To what extent does mise-en-scene affect the sequence in my clothes film?

Reflection on the extent to which mise-en-scene affects the sequence in Assignment 1 Clothes film

How does the scene feel?

  • there is a sense of mystery; slightly poetic feel
  • feels open ended – we are left wondering who the figure is, where he is, why he is there and where he is going
  • the scene feels empty

The sequence opens with a low angle, rotating shot looking up through the tree canopy. This opening shot of the trees, bare and lifeless, in silhouette against the sky, sets a dark, slightly oppressive, wintry mood within the sequence. Bringing us down to ground level within the forest, the second shot frames a figure walking through the trees into the distance. Subsequence shots show the forest floor, the figure’s boots in the mud and hand moving along the trunk of a fallen tree, and a flare of sunlight. We see a figure, out of focus, in the distance, stepping over a fallen tree and again in close up, standing beneath an old redwood tree. There is a sense of mystery, as we are left wondering who the figure in the forest is. But these questions are left unanswered, as the figure disappears back into the forest.

How has this been achieved?

  • choice of location
  • use of specific colours
  • the presence of a single, solitary figure

How has mise-en-scene played a part in this?

  • setting plays an important role in the sequence
  • the forest is central to the sequence

Is there any meaning conveyed through the mise-en-scene?

  • this may be a little vague
  • there is an unknown figure walking through a somewhat benign forest
  • a figure with a sense of purpose

On looking back at the mise-en-scène and its effect upon the sequence within the clothes film, I now realise how important it is to consider everything within the frame before I start filming. I think my use of mise-en-scène within the clothes film (i.e. setting, costume, lighting, staging) contributes to the atmosphere and meaning of the sequence in several ways. The forest setting is clearly a place that is empty and dormant, yet the trees, bare and lifeless in their winter state, are still quite majestic. The costume worn by the figure (walking boots, hat and fleece jacket) is appropriate to the wintery setting. The blue jacket contrasts with the subdued colours of the forest, helping to emphasise the human figure and picking it out against the background. Apart from the opening shot of the trees, there is a bright natural light within the landscape that helps give a benign feeling to the forest. This is in contrast to the opening shot that hints at something darker and more claustrophobic. The figure in blue moves through the forest with a sense of purpose. Though what that purpose is remains unknown.

However, having looked at the part played by mise-en-scène in the sequence and the atmosphere and meaning conveyed within it, I still feel there is much lacking both visually and in terms of meaning within my film.

 

Future improvements

This has been a very useful exercise for me. It has opened my eyes to the importance and cinematic power of mine-en-scene, and provided me with a vocabulary and grammar for the analysis of mine-en-scene in my own work.

This task has also revealed a number of flaws in my approach to mise-en-scène that need addressing as I move forward in my moving image practice.

Looking at other films and analysing the ways in which other filmmakers use mine-en-scene to convey meaning within a scene will prove an important step forward in my own moving image practice.

Building my own resource of research material will provide me with examples I can draw upon when planning my own moving images.

Mise-en-scène

I’ve been looking at the role of mise-en-scène in a range of films. The course notes suggest that ‘every item on screen has been considered and placed, every area of space has been adjusted to give the best composition’ (OCA, 2017:57).

Bordwell and Thompson (2017:115) identify Setting, Costume, Lighting and Staging as the four components, or areas of ‘choice and control’ in mise-en-scène.

I think the key point being made here is that everything within a scene is ‘chosen’ to be there for a reason, and that everything that is chosen to be in a scene is ‘controlled’ in such a way to help convey a particular meaning within the film.

The Godfather (1972)

Fig. 1.

The placement of objects within the frame adds significance to the meaning of this scene from The Godfather.

  • the wheat in foreground, filling most of the right half of the frame
  • the black car in mid-ground, centred vertically in the left half of the frame
  • the Statue of Liberty, tiny on the horizon in the background

Together these objects help set the scene. The car in a field of wheat creates a scene that feels remote. The Statue of Liberty, tiny in the background, indicates that we are in close proximity to New York City. The placement of these three elements also create a sense of depth within the frame. Particularly the Statue of Liberty, which is set on the horizon within an area of empty space, which helps emphasise its small, but significant presence in the background.

Hunger (2008)

Fig. 2.

The minimalistic image in the long take in this scene from Hunger helps focus the viewer’s attention on the dialogue between two characters.

