Tag Archives: Mise-en-Scene

‘Fight Club’: Celebrity and Re-Building Capitalism

A recent revisit of David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999) revealed two standout philosophical points: celebrity is an illusion and a re-thinking of consumerism is in order. Over a decade after its release, and with all the pro-violence fuss now a distant memory, Fight Club reveals it is hardly just a ‘film about fighting’ as much as Raging Bull is hardly just a ‘film about boxing’.

Many found casting Brad Pitt (as ‘half’ of the Tyler Durden character) condescending due to his anti-consumerist dialogue such as, “The things you own end up owning you”. It does sound rich coming from one of the wealthiest men in Hollywood, but that is exactly the point. Casting Pitt in the role is a master class in irony. The entire point of Pitt’s presence is for his intense aura of celebrity. Even if Pitt had no dialogue, there would be few actors, if any, that could evoke such a brash statement of ‘this is celebrity’. Of course, the ironic genius of casting is because Pitt’s character does not actually exist. Pitt is an illusion. Celebrity is an illusion, so by extension, celebrity worship and our desire for ‘things’ is an illusion.

The other philosophical argument Fight Club presents is the end of capitalist consumerism is nigh. The film questions our desire for ‘things’ and in particular posits that these ‘things’ no longer make us happy, are driving us insane, and our relationship towards them needs to be re-thought/re-built from the ground up. The film provides an intense rejection of capitalist values such as when the Protagonist (Edward Norton) finds his IKEA-filled apartment has exploded or shortly afterwards when he loses his job after furiously bashing himself before the stunned boss. Ultimately, the final shot of the collapsing capitalist buildings demonstrates a nihilistic, Nietzschean outlook of some extreme and desperate need to clear the slate and rebuild again, hopefully in a much better way.

 

Reference Source

Dr Robert Sinnerbrink 2013, ‘Case Study 2 – Fight Club’, Lecture 21 to third-year students, PHI350, Macquarie University, Sydney.

‘A Trip to the Moon’ (1902): Industrial-Fantasy Background Settings

Film Title: A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la lune)

Year: 1902

Director: Georges Méliès

Film Form Main Category: Mise-en-Scene

Film Form Sub Category: Settings

Terms Discussed: Constructed Settings, Props, Industrial-Fantasy Style, Background Paintings

A Trip to the Moon (1902), by Frenchman Georges Méliès, arrived around the beginning of cinema itself, and its industrial-fantasy styled, ‘cinema of attractions’ thrills captivated audiences at a time when projected moving images seemed like magic. Novelty ruled, and the immediacy of “now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t” action exhilarated early 20th century audiences. Yet, the narrative wears thin today. The contemporary appeal lies within the beautifully constructed settings, not thin narrative, stylised performances, or puffs of smoke. Elements of mise-en-scene, particularly the setting’s background paintings, still charm the modern audience, as its influence sparkles upon not only contemporary cinema, but other modern mediums as well.

In the late 1890s, fellow Frenchmen, the Lumière Brothers ushered in the cinema of attractions era of ‘actualities’ that contained little-to-no narrative. The subject matter consisted of crowds leaving factories and parents feeding babies. The novelty wore off quickly. Although A Trip to the Moon’s plot is more complex than that, the narrative is hardly compelling today. Professor-astronomers build a rocket ship, launch themselves to the moon, immediately become captured by skeletal-minions, but kill the leader, escape, and return to Earth. So if the entire plot can be summarised in one sentence, what still makes the film endearing 110 years on? The profound charm that radiates from the richly detailed industrial-fantasy world occurs in the superb background paintings and props.

A Trip to the Moon’s visual influence transpires to various contemporary mediums. The opening scene, in the astronomy chamber, has a tubular, steam-punk aesthetic with a skyward telescope that echoes Dumbledore’s office in the Harry Potter (2001-2011) films. A beautiful underwater backdrop painting, as the rocket sinks to the bottom of the ocean, is reminiscent of early Disney cells, and even their more recent titles such as The Little Mermaid (1989). Nintendo’s Bullet Bill character appears in many Mario Bros. video games, and its large bullet-shape body echoes the film’s rocket ship prop. Similarly, Don Bluth’s fantasy artwork in Dragon’s Lair, an animated arcade game from 1982, contains a playful, simultaneously inviting and imposing form of nature versus manufacture. Alternative rock band, The Smashing Pumpkins, brazenly honour Méliès in their Tonight, Tonight (1996) music video. The entire clip pays homage to A Trip to the Moon, including the rocket-ship launch, Victorian attire, and, of course, the cake-moon. The visual style has influenced not just films, but a range of contemporary mediums such as video games and contemporary music artists.

A warm glow emanates from A Trip to the Moon’s mise-en-scene, and in particular, the background paintings. Of course, the narrative holds a significance within pre-classical cinema history, but now man actually goes to the moon, so the thrill of the story is lost. The narrative is like an old trick that no longer works. However, the trick that still works very well is the films aesthetics, as shown by its contemporary cross-medium influence. Over the last century or so, many sci-fi and escape movies have been produced, and most contain a more complex, more compelling narrative than A Trip to the Moon, yet few evoke the playful, enigmatic dreamscape and wonder of a moon made of cake.

A Trip to the Moon (1902) on IMDb