The Godfather Film: Mise-en-scène and Techniques


The Godfather is a crime film directed by Francis Ford Coppola (1972). The screenplay is by Coppola and Mario Puzo. The first two parts form the most celebrated films, and many viewers consider the second part equal to or more advanced than the first part. However, the first part achieved tremendous success in the film market (Phillips, 2007). It also constitutes one of the interesting films of the time. The Godfather is a film that contributed to American resurgence in the film industry, after years of competition. The Godfather stars Marlon Brando, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, Al Pacino, among others, and features Abe Vigoda, John Cazale, and Talia Shire. The story in the film spans a period of ten years from 1945 to 1955 and shows the experiences of a family in crime in New York City during the mid-1940s. The Godfather is a very thought-provoking study of social issues such as justice, corruption, violence, power, honor, and obligation in America.

Through the plot of the film, the director uses several elements to assist viewers in understanding the story, and the development of the actors’ relationship. Coppola provides and exemplifies expressionistic studio film and portrays various cinematic aspects that contribute to the development of the characters’ traits and roles as a guide to the story’s rollercoaster (Phillips, 2007). The director uses light to help in figuring out the development and self-discovery of the advancements made by the characters chronologically from the beginning to the end of the story; hence, enhancing the viewers’ ability to understand the plot. Coppola uses the cinematic element of lighting and framing to guide the viewers to understand the film by developing angles, as well as other photographic techniques (Phillips, 2007).

The role of mise en scène in understanding The Godfather

According to the screenwriters, the lasting effect of The Godfather describes the state of America by having a vision filled with an understanding of the fundamental contradictions inherent in all human beings. Therefore, the screenwriters deliver a theme of madness, glory, and failure of the American dream, by exploring the dream in an Italian-American term, hence, succeeding in providing a view of the relationship between the Italian and the American culture. In filmmaking, images encompass the same preoccupation with effect and expression. Mise-en-scene, also known as the frame, creates an illusion of a three-dimensional figure into two dimensions. In the frame, the outline of the rectangle refers to the frame, whereas; the space inside the frame is the screen. The term was coined from a French theatrical expression that refers to “placing in the stage” (Anderson, 2001).

In-depth analysis of the technique as it appears in the film

The Godfather film was shot in a 35mm full-frame that translates to a ration of 4:3. The film is cropped down to fit widescreen theatres at an approximated 1.85:1, as planned appropriately. The scenes of the film have been composed to work well on both screens. The TV version of The Godfather has still been what the director, Willis, shot. The version of the theatre is an image of low quality since it is blown up from a 35 mm image. This has enabled The Godfather to be watched in full TV size. The elements of this film technique encompass the most decipherable attributes of the film. It helps in the setting of the film and includes other elements, such as costumes, props, make-ups, and all film elements that characterized the spaced scene (Carter, 2007). Putting on stage describes the components of the frame and how they are arranged and shown. These include the elements of setting, lighting, staging, and costume.

The historical development of mise-en-scene

The elements of Mise-en-scene are employed in film studies to discuss the visual style. It encompasses the contents of the frame, including lighting, actors, setting, costumes, and properties (Carter, 2007). The organization of the frame’s contents embodies the relationship of the actors to the audience’s view. Early uses of Mise-en-scene to more contemporary ones indicate that the historical and current trends on the aspect ratio started in 1890-1930, described as the silent era or the experimental stage with no standard aspect ratio. Later, there was the Hollywood Studio Era, or the standard ratio= 1.33:1 like the TV’s before the widescreen TV during the 1930s to the 1950s. After the 1950s, formats of widescreen were introduced with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and 2.35:1. In the modern era, between 1960 and 2008, some films were filmed in a 1:661 aspect ratio, allowing films to be screened in 1:331 or 1:85:1 but with limited distortion. However, historically, the aspect ratios are still standard by period, but with technological advancements, there are large, flat-screen television screens. The meaning of mise-en-scene suggests the control of visual elements in the film image. Thus, the elements of mise-en-scène, such as setting, costume, and lighting, as well as the movement of the images, are four aspects that overlap the physical art of the theatre. Thus, controlling these elements provides the film director with an opportunity to stage the events. However, in Mise-en-scene, the most important aspect is the frame. Whereas, the most fundamental factor to consider in the frame is the aspect ratio (Carter, 2007).

