Working in the film business you hear many “inside” terms on a set like Apple box, MOS, montage don't cross the line (to learn about the 180 degree line in a past article), etc. One such term is “Mise en Scene” or the translation “placing on stage.”
This is a French expression that refers to the design or the arrangement of everything as it appears in the framing of a film i.e. actors, décor, props, lighting, costumes and others. The term essentially means “telling a story” both in poetically artful ways and in visually artful ways through direction and storyboarding state design and cinematography.
It is also used to refer to the many single scenes that are within the film to represent the film. The term is broad, and it is also used among professional and experienced screenwriters to show descriptive or action paragraphs between the dialogs.
This is because of its relationship to shot blocking. The term mise-en-scene is called the film criticism grand undefined term. The term is so broad, and it defines and classifies a lot in the filming industry. The term roughly means to put into the scene or to place on stage.
Mise en scene is used to describe filmmaking and the process involved in the filmmaking process. In filmmaking, the first process is creating ideas for the film. Here, the right books or plays are bought. These are the source of the initial ideas of the film.
The producer selects the story from the books or a novel or the idea can even be an original idea or based on a true story. The producer then takes the idea to the writers, and they work together to create a synopsis.
They then break down the story into simple paragraph scenes or the step outline as it is called. The one-paragraph scenes are the ones that concentrate on the most dramatic parts or structures.
After this, they prepare a good description of the story together with its moods and its characters. This stage has little conversations, but it mostly consists of drawings that help them to visualize all the key points. This is also the stage where the screenwriter comes up with a screenplay, and this takes a period of several months.
The screenwriter has all the time to rewrite the screenplay if need be to improve clarity, dramatization, character, structure, and dialogue. At this stage, the film distributor can be contacted and informed of the project for him to assess the financial success of the movie and look for possible markets.
The producer and the screenwriter will then prepare the treatment or film pitch, and they present it to the financiers. The financiers will go through the movie and also assess the likelihood of the moviemaking any profit.
They will contact some known movie stars to get them to feature in the film for publicity purposes, and after this stage is successful, the film can now go to the preproduction stage.
This is the stage that determines if the film will continue or not because, without funds, there would be no cast or crew to work in the film production. The parties involved in the financing will draft the appropriate contracts and also sign them to make a deal.
After this, the preparations for the shoot are made. This is called pre-production where locations for the shoot are selected and prepared before time, the cast and the film crew are hired, and the sets are built.
Here, all the process in the production of the movie is carefully outlined to each and every involved party, and they are also carefully planned. Even with a lot of funding, if this process is not done carefully, the film production can halt or even fail.
The most critical crew positions are outlined and the people to take those positions are named before anything else goes on. The most crucial crew positions that must be there to make a good film are:
- Costume designer
- Film producer
- Assistant Director
- Unit production manager
- Production designer
- Location manager
- Director of photography
- Casting director
- Production and sound mixer
- Sound designer
These are crucial positions in the film production, and their roles cannot be ignored if there is to be a successful production of the film.
The production stage is the next one after preproduction. Here, the film is created and shot. There is the recruitment of more crew in this stage due to the complexities of some roles. This is the most complicated process of film production.
Everyone involved in the film production has to take their roles seriously here for the production to be successful. A regular shooting day begins by the arrival of the crew at their call time. The actors usually have different call times, and the crew has to arrive early enough to prepare everything in advance before the actors come.
Set construction, setting, dressing, and lighting is done before because it can take many hours, and sometimes it can even take days. For efficiency purposes, the electric, grip, and production design crews are always a step ahead of the sound and the camera departments.
When one scene is getting filmed, these crews are already preparing for the next one. This means that the filming process will face no problems, and if there are any, they will be easily solved ahead. After the crew prepares the equipment, the actors are already in their costumes, and they attend the makeup and hair departments.
The actors will then rehearse the script with the director, and the other departments make their final tries or tweaks. The assistant director then calls “a picture is up” to let everyone know that the take is about to be recorded, a “quiet everyone” call then follows, and once everyone is ready.
He then calls “roll sound” if that particular take involves sound and then the “roll cameras “call is called by the assistant director who is answered by “speed” from the camera operator once he starts recording. The assistant directors then call “action” once he makes sure everyone is ready. The take is over when the director calls “cut” and the sound stops and the cameras stop recording.
In the film production process, we see mise en scene representing the film production in every step or every setting or arrangement. It, therefore, refers to the staging and acting where it is well known that an actor can make or break a movie, and it doesn’t matter how captivating the story is. It also refers to the lighting and setting of the production stage.
The setting creates a mode and also a sense of place and it can also reflect the emotional state of mind of the character. Lighting is essential in the production of a film, and there are different types of lighting, but each depends on where the lighting is coming from and the kind of illumination it is providing to the stage setting.
Costumes are the only aspect of mise en scene that is easily noticeable by almost everybody. It includes makeup, hair, and clothes or wardrobe choices that are used to show the personality of the character. It is important that a costume designer chooses the costumes that will best convey the image, personality, and emotional status of the character. Special effects are another aspect of mise en scene. They are used to make the film more interesting and captivating.
