Mise-en-scène (French pronunciation: [mizɑ̃sɛn] "placing on stage") is an expression used to describe the design aspects of a theatre or film production, which essentially means "visual theme" or "telling a story"—both in visually artful ways through storyboarding, cinematography and stage design, and in poetically artful ways through direction. Mise-en-scène has been called film criticism's "grand undefined term".
Definition in Film Studies
When applied to the cinema, mise-en-scène refers to everything that appears before the camera and its arrangement—composition, sets, props, actors, costumes, sounds, and lighting. The “mise-en-scène”, along with the cinematography and editing of a film, influence the verisimilitude of a film in the eyes of its viewers. The various elements of design help express a film’s vision by generating a sense of time and space, as well as setting a mood, and sometimes suggesting a character’s state of mind. “Mise-en-scène” also includes the composition, which consists of the positioning and movement of actors, as well as objects, in the shot. These are all the areas overseen by the director. One of the most important people that collaborates with the director is the Production designer. These two work closely to perfect all of the aspects of the “mise-en-scène” a considerable amount of time before the actual photography even begins. The Production designer is generally responsible for the general look of the movie, leading various departments that are in charge of individual sets, locations, props, and costumes, among other things. Andre Bazin, a well-known French film critic and film theorist, describes the mise-en-scene aesthetic as emphasizing choreographed movement within the scene rather than through editing.
This narrow definition of mise-en-scène is not shared by all critics. For some, it refers to all elements of visual style—that is, both elements on the set and aspects of the camera. For others, such as U.S. film critic Andrew Sarris, it takes on mystical meanings related to the emotional tone of a film: "Dare I come out and say what I think it to be is an 'elan of the soul'?... as it is all I can do is point at the specific beauties of interior meaning on the screen and later catalogue the moments of recognition."
The term is sometimes used to represent a style of conveying the information of a scene primarily through a single shot—often accompanied by camera movement.:p.25 Two academic papers, Brian Henderson's Essay on the "Long Take" (1976) and Lutz Bacher's MA thesis entitled "The Mobile Mise-en-Scène" (1976), discuss the use of mise-en-scène in long shots and shots that encompass a whole scene. Neither conflates its meaning with how the term was originally applied to film in the Cahiers de Cinéma, which was expressed in 1960 by critic Fereydoun Hoveyda as follows: "What matters in a film is the desire for order, composition, harmony, the placing of actors and objects, the movements within the frame, the capturing of a moment or look... Mise en scene is nothing other than the technique invented by each director to express the idea and establish the specific quality of his work." This recent and limiting redefinition of the term makes it synonymous with a "oner" or a single shot that encompasses an entire scene. This use of the term displays some ignorance of both the traditional use of the term in French theatre and film and its actual translated meaning, which is, broadly, "to put in the scene".:p.5
In German filmmaking in the 1910s and 1920s, one can observe tone, meaning, and narrative information conveyed through mise-en-scène.:p.88 These films were a part of the German Expressionism movement in the 1920’s, and were characterized by their extreme sets, décor, acting, lighting, and camera angles. The aim of these films is to have an extremely dramatic effect on the audience, often emphasizing the fantastic and grotesque. Perhaps the most famous example of this is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) where a character's internal state of mind is represented through set design and blocking. The sets involved stress the madness and horror of the film, as expressionist films are meant to do.
The similar-sounding, but unrelated term, "metteurs en scène" (figuratively, "stagers") was used by the auteur theory as a disparaging label for directors who did not put their personal vision into their films.
Because of its relationship to shot blocking, mise-en-scène is also a term sometimes used among professional screenwriters to indicate descriptive (action) paragraphs between the dialog.
Only rarely is mise-en-scène critique used in other art forms, but it has been used effectively to analyse photography.
- An important element of "putting in the scene" is set design—the setting of a scene and the objects (props) visible in a scene. Set design can be used to amplify character emotion or the dominant mood, which has physical, social, psychological, emotional, economic and cultural significance in film. One of the most important decisions made by the Production designer and director is deciding whether to shoot on location or on set. The main distinction between the two is that décor and props must be taken into consideration when shooting on set. Shooting on set has, however, been proven to be much more cost effective, therefore, more popular than shooting on location.
- The intensity, direction, and quality of lighting can influence an audience’s understanding of characters, actions, themes and mood. Light (and shade) can emphasize texture, shape, distance, mood, time of day or night, season, glamour; it affects the way colors are rendered, both in terms of hue and depth, and can focus attention on particular elements of the composition. Highlights, for example, call attention to shapes and textures, while shadows often conceal things, creating a sense of mystery or fear. For this reason, lighting must be thoroughly planned in advance to ensure its desired effect on an audience. Cinematographers are a large part of this process, as they coordinate the camera and the lighting.
- The representation of space affects the reading of a film. Depth, proximity, size and proportions of the places and objects in a film can be manipulated through camera placement and lenses, lighting, set design, effectively determining mood or relationships between elements in the story world.
