Our May theme of the month, Defiance, continues with this Pause It for our film of the month, The Devil and Miss Jones (1941).
PAUSE IT: What do you see? In The Devil and Miss Jones (1941), stars Jean Arthur and Charles Coburn relax at the beach amidst a throng of bustling bodies. Our eyes are drawn to them as they peer out from the center of the mass of people to a point beyond the frame. What is interesting to notice here is the way director Sam Wood and cinematographer Harry Stradling Sr. use offscreen space, implied eyelines, and the photographic technique of open composition to arrange the characters and extras. An open composition, as opposed to a closed composition, features subjects and/or objects that exist both inside and outside of the frame. Subjects in open compositions have the tendency of breathing a sense of reality into their pictorial depiction, as the characters and objects seem to spill off the two-dimensional space of the story world and into the space of our real world. In this sense, we feel a vitality and an excitement in open compositions because the distance between what we are viewing and ourselves has been diminished — we are included. Anything can happen because we, ourselves, can never be sure what exists outside of the partial view we are privy to at any given moment. If done well, as it is here, an open composition sucks the viewer into the narrative by compelling them to wonder if there is more to the picture than meets the eye.
The Devil and Miss Jones (1941)
Director: Sam Wood
Cast: Jean Arthur, Robert Cummings, and Charles Coburn
Cinematography by: Harry Stradling Sr.
Available From Olive Films on DVD and Blu-ray.
May 10, 2017