Reading Literature/ Reading Film

movie image

Dave Farmer, in his blog Wordsmith & Member of Imagineland, posed an interesting question in his post “Should movies be faithful to the book?”

Here is my response to his question :

Hamlet Response

but after replying, I realized there is so much more to say on the topic…

Reading Literature/Reading Film

This course, which I co-wrote with a colleague, was the brain-child of a course we had both taken separately called Shakespeare Alive! Each summer, the professor, Mike Shea, focuses his entire course on an in-depth analysis of one of Shakespeare’s plays. I took the Romeo and Juliet course; my colleague studied MacBeth. A portion of these courses takes a look at differing editions of the actual text and how editors (in making decisions about interpretation, stage direction, diction, etc…) actually can alter the reading of the text. Another portion of the class looked at how differing adaptations created various interpretations of the text.

We took our experiences as students in Shakespeare Alive and developed it into our own half-year, English elective course offered to junior and senior high school students.

Making/Viewing a Film

In our research of movie making, we looked at various approaches to viewing film, the components of which ultimately go into the making of film.

Literary Approach– concerns devices of literature including setting, character, plot, theme, motif…

Theatrical Approach– also termed Mise-en-scène is literally everything that goes into a scene including acting, costume, make-up, props, set, lighting.

Cinematic Approach– techniques the film maker uses to convey the goals of the film such as camera angle, shot type, lighting, sound, editing.

All of these devices are inherent in the goals of directors during the making of a film; his/her use of them ultimately determine how we SEE (both visually and perceptively) a film.

In considering how these devices are used when viewing a film is how we determine it to be a good film or not.

Reading Text

The primary pleasure of reading is in our ability to use our imaginations. The construction of style and plot (through the devices of diction, syntax, use of motif, theme, imagery, symbolism) colluding with our personal repertoires of experience (personal, educational, environmental) is how we conceive of a story. Whether it’s good or bad, by our standards. Whether or not we can connect to it. Whether or not it will be memorable.

We are active in what we take away from a novel.

When Literature meets Film

Directors/producers often decide to adapt literature onto film because it already has a fan base to draw from to garner talk about the film before it’s even released– free publicity, if you will. Some directors choose to make a very tight adaptation of a story which means the film attempts to remain as faithful as possible to the intent of the novel, short story, play… it’s drawn from. Conversely, some make a very loose adaptation– maintaining some characteristics of the story while deviating in an obvious way from others.

Using the approaches mentioned above are the vehicles through which these adaptations are achieved. Some are fixed (low key lighting literally demonstrates an ominous environment). Some are completely interpretive (different actors use varying techniques to draw upon the portrayal of an ominous character).

Depending upon how we interface with the various components of a film and how we perceived a piece of literature prior to viewing the adaptation will be the determining factors we base our judgment of the film as successful or unsuccessful.

Should movies be faithful to the literature from which they are adapted?

Yes and no, depending upon your preferences, interpretations and expectations.

They are inherently different discourses. They are not, by nature the same. We draw upon different proclivities in approaching each.

The Hamlet Project

One of the anchor texts for my course is Hamlet, arguably one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays and a cornerstone of all literature.

When reading the text, various arguments emerge:

Hamlet Qs

There are not black or white answers to these questions. It depends on what you key into as a reader. It depends, based on your own repertoires, how you conceive of these various themes and how they interface with your reading of Hamlet.

Next, take into account that we create our own interpretations of Hamlet, just as the director needs to make a choice of how Hamlet will be portrayed on film, and the actors involved in the performance make choices in their portrayals of the characters. This layer upon layer of creation is what makes this question (Should movies be faithful to the book?) become so rhetorical.

An analysis of many Hamlets

My first attempt to introduce students to an adapation of Hamlet is in showing them the Michael Almereyda version (2000) starring Ethan Hawke set in modern day, New York city. Instead of ruling the country Denmark, Hamlet’s (Hawke) dead father (Sam Shepard) is the former CEO of the company Denmark, now run by his uncle, Claudius (Kyle MacLachlan).  Because it is set in modern-day but retains the language of Shakespeare in addition to about one-third of the play being lopped off, students recognize this as a very loose adaptation. It is off-putting to them. But, the reason I show it first is so they don’t adopt the images of a closer adaptation to what Hamlet “should” look like.

