Frames & Images

Theory questions: mise-en-scene, the shot, the frame

Next R (5/3), I want to spend time in our discussion reviewing our key theoretical concepts. Do you have questions or things you would like me to include in that review? In future weeks, I will ask for more wide-ranging film questions, but for this class meeting I want to focus on our core concepts. Get your suggestions in by noon on Wednesday (3/2) if you want me to include them in class.

Formal Analysis of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY part 1

The task (which we will discuss in class on W 4/8):

  • Perform an analysis of the selected images from 2001 (below) that includes the following for each frame:
    • Identification of camera angle (high, low, eye-level) and distance (close, medium, long).
    • Identification of the dominant subject.
    • Explanation of the visual elements that make the dominant subject dominant.
    • Discussion of the meaning of the frame: where does the image fit into the narrative, what is the significance of the shot in terms of the film's themes and symptomatic meanings?


  • I will look first at the precision and formality of your language. Be as specific and as technical as possible. However, for this first assignment, I will allow for more informality and generality so long as your ideas are on the right track.
  • I will also be look at how clearly you explain your interpretation of each image. Being articulate is more important here than being "right."
  • I will also be looking at how carefully your analysis is composed and edited and that you have addressed each of the required points for each image.
  • I think that two to three single-spaced pages is a reasonable guideline for length.


  • You should submit your assignment via Moodle by M 4/13 at 5:00 pm. Additional details on Moodle.
  • This assignment is worth five (5) points.

The images:

At 40:07.


At 80:00.


At 120:08.


Frame Analysis: THE BLING RING

Choose one (1) of the following frames and produce a detailed analysis of what you see. Exercise your best judgment about what to write about in terms of m-e-s, the shot and the frame. If you can't explain why you are writing about something, don't write about it.

Go here for full instructions.

At 6:18:


At 37:51:


At 83:41:


First Essay

Topic and direction:

  • Write a critical analysis of mise-en-scène (m-e-s) in the films of Alexander Payne based on course screenings, readings, and discussions. In particularly, focus on the question of whether you can make the case for Alexander Payne having a distinct visual style as a director and what are the elements of m-e-s and his uses of the camera that define that style.
  • As a way of explaining or illustrating your argument, your analysis should include a close reading of at least two (2) of the frame grabs from each film in the group posted to the blog for the Frame Analysis assignment. You may also use an image, or images, of your choosing.
  • Note that “critical” in this context means to be detailed in your analysis, not judgmental as to quality. Think about what is visually distinctive about Payne's films.
  • As you select elements or points for discussion, consider the contributions of other "authors" to the look and feel of the films. For example, the directors of photography or the production designers and actors.

Additional guidelines and requirements:

  • As a formal academic paper, this essay should have a clear thesis, or central argument, to make. Sample prompts for this essay: “Mise-en-scène (m-e-s) in Alexander Payne's films is defined by …”, or, “In Election, Sideways and The Descendants, you can see Alexander Payne's visual style through the following uses of mise-en-scène (m-e-s)  …”
  • Essays should cite and document sources following these guidelines.
  • Films should be cited as follows. The first reference should provide a complete title and a date of release in parentheses, e.g., Election (1999) (note that the film title is italicized). Subsequent references need only include the title. For films with longer titles, such as The Descendants, subsequent references can use a truncated title, as in Descendants. Film titles do not need to be included in the list of cited works.
  • Initial reference to mise-en-scène should use the full term. For subsequent references, “m-e-s” is acceptable. You can follow this guideline for all specialized terms.
  • There is no page requirement or limit for this paper, but use five to eight (5-8) as a guide.
  • Essays should be double-spaced with reasonably-sized fonts and margins (readability should be your goal). Number your pages.
  • Be specific in referencing names of filmmakers, characters, places, etc. IMDB and Wikipedia are both good sources for basic information about films and film productions.
  • For guidance on writing academic essays, refer to the resources I have on this page, including the WOU Writing Center. You can also consult with me. For longer questions or to have me review drafts, come to office hours. Shorter questions can be handled electronically via e-mail or on IM or over the phone (503-838-8296). You can also ask for advice via the class blog.

Due date and submission:

  • You should schedule a due date with me individually that should fall between M 4/28 and F 5/9.
  • You should schedule your due date for this essay by the end of the day (11:59 pm) on W 4/30.
  • Submit your work electronically by the agreed upon date following these guidelines. For the assignment in the filename, use “Payne."
  • You will have until the end of your due date (11:59 pm) to either submit your paper or arrange an extension for full credit.
  • The Director Essays are worth fifteen (15) points towards your grade.

Language and theory

What questions do you have about the language of film studies? How do you understand the basic concepts of:

  • mise-en-scene?
  • the frame?
  • the shot?
  • the camera?
  • the interrelationships between concepts?

Where do you lack confidence right now? Can you help each other with problem areas? Which readings or which parts of the readings have been most helpful?

Extreme close-ups in 12 MONKEYS

There are a number of extreme close-ups of James, both as a kid and as an adult, in 12 Monkeys. These shots are focused on his eyes, which virtually fill the screen. What is the significance of these shots, and, even more particularly, what is the significance of using this shot for both versions of Cole? The film makers also feature one, similarly composed, extreme close up of Kathryn. She is waking up, shortly after having been "rescued" from James. What is the significance of this shot? (Looking back over my notes, I was thinking of the use of canted angles for Kathryn).

NOTE: I will try to get screengrabs posted by the beginning of next week. Now, see below.