We’re reading that that mise-en-scene has two chief components: composition and design. In this assignment you’ll break down composition, looking at a frame from the Hollywood classic Casablanca. This assignment does not require that you screen Casablanca, but feel free to if you wish.
The above shot appears early in the movie.(The picture is in the file) We’re about to meet Rick (Humphrey Bogart), the protagonist and owner of Rick’s American Café, the central setting of the film. But before the camera tilts up to reveal Rick’s face, it lingers on this view of him playing chess alone in his place of business. (You can see this scene play out in the first part of this clip from the movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxnxhEzju58
In this assignment you have three tasks. First, identify as many items (props, for instance) and other mise-en-scene elements as you can in the above still. (Note: you are not to analyze the clip linked above, only the still frame above in this prompt.) List these items and elements. Second, analyze the implicit meanings and associations of each item/element, making sure to include how the meaning would change if the item were substituted with a different but equivalent one (for instance, if Rick were eating a steak in this shot, possible substitutes include: a bowl of soup, a hamburger, etc.). Third, in a paragraph sum up your interpretation of the mise-en-scene in this composition; without even having seen the movie necessarily, what do you think its role is in introducing and beginning to develop the heroic character of Rick?
This is not an essay assignment, remember. For the first two tasks, list the items/elements and after each item put a colon, followed by the implicit meanings/associations and substitution. For the third task, I expect a paragraph in sentence form to follow your list.
Here’s an example. Let’s say I’m doing this assignment on a still from Psycho in which Marion is talking to Norman over a sandwich. I’d first list the items and mise-en-scene elements, subbing out alternative items/techniques, and discussing the implicit meanings. For instance:
- Norman’s outfit, complete with button-down-collar shirt, crew cut, and khaki slacks: I associate his look/style with the “boy next door”; he seems “normal,” innocent/youthful, clean-cut, middle class. If I subbed out this look and replaced it with a mohawk, torn jeans, tank top, and tattoos, my association would be more punk and less clean-cut and “square.”
- Stuffed owl on wall, largely cast in shadow: associations include predatory, scary, menacing, dead. If I swapped this out with a stuffed buffalo head, the associations would be frontier, wild west, nothing menacing or predatory.
I would continue listing and analyzing items from the shot as above, and beneath this list I’d have a paragraph analyzing how these mise-en-scene choices help to develop the characters. This bit on Psycho is merely an example. Your focus is the above still from Casablanca (not the clip!).