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The use of literary films in Foreign Language Teaching (FLT) has been and still is immensely popular. The following contribution deals with the problem of learning a foreign language through literary films at the advanced stage.(1) Some general remarks will be followed by the discussion of one particular example, namely the film version of The Handmaid's Tale (THT), which may be used in the context of a comprehensive teaching unit on this most famous dystopia by Margaret Atwood.



The Film Version of Margaret Atwood's
The Handmaid's Tale in
Foreign Language Teaching


Willi Real



Some short stories have been turned into filmed versions expressly for classroom use.(2) This has never been the case with novels: their film versions are commercially produced and therefore meant to appeal to a large audience. It is a time-honoured procedure that literary films are not presented in the foreign language classroom without using the corresponding texts along with them, that is that both book and film form will be discussed in class. In recent years, however, a tendency may be observed to discuss films in their own right, that is without making use of the literary texts that they are usually based upon.(3)

When using films in the foreign language classroom several didactic problems have to be given careful consideration. First of all, the use of films, like that of other modern media, is often recommended for motivational reasons: generally speaking, films may motivate the students, or, if motivation for a certain subject already exists, they may increase it.(4) It has become a truism by now that without motivation no or little learning occurs.

Secondly, the use of films may have many advantages for improving the students' proficiency of the foreign language.(5) It is obvious that their use entails many contacts with authentic language, and, in discussions surrounding them, there also occurs a productive use of the target language, and therefore eventually an improvement of the students' communicative competence will be achieved: "A course in literature [i. e. one also using film versions of the works studied] could stimulate interest in reading for pleasure and personal improvement ... it would help broaden language awareness ... it would be a useful springboard towards fluency practice." (6)

Thirdly, the teaching aims will be different; media literacy has become an important teaching aim which is put forward both in didactic and administrative sources.(7) This implies that students should learn how 'to read' a film:(8) the metaphor shows that there are parallels between the written text and its cinematic representation. Although the visibility of the context of speech utterances and paralinguistic elements such as facial expressions and gestures facilitate understanding and although they provide some support for comprehension, for the non-native learner, viewing a film is more difficult than reading a literary text: s/he has problems caused by the pronunciation, the intonation, and authentic speech habits of the actors (colloquialisms, dialects, informal language, elliptical sentences, deviations from the standard norms of British or American English, etc). When reading fiction, non-native speakers can choose their own speed, and they can also read difficult passages several times if necessary. As a mental process, viewing is similar to reading since both are based upon a combination of bottom-up and top-down processes. Viewing, then, cannot replace reading; rather than that, viewing should supplement reading; as a result, the question whether the one is 'superior' to the other is otiose.

The course participants should take both the texts and the films seriously: both genres have specific characteristics.(9) Works of fiction as well as films are based on temporal, spacial and causal categories which function as coordinates to form a coherent whole. Thus literary films, apart from their orginal texts, exist in their own right.(10) However, any film is an illustration of events which imposes limitations on the imagination: the viewer of a film has to follow the director's visual interpretation of the script.(11) On the other hand, the reader has her/his personal imagination in order to enjoy and to appreciate the original text. Consequently, insights achieved with the (active) help of the imagination may have a more permanent effect on the mind than pictures (though pictures may have a more lasting effect on the memory than words). Film analysis, then, may supplement textual analysis. In a similar way, media literacy, rather than replace textual competence, can only supplement it.

The following remarks are based on the assumption that the film version of THT is an integral part and parcel of a teaching unit on the original text of the novel. In comparing film and fiction, emphasis will be directed towards content rather than towards form or visual technique: it has been pointed out that film is content,(12), and it is through content that motivation takes place.(13)


Comparing written fiction and filmed fiction

Normally the literary text is prior to the film.(14) As a consequence, the relationship between the printed text and the film version is often regarded as one corresponding to that between an original work of art and a copy of it which is probably inferior. If there is a high degree of faithfulness to the original text in the film, the latter is often highly praised. To quote an example from the field of the utopian novel, the 1984 film (director Michael Redford) has been highly spoken of since it mirrors the Orwell text more or less perfectly. Yet it is at times too faithful to the book to be very yielding for comparative work.(15) To my knowledge, the best example of a very high degree of correspondence between text and film is provided by Thomas Mann's famous novel the Buddenbrocks which was serialized for TV as early as in the 1970s: the filmed version consisted of eleven sixty-minute sections corresponding to the eleven parts of the book (the director was Franz Peter Wirth; in it appeared a large number of famous German actors such as Ruth Leuwerik, Martin Benrath, Volkert Kraeft, Reinhild Solms, Gerd Böckmann ...).

