Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash; 1991)

Its really no surprise that mise-en-scene plays such a huge role in Julie Dash's "Daughters of the Dust." While watching the film, one realizes that mise-en-scene is just as much a character and is just as important, if not more important than the jumbled story that it presents. Setting is key throughout the film. Set and shot on the Gullah Islands in South Carolina where the story literally takes place, the setting is essential. The settings are wild and exotic, making one almost surprised that it takes place in America. Spanish moss dangles from trees, various sounds are heard, and the forests are jumbled with trees tied with bottles and various faded gravestones. This setting itself shows us that the wild atmosphere represents a culture living outside of the normal realm, with a culture and existence wildly different from many in America's at the time, the chaos of the atmosphere represents the strife and decisions this family must make and the prices they must pay to make it in a normal America that they yearn for. It’s no surprise that a confrontational scene between a younger person of the family, with the oldest patriarch they have takes place in a wild and untamed graveyard, where the names and dates are barely visible, faded to time. Loose framing helps us understand how important setting is, for the screen is wide and spacious, showing us that these people are a part of this land, where they both equally take part throughout the film. The colors and lighting throughout the film are bright yet saturated, perhaps to show that these memories are faded and vaguely recalled, but still vibrant and immaculate, not dull and dryly lit like many period pieces that choose to use color. With this saturation, we also feel the heat lingering throughout, making weather an important part of the setting, and giving us an atmosphere that would be hard, if not impossible to replicate on sets in soundstages. Figure placement is a fascinating aspect throughout the film. Close ups are something of a rare thing within this film. Barely ever showing shots involving someone's inner conflict mind the Grandmother and perhaps the mother of the unborn child, it seems almost every shot is filled with people, showing the unity of this family and the importance of sticking together. Everyone's story and very existence is impossible without everyone else. One story is many other's story, since everything within involves the conflict of leaving home for another. As discussed several times in class, costumes are essential to how we relate to the story. Its rare for anyone to change into another costume than the one they're assigned. Instead of thinking of this as cheap, it oddly works for the film since the various colors they wear symbolize who these people are and what they represent. Various children and main characters wear mostly white dresses, perhaps symbolizing their optimism and innocence on leaving the island. Yellow Jane wears yellow since she represents someone both white and black, something that many on the island even scorn, the very color of her dress represents who she is through out.

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