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Theatrics of Politics

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In light of the current political dramas that are going on, I chose to do my reading of a movie on a scene from the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It’s an old black and white film with good ole Jimmy Stewart, directed by Frank Capra. It’s a great movie, but I might only think that because I am appreciative of old things. It also came out at a time when America needed a reminder of why their country is great, and worth defending–a message we could use today. When I see Mr. Smith, I see Ron Paul and how he might’ve led America. It’s ironic that this film is about politics, because I often watch politics and see the theatrics of it all.

(Note: I did not use this video to do my reading. I used a better quality version, this was just the only version I could embed in my blog post.)

 

Reading a Movie

There are 5 shots total in this 56 second scene. Each shot is labelled accordingly.

First Preview (Without Sound):

SHOT 1:

  • Setting: outside senate chambers by elevator, sign above elevator says “SENATORS ONLY,” doors and inside of elevator are wooden, with patterns carved into the sides, glass windows on the elevator doors, lobby to the chamber is decorated with white columns and arches, can see busts or sculptures in the background.
  • Key-light: top light, suggested by highlights on Smith’s face
  • Shadows: attached shadows in the background on the walls, where the light fails to hit the entire surface of the walls
  • Props: hats, briefcases, glasses.
  • Behavior of Figures: actors are exiting elevator, Susan exiting first, followed by Smith; rest of the actors, men, putting on their hats as they exit after Smith. Everyone is walking into the lobby outside of the chamber. Susan turns towards Smith to face him when she talks to him; they pause in their movement when she talks to him. He responds, and then they continue walking. Other actors stand around them, in groups, talking to each other, or a few men walk as if they have somewhere to be.
  • Camera position: straight on, level frame
  • Framing distance: medium shot; can see to the middle of the actors and up.
  • Camera movement: zoom out while tilting down to come into view of the actos; pans left to follow the actors, and stops when they stop to talk
SHOT 2:
  • Setting: lobby outside of elevator, tall, white decorative columns and arches, pattern on the marble floors, elevator doors off to either side of the frame
  • Props: Briefcases, glasses
  • Key-lighting: appears to be coming from the top left (e.g. top-lighting)
  • Cast shadows from the actors; attached shadows on the walls directly adjacent to the elevator doors
  • Behavior of figures: actors are moving away from the camera towards the chamber of the Senate; people are exiting the elevator, a few seem to be waiting for an elevator by stranding next to a closed elevator door and leaning casually against the wall; a group of men stand around chatting; off-screen people coming on-screen from the left side
  • Camera position: straight on, level frame
  • Framing distance: medium-long shot; can see the actors entire body and the scenery
  • Camera movement: none

SHOT 3:

  • Setting: lobby of the chamber, steps in the background that lead into the chamber, and an archway or doorway into the chamber of the senate—we can see the chamber beyond the archway, but not clearly yet; pattern on the marble floors, pattern in the walls; when the chamber comes into view we can see a balcony, and a main level, chairs and desks scattered with papers on both the balcony and the main level, decorative archways, and columns, and busts/sculptures on both levels
  • Key-lighting: appears to be coming from the top left (e.g. top-lighting)
  • Cast shadows from the actors; attached shadows on the walls directly adjacent to the elevator doors
  • Behavior of figures: moving from off screen to on screen, where Smith is positioned at the center, and Susan is to his left, and Mr. Carlton is positioned to his right, Smith shakes hands with Mr. Carlton; page enters from the back, runs down the steps, takes Smith’s hat and starts to lead him to the chamber. Smith starts to follow, but turns to say goodbye to Susan and shakes her hand before turning to go to the chamber. As he goes towards the chamber, Susan exits to the right off-screen, and Carlton exits to the left off-screen, and Smith follows the page up the stairs to the chamber where we see lots of men working/talking/seeming busy. Some men turn to look at Smith as he walks through the archway; page disappears to the right into the chamber, and the shot ends with Smith standing in the archway.
  • Camera position: straight on, level frame
  • Framing distance: medium shot; can only see from the midriff up on the three characters
  • Camera movement: stationary, until Smith moves towards the chamber, and then follows Smith forward
SHOT 4:
  • Setting: in the chamber of the senate, decorative columns and arches along the walls, desks scattered with papers and arranged around a central point, 2 floors: a main level, and an upper level (balcony-type level).
  • Key lighting: top-lighting, use of a skylight
  • Attached shadows on the walls because the light doesn’t hit all the crevices created by the arches/busts
  • Behavior of figures: men are gathered in the chamber, scattered among the desks and chairs, some sitting, some standing, acting/seeming busy, talking amongst themselves. Man that walks in front of the screen and then breaks and turns to walk away from the screen.
  • Camera position: straight on, level frame
  • Framing-distance: long-shot
  • Camera movement: no movement, static
SHOT 5:
  • Setting: chamber of the senate; desks with papers scattered on them, chairs disheveled;  steps leading to the central area of the chamber
  • Props: briefcase, hat
  • Key-lighting: top, right back of shot, (top-lighting)
  • Cast shadows going off the actors to the bottom left corner of the screen
  • Behavior of Figures: Smith walking down the stairs led by the page toward the center of the chamber; various men sitting and standing at the desks surrounding the aisle; Smith isn’t paying very much attention, he seems over-whelmed by his surroundings, page has to turn around and get Smith’s attention because he started to walk the wrong way. Center of the chamber has a long desk at it, person sitting at this table; others standing around in the center of the chamber.
  • Camera position: high angle, looking down as Smith walks down the steps
  • Framing-distance: medium-long shot
  • Camera movement: pans to the right as Smith walks, and slight tilt up as he begins to walk another direction
Second Preview (Audio Only)

