Project 6: Mise-en-scène


Choose some films to watch, paying special attention to the mise-en-scène. Bear in mind that every item on screen has been considered and placed, every area of space has been adjusted to give the best composition. As you watch ask yourself the following:
• How does the scene feel?
• How has this been achieved?
• Has the mise-en-scène played a part in this?
• Is there any meaning conveyed by the mise-en-scène?

Choose a particularly interesting scene and watch it a number of times. Identify each individual shot. (Sketch out a storyboard of your sequence or extract some stills if this helps you.) Ask the same questions of each frame:
• How does the frame feel?
• How has this been achieved?
• Has the mise-en-scène played a part in this?
• Is there any meaning conveyed by the mise-en-scène?

BLOOD SIMPLE ( dir. Joel and Ethan Coen, 1984)


The Coen brothers homage to film noir was their debut feature. Set in Texas, disturbed and overtly jealous bar owner Marty ( Dan Hedaya ) hires a private investigator / hitman ( M Emmett Walsh ) to dispose of his unfaithful wife Abby ( Frances McDormand ) and her lover, Ray ( who works as his bar tender, played by John Getz ). As with all good fables regarding mercenary services, things do not go as planned. The film is filled with double crossing treachery and leads to ample amounts of paranoia for the many characters concerned.

I have chosen this film as it is filled with subtle but essential plot markers using props and scenarios that cause tension leading up to the movie’s macabre ending. The particular scene under the spotlight is early in the film, where we meet Marty during his interaction with his PI, a scene which confirms indeed that his wife is being unfaithful.
Set in the back room office of his roadhouse bar, we can see behind him through a one way mirror, the bar itself, illumniated by pink neon lighting. This back room is large, a saloon that has been turned into a makeshift office and storage.


Upon Marty’s desk, we see his legs sprawled across the foreground. Note, Marty suffers with a stomach ulcer ( obviously symbolising his anxious, stressful character ) which is subtly illuminated throughout the film, and in particular it is interesting to see a glass of milk and a box of Alka Seltzer amongst the paperwork.
The frame appears to be filled with important props that later are relevant to the characters involved. The self-medication of milk and stomach salts, Marty’s legs strewn across the table, as if pointing towards his “authority” in his castle, with the challenging  PI’s stetson, which represents this character superbly, also marking his character in the following gameplay. It shows a tension of rivalry. The PI has brought bad news in the form of photographic evidence, therefore the plot  is about to get deeper. The mise-en-scène is rich here, purposely placed props that indicate various tropes throughout the movie. This gives a sense of unease, as Marty is to discover that his fears were correct.



The PI sits opposite, sitting back, relaxed and defiant. His hat and lighter placed wide on Marty’s table, a subtle insubordination to his employer. Behind him we see the messy unused furniture and equipment. The music from the bar is melancholy country & western ( we ARE in Texas! ) The mis-en-scène conveys an untidy, unloving sanctuary that is Marty’s world. He’s built his empire, but its not a happy place.


The next frames tell the story together:
Top left pic:  Marty ( left, facing us ) explains that in ancient Greece, the messenger was beheaded upon delivery of bad news, to make the hierarchy feel better. Its a subtle attempt at imposing his “machismo” authority over his employee.
Top right pic: PI lights his cigarette and places his ( Man of the Year ) Zippo lighter on the desk, again an important prop, that is essential to a later reveal.
Bottom left pic: Defiantly, the PI drags deep on his cigarette, before…
Bottom right pic: Exhaling little rings of smoke in Marty’s face ( you can see them in a soft hue from the pink light of the bar )
A close up scene which perfectly indicates further discord between the characters. The PI is seen somewhat as a buffoon, but also we discover a very dangerous person. Marty’s attempt to belittle the PI, leads to a defiant response. The frames seem intense, purposely so with such medium to close up shots of the characters’ faces. The mis-en-scène here is simple that, just the characters and single props are highlighted, but is extremely effective in sparking unease and friction.


Top left pic: Marty throws a bundle of cash at the PI, telling him never to come by the bar again, if he needs him, he’ll know which rock to turn over.
Top right pic: The PI picks up the bundle of the floor, laughing at the comment.
Bottom left pic: Placing his stetson back on his head, he remarks, “Give me a call if you wanna cut off my head, I can always crawl around without it!”
Bottom right pic: Chillingly laughing as he walks slowly away to exit the the back door, amongst the clutter.
A delicious dark atmosphere, stamping out the two characters, their relationship and overall, their disgust at each other. The mis-en-scène is essential throughout, focusing on important points, even props that become reveals later, zooming in to the sweaty faces of the intense Texas evening climate, the unkempt disarray of Marty’s paranoid world and setting up further malice for the rest of the film.

Peter O

Look back at your own sequence from Project 2. Whether or not you spent time considering it, the mise-en-scène will have affected your sequence. Analyse your own sequence in the same way you have looked at the other films. Add your notes to your blog.

• How does the frame feel?
• How has this been achieved?
• Has the mise-en-scène played a part in this?
• Is there any meaning conveyed by the mise-en-scène?


Blood Simple script by Joel and Ethan Coen, 1982. – accessed 15th July 2016


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