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Re: Jack Webb's PETE KELLY'S BLUES - mise en scene as point-making

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  • Jaime N. Christley
    Caution: unsupported assertion of personal taste ahead. I m at work so I wish I had time to respond to this, but I wanted to chime in that DRAGNET makes it
    Message 1 of 20 , Aug 2, 2007
      Caution: unsupported assertion of personal taste ahead.

      I'm at work so I wish I had time to respond to this, but I wanted to
      chime in that DRAGNET makes it pretty clear that Webb is one of the
      major visual stylists of the decade... "The Big Thief" can stand toe-
      to-toe with any other film from '53, imo.

      Jaime

      --- In a_film_by@yahoogroups.com, "thebradstevens"
      <bradstevens22@...> wrote:
      >
      > I picked up a VHS tape containing a nice letterboxed transfer of
      Jack
      > Webb's PETE KELLY'S BLUES (1955) a few days ago. Watching it the
      > other night, I was struck by the presence of mise en scene
      practices
      > that were quite typical in American films of the 50s (Sirk,
      > Hitchcock, Ford, Preminger, Minnelli, etc.), but have now virtually
      > died out, with a handful of exceptions (Cimino's THE SICILIAN,
      > Hellman's STANLEY'S GIRLFRIEND, some of Spielberg's work).
      > Essentially, mise en scene is here being used as a rigorous form of
      > point-making. Take, for example, the splendid 3-minute sequence
      shot
      > in which Lee Marvin's character explains to Kelly that he intends
      to
      > leave the band. Webb's mise en scene here makes a series of very
      > specific points, every detail selected for its didactic rather than
      > naturalistic value (though nothing actually violates the demands of
      > naturalism). Thus the relationship of the two actors to each other,
      > their relationship to the camera, their relationship to the
      > props/decor, their gestures, their movements within (and finally
      out
      > of) the frame - all these things provide a kind of running
      > commentary as to how Webb wishes us to interpret the dramatic
      events.
      >
      > The demise of point-making mise en scene - a mise en scene that
      > depends for its effect on our clear understanding that the
      fictional
      > world does not have an independent existence, but has been created
      > specifically for the camera's benefit - is obviously connected to
      the
      > ever-increasing resort to rapid, fragmented editing patterns. But
      > this is far from being the whole story. Compare the above scene in
      > PETE KELLY'S BLUES with the long take that begins Hou Hsiao-hsien's
      > CAFE LUMIERE, which deliberately resists all forms of point-making
      > (or, to be more accurate, makes general rather than specific
      points).
      > Here, we have the sense of observing a dramatic world that has an
      > existence independent of the camera, and which the camera has
      somehow
      > intruded upon.
      >
      > Obviously, I'm not arguing that PETE KELLY'S BLUES is superior to
      > CAFE LUMIERE (I would actually argue precisely the opposite), but
      > watching Webb's film did help me understand exactly what is meant
      > when people talk about the death of mise en scene. Of course, this
      is
      > the death only of one particular type of mise en scene - but it's
      > still something worth mourning. Though I'd be interested to learn
      if
      > anyone could come up with some additional examples of modern
      > filmmakers who still practice this kind of point-making mise en
      scene.
      >
    • thebradstevens
      ... Much of RAGING BULL gives the viewer the impression that what we see would be happening anyway, even if the camera were not there to record it. This is
      Message 2 of 20 , Aug 2, 2007
        --- In a_film_by@yahoogroups.com, David Ehrenstein <cellar47@...>
        wrote:
        >
        > Now I'm really confused. How can the camera be present
        > and absent at the same time?
        >
        > Of course the characters in the film, like so many
        > others, are inahibiting a simalcrum of reality where
        > no camera is ever acknowledged. But what makes Webb's
        > use of this convention different from that of 99% of
        > the movies ever made?
        >

        Much of RAGING BULL gives the viewer the impression that what we see
        would be happening anyway, even if the camera were not there to
        record it. This is clearly not the case with PETE KELLY'S BLUES or
        the works of Minnelli, Hitchcock, etc., in which everything has
        clearly been arranged for the camera's benefit.
      • thebradstevens
        Michael Curtiz s THE EGYPTIAN, which I watched last night, turned out to contain an excellent example of point-making mise en scene during a sequence in which
        Message 3 of 20 , Aug 3, 2007
          Michael Curtiz's THE EGYPTIAN, which I watched last night, turned out
          to contain an excellent example of point-making mise en scene during
          a sequence in which Sinuhe (Edmund Purdom) talks to Nefer (Bella
          Darvi). Nefer is seated, applying makeup while gazing at her own
          reflection in a mirror. Sinuhe stands on the left of the frame. At
          one point, Sinuhe walks towards Nefer, moves behind the mirror (which
          now partially obscures him from view), and grabs hold of it. The
          resulting image shows Sinuhe embracing not Nefer, but rather a mirror
          in which her reflection is visible...visible, that is, to the camera,
          but not to Sinuhe. Curtiz here demonstrates two things; a) that
          Sinuhe is in love not with Nefer herself, but rather with
          that 'image' which she presents to the world; and b) that Sinuhe has
          allowed his own identity to be 'obscured' by his obsession with Nefer.

