While watching Rebel Without a Cause I found myself curious about the director's use of the color red. Starting with the color of the opening credits, the director inserts red into the mise en scene throughout the movie. For example, as Jim is arrested in the opening scene he walks by Judy who is wearing a bright red jacket and bright red lipstick, both of which starkly contrast with the dull background. Later in the movie as Jim is going to play 'chicken' he dons a bright red jacket. This the same scene in which the audience first notices Judy's interest in Jim. In the next scene, the couch that Jim lays on while agonizing about the death of Buzz is bright red. I could go on with examples (Plato's sock) but what's more important is the significance of the color. Does red signify Love? Danger? Aggression? All the above? I cant discount that the two characters who have worn bright red fall in love yet bright red is often followed by violence and death.
As I watched Rear Window (1954) I was particularly keen on Hitchcock’s use of sound in the telling of the story. Although the film opens with orchestral music as the camera pans from one apartment to the other, most of the sounds following the opening credits emanate from the apartments themselves—Ms. Torso’s music, a couple’s alarm clock, the musician’s practicing. Even in moments when the sound is not identifiable, the viewer can imagine its source somewhere in the courtyard, or on the neighboring street. Regardless of its origin, the sound, as an element of mise en scene, plays an integral role in the narrative. It allows the audience to orient the spatial limits of the film, while also drawing attention to the great extent of the environment. Most importantly, each diegetic sound creates a more informative picture of each character’s life, while non-diegetic sound compliments the mood and also the movement of the camera. Hitchcock’s purposeful use of sound adds to the telling of the story even when the camera is focusing elsewhere. Sounds indivisibility—that is to say our hearing of the sound, both “indivisibly and homogeneously”—creates a thorough and aurally appealing scene (Balazs 129).
Space in "Red Desert"
There is an element discussed in one of our readings on mise-en-scène that I’ve not thought much about before: space. John Gibbs describes it as “the personal space between performers and our sense of when it is impinged upon, but also ‘blocking’, that is, the relationships expressed and patterns created in the positioning of the actors.” During our screening of Red Desert, I realized that it was a perfect example of how effective this aspect of mise-en-scène can be to film.
We know that color was an enormous emphasis for Antonioni, but for me, one of the most noticeable traits of this film is the way in which he handled space. For example, in the beginning of the film (beginning at 03:35), Giuliana and her son are walking down by the factory; instead of being centered in the frame, they are off to side. Why? Of course, it showcases the dreary landscape, but to split the frame between the two characters and the darkness of the street is to reflect Giuliana’s separation from this new world. Another scene that sticks out in my mind in in the film is when the group is leaving the sex shack. Giuliana chases after Corrado as he goes to retrieve her purse, and once she grabs him, they stop. Suddenly, she steps away to look back (1:06:30) at the other four characters, who are dispersed in the frame as they fix their gaze on our protagonist. They are perfectly positioned as the thickening fog erases them from the image, intensifying the sense of alienation. In your interpretation of Red Desert, did you see any noteworthy uses of space that aid the narrative?
Red Desert / Gibbs
While watching The Red Desert, something jumped out at me almost immediately. It was how small the people appeared in comparison to the massive machines that dominated nearly every frame in the first 20 minutes of the film. Giant furnaces, computers, and oil tanks consistently dwarfed the characters throughout. It seems to me that director Michaelangelo Antonioni posited the people against the gargantuan forms of technology in order to create a sense of humanity’s increasing smallness in a world of ever-growing technology. The machinery towers over humanity, which emphasizes mankind getting lost in modernity.
In the essay “Mise-en-Scene” by John Gibbs, he points to the use of props to support the same general idea of adding to the scene. On page 9 he writes about a film called Late Spring in which the positioning of certain chairs “delineate the emotional progression” in the film. He writes “the sadness which Somiya feels can be expressed through the use of Noriko’s chairs: his sitting on one of the chairs both recalls her absence and conveys an unfamiliar position to him.” (page 10.)
The degree of forethought that a director must apply to any given scene in order to achieve the effect he wants consistently impresses me. Every single object in a scene needs to be precisely organized to convey the director’s vision. This is something I never realized as I watched movies more casually and more passively.
