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Women in Middle East
The mise-en-scene of "Best in Show"
In "Best in Show" it is the mise-en-scene which truly defines the film and in so doing created and develops the emotional effect on the audience. Of course, using a term like "emotional effect" seems slightly pretentious in terms of this movie -- the mockumentary is a clever spoof on dog shows and the human relationship to competition and relationship. The film asks, with its tongue fully in cheek: 'how does man relate to man's best friend... oh, and by that we mean the dog, honestly." Though the film never bothers to answer the real, serious issues behind that questions (the idea that purebreds might need rescue groups is blown off, even though thousands are euthanized yearly, and the question of how a couple "disposes" of a dog that does not meet show expectations is never addressed), it does have an emotional element -- which is, of course, that it is funny. It is meant to poke gentle fun at human kind, and to make the audience laugh. This is achieved not through spoofs or slapstick, but through providing the illusion that he audience is viewing real, nonfictional humans who are sufficiently unusual or dysfunctional that we can laugh at their weaknesses and smile with their small victories.
Most movies make at least some attempt, of course, to have "believable" characters. What makes this movie so effective is that the mise-en-scene is designed to mimic that of a documentary, which (when successful) subconsciously convinces the audience to make the same assumptions that they would in a documentary -- namely that the characters, for all their quirks and oddities, are real people. Were it not for the mise-en-scene being designed to mimic documentary styles, many of the characters would come across as hopelessly stereotyped and unrealistic individuals (the fishing redneck, the prancy gay man, the stuttering geek who literally has two left feet -- these are all archetypes, and not real characters!)... In fact, casting and costuming and acting styles appear to have been directed precisely so that the characters are as funny and simultaneously stereotypical as possibly. Nonetheless, once the mind is convinced on some level that this presentation means the characters are "real," then their oddities are seen as funny and absurd rather than merely stereotypical and foolish. The question then becomes, by what means and techniques does the director create a mise-en-scene that fools the mind into thinking that this is a "true" documentary about real characters?
Perhaps the most obvious way that the mise-en-scene creates both a sense of the documentary and a sense of the humorous is through use of space and camera movement within that space. While there are exceptions, the actors and usually shot either very directly and centrally, as if they were speaking directly to the camera, or they are shoot from a significant distance as if they were being caught by the cameras of a reporter and news-crew (e.g. when they are showing their dogs in the ring, or walking in the street). In documentaries, one common technique is to place speakers in the center of the shot, and to have them directly address the audience regarding their knowledge of a situation. This technique has been jokingly referred to as the "floating head" phenomena. This sort of shooting style, in which the speaker is made very central and seen as the focus of every shot, is quite different from a more cinematic approach in which the artistry overwhelms functionality and the composition of the shot illustrates what is said rather than trying merely to archive it.
There is a sense about the use of space and the choice of camera focus and zoom in documentaries and in "Best in Show" which implies that the film is archival. The focus is not on the medium but on the content, and this shows through in the way in which shots are focused only on what is important. If someone is speaking, then they are truly central. If they are talking about something which is in the room, and the audience's understanding of the situation will be improved by seeing this thing, then the camera will move to show it before returning to the speaker. For example, when a gentleman says that he has two left feet, the camera pans down to show his feet, before going back to his face. There is not a cut made, but a very obvious move in camera position which seems to indicate a single interviewer looking down. Similar techniques are made when, for example, discussing the cut of the hair on a dog's buttocks, or the style in which a pair of leather pants were embroidered. The use of space and camera focus is very much copying (one might even say mocking) the way in which space and focus is used in documentaries.
It is worth mentioning that though "Best in Show" generally seems to be mimicking this documentary style, there are specific dramatic moments at which it breaks. One of the strengths of the movie is that it does not maintain a very strict mise-en-scene which is constantly this dry, documentary style space and pacing. There are moments cut in which are particularly dramatic filmed with a more traditional "movie" style of space and camera usage, which are then unceremoniously moved back into the documentary mise-en-scene. These lapses are always short enough that it does not seem that one has ceased watching a documentary, but merely that for a moment one saw a great deal more of the characters than they had intentionally revealed on film. A perfect example is the short scene in which it is revealed that the Wiemeranian has defecated in her human owner's slipper. Previous to this scene there is a perfectly composed shot with a vast arena space behind a "floating head" sort of speaker, who is very central on the stage. As with any news cast or documentary, one feels that the background space is only there are reference, and that he does not interact with it -- only with the camera and audience. Then, there is a cut to the exterior of the Wiemeranian's house, which is presented documentary style with a little location label. If the mise-en-scene were continued uninterrupted here, one would expect this to transition to the occupants of that house sitting on a couch and talking about their experiences to the camera. However, the director chooses instead to switch in a more Hollywood film style, and the audience suddenly hears the woman's voice echoing over the house (an unrealistic transition which quickly becomes even less documentary-like). The next scene is shot in a moving space, as the woman rushes through her house, moving and touching the environment around her. Her movements, and her following conversation with her husband and dog are all very cinematically filmed, so that it does not seemed staged. It is a movie, now, not a documentary. The mise-en-scene suddenly creates an environment that the characters actually manipulate and live in, and the camera work creates a sense that there is no observer, that the audience is directly seeing what happens without the aid of a "camera person." Where the videographer is in these shots is less than perfectly clear -- and this is particularly unlike the space choices made in sections which are mocking documentary style. Of course, just as suddenly as this section begins it cuts back to the married couple addressing the camera straight on, both suddenly calm and obviously trying to present themselves in a positive light. The transition from being a pair of flustered lovers, one of whom is saying that their sex life is only sometimes a beautiful thing to being their reserved public persona-selves is hilariously…[continue]
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