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Shoe-Horn Sonata by John Misto

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    “People only see what they are prepared to see” is a famous quote by Ralph Waldo. This quote emphasises the fact that the purpose of a text can often be unnoticed and misinterpreted by the viewer. Many people only have a limited world experience, and it’s the Distinctly Visual feature of a text which allows the viewer to gain a better understanding.

    Distinctly Visual texts use a combination of techniques to create and shape an audience’s point of view or interpretation, and visualising a text requires the responder to interpret all of the images presented. The text Shoe-Horn Sonata by John Misto first appears as a play about two friends restoring their relationship after 50 years apart, however, realistically it also implies that war is a futile and horrendous experience. It is the combination of techniques in the Shoe-Horn Sonata that allows the viewer to see the different aspects of the text.

    John Misto uses traditional dramatic techniques such as dialogue, lighting and a minimalistic setting to create a complete image to the audience and shape meaning, and juxtaposes these with a multimedia screen and sound effects which is important for the responder to make a summation on the visual representation. The supplementary text ‘One’ by Metallica can also be interpreted in a number of ways. ‘One’ also highlights the futility and horror of war by using disturbing dialogue and shocking imagery to do with man’s humanity. Viewers can see the similarities in these texts through their themes and the way they are represented.

    Metallica integrate a live band format in their video as well as excerpts from ‘Johnny Got His Gun” to draw attention to the dehumanising aspects of war and to create a better interpretation of life throughout War. Both composers, John Misto and Metallica provide the opportunity for a number of opinions and multiple reading of a text. Although “people only see what they are prepared to see”, both John Misto and Metallica have made certain that one common theme is recognised and is clear in the viewers mind. The Shoe-Horn Sonata is a distinctly visual text.

    The staging of the Shoe-Horn Sonata physically seems to be quite straightforward. It requires only two sets: a simple television studio, indicated by an “On Air” sign and a microphone, and a hotel room, with a bed and mini bar. Minimal props are needed, including a suitcase, the Shoe-Horn, some photographs and embroidery. There are two actors at most on stage at any one time, and the backdrop is a multimedia screen which shows images that are integral to the production. These images, combined with particular music tend to close the intermittent scenes in the play.

    The images shown are a key element in the play which Misto makes clear with a mixture of music, image, light and sound to help convey meaning with the dialogue. The visual images show exactly what the women are talking about and help shape the viewers perceptions. The sounds that Misto suggests are also significant, as well as the music. These both link to the action and recollection of the two protagonists and the songs outline the theme being conveyed in each scene and touch an aspect of the dialogue. Using these techniques, Misto is able to shape what the viewer can see.

    The modern aspects of dramatic techniques that Misto uses, such as the multimedia screen, displays images of the men prisoners in a war camp, emaciated and hungry. The audience is inundated with these images throughout the play to show the hardship and terrible conditions of the prisoner of war camps. Misto was adamant that he needed everyone to be aware of what these people had endured; therefore the use of the multimedia screen shows the viewer such disturbing images to force them to think about war and whether it’s a pointless loss of life for both sides involved in the conflict.

    Throughout the play, Misto uses the lighting in diverse ways. For example, in the TV studio setting, the lighting is used to generate an environment in which an interview would take place; a sterile environment, but in the hotel room setting, the lighting is clear and expresses an optimistic and welcoming atmosphere. Misto’s use of lighting enables the viewer to sense different things depending on the brightness and direction of the light. In the TV Studio setting, the themes acknowledged are the cruel treatment of POW’s in the camps and the futility of war, whereas in the hotel setting the themes are those of camaraderie, trust and remorse.

    By making this contrast, Misto ensures the viewer can see both sides of the situation. The first scene opens in darkness, when out of the silence comes the voice of one of the protagonists, Bridie. The spotlight falls upon Bridie as she reminisces on the past, reciting a self-conscious memory of how the Japanese used to torture them by making them kowtow for hours. She demonstrates the kowtow which takes the audience straight into the action.

    Misto uses this specific lighting to attract the audience’s attention and attract them to Bridie standing alone in the spotlight to give an insight of what the text is going to focus on as she talks about her life during the war. John Misto positions the audience so they recognise that this play is going to express the brutality of war and the effects it has on the protagonist’s lives. The viewer can see the “On-Air” sign in the background and realise that Bridie is being interviewed. As the interviewer, Rick poses questions, and music and images from the war period flash on the screen behind Bridie.

    The audience realises they are watching the filming of a television documentary as Bridie is being asked to recall the events of fifty years earlier. Misto’s use of lighting here is again directed at the viewer, and in this case gives the scene a dark and gloomy atmosphere. Bridie left Chatswood as a young girl to follow in her father’s footsteps and to seek some sort of adventure. It is in this scene where there is a mention of the shoehorn, which is a recurring image throughout the text. In the initial screening of Bridie, she appears to be a determined and powerful woman that is recalling on agonising memories.

    This scene establishes who Bridie is, and introduces the audience to the situation; recalling and in a sense re-living the memories of the years of imprisonment. This and the following scene carry out the function of exposition. The extreme danger the prisoners faced is indicated by Bridie through her explanation, such as over-crowded ships sailing towards an enemy fleet and the fear of rape for the women. As a result, John Misto set up some of the issues that were confronted at some point in the play between the Australian protagonist Bridie and the former English schoolgirl Sheila.

    Sheila appears in Scene Two, and the main conflict of the play begins to simmer. The minimalistic setting used by Misto also allows the viewer to more easily follow the transition of the relationship between Bride and Sheila, and each setting identifies a different set of themes. The supplementary text, “One” by Metallica is also a distinctly visual text. It is a song based on Dalton Trumbo’s 1939 novel ‘Johnny Got His Gun. ’ It tells the tale of a soldier who is severely damaged during World War One. He is trapped inside is own body with no senses or body parts, although is brain functions normally.

    It is the combination of techniques in the film clip and lyrics which create an overall impression to the viewer. Like the Shoe-Horn Sonata, “One” comments on the futility of war and the horrifying experiences war brings. The main theme is conveyed through the use of images and dialogue from Johnny Got His Gun, combined with the feel of music and lyrics. The disturbing dialogue and shocking imagery from the Johnny Got His Gun film clip are what make the film effect. The colours and sepia tones of the clip also project the darkness that war produces.

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    Shoe-Horn Sonata by John Misto. (2018, Aug 04). Retrieved from

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