Tuesday October 2 , 2012 – FILM LECTURE
Today’s topic: Mise-en-scene
The stylistic system: The stylistic system of a film is defined by the patterned use of
medium-specific elements. These are the specific means by which a film communicates.
There are an abundance of elements which produce a whole. We must disentangle this
weave of elements and examine them individually. But how do you do this? How do you
assess a film’s components? You must think about film style in terms of these 4
categories: mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing and sound. Each corresponds to a
stage of the production process
Mise-en-scene: involves anything that appears on screen (make-up, lighting, actors,
performances…). Involves everything that happens before a camera rolls.
Cinematography: all technical factors that determine what camera renders from what is
placed before it. Incorporates what happens when camera is actually rolling. Is camera
static or moving over course of a shot for example?
Editing: Everything that happens in post-production
Sound: This is not the final stage of the production process because recording sound is
part of the entire process of making a film. We take into consideration everything that we
As we encounter these elements, we will point out techniques in each category and show
how they work in the film.
What we attempt to do in lecture is reinforce Bordwell and Thompson’s materials.
Screenings each week allow us to watch a film rich in techniques studied in class. In
tutorial, we will broach key recurring questions concerning techniques. We will answer
How is the techniques used and developed over the course of the film?
How does it contribute to the making of meaning?
Mise-en-scene is very straight-forward, it is what is shown to the camera.
In French, mise-en-scene is the term for directing. The mise-en-scene for a film are the
elements film has in common with theatre (make-up, acting, props…). But cinema can
transform all these elements. For ex, a theatre production could never use real world
settings (like a rail-road) while films can do so. Films can distort forms and colors. In
theatre, viewers are quite distant from actors while actors in film must adapt their
performances to closeness of camera. Lighting in theatre deals with constants (position of
audience, size of stage) while lighting scheme changes dramatically throughout a film.
An American in Paris by Vincente Minnelli (1951)
Breathless by Jean-Louis Godard (1959)
By setting we mean the location of the action. We must think of the function of the
setting in the film. Ex, in Kane, Xanadu (huge fortress) shows how Kane and Susan
become more and more isolated and estranged as they are apart physically. Here, setting
is involved in creation of development between Kane and Susan. First crucial choice of filmmaker is to choose between a location or a studio. Second choice = how sparingly or
lavishly to adorn that setting with props.
In American in Paris, it is shot on a stage set. We can know this by the way the camera
was panning – it is able to move without encountering unexpected elements. It feels as if
setting exists just for us, it is a little too clean. One of drawbacks of filming on stage set:
camera can’t do everything it wants to do. For ex, it can’t move to far away from set to
make an extreme long shot.
Why would a filmmaker choose to film on set? Because we have a highly controlled
environment that allows for multiple spaces to be visible. The movement can be perfectly
controlled and calligraphed in this environment. The film plays off choreography of
actors and objects. From this highly controlled environment we get a perfect placement
on props (we need a perfect choreography).
Drawbacks: there are limitations in terms of shot scales (we can’t move too far away
from the stage set, we will begin to see its edges). It is also not that realistic looking
(which might be a problem for viewers). We have to take this for granted although the
scene’s artificiality betrays itself.
A filmmaker might also opt to shoot on a set to contribute to the ideological agenda of a
film. 2 films that are shot on set: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920) and
Dogvillle (Lars con Trier, 2003).
Cabinet: Film is considered one of hallmarks of German expressionism (these
filmmakers attempted to exteriorize people’s inner/psychological/emotional states). Thus
construction of sets was central to films. Set of this film produces a vision of world as
seen through eyes of a mad man. Sets in films are hyper stylized, are characterized by
harsh angles, harsh tones, spaces barely habitable.
Dogville: von Trier decided to let drama unfold in very clearly fabricated stage set. He
wanted to make sure the spectator watching Dogville is never completely caught up in
story presented. Viewer must always realize that he is seeing something fabricated. He
wants viewer to engage intellectually and emotionally by continually underscoring
artificiality of movie.
Today, many settings created with green screen. In Alice in Wonderland, actors deliver
their performance before a green screen and with 3-D statues as characters. Her live
action performance is added to setting.
Scene from Breathless was filmed on location in contrast to American. Setting here
characterized by deep-space (lots of distance between foreground and background). We
have less reliance on props and more naturalness. Props are copies of Herald Tribune and
Michel’s cigarette. Cigarette becomes very significant throughout film (he always fiddles
it, fingers it to try to be like Humphrey Boggart). Generally, cre