The relationship of Mise-en-scene and other techniques used in filmmaking

The mise-en-scene technique relates to other elements in cinematography. For instance, the setting forms an important visual element in the film. In encompasses, all the things viewed that inform time, as well as a place apart from the costume. The setting is an aspect of mise-en-scene, and it plays a very crucial role in the film (Gibbs, 2007). The setting describes the place where the drama takes place. Moreover, its significance is beyond that by enabling the director to control various aspects of artistically. A method of setting control depends on the used natural or artificial locale. The ability of the setting to add meaning to the story means that the props also form part of the control by the film director. Thus, setting orients viewers to contribute a dramatic impact and adds meaning to the film’s story. Selecting and arranging elements of setting provide the director with powerful control of the artistic work, thus, staging the film, the director exhibits craft and creativity as he employs this aspect of Mise-en-scene.

The costume is another element that forms an important element in the film. Costume, as an aspect of Mise-en-scene, gains more significance when manipulated by the director so that it may function in an important way in the film. It serves to enhance the narrative in the story by suggesting a social position of the characters. In addition, costume illustrates the psychological disposition of the characters. Moreover, costume provides a hint to the character development in the story. The costume also functions as a prop in which the unity of the story may rest. However, the director’s selection and arrangement of costume as an aspect of Mise-en-scene provide him control over the visual elements that are necessary for effective filming (Gibbs, 2007).

Figure behavior is also an important aspect of Mise-en-scene that the director uses to support the story and to develop the thematic unity in the film. Figure expression is the facial expression and the position of the characters, whereas figure movement means all other actions of the characters, including gesture. Film viewers think that actors represent real people, hence, underestimate the part needed in their actions. In the film study, the most important aspects to consider are the appropriateness of the expression of the characters and the director’s control exhibited on the movement of the characters (Gibbs, 2007). Thus, the viewer must remember that the director carefully controls the behavior of the actors on the stage since he causes them to behave in a manner that supports a specific thematic element of the film. In addition, figure expression as an aspect of Mise-en-scene provides the director with artistic power. The performance of the actors should be examined on how best it complements the message of the film contrary to how well the performance of the actors supports the actor’s perception of the real world. The behavior of the actors can alert the viewer to a level of appropriateness or inappropriateness of the expression of the actor.

Lighting is another aspect of Mise-en-scene that conveys special meaning concerning the actors or the film itself. Lighting assists in defining the setting of the scenes in the film and accentuates the actors’ behavior. Lighting quality is achieved in a scene by manipulating the direction and quality of the light. Therefore, through manipulating the quality of lighting, the director controls the impact of the setting of the figure behavior on the viewers. The director can concern himself with the direction of the light from the source to the illuminated figure by controlling the lighting’s direction, hence, allowing him to set the moods of the scenes (Gibbs, 2007).

How Mise-en-scene creates meaning in the film

Mise-en-scene is an important element in the development of movies. A combination of the elements of Mise-en-scene can enhance a specific atmosphere in the film. Therefore, this can make the viewers understand the functions of each element. The responses that the technique has on the viewers is that focusing on a scene’s setting can allow the viewer to identify the significance of time and place shown, in order to think about the scene in relation to the proper historical or cultural context. Costume assists the viewer in understanding the scene’s actions in relation to a larger context (Guannetti, 2010). Furthermore, it also allows the viewer to understand the personal motivation of the characters. Figure behavior enables the viewer to understand the role of the actors in relation to the plot of the story. Lighting also assists viewers in understanding the mood of a scene. Lighting can intensify or subdue a setting. Therefore, by understanding each of these elements, one can understand that the crucial role that manipulation of these elements of Mise-en-scene plays within the context of cinematography. In addition, there are other film techniques used in the evaluation of the social and political contributions of people.


The elements of Mise-en-scene have made the exploration of The Godfather to form a foundation in the film industry. The film illustrates a series of mini-climaxes that build to the devastating effect of a definitive end. Mise-en-scene made the film have strong performances and a tightly plotted script that consequently led to its success (Guannetti, 2010). The elements of mise-en-scene have molded the actors to become complex characters.


Anderson, W., G. (2001). Mise-en-Scene: Staging an Action. London: William Anderson Gittens.

Carter, J., D. (2007). Mise-en-Scene: A Scenario-Based Approach to Generating CSP System Traces. Ontario: University of Guelph.

Gibbs, J. (2007). Mise-en-Scène: Film Style and Interpretation. London: Wallflower Press.

Guannetti, L. (2010). Understanding Movies, 12th ed. New York: Pearson Education, Inc.

Phillips, G., D. (2007). The Godfather: The Intimate Francis Ford Coppola. Commonwealth of Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky.

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