This version portrays a Hamlet who is not only trapped in his melancholia but, more so, misled by the ghost of his father, as the director uses video motif to show how Hamlets emotions get the better of him in his plight to avenge the King.

The next Hamlet I normally show is the Franco Zeffirelli version (1990) which is a closer portrayal of what most imagine Hamlet to be, set in a dark castle in Demark. The roles of these characters maintain the integrity of the text, though some of this text has been omitted as well.

Hamlet (Mel Gibson) seems to suffer more from the Oedipus complex in the version, especially in the scene after killing Polinius (Ian Holm) when grappling with his actions to his mother, the Queen (Glenn Close) in her bedroom.

From there, I move to the Kenneth Branagh version (1996) who also plays the role of Hamlet, which is set in Denmark during the Victorian era, which I believe is an attempt on the director’s part to demonstrate the timelessness of the story. This is the tightest adaptation I have seen; the run time is approximately 4 hours as compared to the approximately 2-hour run times of the aforementioned adaptations.

Branagh definitely portrays a Hamlet is who more in control of his emotions, particularly in the “To Be or Not To Be” scene where he stands erect looking at himself in the mirror, holding a knife. The Mise-en-scène and high key lighting contribute to our perception of him as a man plagued by the loss of power.

The Campbell Scott and Eric Simonson version of Hamlet (2000) is set more during the romantic period, based on the setting and costumes, which contributes to this Hamlet’s (Campbell Scott) portrayal of a sentimental dreamer conflicted physically and emotionally, particularly in the “To Be or Not to Be” scene, as he draws blood after nicking his wrist with a blade. The Mise-en-scène in this adaptation is vastly different than the Branagh’s, as it is filled with the color red, symbolizing blood, and is the only adaptation in which Hamlet literally takes action upon himself.

hamlet scott

While these are only some of the adaptations we view in Reading Literature/Reading Film, you can begin to see how vastly different even adaptations of the same play are depending upon the goals of the director and how we, as viewers, see them.

Likewise, while I have provided my view the interpretations of the various Hamlets, they are in no way fixed interpretations that every viewer sees in the same way.

Our goal as readers and film viewers is ultimately to become engaged, transported to a different place and time for a while, and to be entertained. Literature and film are discourses that make us think, and if they’re good, perhaps, they change the way we see things. Filmmakers are no more tied to make a faithful adaptation of film as an author is to write a good book. They put the way the see it (the story– no matter where from it is derived) out there for us to be the judge.

Other Adaptations to Consider

If you are looking for adaptations to compare/contrast to their literature counterparts, here is a list of those I use in class in addition to some my students have used for projects:

Into the Wild

The Color Purple

Forest Gump

The Hunger Games

Harry Potter

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

White Oleander

Stand By Me

The Other Boleyn Girl

Memoirs of a Geisha

Heart of Darkness

A Clockwork Orange

The Godfather


The Shining

One Day

Perks of a Wallflower

The Help

The Secret Life of Bees

The Great Gatsby

Shawshank Redemption

A Chorus Line

Mrs. Dalloway

Little Altars Everywhere/Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood

War of the Worlds

The Hours

The Reader

Girl Interrupted

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Revolutionary Road

Of Mice and Men

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Tom Sawyer


The Scarlet Letter

*almost anything Charles Dickens

*almost anything William Shakespeare


A Window of Opportunity with The Great Gatsby Release

Gatsby tickets

Amidst lots of hype, a delayed release, The Great Gatsby debuts, FINALLY. Besides being directed by one of my all time favorites, Baz Lurhmann, the cast is amazing: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire. I’m predicting, now, this will be Leo’s ticket to Oscar, also long overdue.