Mise en Scene in Elephant
The readings on mise en scene, specifically the organization of light and camera, made possible a series of suggestive readings in Van Sant’s Elephant that I had not noticed before. I noticed that the hallways were dark, barely lit, with shadows creeping over them. Initially I was unsure why Van Sant would portray the school like this, considering that most school hallways are brightly lit. However, after reading the piece on mise en scene, I realized the importance of the lighting’s potential expression. The dark hallways may express the unknown sensation that lurks behind the corner, or what is going to happen later in the school day. Symbolized by the darkness, the students are unaware of their respective fates. Because of the film’s structure, with multiple flashbacks, the audience is aware that two gunmen will enter the building, but the students are completely oblivious. Thus, it is possible that Van Sant used the lighting, or lack of lighting, in the hallways to represent the student’s ignorance to what is going to happen.
Mise-en-Scene: Red Desert
The world in which Red Desert is filmed is a blanched industrial port city with a monochromatic landscape that is both desolate and reflexive. The opening credits which play along a series of disjointed sepia toned images of factories and docks. The voice of the singing woman further increases the sense of disconnect as the viewer tries to tie in the relevance between the two sensory tools. The singing cuts off almost abruptly when the film beings and sets the tone for meeting the character of Giuliana. The shift from the credits to the start of the film is a complete color transition and the field of view vastly increases. Guiliana initially stands out in her olive coat against the grays and fog of the opening scene after the overview shot of the workers in their dark uniforms or ponchos. She is filmed off to the side and at a noticeable distance from a child next to her that the viewer later finds out to be her son. Antonioni establishes the character of Giuliana from the very beginning through the mise-en-scene. Although she eventually ends up holding her son’s hand during the opening segment, her attention is never on a singular object or person for long. She seems largely uninterested in the other characters until they show a dependence on her (like when she believes her son has polio). But when she does not feel needed (when her son says he isn’t hungry when she offers over the bagel or she finds out that he can walk she turns away and leaves) There is also a constant shifting of camera angles within the scenes or a lack of focus that reinforces the motif of not knowing what to watch, which according to Corrado is the same as not knowing how to live. Antonioni plays with the representation of those feelings of her displacement and disconnect to the world in which she lives through the visual and non-diegetic representation of the bleak industrial city.
Foreshadowing in the Planetarium
In the movie, Rebel Without a Cause, I felt that the planetarium scene starting at 026:45 had a strong use of foreshadowing. In reference to man on Earth, the lecturer stated while the camera was focused on Plato, “While the flash of our beginning has not yet been seen by planets of different galaxies, it will disappear into the blackness of the space form which it came. Destroyed as we began, in a burst of gas and fire.” This to me was one of the most important moments in the movie because after watching it for a second time, I noticed that it foreshadowed Plato’s untimely demise. I believe that in this scene, the director compares Man to Plato. By realizing this, Plato’s character became much more intriguing. During the presentation, the Earth exploded to a loud noise and Plato dropped to the ground. Then after the presentation was finished, Plato asked, “What does he know about man?” In other words, Plato was asking “what does he know about me?” Like man, Plato is a very unique and complicated being. In addition, Plato longed for acceptance. To put it all together, I would like to emphasize the part when the lecturer stated that the Earth will be destroyed as it began, in a burst of gas and fire. If you will recall in the beginning of the movie, Plato was first introduced as a troubled boy who shot two puppies from an anger that he himself did not want to explain. This anger is what Plato felt several times in the movie when he felt he was not wanted. Also, at 006:00 Plato, Jim, and Judy (though they did not know each other) were in the same shot at the same time and Jim offered Plato his jacket. That is how it began, with Plato being a troubled boy who was seeking friendship. At the end of the movie, all three of them were together again, and Jim offered his jacket to Plato once more. Plato was so nervous about losing his friends that he disappeared into the blackness of the space that the lecturer mentioned. Plato then was killed by a gunshot that sounded almost identical to the bang that occurred when the Earth exploded in the planetarium. Thus, when the lecturer mentioned that the Earth would be destroyed just as it began, into a burst of gas and fire, Plato’s fate was laid before us.