by Chavonne Hodges.
In mid-October, CliffNotes, the company known for their easy-to-read, black and yellow literature guides, launched CliffNotes Films, a brand new web series to help students understand classic literature. Procrastinators rejoice.
Currently, students can choose from a list of six films, based on well-known Shakespearian plays like Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Julius Caesar. Narrated by Cliff, a knowledgeable superhero with a thick glasses and a yellow cape, who initially outlines the plays’ overarching themes and plot, each film is animated with characters who are vibrant and physically exaggerated.
In the Julius Caesar CliffNotes Films, Caesar is portrayed as a care-free, brawny leader, and his wife Calphurnia, a full-bodied, round-faced beauty. The viewer instantly knows it’s a work about persuasion and politics through funny motifs such as a persuasion alert that appears each time Brutus succeeds in conspiring against Caesar. As the film progresses, viewers are able to scroll over the each character to keep track of their names until Cliff ends the work with a recap and summary.
For English majors like Anita Rahman, CliffNotes films sounds like great idea.
“I think it’s awesome [especially for] people who haven’t read the play, because it gives them the main points,” says the 21-year-old City College student. “It would be a benefit for people who are doing last minute work.”
The web films are intended to give viewers a synopsis of classic plays by cramming the important details into seven to eight minute animated films; however the college appropriateness of these films are questionable.
“There’s so much good stuff you can do in that medium , [the film] seems willfully silly. [and] gives such a minimal interpretation and information about the work, “ says Professor Andras Kisery, after briefly viewing the Hamlet film. Kisery teaches two 300-level Shakespeare courses at City College and is very familiar with students’ use of Cliffnotes. “If you compare it to CliffNotes and Sparknotes, those have reasonably detailed plot summaries and descriptions of what’s happening, [followed by] a separate part where some kind of an analysis is happening.”
Students also aren’t thrilled about the film. “I didn’t know what CliffNotes Films were, but after seeing it I think it’s kind of boring and hard to pay attention to” says English and Ad/PR major Olivia Orellano after viewing the Othello film. “ I think it appeals more to elementary and high school students because it’s a cartoon.”
Perhaps funny animations, Shakespeare and college students simply don’t mix. “If you can’t even read a synopsis, then you may want to ask yourself why you are taking a literature course,” says Kisery. Procrastinators beware.