For my essay on mise-en-scene, I will be talking about Sin City, written and directed by Frank Miller, Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino. In this film, there are many unique techniques used by the directors to portray emotions, hidden meanings and to determine mood. Sin City is a bold and brutal adaptation of the graphic novels written by Frank Miller. Mise-en-scene is a cinematic term, which refers to techniques used by directors to help construct a specific onscreen representation. It consists of the setting of the film, costume and make up, lighting, staging, and last of all, time and space.
The scene that I will be analyzing would be the scene in which Marv confronts Cardinal Roark and forces him to confess, after which Marv kills him. Marv, a brute of a man, is one of the protagonists in this film. He wakes up after a one-night stand with a prostitute ‘Goldie’ and she lies beside him dead. Marv realized that he has been framed and goes on a vengeful rampage to uncover the truth. He kills Kelvin who is a cannibal who murders and consumes people, and finds out the Kelvin was the cardinal’s ward.
The setting of this scene is in the Cardinal’s room where it is dark and we can barely make out the furniture present inside. Color symbolism is extreme in the entire film; the film is almost entirely inked in black and white. The directors created the film using the visually stunning black and white style of film noir to emphasize cynical and extreme attitudes and sexual motivations. Film noir is used to depict the darker aspects of modernity, and is usually set in a criminal milieu; exactly what this film needed.
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The narrative and existential angst that drives a male protagonist and a voluptuous femme fatale who seduces the protagonist for her own benefits are the gist of film noir, which are present in Sin City. Goldie used Marv for his huge size and brute strength to protect her, while Marv had feelings for Goldie. Her murder drives him mad and fuels his rage to find her killer. Sin City can be classified as a neo-noir film, which possesses elements of film noir, but with updated themes and visual elements that were absent in classic film noir. However, it is the color rendering in this film that is unique.
The retained or added color to certain objects is an amazing technique, bringing out the emotions of the character or empathize the significance of the object. In the confrontation scene, the eyes of Cardinal Roark are painted green and it is the only other color present in that picture of black and white. The color of the eyes shown would make the audience focus on Cardinal Roark as he confess, and to be drawn to ponder on his sick thoughts and emotions. Green color may have been used to depict a sense of evil and perverse present in the Cardinal, and true to the saying “The eyes are the windows to a person’s soul. The color red is rendered many times in the strikingly monochromatic film, mainly in the form of bloodshed or love objects like the heart-shaped bed where Marv and Goldie had their one night affair. Red is meant to depict extreme violence, death, love and vulnerability in Sin City and it plays an important role in stimulating the emotions of the audience. In spite of this, red is only used when it is required and not all blood is painted red. In some scenes, the blood is left as white colored to show that it is not as significant in the film.
There is a scene in the flashback during Cardinal Roark’s confession, in which Goldie is fully colored from her yellow locks to her fiery red dress and the color of her skin. The idea was to illustrate how beautiful Goldie was in Marv’s eyes and how full of life Goldie was to Marv in the dreadful Sin City. Besides the color in the scene I have chosen, there are flashes of brilliant color at different junctions of the film. There is one scene where the prostitutes in Old Town, depicting justice served in a crude way, stain the skies red during the massacre of mercenaries.
One very distinct color I would like to point out would be the Yellow Bastard’s skin color at the last part of the film. The connotation of yellow in this case, will be to represent dirty, pungent and obnoxious, so true to Yellow Bastard’s character that even his blood bleeds yellow. The costumes and makeup play another important element of mise-en-scene. As in the case of the dressing of the prostitute Goldie, the elegant and sexy dresses that she dons in the film help her play the part of the seductress. The blonde locks along with the blood-red lipstick she possess give the audience the vibe that she is a femme fatale.
On the other hand, Marv is clothed throughout in a black trench coat with a white singlet inside, displaying his heedless of caution attitude. The actor playing Marv, Mickey Rourke is portrayed as the graying behemoth embodied underneath a ton of facial make-up to make him look grotesque and fierce. Besides that, Kelvin wears a pair of glasses to invoke the look of a creepy psychopath killer. All this costumes and makeup contribute in building the personalities of the characters in Sin City, empowering them with attributes the directors require them to have.
In the lighting context for Sin City, low-key lighting is utilized throughout the film. Low-key lighting or chiaroscuro is present in the scene that I mentioned, with artificial light shone through the windows of the Cardinal’s room. The room is supposedly pitch dark and the only light present comes from outside the window. Thus creating a dimly lit scene, which gives the audience a feel of the impending doom of Cardinal Roark. Strong shadows engulf both the Cardinal and Marv, generating tension between the both characters. Marv’s face is barely visible at times, only a portion shown by the lighting.
