Critical Viewing I: Chapter 1 in Detail

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SWBAT analyze a key scene in "The Great Gatsby" though comparing that scene's portrayal in film to their close reading of the text.

Big Idea

Critical Viewing encourages critical thinking: rather than passively absorbing film, students actively engage and criticize the movie versions of "The Great Gatsby."

Welcome & Introduction: It's Donald Duck Day

3 minutes

I welcome students to "Donald Duck Day," asking of any of them are familiar with the cartoon, "Duck Tales"; a personal favorite when I was younger, I share rushing home from school to try to catch it in the afternoon.

As always, the Daily Holiday serves to draw students in, building student ownership and a sense of community in the class. 

Critical Viewing and Talkback: A Look at "The Great Gatsby" in Film

45 minutes

Often considered one of the "Great American Novels," F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity due to the 2013 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. Many students are familiar with the work, at least the basic premise of the story, and in this unit we explore the novel's enduring popularity by analyzing key ideas that make the story both memorable and powerful. Fitzgerald's highly descriptive, highly "visual" writing style lends itself to the screen, and through analysis of "The Great Gatsby" in text and film, students' critical reading, critical viewing, and critical thinking skills are developed. We will be using all three in order to provide multiple interpretations for students to react to and interpret; each has its own strengths, weaknesses, and unique aspects. These skills carry over outside of the novel and unit into daily life.

I begin today's lesson by refreshing students memories of David Considine's "Critical Thinking and Viewing Skills," (see "Making The Story 'Real': Film Analysis of 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge'" for students' first introduction to this article), projecting the webpage on the front screen. After we briefly review why we watch films critically, I remind students our primary objective is to analyze what is present and absent in each film version of "The Great Gatsby" and consider why the filmmakers make have made the choice to remain true to or differ from the text (RL.9-10.7).

I play the rough equivalent of the excerpt from Chapter 1 provided to the students (from Nick's arrival at the Buchannans' home on East Egg to when Tom and Daisy return to dinner following the phone call from Myrtle). As students view these, they are asked to use a notes sheet to consider what they notice, as if they are "annotating" the film: What is striking? What patterns do they notice? How and why do events in the films happen? I especially direct students to analyze the film's interpretation of the language Fitzgerald uses to describe the setting, color symbolism, simile, and metaphor, and the impact those interpretations of the diction have on the film (RL.9-10.4), as well as how the character portrayal is similar to or different from what we addressed in our close reading (see the lesson "Close Reading: Chapter 1 in Detail") and the casting activity (see the lesson, "'I’m Inclined To Reserve All Judgments': Understanding Characterization") (RL.9-10.3)

Between each film, as I switch and cue the film clips, students are given two to three minutes to process what they have seen and take note of it, writing down on the notes sheet that which they find striking or significant.

Once we have viewed all three clips, I ask students to respond to what they have seen. As students share their thoughts on the films, I make note on the white board. As with yesterday, I guide students to looking at setting, color symbolism, figurative language, and characterization if they get too far afield. Again, students propel this conversation by posing and responding to how the specific scenes relate to broader themes or larger ideas about "The Great Gatsby (SL.9-10.1c), by responding thoughtfully to each others' perspectives, justifying their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented (SL.9-10.1d).

By the end of the class, we will have notes comparing this scene from Chapter 1 in the text, in 1974in 2000, and in 2013.

As noted, by viewing the clips of the film critically, students develop analysis skills, but viewing a film can become a more immersive experience. Rather than simply "turning off with the lights", students can actively engage the films they watch, crafting meaning and thinking critically about the images presented to them. As we continually grow as a visual society, the ability to interpret visual images will be a key skill for success. 

A Note: I personally own each copy of the film, and am showing small snippets for educational purposes. This lesson can be easily adapted/modified for teachers who only have access to one or two versions of the film:

"The Great Gatsby." Dir. Jack Clayton. Perf. Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Sam Watterston, Bruce Dern. Paramount Pictures. 1974. DVD.

"The Great Gatsby." Dir. Robert Markowitz. Perf. Toby Stephens, Mira Sorvino, Paul Rudd, Martin Donovan. A&E Television Networks. 2000. DVD. 

"The Great Gatsby." Dir. Baz Luhrmann. Perf. Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton. Warner Brothers. 2013. DVD.

Two-Minute Warning: Wrap-Up and Reminders

2 minutes

With two minutes remaining, I remind students that we will be reviewing chapters 3 and 4 in class tomorrow, and their homework is to prepare for that discussion.