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HUMA 1780
Elicia Clements

Lecture 4 Clements 1 School of Arts and Letters, Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies Summer 2009 AK/HUMA 1780 6.0A Stories in Diverse Media Announcements: ♦ The first Assignment is due on Monday, July 6, 2009. As noted, please use the Schedule of Lectures provided for you in the Course Schedule folder only (the other one from the course outlines page has an error in it concerning this first Assignment deadline). ♦ Please refer to the Assignment sheet posted in the Assignments folder for information on what is expected for the Adaptation Paper and how to upload you r papers to the York Assignment Upload System and to ♦ Check the Readings folder for next day’s material. Film Viewing: O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) For today’s lecture your responsibility is to watch the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? You can use the discussion questions you are given on Lecture Summary 4 Slide 7 in your Discussion Groups when they are up and running next week (hopefully by Thursday). You may want to prepare your answers as you watch the film and save them in a word-processed application so you can simply post them once the Discussion Rooms are functioning. Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (the brothers who also wrote and directed Fargo and Burn After Reading), the title comes from another film called Sullivan’s Travels, itself a spoof on Gulliver’s Travels. It is about a movie-director character who attempts to prove himself as a “serious” artist by making a dramatic film Lecture 4 Clements 2 entitled O Brother, Where Art Thou? The Coen brothers take that title and make an ironically “serious” comedy by linking it to Homer’s epic and setting it in Depression Era Southern United States. As you will see in the film, many of the references transform the stories and the characters you read about in the epic. Pay special attention to the characters we examined in the visual representations: Circe and the Sirens (who are combined), Penelope (who shares characteristics with Clytemnestra, the wife of Agamemnon, Odysseus's friend from the Trojan war whom he meets again in the book of the dead), and Polyphemos. While viewing the film keep the issues from Lecture Summary 4 Slide 6 in mind. Please watch the movie now if you haven’t already. The lectures on film-days will be shorter because of the time taken to watch the film. HAPPY VIEWING! Analyzing Films and Their Music I hope you have noticed that we have been comparing the works we have been studying, not by holding the first one up to the second and expecting a replica or carbon- copy version, but by looking at how the second version speaks to, reinvents, and transforms the first one. Remember to keep the idea of comparison in your mind throughout the course and when you write your papers and assignments. If you simply look for a replication of an "original" version when you analyze an adaptation, you will arrive at the simple conclusion that the second work is a good copy of the first, or it comes up short. As I suspect you've started to notice, the process of adaptation is not only much messier than that, but also much more interesting. Lecture 4 Clements 3 As I note above, the title of the Coen brothers’ movie is taken from another film. Sullivan's Travels, although a spoof itself, alludes to the creation of "serious" art because of the main character and the reference to Jonathan Swift (although he is a satirist!). The title of O Brother, Where Art Thou? is meant to sound lofty, like a phrase out of a Shakespearean play. The opening credits of O Brother also make this gesture toward "greatness" by invoking The Odyssey, an epic that is considered the top of the pile in terms of the cultural traditions of the West. I will return to this issue at the end of the lecture but keep it in mind in what follows. Interestingly, the Coen brothers claim not to have read the source text. This is important for two reasons. It suggests that instead of creating an adaptation based on the effect of "fidelity," on sameness to an original, they used similar procedures of composition to the traditional epic of The Odyssey. Creating their version by word of mouth, rather than a strict study of a source text, the Coen brothers imply that they have written their own epic narrative based on a (highly skewed) oral tradition. But secondly, and quite frankly, I don't believe them. There are too many, albeit transformed, details and ideas from the epic to really make the claim they didn't read it. Plus, it's a similar (albeit the opposite) ploy to the one they used in the movie Fargo—that the events were based on an actual case, when they weren't. In both films, this gambit that gestures toward a "truth" claim, questions and plays not only with audience expectations about films and their adaptations, but also about "reality" and fiction. The audience member is left to wonder what is real and what isn't, and, of course, in quintessential postmodern fashion—don't fret, we'll learn more about that later on in the course—they don't give you the answer. Lecture 4 Clements 4 But as we saw from our look at visual representations, particular parts of the subject-matter captured in this ancient Greek text have been repeated over and over, and to a certain extent the Coen brothers subscribe to many of the most popular portrayals of the characters. Their main representations include Odysseus, Penelope, the Suitors, the Cyclops, Tiresias, and the Sirens. Other epic conventions that they use, in addition to their own version of the invocation to the muse, include repetition and fixed epithets: "we're in a tight spot," dapper dan hair cream, "that good old timey music," and "you ain't bona fide," for example. But with each of the characters there are also fundamental differences. Ulysses Evert, for example, really isn't much of an heroic figure when compared to Homer's Odysseus. He doesn't defeat the Cyclops by outsmarting him; instead, he gets clubbed over the head. Nor does he withstand the charms of the Sirens/Circe characters; again, he's knocked out
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