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Mise-en-scène ( ) is an expression used in theatre and film to describe the design aspects of a production. It has been called film criticism's "grand undefined term" because the term has many different meanings with little consensus about its definition.

Stemming from the theater, the Frenchmarker term mise en scène literally means "putting on stage." When applied to the cinema, mise-en-scène refers to everything that appears before the camera and its arrangement—sets, props, actors, costumes, and lighting. Mise-en-scène also includes the positioning and movement of actors on the set, which is called blocking. These are all the areas overseen by the director, and thus, in French film credits, the director's title is metteur en scène, "putter on scene."

This narrow definition of mise-en-scène is not shared by all critics. For some, it refers to all elements of visual style—that is, both elements on the set and aspects of the camera. For others, such as U.S. film critic Andrew Sarris, it takes on mystical meanings related to the emotional tone of a film.

Recently, the term has come to represent a style of conveying the information of a scene primarily through a single shot—often accompanied by camera movement. It is to be contrasted with montage-style filmmaking—multiple angles pieced together through editing. Overall, mise-en-scène is used when the director wishes to give an impression of the characters or situation without vocally articulating it through the framework of spoken dialogue, and typically does not represent a realistic setting. The common example is that of a cluttered, disorganized apartment being used to reflect the disorganization in a character's life in general, or a spartanly decorated apartment to convey a character with an "empty soul", in both cases specifically and intentionally ignoring any practicality in the setting.

In Germanmarker filmmaking in the 1910s and 1920s one can observe tone, meaning, and narrative information conveyed through mise-en-scène. Perhaps the most famous example of this is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) where a character's internal state of mind is represented through set design and blocking.

The similar-sounding, but unrelated term, "metteurs en scène" (figuratively, "stagers") was used by the auteur theory to disparagingly label director who did not put their personal vision into their films.

Because of its relationship to shot blocking, mise-en-scène is also a term sometimes used among professional screenwriters to indicate descriptive (action) paragraphs between the dialog.

Only rarely is mise-en-scène critique used in other art forms, but it has been used effectively to analyse photography .

References

  1. Brian Henderson, "The Long Take," in Movies and Methods: An Anthology, ed. Bill Nichols (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 315.


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Further reading

  • Contains a chapter on mise en scène with a concise definition of it.



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