Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Mise-en-scene decon task

Partially to get us all thinking about the conventions of film openings, you will be formed into pairs and given one horror film to analyse. Specifically, you will be examining how it has used mise-en-scene to signify (communicate to the audience) aspects of the film's narrative. Information filmmakers provide to the audience by whatever means (sound, dialogue, titles, mise-en-scene etc) is termed exposition.
Each opening will be screened, accompanied by your pair's analysis.
Carefully selected m-en-s + framing signifies a stalker's POV
A key part of the research and planning will be scrutinising a wide range of actual examples of openings within your genre; this doesn't have to be horror but we'll stick with one genre for this exercise - the range of screenings should enable you to decide whether or not you've got the stomach to scrutinise the construction of scenes of gore!
To build on this, you will be working in pairs or more to create a text where you rely on mise-en-scene to communicate to your preferred reading to the audience - this is detailed in a separate post.

Once you have a horror film to analyse, research + make note of the following (using IMDB.com):
  1. Director + year of release
  2. Budget (if available)
  3. Box office takings (US, UK, as available)
  4. Has there been a remake of this film? (note director, year)
  5. Is this part of a film franchise (ie, have there been sequels - if so, how many films in the series to date?)
Once you've explored the basic institutional backdrop to the film (you could also look into the production + distribution company/ies if you wish, ascertain if its an Indie release or from a Hollywood studio, one of the 'Big 6'), its time to turn a more semiotic eye onto the text, especially how meaning has been encoded + communicated to the audience through shot selection and choice of mise-en-scene. Note though that the context can be very significant for the meaning, or reading (Stuart Hall's [preferred/negotiated/oppositional] readings theory). Address the following in your analysis of the opening (these points overlap):
  1. How has the time period been signified? Consider the concept of zeitgeist.
  2. How has the location been signified? (Consider if this is small town, city, rural, suburban etc and what this might mean or signify)
  3. Has social class or status been signified?
  4. Discuss clothing/costume codes, and hair/make-up.
  5. How does mise-en-scene enable us to connote the different characters' likely roles within the narrative? (You could employ Propp and/or Levi-Strauss here)
  6. What can we tell about the (dis-)equilibrium from the mise-en-scene (all the above points form part of this)
  7. What expectation do we have of the film's narrative from this?
  8. How has the genre been signified? (Props, objects?)
  9. Whatever the scenario and genre, how has verisimilitude been achieved?
  10. Do you think this film employs mise-en-scene skilfully ... or perhaps clumsily?
We're not necessarily looking for a PowerPoint on this; if you can communicate your findings quite fluently from memory and some looking up of notes, thats absolutely fine. Write up all your findings in a blog post entitled M-en-S of [Film Title] Opening. Strive to use terminology where you can - eg, if you consider the use of mise-en-scene to be clumsy, lazy or weak, you're taking a negotiated or oppositional reading of the text (Stuart Hall's theory of the 3 levels of reading a text), not following the preferred reading.

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