Return to Tracing Thoughts

Film Proposal: Theater into Film, a method for interpreting  landscape representation and translation 


The proposed film series draws upon films which bring elements of theater, in  particular the use of the stage, set and visual production into film. The topic  relies upon films depicting the integration of theater and film as a way to  explore and analyze landscape, how landscapes are represented and translated,  and insight which can be drawn from this comparison. The films chosen embed  the visual production of theater into film, taking an interest in the actual  semblance and construction of the integration, the metaphors this creates and  how this rendering may contribute to themes both in the world of film and of  landscape. An analysis of theater in film may offer an unusual or unique  perspective from which to view and consider landscape, representation, and its  translation. 


Note on the use of theater in film and Short List 

Though there are many instances of plays recorded as films, (The Royal Opera  House live Cinema features for example), these productions were intentionally  avoided. In choosing films I found that the line between what constituted  theater into film was not always clear. For example, films like Chicago (2002),  or Shakespeare in Love (1998), include many scenes which portray a physical  theater, however do not draw heavily upon theatrical elements in the way the  film is constructed or shot. The way theater was framed in these films seemed  to posit it as an actor or subject matter, as opposed to a method or technique  intended for creativity in creation and visual production. The films in this  series intentionally treat theater as a method and a process contributing to the  production of the film, one which frames and visualizes landscape. 


Films considered (some)

Cinema Paradiso, Orochi, Playtime, M, Chicago,  MacBeth, Silence, Shakespeare in Love, The wild, wide world of Hanna,  Cleopatra, Amelie, The Matrix, Black Swan 


Chosen Films

The Land of Opportunities Trilogy: Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005),  3rd film not yet made 

Anna Karenina (2012) 

Gangs of New York (2002) 

Synecdoche, New York (2008) 

The Truman Show (1998) 


Pertinence of each film  

The Land of Opportunities: Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005)/ Directed  by Lars Von Trier 

Directed by Danish maker Lars Von Trier, Dogville and Manderlay consider  societal injustice in American society. The avant-garde experimental films  provide an opportunity to analyze how the use of theater and stage set  communicate and translate landscape elements. The sparse film set and bare  bones nature of the film provides an opportunity to focus on the use of a stage  craft as a method to analyze landscape representation (as opposed to Anna  Karenina which includes a variety of sets, shots and a great deal of post  production). The sparse film sets offer an opportunity to analyze choice in  landscape representation, and how an entire landscape is represented with few  elements. The inclusion of an experimental film encourages a consideration of  symbolism and meaning and how these ideas are embedded in landscape is  representation. 



Anna Karenina (2012)/ Directed by Joe Wright 

Anna Karenina envisions landscapes of 20th century Russia as it narrates a  scandal between the wife of an imperial Russian minister and cavalry officer.  The film’s use of experimental staging, visibly shifting sets, and juxtaposition of  shots within the theater and outside it made this film the touchstone for this  film proposal. A fundamental aspect of the film’s creation and translation was 

its use of a traditional Russian theater as a stage. This creates an opportunity to  discuss how landscape is represented in film as it exists within the confines of a  theater. In more ways than one, the use of the theater in the film acts as a  metaphor. How the landscape is represented can be analyzed with this in mind.  There is a message and a purpose behind which scenes are shot in the theater,  and which scenes are shot out of doors. The stark juxtaposition creates an  opportunity to analyze how the tradition of theater and landscape  representation in theater portray messages and meaning within the film. In  addition, the film brings together the traditional visual elements of theater and  the visual spectacle of post production, which can also provide a platform to  discuss the effect of this contrast and how this technique is utilized to represent  landscape. 


Gangs of New York (2002)/ Directed by Dante Ferretti 

Gangs of New York is included largely to analyze the impact of physical process  and production of set design and by extension landscape. The film, set in 1860s  America, centers around the life of a young Irish immigrant after his release  from prison. Though the film is not set within the confines of a theater, or  intended to represent theater, the method in which it is constructed provides  insight into the ideas considered in the proposal. There are many films which  could have been used to analyze this, however this film was chosen due to the  scale, ambition, originality and expertise of Dante Ferretti’s set design. The set,  built from the ground up in a field in Italy, is a recreation of the one square  mile Five Points neighborhood in Manhattan. The set provides an opportunity  to analyze construction and the parallels between representation and  construction in film and in landscape. In addition to how the landscape of this  film is constructed and translated, the film can also be used to analyze craft,  scale, and artistry in representation. 


