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Hum 3: Film Principles
Fr. Rene C. Ocampo, SJ/Bong S. Eliab
Second Semester, 2001-2002
Humanities Division
School of Arts and Sciences
Ateneo de Davao University

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Mise-en-scene means staging an action. It is historically to do with directing plays, and became later to do with film to express how the material in the frame is directed.
Robin Wood describes the death of the mise-en-scene by the use of other camera devices in combination with a more subjective portrayal in dominant cinema:

...the audience's focus of attention is deliberately shifted by a shift of focus within a shot. The implications of such changes cannot be formulated simply. They are clearly bound up with what Victor Perkins called "the death of mise-en-scene", a remark dependent on a definition of mise-en-scene that would stress the relative invinsibility of the director and of technique, the strict subordination of style to the action.

Robin Wood. Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. p.34.

Continuing this notion, Laura Mulvey says...

However self-conscious and ironic Hollywood managed to be, it always restricted itself to a formal mise-en-scene reflecting the dominant ideological concept of the cinema.

Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, in Antony Easthope, ed. Contemporary Film Theory. London: Longman, 1993. p.113.

Thus, the characters and narrative elements in a mainstream film are overriding the possibilities it can have in terms of technique and style. Consider the following questions:

Does this apply unilaterally across dominant cinema?

Where does this theory not apply?

Is the theory, above all, true, that the emphasis lies with action rather than stylistic innovation?

Mise-en-scene can also be broken up into small elements...

The fictional and non-fictional setting of the film

Lighting and colour
Primary sources of emotion in film!

Space and time
How Mise-en-Scene creates and manipulates space and time

You may also want to consider the use of mise-en-scene in documentary.

Méliès and the discovery of mise-en-scene

Georges Méliès, having watched the demonstration by the Lumiere brothers in 1895 of their short films, made a camera of his own.
Méliès was filming the Place de l'Opera. As a bus passed, his camera jammed. He quickly repaired it and carried on filming, although by now a hearse was passing the Place. Upon watching the film, it appeared as if the bus had transformed into a hearse. This demonstrated the power of mise-en-scene, something which was to enrapture Méliès for much of his life.

Source: Sofia Imperica


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Ateneo de Davao University
15 November 2001