Translating Emotion to the Screen with Composition and Shot Variation In A Raisin in the Sun
Filmmaking and cinematography are art forms completely open to interpretation in a myriad ways: frame composition, lighting, casting, camera angles, shot length, etc. The truly talented filmmaker employs every tool available to make a film communicate to the viewer on different levels, including social and emotional. When a filmmaker chooses to undertake an adaptation of a literary classic, the choices become somewhat more limited. In order to be true to the integrity of the piece of literature, the artistic team making the adaptation must be careful to communicate what is believed was intended by the writer. When the literature being adapted is a play originally intended for the stage, the task is perhaps simplified. Playwrights, unlike novelists, include some stage direction and other instructions regarding the visual aspect of the story. In this sense, the filmmaker has a strong basis for adapting a play to the big screen.
Despite the provision of stage directions, however, a play is not simple to adapt to a cinematic form. Plays rely heavily on dialogue to communicate emotion to the reader whereas film allows for close visual representation. Filmmakers can explore creativity in adaptation in many ways unavailable and impractical in the theater. In order to maximize the emotional impact of a dramatic work, the filmmaking team can make use of several simple yet effective tools, such as the composition of frames and the variations of the camera shot. In the 1961 film adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry's groundbreaking play A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Daniel Petrie, the filmmakers use these techniques in creative ways to communica...
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...stival) starring one of America's most acclaimed actors, Sidney Poitier. Despite the necessity of the brilliant and groundbreaking writing of Hansberry, credit must be given to the filmmakers for translating the stirring emotion of the play into something visually moving. A theater production lacks the creative license for close-up shots of actors' faces, and the composition of the stage comes off as contrived and stilted at times. Although carefully planned and choreographed, the frame composition of the film is a subtle and creative exploration of the emotional message of this play.
A Raisin in the Sun. By Lorraine Hansberry. Dir. Lloyd Richards. Perf. Sidney Poitier. Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York. 11 Mar. 1959.
A Raisin in the Sun. Dir. Daniel Petrie. Perf. Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee and John Fiedler. Columbia Pictures, 1961.