Synecdoche, New York/ Directed by Charlie Kaufman 

Synecdoche definition: a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent  the whole or vice versa. 

This dark and complex film narrates the disconsolate life of Caden Cortad  (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), and provides an opportunity to analyze the meta referential both in film and in landscape. The film also provides a platform to  consider the use of mise en abyme and the framing of a story within a story,  similar to the proposal’s interest in framing theater within film, or a landscape  within a set. There are many compelling themes creatively embedded in the  film, such as the passage of time, foreshadowing and symbolism. Part of this is  the use of the play and the idea of being stuck inside your own perspective. This  frames a conversation in which landscape, perspective and representation can  be considered. Landscape as synecdoche is analogous to landscape  representation and the consideration of a part that is made to represent a  whole, and vice versa. Considering the reverse may inform how literal  landscapes reflect and shape our representations. What elements do we choose  to represent, how are certain techniques used to fill the inevitable void that is  created in an effort to represent a whole? The film frames a discussion of the 

transition of landscape back and forth between representation, reality, and  production. A discussion of techniques in this film can then be applied to an  analysis of the meta-referential in each of the films in the series, and how the  representations and visual productions of theater, film and landscape reflect  one another. 


The Truman Show (1998)/ Directed by Peter Weir 

The Truman Show, directed by Peter Weir, relies upon the set as it stages the  premise of the film’s plot line. The leading character Truman Burbank, acted by  Jim Carrey, has been filmed his entire life, and is the unknowing star of a  reality TV show called the Truman Show. Truman lives in what he believes is  the town of Seahaven Island but discovers at the end of the film is really a huge  Hollywood set which simulates weather as well as day and night. In reality, the  film was shot in master planned community Seaside, Florida. The town is a  famous example of New Urbanism in the United States, which may explain why  Weir chose to set the film here. New Urbanism a 1980s planning movement,  reacted to both the societal and environmental consequences associated with  urban sprawl post WWII. Seaside is the classic example and pinnacle of New 

urbanism both in the way that it is built around Transit Oriented Design and  Traditional Neighborhood Design. The idealism embodied in Seaside reveals  the idealism which not only makes it an appropriate setting for the film, but  

also explains why these societies are not more prevalent. This set, which is in a  way more of a reality as the film set for the Truman Show, than it is a living  neighborhood in the United States, was only able to take on these ideals  because it is on unincorporated land, is privately owned by developers, and was  therefore able to write and enforce a strict zoning code. There is a requirement  that every house has a white picket fence, for instance. The set plays an integral  role in the climax of the film, the final piece of concrete evidence which proves  to Truman he’s existed inside a set for his entire life. 


Film Order 

The order of the films, though they are not presented in  

chronologically, is intentional in the way it introduces the topic of theater and  film together. Lars Von Trier's films (seen together), are chosen as the first film  due both to the transparency as a theater set, the creativity and depth invoked  in the process of shooting a film on what looks and acts very much like a set  which would be used for a theatrical production. 

Gangs of New York follows Von Trier’s films, extending and deepening  the focus on set design. This film is also early on in the series as the physical  construction of sets is a topic of discussion which is evident in the way it relates  to landscape, and offers a wide variety of discussion points. The film is included  with the intention that analysis focuses on landscape representation,  construction, translation and the processes involved in visual production. 

Anna Karenina follows Gangs of New York, moving towards an  analysis which is both physical and metaphorical. The film offers many themes  and ideas which can be explored and relates to the integration of theater, film  and landscape representation. Though the film falls into the historical romance  genre, themes and motifs embedded remain complex, and relevant to the 

intersection of theater and film. The metaphors provide intellectual discussion  topics which invoke landscape intrigue. 

