Mise En Scene

Episode One Hundred One: Mise En Scene.
In which the first to stop clapping.

1 comment:

  1. Old-school film theory, recently backed by science (notably 2012, Cleveland State U., "Directionality of Film Character and Camera Movement and Subsequent Spectator Interpretation"), tells us that screen movement L-to-R is seen as natural, with the flow of time. Screen movement R-to-L is seen as unnatural, and against the flow of time. Movement L-to-R is tension release, movement R-to-L is tension building. This comic is a loose meditation on this idea.

    Documentary "APOCALYPSE Stalin"(2015). 1937(?) scene: Stalin indicates his impatience at the crowd by raising his watch. The camera was incidentally placed so that Stalin presents at the screen left, and the audience receives screen right. At around this time there was an infamous incident in which the audience clapped for a full eleven minutes before a dignitary present decided enough was enough, and sat down, relieving the rest of the crowd from the potentially endless accolade. That evening, that dignitary was arrested, and spent the next ten years in prison. The first frame of this comic depicts that berated audience, applauding for their lives. So: Action coming from the left, tension by character facing action on the right.

    This week, I was also watching "Point of Order"(1964), a documentary of the 1954 McCarthy-Army hearings, and noticed that the audience was similarly on the right, McCarthy centered, and the Army and reps on the left. McCarthy, to address the panel, often turned slightly screen-left. Pictured in the second frame is the moment when lawyer Joseph Welch asks Joseph McCarthy "Have you no decency, sir?" This is the turning-point moment, often cited as that of McCarthy's political and personal collapse. McCarthy appears snotty and defiant, often seeming in a defensive posture, under attack from screen-left.

    The applause in the Stalin documentary (audience facing R-to-L) contrasted in my mind with the several seconds of stock footage of the (according to Wikipedia) "Women's Institute meeting" clapping, footage used as a punchline segue in the original Monty Python's Flying Circus. The women in this footage face L-to-R, and, as a punchline, the image serves as the quick release of tension. This approach to derailing authority - through surreal irreverence - would prove formative to me: as a small child in the 70s I would sneak out of bed to secretly tune in on my parent's bedroom b&w.

    Clearly there's a lot to unpack, particularly with the politics involved with these subjects. But it was with this theory in mind when I was considering Stalin's audience, McCarthy's downfall, and the opposing Python ladies.

    I was also looking into 1984 UK miner's strike. I know little about this, other than it made Thatcher famous as either a) a strong leader who stood up to Labor and its burdensome, expensive Trade Unions, or b) a cold-hearted tyrant who decimated the UK mining industry (gone from 170 coal pits to now 3), and utilized a police-state to brutalize workers who had the temerity to demand their right to work. (I must be chewing on this theme because it does resonate with my imminent lack of employment.)

    This is unscientific, but I did begin to note that many of the images from that strike are clearly binary, with the Bobby helmets forming a fence on the right, and an unruly line of angry protesters on the left. Some images are like a rugby scrum, police and protesters entangled. The image I chose is from the website of The Northern Echo, "Dispute that tore communities apart", Tony Kearney, March 4, 2009, photo uncredited. It shows a sea of police in background moving from left to right, and, in foreground, two police detaining a striker, dragging him from right to left, and him clearly resisting the motion. Again: right to left equals tension.



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