This video uses two scenes from the movie American Beauty to show how elements of how cinematic techniques related to mise-en-scène and cinematography can be used to help visually tell a story.
Transcription of Mise en Scene.
In the last video, we talked about how the placement of the camera can tell a story, but those are just the basic terms, the bread-and-butter shots. The true strength of a shot, its unique qualities comes through what's called the mise en scène. This is a French term meaning placing on stage. It's a broad term which describes the overall look of a film. So how do you place on a stage – let's remove the camera from the scene and look at the decor. A director starts by setting a scene, by choosing a setting for the shot, whether it's outdoors, indoors, a real place, a set or composited on a green screen. This is where the scene takes place. Once that location is chosen, it gets filled first with objects than with actors.
The objects if they are not used by actors, are called set dressing. They can show place, like how this studio backlot was first done up as a modern setting and then redressed as itself is 30 years younger, or the objects can show character like how these photographs serve as exposition for the action that left this man in a cast. Sometimes they can just add texture to a scene like how the water in this dilapidated set indicates decay. If the objects are meant to be used by actors then they are called props. These can range from simple things like papers, or complex things like this ornate sword.
They can also show character, like how these two characters choice of weapon emphasize their spiritual connection and ideological differences. Character can also be shown through costumeConsider how much you are being told about this character just by how they dress or this character, or this one under all that make up. These are all things that start telling a story even before the camera rolls.
Even before camera and action come the lights. It's impossible to overstate how important lighting is for movies. Each frame is a photograph and each photograph is captured light bounced off its subject. One of the most common lighting setups is three point lighting, perfect for close-ups. There is a key light which serves as the main source of light in a scene, the fill light which fills in the shadows created by the key light, and the backlight which lights the back of the subject, separating them from the background. Most lighting setups use some variation on this basic triad of key, fill and back. Now there are many, many types of artificial lighting techniques with 1000 things to consider*that requires an explanation of F stops and aperture and focal length, but that's only if you are lighting the scene yourself. If you are a moviegoer, it's much easier to read the results than the process.
Aside from the standard three point style, there is high key lighting, bright lights, bright colors, strong key, stronger fill. Compare that with low key lighting. The lights are darker, the mood more somber. Weak key, weak fill, but a very strong backlight to emphasize the outline of the person. A contrasting mix of strong highlights with deep shadows creates a Baroque painterly effect, which in the Renaissance was called by the Italian name literally meaning light, dark, high contrast between the bright bits and the dark bits.
This kind of look is the stuff of film noir, of moral ambiguity and melancholy. Films shot with a style generally take advantage of a technique called hard lighting; bright, harsh key lights that create hard shadows making the scene tough, angular and unflattering. Its opposite of course is soft lighting where the lights diffuse through a filter causing it to wrap around the subject, sculpting the subject without harming it. It's a romantic kind of lighting. Most of the time lighting doesn't draw attention to itself, simply serving to set the mood and let the camera and the subject speak for themselves.
You can see this in ambient lighting which uses the light that's there in the scene or in unmotivated lighting which simply shapes the scene without being an element of it, like how the light that hits the night and death*seem to be coming from two different suns, not realistic but still striking. Its opposite is of course motivated lighting where the light is an element of the scene itself as in this shot.
Directors can get creative with motivated lighting is in this scene. A woman above turns on her light revealing a key character. The light goes out and the character disappears. Creative lighting were two of the primary tools early directors used which would change drastically as film technology improved and directors could start experimenting with color. For decades, the default for film color was black and white. The camera takes in light and records everything just by luminosity, whether it's light or dark. For about half a film history, movies were quite happy to use this, not only because it has a certain simplicity to it but because color processing used to have a hefty price tag. Now it's just another creative option for filmmakers with classic taste.
There are a few examples of early color films where each frame was hand-painted for a fake color film effect, but the most common early color effect was tinting, where the entire scene is bathed in a certain color. You don't see this much outside of the old silence or the more experimental corners of the avant-garde. One of the most famous forms of tinting is sepia tone. This was one of the most common colors to tint film in the monochrome area which gave it a dusty look. In this famous use of film tinting, Sepia is used for the drudgery of Kansas, but once Dorothy goes to Oz, the fantasy world is in bright, vivid color. Now it would be easy to list color film as its own term, but color is a complicated process which filmmakers can control the same way they can control their lights and not just through costuming and production design, but through a process called color grading where a film's color is selectively adjusted for a distinctive look for each scene. Grading can involve adjustments to everything black-and-white filmmakers did, but it can also do interesting things with color like adjusting saturation, the intensity of a color in a scene.
A highly saturated scene can feel bright and exciting while a lowly saturated scene can feel washed out and desolate, but if it's done in post or composed in frame, this makes up a film's overall color palette. Like a painter's palette, these are the dominant colors in a shot. The palette can be broad, taking in the entire spectrum or selective, drawing attention to a single color that dominates the others, deep erotic reds, cold and unfeeling whites, rich emotional blues, digitized unnatural greens, stately browns, reds and golds to make it feel antique. De-saturated reds, blacks, and golds to make it feel in ancient. Saturated blues and oranges to make it feel modern, whites and steely cyan to make it feel futuristic. Blacks and blues for a dark night, yellows, reds, and greens for a bright new day. There are an infinite number of combinations and each one can vary by context. Still, it's an important thing to look for.
