1: Video, official book trailer for Amy Kurzweil’s "Flying Couch: A Graphic Memoir," 2016.
The book trailer for Flying Couch is a short video featuring an interview between the story’s author, Amy Kurzweil, and her grandmother, a central character in the book. The conversation is animated by Kurzweil’s drawings, a visual pairing that emphasizes how Flying Couch is a mixture of direct testimony and imaginative interpretation. In this video, as in the book, Bubbe’s words and story make up the content while Kurzweil, as interviewer and animator, steers the conversation. Kurzweil asks questions, edits and frames what is in the final cut, and shapes the visual content to emphasize or de-emphasize certain qualities about herself and her grandmother.
Suggested Activities: Begin by playing the video for students, but don’t let them see the animation. Ask them to pay close attention to what they hear, and to jot down notes as they listen: what kinds of questions does Kurzweil ask her grandmother? Why does she include the introductory parts instead of editing these out—like the sound of the tape recorder turning on, or asking her grandmother if she understands what they are doing, or her grandmother’s abrupt “huh?” Why does she include the music that she does? You might want to play the video (without letting them see it) two or three times. After you have discussed it as a class, put students into pairs. Have them write a 1- or 2-sentence description of Kurzweil, and then of her grandmother. What do we learn about each of them from listening to the interview?
Next, as a class, compare some of the descriptions and see if there are any discrepancies. What details from the interview (e.g., tone of voice, a piece of dialogue) are students using to support these descriptions? Does listening closely for a second or even third time change what they think of these two individuals? Did they develop new insights by listening to their classmates’ descriptions?
Finally, let students watch the video. Ask them to jot down notes as they watch. Did they learn or experience anything differently from watching the video with the animation? Remind them that animation allows Kurzweil to create whatever setting she wants for this brief interview—she does not have to make it realistic—and it also helps her cement the tone. How would they describe this style of animation? Why did Kurzweil choose to include the details that she did (the photographs in the background, or the animated fireplace, for example)?
If you want to use this exercise as the start to a longer project, you might also discuss this video in terms of its being an advertisement for the book. Based on this video, what can readers expect from the book? If you have recently completed reading a book as a class, you could ask students, in small groups, to create their own trailers for that book. They can write scripts and decide what visuals they want to include in their trailers. Students can record these, or simply describe or perform them in front of the class. Afterwards, you might have them discuss or compare and contrast the different trailers.
Source: Directed by Timour Gregory, drawn by Amy Kurzweil, “Official Book Trailer for Flying Couch: A Graphic Memoir,” YouTube, 29 Sept. 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=98&v=UFLrZ4os9go.