This week I had the pleasure of attending Dr. Stodnick’s History of British Literature class. The assignment was to create a screenplay and film out of Beowulf’s death and legacy, lines 2710-3030 of the poem. The two films shown were creatively put together and at times, comical. Stephanie Bongiorno, Alex Novoa, and Jen Weldon created one film while Christopher Darling and Shawn Wyatt produced the other.
In the first film, Stephanie, Alex, and Jen stated that their interpretive problem included steering away from full narration in order to capture the essence of the poem
The film in its entirety showed the amount of effort put into the making. Because their resources were limited to a college student’s budget, they did not have the luxury of splurging on chain mail or gold treasures. However, they were able to harness the acting skills of a horse that, belonged to Jen’s sister. With the help of free pizza, a promise to dress as knights, and partake in a bloody battle (a fake battle of course), this group was able to recruit several extras for the film. The result, the Battle at Ravenswood (or the Battle at UTA campus, as the background scenes included familiar buildings and parking lots), was a tour de force for the newbie cinematographers. Played in slow motion, the scene captured the brutality of the poem and the musical score added a level of pathos to the overall effect.
Contrary to the first film, the second was interpreted as a modern event, with Beowulf being part of a gang that gave back to the community rather than tearing it apart. Reporter, John Smith, delivered news of the death of Beowulf and spoke to those who knew him of his legacy to the community. Since dragons are rather scarce in today’s society, Christopher and Shawn decided to use violence as the symbol for the dragon. The safety of the community symbolized the gold in the original poem. When Beowulf slew the dragon, the treasure was his gift- therefore, once the violence stopped, the community was safe.
Comedy ensued when an image filled the screen with the caption, “The person does not want his face to be shown on television.” The use of this device suggested that the identity of the source should be protected. This intensified the modern day interpretation. Our society can be compared to this analysis. The government in Beowulf is portrayed as vigilante justice, meaning the concern of the government’s reaction is less important than the safety of its people.
By creating a screenplay for Beowulf, the students were able to interpret the poem in a way that others, who have not read the poem, can understand. The students were also able to understand the material by the “constant re-reading of the poem, which proved to help the material sink in,” said Stephanie. The fact that these English students have little to no experience creating a film added to the comedic presence in the presentation.
Christopher and Shawn’s video can be watched here.