And finally, let's look at how things are composed in the frame. The final thing that makes a shot a shot, space. We've already covered the basic types of shots, but it's the use of space within the frame that makes a scene unique. There are thousands of ways to talk about space since there are thousands of ways to set up a shot. But to simplify things, let's define some basic terms for looking at some creative examples. There is balance which gives weight to the frame. This shot emphasizes the symmetry between the man and the woman with the child in the middle as a fulcrum, but that's a very controlled a shot. Even a wild shot like this has asymmetrical balance; the man with the mask in the foreground is balanced by the man on the chair in the background with the radial pattern below for added texture. This shot has a sense of balance staged in deep space, where the scene places elements both far and near to the camera, drawing attention to the distance between them from the people in the front of the scene who are talking about the child, all the way back to the child in the window whom the scene is about.
Scenes can also be staged in shallow space. This scene is staged flatly, emphasizing the closeness of the subject and the background objects, or even implying no depth at all. There is also one of the most important spaces, the offscreen space where a scene draws attention to something out of the frame. This shot uses a mirror to expand the space that this man is sitting in. This shot uses a look and an actor's performance to imply something huge out of the frame. An actor's performance can sometimes to be enough to set a scene and create space within the frame. All the movements an actor makes in the scene are called blocking. Though it may look freeform much like a dance, the actor's movements are heavily choreographed, whether they are actually dancing or just doing a simple, powerful gesture. All of these things, all of them create a space within the frame. They create mise en scène. That space can be symmetrical, asymmetrical, round, linear, expensive, cramped, busy or deceptively simple – everything that makes a shot unique like creating something within the frame and without the frame. If the type of shot can indicate a word, the mise en scène can be the tone in which the word is said, harshly or softly, jokingly or majestically. But if you're going to learn to speak a language, you can learn all the words in the dictionary and still be lost if you don't know how to put them together.
Transcript: Mise en Scene – MIT
Some of you attentive viewers may notice what the students here would not notice that seven years have elapsed, there's a new podium, some of you may have gotten that and a much older professor. I hope that our completion of these lectures seven years later will not will not result in a in a in a reduced or less energetic performance. I'll do my best.
I thought it would be helpful to use today's lecture, in part to create some perspectives on both the silent film The idea of the silent film, not just the particular films we've looked at, but more generally, the phenomenon of silent film, the whole the whole phenomenon, and some perspectives that will also help us look forward to what will follow to the to the sound films that will follow this week, I'd like in a certain way. To do this by complicating the idea I've already suggested to you about the notion of the film as a cultural form. What does it actually mean to say that a film is a cultural form? What in a concrete sense, does this phrase signify?
Well, one answer I think I can offer by drawing on your own experience. My guess is that all of you have watched older films films from 20, or 30, or 40 years ago, and immediately been struck as soon as you began to watch the film, by certain kinds of differences that the original filmmakers would have been oblivious to. And I'm talking about things like the hairdos of people, the clothing that they wear, the way automobiles look, or even a world in which there are no automobile, the the physical environment that is shown, one of the things that this reminds us of is that films always even the most surreal and imaginative, and science fictiony films, always inevitably, in some deep way, or in some essential ways reflect the society from which they come, they may reflect more than that.
And they may be influenced by other factors as well. But they are expressions of the culture that gave rise to them in certain really essential ways. And one of the things this means among other significance, one of the most interesting aspects of this recognition is the fact that films get richer over time, they become artifacts of immense anthropological interest, even if they're terrible films, because they show us what the world of 50 or 25 or 30 years ago actually looked like, and how people walked in how people comb their hair, and what kind of makeup they were all of the things that many of the things, which in many respects, the people making the original film would simply have taken for granted as part of the reality they were trying to dramatize.
So one way of thinking about film as a cultural form is to recognize that as films grow older, they accrete meaning, they become more interesting, they become they become richer. And the corollary corollary implication of this idea that films are that films that films become richer is that is that the meaning of of the, of any individual artifact. cultural artifacts, especially cultural artifacts, as complex as films are, is always in process, that the meaning is never fully fixed or finished. But new significance and new possibilities, new meanings emerge from these texts, with the passage of time as if the texts themselves undergo a kind of transformation.
One final point about this just sort of tweak your broader understanding of these kinds of questions. One of the kinds of transitions that occurs with particular artifacts is they sometimes move or make a kind of transition from being recognized as merely ordinary and uninteresting parts of the society from which they go from which they grow, from which they emerge. Simply ordinary routine aspects of the experience of society. Later ages May May value these routine objects as profoundly valuable works of art. And in a certain sense, one could say that the films, the film in the United States underwent a transition of that kind That at a certain point in the history of our understanding of movies, American culture began to recognize that movies were actually works of art, that they both deserve comparison with novels.