- The organization of objects, actors and space within the frame. One of the most important concepts with the regard to the composition of a film is maintaining a balance of symmetry. This refers to having an equal distribution of light, colour, and objects and/or figures in a shot. Unbalanced composition can be used to emphasize certain elements of a film that the director wishes to be given particular attention to. This tool works because audiences are more inclined to pay attention to something off balance, as it may seem abnormal.
- Costume simply refers to the clothes that characters wear. Using certain colors or designs, costumes in narrative cinema are used to signify characters or to make clear distinctions between characters.
- Establish time period, reveal character traits and signal changes in character.
- There is enormous historical and cultural variation in performance styles in the cinema. In the early years of cinema, stage acting and film acting were difficult to differentiate, as most film actors had previously been stage actors and therefore knew no other method of acting. Eventually, early melodramatic styles, clearly indebted to the 19th century theater, gave way in Western cinema to a relatively naturalistic style. This more naturalistic style of acting is largely influenced by Constantin Stanislavski’s theory of method acting, which involves the actor fully immersing themselves in their character.
- The choice of black & white or color, fine-grain or grainy.
- The relation of the width of the rectangular image to its height. Each aspect ratio yields a different way of looking at the world and is basic to the expressive meaning of the film.
- ^ Brian Henderson, "The Long Take," in Movies and Methods: An Anthology, ed. Bill Nichols (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 315.
- ^ Bordwell, David; Thompson, Kristin (2003). Film Art: An Introduction, 7th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-248455-1.
- ^ Connell, Joanne. “Film tourism – Evolution, progress and prospects.” Tourism Management (October 2012), 33 (5), pg. 1007-1029
- ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Barsam, Richard Meran., and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies: An Introduction to Film. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2010
- ^ a b c d e f Pramaggiore, Maria, and Tom Wallis. Film: A Critical Introduction. Boston: Laurence King, 2005.
- ^ Kolker, Robert. "MISE-EN-SCENE". Film Form and Culture. UMBC. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
- ^ Sarris, Andrew (2004). "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962", in Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 563. ISBN 978-0195158175.
- ^ a b c Sikov, Ed (2010). Film Studies: An Introduction. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-51989-2.
- ^ Jean Mitry; Christopher King (1997). The Aesthetics and Psychology of the Cinema. Indiana University Press. pp. 178. ISBN 978-0-253-21377-8.
- ^ Bill Nichols (1976). "The Long Take". Movies and methods: an anthology. University of California Press. pp. 314–324. ISBN 978-0-520-03151-7.
- ^ Lutz Bacher (1978). The mobile mise en scène: a critical analysis of the theory and practice of long-take camera movement in the narrative film. Ayer Publishing. ISBN 978-0-405-10750-4.
- ^ Hillier, Jim (1985). Cahiers du Cinema: Volume I: The 1950s. Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. pp. 8–9. ISBN 0-415-15105-8.
- ^ a b Pramaggiore, Maria and Tom Wallis (2005). Film: A Critical Introduction. London: Laurence King Publishing. ISBN 0205433480.
- ^ Sipos, Thomas M. (2010). Horror Film Aesthetics: Creating The Visual Language of Fear. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-7864-4972-9.
- ^ "Film Terminology and Other Resources". Integrative Arts 10. Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
- ^ Buscombe, Edward (1981). "Ideas of Authorship", in Theories of Authorship: A Reader, ed. by John Caughie. New York: Routledge. p. 24. ISBN 0-415-02552-4.
- ^ Edgar-Hunt, Robert, John Marland and James Richards (2009). Basics Film-Making: Screenwriting. Lausanne: AVA Publishing. p. 71. ISBN 2-940373-89-2.
- ^ Jameson, Fredric (1992). Signatures of the Visible. London: Routledge. p. 191. ISBN 0-415-90012-3.
- ^ "Set Design and Locations". film110. PBworks. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
- ^ "Lighting". film101. PBworks. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
- ^ "Part 2: Mise-en-scene". Film Studies Program. Yale University. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
- ^ Fourie, Pieter J. (2004). Media Studies Volume 2: Content, Audiences and Production. Lansdowne, SA: Juta and Company. pp. 462–463. ISBN 0-7021-5656-6.
- ^ "Acting". film101. PBworks. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
- ^ Kawin, Bruce (1992). How Movies Work. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 88. ISBN 0-520-07695-6 .
- Barsam, Richard Meran., and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies: An Introduction to Film. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2010
- Pramaggiore, Maria, and Tom Wallis. Film: A Critical Introduction. Boston: Laurence King, 2005.
- Connell, Joanne. “Film tourism – Evolution, progress and prospects.” Tourism Management (October 2012), 33 (5), pg. 1007-1029
- Bordwell, David; Thompson, Kristin (2010). "Chapter 6 - The Shot: Mise-en-Scène". Film Art: An Introduction (9th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 175–228. ISBN 978-0-07-122057-6. OCLC 456179577. Also OCLC 690437186. Has a concise definition of mise-en-scène.