DEFINITION MISE-EN-SCÈNE Mise-en-scène stems from traditional theatre and refers to everything that is happening on the stage, instigated by the director. Literally it means placing on stage. Translated to film, it refers to everything that happens in front of the camera and specifically (in common use) to how the actors move about in the shot, in relation to each other and the camera. In a screenplay, it concerns all indications for what is happening in the scene, except the dialogue. In film, the mise-en-scène is framed by the shot.
In their classic work on film-art, prominent scientist-couple Bordwell and Thompson express that mise-en-scène, of all film techniques, is the one that viewers notice the most. They state: ‘After seeing the film we may not recall the cutting or the camera-movements, the dissolves or the off-screen sounds’ but indeed the mise-en-scène.
OBSERVATION ON MISE-EN-SCÈNE IN CITIZEN KANE In the beginning, film was more or less a registration of a stage play, as if the fourth wall was still there and the audience could choose where to watch. Later, with the development of cinematographic aesthetics and the raise of directors like Eisenstein, the use of montage and camera angle became crucial.
But with the introduction of deep focus in 1941, introduced by the cinematographer of Orson Welles, named Gregg Toland, mise-en-scène became in a way more theatrical again.
Eminence grise of the film critics Roger Ebert writes (About Citizen Kane): ‘Everyone knows that Orson Welles and his cinematographer, Gregg Toland, used deep focus in Kane. But what is deep focus, and were they using it for the first time? The term refers to a strategy of lighting, composition, and lens choice that allows everything in the frame, from the front to the back, to be in focus at the same time. With the lighting and lenses available in 1941, this was just becoming possible, and Toland had experimented with the technique in John Ford's The Long Voyage Home a few years earlier. In most movies, the key elements in the frame are in focus, and those closer or further away may not be. When everything is in focus, the filmmakers must give a lot more thought to how they direct the viewer's attention, first here and then there. What the French call mise-en-scenethe movement within the framebecomes more important.’
Another example of Welles’ use of mise-en-scène in Citizen Kane is the creation of optical illusions by playing with the proportions in the set. Roger Ebert: ‘An example of this is when Kane is signing away control of his empire in Thatcher's office. Behind him on the wall are windows that look of normal size and height. But as Kane walks into the background of the shot, we realize with surprise that the windows are huge, and their lower sills are more than six feet above the floor. As Kane stands under them, he is dwarfed--which is the intent, since he has just lost great power.’ Another powerful use of mise-en-scène in Citizen Kane are the Visible ceilings and the Matte drawings. These are drawings by artists that are used to create elements that aren't really there.’
We see here an example of how effective use of mise-en-scene can enhance and deepen the drama.
OBSERVATIONS ON MISE-EN-SCÈNE IN VR While in theatre, the mise-en-scène takes place on stage and the spectator sits in front of it and can let his eyes wander freely along the stage, in cinema, the viewer is forced to follow the perspective of the filmmaker.
In VR and 360 videos, the cinematic tools like editing and framing by shot are no longer relevant. Here, the viewer is more a participant in another world, which in some ways resembles a theatre-stage, but without the restriction of the fourth wall.
Again, the mise-en-scène becomes an important attention-steering tool. The positioning of the actors, dialogue and other story-generating events in relation to the viewer can, like in a stage-play, be vital to how the narrative is construed.
The viewer can even enter the mise-en-scène and, if technology allows, interact with it. David Cox even writes about mise-en-experience instead of mise-en-scene: ‘Where the screen and the stage once framed ‘that contained within’ or ‘mis en’, now the entirety of experience itself is the framework of the act of aesthetic organization.’ And he continues: ‘At a Virtual Reality film-making conference recently, I heard panellists talking about ‘in-sphere’ and ‘out-of-sphere’ as a correlate for ‘in-frame’ and ‘out-of-frame’. The sphere, or rather that fishbowl-like region into which our heads and sensibilities are placed when we put on a head-mounted display such as Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard is the ‘stage’ where ‘mise-en-experience’ takes place.’
Cecilie Levy. Dec. 1, 2017