Do Detectives Dream of Electric Sheep by Darcy Thompson

The scene opens on glittering city night. Cars whiz by and the crowds bustle amidst streets awash in smoke and neon lighting. Every figure seems alone on their journey through this rainy underbelly. Somewhere, a gun fires, a body drops, and a mystery begins. At first glimpse, this description obviously leads the reader towards a certain genre of film. Known as noir, or film noir, this genre is defined by both its aesthetic affectations and its storyline tropes. Popularized heavily in the 1920s through 30s it was a turning point for early cinema, where filmmakers became more confident in their ability to tell darker stories with more pessimistic worldviews. Many movies from this portion of an era find praise even today as true artistic achievements. Yet surprisingly, that description works as well for a film just outside of that genre, and well outside of that time. Blade Runner is a science fiction movie released in 1982 (“Blade Runner”) Yet it exceeds these definitions by seeming to exist in a skin of cinema long past. Blade Runner is more than science fiction, and more than noir. Blade Runner is neo-noir.

To understand the connection between this film and its structural and aesthetic ancestors, one must first approach the topic of noir itself. How does one define a noir film? What elements of cinematography, mise-en-scène, and sound construct the visual and auditory experience needed to denote as such? What kinds of plot formats, character archetypes, and thematic ideas must present themselves?

If one chooses to begin with the aesthetic end of the spectrum first, one finds a wealth of factors to define the cinematography of film noir. In the article “Blade Runner and Genre: Film Noir and Science fiction”, authors Susan Doll and Greg Faller talk about the “claustrophobic framing” (91) that one oft associates with the style. This rings true if we take a few example from various films of the type. Look at say, The Big Heat. The film, released in 1953 and directed by the renowned German expressionist Fritz Lang, has copious shots which embody this tight and suffocated nature. (“The Big Heat”)

Notice how many of the figure in this is cut off by the edges of the frame. Everything seems to just barely make it into the viewer’s perspective. What a marvelous method to make the audience feel as though they’re never quite sure what will be revealed next. What is lying in wait right out of frame that could shift the tides of the plot dramatically? This framing works so well for this genre’s purpose. Now compare shots such as the above, with similar ones in Blade Runner.

Note the similarities between these shots and the previous set.

The only correlation in these shots don’t just present themselves through framing alone, but also the lighting. This filmic facet exists as part of both cinematography and mise-en-scène. It is also one of the key identifiers of noir cinema. The “look” of lighting in noir is generally low-key, meaning highly contrasted. It is also an artistic styling known as chiaroscuro (“Chiaroscuro”). This contrast is achieved by carefully selecting which parts of the image should be lit, while blanketing the rest in a thick coating of shadows. Often times, the light of the scene bursts forth from some exterior source. For example see below this scene from The Big Heat.

Here, the light comes entirely from outside the room and therefore is cut and molded by the blinds. The pattern then splatters the light in blocky shapes across the subject. It obscures the intention of the character or of the plot to add suspense. Who is this? What is about to happen? Why is the audience being shown this right now? It evokes mystery.

One could also analyze the famous ending frame from The Big Combo, the 1955 film directed by Joseph H. Lewis (“The Big Combo”). This shot, as the female lead emerges from the shadows of the hangar to join the grisly heroic lead detective, has a beautiful silhouette effect occurring. Again, the light is motivated from “outside the scene”, if you will.

The fog obscures our vision of the outside but we can assume that the glow pouring into the frame which distinguishes the murky figures, is coming from either a street lamp or the moon. Besides that the image is dark. It is such a harsh contrast, one would have no shame in using the pun: “it’s as clear as black and white.”

Again, these noir tactics emerge in Blade Runner.

Hold that shot up against the previous one, from The Big Combo, and the similarities spring forth. Both light sources are motivated by off-camera sources outside of the space where the actors move. To draw even more comparisons between these shots, view the medium the light travels through in both. Instead of glaring directly into the camera, the rays are diffused through smoke or fog. Another agent of obfuscation to add to this growing noir toolkit.

