Concise Seminar: "Mise-en-scène style in Post-World War II Cinema"
Professor Emeritus Tom Gunning
Departments of Art History, Cinema and Media Studies, and the College
Chicago University, Chicago, USA
Professor Tom Gunning is a 2022/2023 IAS Distinguished Scholar of the Mortimer and Raymond Sackler Institute of Advanced Studies.
Mise-en-scène is a French term, literally translated as “putting within the scene”. It is originally a term from theater, and could be translated as “staging,” leading to it often being a synonym for direction in both stage and cinema. As a critical term, it has two primary meanings. First, as an element of form, it indicates staging: the set and props, the blocking of actors, and sometimes aspects such as costuming, casting and even performance. David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson define it thus: “all the elements placed in front of the camera to be photographed: the setting and props, lighting and costumes and make-up and figure behavior.” Secondly, as a term of cinematic style, it is often used to emphasize styles which place emphasis on the cinematic frame and everything within it, often in contrast to styles that rely primarily on editing or montage. As Andrew Sarris put it: “Mise-en-scène emphasizes the content of a frame rather than the relationship of one frame to the next. … If montage implies the fragmentation of the world, mise-en-scène implies a more unified world.” Therefore, the term here differentiates between film styles and, indeed, world views.
This course will trace the cinematic significance of the term “mise-en-scène” in cinema from World War II until the 1960’s. We will read and discuss texts by such critics as André Bazin, Michel Mourlet, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Barrett Hodson and Andrew Sarris that use the film to define a new attitude towards the film after World War II in which the image that embodies a sense of the cinema as a world, rather than as a form of discourse. Hollywood filmmakers such as William Wyler, Otto Preminger, as well as European directors such as Max Ophüls and Luchino Visconti will be approached in terms of close stylistic analysis. Theoretical implications and the role of mise-en-scène in contemporary cinema will be discussed as the course closes.