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Common Reading 2021: The Art of Adaptation by Sarai Mannolini-Winwood

The Art of Adaptation — Sarai Mannolini-Winwood

For humans, adaption is a natural instinct. However, when it comes to adapting text into a different form, such as film, are the two truly comparable? Both the original source material and the adaption are independent entities, reflecting the context in which they were created. Furthermore, adapting a text does not necessarily diminish its value, it merely represents a different interpretation of the overarching themes. To claim complete authorship of an adaption, a director or writer must exert their creative vision over a work to such an extent that it is unequivocally their own, thus transforming the adaptation into a work of art.

About the Author

Sarai Mannolini-Winwood is a free-lance twitter and literature enthusiast. She is an advocate for the importance of examining popular culture literature.

Discussion Questions

1. What is your favorite adaption? What makes you prefer it to the source material? 

2. In what sense is all media an adaption from something else?

3. To what extent does an adaption need to change the source material for the director or writer to be able to claim auteurship?

Class Activity

Watch some or all of Romeo and Juliet adaptation trailers as a class. While you're watching, make a list of some of the major differences between the adaptations. Discuss the factors that influence these changes. Consider how shifts in cultural values, genre, and audience shape each of the adaptations. 

Introduction — Heather Lang

In middle school, I snuck a VHS copy of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet into my dad’s shopping basket at the video rental store. I wasn’t allowed to rent it because it was Rated R (I didn’t have much interest in Shakespeare, but I did have interest in Leonardo DiCaprio). I’m still surprised that my covert operation worked, though I wonder if my dad only pretended not to notice.

When I remember my clandestine viewing of Romeo + Juliet, I don’t think about the play. Instead, I think about the unique attributes of its sensory extravaganza--neon-light-infused party (and funeral) scenes, a quintessentially 90s alt rock soundtrack, and a sometimes-uncomfortable mash-up of modern and historical elements. Luhrmann and his hyper-theatrical adaptations became a favorite of mine, and I’ve since fallen in love with his reimagining of the Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice in Moulin Rouge and his vibrant retelling of The Great Gatsby.

Luhrmann’s filmography demonstrates the argument of “The Art of Adaptation.” Creators adapt texts for lots of different purposes. Sometimes, we find that a new medium helps us to tell our story more vibrantly. Other times, an outdated story can find new life when it is adapted to meet a modern audience’s needs, values, or problems. Of course, we’ve all debated whether a book or its movie adaptation was better, but, neither is really better. They’re just different. As you read this piece, consider, what are the benefits to adapting texts for different media? When have you considered using a different medium to better convey your thoughts or ideas?

Romeo & Juliet Adaptations


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