Friday, November 13, 2015

Words and Music in Sleepless in Seattle

In her note for the soundtrack CD, Nora Ephron, the director of Sleepless in Seattle, writes that "We had made a movie in which the words were as important as the pictures, and we wanted songs in which the words were as important as the music."

Song quotations can be used in a variety of ways, in both diegetic and nondiegetic contexts: as style topics, as references to time or place, to establish mood or pace—in other words, in all the same ways as original instrumental underscore. Beyond that, quotations involving a song's title or lyrics can make obvious references that are the verbal analogue to mickey-mousing—such as "In the Wee Small Hours of the Night" when Annie goes downstairs, unable to sleep beside a snoring Walter. Instrumental quotations, however, depend on a fund of cultural knowledge in viewers.

In this film, Ephron and her music director make sure that we always "get the connection": as she puts it using as an example "Bye Bye Blackbird," which eventually acquires considerable importance in the underscore as well: "'No one here can love or understand me' [Joe] Cocker sings, as Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan sit alone in the moonlight 3000 miles apart from one another; and as we cut back and forth between them, the music becomes the link, almost as if the song is going through both their minds."

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Cue list for Sleepless in Seattle

Sleepless in Seattle has been a staple in my film classes from the time of its VHS release in 1993. One scene in particular—the one we call "Second Botched Meeting" in HtM, chapter 1—has remained valuable as an introduction to detailed soundtrack construction in service of narrative. However, I never did not get around to making a cue sheet for the entire film. That omission has now been filled. A PDF file is available here: Sleepless in Seattle cue list.

As typically happens, I found the musical component of the film more complex than I remembered it from viewing. Nora Ephron's early films are well-known for their song quotations, of course, but Sleepless in Seattle also contains four original songs by Marc Shaiman, only one of which is in the credits list: "A Wink and a Smile." The other three are instrumental underscore cues that are written in traditional song form, and developed in later cues. I did not have access to a studio cue sheet and so I gave those three my own labels: "Sam & Jonah," "Magic," and "Anticipation." "Anticipation" is the music in the first part of the "Second Botched Meeting" scene and "Magic" is the slower music for the second part.

Thanks to University of Chicago professor Berthold Hoeckner for noticing and asking about the first appearance of "Magic," early in the film as Annie (Meg Ryan's character) tries on her mother's wedding dress. That alone wouldn't have been enough; but "Magic" is developed at length in scenes starting with Annie's computer search (about 50:00), so that it clearly is an associative theme (leitmotif) by the time of the "Second Botched Meeting."

I learned two things from this: (1) the fact that "Magic" is developed as a tango supports re-hearing the original version as a slow, nostalgic waltz; (2) "Magic" does indeed work as we describe it—empathically mirroring Annie's deflation in mood—but it adds to the moment the idea of the magic of first meeting.