I’ve been teaching this novel to junior high school students for years. There are not too many American literature novels that I love and none that I love to teach more than Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a timeless classic that defined the Jazz Age and makes us all question love and the American Dream. The language of the novel is challenging, and the subject matter difficult for high school aged students to relate to, but it’s a classic and I’d feel remiss if I didn’t at least expose them to it. So, since I heard about the remake of this film (done earlier with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in 1974  and again with Toby Stephens and Mira Sorvino in 2000, neither of which I liked), I’ve been conjuring up excitement and anticipation in my students that mirrors my own. I even went so far as to invite them to join me with the promise of doling out some extra credit. But even without the dangling extra-credit carrot, I do believe most students are excited about it. They’ve seen the trailers. Some, who I have as seniors who did not read it as juniors, have even asked to borrow the novel to read before they see it on screen.

Gastby Novel cover

Just as I approach any adaptation of a novel, I am cautiously optimistic that it will somehow enrich all of the beautiful imagination the words on the pages have conjured up in my mind. This adaptation of Gatsby did not disappoint. With twenty six junior high school students in attendance, myself and my former student teacher, we sat in the theater wide-eyed and immediately entranced by the soundtrack. One cannot speak of this adaptation without addressing the modern-day flair given to old school jazz through Jay Z, Beyonce, Lana Del Rey, Florence & the Machine… just to name a few. I was literally swaying in my seat. Further, the cinematography, propels the viewer into the scene (and I didn’t even see it in 3D); Lurhmann is masterful at making the viewer feel like part of the experience and, like Nick Carraway, a voyeur.

Among my favorite scenes was the party scene in New York, set in a high rise amidst the Valley of Ashes. There is a sax player sitting out on the balcony doing his thing while Lurhmann takes us on a ride of windows popping out at the audience to show us exactly what’s going on inside. Nick Carraway, after an exhausting journey of alcohol and drugs and sex, like he’s never been accustomed, as he admits, delivers one of his famous lines,

Gatsby Quote 1

Another of my favorite scenes is when Daisy is on the floor below Gatsby sitting on his bed while they are caught in the midst of laughter as Jay is throwing down an array of  colored, silk shirts upon her from the balcony of a closet above. It’s a scene of innocence and opulence all at the same time until Daisy’s laughter turns to tears and we feel her regret at every having let Gatsby go. The thing about this scene, that I must have read a hundred times, is that, in this moment, Lurhmann brings it to life for me. Previously, I’d rushed through description after description of the shirts, but in seeing it, the idea of what might have been resonates within me.


The Great Gatsby Featurette

The ever present green light, looming, on Daisy’s dock. The 3D eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, watching. The orgiastic parties of music, libations, dancers, confetti…celebration and sin. The stark contrast in Nick’s humble cottage as compared to Gatsby’s grandiose mansion, polarizing the two men. The seediness of the Valley of Ashes mirroring Myrtle and George, the darkness within them. The hope that sparkles in Gatsby’s eyes when he delivers the lines:

Gatsby Quote 2

The film is like a majestic tapestry culminating the symbols and themes and characters that Fitzgerald so poignantly put into words.

In my experience, viewing an adaptation as a substitute for the original never works because it always falls short of the imagination. But in viewing an adaptation as it’s own work, a representation of the original, a viewer opens himself up to a whole new experience.

Gatsby Quote 3

As the credits rolled away, I sat for a moment, overwhelmed, for I’d been completely satisfied. Out in the lobby, I was met by twenty six students who, wide-eyed and expressive, couldn’t wait to share how much they’d enjoyed the film. I remembered how they’d grumbled when we’d begun reading it in class. “It’s too hard,” “It’s old,” were among the early rumblings I heard. But when we heard it would be a film, there was a shift, suddenly the fact that it was relevant enough to put on screen called attention to it’s worthiness as a piece of literature. So, if this is my window into the classics, for these kids, I’m going to take it.

Great Gastby Jay

The Words: A Film Writers MUST See

Musée des arts et métiers, Paris. Machine à écrire portable Corona, 1920.

The Words, a film released in 2012, written and directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, starring Bradley Cooper, Dennis Quaid, Jeremy Irons and Olivia Wilde, is a MUST SEE for writers. Stumbling upon it last night, it was the preview that first captured my attention. I’d never heard of it, though I am a fan of the whole cast.

the words

A multi-layered film, that has one thinking throughout, this film takes you on the journey of three writers who all have a connection. At the center is young, romantic, dreamer Rory Jansen, played by Cooper, who longs to have his work published and will stop at nothing to do so– even if it means stealing someone else’s words. As a viewer and writer, I am moved by Rory’s plight, a character who pours his heart out on the page only to seek rejection after rejection. Longing to live out his dream, Rory is caught up in a web he can’t get out of and has to chose between truth, love, and the career he’s always wanted.