Yet films should not be judged in terms of their faithfulness to literary texts only: this would be a standpoint that is too one-sided. Not every deviation from the original text automatically is a disadvantage: an unambitious novel or one determined by obvious aesthetic limitations may allow for changes and cuts so that the cinematic medium does not fall behind the literary text. However, in an ambitious, artistically valuable novel such changes may be regarded as serious losses or even mutilations. Therefore one may argue that the more complex the literary text, the more grievous may be the consequences.(16) In this context one may quote Truffaut's 1965 film version of Fahrenheit 451 which is very impressive still, although it does not follow the Bradbury text in every respect (it leaves out part II, the role of Faber is entirely ignored; instead, it elaborates on Clarisse's role). The same is true of the cinematic version of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5 (directed by George Roy Hill, starring Michael Sacks and Ron Leibman): this is a film which successfully uses an impressive gamut of different stimuli as principles of association, such as colours, numbers, sounds ...in order to reflect Vonnegut's narrative technique. Even if it does not depict the text faithfully, it may be called a work of art with good reason (now to be had as a DVD version).

In didactic respect another argument has to be advanced. If both a textual and a film version are used for instructional purposes, one may assume that somehow the two different media will have to be compared in class. Generally speaking, a comparative analysis may be a most fruitful activity in foreign language learning (17) since it may be stimulating in intellectual and linguistic respects. It may lead to critical thinking, and it may have the students develop precise standpoints which may be verified or falsified with reference to the different works. If there is a high correspondence between the two media, there is only a limited potential for the exchange of opinions so that a comparative analysis is unlikely to be very attractive. If, on the other hand, there are many differences between the two versions, there will be rich comparative possibilites for open classroom discussions.

Basically, the differences between books and literary films may be of three kinds: omissions or cuts, additions or inventions of new scenes, and modifications concerning order or chronology:(18) such changes may also refer to substance and thus become transformations. Cuts are often necessary, and they imply structural differences at least. On the other hand, additions are often used in order to provide smooth transitions, to establish connections, to elaborate on situations or events so that the pieces of the jigsaw begin to fit together more quickly. Many examples of reverted narration, flashbacks for instance, including a person's memories of the past, may testify to the writer's artistic skill in a literary work whereas in a film this may make the message too difficult to comprehend. Therefore the film-maker may decide to stick to a basically chronological presentation of events in order to facilitate orientation and in order to make clear the consistency of the film right away. Moreover, the choice of the characters is a decisive problem for the director; it means a definite choice of individual actors and actresses. They mean concrete visualisations or illustrations for the viewers of a film while the readers may work out the characters for themselves with the help of their own imagination.

These ideas provide a suitable reference frame in order to compare the quality of the novel and the film THT. In doing so all the above-mentioned differences may be found between the printed version and the visual medium; however, there will occur some cases of overlapping as well. In addition a comparison of the role played by the constituent parts in the two media, such as point-of-view, narrative/camera technique, setting, character, plot, etc. should take place in class. This could take place inductively, that is the major insights could be found by the students themselves. Even group work would be no overambitious task (cf. below).


The text and the film version of THT: a detailed comparison

The novel THT consists of 400 pages; its scope may be described as comprehensive, but not as excessive in length. However, almost any film has to be selective, a translation of novel into film is always partial since considerable reductions are unavoidable to produce a filmic representation of normal duration (a two-hour screen maximum); thus, due to time constraints, compression has to be made use of as a necessary consequence.(19)
To begin with, referring to the film of THT, it seems necessary to correct an error since Snodgrass speaks of "Director David Ray's version (1990)".(20) However, the director of the film is Volker Schlöndorff: his version came out in 1990. David Ray is not mentioned in the film, its producer being Daniel Wilson.
Schlöndorff may be classified as an expert in turning literature into film. He is responsible, for example, for the famous film version of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, starring Dustin Hoffman as Willy Loman or for that of Günter Grass's Tin Drum (Blechtrommel), starring Mario Adorf, Katharina Thalbach and Angela Winkler as well as David Bennent in the role of Oskar Mazerath. In the next paragraph it will be discussed whether Volker Schlöndorff's film of THT is appropriate to give an authentic impression of Margaret Atwood's so-called Republic of Gilead.


The picture of Gilead

In the film, the community of Gilead is clearly presented as a theocratic state. The public events that habitually take place there, such as births, salvagings and prayvaganzas, are presented in the film, too. It is shown in the film that during public births the atmosphere resembles a party, although the babies born are cruelly snatched away from their mothers. In an even more drastic way, salvagings are shown to resemble public lynchings where the handmaids' complicity in the executions of alleged criminals comes out clearly. Examples of prayvaganzas are provided by the depiction of the religious ceremony in which the handmaids have to take the red veil. It is not in accordance with the literary original that in the film this ceremony is performed by a male priest and that Moira pretends to lose consciousness in the process, which shows her non-conformist behaviour right from the beginning. In both media, the handmaids are compared to nuns who have to serve the theocratic community; in contrast to nuns, their only function is to bear children. Pseudo-religious tendencies go down to many a detail: one may quote as examples the carols sung and the prayers said by the handmaids or that of Aunt Lydia closing her speeches by saying "Amen". Another example is provided by the soul scrolls (i.e. that automatic prayers may be bought) which are mentioned in the film, too.

