses, afros, —
    whatever. We entertain and briefly enjoy these old trends, knowing that they will go away until the next party. But people aren’t nostalgic for Psycho. We respect the artistry and the film will always be hailed as a classic. But portrayals of death and murder in horror movies depend on the fears and social conventions of their time. The emotional response we experience is made possible by the novelty and subtlety and the possibility of real danger. Horror movies work like sensationalized news. For example, if we were to be told that the Russian army was flying over Canadian Air space, we would be fully engaged at this news. But what if Fox news were to come out and say that 4000 Russian Calvary were on their way to British Columbia on a 120 year old cargo and they were loaded with old muzzle guns and bayonets? The reactions to this news story would be a mixture of mocking amusement and dismissive annoyance. The juxtaposition of new technology and old threats don’t sell, because fear, like humour, needs novelty and surprise. And so, as years go by, the original Psycho will viewed more and more through an objective, critical lens that examines its cinematography, and less and less for entertainment and cheap thrills. Meanwhile, the adaptation of Psycho will be buried by time as a failed experiment.

    – Brian

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