Mise-en-scène

Mise-en-scène is what we see in a film; editing is what we do not. These are simplified definitions, but they emphasize two essential things: the basic building blocks of a film—the shot and the cut—and the complexities of each that allow a film to achieve its texture and resonance. Mise-en-scène concerns the shot, though we need to keep in the back of our minds that editing—putting two shots together—affects not only how a film's narrative is structured but how the shots are subsequently understood by viewers.

The term "mise-en-scène" developed in the theater, where it literally meant "put into the scene" and referred to the design and direction of the entire production, or, as "metteur-en-scène," to the director's work. The term was brought into film by a group of French film critics in the 1950s, many of whom would become directors and constitute the French New Wave in the 1960s. One of these critics-turned-directors, François Truffaut, used the term negatively to describe the directors of the French "Tradition of Quality," the rather stodgy French films that appeared after World War II. New Wave theorists felt that these films merely translated novels into movies. André Bazin, perhaps the most influential film critic since Sergei Eisenstein (1898–1948) (the revolutionary Russian filmmaker who, despite his theoretical focus on a particular form of editing called montage, was a master of mise-en-scène), was much more positive in his use of the phrase, and the discussion of mise-en-scène here flows from his observations.

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