  • a gloomy, bare-walled room
  • the empty tables and chairs, enclosing the characters
  • two characters in conversation
  • limited palette of colours
  • back lighting, from a single window above and behind the characters

Again, the four components of mise-en-scène help set the scene, in which two characters, Bobby Sands and Father  Dominic Moran, discuss the morality of a hunger strike.

Jane Eyre (2011)

One scene that I looked at in some detail was the ‘Jane the liar’ scene from Jane Eyre (2011), in which Jane is taught that lying is a sin. It’s a harsh, cruel and intimidating scene. On accidentally dropping her writing slate while another pupil was being beaten, she is branded a liar in front of the whole school by the principal Mr Brocklehurst and made to stand on a chair all day.

What I found particularly interesting about this film adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s novel is the way in which the mise-en-scène emphasises the darker side of the story. The setting, costume, lighting and staging combine in such a way to portray the harsh surroundings of Lowood School for Girls in a way that feels authentic and realistic.

The action within this scene takes place in a dark, featureless room lit by a few shafts of daylight piercing through windows high up in the wall. The adults sit on either side of a raised platform facing the girls, who are seated on wooden chairs arranged in rows on a stone-slabbed floor. Mr Brocklehurst, the only male in the scene, entering through a door at the back of the platform, stands in the centre of the platform, towering above the girls. There are very few colours in the scene. Those that are evident are generally pale and muted. The setting of this scene reinforces the impression that this is a very grim, strict, regimented school.

Many of the shots are symmetrically composed. This adds to the atmosphere of strict regimentation within the school.

The costume matches the mood. All the girls are dressed in the same grey, featureless dresses and white caps. Their costume de-emphasises their figures and rather than helping to pick them out against the neutral background, it helps to blend them into it. They are almost like ghostly shadows, sitting motionless in or moving through the room. The four teachers on the left of the platform are also wearing grey dresses. By contrast, the three young women sitting on the right of the platform are wearing colourful dresses and bonnets, indicating their higher social status than the staff and pupils of the school. Only they are allowed to express any emotion.

Much of the overall mood is generated by the lighting within the scene. Bordwell and Thompson (2017:124) suggest that lighting is more than just illumination enabling the viewer to see the action. They point out that the lighter and darker areas within the frame help create the composition of each shot. This is evident throughout the scene, through the partially lit room with patches of daylight falling on the wall and floor and the half-lit faces of the teachers, girls, Brocklehurst and Jane Eyre.

What I liked about this scene was the way in which the mise-en-scène helped heighten the dramatic action within the film and the way in which it helped add tension to the plight of Jane Eyre at this time in her life.

What this exercise has shown me is that mise-en-scène plays a fundamental role in the storytelling precess of a film. That the colours and design of each sequence play a significant role in the atmosphere and meaning of a moving image.


References

Moving Image 1: Setting the scene, 2017. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts

Bordwell, D., & Thompson, K. (2017) Film Art: An Introduction.  New York: McGraw Hill.

Jane Eyre: Jane the liar [YouTube website] At: https://www.youtube.com/embed/XFpdM1RPD94 (Accessed on 22 May 2017)

 

List of references

Figure 1. The Godfather

Figure 2. Hunger

Reading: ‘Mise-en-scène’

Mise-en-scène

The design aspects of a film – everything that appears within the frame and its arrangement.

 

As an example I looked at the mise-en-scène in Jane Eyre (2011).

 

 

The Components of Mine-en-scène

 

Key points for me

Mise-en-scène plays a fundamental role in the storytelling precess of a film. The colours and design of each sequence play a significant role in the atmosphere and meaning of a moving image. Everything within a scene is ‘chosen’ to be there for a reason, and everything that is chosen to be in a scene is ‘controlled’ in such a way to help convey a particular meaning within the film.

 


Bordwell, D., & Thompson, K. (2017) Film Art: An Introduction.  New York: McGraw Hill.

A1: Further research – Camera techniques

Having looked at the cultural meaning of forests, I decided to ask myself the question: how do I represent the darker side of the forest more successfully within my moving images?

I think there are three elements to this:

  1. Through carefully crafted storytelling.
  2. By considering the cultural meaning of forests.
  3. By applying specific camera techniques.

Cultural meaning – the forest as:

  • an enchanted place
  • a sanctuary
  • an expression of the mind
  • a place of darkness
  • a place of disorientation
  • a place of transformation
  • a dream world

Camera techniques – the smallest camera moves can have the greatest effect.

For example: by moving a POV shot through an empty space to make the viewer worry that something is about to happen or appear; or by creating fear and tension by showing nothing.

Christopher Kenworthy (2012) describes several ways of building suspense through the use of creeping shots or creating a sense of shock horror:

  • Subtle dolly
  • Push on nothing
  • The unseen
  • Fearing a place

Subtle Dolly

The ‘Subtle Dolly’ is a camera move that is ‘so slight that the audience won’t notice the camera moving, but will feel uneasy’ (Kenworthy, 2012:60).

It’s a camera movement that can be used when characters are moving through a dangerous space. As the actor moves slowly towards the camera, the camera moves back very slightly, giving the audience the feeling they are backing into dangerous territory.

The technique:

The camera is set up pointing toward the actor, and she/he is moving toward the camera. The actor looks off to the side or above, but their movement should be directly toward the camera. The camera should move back a short distance and the actor come to rest close to the camera.

Push on Nothing

This is a technique that was used to great effect by Stanley Kubrick in The Shining (1980). When a character moves through an unpleasant place, tension can be created by letting the audience see things exactly as the character would see them, by moving the camera through empty space.

The power of this effect rests in the fact that in film, ‘when you push in (or move toward) something, it can signify a thousand different things, but it nearly always means something has changed. To push through empty space means you echo the human experience of walking through a frightening place, while also using a cinematic signifier of change’ (Kenworthy, 2012:66).

The technique:

Set up at eye level with the actor, the camera moves slowly backward at the same pace as the actor moves through the corridor. Turn the camera round and shoot the same scene from the actor’s point of view.

The Unseen

In films, the things that are not seen are more frightening than the things that are seen. As a technique, this works well within the context of an ongoing, protracted chase. Juxtaposing a static close up shot of an actor with a handheld POV shot will unsettle the audience because they don’t know what is happening, creating fear.

The technique:

The camera is set up with a close up on the actor looking afraid. The camera should be static and quite still. The POV shot should be handheld and at an unexpected angle (e.g. in a city, the character could be looking up at street signs; outdoors, the character could be looking up at the tops of trees).

Fearing a Place

‘The fear of a place is one of the most powerful ways to convey a character’s unease’ (Kenworthy, 2012:126). The aim here is to capture a moment in which the character is literally and metaphorically backed up against the wall in a relatively open space.

The technique:

Place the actor against a wall or object, and position the camera as close to the wall as possible. Frame the actor so that she is to one side of the screen, revealing the dark space behind her. Then reverse the camera and shoot a POV shot, showing the empty space she is looking at.

 

I think each of these camera techniques have the potential of creating similar effects within a forest setting.


References

Kenworthy, C. 2012 Master Shots 2nd edition Studio City, CA: Michael Weise

A1: Further research – ‘Identity’, ‘place’ and the cultural meaning of forests

The question of ‘identity’ and ‘place’, and the interconnectedness between the two, is an important one for me. In my first assignment, I set out to create a moving image that depicted the relationship between ‘identity’ and ‘place’. However, the resulting film depicting a figure dressed in a blue jacket walking through a forest barely scraped the surface of what I had set out to do. So I thought I would follow up on some of the issues raised by my tutor in his feedback on Assignment 1.

In order to develop ‘a more focused, individual and potential meaningful conclusion’, my tutor suggested I explore and reflect upon ‘the cultural meanings that the forest might hold as well as the different ways that it has been dealt with by artists and filmmakers alike.’ Two things I had not considered when preparing for my first assignment.

‘If you’re afraid of wolves, don’t go into the woods.’

(Russian proverb)

In many fairy tale and folklore narratives the forest is often dark and a source of evil. The dark forest is a place in which we must face up to our fears and conquer them. This representation tends to generate narratives in which the forest becomes an obstacle the protagonist must overcome in order to reach their goal. A location through which they must travel, often at a price.

The forest has a broad range of cultural meanings, from enchanted place, to sanctuary from civilization, to ‘expression of the mind’ (Mullins, 2017).

