Classical Realist Texts: American
Films between 1916 and 1960
Mise-en-scène
Table of Contents
1. Visualizing methods in classical American
films
2. Mise-en-scéne in classical American films
Visualizing Methods in Classical
American films
(Mise-en-scène = ‘put it in the scene’; what
to shoot, how to shoot. It includes the
directing of performance, the placement of
cameras, camera movement, lighting, the
choice of lenses, décore, costume, location
hunting, etc.)
Visualizing Methods in Classical
American films
(Montage = editing, how to present shots. It
includes cutting, mixing sound effect and
music, and dubbing)
Mise-en-scéne in Classical American Films
• Classical Hollywood films endevoured to make
the viewer not aware that they were watching a
film. They tried to achieve this goal through
telling a plausible narrative.
• In making narrative the dominant force in a film,
the classical Hollywood cinema chose to
subordinate mise-en-scène to narrative.
• It lets mise-en-scène serve for the 'invisible’,
plausible and realistic narrative.
Mise-en-scéne in Classical American Films
• They achieve reality and truth effects by
concealing filming techniques through
sophisticated filming teachniques MISE-ENSCENE and MONTAGE
• Unartificial → natural → real
• Use of arts → make a film look artless →
natural → real
Mise-en-scéne in Classical American Films
• Film arts which are employed to make a film
artless
• No unusual angles, eye-level placing of camera,
follow-focus (follow shot), no strong contrast,
choice of normal size lens (35 to 50 mm),
balanced composition, verisimilitudinous
camera movement, etc.
Mise-en-scéne in Classical American Films
• ANGLES OF FRAMING
• High angle shot
• Low angle shot
• Camera angle can suggest
the vulnerability or power
of a character.
Mise-en-scéne in Classical American Films
• Straight-on angle
• Following the point of
view of a character the most natural ways
of deciding angles
• Orson Wells, Citizen
Kane (1941)
Mise-en-scéne in Classical American Films
• Expressive angles
• Stanley Kubrick’s
Clockwork Orange
(1971)
• Extreme low-angle
shots
Mise-en-scéne in Classical American Films
• LEVEL OF CAMERA
• Low-level and highlevel placing of the
camera
• Following the eye level
of a character - the most
natural ways of
deciding levels
Mise-en-scéne in Classical American Films
• However, eye-level
positioning of camera
becomes expressive and
formalistic, when it is
set at an extreme level.
• Expressive level
• Danny Boyle’s
Trainspotting (1996)
Mise-en-scéne in Classical American Films
• COMPOSITION
• The important figure should be place in the
slightly off-centre of the frame
Mise-en-scéne in Classical American Films
• Slightly off-centre composition: Wim Wenders’
Paris, Texas
Mise-en-scéne in Classical American Films
DEPTH OF FIELD: FOCUS
• SELECTIVE FOCUS or SHALLOW
FOCUS = only one plane is in sharp focus
• To direct the viewer’s attention to that plane.
Mise-en-scéne in Classical American Films
• RACK FOCUS
• Changing of focus within a shot in such a way
that one plane of the frame goes out of focus and
instead another plane comes into sharp focus.
Mise-en-scéne in Classical American Films
•
•
•
•
FOLLOW FOCUS
Keeping a moving object or character in focus
DEEP FOCUS
Keeping elements at different depths of the
image in focus
More natural ways of focusing
Mise-en-scéne in Classical American Films
• Watch the three clips from three different films
and identify the types of focus used in them.
1. Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather
2. Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Tango in
Paris
3. Orson Wells’ Citizen Kane
Mise-en-scéne in Classical American Films
• Camera movement
• The camera moves following the movement of
a character the most natural way of moving the
camera
• Martin Scorsese, The Age of Innocence
• Is the camera movement in the opening scene
realistic or formalistic?
Mise-en-scéne in Classical American Films
• LIGHTING
• High-key lighting: all areas of the image are
equally lighted.
• Low-key lighting: create strong contrast
between light and shadow
Mise-en-scéne in Classical American Films
• Mise-en-scene ought to be motivated as narrative
does. The chain of cause and effect dictates
mise-en-scène (what and how to shoot).
• e.g. When a character is a hero, he may be
placed in the centre of the frame. When he
walks into a room, the camera also moves with
him. When he is walking in the darkness, no
strong light is cast on his face.
Mise-en-scéne in Classical American Films
• Mise-en-scène should be motivated without
letting itself stand out.
• e.g. A protagonist must be placed in the centre of
the frame, but not in the dead centre. When he
walks into a room, the camera also moves with
him rather than it uses rack focus. When he is
walking in the darkness, not too much contrast
between light and shade.
Mise-en-scéne in classical American films
• F.W. Murnau, Sunrise: A
Song of Two Humans
(1927)
• Travelling shot from a
tram
• Motivated: when the
characters and the
vehicle on which they
are on move, the camera
moves.