Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a prominent novella that was written in 1958 by Truman Capote. Three years later, Paramount Pictures released a romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard. The film is considered as a radical interpretation because the plot and the ending are greatly changed (Cahir 13). Both novella and film are popular not only in the USA but in many countries all over the world. Although many people watch the film without reading the book or vice versa, it is interesting to enjoy both artworks and consider the differences and similarities between them. In fact, there have been many attempts to compare and contrast an original story with the translated one. In this way, the literary setting and the film’s mise-en-scene are to be compared and contrasted focusing on one scene from the novella. The differences in the original and translated versions of Breakfast at Tiffany are best defined in the setting, lighting, costuming, staging, and acting during the night-long conversation between Holly Golightly and the narrator.
The scene opens as Holly gets into her neighbor’s room trying to escape from a “terrifying” drunk man. She begs the narrator (Paul in the film) to let her in, and eventually they talkabout their lives, habits, and passions. Capote’s novella is set in New York during World War II. Although the characters do not experience the war as it is, wartime is in the air, surroundings, and people’s behavior. Readers find the main heroes in a room typical for those times: bed, rickety red-velvet chairs, a table with papers and books, a bowl of apples, an ashtray, a lamp, and a window with the fire escape outside it (Capote 30). The scene takes place during Thursday night, a day when Holly has to go to Sing Sing to visit Sally Tomato. The main characters spend the whole night talking, and in the morning, Holly leaves. Writers who worked on the script of the film decided to change the setting from the novella and brought Holly from the wartime to the 1960s. Similarly, she comes to Paul’s room at night, but the surroundings are quite different from those one pictures in the novella. Everything is bright because the walls are white and blue, decorated by shiny and gold objects. The room is very spacious and light. The armchairs unlike the ones depicted in the book, are new and steady. Moreover, there are some objects that are not typical for the1940s, namely telephone, different statuettes, and printing press. The narrator does not have all these things in his room. Moreover, in the novella, Holly calls the room of her neighbor “a chamber of horrors” and wonders how it is possible to live in it (Capote 30). These commentaries are absent in the film, as Paul’s room is far from these descriptions. In this way, the surroundings that are in the book differ from the ones that appear in the film because of the differences between the lifestyles of the 1940s and 1960s.
Lighting is one of the most important elements of the film’s mise-en-scene since it has a great power of evoking definite feelings and emotions. Lighting influences the general tone of the movie, as well as the impressions experienced by viewers (Gibbs 20). Despite the fact that lighting is the element of a film’s mise-en-scene, but not the literary setting, in the novella the light during the night conversation is muted. The talkative Holly and the attentive thoughtful narrator enjoy pleasant gloom in the room. In the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a three-point lighting scheme provides an even illumination of the scene. The light comes from three directions and brings a sense of depth. All the scenes in the film, including the scene at night, are bright and colorful. The conversation in the film is less romantic because of this fact, but at the same time,it is more realistic and true to life. As many plot details are omitted, the lack of the novella’s romantics is the result of cutting the reading of narrator’s short story, or the due to the fact that this conversation in not the first one in the film.
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Another prominent element of the film’s mise-en-scene is actors’ costumes. In fact, costuming is the most noticeable element. As a rule, costumes describe the characters, their personalities and worldviews, their statuses and ways of behavior (Gibbs 21). In most cases, when one speaks about costumes, they include make-up and accessories that complement them. When Capote’s Holly enters the room of the narrator, she wears a grey flannel robe and “the robe was all she was wearing” (Capote 30). Such nudity can be a hint of her frivolity and openness.There is not a word about her make-up, but the narrator pays attention to her “large eyes, a little blue, a little green, dotted with bits of brown; vary-colored, like her hair, they gave out a lively warm light” (Capote 35). Moreover, in the film, Holly wears a white terrycloth robe instead of flannel one. This change may be related to the differences in fashion in 1940s and 1960s. Furthermore, Paul does not have an opportunity to check whether there is something else under the robe, as these actions are cut during the translation of original novella to the film. While the nameless narrator does not mention any information about his clothes, Paul is obviously naked under his blanket.
Staging and acting are the elements of mise-en-scene, which include the positions of actors, their gestures and movements, the scenic background and the way actors feel and perform. One should start with the actions and movements that can be found in the book. The narrator lies in his bed when Holly comes. From the very beginning of their first conversation, Holly sits in one of the old arm-chairs with her legs curved underneath her. She examines the room and makes some commentaries as to its look. When the narrator asks some tricky questions, Holly rubs her nose. In order to read his short story, narrator moves to the arm-chair and reads it while the listener thinks about everything except the narrator’s short story. Finally, they go to bed in order to have rest and sleep. In the movie, movements, gestures and positions of the main characters are different. First, Paul is sleeping when Holly comes. Second, Holly does not sit in an arm-chair. Instead, she is walking all over the room and touching everything she sees. Paul does not present any of his stories, and on the whole is not depicted as a promising writer. As there is no reading, there is no reason to leave bed, and that is why he stays in bed during the night. The gestures and movements of Holly and Paul are more relaxed than the gestures of original characters, since they have already had similar chat the day before. According to Capote’s version, Holly does not sleep as she is going to visit Sing Sing the next day. In the film, Holly sleeps because it is Friday, and she has already visited a strange man in prison. In both film and novella, Holly goes away angry and anxious. Despite such striking differences in plot, Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard bring their characters to life. Readers can easily recognize Capote’s main heroine in the actress’s movements, gestures, and words. Without a doubt, Hepburn looks aware of Holly Golightly and portrays her emotions as if they were her own.
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Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a famous novella by Truman Capote, was translated into a film, which eventually became even more popular than a source text of the novella. These two artworks have many similarities and differences, and there were many attempts to find them out. The main differences between the setting of the literary work and the film’s mise-en-scene are seen well in the scene of Holly and her neighbor’s night long conversation. The major distinction is related to the setting. While Truman Capote portrays New York during 1940s, the movie introduces the people who live twenty years later, with different ideas, lifestyles, and clothes. Although the scriptwriters changed the original plot greatly, cut many essential characters and events, and added some unique realities of 1960s, professional staging and acting created a new work of art with the same problems and major themes that impress everyone.