Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on the narrative role of mise-en-scène in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.
There’s definitely an argument to be made that, as film fans, we see mise-en-scène the most but appreciate it the least.
Maybe the term’s theatrical origins put it at odds with some of the more uniquely cinematic elements of film, like cinematography and editing. Maybe the term’s right-out-the-gate French-ness makes it feel unapproachable and pretentious. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. What is mise-en-scène, anyway?
First appearing in the early 19th century, the term literally translates to something along the lines of “placing on stage.” In the theater, mise-en-scène describes the arrangement of actors and scenery. Its cinematic definition is not too dissimilar and covers everything you see within the film frame: setting, costume, makeup, lighting, color, and staging.
Because it refers to all of the elements that comprise a single shot, properly giving it its due can feel a bit daunting. To boot, like editing, you’re not supposed to really notice it. But all rules have exceptions. And mise-en-scène can be much, much more than world-building props and set-dressing.
A great example of its potential as film form can be glimpsed in Sofia Coppola‘s Marie Antoinette, which charts the rise and fall of the last queen of France before the French Revolution. With a giddy sense of anachronism, Coppola’s film is pointedly and appropriately fixated on stuff.
By unambiguously foregrounding the Old Regime’s fixation on indulgent materialism, Marie Antoinette acts as a perfect case study of distinctly cinematic uses of mise-en-scène.
Watch “What is Mise-en-scène?: Marie Antoinette”:
Who made this?
This video essay about Marie Antoinette and mise-en-scène is by Jordan Schonig, who holds a Ph.D. in Cinema and Media Studies from the University of Chicago. They are a Film Studies lecturer and make video essays on, what else, film. You can subscribe to Schonig on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.
More videos like this
- Today’s video on mise-en-scène is actually a part of Schonig’s three-part series on Marie Antoinette. Here’s an essay on what Coppola’s film can teach us about analyzing film acting. And here’s what it can teach us about film lighting.
- Here’s another taste of Schonig’s work, on how to read pattern as form in Alfred Hitchock’s Rear Window.
- Here’s Schonig on what the 2014 cyber horror film Unfriended can teach us about André Bazin’s concept of cinematic realism.
- And here’s Schonig on how Alfonso Cuarón‘s Gravity walks the line between realistic and believable sound design.