Other living conditions may be traced in the film as well. Generally speaking, the handmaids are treated like slaves. The Re-education Centre, where they are forced to live, is prison-like: discipline is enforced, sometimes even torture is used. The police, the guardians are everywhere, ready to shoot people: there is a control by violence. The corpses of executed people hang on the wall as a deterrent. The pre-Gileadean time is severely criticized for its promiscuity, homosexuality and terrorism.

It is in the film only that Commander Fred admits to having taken part in the right-wing revolution and to approving of most of their principles. Nevertheless he goes to the night club, which is compared to a journey into the past: there people may have sex, drugs and alcohol. In other words, they may do everything that is officially forbidden. This shows the existence of double standards in Gilead, since officially, there is state-controlled sexuality based on the inequality of the sexes. The sterility of men is unacceptable, not even theoretically allowed, and there is no tolerance towards minorities either. There is a lot of propaganda, including frequent news of victories, as well as a grim determination to win in the end, even though times are difficult and even though riots and upheavals occur. It may be concluded that, without any doubt, Schlöndorff's film version captures the desperation and duplicity of Gilead.(21)


Plot and character

"At the same time the 1990 film version [...] alters drastically the plot and style of the story."(22) Some changes in the film plot include aspects which seem to be insignificant at first sight but still have major consequences for the novel as a whole. Among other things they concern different minor and major characters of the novel, such as Moira, Offred, the Commander Fred and his chauffeur Nick.

Moira, Kate and the handmaids

Differences start with the identity of the heroine. On the one hand, in the film the protagonist is introduced as Kate, who is later called by her official name Offred, which refers to her identity as Fred's property and which is her only name in the novel. There are other minor differences which meet the eye. In the film for instance there are gloves on Moira's hands to conceal the effects of torture. This is an additional detail which makes sense because of her work in the night club since any visible consequences of torture might shock her customers there. Besides, in the film, Kate's friendship with Moira is shown to have begun at the Red Center rather than at college. If friendship starts there, the consequences as to the duration of their friendship are obvious: it means that it began before the right-wing takeover, and thus it covers many years since Offred has become a mature woman of 33 years at the beginning of the novel (cf. p. 186). In addition, in the film, Offred and Moira are shown to overpower and to truss Aunt Lydia to a urinal, after which Moira unsuccessfully tries to escape wearing Aunt Lydias's clothes. In the novel, this is done by Moira all by herself: in the film as well as in the book, Moira is a convincing rebellious character, who later again meets Offred in Jezebel's.

On the whole, it is hardly imaginable for the handmaids to avoid conformist behaviour. In the film, they have to wear bar-coded bracelets rather than tattoos. These serve the same purpose, although tattoos may be reminiscent of concentration camp victims, and younger readers will hardly have this association. The use of bar codes is a more modern system of identification based upon computer technique. Since they are used for articles or objects rather than for human beings, they also show the handmaids' depersonalized status. The fact that in the film they have to wear veils rather than the white-winged wimples has to be interpreted in the same light. Veils are face-concealing whereas the wimples impair sight. Behind veils the handmaids are invisible to the world, and behind wimples the world is partly invisible to them. In the film, however, there are many scenes where the handmaids' faces are not hidden. On the whole, in the book there is an extreme isolation in the totalitarian state, in the film more communication and interaction may occur between the handmaids, although in either version it cannot be doubted that they are suppressed anyway.


Kate/Offred and Fred

In Schöndorff's work Fred is eulogized by film clips on television news, which increases the weight of his role. In the book, he is presented as a friendly man who is sometimes even made fun of: for example, he is described as "a vodka ad, in a glossy magazine, of times gone by" (p. 112). In the film, there is a theoretical identification of Commander Fred as head of Gilead's security: again this detail increases the weight of his role because he almost gets a very powerful position at the head of a police state. In the film, he is called the Commander rather than being Commander Fred, i.e. one of a group of men in a similar important position. In the novel, there are other more important Commanders, although Fred is the only one who is individualized.

In the film, the Commander is finally stabbed by Offred - with the help of a knife supplied by Ofglen. Ofglen even asks Offred to kill him at a particular point of time. (In the film, it is not mentioned that Ofglen committed suicide in order to escape torture; she is just replaced by another handmaid.) This again means a substantial change of the plot and the character of Offred: in the novel she is not brave enough to become a Mayday member while in the film the unpolitical Offred turns into the politically committed Kate. Whether she acts out of obedience to the commands of Mayday or out of love for Nick, does not become clear in the film; in other words, the viewer is at a loss concerning the motivation of her deed. Anyway, it is clear that Fred's assassination forms the climax of the discrepancies between the passive victim Offred and Kate's heroic action.(23) For Margaret Atwood it seems to be of crucial importance that Offred is all alone in the police state of Gilead - a victim of fundamentalist oppression, a perfect example of women's enslavement. It may be concluded that by transforming the novel into a film, there are many substantial changes on the level of the plot. On the whole, the film is much more action-orientated and much more dramatic than the novel.


Kate and Nick

Other differences between the verbal and the visual form concern not only the level of the action but also character emphasis and even the constellation of characters. This may be seen from the roles of Kate and Nick as well as from the very first and last scenes of the film, which, of course, are of crucial importance for the viewers. The beginning of a film is often extremely spectacular in order to catch the viewers' attention. Therefore, it is understandable that the very first scene of THT shows the family's attempted flight to Canada, in the course of which Luke is shot, and Kate knows about this while the fate of their daughter Jill remains uncertain both in the film and in the book. That Offred cannot forget her is a recurrent motif in both media. When Serena Joy manages to show a photo of Jill to Offred, Offred never learns the whereabouts of her daughter, and in the last scene of the film she is still determined to find her. Several conclusions may be drawn from this:

(1) The story of the family's attempted flight happens somewhere in the middle of the book. This shows that the chronology of events is different in the text and the film: the novel's episodic flashback structure is absent from the film.(24) In other words, the time structure, rather than being artistically shaped as in the novel, is linear in the film, and therefore the plot becomes much more predictable.(25)

(2) The first scene paves the way for the mutual love affair between Kate and Nick. They seem to fall in love almost at first sight: their first passionate kiss occurs at a rather early stage of the film (after Fred's and Offred's very first monthly copulation in the so-called ceremony). In the course of the film, she gets pregnant by Nick, which is a detail not in accordance with the text of the novel. Thus a mutually satisfying love affair with Nick is introduced into the film when he acknowledges that Offred's baby is his. Nick's tender, but hasty separation from Kate as she is spirited away from Gilead points into the same direction. It is obvious that the different beginning in the film has structural consequences, and the open ending of the novel is replaced by a happy ending in the film version, which also implies that a depressing novel gets optimistic overtones.

(3) This structural difference implies other substantial differences. On the one hand, Kate's feelings of guilt and shame, which, like a recurrent motif, are interspersed throughout the novel, are now pointless and, as a consequence, are omitted in the film. On the other hand, the novel, which is meant to depict the plight of women in a male-dominated society, is transformed into a rather conventional love affair. This is also underlined by the final scene in which Kate, in a rural setting controlled by the Mayday members, is shown to be expecting Nick's baby and in which she is waiting for him. This scene is the film makers' responsibility: it is completely due to their inventiveness and imagination; there is no correspondent part in Atwood's text.

(4) Luke's role is considerably reduced while at the same time Nick's role gains in importance: in the novel his role is the subordinate one of a chauffeur. Now he becomes one of the major characters, and in the end he acts on the same level as the narrator-protagonist. Thus the film becomes both a frame story and a love affair. There is a similar procedure to be observed in Truffaut's above-mentioned Fahrenheit 451: the French film director transforms Bradbury's dystopia into a love story, too. The fact that Montag lives in a democratic state which is completely degenerated, which amuses itself to death, is oddly left out. Probably this is again due to commercial reasons: the character of a product is often dictated by a profit-driven film industry.(26)


Point of view and narrative technique

Even when reading the first pages of the novel it becomes clear that a female first-person narrator tells her own personal story and that she is full of doubts concerning the truth of it. The camera, to be sure, may follow the heroine's subjective point of view, too: still, it is limited to real events. Thus, the film is a documentation of the handmaid's fate rather than her own subjective narrative. (It is in the last scene only that Kate speaks to the audience in the first person.) The film focuses on events in 'real' life rather than on what goes on in the heroine's mind. What in fiction is presented as her fantasies, is presented as 'reality' in the film. In the film, for example car bombing occurs after a salvaging while, in the novel, there are only rumours concerning violence and the activities of the underground movement. In the text, Offred does not learn anything about this: this is left open. The camera, however, produces a picture which is seemingly objective.

Thus narrative technique is different from the visual technique. For Offred it is very difficult to find reliable sources of information: she is only allowed to watch the official news before monthly copulation. Apart from that, there is gossip and and there are rumours so that the narrator is full of scepticism. Thus, a lot of ambiguity may be traced in the text. In Atwood's novel, the heroine is sceptical concerning her possibilities of acquiring knowledge, of gaining insights: this is due to the reduced circumstances she has to live in. And she is also full of doubts concerning her own person, since she suspects that she had to undergo something like brain-washing with the help of strong medication. At the same time the genesis of the novel is reflected in her own personality: to compose her story means to compose herself. In other words: the process of narrating her own story is understood as an attempt at self-definition or as a process of identity formation. This is a literary tendency that is typical of postmodern writing and so-called deconstruction.(27) Atwood's theory of narration which is thereby expressed in the novel has no correspondent part in the film. The fact that Offred's story is a form of creative rebellion is omitted from its visual representation, that is the whole meta-literary dimension of the novel is lost. Undoubtedly, such losses detract from the substance of the novel.