I believe by making the room so dark, it forces the audience to focus on what is visible. The weak light shone on Kelvin’s decapitated head also creates an eerie feel. At the final part of the scene whereby Marv presumably cuts Cardinal Roark’s throat, the darkness and shadows conceal the gore that ensues. The low-key lighting acts to dampen the effect of the violence as the details are being obscured. Furthermore, in the flashback during the confession of the cardinal, there is a shot of Kelvin with bright lighting shown from behind him. His entire face is black due to the shadow and his glasses were the only thing white in color.
The effect creates such a deviant character and literally sends chills down one’s spine. On the whole, the sinister environment of Sin City is primarily submerged in low-key lighting, except in dramatic epic sequences, where the directors want the audience to see the details clearly. Another important aspect of misc-en-scene used in a film is the staging. Staging refers to the movement and placement of actors and objects. In the chosen scene, Marv breaks into Cardinal Roark’s room, shows him the decapitated head of Kelvin and places it on the table. “The dog ate the rest”, Marv tells Roark straight in his face.
Marv does that to show his hostility towards Roark and to instill fear in him, but it does not seem to work as Roark just got out from his bed to examine the head. The act of Marv drawing his gun from his holster tells the audience that Marv was all ready to shoot Cardinal Roark in the head. His stance is in standing position while Roark just sat there without fleeing. This shows that Roark was ready to accept his fate. Yet, Marv did not blast his head to smithereens. He sat down across Roark to listen to his confession before murdering him. He smokes a cigarette as he listened to Roark, taking his time.
All of this staging tells us that he wanted pleasure in killing the cardinal slowly. Expression on the characters is a critical part of staging and in a scene of confrontation as such, it plays a huge role. The expression on Marv’s face in the cardinal’s room remained unusually calm, without showing much rage. It creates a very tense atmosphere in the room, keeping the audience in suspense over when Marv would end Roark’s life. On the other hand, Roark was almost expressionless when he confessed to Marv about his perverse deeds and till the very end when he was killed in cold blood.
There was only a slight tinge of nervousness when he saw Kelvin’s head. This scene illustrates vividly about a man who knows he is about to meet his doom and a man who is determined to take the life of another. It is the part where dark truth is revealed. Speech used is another element of mise-en-scene, not only can it invoke thoughts in the audience, it can bring out the true nature of the character. The rampaging Marv finally achieves his maniacal madman majesty when he answers Cardinal Roark’s final question of whether killing him would satisfy him, Marv answers “The killing? No, no satisfaction.
Everything up to the killing, it’d be gas. ” From that, we find out that although the diabolical priest and his ward deserve to die, Marv in fact enjoys torturing people and the speech alone reveals the sadistic nature in him. The camera is focused all the time on the closed-up faces of Marv and Roark when either one is speaking. In cinematography, facing the camera is the position with the most intimacy as the character is looking in our direction and we are able to see the expressions on his face, engaging our attention. Hence in a scene like this, the closed-up face positioning would be best.
Close ups give the audience time to judge a character and create mood and tension between the two characters present. In the scene, I realize that the camera points upward towards Marc, giving the audience the perception that he is the powerful and dominating character now. The camera is high angled when focused on Roark, the cannibalistic cardinal, making him seem powerless and pitiful. The computer-generated monochromatic landscape of Sin City is both elegant and vivid. Presence of retro sets and vintage cars make the city seem like a city decades again, except when one of the thugs in the film drives a Ferrari from the modern world.
This means that it could be a retro-modern world or it could be set today, just that the city is still in the 40s era. The costumes donned by the characters are weird for modern day fashion, from trench coats to stripper wear. It is perhaps pulp noir imagination and visualization of a world found only in graphic novels. The use of shallow depth of field in the scene I choose, allowed the subject to be isolated from the background. It serves to direct the audience’s gaze upon the expressions of the two characters.
Depth is also created by lighting, which reveals or hides the parts, which the director want the audience to see. The scene is also set up in a small room to confine the background and focus on the characters. In this essay, I have analyzed how the directors used cinematographic elements of mise-en-scene to convey meaning and stimulate response in the audience in the particular scene. Mise-en-scene is extremely important in filmmaking and has to be incorporated in every film, how well the individual or combined mise-en-scene techniques are used will help create the desired meanings in each scene.
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