Cinematography Part II: MISE-EN-SCÈNE: Orchestrating the Frame
mise-en-scène: placement of characters, props and scenery within a frame, creating the visual weight and movement.
Because film is a temporal and spatial form, the visuals are constantly in flux. Although a frame from a film can be analyzed for aspects of mise-en-scene, the aspects need to be considered in the narrative context in which they appear.
I. Frame Size
A) Aspect Ratios
B) Widescreen Experiments
1) CinemaScope: 20th Century-Fox uses lenses to distort in filming and then spread out in projection. First major The Robe 1953. The technique for CinemaScope, developed by Professor Henri Chretien, had been known for 25 years. Many widescreen processes were experimented with in the 50s as the movies competed with television. On 35mm, CinemaScope is 2.35:1. On 70mm, CinemaScope is 2.2:1. CinemaScope variations: WarnerVision, Techniscope, PanaScope, SuperScope and PanaVision.
2) Cinerama: three cameras, Fred Waller of Paramount's special effects, debuted 1939 World's Fair. First major How the West Was Won 1962. Cinerama variations: Cinemiracle, Thrillerama, Wonderama, Disney's Circarama, Quadravision, Kinopanorama (USSR).
II. Elements of mise-en-scène
Filmmakers arrange characters, props and scenery to complement the story. Generally, characters provide the human reference point for an analysis of mise-en-scène.
- character to character: in Hitchcock's Notorious, a close two-shot of Dev and Elsa establishes an intimacy between the two characters brings the audience close to that relationship.
- character to prop: in Citizen Kane the placement of the snow globe in Susan Alexander's apartment links her to that prop whenever it appears with Kane.
- character to scenery: The degree of density can symbolically dramatize the quality of life in the world of the film. In The Horse Whisperer, the strong-willed mother breaks down at Little Big Horn, the site of Custer's Last Stand, the connotation being that as she moves from the east to the west, she will no longer be in control of her world.
III. Reading Frames the Planes of a Frame
Theorhetically, positions within frames have inherrent values that cinematographer's use to compose and audiences read either conciously or subconciously. The theory of reading a frame does not hold up for every shot, but it helps more often than not.
A) Plane Front to Back: foreground, middle, background
|The top still from Chinatown was taken from the widescreen version, the lower from the formatted version for t.v. Jake in the foreground (f.g.) tells a dirty joke without realizing that Mrs. Mulwray is listening to him in the background (b.g.). In this case, the character in the background has the dramatic advantage because she is in the privileged position of knowing the most of what is happening in the scene. Notice how Mrs. Mulwray's attorney is cut out of the formatted version, thus denying the scene some of its original dramatic tension.|
|In this reverse-angle 3-shot, notice the contrast of expressions on Duffy and Walsh's faces as Jake tells his joke. While Walsh (center) appears consternated by the scene, Duffy (left) takes grim satisfaction in watching Jake make a fool of himself. Unfortunately, the visual complexity of this shot was lost during the formatting process known as "pan-and-scan" or, more accurately in this case, "pick and pan."|
|These two stills from the formatted version were a two-shot in the original widescreen version. Although the actors' performances still have "expressiveness" in the formatted version, these two shots lack the tension of opposition found in the widescreen's two-shot. Furthermore, making one shot into two changes the rhythm of the editing. Because most cinemaphiles want to see movies with the intended editing in the original aspect ratio, "widescreen" or "letterbox" formats are desirable. To accommodate pay-per-view audiences, several high-end televisions now provide widescreen-aspect-ratio options.|
B) The Frame Left to Right
Art historian Heinrich Wolfflin theorized that audiences scan pictures left to right, as if reading. Consequently, a character moving left to right can appear to empoered; whereas, a character moving right to left can appear to be laboring against the grain. Beside movement, the spatial position can also imply power.
C) Frame Levels Top to Bottom: Because of the political themes in JAWS, the movie uses a vertical structure to reinforce the hierarchal metaphor.
D) Frame establishes space around a character
1) loose--background visible
c) mask: technique used in the silent era to draw audience's attention to one part of the screen by covering the rest.
IV. Manner in which characters, props and sets are photographed (See Cinematography I: Photography)
E) Lines: During the montage sequence of the U.S. Army's march toward the center of Guadalcanal in The Thin Red Line, cinematographer John Toll used different lines to demonstrate Train's observation that "The Lord" lives in "many forms."
V. Staging action to expand diegetic space
A) side of the screen (Manhattan or Arlene Joseph prevents frybread riot in Smoke Signals)
B) behind camera (shooting of Miles Archer Maltese Falcon)
C) behind set (Sebastian and Nazis behind the door Notorious)
D) partially obscured within frame (door frame Rosemary's Baby)
VI. Compositional Design
A) dominant contrast: area of the frame to which the viewer's vision is initially drawn
Although our eyes might fall on Don Corleone, the rose draws our attention from him. The warm color and placement of the rose adds to its dominance. Even Tom Hagen, a subsidiary element, directs our attention back to the rose.
B) subsidiary contrasts: area looked at after the dominant; of diminishing interest
E.T.'s bright finger in the left third of the frame dominates even though Eliot's face graphically fills most of the frame. Notice how his eyes and ordinary finger refer the viewer back to the dominant. For the moment, Eliot's eyes and finger are of secondary importance.
C) intrinsic interest: of more dramatic than visual interest
Although the knife is not as bright as the lights or positioned powerfully within the frame, it attracts our attention because we know it is dangerous.
D) Empty Space: area of the frame not filled, usually to show the dominant contrast isolated in a vast setting.
In this still taken from a widescreen version of Lawrence of Arabia, the two characters are photographed in an extreme long shot that emphasizes the desert. Lawrence will appear in many such shots, perhaps suggesting that even he will not fill such a big place.
VII. Camera Distances
VIII. Proxemic Patterns (est. in The Hidden Dimension and The Silent Language by anthropologist Edward T. Hall): proxemics are the spatial relationships of organisms.
Proxemics can relate character to character and . . .
Proxemics relate character to camera (Giannetti 76-7).
Thus shots can be likened to human proxemics:
IX. Character's angle to camera
A) facing the camera: musical or comedy (an appeal to audience)
B) quarter turn: high degree of intimacy and low audience involvement
C) profile: character in own thoughts
D) three-quarter: virtual rejection of audience; audience senses it is prying
E) back-to-camera: character is an enigma
X. Relating the frame to compositional design
- open (aleatory): depending on chance
- closed form: stylized design, precise and controlled visual composition such as in anticipatory set-ups that suggest the camera knows action. Closed form implies fatalism or determinism. In the frame below, for example, the framing implies that Willie McKay is destined to be together with Miss Canfield.
B) Realism and Formalism
- realism tends to open form
- formalism tends to closed form