Scene Analysis – The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford The Assassination of Jesse James breached new heights in the western genre. It is unique in its narrative style and conventions, challenging the norms of the classic western, leading way to a whole new perception of it. Its excessively dramatic overtones reveal a part of the Western world that is so scarcely portrayed, diverting people’s general ideas about it. The film’s narrative focuses on a dying hero as opposed to a reigning hero, and we begin to develop a sense of reality about Jesse James’s character as the film moves on. The beginning stages of the film portrays the legendary, almost inhuman Jesse James figure, and as the film progresses, so does his character, towards the norm of society. The film’s magnificent approach to the western genre had caught my attention and that is why I have chosen analyze a scene from it. I will analyze the train scene near the beginning of the film, where Jesse James and the rest of his bandits await a train’s arrival before robbing it. This scene captures Jesse James’s mythical figure through the use of specific conventions. The mis-en-scene is a prominent factor in this scene. There is no dialogue, and therefore what we see is important to our understanding and connection with it. The setting is significant with regards to the whole scene. It is set at night in a dingy forest, which enhances the melodramatic feel of it, allowing specific conventions to be used effectively. The dark captures Jesse and his gang’s mythical qualities. They roam the night and are blind to the people around them during the day. As it is a night scene, lighting plays a significant role. As Jesse James awaits the train on the train track, the camera focuses its attention predominantly on his face. The lantern he is holding lights up right side of his face from underneath which contrasts significantly to the deeply shadowed left side of his face. This contrast captures his intense character, as it brings about dramatic overtones. As the train approaches around the corner a combination of the trains light and smoke fulfils the air and its presence also brings about a dramatic feel to the scene. The shadows in the forest hide the bandits like ghosts, which is effective in that the beginning stages of the film are dealt with Jesse and his Gang’s surreal presence. Finally the silhouette of Jesse’s figure by the train’s light also stands as a significant component in both making the scene spectacular and enhancing his surreal existence. The costume of Jesse James augments his character. His long black coat, black hat and cloth portray him as a ghostlike figure. It makes him seem powerful and reveals a sense that he owns the night. The cloths over the heads of the gang members, literally speaking, resemble ghostly figures. The character of Jesse James is extremely potent. His calm stance as he awaits the train’s approach reveals his control of the situation, making him exceed the norm of human existence. His expressions are flat, and his intentions and doings seem to follow one path that will only give him what he has set out to do. The rest of his gang members are his followers. They wait in the dark around him, waiting to perform the instructions they have been given by Jesse. They are like daemons awaiting orders from a higher force. The cinematography reveals the power of certain things within the scene. Jesse James’s stature is uplifted when the camera zooms up on his face as well as when there is a low angle shot of his silhouette in the train’s light. The rest of the gang members are shot at eye level, which reveals that they are of less importance, except for Frank James shot from a low angle, who is also an authoritative character in the film. The low shot angle of the train stresses its force and power. The train’s power is also resembled when the camera moves with it facing it dead on, as it is being pushed by it. The editing in the scene relates to the whole dramatic feel it incorporates. The most significant aspect apparent is the length of the shots. They lag and focus on specific subjects within the films environment. This captures detail, which is important when Jesse James’s facial expressions are detained. As mentioned before, there is no dialogue, and the combination between this convention and the lengthy shots certainly contributes to the scene’s dramatic overtones. Despite there being no dialogue, the sound in the scene is extremely important in its melodramatic effect. The scene’s initial silence, apart from the odd cricket or rattling stone from the vibration of the track, is suddenly broken by the sound of the train. This brings suspense, but the suspense is suddenly broken by music which cuts out the train’s sounds. The dramatic music suddenly brings about the dramatic overtones of the scene, and when the sound of the train comes back (loudly) it combines with the music which still persists. This combination between the music and sound of the train is extremely effective to the scene as a whole. It correlates with what is visually observant in the scene. The scene’s artistic qualities are certainly effective in portraying the train scene. Its peculiar conventions seem to persist right through the film, creating a flow of scenes that differs from the classic western of a hero completing his task. The film reverses Jesse James’s heroic stature, which is clearly evident when comparing his mythical character at the beginning of the film and his plain simple character towards the end of. The train scene portrays the best example of him as a legend and that is why I decided to analyze it.
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