For a film-maker, viewer’s perspective is all-important. Towards this end, he uses movements, contrasts, visual patterns, narrative emphasis etc. Mis En Scene refers to arrangement of all the visual elements of a theatrical production, within the fixed area allotted-the stage. It has 4 formal elements: 1. The physical setting and decor, 2. The staging of the action, 3. The manner in which these elements are framed. 4. The manner in which they are photographed Making movies a co-operative effort they represent the triumph not of a single department, but the blending of all.
Setting: The story is set in the shark-infested waters of corporate mergers. The physical merger (romance) is the foundation of the story and increases the ‘share value’ of this movie. For Tess it is the far cry from the Staten Island Ferry to Manhattan. She was too brilliant for the low position that she occupied. Her ideas catch the imagination of her boss so much that she is willing to steal it as her own. She does it in a clandestine operation. The opening credits show the camera pans over the skyscrapers of New York City. The rousing tune about the “new Jerusalem” plays.
For the modern materialistic generation like Tess, New York is the holy place. It aspires to reach the secret ambitions and achieve something substantial. But advancement is not all that easy and simple. Many are compelled to perform tasks and pursue careers, where there is no scope of advancement. But ‘fortune favors the brave,’ they say. Tess realizes that she needs to change and her talents will definitely help her at the appropriate stage. Her boss goes on medical leave, and she acts boss, goes beyond the instructions given to her.
But her craze for success is so much; she is up to doing anything, including going to bed with her business associate. One of the crucial and interesting scenes in the film, as Tess’s boss forces Trainer to make a critical choice. Katherine recoups her original health, returns, comes to know about the business-adventures of Tess, she has no hesitation to send her to her place on the corporate food chain. The film has 7 important filming locations, viz. World Trade Center, Manhattan, New York City and New York etc. The story is creative and witty. Mike Nichols’ direction is laudable and in the highest form.
The fine supporting cast also features Cusack and the always dependable Phillip Bosco. Carly Simon’s wonderful song won an Oscar. The soundtrack, featuring Carly Simon and the St. Thomas boys’ choir, is sublime. When ‘Let the River Run’ hits as the camera pulls away from Melanie within her new office in the World Trade Center you can only realize that how beautiful is life! Sit through and enjoy the magnificent helicopter shot of the New York Skyline and Staten Island Ferry during the opening credits, with Carly Simon’s award-winning theme playing on the soundtrack.
You will feel elated and the first impact will be the everlasting impact. It is an unforgettable experience for the lifetime. 2. Lighting The use of mis-en-scene is most objectively utilized in the scenery, costumes and especially the lighting. The narrative compiles a majority of dark scenes with a careful use of low-key illumination and many shadows. These low-light settings make the viewer to express feelings toward the characters and their actions. The close-up camera shots of the character’s faces reveal the emotions they wish to portray whether they are talking or making a statement through silence.
The lights whether focused upon a single performer or spread to include the entire scene, have been consistently good. The dancing scene has been done to perfection. Tess dances with happiness and uneasiness, and the light effect makes the audience concentrate its attention on this particular pair, and catch their expression beautifully right through the scene in the bedroom. The results of the light from source to object have been perfectly executed. There is no offensive and unreal glare. The loveliest light, the modern artist will say, and say truly, is reflected light. 3. Costumes and Make-up. Tess is a sex-pot with a night school MBA.
From her baby hair, the transformation to new serious hair make-up, (to imitate her boss on sick-leave) and her access to Katherine’s wardrobe is an interesting part of the movie. She poses as a broker in her Donna Karan suits. Later it is fascinating to watch her rapid transformation to swirling ball gowns and dancing feet, which ultimately lead her to the bed. Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) is one among the masses in Manhattan. She is yet to adopt the Manhattan style of life, happy with her huge blonde hair, an old wardrobe and for easy walking, she sports tennis shoes. This was not expected of the working girl of the 1980s.
Her outfit blocks her progress. Her male colleagues make fun of her career ambitions. She has the intelligence of the genius, but success eludes her for sometime, but not for all time. When ultimately she becomes the ‘boss,’ her dress sense goes metamorphic change. Then modernization achieved as for her dress and hair is excellent. The stuffed rabbit that Tess sets on her desk when she arrives at her new job shows her child-like innocence. It was made by teddy bear artist Gae Sharp. It was purchased at the Mables in New York. Director Mike Nichols later visited the store and ordered five more rabbits to give to important cast members.
Something about the Best Supporting Actress Cusack! She excels in more than one scene. Her reaction to the expensive dress from the wardrobe of the boss, as she tells Tess, with the line: “5000 dolluhs?? It’s not even leather,” the last word emphatically pronounced “LEH-thuh” as if the price tag on the dress were a working-class faux pas. In that scene, Griffith as Tess nearly faints. 4. Staging or actor’s movement and gestures. The gestures of the boss speaking out her mind very tactfully and yet you need not be a psychologist to understand what actually transpires within the secret chambers of her brain.
