Mise En Scene and Design

The Lacey article “Film Language” presents the film analysis term mise en scene as “what can be seen in the picture” and consisting of production design (sets, props, and costumes), colour, lighting, actors’ performance, diegetic sound, and framing. I want address a few of these with examples.

The first piece of mise en scene I want to look at is “lighting.” The film “Traffic” provides a good example of how a change in lighting can change the feel and overall meaning behind a particular scene. The movie jumps back and forth between stories taking place in Mexico and the United States. All of the shots in Mexico are lighted in a way that makes them appear washed-out and dusty with colors like yellow, brown, and gray. This provides the viewer with an entirely different experience than the shots that take place in the United States.

The other piece of mise en scene I want to present is “diegetic sound.” A good example of this is in the film “The Way of the Gun” (coincidentally, another film crossing the border between the United States and Mexico). In this film, there are a lot of gunshots. The director purposely replicated the actual, unmanipulated sound of a shot every time a gun is fired. In most films, this sound is modified to be “easier” on the viewer’s ears and more “comfortable” to hear. In reality, the sound of a gunshot can be extremely loud and generally uncomfortable to hear (as far as I can imagine anyway… not much personal experience). Anyhow, the director wanted the viewer to be made uncomfortable by these repeated sounds, because many of the violent scenes of the film are indeed uncomfortable for many to watch.

Both of these examples I’ve provided link to an idea in design that I like to think about… “transparency.” In these films, the viewer may be affected without even knowing why. With regards to interaction design, it is interesting to think about designing in a way that the user feels things and experiences things without wanting or needing to know why. It just happens. The ultimate goal in many cases, right?

The Wikipedia definition of mise en scene labels it “film criticism’s grand undefined term.” This is not because it lacks definition, but because there are so many definitions and interpretations. I feel the same about some of the terms I come across in HCI.

This course began with asking the question “can HCI develop a language like film theory has to describe itself?” Personally, I still don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t even know where to begin. It’s a nice thought, but I’m not there yet.

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