          Of course, this image is constructed entirely for the camera's
          benefit, allowing the film's viewer to understand something that
          would not be comprehensible to the on-screen participants. Indeed,
          the fact that Sinuhe is not consciously aware of the nature of his
          desire is exactly the point that Curtiz is making here.
        • David Ehrenstein
          And Curtiz is doing so rather elegantly. This use of a mirror reminds me of that scene in Under Capricorn so beloeved of the CdC critics where Michael
          Message 4 of 20 , Aug 3, 2007
            And Curtiz is doing so rather elegantly. This use of a
            mirror reminds me of that scene in "Under Capricorn"
            so beloeved of the CdC critics where Michael Wuilding
            holds up his coat behind a glass door in order that
            Bergman see her reflection.

            --- thebradstevens <bradstevens22@...> wrote:

            > Michael Curtiz's THE EGYPTIAN, which I watched last
            > night, turned out
            > to contain an excellent example of point-making mise
            > en scene during
            > a sequence in which Sinuhe (Edmund Purdom) talks to
            > Nefer (Bella
            > Darvi). Nefer is seated, applying makeup while
            > gazing at her own
            > reflection in a mirror. Sinuhe stands on the left of
            > the frame. At
            > one point, Sinuhe walks towards Nefer, moves behind
            > the mirror (which
            > now partially obscures him from view), and grabs
            > hold of it. The
            > resulting image shows Sinuhe embracing not Nefer,
            > but rather a mirror
            > in which her reflection is visible...visible, that
            > is, to the camera,
            > but not to Sinuhe. Curtiz here demonstrates two
            > things; a) that
            > Sinuhe is in love not with Nefer herself, but rather
            > with
            > that 'image' which she presents to the world; and b)
            > that Sinuhe has
            > allowed his own identity to be 'obscured' by his
            > obsession with Nefer.
            >
            > Of course, this image is constructed entirely for
            > the camera's
            > benefit, allowing the film's viewer to understand
            > something that
            > would not be comprehensible to the on-screen
            > participants. Indeed,
            > the fact that Sinuhe is not consciously aware of the
            > nature of his
            > desire is exactly the point that Curtiz is making
            > here.
            >
            >




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          • jpcoursodon
            Message 5 of 20 , Aug 4, 2007
              --- In a_film_by@yahoogroups.com, David Ehrenstein <cellar47@...>
              wrote:
              >
              > And Curtiz is doing so rather elegantly. This use of a
              > mirror reminds me of that scene in "Under Capricorn"
              > so beloeved of the CdC critics where Michael Wuilding
              > holds up his coat behind a glass door in order that
              > Bergman see her reflection.
              >
              > An idea, incidentally, provided by Hume Cronyn. JPC

              >
            • Jonathan Rosenbaum
              To my ... Cf. http://blogs.chicagoreader.com/film/2007/02/16/market-value-missing-movie/, which even contains a bit about the mise en scene.
              Message 6 of 20 , Aug 4, 2007
                To my
                > knowledge the late great Raymond Durgnat is the only
                > critic to acknowledge the brilliance of "Pete Kelley's
                > Blues," particularly as regards mise en scene.

                Cf.
                http://blogs.chicagoreader.com/film/2007/02/16/market-value-missing-movie/,
                which even contains a bit about the mise en scene.
              • Eduardo Valente - grupos
                ... whether people like him or not, I d have to sign in M. Night Shyamalan right here.
                Message 7 of 20 , Aug 11, 2007
                  > But who is
                  > > keeping the Webb/Hitchcock/Minnelli line of mise en
                  > > scene alive?

                  whether people like him or not, I'd have to sign in M. Night Shyamalan
                  right here.
                • thebradstevens
                  ... Shyamalan ... Yeah, I d pretty much agree with that. Mel Brooks is another name that comes to mind (though I guess his directing career is now a thing of
                  Message 8 of 20 , Aug 12, 2007
                    --- In a_film_by@yahoogroups.com, "Eduardo Valente - grupos"
                    <solalaranjado@...> wrote:
                    >
                    > > But who is
                    > > > keeping the Webb/Hitchcock/Minnelli line of mise en
                    > > > scene alive?
                    >
                    > whether people like him or not, I'd have to sign in M. Night
                    Shyamalan
                    > right here.
                    >



                    Yeah, I'd pretty much agree with that. Mel Brooks is another name
                    that comes to mind (though I guess his directing career is now a
                    thing of the past).
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