This shot of Rachael, the film’s leading female character, encapsulates all the ideals so far discussed. First of all, the framing is tight revealing only the face, shoulders, and hand to the audience. Even the background feels as if the camera holds it within a vice. The viewer can only see the top of the office chair, and the light peaking through the window behind her. The lighting is also intensely emblematic of film noir stylization. It is incredibly low-key, with light pouring in from her right and behind her, shadowing the left of her visage in deep pools of blackness. The rays are also caught in the smoke of her cigarette and diffused across the scene. This adds another patch of highlights to starkly contrast the shadows elsewhere.

Ergo, one can understand why many find a direct link between the cinematography of this film and those of yesteryear. Still, there are changes which Ridley Scott, his cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth ASC, and his art department made to the noir tropes that accelerated them into the world of tomorrow (“Blade Runner”). For one thing, color plays a vital role in this film. Many discussions have been had about the color palette used. It is an incredibly vibrant film in regards to color but very little blending of colors beyond perhaps two at a time. The majority of the scenes have a blueish/greenish tone to them. The highlights of the actors facial expressions in these scenes are often cast in a slightly warmer or, more often than not, white light. The other scenes which don’t fit these descriptions are often lit with harshly warm lighting to contrast the teal. These scenes occur in places of comfort, or what should be places of comfort. For instance, both the office and living quarters of the wealthy inventor Tyrell sit bathed in orange and golden rays from sunsets and candles.

The final tie-together of the noir and Blade Runner images is the establishing shots. In both, the city becomes a character in of itself. It lives and breathes, in its own way. It is the character who often is the greater antagonist. Yes, in The Big Heat the evil crime boss Lagana is the villain of the immediate plotline. Yet it’s the city itself and its penchant for destructive lifestyles which exists beyond the confines of the film’s timespan. This therefore must be represented. So in one key scene, as Lagana spouts at his lackey, Vince, he is suddenly backlit by the dazzling lights of the city.

Or for an even more direct example of the phenomena, The Big Combo literally opens with a series of shots flying over city streets at night as the opening credits fade by.

Many decades later, Blade Runner follows suit with its opening. It may have a few gas tower explosions and megastructures added in, but the result is essentially the same.

Beyond the merely visual, however, Blade Runner has another aesthetic side of it which mirrors its cinematic forefathers. The sound, both diegetic and nondiegetic, hearkens back to the days of gangsters and guns ruling the box office. Take first the well-known noir trope of the voice-over. Don’t think an audience will know what a character is thinking? Need to display pertinent plot information without shooting a whole extra scene and pronto? Why, just have the important lines grumbled into a microphone and pop it over the film.

The Third Man, directed by Carol Reed, starring Orson Welles, and released in 1949 has an interesting way of opening (“The Third Man”). It opens, unsurprisingly for this genre, with establishing wides of the city, Vienna. These are, however, accompanied by a narration track:

“I never knew the old Vienna before the war with its Strauss music, its glamour and easy charm. Constantinople suited me better.”

The narrator quickly establishes all we need to know about the world we are about to enter and what the lead character will likely be up to first. In this vein, Blade Runner closely follows suit.

“They don’t advertise for killers in a newspaper. That was my profession. Ex-cop, ex-Blade Runner, ex-killer.”

It’s worth noting that this narration was exempt from later cuts of the film. The story behind the theatrical cut is quite intense and somewhat rivals the battle over Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. In short, the higher up’s were scared the film would be too existential and nebulous to please a broad American audience. To push against the possibility of the film not doing well in cinemas, executives forced several drastic changes be made to the film (“Blade Runner”). For one, they left in a happy ending that many feel destroys the mystery and dark tone. The largest qualm had with the US theatrical cut, however, is the voice over. Harrison Ford was already unpleased with the production process of the movie due to conflicts with the director. In regards to being asked to read the narration, Ford is quoted as to saying, "I went kicking and screaming to the studio to record it" (Sammon 296). However, the fact that it does exist at least within the theatrical cut shows us another level of connection between Blade Runner and noir.

