In the 1950s critics associated with Cahiers du cinéma developed a theory of film centered not on the technological or storytelling aspect of the medium but on mise en scène, or the interaction of bodies and objects in space and then recorded by a camera. Critics like Jean-Luc Godard, Fereydoun Hoveyda, Michel Mourlet, Eric Rohmer, and François Truffaut began to redefine cinema as a paradoxical combination of photographic realism and theatrical staging, and the films of the French New Wave are characterized by a similar attention to the intricacies of mise en scène. With particular emphasis on the crucial role of architecture in the cinema and theory of the time, this talk examines the concept of mise en scène as it developed in France during the 1950s and reframes the films of the New Wave as acts of cinematic staging, with the props provided by France’s consumer revolution and within the radically reconfigured urban space of France’s post-war economic boom.
James Tweedie is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and a member of the Cinema Studies faculty at the University of Washington. He has published essays in Cinema Journal, Screen, SubStance, and Twentieth Century Literature, and is currently completing a book on European cinema in the 1980s. He is also working on a comparative study of cinematic new waves from the late 1950s to the 1990s.