This is plays and poems, it's probably an idea that all of you folks take for granted. Your generation, probably many of members of your generation admire movie directors more than they do novelists and poets. A radical mistake, it seems to me, but that's my literary bias showing through. I certainly admire great directors, certainly as much as I do good novelists. But the fact is that this is really not the case. This, this recognition of the film as an artistic object, as I've suggested earlier in the course, is not some fixed or stable identity that the film has had from the beginning. It's an identity that the film has garnered of that the film has that has been laid on the film later, as cultural changes have occurred.
As other forms of expression have emerged, that have put the film in it kind of different position hierarchically from, from other kinds of from other kinds of imaginative expressions. And as I've already suggested, many times in this course, we'll come back to this principle, because it's such a central historical fact about the nature of the content of American movies, especially, it's the advent of television, that is partly responsible for the transformation, although it takes some time for the transformation in American attitudes toward what movies are, because television became the throwaway item, the routine item, the thing Americans experienced every day.
The consequence of that was to change our understanding of what the film was. Now, of course, the Europeans had an insight like this long before the Americans did. And that's something I'll talk about in a bit later today, and also at other times in our course. So that's one way of thinking about what it means to say that a film is a cultural form, it means that it's an unstable in the sense that its meanings are not fixed. And the way in which our culture, categorizes and understands that particular artifact is also something that's unstable, that undergoes change over time. But there are other ways to think about this problem of film as a cultural formation as an expression of society.
I want to tease out some of those meanings for you as well. One of them is kind of one way to come at this problem is to think of a kind of tension or, or even contention between our recognition that film is a global form. That is to say that certain that because the movies are watched across national boundaries, movies that are made in the United States can influence movies that are made in Europe, and vice versa. So this was all in one sense. But film, especially after film got going within the first 10 years of its life, it had become an international phenomenon, and American films were watched in Europe and European films influenced influenced American directors even at very early stages.
So that we began to get certain kinds of films that certainly appealed across national boundaries, and so that there is a kind of global dimension to what film might be. And there's another way of thinking about what it means to talk about film as a global as a global phenomenon, not as a merely national expression. And that has to do specifically with the way in which particular directors in and films in particular societies can influence world cinema. And from the very earliest days of cinema, as I suggested, this has been a reality.
As as David Cook's history of narrative film informs you want to hope you'll read the assigned chapters on Russian film closely because I can only skim these topics in my lecture. What you'll discover, among other things is that the great American director, dw Griffith, had a profound impact on Russian films. And, and that in fact, at a certain point in the history of Russian films, there was a workshop run by amending Kula Schaaf, who actually took dw Griffith's movies and disassembled them shot by shot and studied the editing rhythms.
In his in his workshop, this had a profound impact on on not only on Russian cinema, but but the but Griffiths practice has had a profound impact on virtually all filmmakers. And and there's a kind of reverse influence. Because certain Russian directors, Eisenstein especially, but also dziga vertov had profound impact. Their work had a profound impact on the on the films from Western Europe and from the United States. So it's a two way process. It's too simple to say that that particular films are only an expression of French culture only an expression of Russian culture or only an expression of American culture. They are also global phenomena and they were global phenomena from almost the earliest stages.
So it's important to recognize this tension or this bell, there are dimensions of film that reach across national boundaries. Race. And as we've already suggested, one of the explanations for the successful American movies in the United States was in part function of the fact that they did not require language in nearly the same degree. They were visual experiences, and an immigrant population coming into the large cities of the United States at the turn of the century, with one of the primary factors that helps to explain that phenomenal, quick growth of the movies from a novelty into a profound embedded cultural experience, right. So it is a global phenomenon in a certain way it reaches across national boundaries. But there's also and we need to acknowledge this side of the equation too. There's also a profound a really deep fundamental sense, in which films, at least until very recently, are an expression of the individual national cultures from which they come.
I say until very recently, because some of you must be aware of the fact that a new kind of film is being made now. By which I mean, a film that seems to appeal across all national boundaries, that doesn't seem to have a decisive national identity, at least some films like that. I think the Bollywood people are making films like this, Americans are certainly making films like this now. And sometimes, if you think of some of the action adventure films that will have a cast that is drawn from different cultures, right, a sort of multi ethnic and a multilingual cast, all of them, all of them Dubbed into whatever language the film is being is being exhibited in, you'll see an exam that what's begun to emerge now in our 21st century world is a kind of movie that already conceives of itself as belonging to a kind of global culture.
So far, I'm not sure these these movies have have as much artistic interest as one would like, but it's a it's a new phenomenon and the globalizing tendencies of digital technology are certainly encouraging new ways to think about the origins or the or the, or the central sources of movies. But until very recently, it is still the case that virtually every film, made in any society reflected in deep in fundamental ways, aspects of that society. And one of the reasons that this is such an important thing to recognize is it means that, especially in cultures, like your the European societies, and and those that in the United States, the movies are a profoundly illuminating source of cultural and social history.
