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 communicate the close relationships and strong emotions shared within the Younger family. The filmmakers extensively use creative frame composition and shot variation to demonstrate these relationships.
Obvious even to the first-time and recreational reader or audience member, A Raisin in the Sun's familial relationships play an integral role to the plot and overall tone of the play. In order to translate to the screen the importance of the emotions shared in the family, the filmmaking team working on the movie had to develop a system of shots and compositions that would imply the relationships visually in order to support the already emotional dialogue of the play. A number of very important scenes occur in the play, which are emphasized in the film by using these technical cinematic methods.
The first good example of emotion translated through frame composition is that in which Mama reveals the purchase of the house in Clybourne Park, occurring in Act Two, Scene One of the play. This scene is pivotal in the course of the narrative. Walter Lee's dream of opening his own liquor store seems truly killed during this scene, yet the dream so important to Mama and Ruth is simultaneously being fulfilled. The range of emotions...