Mise en scène
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Mise-en-scène is an expression used in the theatre and film worlds to describe the design aspects of a production. It has been called film criticism's "grand undefined term," but that is not because of a lack of definitions. Rather, it's because the term has so many different meanings that there is little consensus about its definition.
Stemming from the theater, the French term mise en scène literally means "putting into the scene" or "setting in scene." 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.
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 German 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" (literally, "setters of the scene" or "directors") was used by the auteur theory to disparagingly label directors 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.