Yet there is an auditory tie that has stayed throughout the many iterations of the film. The music strongly mirrors its distant counterpart. Noir films are closely associated with jazz music. Exceptions persist, of course, such as the The Third Man soundtrack performed on a zither by Anton Karas (“The Third Man”). However, the majority of noir films have soundtracks rich in the blare of brass instruments from trumpet to sax. Then it’s unsurprising that when the Blade Runner composer Vangelis began work on the film’s score, he would draw inspiration from these older styles. He’s never admitted it explicitly, it isn’t that shocking since his track record with doing interviews is scarce and when they do occur, he says little. Regardless of his commenting, Vangelis’s work on the film is undoubtedly evocative of the jazzy styling established by noir classics (“Blade Runner soundtrack”). It has the piano and brass that lilts along in a smooth and sultry manner. It has these sudden trills and twinkles of mystery. It has distant crashes of cymbals spread throughout. Yet all of it is hurtled into the future by having it performed on mostly synthesized instruments instead of a live orchestra.

One track in particular stands out in a slightly different way. The song “One More Kiss, Dear” is inserted into the film diegetically, meaning that it is meant to exist within the actual world of the film and can be heard by the characters. It is playing in the background over a radio of some sort. It is a very 20s to 30s style piece that brings one back in time. It transports one to a melancholy speakeasy with a whiskey in hand as a small band accompanies the wiry singer crooning into a shiny aluminum microphone. There is even a lowpass filter on it giving it that distinctive muffled sound old recordings seem to have. Yet this track was written and recorded by Vangelis in the early 80s for this film. Don Percival, “leading back-room figure in British pop music” (Buchler) was even the vocalist behind the song. Again one finds themselves struck by the way in which this film takes the old and revitalizes it.

What has been discussed up to this point is merely the surface elements of the motion picture Blade Runner. Though there is certainly sufficient material to draw the comparison between it and film noir, that isn’t all of it. The other part resides not within the aesthetics of the film, but within the structural foundations of it. The plotline, characters, and themes resemble their earlier counterpart.

The external storyline of most noir films follows a mystery. Regardless of profession, our hero has ended up in charge of solving the mystery ("Life on the Margins: The People and Plots of Film Noir”). In The Third Man, author Holly Martins must know who killed his dear friend Harry Lime. In The Big Heat, detective Dave Bannion has to prove the evil Michael Lagana is behind the corruption of the police force. In The Big Combo, Lieutenant Leonard Diamond also has to reveal the crimes of master gangster, this time, the conniving Mr. Brown. This external plot often is driven by or drives a romantic internal plot. Holly Martins falls for Anna Schmidt, Dave Bannion falls for Debby Marsh, and Leonard Diamond falls for Susan Lowell. In the French poetic realist/noir film Le Quai des brumes (Port of Shadows), directed by Marcel Carné, deserting soldier Jean falls for Nelly (“Port of Shadows”).

Blade Runner fully embraces these tropes. Our hero is Rick Deckard, an ex-Blade Runner. Blade Runners are tasked with bringing in rogue replicants, an engineered breed of superhuman. When four replicants return to Earth, a no-go zone for their kind, Deckard is brought back in by the police as the only man who can get the job done. His task: track down every rogue replicant and “retire” (kill) them. Already, the mystery external plotline appears unveiled.

The next step: the internal love-based plotline. For that, one must consider Deckard’s relationship with the replicant Rachael. Their interactions have all the signs of a classic noir romance. For one, she causes a good deal of Deckard’s internal conflict to begin. Beyond that, she also requires Deckard to save her despite having been the source of many of their troubles herself. It makes her echo the femme fatale role presented by many film noirs (“The Dark Dames of Noir”). Their relationship also culminates in them running away together in hope of a brighter future.

These of course are not just plotline factors, but factors of characters. It would thus be prudent to run off the character archetypes one often finds in film noir. As previously discussed, the hero, despite being any profession, assumes the role of investigator in the story. They are also typically dark and frustrated male anti-heroes whose situation in life has been dealt to them by little or no fault of their own (“Film Noir”). Dave Bannion of The Big Heat is just a cop tired of seeing his fellow officers corrupted. They are drawn into their investigation or quest reluctantly at first. Bannion, for instance, is thrust in deeper than he ever wanted when his wife is killed by the mob he is hunting. They also typically destroy or are destroyed by the women in their story. For Bannion, all the women he encounters throughout his tale meet untimely ends. His wife dies from a car bomb planted for him, and Debby, the gangster’s girl who falls for him is eventually gunned down.