The Old Man, played by Irons, confronts Rory because his words are those he stole, but the Old Man doesn’t want anything other than to let Rory know that HE knows his claim to fame– his great American Novel– isn’t his at all. The Old Man recounts how he came about telling the story– one derived from his own experience, including great love, pain and suffering as a young man. Spending only two weeks on an emotional outpouring, he describes the experience of writing his novel as the words pouring onto the pages from a place he didn’t know existed within him. His sole work becomes lost on a train somewhere in France. Iron’s characters loses his love, his child, and his work. Every one who’s ever written can feel the sense of loss Iron’s character must have experienced– to write something good, great even, to have your words captured on the page only to be lost in the abyss must be a paralyzing experience for any writer. I found myself connecting with his description of how he wrote, within those two weeks, as if the words being typed on the page were not even his own. In those moments, one recognizes himself as a writer; it’s something that addictive, an experience you want to recapture again and again, but it doesn’t necessarily work that way. The Old Man admitted he tried to write again, but he gave up or lost his ability– he wasn’t sure.

The mature, accomplished writer, Clay Hammond, played by Quaid, opens up the film at a reading of his upcoming novel, entitled The Words, which reveals Rory and The Old Man’s story to the audience. As the primary narrator of the film, the viewer wonders what Hammond’s connection is to Rory’s story and how he knows it so intimately. Daniella, played by Wilde, a young, grad student and novice writer, demands an explanation to Rory’s story. She’s unsatisfied by Hammond’s explanation of how it all ends. Hammond gives her a host of possibilities that we, as writers, consider when crafting a story. I found myself applying this to my own novel I’m currently working on– playing out all the what ifs and imagining each one’s effect on the outcome of the story. Hammond reveals to Daniella, “At some point, you have to choose between life and fiction.” It’s a quote that resonates with me long after the film ends– the single quote in the film that ties the entire film together.

The stories we tell ourselves as writers often blur the lines between fiction and reality. For instance, with I’m in the heart of a novel, I feel what my character’s are feeling– the day’s writing absolutely affects my state of mind. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about my characters or considering the possibilities of this idea or that. I dream my novels to the point that sometimes I achieve clarity about them from my dreams. My husband if fond of telling me, “Life is not a fairy tale,” but for me it is. It’s what I do and who I am. I’ve yet to be faced with the decision of choosing between life and fiction, but it certainly overlaps my every day experience.

This film is the perfect marrying of two passions: film and writing. The film is well made, well sequenced. Of course, I prefer a non-linear, multi-layered narrative, especially when I can’t predict the connections before I’m meant to. In fact, I didn’t tie the whole of the connection of the characters together until after the film concluded. To me, that’s the mark of a good story, one in which I’m still fitting the pieces together long after it’s concluded, one that lives with me for hours after it’s over.

The Hours

I’d liken this film to The Hours, an adaptation of a novel by Michael Cunningham and directed by Stephen Daldry, released in 2002, which weaves together the lives of Virginia Woolf, Clarissa Vaughan and Laura Brown. It’s that same multi-layering that experiments with the collision of art/ writing and life moving from one woman’s life to another that finally reveals their connection at the end.

Pondering happiness, Clarissa Vaughan recounts a time in her life: “I remember one morning getting up at dawn, there was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself: So, this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts. And of course there will always be more. It never occurred to me it wasn’t the beginning. It was happiness. It was the moment.” Similarly, the Old Man, recounts in his telling of his story to Rory, his happiest moment, from which he drew upon for his novel, stating, “That was my moment. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was.” Both The Words and The Hours beg us to question our moments and the choices we make and how we decide to live with them.