SHOT 1:

  • Diegetic noises: elevator doors opening, walking (footsteps) of actors, people moving around them (people brushing against each other, or talking to one another, etc.)
  • Diegetic voices: talking between Susan and Smith when they come out of the elevator

SHOT 2:

  • Diegetic noises: footsteps, and faint conversation of the persons standing around.

SHOT 3:

  • Diegetic noises: activity of the people in the lobby and the chamber (footsteps, muffled conversation), clap of the hands
  • Diegetic voices: dialogue between Smith and Carlton, Smith and the page, Smith and Susan, Susan and Carlton, Carlton and the page.

SHOT 4:

  • Diegetic noises: faint sound of conversation among group of men; papers rustling.

SHOT 5:

  • Diegetic noises: faint sound of conversation among group of men; papers rustling.

 

Third Preview

SHOT 1:

  • Tonality: (Black & White) high contrast between the dark suits of the men and the whiteness of the columns in the background; Susan’s suit dress is a lighter shade of grey, so it is not so contrastive. Otherwise, subtle balance of whites, grays, and blacks.
  • Graphic relation: Susan’s suit makes her relatively less contrastive than the men in their dark suits, which makes Susan blend into the background more than the men.  The lighting remains consistent throughout this shot, and the center of focus is on Susan and Smith.
SHOT 2:
  • Rhythmic relation (to shot 1): this shot is shorter than the last, but there is still little room for interpretation of a rhythm in this sequence of shots; the shortness of this shot give us little time to interpret what we are seeing
SHOT 3:
  • Perspective: 3rd person; medium lens with a focus on the three characters, with Smith as the center, focal point
  • Spatial: here we are medium-length from the actors again, and we are introduced to two new actors; the viewer now can see how the lobby is situated, and thus is ready to learn new information, which is what gives them the capacity to learn new characters. Moreover, the page boy is to introduce Smith to the chamber, which is also when the viewer will see the new space.
SHOT 4:
  • Spatial relation: This scene is purely for introducing the chamber of the senate to the viewer. We cannot see Smith anywhere, and instead only see a crowd of people working busily.  This scene gives the viewer an idea of where Smith is.
SHOT 5:
  • Rhythmic relation: here we can distinguish an overall pattern of the shots: average-length shot, short shot, long shot, short shot, average shot.
  • Temporal relation: this shot is a continuation from shot three, and shows where the page boy is leading Smith, and the space in which he is to be working. It is Smith’s response to the page leading him into the room.

Overview

This is a great scene to analyze because and breakdown because it is a fairly simple scene–nothing crucial to the story line is happening, rather the viewer is seeing Capra’s portrayal of Washington DC. He directed the various aspects of this film in such a way to give the impression of the emotions that one might feel on their first day on the job as a senator of the United States. Capra portrays Smith so that the viewer gets the idea that he is in a high pressure, overwhelming situation. This can be seen in the various diegetic elements of this film. Choices made for mise-en-scene advance this theme through providing a realistic environment, wherein Smith is in a fancy, archaic building, enveloped in history, and surrounded by people who are working busily all around him. Cinematography lends a hand in furthering the themes of this play by distinguishing what things to include in the frame and from what distance to portray this hectic workplace, and what pace necessary to convey such frenzied behavior. The editing choices made by Capra help the viewer to understand where Smith is, and Smith’s reactions to information given. Finally, the decision made in what sounds were used conveys the franticness that might be taking place in this kind of workplace. These things are evident through the choices made by Capra in mise-en-scene, cinematography, etc. and make for an interesting and captivating film.

 

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