Major differences/losses/omissions

Apart from these structural and substantial changes, there are at least three other serious losses in the film. In the novel, there are long passages of reflection, for example when Offred is alone in her room at night. Theoretically it would be possible to show the narrator's reflections with the help of an interior monologue or the voice-over technique, yet they are not to be found in the film.(28) Perhaps its director was of the opinion that such periods become excessive in length very quickly and that they had better be dropped so as to avoid tedium. Perhaps the reflections did not become part and parcel of the film because of its limited scope. Anyway, a film director is frequently under the obligation to produce tension, to maintain suspense and, like a novelist, he is interested in the development and solution of conflicts as well as in climactic structuring. (29)

Secondly, the final chapter of the novel, the so-called Historical Notes, are completely omitted in the film: there is no academic symposium. This entails a substantial loss as to feminist ideas since, according to Margaret Atwood, even at the end of the 22nd century, there is still patriarchal dominance that continues to devalue women.(30) Moreover, Atwood's fictional explanation that Offred had her tale recorded on a number of cassettes which were transcribed by the historians, is left out in the film: Atwood's idea of the palimpsest (p. 3 and p. 383) is lost as the film gives no reason for its genesis or existence. Perhaps the absence of the final chapter is the most significant change to the film's conclusion: the writer's irony and satiric technique in them are unfortunately eliminated from the film.

Thirdly and lastly, there is a close connection between the ecological catastrophe and women's sexual exploitation in the novel. There are only occasional mentions of ecological disasters and/or nuclear accidents in the film version: however, their consequences are absent from it. Considering all these changes they may mean considerable detriment to the novel, yet, at the same time, the film may become more appealing to a large audience. Like fiction itself, a film production is always based on selection and combination, that is on an interpretation of the world. Generally speaking, commercial films tend to show a higher degree of explicitness than works of fiction.(31)


Conclusions and value judgements

Many differences between the fictional work and the film version of THT have been mentioned by now. In sum, they seem to point to the fact that Schlöndorff's film suffers from many losses and therefore is inferior to the book.(32) The film is too concrete, it leaves less scope to the imagination whereas the charm of the novel arises from its ambiguity. On the whole, this means that the film moves from a multi-layered, complex level to a clear-cut, one-dimensional message: multivocal meaning is reduced to univocal meaning. The film is more explicit, more specific, and less subtle than the text, and, in this sense, reading the novel is more demanding than viewing the film. The film, then, simplifies and reduces Atwood's literary achievement. The writer herself remained silent concerning the film's quality,(33) although she was heavily involved in watching the transformation from verbal to visual medium.(34)

Apart from the time constraints any film is subject to, the problem is whether such reductions are not more or less unavoidable. In addition, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to show the night chapters, the complex time and tense relations in a film.(35) And it is an open question whether all the changes produced by Schlöndorff, considering what modern directors do to classical plays and operas on the stage, are not very moderate. Radical changes of time and of setting, of local and period colour are habitual since very frequently directors aim at topical, possibly also shocking reference frames.

In the case of THT one has to admit that the text of the film script is Pinter's and that there are hardly any passages identical in the film and in the novel, but one has to conclude that still many substantial aspects of the film are Atwood's. The over-all picture developed by Schlöndorff may be less intense and less perfect than that developed in the novel. Nevertheless, it refers to the direct presence or to the immediate future, and therefore it is still topical. And the film offers a frightening analysis of a right-wing postrevolutionary society based on propaganda, torture and violence, which aims at the systematic suppression and sexual exploitation of women. I think, for all its undeniable shortcomings, it is an impressive cautionary tale and an inspiring and terrifying futuristic vision of the United States.(36) And it may be difficult to say in which respects the film has possibly been improved. As one example one might point to the so-called ceremony in which the Commander reads out a passage from the Book of Genesis. It is in the film only that Serena Joy quotes the Rachel part, which shows that on the one hand, her husband's dominant role is seemingly de-emphasized, but on the other hand, she has to agree explicitly to state-controlled copulation. Perhaps the course participants have their own ideas on this problem.


Suggestions for classroom procedure

Referring to THT, as in similar cases, it is assumed that reading precedes viewing,(37), that the reception of the novel has taken place by out-of-class reading and that the text as well as the picture of the fundamentalist state have been discussed in the foreign language lessons at some length. The film, then, is shown relatively late in the course of the teaching sequence: this takes place as a common social activity in class in a double period. Rather than being divided into different parts, it is shown at one sitting. Moreover, if the film is viewed after reading and discussing the novel, the basic content and a reference frame for understanding already exist. The major comprehension problem, then, is to recognize familiar aspects: understanding becomes a form of recognition and of reinforcement.

