News for September 2014

Mise-en-Scene: Fight Club

Mise-en-scene literally translates to “putting into a scene.” It is the manner in which a directer stages a scene that creates the look and feel of the image, contributing to the overall film. There are four elements of mise-en-scene: setting, lighting, costume, and behavior. In the movie Fight Club, main character (unnamed) meets Tyler Durden, who introduces to him the idea of a fight club. Both work together to create an entire culture around this club. It is later revealed in the film that the two characters as separate is actually deceiving. Regardless of the plot twist, it is interesting to analyze Fight Club from a phenomenological standpoint, particularly in the scene where Durden and the main character initially start the trend that will become the club.

Fight Club: Hit Me

Phenomenology is the study of how something effects the senses. Vivian Sobchack describes the theory as a body experiencing digital and analog forms in different ways. It is all about the body experience, and Sobchack refers to this as a lived body experience. Here, I want to take a look at the four aspects of mise-en-scene and how they are received at the body through macroperception (larger contextual level of body) rather than microperception (specific ways in which the body is affected).

Setting

  • behind a bar, as if in an alley
  • dark — sense of eeriness
  • established by long shots
  • could be any bar, “typical” — relatable

Lighting:

  • dark
  • only lighting seems to come from the building’s outer lights which are few
  • reveals a “shady feel”
  • contribute to the aura of suspicion, stereotype of latenight shenanigans

Costume:

  • 2 characters
  • established by medium and long shots
  • Durden wearing “random” clothing: leather jacket, tropical shirt
  • main character wearing business casual
  • differences revealed
  • both outfits are somewhat relatable despite odd pairing, setting

Behaviors:

  • separated from each other
  • negotiate
  • hitting, fighting
  • gather together at end over a beer, simulating odd camaraderie
  • establishes a sense of confusion for audience

Fight Club is a bodily experience when being watched because of the way the movie captures you before the unexpected plot twist. Everything is precisely calculated as to better engage the viewer to believe all that is happening right up until the plot twist, and this establishing scene of what will be the relationship between Durden and the main character is important for those reasons. This fully engrosses the audience in a phenomenological way to be done effectively.

Posted: September 29, 2014
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Cinematic Realism

Cinematic realism refers to how the concept of what is real is portrayed in cinematic texts. This is an ontological question, asking what is real when we observe such texts. The transition of a shift from paintings to photographs and was a largely-contested debate in the early history of cinematic development because of the new ways reality was portrayed.

Andre Bazin touches on this when he claims that in the world of plastic arts – an attempt to preserve the image – the photograph does a better job than a painting because the photograph can objectively capture an image. This calls into question how people understand and record reality, a commonly debated point today.

I personally disagree with Bazin; I think that photographs are highly subjective accounts of a single moment. Every decision when capturing a shot must be taken into account, and all decisions displayed in a photograph create the meaning that the photograph gives. Furthermore, I find Siegfried Kracaeur’s points in “Theories of Film” particular interesting because he explores the different ways reality is conveyed in media, particularly film. Film, Kracaeur says, possesses two properties. The basic property is the presentation of the physical reality while the technical property is the editing done in order to create meaning. Here, Kracaeur touches on the fact that reality can be preserved under whatever context is chosen. He goes on to say that film can have either a realistic or formative tendency. These contribute to the film’s staging, or the impression of reality given in the film. A film can capture a certain essence of a film, as Walter Benjamin asserts, but that aura can be interpreted and/or displayed in a variety of ways based on the intention. All of this contributes to why I believe cinematic realism is highly subjective and one of the main reasons why cinema captures us after all this time. Reality is portrayed in different ways and often to deliver a certain message.

A good example of this can be seen in Edward Scissorhands. Tim Burton uses scenes in the movie to exaggerate the image of suburbia: pastel-colored houses of identical design, the same car backing out of different driveways at the same time, perfectly trimmed front lawns … it’s all exaggerated yet a recognizable image of a commonly-known reality. Because it is exaggerated, it is not an accurate depiction of reality, yet because it is recognizable, it brings out a certain meaning about suburbia – that it and the lives of people in it are redundant and mundane.

Edward Scissorhands clip: suburbia

Posted: September 18, 2014
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