Does Blade Runner’s Rick Deckard stand the test? He’s undoubtedly the investigator of the story, tasked as he is with finding the replicants. He certainly has a grim disposition. If we presume that Ridley Scott is correct in his vision that Deckard is actually a replicant himself, a much debated topic with many voices of authority weighing in for and against, then we can also assume that his situation is not his fault. He was created by humanity with his faults pre-determined not by nurture or nature but by biogenetic coding. Deckard also finds himself thrust into the investigation not by his own choice but by his old boss at the police station. As for the women in his tale, he quite literally destroys two of them. He guns down the replicant Zhora in a famous scene as she hurtles through shop windows. He kills Pris, replicant and personal favorite of rogue replicant leader Roy Batty. The third woman who he encounters doesn’t die but he certainly takes some questionable steps with her when he forces himself upon her. This would of course be Rachael, who eventually falls for him and by doing so, insights conflict into his life. Should he choose his duty to “retire” all rogue replicants and remain as he is, or should he disobey his order (his programming one might jest) and run away with her. According to the final cut released by the director in 2007, he at the very least attempts the latter option. The theatrical release confirms their attempts to escape as being fruitful.

Then what of Rachael? Does she too confirm the stereotype? The femme fatale is often defined by her seducing of the lead character and her destructive nature. This has resulted in debate as to whether the femme fatale archetype is thus sexist or not. Those who say yes argue that their portrayal is hard to reconcile with politically correct depictions of women. Femme fatales don’t often have fellow female characters in the stories with them. This leads to a sole female character representing all of womanhood while multiple male characters depict the multiple types of manhood which exist. Then, when this sole female character is downright corruptive and detrimental to the lead character, it can quickly appear to cast all women in the same light. Even after all their troublesome behaviors though, the male lead will typically save them both from their wild actions. It appears as though all that’s being sought after is a man then.

The opposition to this would instead state that despite these almost antic dispositions, they are not portrayed as flat and weak. Instead, noir paints these women as complex characters that may show more faults than merits, yet aren’t afraid to demand things from the men in their lives. They are at once dangerously attractive and intensely determined.

The argument could go in circles. Where does Rachael fit in, however? While lacking in stubbornness, she does have an undoubtedly complex character. She is right off the bat something out of the ordinary for Deckard. Performing the Voight-Kampff test, a test designed to determine whether or not the subject is a replicant, Deckard cannot determine her status until about a hundred questions in. The standard replicant is discovered after about 20-30. This literally proves that she has the emotional capacity close to that of a human. She’s almost indistinguishable from the real thing. This can’t be said of any other replicant in the film besides possibly Deckard. Later on, she does shift more towards the submissive nature of many third act femme fatales, where they completely fall for the hero. Despite getting there by somewhat non-consensual ways, she finds her heart won.

It’s in her relation to another character where we can see a bit more of her grounding in the noir framework. She is, albeit not romantically, attached to Eldon Tyrell, the businessman and inventor who designs the minds of the replicants. She begins her character's arc as his assistant or secretary. This last until she discovers the truth of her being, the fact of her being a replicant. When this occurs, Tyrell dismisses her, and Deckard receives orders to “retire” her. This would then put Tyrell in the classic noir position of empowered villain. He is, after all, the reason for the external conflict. He designed the minds of the replicants and thus gave them the capacity to run amok as they did. That would then put his partner and scientific associate J.F. Sebastian in the position of main henchman to the villain. Clearly, all these characters have their counterparts in the noir genre. All but one, that is.

Roy Batty, assumed leader of the replicants, has no direct link back. There are loose ties here and there. His impassioned belief in certain ideals as a way to justify the destruction he causes could be mistaken for the archetype of crime boss. Yet Tyrell lines up with that part much more naturally and Roy isn’t on the side of Tyrell or Deckard. Nor is he fighting for personal gain of a monetary or hedonistic nature. Instead, his quest is for more life for both himself and his friends. He is driven by love and by a basic desire to keep striving for more. In fact, if the movie sympathized with and followed Roy more closely, the noir connection might fade all together. If he was the main character, the film would not resemble noir. For he as a lead is more of a Jesus figure than a dark anti-hero. This is strongly suggested in the ending of the film when he puts a nail through his hand, much like Christ had nails put through his on the cross. On top of that, his death is selfless and for the good of mankind.