First of all, the students may be expected to find the major characteristics of Gilead as a totalitarian state; this will take place as an open-classroom discussion. An alternative would be that a team of students has analysed the film at home and that, as temporary teachers, they try to teach the course participants by answering all questions which may come up. Any teacher who wants to practise interpersonal learning could also use group work in order to have the learners juxtapose different phenomena. The course could, for example, be divided into three groups:

group I is to find examples of similarities and correspondences between film and fiction,
group II is to collect and to interpret evidence of differences and changes or transformations,
group III has to deal with examples of omissions and additions/supplements.

The results could be written on the blackboard or on a transparency for use with the Overhead Projector; they could be corrected by the teacher and be photocopied/edited for all course participants or even be published in the internet. Whatever method is chosen, the students could use the results achieved by teaching the novel in its written form as a reference frame in order to analyse the film inductively. Basically the students should find out whether the changes found are for the better or for the worse; they may say whether the interpretation of the film-maker coincides with their own. They may discuss whether the film undermines the novel's message, whether it trivializes the gravity of this society's repression of women and whether therefore it must be considered as a failure.(38) The teacher could also ask them to rewrite the film script in order to make improvements.(39) An alternative might be that some (groups of) students write a short film script for textual passages, which is presented to the class in the form of a press conference.(40)

One might conclude that a book-to-film comparison encourages critical thinking, which eventually may help to achieve a more profound understanding of the literary text.(41) In this way, students can be encouraged to make a more perceptive personal evaluation.(42) To some degree, it ironically helps them to appreciate the novel if they find out about the shortcomings of the film.(43)


Notes

(1) Cf. Barry Baddock, "Using Cinema Films in Foreign Language Teaching", Praxis des neusprachlichen Unterrichts 36 (1989), pp. 270-277. Cf. also Mary K. Kirtz, "Teaching Literature through Film: an Interdisciplinary Approach to Surfacing and The Handmaid's Tale, in: Sharon R. Wilson, Thomas B. Friedman and Shannon Hengen (eds.), Approaches to Teaching Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Other Works (New York: MLA, 1996), pp. 140-145.

(2) Cf. Hugo Stiller, "Texte und ihre Verfilmungen", in: Der fremdsprachliche Unterricht 24, Heft 99 (1990), pp. 6-7.

(3) Cf. for example Silke Hagemann, "Stationenlernen zum Film Forrest Gump", in: Der fremdsprachliche Unterricht - Englisch 36, Heft 57/58 (2002), pp. 42-47. Cf. also Gunthild Porteous-Schwier/Ingrid Ross, "'Life is but a dream'? Der Film Forrest Gump im Englischunterricht der Jahrgangsstufe 11", in: Neusprachliche Mitteilungen aus Wissenschaft und Praxis 53:1 (2000), p. 37. However, their procedure leads to many practical difficulties since only the teacher is supposed to possess a copy of this cult film, which means that its presentation in class is divided into several parts, i.e. there are many interruptions in the viewing of it, and the learners discuss individual episodes without knowledge of the context. On the other hand, it has been pointed out that the DVD versions of films are much more flexible for classroom use than traditional video tapes for tape recorders; cf. Günter Burger, "Chinatown - zur Arbeit mit einem Spielfilm auf DVD", in: Neusprachliche Mitteilungen aus Wissenschaft und Praxis 55 (2002), p. 150. It is interesting to note that several comprehensive teaching models concerning film analysis have been and are still being published by Schöningh (Paderborn). Cf. also Marion Gymnich, 2004.

(4) Cf. Ludger Schiffler, "Durch Romanverfilmung zum Lesen motivieren und zum Literaturverständnis erziehen", in: Neusprachliche Mitteilungen aus Wissenschaft und Praxis 57:1 (2004), pp. 26-32.

(5) Cf. Janis M. Hennessey, "Using Foreign Films to Develop Proficiency and to Motivate the Foreign Language Student", in: Foreign Language Annals 28 (1995), pp. 116-119.

(6) Cf. Nigel Ross, "Literature and Film", in: English Language Teaching Journal 45, 2 (1991), pp. 147 155. Cf. Kate M. Donley, "Film for Fluency", in: English Teaching Forum 38:2 (2000), pp. 24-27.

(7) Cf. Marion Gymnich/Ansgar Nünning, "'Der Film zum Buch' oder 'Das Buch zum Film'? Vorschläge zum Einsatz von Romanverfilmungen im Englischunterricht der Sekundarstufe II", in: Fremdsprachenunterricht 51 (1998), p. 373. Cf. Gunthild Porteous-Schwier/Ingrid Ross, p. 29 and p. 37.

(8) Cf. Ralf Schneider, "Bücher sehen und Filme lesen: Über Lernmöglichkeiten beim Umgang mit Literaturverfilmungen", in: Fachverband Moderne Fremdsprachen: Mitteilungen des Landesverbandes Westfalen Lippe 13.2 (1995), pp. 6-11. A very systematic treatment of this problem may be found in: James Monaco, How to Read a Film. The World of Movies, Media, and Multimedia. Oxford University Press, 3rd edition, 2000.

