Vanessa Schwartz and David Bordwell

Posted: October 17th, 2013





Vanessa Schwartz and David Bordwell

In her article, “Cinematic Spectatorship before the Apparatus: the Public Taste for Reality in Fin-de-Siecle Paris”, Vanessa Schwartz focuses on cinematic spectatorship, and how the shows evolved as they become more of a reality to people. The people could identify with the performances, as they depicted their daily lives. She focuses on the three popular public places of entertainment in Paris, and shows how the culture and cultural activities in these places was used to observe the cinematic spectatorship. The shows were presented in such a way that they depicted reality, and the people led their lives as if they were living in the performances. She focuses on the presentations displayed at the Paris Morgue, the Wax museums and the panoramas, which acted as stages to the shows.

The article “La Nouvelle Mission de Feuillade; or, What Was Mise-en-Scene” by David Bordwell uses five Feuillade films to discuss the technique of staging. He answers the question of how the director used the setting, camera distancing and blocking to master mise-en-scene. He also analyses the functions of the depth staging. In the essay, Bordwell carefully analyses and describes how the director used stylistic continuity in the film. The two essays describe the entertainment scene in one city using different means. Schwartz chooses to highlight the issue from popular public places, while Bordwell focuses on the work of one director. The two essays share some similarities, but they also have some differing opinions.

The two essays are different in several ways. Schwartz notes that at the Paris Morgue, people were attracted to the shows because of the public display of the dead bodies, which had previously been covered by the newspapers. The people merely congregated to see the dead bodies although there were hardly any people who claimed the dead bodies. This attracted many people to the site and the actors decided to make shows out of the real situation. Bordello observes that the director used different ways to enhance the attention of the audience. He observes that the director manipulated the size in the frame and different voice tones, movements and character glance. The films belonged to the silent era period and the directors had to be creative to ensure that the audience remained captivated until the end of the show.

Bordwell focuses on the actors’ stage in their own environment, which is the theatrical stage. He does this by highlighting the role of the director. He is interested in seeing how the directors capture and retain the attention of the audience in the silent film era. This was a hard thing to achieve back then. Schwartz on the other hand, brings the actors to the people. He locates how the actors mingled and interacted with the other people in common places. The Paris Morgue was not meant to be a theatrical stage but the people made it such. They did not have to pay to attend any of the shows that were presented there. This gave the performers the chance to interact with the public.

Bordwell focuses on the simplicity that Feuillade presented. He observes that he was not as flamboyant and easily recognizable like the other directors of his time, noting that he chose “straight lines, uniform illumination, squared-off sets and sparsely decorated walls” (Bordwell 11). Thin was in contrast to the founders of the wax museum who chose to include rare objects, some of which the people had never heard of or seen in their lives. Schwartz describes how the founders used “life-like quality of wax figures, accessories, ornaments, and framing devices (Leo and Schwartz 305).” They acquired some of these items at a very high price.

The essays exhibit several similarities. In both cases, the authors note that the material is dense. Bordwell illustrates this with the case of the snapper kid in Musketeers of Pig Alley. The description of the four-year-old child who was found murdered in Paris is disturbing. Bordwell notes that the directors used different ways to bring the distant figures that were downstage to the foreground. This enabled the performers to interact with each other on the same stage and it spread equal masses across the flame. Schwartz notes that the Musee Grevin gave people the opportunity to see the dignitaries and celebrities. He further notes that the museum gave the ordinary people the chance to stand side by side with the leaders. This was not common as the dignitaries were often seen in official functions. The dignitaries in this case, represent the distant figures that the directors are intending to bring in close proximity to the rest of the masses.

In both cases, the authors note the importance of the press in the cinematic industry. In her essay, Schwartz notes that the founders of the wax museum wanted their display to serve the people as a living newspaper. This would be achieved by represent the current events faithfully and with honesty and precision (Leo and Schwartz 305). Both articles reflect the importance of directing the viewer to the most important part of the performance, and doing all that they can to capture and enhance their attention. Bordwell observes how the directors used different techniques to ensure that the audience attention was captured. He describes techniques such as making sure that the audience was fixated on the major dramatic elements, such as following the gaze of the performer that was speaking at that time. The director used other techniques such as informative features of the human body and overall composition (Bordwell 11).

The panoramas were another form of entertainment that captured reality, especially after their renaissance in late nineteenth century. This made possible by photography, which was made through paintings or through tracing projected images. The panoramas acted in the same way as the entertainment provided in the morgue. They illustrated the daily lives of people as it was presented in the newspapers, especially that which concerned current events, catastrophes, executions, assassinations, crimes, or crime (Leo and Schwartz 313). Although the issues represented were grave, they represented what was happening in the society, and they gave the people an illusion of reality. The panoramas were especially important before the widespread use of the newspapers, as they were the only way through which people got their news. They were a way of attracting and holding people’s attention. Bordwell notes that the director used staging and acting to guide the attention of the audience. He observes that the director manipulated shot development, to guide the attention of the audience. The director could choose to hide or reveal the background planes so that he can direct the audience to a particular shot.

The press was instrumental in enhancing the cinematic experience in Paris. The newspapers featured daily columns where they featured crimes and other related offences. This attracted many performers since they were able to get inspiration for their stories. The press also included film reviews in the newspapers. This enhanced the film industry in the country. Bordwell notes that the directors had to be creative so that they could enhance the attention of the audience. This was especially difficult in the silent era. They had to develop or embrace new technologies, which ensured that they retained attention. Unlike Bordwell who focused entirely on the cinema, Schwartz focused on the real life experiences of the people. She focuses on the places where the people visited and noted how the performances and the architecture reflected the cinematic spectatorship.


Bordwell, David. La Nouvelle Mission de Feuillade; or, What Was Mise-en-Scene? The Velvet Light Trap 37 1996

Charney, Leo and Schwartz, R. Vanessa. Cinema and the Invention of Modern Life. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. 1995. Print

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