What aspects of "A Soldier's Story" film succeed over the play?

Quick answer:

The film version of A Soldier's Play succeeds in possessing more realism than the stage original, which is a natural consequence of the theater to cinema transition.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

While it is questionable to consider the changes made to A Soldier's Play in its transition from stage to screen as improvements, the alterations reflect the different needs of cinema and theater as artistic mediums. The film version would suffer were it to try to present the original play exactly as it was performed on stage.

Firstly, the film is more "realistic" than the play. Theater can be abstract and less real, hence the use of only one set in the original. The film showcases more locations: a military chapel, Big Mary's bar, the woods nearby, individual offices, and the baseball field where the soldiers play games. This allows the viewer to be more immersed in the time and place of the story. Flashback scenes appear alongside the present-day action in the play, while they are presented separately in the film.

Also because the film is more realistic, it can show more characters beyond just the few soldiers involved in the murder mystery. The filmmakers feature more scenes that visually establish the conflict between the black soldiers and the white Louisiana townspeople who are unhappy due to their presence. The scene showing the baseball game also highlights this conflict by cutting between the black and white spectators.

Also of note is the increased presence of women in the movie: in the play, women are often mentioned but never appear on stage because the action is limited to the conflict between the men. However, because the movie has "opened up" the setting, women are more present and even directly interact with the soldiers (such as Big Mary singing with CJ), even if none of them play a major role in the story.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss one area where the film A Soldier's Play succeeds over the written play.

The answer to this question, for most people, will probably be a generic one, not necessarily based on specific differences in plot, character, and theme between play and movie, but on the distinct qualities any film will have vis-à-vis a play upon which it's based.

Film is by nature a more "realistic" medium than the stage-play. An audience watching a play in the theater knows, of course, that this is a performance and that the actors are playing roles. There is a self-conscious quality to the theater, a deliberate kind of artifice. This is not said in a negative way, but simply as a description of what makes the theater what it is. It is also precisely the feature for which those of us who enjoy watching and reading plays value the theater.

In film, on the other hand, the intention of the director is usually to avoid artifice and to make the presentation of a drama as naturalistic as possible. The action of a film, in some sense, is made to appear as if it's something that really happened and has been caught on camera. The audience, of course, know that they're just watching a movie, but it seems as if it could be real in a way the theater can't accomplish—and doesn't try to do. And ironically, there are instances in which a low-budget film can seem especially real, because it's less artful than a high-class production and can appear like something that really took place and just happened to be filmed with a home-movie camera.

In A Soldier's Story the exterior scenes showing the death of Waters perhaps bring home the reality of the situation in a special way possible only in film. The physical details of the army barracks and the army base as a whole have a similar, gritty appearance that the stage play cannot recreate. But given that the film follows A Soldier's Play closely in plot and theme, these "advantages" of film are minor considerations. One can just as easily assert that in the theater the physical closeness of the actors to the audience gives another kind of realism or emotional immediacy lacking in film. In any event, both versions of Charles Fuller's story are masterpieces.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on