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Adaptation, Topography, Memory

Image by Steve Payne

Adaptation, Topography, Memory

Victor Rees

This seven-week course is designed to prompt a re-examination of the relationship between film, text and environment. Taking a selection of different locations as starting points (the forest, the tower block, the public park...), students will be asked to interrogate how filmmakers generate meaning through their use/depiction/construction of landscape and architecture. 


Approaches into these explorations will be theoretical and creative, borrowing aspects of psychogeography to draw into focus the work of established, fringe and decentralised filmmakers. As an example, the first seminar will take as its starting point Stephen Bann’s conception of the English country house as a “synecdoche” of British heritage, an aggregation of historical motifs over centuries to create a bricolage of cultural signifiers. Threads will be traced from Bann’s quote to Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1928), written as a “love-letter” to Vita Sackville-West who was herself an outspoken supporter of the National Trust. We will finally come to an analysis of Sally Potter’s 1992 adaptation of Orlando, filmed on location at Hatfield house, in order to question whether the titular immortal hero can also be seen to represent a living synecdoche of English heritage. 


Further seminars will deal with the positioning of the human body within architecture, the distinctions between geographical centres and peripheries as a metaphor for the text vs its margins and the ways a filmed environment can be considered as either background or subject. I intend for the course outline to be a starting point from which students will challenge their relationships to familiar environments, opening up a conversation about the ways an evocation of landscape relates to an evocation of nationhood. 


Access to the films and book extracts will be provided. 



Outline of topics:


1: The Country House

Orlando, Sally Potter (1992). The Tempest, Derek Jarman (1979). Happy New Year, Colin Burstead, Ben Wheatley (2018).


2: The Tower Block

A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick (1971). High-Rise, Ben Wheatley (2015). Alphaville, Jean-Luc Godard (1965).


3: The Forest

Innocence, Lucile Hadžihalilović (2005). The Company of Wolves, Neil Jordan (1984). 


4: The Public Park

Blow-Up, Michelangelo Antonioni (1966). Mamma Roma, Pier Paolo Pasolini (1962).


5:  The Desert

The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers, Ben Rivers (2015). Cobra Verde, Werner Herzog (1987). Hyenas, Djibril Diop Mambéty (1992).

Suggested Reading:

Paul Bowles, A Distant Episode: The Selected Stories (New York: HarperCollins, 2006).

Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (London: Penguin, 2010).

Mary Butts, A Warning to Hikers (in Ashe of Rings and Other Writings, New York: McPherson & Company, 1998)

Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber (London: Vintage, 1995).

Bruce Chatwin, The Viceroy of Ouidah (London: Picador, 1982).

Julio Cortázar, Blow-Up and Other Stories (New York, Collider Books, 1967).

Paul Cronin, Werner Herzog, a Guide for the Perplexed (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014).

Friedrich Dürrenmatt, The Visit (London: Jonathan Cape, 1973).

Werner Herzog, Conquest of the Useless (New York: HarperCollins, 2010).

Sophie Mayer, The Cinema of Sally Potter: a Politics of Love (Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2009).



Angelo Restivo, The Cinema of Economic Miracles: Visuality and Modernization in the Italian Art Film (Durham: Durham University Press, 2002).

Joseph Roth, What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-33 (London: Granta Books, 2003).

Simon Schama, Landscape & Memory (London: HarperCollins, 1995).

Oswald Stack, Pasolini (London: Thames and Hudson, 1969).

Frank Wedekind, Mine-Haha: or, On the Bodily Education of Young Girls (London: Hesperus Press limited, 2010).

Virginia Woolf, Orlando (London: Penguin, 2000).

Patrick Wright, A Journey Through Ruins (London: Flamingo 1993).

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