Analysis of Mise en scene & Cinematography: Swordfish, opening sequence
The purpose of any opening sequence is to establish the films context and allow the audience to grasp a sense of the film in order to be intrigued by it and continue to watch. An essential element in doing this is the Mise en scene – literally translated as ‘put into scene’ it encompasses the visual aesthetic of the film. Combined with cinematography the Mise en scene generates meaning for the audience and can connote anything from the actual historical setting of a film to the characters state of mind.I will go through the sequence systematically picking out elements of the cinematography in particular which add to the overall effect of the Mise-en-Scene. The reason that I will go through the sequence in order as opposed to picking out individual elements is that the sequence is so intricately woven by its director that the separate symbolic, audio and visual codes all combine in a structured increasing fashion as the sequence advances (in itself connoting the rising suspense of the sequence)There are no opening credits to the film apart from the production logo’s (Warner bros’ and village road show) and the title of the film, because of this the creative elements of the Mise en scene start to come into play prior to the opening image of the film, for instance the production logos flicker in and out as if they were on a malfunctioning computer and the title is ‘typed’ along the screen. The theme then continues into the opening shot which is a close up of Gabriel speaking at the camera – the shot too is filtered in order so that it flickers as though it was appearing on a malfunctioning computer, this effect immediately lets the audience know that there will be a technological component to the plot and also attempts to capture their interest from the opening credits by creating several enigma codes in order so that they will be intrigued as the film starts instead of attempting to gage their interest and set the scene at the same time.
In the opening shot Gabriel is delivering a diatribe to the camera, he is lit with a key light on his face behind his the background is dark and out of focus. The camera is slightly tilted and appears to be a HHC although it remains static; this immediately connotes a sense of darkness and danger about not only the sequence but his character. His relaxed mannerisms and body language allow the audience to understand that he is very much in control of the situation, he is not panicked by the darkness surrounding him indicating he is the one in control of it. The colours around him – the black and the greens are often used within spy films and therefore connote to the audience that the film will share some similar elements (most likely technology) with a spy film.
Within a few moments the flickering stops and Gabriel comes into full focus talking to the camera then he continues to move very subtly in and out of focus. The fact that he is talking to the camera initially indicates to the audience he is talking to them, this then means that Gabriel forms a relationship with the audience where they empathise with him for this moment, however then the camera starts to tilt more and Gabriel’s head changes position within the frame we then hear diegetic laughter and the audience start to become aware than Gabriel is not talking to them and is not alone in the scene. This is then reinforced by a side on shot of Gabriel talking we can see his is talking to someone outside of the frame – again he moves in and out of complete focus and the background is very much out of focus to begin with and starts to clarify as the shot continues (again with the black and green colours of spy films).When the frame comes into focus we see a chrome coloured table and chair with a coffee cup on top of it which starts to establish the location, however, the image is not clear enough to solidify the exact location for the audience, which means that the scene still retains some element of enigma. It is almost as though the audience is being teased about the location much in the way tat the character Gabriel sophisticatedly teases his companions in this threatening situation through remaining calm in his body language and manner.
We then move back to a close up of Gabriel he is positioned on the left of the frame and the camera starts to move tightly around him slowly up and down as the focus of the background again comes into view, this time it is what appears to be the bar of a coffee shop with lots of chrome jugs. The focus starts to flicker in and out more frequently and almost makes it feel like the audience is watching Gabriel through someone’s eyes although this is not obviously true, therefore suggesting it allows the audience to feel part of the scene and the close up of Gabriel’s face suggests an intimacy with the audience.The scene then cuts to clear in focus extreme close up of a cigar being clipped and then lit (Gabriel’s cigar) this mechanical cold prop coupled with the connotations of a cigar within a film (power, machismo and ‘cool’) heighten the drama of the scene giving the relaxed Gabriel even more status in this increasingly dangerous disorientating scene for the audience. We then move to a similar side shot as before and Gabriel starts becoming more animated in the frame – we also see more of him his arm movements suggest (as does his speech) that he is now ‘pitching’ an idea we become aware as the audience through this that Gabriel is ‘business savvy’ and has done this before we are also subtly disorientated by the switch of power that seems to have just taken place – by Gabriel pitching to someone – still out of frame it indicates that maybe he is not in complete control of the situation and that adds to the danger. In this shot we also become more aware of Gabriel’s costume a dark suit with a dark green shirt – ‘sleek’ looking and expensive looking again with the use of green to compliment the background and connote technology and spy/crime genre elements.
In the next frame we are aware that there definitely is someone else in the frame as we move to an over the shoulder shot between two silhouettes shoulders who are sitting facing Gabriel across a table (the background is almost completely in focus at this point though still dark which could be because the enigmatic narrative is moving along – the audience no longer care where Gabriel is and are more interested in who he is talking to) we are aware that Gabriel is in control of the situation by his positioning above the other figures in the frame. The frame is also an intertextual ‘nod’ to ‘the godfather’ which has been mentioned in the dialogue. The camera continues to move slowly around switching between over the shoulder and shots and closes up all shot on an hhc. Gabriel starts to get more and more animated and extreme close ups of his mouth as seen. The camera then moves back and we start to see the frame in almost complete focus.
The shot is still over the shoulder yet we can see the people as people with skin tone and clothes instead of just silhouettes. The frame also gets lighter and more in focus in order so that you can see the background behind Gabriel (a coffee bar) which establishes once and for all the location for the audience the camera then switches between close ups of Gabriel’s face and pans to the other cameras (Still over the shoulder). We then see a close up of Gabriel putting down the cigar and sipping from a very small cup of coffee – it is a very delicate and feminine action which serves to emphasise Gabriel’s superior, larger status due to its contrast to Gabriel’s tall powerful figure. The gesture also connotes that Gabriel is intelligent with a taste for culture as coffee houses tend to connote more intelligent, affluent and artistic characters than those to be found in a greasy spoon cafï¿½ for example.The shot then zooms back the lights come up fully and we see a scene where there are dozens of armed S.
W.A.T team members standing at the doorway to the coffee shop. The lighting is almost sepia connoting a distorted reality or something not quite in the present. Than we see a close up of the character ‘Stan’ and from here on the camera tends to stick with him in the frame as opposed to Gabriel, which lets the audience know that although Gabriel is important in the film it is Stan with whom they are positioned and will empathise with. Gabriel flashes a gadget at the armed police and they move out his way.
The gadget is chrome, complicated and sophisticated looking which is again reminiscent of spy films. This frame also establishes the historical context of the film, although the gadget is futuristic the coffee shop, costume, and language are recognised by the audience as being ‘current’ to the 21st century. This knowledge of the historical context of the film then allows the audience to further understand Gabriel’s status within the world i.e. because of Gabriel’s power he has access to futuristic gadgets and new technology.Following this is a sequence shot with pan cameras and aerial cameras of Gabriel and Stan walking out of the coffee shop and across the street.
The atmosphere is warm and the city looks reminiscent of either California or Miami (both very sleek ‘rich’ cities in which to set the film). There is then an aerial shot which shows a helicopter hovering above which, apart from indicating the films extremely high production values, it also indicated the importance of Gabriel and the situation (a man who merits tens of dozens of special forces police and helicopters yet is not being hunted and chased). Although the guns are pointed at him, he is instead walking calmly across the road followed by a somewhat jittery Stan who we are placed with thanks to point of view shots which show Stan looking at the snipers around him and then a snipers view shot with Gabriel and Stan in the targets confirming Gabriel as an ‘anti-hero’.In the next shot we see Gabriel and Stan walking into a bank where there are twenty hostages all bound up wit explosives around their torso’s the danger is then confirmed for the audience – we also go back to the green technological hue that was earlier in the sequence. The camera then follows one hostage a young pretty female being led out into the street – we watch her as Stan watches her and immediately feel empathy for her because of her physical ‘innocence’.We then see her outside of the bank being shown to the cameras connoting a sense of reality – a camera on camera.
Then we see a shot of the police crew attempting to resolve the situation, one of the police officers is in contact with Gabriel via phone this conversation takes place in an almost shot reverse shot type of manner with Gabriel still remaining calm whilst the police get more and more agitated again indicating Gabriel’s higher status in the scene as well as letting the audience know (due to the way in which he is given so much screen time) that the cope Gabriel is talking to will be important in the film. Against the warning of the cop Gabriel is communicating with, a superior officer decides to ‘rescue’ the hostage just as we and the ‘important’ cop find out that if they move her too far away from the bank she will explode and release thousands of ball bearings too. We then see the important cop running after his superior attempting to stop his order to rescue her and shoot her captor. We then run into a high energy action sequence which follows the snipers attempting to rescue her, the good cop screaming at them to stop and Gabriel realising quite calmly that she’s going to blow up and moving everyone away from the doors. This high action shot is almost like a crescendo for the audience where all the dangerous element s start slowly moving towards another and building and building until the explosion is imminent thus creating a sense of urgency with in the frame.
We then see ‘the rescue’ where the young girl is dragged away by the S.W.A.T officer as she moves screaming to be let go. The sequence culminates with a series of close ups of Stan, Gabriel and Good Cop screaming let ‘her go’ promptly followed by a slow motion pan as the girl explodes in the street.
We see the cars blown up and bodies slowly moving through the air the action is drawn out visually however it is incongruent with the soundtrack which is not slowed down, this adds a sense of surrealism to the frame indicating that the frame is not in the immediate present of the narrative and soon enough after having seen the last car crash to the floor (in real time) we see a mid shot of Stan on the floor surrounded by Glass, slowly getting up as he gets up a bloody ball bearing rolls towards him. There is a point of view shot of him looking at his reflection in the ball bearing and then the frame fades into the next sequence which we are informed was ‘4 days earlier’ and the narrative continues from there.
Get access to
Guarantee No Hidden