One line of Batty’s stands out in light of this observation. Addressing Deckard during their battle he quips:

“I thought you were supposed to be good. Aren’t you the ‘good’ man?”

This line may just be a joke but it resonates when taken in context to the noir ideals we have seen thus far. It is as if the character is aware of what sort of movie he is in. He is looking the various different stereotypes and laughing at them. If Roy doesn’t fit into our noir allegory, then where does he fit? What is he? This line seems to suggest he is somewhat of a commentary on noir and the film itself. He challenges worldviews widely held by noir films. Take a look at his dying words, the legendary monologue unofficially titled “Tears in Rain”.

“I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain... Time to die.”

These words are somber, yet somehow the way Roy says them, they seem slightly joyous. He is content to die, for he has done more with his short time than many men would dare do with their much longer lives. This kind of cosmic perspective check just isn’t in the noir vein. It doesn’t gruffly propose life is awful and only suckers get ahead. It proposes humanity should understand its scale in the universe and lose it’s self-importance. It eschews the idea noir leads seem to have that the world owes them something.

So in doing so, Roy Batty single handedly changes the film. Without him, the usage of noir tropes is merely a fun throwback to cinema of many years ago. With him, this noir stylization becomes a vessel for self-reflection, for understanding, and for criticism. It begs the question of who the real hero of this film is. Deckard? The man who just follows someone’s orders until someone else convinces him to heed their orders instead? Or Roy? The man who took action. The man whose wings the world clipped. The man who by even attempting to fly, appeared to soar for one dazzling moment. It is as Tyrell says to this wondrous creation of his:

“The life that burns twice as bright burns half as long. And you have burnt so very very brightly, Roy.”

What then, of Blade Runner? This marriage of science fiction and noir is previously unheard of and unnatural. Still, it works. In fact, it works so well that it is as well known if not more well known by the general public today, than any singular noir film. Much like the replicants in the film itself, this film has more of noirs strengths and less of its weaknesses. It is noir but is not defined by noir. Through this vessel noir and storytelling can evolve. After all, noir is simply the marriage of German expressionism and post-war American pessimism. It is a narrative of bleakness. Yet Blade Runner, and other neo-noirs, transcend this. They see the bleak and point to a light shining through the bleak. They say to humanity, “That is your future, all you have to do is keep going.” What then does this future hold?

If androids do indeed dream of electric sheep, what then will we dream of next?

My Own Kuleshov by Darcy Thompson

I was reading a chapter in a film textbook the other day about editing, and I found great interest in the Kuleshov effect. I was familiar with the term already but I had never read anything which properly explained it’s origins or full parameters to me. It was enticing and enlightening to discover all this I hadn’t known of the Kuleshov effect. For instance, I didn’t know that the Kuleshov effect could be used so effectively to combine footage from various sources, including other films or stock footage.

This means I’ve been exposed to a quite extreme brand of the Kuleshov effect since I was very young and watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus. That show implemented the Kuleshov effect constantly and consistently. It was used in their case for extreme comedic effect. They would contrast the shot of a man reacting with say… an exploding house which they clearly didn’t film themselves. Or perhaps most famously they would use a stock footage roll of old women sitting in an audience and clapping with a visible clamor. This shot was cut in to their show a ridiculous number of times. Its exact use and intention changed every occurrence. However, the overarching reason to use it seemed to be that it provided a comically fake reaction to a comically bad joke. They would purposefully set up a joke or bit to fail and then support themselves with stock footage so as to reinforce the idea that it was a joke not worthy of genuine applause. The entire effect of this being that the self-indulgent folly makes for its own source of humor.

Besides my own film-viewing past, I discovered the Kuleshov effect within my filmmaking present. I was cutting a scene together from my most recent film the other day. You see there are two shots here with the actors Annie and Mario reacting to first the other actor in the scene (Bassam), and then to one another. Without once showing a wide, this conveys where everyone lies within the space by how their eye-lines pair up for that split second.

First Mario isn’t looking at Annie. Then he looks at her. On the eye move, we cut to Annie’s shot where she is looking at Bassam still. When she looks up we see that her and Mario are looking at one another. This suggests to the viewer that Mario is faced away from Bassam while Annie is facing towards him.

