Saturday, March 19, 2016

Lady Windermere's Fan

Lady Windermere's Fan (1925), with the historically informed performance of Martin Marks in the Treasures series, provides the main case study in Chapter 4 of Hearing the Movies (second edition), 127-35.

The esteemed film scholar David Bordwell analyzes one of the scenes we discuss in detail: see his blog post (after the introductory paragraphs). The race-track scene (HtM, 132-33) is the third of four scenes in the film's first act. After some preliminaries, Mrs. Erlynne appears (at about 17:25) and is immediately the center of attention. The film's director, Ernst Lubitsch, uses an extended series of point-of-view shots in what Bordwell calls "a sequence built entirely around crisscrossed character looks."

To mimic musically the visual narration that puts all the attention on Mrs. Erlynne, Marks brings in a title-allusion: a quote from the overture to Victor Herbert's operetta, The Only Girl. As we note in Table 4-6 (HtM, 133), he plays the march that closes the movement.

Marks follows up with one of the film's important associative themes, Madeleine, which had been introduced in the previous scene. (See the melody in HtM, Figure 4-21). Madeleine is tied to Mrs. Erlynne, and specifically to her somewhat precarious position in society.

Shortly before 19:00, Marks switches to one of several gavottes he employs for "wit" or elegant comedy. The gavotte is an old-fashioned dance that gently mocks the upperclass characters throughout the first act. Bordwell shows details of the POV shots and angles for this sequence, during which three older women spy on Mrs. Erlynne and one of them observes a gray hair—at which moment, Marks of course changes to a piece called Le Secret (music in HtM, Figure 4-23).