Elevating the Senses

I am definitely a proponent of experiential, multi-sensory learning. I believe that people learn by doing.
There are a couple of activities that I do with my film class which are good examples of this kind of teaching/learning. A teacher knows when he/she has had a teachable moment or several, and these lessons always satisfy me because the students leave the room talking about how engaged they were in the lesson and how much they learned as a result.
The basis of the course Reading Literature/Reading Film, one which I co-wrote the curriculum form, is seeded in the need to facilitate a student’s understanding of visual media. Students (and people in general) all too often are passive about the visual media they take in (whether it be film, video games, social media, ads…) without having the ability to take a critical look. We decided to take what that can & do think critically about– literature, using it as a basis to teach visual literacy through the medium of film.
Some students come to us having taken Video Production as an elective at our school; some come with no background knowledge at all. So, before we can begin engaging in the conversation of analysis visual images, we need to establish a common vocabulary to do so.
Using literary devices as common ground on which to begin, we talk about how we recognize plot, setting, character and theme in films. From there, we move onto theatrical device, referred to as mise en scéne in the film industry, to discuss how acting, costume, make-up, set and props continue to the understanding of the literary elements. Only then can we move onto the teaching of the cinematic devices that are utilized to make meaning in a film. These include: framing, camera angle & movement, focus, lighting, sound and editing.
Instead of providing students with a laundry list of terms, I try to get them to become active learners through the process. Here are some activities I employ:

When teaching students to understand framing, camera angles and movement, I hand out a letter size blank piece of paper and ask them what it could be used for. Among the myriad of possibilities, their wheels spin and some shout out, “a storyboard,” “something to deflect light,” “a clapper board” … the list goes on and they really can be quite focused and inventive. I roll up the piece of paper, and, immediately, they get it, mimicking my movements as I look through the make-shift lens.
I ask for a volunteer to stand at the front of the room. Typically, the most extroverted are the first to raise their hands. I choose one asking him/her to stand at the front of the classroom. I direct the “cameramen/women” to move freely about the room to actuate the shot I’m looking for. We start off with a medium shot which I explain to be neutral; a discussion ensues about the effects of a medium shot on the viewer. We move on to a close-up and long shot. We discuss the shared features of a long shot and establishing shot. By the time they get to angles, I have them standing on the chairs of their desks or the subject doing so while students get him/her in a low angle. Immediately, they begin making connections to standout scenes in films that most are familiar with. I have camera person sitting on my rolling desk chair while the “subject” moves about the room and the camera person needs to dolly after her, maintaining the medium shot all the while.
One student asks if she could take pictures, and, before I know it, we are featured on the front of our school news website.

While the camera lesson is ever bit kinesthetic, the sound lesson is similarly engaging but focuses on the hearing sense primarily. Using short clips from Scent of a Woman and The Truman Show, I have the students turn their desks away from the screen, prohibiting the visual sense. In their journals, I ask them to record what sounds they are hearing and what they infer those sounds to be while listening to the clips. For the first clip, it’s the scene where Chris O’donnell’s character awakens from a sleep on the couch only to find the blind character played by Al Pacino, disassembling and reassembling a gun while O’donnell times him. At first, students think the tinkering of the gun parts are utensils clanking on dishes, but as they continue to listen, they become aware that it’s a gun being assembled once they hear the cocking of it. A few astute listeners key in on O’donnell waking up as they hear the rustling of sheets and a belt buckle.

Next, I ask them to turn their desks toward the screen and I play the shower scene from Psycho and the big wheel scene from The Shining with no sound. For each frame, I ask them to journal what they think should be heard with the visuals in the shot. They do a pretty good job.

I try to choose films they are not too familiar with. There was only one student who had seen 3 of the 4. About 1/3 had seen The Shining, but as far as the others– less than a few for each film.

When the students continue talking about the lesson after I’ve concluded it, I know it’s been successful. I LOVE teaching this course!! One of the things I love most is that I primarily show only clips which keep the students wanting more; it’s a way of enticing them to borrow some of the classics they might not have otherwise seen.