(9) Cf. Marion Gymnich/Ansgar Nünning, p. 367.

(10) Cf. Ludger Schiffler, p. 28.

(11) Cf. Ludger Schiffler, p. 27.

(12) Cf. Julia A. Williamson/Jill C. Vincent, Film Is Content. A Study Guide for the Advanced ESL Classroom. Ann Arbor 1996.

(13) Cf. Ludger Schiffler, p. 29.

(14) To the best of my knowledge, only two exceptions exist to this rule.
(1) The textual edition of "Bend it like Beckham" by Narinder Dhami which appeared in 2003 is based on the original screenplay by Gurinder Chadha which appeared one year earlier.
(2) This is also the case with Kleinbaum's Dead Poets Society where the publication of the novel succeeded the film script. This does not exclude that many people are encouraged to read a book after seeing a film and that a novel reaches bestseller status with the help of a successful film: cf. Albert Rau, "Roman und Film für den Englischunterricht. Margaret Craven: I Heard the Owl Call My Name", in: Der fremdsprachliche Unterricht 24, Heft 99 (1990), p. 37; cf. Marion Gymnich/Ansgar Nünning, p. 367. As to the general use of this film in class cf. Cf. Engelbert Thaler, 'Dead Poets Society'. Filmanalyse. EinFach Englisch Unterrichtsmodell. Paderborn: Schöningh, 2003. Cf. also the reviews found in the following file of this homepage: Films dealing with school life, initiation and identity formation.

(15) Nigel Ross, p. 154.

(16) This was already pointed out by Karl-Heinz Schleiermacher in 1985: cf. his article "Novel into Film: The Graduate Adapted", in: Peter Freese (ed.), Teaching Contemporary American Life and Literature in the German Advanced EFL Classroom (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1985), p. 183.

(17) Cf. Stiller, p. 6.

(18) Cf. Albert Rau, p.37; cf. also Nigel Ross, p. 150 and Marion Gymnich/Ansgar Nünning, p. 369.

(19) Cf. Pamela Hewitt, "Understanding Contemporary American Culture through The Handmaid's Tale: A Sociology Class", in: Sharon R. Wilson, Thomas B. Friedman and Shannon Hengen (eds.), Approaches to Teaching Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' and Other Works (New York: MLA, 1996), p. 111. - I am not going to analyse the function of music and lighting in the film. Moreover, there are problems which concern the dialogues in a novel (as a written text) and the dialogues in a film script (the spoken language). This linguistic problem will not be examined either.

(20) Cf. Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' (Lincoln, Nebraska: Cliffs Notes, 1999), p. 78.

(21) Mary Ellen Snodgrass, p. 78.

(22) Cf. Mary Ellen Snodgrass, pp.78-79: she offers a long list of differences between book and film, which, however, is far from being complete and which she does not comment upon.

(23) Cf. Mary K. Kirtz, p. 145. She argues that by this violent act the novel's insistence on the impotence of women is severely undermined.

(24) Glenn Willmott, "O Say, Can You See: The Handmaid's Tale in Novel and Film", in: Lorraine M. York (ed.), Various Atwoods: Essays on the Later Poems, Short Fiction and Novels (Anansi, 1995), p. 180. The author has also listed several reviews of the film.

(25) Cf. Mary K. Kirtz, p. 144 and Pamela Hewitt, p. 112.

(26) Pamela Hewitt, p. 111.

(27) This concept, which originates in the writings of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, has become a dominant element in post structuralism, which may be classified as an influential approach to literary criticism. Cf. Hubert Zapf, "Poststrukturalismus und Dekonstruktion", in: Kurze Geschichte der anglo-amerikanischen Literaturtheorie (München: Fink, zweite Auflage, 1995), pp. 189-204.

(28) Mary K. Kirtz, p. 144.

(29) Hugo Stiller, p. 5.

(30) Cf. Mary K. Kirtz, p. 144. In a similar way, Kate's mother, a committed feminist, is eliminated from the film, too.

(31) Cf. Marion Gymnich/Ansgar Nünning, p. 370.

(32) Max Bracht, "'Handmade Tales' - Margaret Atwoods Roman The Handmaid's Tale im produktionsorientierten Fremdsprachenunterricht", in: Neusprachliche Mitteilungen 52:4 (1999), p. 233.

(33) Max Bracht, p. 233.

(34) Pamela Hewitt, p. 111.

(35) Glenn Willmott, pp. 167-169 and p. 171.

(36) Pamela Hewitt, p. 113.

(37) Hugo Stiller, p. 6; cf. Mary K. Kirtz, p. 140; cf. Pamela Hewitt, p. 111.

(38) Mary K. Kirtz, p. 141 and p.144f.

(39) Ludger Schiffler, pp. 28-29.

(40) Marion Gymnich/Ansgar Nünning, p. 370.

(41) Cf. Albert Rau, p. 38.

(42) Nigel Ross, p. 147.

(43) Mary K. Kirtz, p. 145.


