This essay will analyze, assess, and describe the significance of Mise en scène used in the 1952 musical comedy film “Singin’ in the Rain,” directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, which starred Gene Kelly himself alongside Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor. The scene that this essay will focus on is the scene where the song “Singing in the Rain” is performed by Gene Kelly ("Singing in the"). Mise en scène, “a French term meaning "putting into a scene "” (Goodykoontz & Jacobs, 2011), is basically the term used to describe the design elements of film production. In other words, mise en scène is “WHAT the audience sees in a scene” (Goodykoontz & Jacobs, 2011), such as the actors, props, sets, etc., which tells them the story in a visually artistic way. The placement and movement of actors on the set, which is referred to as “blocking,” is also a part of mise en scène. The director, in this case Gene Kelly, oversees all of the mise en scène.
At the beginning of the scene being analyzed, Kelly’s character Don Lockwood and Reynolds’s character Kathy Selden are standing at the doorstep of the house they exited in the previous scene and are kissing. Initially, it is a long shot but it zooms into a close up of the couple kissing under Lockwood’s umbrella. The umbrella is a central prop in the rest of the scene. Don and Kathy are the only two characters in this scene, but Kathy only remains for the kiss, while it is Don who primarily interacts with the set around him.
Kathy brings the audience’s attention to the obvious fact that it is constantly raining during the entire scene by stating that, “This California dew is just a little heavier than usual tonight” (Dib, 2011) and then she goes inside the house. Since the beginning of the scene a taxi had been visibly waiting, which is waved away by Don. At this point, as Don gets ready to sing the title song of the film, “Singin' in the Rain,” the background music gets louder. As Don dances down, more of the set is revealed, which is a typical street from the 50s containing different kinds of houses and shops with signs on the window. In this scene, Don interacts with almost every prop and also with the extras. For instance, as two people hurry past with holding a newspaper over their head, Don gives them a jolly wave while dancing around them.
Throughout the song, Don performs various dance moves with the umbrella, carrying it as if it was his dance partner, even using it as an air guitar. Throughout the scene, the lighting is quite dark since the time is around 2:30 a.m. in the evening. However, the mood in this scene remains cheerful and joyful because of Don’s singing and dancing along with the background music. The appearance of the cartoonish image of a woman on what seems to be a hotel or travel agency of some sort further lightens the mood of the scene. Don performs a flamboyant dance move and then bows before the cartoon woman like gentleman. Although standards of realism are very important to mise en scène and it may seem that really people do not actually dance on the street to impromptu songs, but it can be argued that purpose was the mise en scène in this scene was to create a jovial effect, to make the audience feel good.
In the mise en scène, “[t]he setting  contribute[s] to what is going on in the plot at that moment [in the scene], whether it’s establishing the general mood” (Goodykoontz & Jacobs, 2011) and “can reinforce various themes the writer and filmmaker want to explore” (Goodykoontz & Jacobs, 2011). Even though this scene would not serve its purpose with Don, an important part is played by the setting as well. Even the setting and the atmosphere it creates, with the rain splashing in the night under the moonlight, and the cheery background music also uplifts the audience.
“Actors are critical in bringing a character to life for the audience by interpreting the intentions of the writer and director” (Goodykoontz & Jacobs, 2011), and thus, the acting, i.e. how the main characters perform in a particular scene, is a crucial aspect of mise en scène. Performance styles in cinema have varied over the years. The scene being discussed can be regarded as more of a performance. Gene Kelly is the showman and the film set is his stage. However, at the same time, it is also a brilliant piece of acting because of how Kelly brings Don’s character to life b y interacting with everyone and everything around him. As an actor, Kelly succeeds in convincing the audience that Don is quite happy and satisfied with his life.
In the mise en scène, the behavior of the different characters may also be controlled by the director. The director’s role is to translate “the screenwriter’s story so that the actors and crew can carry it out” (Goodykoontz & Jacobs, 2011). Of course, the only figures in the scene being discussed are Don and the extras, none of whom have a speaking part. However, Don does wave at several passersby, such as the police officer who puts an end to his dance and the elderly man near the end of the scene, to whom he passes him umbrella. The elderly man would be the primary example of a character other than Don expressing emotion since he takes the umbrella immediately and raises it above his head for shelter.
Any form of “lighting [present on the scene] is a part of the mise en scène” and is another integral aspect of it because the lighting tends to make a major impact on the audience. In this scene, a soft light is created by the moonlight, while hard light emphasizes the shadows that are visible on the sidewalk. The scene mostly contains frontal lighting, and the streetlamps on the sidewalk supply top lighting. Whenever Don is standing beneath a street lamp, the top lighting that is shining directly down from above him is particularly illustrated.
The costumes and make up are another important part of the mise en scène, and much like the setting, they play a particular role in the film, expanding the range of possibilities. Of course, Don, like any man from that 50s would be, is dressed in a standard suit and top, which adds to the minimal realism of the mise en scène. Finally, space is one last but equally important aspect of the mise en scène. The way space is represented in the mise en scène can affect how the audience may interpret the scene and the film. In this scene, as Don sings and dances his performance from the beginning of the street to the every end is effectively tracked by the camera, and his relationship with passersby and objects are also intricately detailed.
The “Singing in the Rain” dance scene is a notable example of the film’s overall elaborate mise en scène, which includes a combination of numerous layers that convey the concept of a movie within numerous movies. The way Gene Kelly has directed the scene and acted it out, the lighting and props utilized, the costume, and the setting itself altogether perhaps make the film’s mise en scène more complex but at the same time they do not baffle the audience because of working harmoniously. Since a crucial point in the film’s plot is represented by this particular sequence, the mise en scène does a brilliant job of signifying the message behind the scene that Don has transitioned from a boy to a man and has broken free from the bondages of the Hollywood circuit.
Whenever people watch a fictional film, to some extent they are aware that it is the decisions and skills of the actor that lead to the performances they are viewing on screen. Effective performances are often described using the phrase “larger than life,” which implies that the intentional craft of the actors is being acknowledged. Apparently, this fits the scene from the 1952 film, “Singin’ in the Rain,” discussed in this essay, quite well. Gene Kelly actually does bring his character to life, he makes effective use of figures and props around him by interacting with them throughout his performance, and his acting has an impact on the audience because it makes them feel jovial. However, ultimately when combined with all the other elements described in this essay, the overall impact is of the film’s mise en scène.
Dib, L. (2011, Mar 9). Singin in the rain (gene kelly, debbie reynolds) : Cinema classic. Retrieved from http://watchoutfor.com.au/singin-in-the-rain-gene-kelly-debbie-reynolds-cinema-classic/
Goodykoontz, B., & Jacobs, C. P. (2011). Film: From watching to seeing. San Diego: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
Kelly, G. (Director), & Donen, S. (Director) (1952). Singin' in the rain [DVD]. Available from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045152/
Singing in the rain scene from singin' in the rain movie (1952). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://movieclips.com/iBWbG-singin-in-the-rain-movie-singing-in-the-rain/