Creative Use of Setting in “The Sting”
I recently rewatched The Sting with Robert Redford and Paul Newman. Enjoyable for a lot of reasons! But one thing that impressed me was how well the movie used settings.
You may or may not remember that early in the movie Redford had to flee to Chicago, where he was looking for Newman, whom he’d never met. So, try to think of how you’d stage that. I’d probably have Redford knocking on a door in some seedy neighborhood or something. The movie did it so much better.
It turns out that Newman is the handyman in a building that houses a brothel and bar. So far, so good. But what pushes the setting to the next level is that Redford first enters the building through a big room where there’s a merry-go-round. How unexpected is that? Later we see the prostitutes riding the carousel in a sort of dream like sequence.
Later in the movie, they’re setting up the sting. The man they want to take is coming from New York to Chicago for a meeting. Once again, how would you stage that? Turns out the movie didn’t wait for the mark to get to Chicago. Instead, Newman wriggles his way into a card game on the train while the mark is en route. Again, that gives us some novel things to look at as the sting moves forward.
Creating setting isn’t just a matter of describing what a place is like via the senses. It can also be a matter of choosing an interesting place to begin with.