What really blows my mind about this? It wasn’t planned. In these separate takes, both of the actors happened to make these looks to one another but never at the same time. It just was something I noticed whilst going through both of their takes. I’m very happy with it because by using this Kuleshov effect it allows us to build a relationship between these two through their eyes. Never once do we hear what they are thinking but juxtaposed against each other and against Bassam, we see all we need.

Mise-en-Scene in Metropolis by Darcy Thompson

The Fritz Lang silent film Metropolis (1927) is a masterpiece of cinema when compared not only to its predecessors and contemporaries, but even when held up to its modern competition. How has it stuck with us for years despite being partly lost for many? It’s true that the story is the necessary element which makes any piece of art in this vein have staying power. So that is foremost the reason for its continual cultural significance. The worker’s struggle, and the argument for pathos to be used in balance with logos, are powerful themes that keep the film prevalent. However, I feel that though these are noble and necessary values to have at the core, that alone would not allow for a film like Metropolis to burrow into our global mind so easily. That is allowed through the world-building which Lang and his team do so beautifully. This world-building is essentially the principles of mise-en-scène at work. Roger Ebert himself says in his review of the film,

“Lang created one of the unforgettable original places in the cinema. “Metropolis” fixed for countless later films the image of a futuristic city as a hell of material progress and human despair.” (Ebert)

Do not for one moment think that I am implying story is less important to the film at all. That is never the case with cinema. Story and narrative should always be paramount. However, mise-en-scène is a critical tool for telling stories effectively, and absolutely mandatory in specific cases. Think of it like this: when eating, one uses utensils. The utensils are not food. One couldn’t bite down on the fork and knife and consume it like one could the food. However, it would be very difficult and wholly unenjoyable to consume certain foods without the help of utensils. In this way, story and mise-en-scène play into one another. Story is what one both desires and must consume to satiate oneself. However, certain stories are too complex or intense to digest on their own. This is where mise-en-scène comes in to play. By building a world for one to use as an utensil, one can more easily dine upon the rich and vibrant story woven.

Metropolis is such a film, where the story would likely be quite unpalatable without the assistance of the world it is built into. If it were merely a straightforward argument that the working class must be treated more fairly by the high class, it would feel dry. The film would heavily resemble some of the odd documentaries created by Russian filmmakers at the same time. Intertitles would abound, as would viewer’s boredom.

Not that intertitles aren't still used in abundance...

How then, does Lang’s usage of this magical catalyst, mise-en-scène, work so well to build the world that Metropolis lives and breathes within so easily? The two principles of this filmic tool that spring to mind most readily, when pondering this film, is the production design paired with the acting style.

The production design is somehow both cold, derelict, and hyper-urban, while maintaining some air of vibrancy that springs out of the cracks. It is the close ancestor of the aesthetics presented by later films such as Blade Runner (1982), Ghost in the Shell (1995), or even Brazil (1985). The truly similar one on many levels is Blade Runner.

In each film, the setting of the film is nearly character in itself it becomes such a critical part of understanding the story. In Film Art, one passage notes that:

“In a film, the setting can come to the forefront; it need not be only a container for human events but can dynamically enter the narrative action.” (Bordwell and Thompson 115)

This is incredibly true of Metropolis, where the two worlds presented in the film are so vividly contrasting, that they almost feel as if they are as much at war and conflict as the characters inhabiting them. The soaring towers of the city which house the obscenely wealthy upper class and their fittingly opulent lifestyles embody the characteristics of their denizens. Clashing harshly with this are the underground tunnels and steam-filled working spaces of the downtrodden proletariat masses visible in the lower world. These spaces seem to speak first before the characters and give us information that would otherwise need to be conveyed in the intertitles. This usage of setting leaps out to one as efficient as well as stylistic, saving time for the film, so that more can be conveyed in the same span.


