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About this book

Styles of filmmaking have changed greatly from classical Hollywood through to our digital era. So, too, have the ways in which film critics and scholars have analysed these transformations in film style. This book explores two central style concepts, mise en scène and dispositif, to illuminate a wide range of film and new media examples.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

1. A Term That Means Everything, and Nothing Very Specific

Abstract
When it comes to the hallowed, foundational terms that shape the field of film studies — words like montage or cinephilia or auteur or genre, words that have launched a million books and articles — I have come to believe it is wise to take heed of the warning of Paul Willemen (1944–2012), as voiced in the 1990s (Willemen, 1994, p. 226). For him, such cherished words have rarely defined anything precise in cinema; rather, they mark a confusion, a fumbling attempt to pinpoint some murky confluence of wildly diverse factors. We need such terms, he agreed, but we should not believe or trust in them too fervently. Rather, they present a smokescreen (or, in the psychoanalytic terms used by Willemen, a ‘neurotic knot’ or displacement): for some commentators, tantalising as a mystery that can prompt further work into their meaning and origin; or, for those who obediently trot them out as rote learning, simply asphyxiating. Has anyone ever involved in teaching film not experienced, at some time or other, that horrible, crunching sensation when, once a strict definition of something has been uttered in the classroom — no matter how provisionally, no matter how quickly freighted with numerous qualifications — you know that, all the same, you have just helped to further perpetuate that smokescreen of faux certainty?
Adrian Martin

2. Aesthetic Economies: The Expressive and the Excessive

Abstract
What is involved in film style — or, to put it another way, what constitutes the aesthetics of the cinematic medium? What are the elements that comprise the stylistic ensemble of any given film, or of film as a medium in general? The basic inventory of stylistic elements in cinema can be uncontroversially listed: properties of the image (mise en scène, here including the pictorial elements of camera framing and production design); properties of the soundtrack; acting performance; and editing. More difficult is the task of deciding on the aesthetic economy of these elements in relation to each other, and to their narrative and thematic contexts; as well as in relation to their intended or actual effect on the cinema spectator. Aesthetic economy, a concept overlooked in much film studies, is the central subject of this chapter.
Adrian Martin

3. What Was Mise en scène?

Abstract
One afternoon, when I was 15 years old — a precocious cinephile — I saw Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder (1959) for the first time, on a humble, domestic, black-and-white television set. Although Preminger was already a name on the lists (compiled from the standard coffee-table guide books of the era) of filmmakers and films I had convinced myself I needed to catch up with, I had no real notion, back then, of the kinds of intense cults of cinephilic adoration, situated all over the world at diverse moments of film criticism’s history, that had been (and were still to be) inspired by his work from the 1940s through the 1960s.
Adrian Martin

4. The Crises (1): Squeezed and Stretched

Abstract
Three striking image-events from the opening, two-minute scene of Jerzy Skolimowski’s Walkover (1965): a young, anonymous woman (Elzbieta Czyzewska) staring intensely into the camera as a train pulls in behind her on the platform (at the conclusion of her gaze, she will commit suicide just off-screen, under the train wheels); a young man, Andrzej (Skolimowski himself), filmed first from outside the train and then from within it, leaning out the window and ignoring the commotion on the platform in order to chat to Teresa (Aleksandra Zawieruszanka), whom he spots outside the train; and lastly, Andrzej emerging out of the bustling crowd next to Teresa, as they approach the exit.
Adrian Martin

5. The Crises (2): The Style It Takes

Abstract
It is one thing to assert, as André Labarthe did in 1967, that ‘we still do not have a just dialogue between criticism and the films of Godard’ (Labarthe, 1967, p. 66). Godard is here merely the exemplar, the iceberg tip, of every kind of new, different, radical, challenging cinema that has emerged over the globe since the 1960s, and is today carried by such major figures as Kiarostami, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Jia Zhang-ke.
Adrian Martin