Even if they had no artistic interest, they would be worth teaching and studying. And the fact that some of them are luminous works of art makes teaching, teaching them a particular a particular pleasure, a particular joy, a real vocation. So if we talk about films as a national as an as a national expression, what we're talking about here is the extent to which the assumptions about personal relationships and the assumptions about the way society operates are going to be grounded in culturally, a socially specific phenomena, socially Specific Practices. And we're also talking not just about the content of movies, but also about the structure of the industries, which end up providing movies to the public.
Part of what I want to at least allude to today in the in the lectures and materials that we're looking at today is to crystallize or concretize this idea, but the variations that are possible within a within the, the broad universe of the cinema, so that, for example, the individual and atomistic system that developed in the United States, for the production of movies, the capitalist arrangements that developed in the United States for the development of movies are in many ways, radically different from the systems that were developed in some European societies or in the Soviet Union. And there's a particular contract with the Soviet Union, which developed movies in a quite a quite different way and had a quite different notion about them. The emergence of the movies coincides in some degree with the turmoil in the Soviet Union, right?
The Russian revolution is what 1917 movies become the central, a central source of of information and propaganda for the emerging Soviet culture. Lenin called movies, our greatest art form, because he understood how important they were in promulgating certain ideals and in embedding those ideals in the society. And in fact, they were not in Russia, a series of independent companies that produced films, there was a top down arrangement in which the government controlled filmmaking doesn't mean that they didn't make remarkable and interesting films, but it was a different system. It was a top down system. We had central government financing, in which the genres of in Soviet films could be said to have had what we might call rip. coracle sources. For example, the revolution story is one genre of Russian film celebrates the heroes celebrating the heroic struggle of the people that were even sort of genres that we might call building genres or creating genres. And they were about make creating a farm or building a skyscraper, right.
Once the film was put in the service by the Soviet state was put in the service of this emerging society, it was understood as a, as a, as a system that would mobilize mass social forces for the betterment of society. And the differences, the these differences in attitudes toward the end in the way his films are financed, and, and and who makes the decisions about what films will go forward, of course, has a profound impact on the nature of those movies. our our our demonstration, instance, today will be one of the most famous passages from Eisenstein's Potemkin to demonstrate some of the movie in a much more concrete way, some of the implications of this difference between American and Russian film that I'm suggesting, there are also profound differences.
I'll develop this argument a little more fully to this evening, when we shift over to the great German silent films that will silent film that we're going to look at tonight. There are profound differences between the American and German systems of moviemaking and attitudes toward the making of movies. And I'll I'll elaborate on some of those notions later, later today in the evening lecture, but for the moment, then suffice it to say that that movies that virtually all movies are going to reveal are going to embody the values and assumptions of the culture from which they come that that makes them anthropological artifacts have profound significance, and distinguishes French film from British film from American film in ways that continue to be illuminating and significant.
There are certain other contrasts or, or potential tensions in this notion of film as a cultural form that I'd also like to develop and will spend a little bit more time on one of them is this is the notion that there's a profound even a fundamental difference more broadly, not just between French and American cinema, but between all forms of European cinema and the American version.
This is a principle we'll talk about more this evening. But I want to allude to it now, one of the ways to crystallize This is to remind you of something we've already talked about briefly in the course, which is the migration of filmmaking from the east coast to the west coast, in the early days of filmmaking in the United States, the flight of filmmakers to California, and we've talked a little bit about why that's a significant a significant transformation and a significant move. But perhaps the most important aspect of this trend of this of this historical fact, the migration of the movies to the west coast, is that what this meant is that the movies in the United States were able to develop in a culture whose intellectual and artistic and cultural authorities were on the East Coast, as far away as possible from where movies were developing.
In other words, the American movie is much more fundamentally in its emergence, a popular form a non art form that has no consciousness of itself as a work of art. It knows that what it's trying to do is make money and entertain people. And and the earliest, very early, there were some directors like dw Griffith who recognize the artistic importance of movies, I don't mean they weren't directors who recognize that Chaplin truly thought of himself as making works of art, especially later in his career. But the fact is, the American movies begin on the farthest Western version of the society, nothing developed there, right, New York is the cultural center. Boston is a cultural center.
Maybe we could even say some of the great Midwestern cities have some kind of cultural authority, but there's nothing on the west coast. And what that means is that all the writers, all the dramatists, all the actors, all the theater actors, all the poets, all the musicians, they were in the east, they lived in New York, and what there was a kind of freedom that this imparted to American movies.
And this is a very sharp contrast with the development of almost all forms of European cinema. Because partly because the the countries are literally geographically more limited, unlike the vast expanse of the United States, but also because of the much stronger traditions in these European societies have of high culture The much stronger respect in these in these societies, for for theater and for poetry, and for prose narrative. Means in the in the European societies, and this was especially true in Germany, but it was true in some degree in every European society, including the Soviet Union.
There was a sense that the movies were emerging in the shadow of older art forms, whose greatness and grander, shadowed minist, this emerging form. And in a way, the distinction I'm mentioning the difference I mentioning accounts both for the limitations and for the glories of both kinds of film. Because if the European film was more static, and we'll talk much more, I'll give you some examples of this tonight, if the European film was more static, let's be it was less cinematic in a way in its early years, because it fought of itself as emerging from literature, from theater from poetry. And in fact, some of the important early German filmmakers especially were people who came from theater, and they had theatrical notions of what art was.
