Manipulating Mood: How Lighting Effects an Audience

Using 1931’s ‘Frankenstein’ as an example.
By  · Published on June 20th, 2017

Using 1931’s ‘Frankenstein’ as an example.

We all know that the setting of a story can affect the mood of its audience – just think about how you feel about a movie set in sunny Jamaica versus another set in stormy Transylvania – and we all know that music also can establish mood, sometimes more dominantly than setting: imagine that beach scene with the music from Psycho, or the Transylvania scene with the music from Benny Hill. But there’s a cinematic element of mise en scene that is even more insidious when it comes to manipulating the mood of an audience: lighting.

As Mr. Nerdista proves in his latest video essay, lighting has the power to create and shift the mood of a film in ways that character, script, or really any other element cannot. And as his example, Nerdista has selected easily one of the most beautifully-moody films of all-time: James Whale’s 1931 horror masterpiece Frankenstein.

Playing off lighting schemes born of the German Expressionism movement, specifically those of more horror-centric films like Murnau’s Nosferatu, Frankenstein expresses far more in its lighting than in the words of its dialogue, and the lighting here helps establish the emotional cues that makes Mary Shelley’s novel so enduring and more-elevated than mere scary stories.

For all the attention video essayists tend to give contemporary cinema, it’s always nice to see an editor prove the lasting value and innovativeness of film classics like Mr. Nerdista has done here for Frankenstein.

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Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist