The smell of popcorn drifts through the air. As the lights dim, viewers silence their cell phones and prepare themselves to watch the movie on the screen. But when the film ends and the credits roll, one comment often rings throughout the theatre: “The book was better than the movie.”
This all-too familiar scene is one which Julie Grossman, Ph.D, director of Le Moyne’s Film Studies program, challenges. “I argue for considering adaptations as stand-alones, where their relations to their sources is just one element of the film, not a determining factor of its goodness or success,” says Grossman.
From the Broadway musical Hamilton to the 1995 movie Clueless to the television show Twin Peaks, Grossman examines the ways in which visual media relates to literature and how we, as an audience, react to these types of adaptations. She points out that as a culture, we tend to privilege “the original” over everything that comes after it; hence, we are more inclined to react negatively against adaptations. However, instead of comparing the book to the movie, Grossman finds it much more productive and interesting to remain open-minded as to where a story can go.
“One of the things I find important as a scholar is to not work in an ivory tower,” says Grossman. “I’m interested in working in scholarly areas that also have some relevance to culture more generally. So for me, the privileging of the source has an impact on how open we are to new work.”
Being open to new work, and new experiences, is something that Grossman seeks to instill within her students, both in and out of the classroom. Through trips to the Tribeca Film Festival in Manhattan and the Bologna Film Festival in Italy, students find themselves immersed in new films, new cultures, new places and new ideas.
Of the Bologna trip in particular, Grossman requires only one thing from her students: a passion for film. Students across all disciplines, such as communications, sociology, physician’s assistant studies and accounting, find themselves united through their love of movies. “Film studies and traveling abroad are really meaningful to students who aren’t necessarily film and English majors,” she says, adding, “The trip is about educating the whole person.”
For Grossman, the reward of teaching comes from knowing her students have absorbed the information taught in class and now apply their knowledge to movies they watch for fun, saying that “they watch films differently after taking courses in film studies at Le Moyne.”
Whether she is studying classic film noir, musical theatre that adapts Tolstoy’s War and Peace, or the 1995 thriller Safe, Grossman demonstrates the open-mindedness and curiosity essential to her work in adaptation studies. The importance and value of adaptations particularly struck her when she watched the musical Hamilton, which tells the story of one of America’s founding fathers: Alexander Hamilton. “Finding the resonance and relevance of classic works or figures or history or literature in the today—to me, that’s what it’s all about,” she says.