We'll talk more about this this evening. So because that was true, the glory of the early European cinema was its recognition that it could be artistically powerful, it sense that it was talking about important subjects. But of course, the limitations were that it was often very boring visually, that it was serious, but not a movie that it didn't, it didn't exploit the properties of the medium nearly as quickly didn't try to explore the unique properties of the medium nearly as a part because it was so in Thrall to inherited ideas of artistic value in artistic expression. This isn't entirely a disadvantage, as I've said, because it also important to European filmmakers, a sense of dignity and the importance of their enterprise that served them well in certain ways and made them pick ambitious subjects. And you'll see the outcome the final outcome once the film, once the European film was liberated into a greater cinematic freedom.
I'll show you an example or two tonight of that. It became something immensely rich, in part because it had this legacy of high art behind it, and high artistic ambitions. The United States stories almost the opposite. In the United States, there was a kind of glorious sense of having no responsibility toward older art forms. There was something exuberant, experimental, joyous and, unembarrassed about early American films, they didn't think of themselves as artworks, and it gave them a kind of freedom.
They were also vulgar as hell, they were often they were often trivial and silly. They often had had limited artistic ambitions. But they explored the nature of the medium in a way that became the legacy of the movies and a legacy that was communicated to other to other societies as well. Well, this distinction, then between American and European cinema is something I'll develop a little bit more fully with examples this evening. But it's a crucial distinction, it's a crucial difference. And it tells us a lot about both forms of filmmaking.
There's one final tension that I want to mention here, we'll return to it, again, when we come to look at singing in the rain later in the course which dramatize is this subject, among others. There's another kind of tension implicit in what I've already said, which is the tension between what we might call popular culture notions of culture that are enjoyed by the masses by everyone has against high culture like opera and poetry and theater, which which only the educated people go to right. And this tension is especially important. It's important in many films, but it's an especially important tension in the in American movies. And one of the things that we will come back to in different ways as we think about these American films is the way in which very often American films position themselves as the antagonists of high culture.
There are many films that actually do that in one of the Marx Brothers, some of the Marx Brothers films systematically dismantle the objects of high culture. There's one Mark Marx Brothers film called A Night at the Opera, which takes place in an opera and the whole set comes crashing down the whole place, the whole place falls apart in the course of the, in the course of the film, acting out a kind of aggression against the older art form. And this is a tension also, that we will see played out in, in some of the films we're going to be looking at a bit later in the course.
So this notion of height of Hollywood, as as the embodiment of a certain kind of demonic vigor and and, and populist energy, is is is a helpful way of thinking about how especially in the early years, American film was somewhat different from European film, and how it also very aggressively distinct was happy to distinguish itself from established art forms.
I want to take a quick of what will appear to be a digression but actually isn't I want to talk about now about two crucial terms that that will be useful in our in our discussions of these of the matters I've already raised and some other matters that will come up later in the course. And then return after after work. clarifying these terms to an example from Battleship Potemkin, Eisenstein's most famous film, to demonstrate something of what I mean by by the principles of top down organization and and fuel mass propaganda that I was talking about earlier, as well as calling your attention to some of the artistic innovations that we still attribute to to Sergei Eisenstein, the two terms I want to discuss by the terms montage and meson sin.
They're contrasting elements of what is in all movies. in a certain way, the term montage and the term use onsen describe the most essential features of what movies are meson sin, a term drawn from the theater, which literally it's a French word literally means what is put or placed in the scene, right? What is what is in the scene with unsane refers to the single shot to what goes on within the single continuous unedited shot of film, the single frame of film however long it lasts, right? And the means on scene of that of that shot is virtually everything inside that frame.
In other words, how the even even how the cat actors move in the frame is part of the DS onset, but it's especially the music's and emphasizes, what is the environment like, what's the furniture like, what's the relation between the foreground, the middle ground and the background, and in these unsent, the emphasis is on the composition within the frame. And sometimes very great directors will compose their frames with such subtlety that if you freeze them, they look like paintings, they're, they're balanced, or unbalanced, if that's the artists attention in particularly artistic and complex and complex ways.
So, we can we can think of this in in some sense almost as an A as a, as having a kind of painterly equivalent. what goes on in the scene, you know, within the, the other great term montage, which is also a French term comes from the verb, the French verb montair, which means to assemble or to put together a montage means what is put together what is edited, what is what is what is what is linked together. So a montage means the editing of continuous shots in a in a sequence, right? So the montage of a film is the rhythm of attending.
So all films have both elements in the right. And in fact, we need to be aware of both. And when we look at a film, it's often very helpful to ask yourself questions about the rhythm of the editing, to pay attention to how long the shots are held, to the way the film is edited. Again, the Eisenstein example, we're going to look at an image that will give you some dramatic instances of why manipulating the editing in the montage can be so so dramatic and so signifying.