Sources for these lessons:
Reading in the Dark, John Golden

Reading the Movies, William Costanzo


While at times I am overwhelmed by technology, I also embrace the possibilities it opens up to students and me. I decided to become i-connected when the iPad 2 was released (I was already using my iPod and iPhone). I set my alarm to the wee hours of the morning to be among the first to place my order, and good thing I did, too, because, while it only took me 10 days to receive my package, others waited for weeks longer.
Three of us, at work, ordered in the wee hours of the morning and received our iPads on the very same day! Eagerly, we arrived at work & compared notes. Exchanging procedures and capabilities, not to mention the APPS (all the APPS; it was like Christmas each time I visited the iTunes store) had become a daily routine. We were each others’ support and pioneers at our school.
So, I thought, why not open up my finds to a greater audience, and all I ask in return is that you make some suggestions of your finds to me, too! I’ve listed all of the TEACHER-friendly APPS I use at and for school, some on a daily basis. Keep in mind that I teach high school English, so my APP Table of Contents may vary from yours if you are teaching a different grade level or discipline.
I’d be happy to answer any questions that you have about any of the APPS I have listed below.

    Just a few of my faves:
Among my favorites, by far, is the Planbook APP by Hellmansoft. It has afforded me to have a paperless planbook that I no longer need to erase when I haven’t accomplished all I’ve wanted to or when we have a snow day and I have to push everything I’ve written in pencil forward. Paper-thin paper, be gone! Not to mention the developer is extremely supportive and takes suggestions for future updates.
In addition to the Planbook, Essay Grader is also a very useful APP where you could customize your comments to avoid having to write the same things over and over again, and then you email the comments to the students; you can even upload your student lists and save them.
ibook Writer is something I’ve explored a bit with but not fully. It’s an app where basically you can write a book for each unit and ultimately a course, importing documents, pictures and media. It reminds me of Wikis.
Dropbox is similar to the iCloud, in that you can upload documents from your iPad to your desktop or laptop and vice versa. It makes moving documents a dream.
For research and establishing connections between topics, Wikinodes is fantastic. It’s kind of like six degrees of separation. I use it at the beginning of a unit to establish some background information of the time period and author we are studying. The way one subject connects to another is particularly effective for visual learners. A scavenger hunt assignment is fun to create with this APP.
For the British literature passion I get to indulge while teaching a course of the same name, Shakespeare is an essential APP, providing biographical info, full texts of his plays, his sonnets, instruction on iambic pentameter and links to performances and Shakespeare resources.
London is an APP that provides the evolution of the city including maps over various time period, events, people, etc. that shaped London. It even has some media clips of short documentaries and interviews.
Both British Library apps are also helpful when wanting to demonstrate primary source material from various time periods. They have such materials as the original texts of Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales which are housed at the British Library.
For film buffs, the IMDB APP is essential. It includes everything you’ve ever wanted to know about films, directors, actors/actresses, genres and film history. It’s a must have APP not only for film teachers, like myself, but also for film buffs.
Paramount 100 is effective when presenting the history of film or to acquaint students with the makings of a production studio.
Editions is also one of my visit-everyday APPS. It allows you to select topics of interest and pulls articles based on such topic from daily sources to create a magazine. I highly recommend this one to get all of your info from one source!
For short presentations on a variety of topics, TED talks are both interesting and thought provoking.
iTunes U hosts a vast array of collegiate sources (both text and audio) that I’ve found useful for my literature classes.

Utility APPS:
Adobe Reader
Essay Grader

Reference APPS:
Discovery Edu
POADAT: Oxford Dictionary & Thesaurus
Lit analysis

British Literature APPS:
Treasure: British Library
British Library
London: City Walks

Film APPS:
Movies 2
Paramount 100

News APPS:
The Chronicle

Media APPS:

Literary APPS:
iTunes U

Travel APPS:
EF Tours

I plan on updating this list and reblogging as I find more useful APPS. I’m looking forward to seeing your suggestions. hAPPy APPing!!

Yes! Again.

A week has passed since the 2012 Oscar Ceremony has commenced and what has resonated most is Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech for Best Leading Actress, so I write this blog in dedication to Meryl Streep. While I have yet to see the film, The Iron Lady, which is the performance that earned her the award, I’m sure it was as outstanding as her other performances for which she was nominated 11 times and received her 3rd on this night (only to be outdone by Katherine Hepburn, who has won 4, — so far). As usual, Streep exuded class and grace in her acceptance speech. Contrary to her thought that “half of America was thinking, Oh no! Not again. Not HER!” I thought just the opposite.