Her seriousness is deceptive. There is a discerning mind at work, and the way it has been captured calls for admiration. Katharine Parker, a breezy, insensitive sexist who by now knows that her secretary is brilliant, pretends to help her. “I’d love to help you, but you can’t busy the quarterback with passing out the Gatorade,” Katharine says. “Tess, you know you don’t get anywhere in this world by waiting for what you want to come to you. You make it happen. “Katharine further asserts. And there’s more treachery, which can be called as the white-collar crime. “Bring me your ideas and we’ll see what we can make happen.
” Some side-kicks make the movie hilarious and griping. No doubt, Tess is making the best of the destiny-sent opportunity to her, whereas her boss is waiting for the broken bones to come to terms. But the fear element is always there—what if she is exposed at the most unsuspected moment! In one touching scene, she gets up to fetch the coffee when she has in fact been offered some. Tess’ gum-popping sister (jazzy Joan Cusak) is alarmed over her pretend success: “Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear. That doesn’t make me Madonna,” she warns. Tess has her own problems relating to her ‘past-life.
’ She has a boy-friend (Alec Baaldwin), not very polished, by any standards. Just care-free! The movie is photographed by Michael Ballhaus. Structurally, the film has some parallels with “The Graduate,” Nichols’ 1967 classic – including a climactic scene where an important ceremony is interrupted by the wrong person bursting in through the door. The photography is luscious. The Statue of Liberty is often shown; it is the symbol of opportunity, which a girl like Tess is able to grasp. She has proved how sex and money go hand in hand. A girl’s best friend is Capitalism.
The important aspect of the movie is the transformation of the mindset of Tess, and her realization that she is capable of achieving more with her life. She is seized of the issue that there are astounding opportunities in New York. The initial frustration and the eventual confidence have been ably handled by Melanie Griffith. She still maintains her fragile inner nature. But now she is the tough business executive. Somewhere in the corner of her mind, she visualizes the collapse of the whole edifice. In the meantime, her ex-boy friend is making desperate efforts to win her back, and earnestly looks forward to her failure.
Tess is shown to be quite uncertain about the future eclipse of her career and what telling effect it will have on her life. All these uncertain situations and movement and gestures of the concerned actors around Tess, have been ably shown and acted. The main characters of the movie are not strong, the plot as such is pedestrian, and yet the movie provides one with the worthwhile experience, because it relates to the trials and tribulations of the working women. What makes the movie click is the element of humor and the romanticism. But this is not a serious classic plot.
The great performances (Oscar award winning) and real-life dialogues, make viewing an interesting experience. The professional struggles of Tess mixed with romance, keep the story going. Element of suspense is interwoven throughout the story in one form or the other. The level of imagination in acting by the minor characters like the duplicitous boyfriend is memorable. (Portrayed with an adequate balance of arrogance and warmth, by Alec Baldwin). Conclusion: There are sterling individual performances, but what matters is the collective effort.
The small and the big characters have rendered faultless justice to their respective roles and responsibilities, by taking charge of the small and big issues nicely. As for Tess, it is the same old story. ‘God sees the Truth, but how long is the man (woman) to wait! ’ Tess is no more willing to wait to enter the portals of success. They say; having gone for a sea-bath, don’t be afraid of the oncoming waves. If the waves are powerful, duck them; if the waves are friendly, dance with them; when the waves are normal swim further, deep into the sea. .. The opening song of the movie seems to set the goal in the forthcoming life of Tess.
Tess takes off her sneakers and puts on her high-heeled shoes. She is up to begin a new life, the life of the working girl, to which sun-rise and sun-set will have special meanings. She will learn to budget her time and regulate her life. She will transform herself from an ordinary ‘yes Sir’, ‘yes Madam,’ secretary to a noticeable executive with powers. Her high pitched ambitions that were dreams now take concrete shape. Gone are the days, when she consoled her conscience that it is better to deserve without receiving, than to receive without deserving. Now the watchword of her life is –success at all times, and success at all costs!
Women have more than one enemy. Women executives and the male colleagues, each one up to their special interests! In case of Tess, her boss would not tolerate or accept her brilliance. Her theory is– the boss is always right! Working Girl 1988 is a cheap romantic comedy, and yet it is not! The inner core of every individual desires and loves perfection, wishes to reach the portals of spirituality by transcending the mind barriers, live for the ideals which one cherishes, but Satan is up to his ways to perturb the one treading the right path. He doesn’t like the honest brilliance of Tess. He makes her compromise with her character.