So it has, there's a kind of convention that has now developed that has that has developed, and that will radically simplifies in some ways. It's a simplification that's immensely instructive. One way you can talk about directors is to categorize them as montage directors, or mes unsend. Directors, these unsend direct I'm over simplifying, remember, because there's montage in every film.
So Amazon said director can be a master of editing to, and a director that we identify as a Montage Director certainly has to know how to manipulate his muse unsaid. So it's not as if one kind of director doesn't do the other thing. But what it does try to signify when it does try to indicate is that directors we call montage directors, our directors whose effects come in, in a central way, from the way they edit the film, from the from the, from the quickness of their editing, from the from the way they're editing, manipulate to our controls, meaning in some sense, and we therefore would think of montage directors.
Eisenstein is a classic example. Hitchcock is probably the contemporary example, near contemporary example, that most of you might have in mind, in which the editing of the film the rhythm of the the quickness with which the shots develop, the way the music is superimposed on the on the on the on the editing rhythm, to increase your, your, your, your, your emotional response to the film. What we would say is that that's, that's, that's what a Montage Director embodies the work of a month. So if we say that Hitchcock is a Montage Director, what we mean is that some of his most most of his most profound meanings come from the way in which he edits his film.
What a contrast would be, let's say with the director, like the director, we're going to see a few a few in a few weeks later in the term, john Renoir, a narrow a realistic director who might be called much more fully among a muse unsend director because he does edit his editing rhythms are subtle, but he's interested in long takes. montage directors likes short takes shots that lasts only a short time in the in the most dramatic segments of the segment from bad Battleship Potemkin that I'm going to show you this afternoon in a few minutes. Sometimes the the edits are so brief that they don't even less the second and a half the average number of shots in the film as a whole in Battleship Potemkin as a whole, the shots last four seconds, that's not very long.
You know, in a, in a, in a in a Renoir film, they might last 1015 seconds, sometimes much longer than that, right. But that's a very long time for a shot to be held. And if a shot is held that long, it means the camera will move. cacked action will occur in it, but it'll still be a single shot. Can you see that? If you hold the shot for that time, and the camera moves like this, what is it encouraging? It's encouraging you to think about the relation between characters on the environment, it's encouraging a kind of realistic response to what the film is showing you. Whereas if you're looking at a film in which the cuts occur every two seconds, you don't have time to sort of take in what's the relation between the actor and the furniture, you're you're disoriented inside. In fact, Hitchcock often brought his editing to a point just below the threshold of disorientation.
When Eisenstein was theorizing about the power of editing, he was one of the first great film theorists, he talked about the way in which you could control an audience physiologically by manipulating montage. And it's true, you can, as you will know, and something that fascists societies are fully aware of and, and make and make use of. So this distinction between montage and these unsaid is immensely useful. And is and in some degree, if you apply the terms generously and tactfully, you can learn something about every film you look at by thinking about how these elements work in the film.
I want to turn now to what was arguably one of the most famous certainly one of the most famous films in the history of cinema and to a to a particular fragment from the film or an extended one. Which I think embodies and will help clarify many of the abstract ideas I've just been suggesting to you.
Let me say a word about the film that film Battleship Potemkin was produced in 1925, at a point when Eisenstein was now at the height of his power and authority. And it It commemorates a moment in the aborting and abortive revolution of 19 of 1905. so that by the time Eisenstein came to make the film, Battleship Potemkin was kind of like a founding story right in our face.
Or at least it wasn't about it was about an abortive founding that would then occur years later, right. It was see it was this it, what it what it what it dramatized was, it was a historical fact, there was a rebellion by the by the crew of the Battleship Potemkin against its officers. And in the book, The battleship sailed into the port of Odessa. And its its new, its new nears, were welcomed by the people in the port of Odessa.
Then the Tsar angry that his that his Navy, and his naval officers had been mutinied against sent soldiers to Odessa to decimate not just the the mutineers, but the population of Odessa. And, and the passage, so the film was understood in a way it was a revolutionary document, or, or, or Park ordinate, or an attempt to sort of create a kind of founding myth for Russian society, right? Because everyone watching the film would have known that the real revolution occurred, only whatever it was 12 or 14 years later. And, and, and that this was a kind of rehearsal, and it would have been so so that the film would have had a kind of patriotic aura, for for its for its audience for the passage I'm going to show you is that is the is the famous is the famous passage, some, I think David cook calls this the most famous montage sequence in the history of cinema.
It was certainly profoundly influential. And as we're watching it, I may interrupt it to say a few things as you're watching, but I'll try not to do too much interruption. What I want you to watch for especially is not only five will have to make some commentary, but I want you to as you're as you're watching it, among other things, watch for the way in which the length of the length of the shots is the time between shots varies.
And as the film as the moment as the as the film begins to this passage begins to increase in intensity and terror, the cuts that come even briefer, right, and then watch also the way in which certain other strategies of Eisenstein's reinforce this strategy, these monetize strategies for example where the camera is positioned? Is it looking up at a cat character? Or is it looking down right? And very different thing if you look up you would large and you, you you miss a Fae, if you look down you humiliate and minimize right watch how he does that sort of thing.