I recall one of my first memories of film viewing was watching Kramer vs. Kramer, which earned her a nomination, in which she starred with Dustin Hoffman; together, they portrayed a couple going through an amicable (?) divorce. I thought divorce to be an non-amicable event until that film, but the couple portrayed it lovingly and genuinely. It’s one of those movies that has “stuck” with me, and later in my life I was able to draw from that experience, being the product of my own parents’ divorce. At that point, the film enabled me a perspective on what a couple endured from their perspective.

My second profound memory of a Streep film came when I viewed Sophie’s Choice, a film for which she did earn her first Academy Award. Sophie, a polish prisoner in the Holocaust stood in line with her two children awaiting selection and was posed the ultimatum of choosing which of her two children was to live or die. At that point, I understood the gravity of the Holocaust; moreover, I empathized that I could never make that decision as a mother, for I would rather perish myself.

The Hours, another Streep film, that stands out in my mind was an outstanding performance of an adapted Clarissa Dalloway– based on Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.

In it, her character defined, for me, what true happiness is in the following quote:

“It had seemed like the beginning of happiness, and Clarissa is still sometimes shocked, more than thirty years later to realize that it was happiness; that the entire experience lay in a kiss and a walk. The anticipation of dinner and a book. The dinner is by now forgotten; Lessing has been long overshadowed by other writers. What lives undimmed in Clarissa’s mind more than three decades later is a kiss at dusk on a patch of dead grass, and a walk around a pond as mosquitoes droned in the darkening air. There is still that singular perfection, and its perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly to promise more. Now she knows: That was the moment, right then. There has been no other.”

Mama Mia, a feel good film, that I sung my way thru, myself being an Abba fan back in “the” day… struck me as what a stretch. She isn’t a wonderful singer, but she pulled it off and it worked! It sent a message to try… to move out of the comfort zone.

Julia Childs was a woman who annoyed the hell out of me– THAT VOICE!… that is, until she was portrayed by Meryl Streep, who completely redeemed her for me, not to mention she nailed the accent.

One True Thing, The Bridges of MadisonCounty, It’s Complicated, Adaptation,

Postcards from the Edge, Devil Wears Prada, Out of Africa, Silkwood, The French

Lieutenant’s Woman, The Seduction of Joe Tynan, Doubt, Heartburn, The Manchurian Candidate…


A film needs to resonate in your mind long after you’ve seen it. A character needs to stand apart such that she will not be forgotten. An actress needs to embody that character and her story to make her believable, sympathetic, relatable.

Meryl Streep, in her performances, have made me laugh, cry (happy and sad tears); she has shocked me, left me in awe, left me wanting a continuation of the story as not to let go of the character who made such a lasting impression. Her characters and work have lived long in my heart & mind– they have changed me, somehow.

So, Yes, Meryl Streep, you have won, and, once again, I applaud you with the confidence that in the future, I will be applauding you again.

Top Pix 2011

Donna’s Top PIX 2011

One Day, David Nicholls
Before Woman Had Wings, Connie May Fowler
London, Edward Rutherfurd
Charlotte & Emily, Jude Morgan
Ghostwalk, Rebecca Scott
Cape Cod, Richard Russo

Black Swan
127 Hours
The Help
No Strings Attached
The Fighter
The Adjustment Bureau
Love and Other Drugs
Crazy, Stupid, Love
Something Borrowed

American Horror Story

Someone Like You & One and Only,
Every Teardrop is a Waterfall & Hurts like Heaven,
F**kin Perfect, Pink
Jar of Hearts, Christina Perri
Wish You Were Here, Avril Lavigne
Love it All, Kooks
Stereo Hearts, Gym Class Heroes (w. Adam Levine)

~old faves… on replay~
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

Slumdog Millionaire
Across the Universe
Forrest Gump

Big Brother
The Bachelor/ette

Soul Sister & Brick by Brick, Train
Yellow, Coldplay
Animal, Neon Trees
Breath, Anna Nalick
The Story, Brandi Carlisle

You and Me, Dave Matthews