Beyond setting alone, the visual effects help establish the world even more so. Take for instance, this film’s most iconic scene, and subsequently one of the most famous scenes of all cinematic history: the robotic genesis scene. By this I mean of course the infamous moment when the evil scientist Rotwang activates his machine and turns his feminine robot into a simulacrum of the beautiful and noble Maria. This sequence exemplifies all the principles that make up strong special effects. The effect is used first and foremost to carry forwards the story and emphasize the scene. The electricity sparking up and down the body helps convey the idea of life and the birth of consciousness. This anti-Maria who is born blends seamlessly with the robot construction helping to create a visual language. It suggests, without verbalizing, that the robot remains present beneath her artificial flesh.

After one approaches the production design of the film, the second strong aspect of mise-en-scène that stands out is the acting style. To begin on this subject, one must first understand the primary reason for the over the top acting exhibited in Metropolis. In the early days of cinema, when actors came to the silver screen, they were most recruited from the theatre. There weren’t schools for television or film acting. These actors were also too old for film as a medium to have been insanely popular enough at the debut of their careers. Stage acting is a far different ballgame when compared to cinematic acting. On the stage, one must perform not only to the people right in the front row or the groundlings, but also to the people all the way at the back of the theater or those in the boxes above. This requires a bit more grandiose and vivid movements and voice work to be at play. Also consider that the actors of this time were likely participants in a then-popular now-forgotten form of theatre known as vaudeville. Charlie Chaplin for instance was a vaudeville actor initially. It’s a form of physical comedy that requires very little dialogue and is essentially a form of slapstick. Therefore, imagine all of these actors moving off of the stage they knew as home and being placed before a camera. Now all the intense and over the top expressions and gesticulations they were wont to make before, seem cartoonish when studied up close. All of this attributes quite a bit to the intense acting within Metropolis.

"Subtle? I don't know the meaning of the word!"

Beyond simply training however, these actors are using an acting style which fits the film quite well. Look at the rest of the film first. It’s all these examples of art taking the world and putting it before a funhouse mirror. Wealth gaps exist now and at the time when this film was made. However, they are not always as visually black and white (forgive the pun) as the one displayed in the cinematic universe here. Or perhaps one could study the display of men losing their minds in lust over the woman. In normal society this kind of display doesn’t literally take place, but it is a metaphor purposefully constructed to convey the animalistic tendencies inherent in human beings.

If this appears true of the rest of the film, then the acting must also pair with it. As Bordwell and Thompson say:

“… the performance an actor creates is part of the overall mise-en-scène…” (133)

Naturalistic acting would feel disjointed and out of place in such a universe. Much in the same way that the acting displayed here would never fit well into a film such The Breakfast Club which demands a more realistic approach. The acting in Metropolis is perfect to convey what it needs to. Each of the characters is done to such a degree that one knows from the moment one sees them who they are. It then leaves one with much more time to consider what the film is saying by juxtaposing these disparate archetypes against one another in this way.

The points remain, that the success of Metropolis in general is due largely to a specific facet, the mise-en-scène. The way in which this cinematic world is built up for the viewer allows for further immersion into something we naturally would not find immersive. Through the settings utilized as characters which Bordwell and Thompson mention, and the intense facial and hand movements which the actors enlist to make their claim to the character, one feels that this fictional world is real despite being so unabashedly surreal.


Ebert, Roger. "Metropolis Movie Review & Film Summary (1927)." Roger Ebert. Ebert Digital LLC, 2 June 2010. Web. 20 Oct. 2015. <>.

Bordwell, David, and Kristin Thompson. "The Shot: Mise-en-Scene." Film Art: An Introduction. Tenth ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2015. Print.

The Beginning of the Blog by Darcy Thompson


Hello world. My name is Darcy O Thompson. By this point I have numerous venues for me to create the media I want to create. I post the short films that I spend most of my time on using Youtube. I use my Facebook pages to post photo shoots I do or even quick passing thoughts. I produce and co-host a podcast on Soundcloud, Stitcher, and iTunes. One of the last mediums I don't utilize at this point is the blog.

So essentially my thought process was... might as well.

I have no idea what I'm going to use this blog for. I'm going to try to write on it as often as I can. Maybe every week or every other would be realistic goals. I don't even know at this point what I'm going to write about specifically.

This post will be short because I don't really have much to say. I guess I should leave you with some sort of call-to-action. Take a listen to The 1Lpaca Show on iTunes and leave a review and take a look around this site and leave your thoughts below. I wanna know what I can fix as it is new.