You'll find it I think, very, very illuminating and, and significant. The, the, the sequence is often seen today. And I rightly I suppose, as deeply heavy handed, because you're not allowed when you're looking at this film to sort of have an alternative view of things. The film doesn't leave you room. Eisenstein strategies don't leave you room for independent judgment.
You're immersed in a in a spectacle so emotional and so wrenching. That, that you don't have time to sort of sit back and think and come to conclusion. And one can say that this is one of the great differences between montage directors and me's unsend. Director, not an accident that most horror movies or horror movies really are a form of montage, right? Because your your feelings are being manipulated, you're not you're you're not supposed to be allowed to sit back and say how ridiculously implausible these events are. If that happened, it would spoil the film, right.
We'll come back to these things. So here is the different step sequence from Battleship Potemkin. These are they are dessins welcoming the mutineers. One of the things that Eisenstein was fond of was a theory of montage that was based on two principles. One he called t paws typisch TYPG. And what he meant by T pars was the idea that there were ethnic, very racist in a way that there were ethnic and social types that could be recognized visually. So he would, he would take his, so he felt, if I show you this face, you'll know he's a working class character. If I show you, if I show you, a woman with a parasol, you'll know that she belongs to the upper classes. And in fact, he's probably right about that. Here are the Czar's forces come to punish the mutineers and the city of Odessa.
So the soldiers are on top, and they're forcing people down the steps, and they are presumably shooting them.Christina, freeze it for a second. I don't want to distract you by talking while it's running. So let me interrupt it for a second and say something else about the way the film works. One of the things Eisenstein understood was, and it's actually a brilliant discovery.
He realized that he could create through his strategies, especially dramatic editing, he could create a situation in which the actual time of the experience that you're watching was not real time but was what might be called emotional time. That is to say, what's happening here, too. It's probably in the film taking longer than it took in reality, because in moments of horror, the horror is extended. And watch how those kinds of rhythms operate in the film. Okay.
Seems like a naive hope freezing again, Christian. What one other quick observation. I mean, there's I hope you recognize how awful This is, even if you're not moved in the way the original audiences would have been. I think contemporary audiences often feel as too heavy handed they they resist, they resist the extent to which the film is manipulating them.
But think back to the earliest days of film, what an unbelievable shocking, incredibly exciting experience. It must have been for early film goers to have an experience that certainly for the Russian audience, but I think for every audience that was so intense, and so emotionally powerful, so full of fear and violence that can be evoked by really by the rhythms of the editing, by the music by how close Did you I hope you notice the way he mixes in close ups in incredibly powerful ways, trying to create certain effects. Again, you're not given a choice about how to feel about this, you, you can set you can descend from it by withdrawing your interest, but you can't say.
Oh, I really love those soldiers that we're doing in the shooting. Let's make a case for them. You're not allowed the film won't allow you to do that will it? And that's in that sense. It's manipulating you. But it's telling. It's telling us a story about the creation of a revolutionary society. Finally, what Remember I said that this is question about emotional about emotional time as against Real Time, think how long this has been going on, you think that this massacre is over? Right? But in fact, it's only half over? As you'll see. There's going to be a moment when horse horse mounted Cossacks, horsemen, show up at the bottom of the steps and get them in a pinch.
I don't think this soundtrack is the original soundtrack was very good, though, as this is a brilliant moment. I don't know whether we can attribute to Stein's Eisenstein or not
when it's suddenly the music stops. Should be sound now. There's something wrong with our print. I wanted to at least until you saw this because some of you may recognize this moment as as something that's been copied in recent American movies.
I've seen that kind of illusion or a reference to this. See The moment I wanted you to think about is this baby carriage.
Okay, thanks, Kristen. blood in the eyeglasses. Can you think of a movie in which you've seen that recently? Maybe not that recently, it's actually an ancient film now by by your standards about the Godfather. There's a wonderful scene in The Godfather where a guy looks up from a from a massage table, and he shot through the eyeglasses. very memorable moment, it's surely an allusion to this moment, let's say How about the carriage going down that there have been several films that actually recreate that moment, but the one I'm thinking of is, Who is it? Yes from The Untouchables. Britt, who's the director? Do you remember? Yes, Brian DePalma was filmed.
The Untouchables has a moment just like that. And apama, of course, is a kind of historian of movies. Virtually every scene in dipalma film is a reference or an allusion to an earlier film. And part of the importance of Battleship Potemkin is that it is still a fruitful and fructifying source of imagery for contemporary filmmakers. So let me conclude then by simply reminding you that, as cook suggests, in his book, this is the single most influential montage sequence in cinema history. And that it's a wonderful instance.
For us, I think of the way in which film in a different kind of culture in an authoritarian culture, in a revolutionary culture, full of moral fervor, would be conceived both as an apparatus as a social as a, as a, as a as an engine of social transformation, by a society that control film, in a way very fundamentally different from the way in which film developed, let's say in the United States. We will continue these arguments and I hope complicate them this evening.