At this point in the series the intended analysis and points of  discussion evolve in complexity, becoming more metaphorical transitioning to  the next film, Synecdoche, New York, one which is complicated, nuanced, and  more interpretive in the ways it relates to the proposed topic. The interpretive  elements in this film demand a familiarity with topics, ideas and techniques  which will have been analyzed in previous films. The culmination of ideas and  analysis is intended to shape conversations and discussions which have a  higher degree of complexity and nuance. An in depth understanding and  analysis or discussion of the meta analysis of film, abstractions within  abstractions, translations which can be analyzed forwards and backwards,  requires a comfort level, vocabulary and understanding which will have been  built by the previous films. Discussing landscape representation in relation to  this film may be as interpretive as the film itself. 

The final film in the series is The Truman show. The film fosters a discussion  on topics related to urban planning, New Urbanism and how this American  planning movement gave rise to the film’s stage. The series intentionally ends  on a film which is optimistic, (i.e. not ending with the very dark Synecdoche,  New York), intriguing and authentic. 


Questions: All films 

How is landscape represented in each of these films through the use of  theatrical set design? How can one analyze the representation and translation  of traditional theater techniques in film? 

In choosing films for the series, it was not always a clear line between theater  and film. What constitutes or defines theater into film? This question is open to  interpretation and may take into consideration the use of post production as  opposed to the reliance of physical sets. 

The analysis of the way landscape is portrayed and represented, also offers  commentary on the ideology and values of the time period. The representation  and translation of landscape can also be used as a frame to discuss and analyze  various aspects of influences of history, societal norms and expectations, and  the way that film portrays and provides commentary on the context in which it 

is grounded. How does the use of set, set design, materiality, construction and  craft, render or convey these histories? 

Can you tell which are literally shot in a theater, soundstage or traditional film  set? How do the films utilize film sets, post production etc.? 

How does set design capture landscape representation and translation? What  techniques does the director (or set designer) employ to characterize the  landscape? What are some of the limitations or capabilities of using this  technique? Similarly, how does the film set depict the physical place it is meant  to represent, how does the physical construction and representation of  landscape change? How is this different from filming in a physical place? 

What effect does set as landscape have on a consciousness of reality when  watching the film? 

How is the literal landscape interpreted and how do actors interact with the  constructed landscape to convey a message? How might they interact with  landscape in film and theater separately? What impact does the integration of  the two have on the theme? What does this say about landscape translation? 

Consider how the integration of theater and film is created by and constricts or  enables the use of the camera. How are angles and shots utilized? What impact  or what feeling does this create? How is landscape framed differently? 

The film series intentionally selects films which compliment each other in  terms of place and time period. How do these films represent place and the  experience of place, the making of place and the material aspects of place? 


Questions: Individual Films

Dogville and Manderlay 

There are scenes in the film, the dust storm for example, where camera angles  and the use of skewed perspective is used to create the landscape. Layers and  camera moves play an important part in creating many of the scenes in the  film. How does camera movement impact the representation of landscape in  these films?

Gangs of New York 

Ferretti’s process is similar to practice in landscape, research, sketch technical  drawings and models. The set in Gangs of New York is huge, and creates a  physical place. How are the processes of creating a place for the purposes of  film as opposed to the purpose of reality similar, how are they different?  Possible considerations include the recreation of place, scale, location etc. 

Anna Karenina 

How does shooting both inside and outside impact the overall meaning of the  film? 

What are some themes that can be explored through the use of the old Russian  theater as a stage for the film? 

In more ways than one, the use of the theater in the film acts as a metaphor.  How can landscape fit into this metaphor? 

Synecdoche, New York 

In the same way theater is a reflection of the Caden’s life, landscape  representation is a reflection of landscape. How can a comparison between  these reflections inform an understanding of landscape? 

How applicable are the meta-referential elements in this film to landscape and  landscape representation? 

How might an analysis of the meta-referential shape a perception of landscape,  or even places we may not consider landscape in a traditional sense? If we were  to represent an “untraditional landscape” before we even considered it a  landscape, would it be easier to recognize? What does this say about landscape  representation and translation? 

The Truman Show 

How does the setting in Seaside Florida, a town which is the pinnacle of the  New Urbanism movement, shape the film? 


my . artist run website