Some notable examples of the use of forests in literature include:

  • Fairy tales – e.g. Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood
  • Brothers Grimm
  • Dante – Inferno
  • Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Edmund Spenser – The Faerie Queene
  • Tolkein – The Lord of the Rings
  • P.D. James – Death Comes to Pemberley
  • Tana French – In the Woods

As ‘enchanted place’ the forest occurs in folklore and modern fantasy, often portrayed as magical places unknown to characters and as places of transformation.

In fairy tales the forest is a magical realm and place of danger. German fairy tales in particular tend to take place in forests, such as Snow White, Hansel and Gretel and Rumpelstiltskin.

Forests are also found in mythology: in the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh; the Norse myth Myrkviðr (Mirkwood); and Ovid’s Metamorphosis.

Many trees have their own magic and myths associated with them. The image of the Tree of Life or World Tree occurs in European mythology, such as the tree Yggdrasil from Norse mythology. Seen as a link between heaven, the earth and the underworld, Yggdrasil features in the Icelandic Poetic Edda.

Some notable films using forests as the setting for their narratives include:

  • Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972) Directed by Werner Herzog – adrift on a raft in the Peruvian jungle, a band of conquistadors searching for El Dorado find the horror within themselves.
  • Deliverance (1972) Directed by John Boorman – man against nature; a gruelling psychological journey into the unknown and potentially dangerous wilderness.
  • Fitzcaraldo (1982) Directed by Werner Herzog – the folly of man against nature; a wilful obsessive who will stop at nothing to build an opera house in the Amazonian jungle.
  • The Emerald Forest (1985) Directed by John Boorman – based on the true story of an American engineer’s obsessive search for his abducted son in the Amazon jungle; the conflict between the ecological ethic of an Amazonian tribe and the corporate interests of modern civilisation; ancient wisdom based on dream time versus the ravaging of the earth characteristic of modern progress.
  • Medicine Man (1992) Directed by John McTiernan – an eccentric biochemist discovers a cure for cancer in the Amazonian rainforest; portrays the issue of deforestation.
  • The Blair Witch Project (1999) Directed by Eduardo Sanchez & Daniel Myrick – a supernatural horror; a fictional legend shot in the style of a documentary.
  • The Village (2004). Directed by M. Night Shyamalan – uses the dark forest symbolically.
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2016) Directed by David Kerr – BBC adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.
  • Embrace of the Serpent (2016) Directed by Ciro Guerra – a surreal parable told from the perspective of the last surviving member of an Amazonian tribe.

I think the Russian proverb ‘if you’re afraid of wolves, don’t go into the woods’ is a good place to start in my own exploration of the forest and its function in moving images. On one level it means exactly what it says: don’t go into places that you know will frighten you. However, I also think there is another, much deeper dimension to this proverb than that of a simple warning: the forest can also be an ‘expression of the mind’; the external manifestation of the character’s inner world. I particularly like the idea of connecting what we see on screen with what is going on inside the character’s mind.

In many films the forest is more that a setting, it is a metaphor for something darker and more complex than a landscape of trees. It’s a place in which characters must face up to their darkest fears and overcome them, whatever the odds.

From this standpoint, the forest as a place of labyrinthine complexity capable of confounding all who enter its realm could be seen as a place of darkness, disorientation and transformation.

All of this points to a forest that is very different to the one I portrayed in my first assignment film, which my tutor describes as ‘a very generic and placid version of the forest, a place that is easy to negotiate for a leisurely Sunday stroll.’ From a storytelling perspective, the forest has the potential to be so much more than this. So what I need to do now is look at some of the ways in which I could explore ways of using the darker side of the forest, in both storytelling and cinematic technique.

This follow-up research on the cultural meaning of forests has opened up new pathways into my exploration of ‘identity’ and ‘place’ within my own moving image practice. Especially in terms of how I use character and setting, which are inextricably bound together, as two intertwined elements of the same thing. For me, one way of looking at character and setting in a moving image is in terms of ‘figure’ and ‘place’, in which ‘place’ is the visual manifestation of the ‘figure’s’ inner world.

 


List of references

Mullins, C.V. (2017) ’12 Unforgettable Forests in Literature’ In: Electric Literature [website] At: https://electricliterature.com/12-unforgettable-forests-in-literature-393d8cd93b3a (Accessed on: 3 May 2017)

Porteous, A. (2002) The Forest in Folklore and Mythology New York: Dover Books