Pleasantville setting essay
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The film Pleasantville written, directed and produced by Gary Ross shows a time period in American History where life was more comfortable, stable and ‘perfect’ if you would generalise it. However, as the film ironically shows, this was a time when people were more ignorant, racist and most certainly sexist. Ross demolishes this illusion of the great 1950s American society by showing how its defects are gradually changed from black and white to colour. Ross uses various settings to help show the viewer the imperfect aspects of Pleasantville’s demeanour and the idea of ‘The importance of change’. Ross users signifiers like costumes and music to signal to the viewer what time period or place the film is taking place in and he also uses contrast in setting. These all help portray the idea throughout the film.
Costumes are important signifier of setting.Everything in the setting of “Pleasantville” was clearly understood; everything was either black or white no shades of grey, no doubts. Our first introduction into Pleasantville the mise en scene shows us that Gary Ross has dressed the residents of Pleasantville in old fashioned 1950’s clothing. Big poodle skirts, tight sweaters, rigid bras all emphasised the figure of the ladies in pleasantville.They all sported similar hairstyles like the typical hair in a ponytail or flipped bobs and for the boys, short brylcreamed hair,or crew cuts. As for clothing they wore letterman sweaters;plaid shirts or sleeveless sweaters.
The introduction of colour within the film is an obvious technique used to signify the idea of ‘The importance of change’ within the town of ‘‘Pleasantville’’. The introduction of colour signifies that the ‘normality’ or the ‘pleasantness’( as the mayor quotes ) in ‘‘Pleasantville’’ has been broken. As more people in Pleasantville starts to change colour we notice that their costumes has changed as well. The girls clothes in particular change from big poodle skirts into slimmer and more elegant pieces and how the tight sweaters seem tighter when they are in colour. Betty is a clear example of costume change. In the beginning Betty wore the typical ladies dress wear,big poodle skirt etc but as betty starts gaining more knowledge and independence she starts dressing more elegantly and feminine .This shows the viewer that as the people of pleasantville gains more knowledge they start to demonstrate the idea of ‘The importance of change’ which is one of the ideas that gary ross shows us through setting.
Music is an important signifier of setting and shows the idea of ‘The importance of change’ clearly throughout the film. When Jen and David first enter Pleasantville the recurring songs and motifs for example ‘Take 5’ by Dave Brubeck which is played at the beginning in the soda shop gives the town of pleasantville a very joyful and ‘pleasant’ atmosphere. This music perfectly matches the naivety of the teenagers as they engage in good,clean fun with their peers. As the idea of ‘The importance of change’ starts to appear in pleasantville,the music becomes more complex and darker to portray the new rebellious mood that has seized Pleasantville.
An example of this is when the new code of conduct was issued and one of the rules were ‘In no event shall any music be tolerated that is not of temperate or ‘pleasant’ nature’.In a scene when the ‘coloureds’ were all gathered at the back of the soda shop,David,usually a shy, insecure character turns the jukebox on blaring with prohibited music. A close up shot of Davids smirked face shows that he’s a changed character. The diegetic sound of the jukebox shows the rebellion of the teenagers but also the change in characters like David.The change in characters in Pleasantville helped them gain more confidence in themselves and helped them develop their own opinion. At the end of the movie the music became for understated and accepting.
This is shown when at the end a montage of the new pleasantville lives are played. It is accompanied by a beatles song ‘across the universe’ whose lyrics ‘pools of sorrow, waves of joy’ perfectly convey the new range of emotions felt in pleasantville. Music helped me to understand the theme of ‘The importance of change because it clearly shows the distinct change between music from joyful,pleasant music into rebellious, complex music and finally into understated, accepting tunes. These three music genres show how pleasantville has changed through the signifier music and how important it is to accept change which is one of the ideas Gary Ross brings across.
Contrast in setting is shown through various settings throughout the film and also shows the idea of ‘The importance of change’. The important centres of the life of the young people are the soda shop and lovers lane. Changes are shown in each setting as the lives of those in pleasantville change. Bland 50’s music played in the soda shop at the beginning of pleasantville but slowly progressed into the rock and roll and jazz genre sung by dave brubeck and Miles Davis.Brighter light turned significantly to darker hues to show a more edgier and dangerous atmosphere and also the much loved cherry coke was replaced by coffee as the cherry bastian of innocence turns into a coffee house.
Gary Ross’s purpose of this obvious changes is ‘I was aiming to show a cultural progression and transformation…from Utopian ignorance to knowledge in a large sense and all its consequences.’ These changes contrasted well with the sanctuaries of the adults in Pleasantville. The centre of all male life is focused on the barbershop and the bowling alley. Both settings showed us that the bowling alley and barbershop was a adults only zone. No females in sight which showed the degrading 50’s sexist mindset.An also gives us the overveiw that pleasantville is an old fashioned gender divided society.
In both scenes that we see the two settings,Big Bob the mayor of Pleasantville is deliberately shown at a low camera angle . This is angle makes the mayor seem dominant and in control. The two settings also show in the mise en scene that the adult men are all dressed in suit and tie which signals to the viewer that the adult life is very formal and limiting. Gary ross shows us these two settings to demonstrate the idea of ‘the importance of change’ that the adults of pleasantville could not accept.
Pleasantville a film directed by Gary Ross conveyed the idea of ‘The importance of change’ through setting really well. Gary showed us the changes through signifiers like costumes and music and also the contrast in setting between the teenagers and the adults and the change ‘from the sleepy idyllic 50’s to the burgeoning consciousness of the 60’s.