6. Sonic Spaces

Abstract
In King Vidor’s Beyond the Forest (1949), Bette Davis plays Rosa Moline, a modern Madame Bovary character, full of dreams and desires. At one point, she leaves her dumpy, small hometown for the sake of a handsome lover in the big city. There is a scene in which Rosa sits in a cafe, daydreaming. Since she is in the city of her dreams, the score plays an exaggeratedly romantic rendition of the tune ‘Chicago, Chicago’. In voice-over Rosa thinks to herself: ‘He’s got to see me. I’m sick of life pushing me around. I’m not just a small town girl, I’m Rosa Moline’. Then we hear some other, unfamiliar voice which murmurs dreamily, as if to echo her: ‘Rosa Moline’. Then Rosa, flushed with self-satisfaction, thinks to herself again: ‘I’m Rosa Moline’. Then that other voice returns, but now tinny and harsh, as a real, off-screen sound. It drawls: ‘Calling Rosa Moline’. The music quickly builds and abruptly halts as Rosa shakes herself out of her trance. And then she says to the first person she can find in this cafe: ‘Someone’s calling my name. What do they want?’
Adrian Martin

7. A Detour via Reality: Social Mise en scène

Abstract
A scene in A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, 2011) begins. Two famous historic personages, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), are having dinner together at the older man’s home, in order to discuss various knotty problems of the burgeoning science of psychoanalysis — such as whether or not the word ‘libido’ should be used so publicly. But the arrangement of their bodies is odd and cramped — Freud and Jung are sitting next to rather than opposite each other, their well-clothed arms almost rubbing together — and the delivery of their conversation awkward: Freud stares straight ahead, pensively, while Jung peers into the serving tray, and then down into his plate as he earnestly speaks. At a certain point, Freud interrupts the flow of their discussion in order to add, ‘By the way, don’t feel you have to restrain yourself here. My family are all veterans of the most unsuitable topics of mealtime conversation’.
Adrian Martin

8. Cinema, Audiovisual Art of the 21st Century

Abstract
It was Jean-Louis Comolli (1980) who coined the indelible expression that cinema was among the machines of the visible — I would say, a machine of the visible and the audible, of sonic space — that defined our society of media spectacle. Much film criticism proceeds — perhaps today more than ever, when there is intense, budding nostalgia in the air for the imminently ‘lost object’ of film — by a gesture of separating cinema (as Comolli did not) from the general media sphere comprised of such ‘machines’; placing it apart, crowned with its own special aura. Which, no doubt, it has richly earned.
Adrian Martin

9. The Rise of the Dispositif

Abstract
In 2003, the low-budget Danish film The Five Obstructions was an unlikely success in art house cinemas, around film festivals, and subsequently on DVD; it has become so popular in film study courses that an entire book (in English), compiled by Mette Hjort, was devoted to it in 2008. The film itself is simple yet novel, and paradoxically involving for what is, essentially, an exercise in conceptual art.
Adrian Martin

Epilogue: Five Minutes and Fifteen Seconds with Ritwik Ghatak

Abstract
Looking back over the thoroughgoing revolution in film style ushered in by films including Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour (1959) and Antonioni’s L’avventura (1960), Raymond Bellour reflects that, ‘under the pressure of modern cinema’, what he calls mise en pli or the process of folding ‘more or less absorbs and dissolves, in its metamorphoses, the steady forms of mise en scène’ (2009, p. 146). Yet not only is the triumph of such modernism in cinema never total — it is also not entirely new. The more crucial truth, as Bellour recognises, is that, ‘since its beginnings in the era of early cinema and right through its deployment by classical cinema’, mise en scène has, in fact, always been — if we can look at it with fresh eyes — something multiple and heterogeneous, open to every kind of fluctuation and fold. And films are not (as the poststructuralists sometimes thought) passively ‘subject’ to these forces; rather, they work with and shape them. What is expressive in cinema, finally, comes not just from the complexity of drama or character, but equally, or even more so, from the emotional, dynamic power of abstraction, from the materiality of the total, sensory event which a film is.
Adrian Martin

Backmatter

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