Bibliography

Baddock, Barry, "Using Cinema Films in Foreign Language Teaching", in: Praxis des neusprachlichen Unterrichts 36 (1989), pp. 270-277.

Bracht, Max, "'Handmade Tales' - Margaret Atwoods Roman The Handmaid's Tale im produktionsorientierten Fremdsprachenunterricht", in: Neusprachliche Mitteilungen 52:4 (1999), pp. 229-238.

Burger, Günter, "Chinatown - zur Arbeit mit einem Spielfilm auf DVD", in: Neusprachliche Mitteilungen aus Wissenschaft und Praxis 55:3 (2002), pp. 150-155.

Donley, Kate M., "Film for Fluency", in: English Teaching Forum 38:2 (2000), pp. 24-27.

Gymnich, Marion, "A commitment phobic, a 12-year-old, and a dead duck. About a Boy", in: Der fremdsprachliche Unterricht - Englisch 38, Heft 68 (2004), pp. 20-26.

Gymnich, Marion/Ansgar Nünning, "'Der Film zum Buch' oder 'Das Buch zum Film'? Vorschläge zum Einsatz von Romanverfilmungen im Englischunterricht der Sekundarstufe II", in: Fremdsprachenunterricht 51 (1998), pp. 367-373.

Hagemann, Silke, "Stationenlernen zum Film Forrest Gump", in: Der fremdsprachliche Unterricht - Englisch 36, Heft 57/58 (2002), pp. 42-47.

Hennessey, Janis M., "Using Foreign Films to Develop Proficiency and to Motivate the Foreign Language Student", in: Foreign Language Annals 28 (1995), pp. 116-119.

Hewitt, Pamela, "Understanding Contemporary American Culture through The Handmaid's Tale: A Sociology Class", in: Sharon R. Wilson, Thomas B. Friedman and Shannon Hengen (eds.), Approaches to Teaching Atwood's 'THT' and Other Works (New York: MLA, 1996), pp. 109-113.

Kirtz, Mary K., "Teaching Literature through Film: an Interdisciplinary Approach to Surfacing and The Handmaid's Tale", in: Sharon R. Wilson, Thomas B. Friedman and Shannon Hengen (eds.), Approaches to Teaching Atwood's 'THT' and Other Works (New York: MLA, 1996), pp. 140-145.

Monaco, James, How to Read a Film. The World of Movies, Media, and Multimedia Oxford University Press, 3rd edition, 2000.

Porteous-Schwier, Gunthild/Ingrid Ross, "'Life is but a dream'? Der Film Forrest Gump im Englischunterricht der Jahrgangsstufe 11", in: Neusprachliche Mitteilungen aus Wissenschaft und Praxis 53:1 (2000), pp. 29-38.

Rau, Albert, "Roman und Film für den Englischunterricht. Margaret Craven: I Heard the Owl Call My Name", in: Der fremdsprachliche Unterricht 24, Heft 99 (1990), pp. 34-38.

Ross, Nigel, "Literature and Film", in: English Language Teaching Journal 45, 2 (1991), pp. 147-155.

Schiffler, Ludger, "Durch Romanverfilmung zum Lesen motivieren und zum Literaturverständnis erziehen", in: Neusprachliche Mitteilungen aus Wissenschaft und Praxis 57:1 (2004), pp. 26-32.

Schleiermacher, Karl-Heinz, "Novel into Film: The Graduate Adapted", in: Peter Freese (Hrsg.), Teaching Contemporary American Life and Literature in the German Advanced EFL Classroom (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1985), pp. 180-196.

Schneider, Ralf, "Bücher sehen und Filme lesen: Über Lernmöglichkeiten beim Umgang mit Literaturverfilmungen", in: Fachverband Moderne Fremdsprachen: Mitteilungen des Landesverbandes Westfalen Lippe 13.2 (1995), pp. 6-11.

Snodgrass, Mary Ellen, Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale'. Lincoln, Nebraska: Cliffs Notes, 1999.

Stiller, Hugo, "Texte und ihre Verfilmungen", in: Der fremdsprachliche Unterricht 24, Heft 99 (1990), pp. 4-10.

Thaler, Engelbert, 'Dead Poets Society'. Filmanalyse. EinFach Englisch Unterrichtsmodell. Paderborn: Schöningh, 2003.

Williamson, Julia A./Vincent, Jill C., Film Is Content. A Study Guide for the Advanced ESL Classroom. Ann Arbor 1996.

Willmott, Glenn, "O Say, Can You See: The Handmaid's Tale in Novel and Film", in: Lorraine M. York (ed.), Various Atwoods: Essays on the Later Poems, Short Fiction and Novels (Anansi, 1995), pp. 167-190.

Zapf, Hubert, Kurze Geschichte der anglo-amerikanischen Literaturtheorie. München: Fink, zweite Auflage, 1995.


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Last Updated by Dr. Willi Real on Friday, 15 December, 2006 at 11:40 AM.