Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Behold! The Power of Music

Things move quickly on the internet, and the reactions to the President's speech last night and Bobby Jindal's response are already so ubiquitous as to be overwhelming. On perusing the morning opinion re-ax, I was particularly struck by the following commentary, which I bring up in the context of this blog because its editorializing was accomplished solely through judicious editing and the addition of music.

In essence, this is an example of a commutation test with a single iteration. As with most commutation tests, it is crude but nevertheless effective in showing us how music shapes our understanding of what it is that we see. In this case, it also demonstrates how music shapes what we hear: the music asks us to draw comparisons between Jindal's voice and Fred Rogers', and we begin to attend consciously to just those aspects of Jindal's vocal performance—especially his deliberate pacing, sing-songy cadence and relatively simple syntax—that would make it suitable to Mr. Rogers' neighborhood.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Why the Jargon?

Students often wonder why we use such terms as "diegetic" and "nondiegetic" when filmmakers themselves rarely use that sort of vocabulary to talk about their work. David Bordwell offers a nice response to this complaint:
No doubt, we should be attentive to the ways in which filmmakers think and talk about their work. There’s a lot to be learned from shop talk and insider information–hence the enduring value of interviews, DVD commentaries, and the like. Yet no activity explains itself. Often practitioners do things intuitively, without making their background ideas explicit. We can often illuminate a filmmaker’s creative choices by spelling out the unspoken premises behind the work.

So the point of using (academic) terminology is (or ought to be) to illuminate something that cannot be—or is at least not easily—articulated in the vocabulary used by the industry. A productive answer to a student's complain about "diegetic," then, would want to explain how thinking about music's "source" can get in the way of, or obscure thinking about, its relationship to narrative.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Crowd Control

I've always liked this particular stereopticon slide, which was used in movie theaters around 1910. It is from an ad in Moving Picture World.

Clearly, the slide projects a particular view of appropriate audience behavior. Yet the prohibition it commands also bears witness to the existence of the very activity it would proscribe.

I can almost hear the whistling and the stamping...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

5.1 Fetish

In the text, we note that The Godfather (1972) provides only a 5.1 sound track mix despite the fact that the film was originally released in mono. Here is a screen grab of the audio menu:

I have no objection per se to remixing and cleaning up sound tracks for release on DVDs, just as I have no objection per se to pan-and-scan versions or to colorization, for that matter—so long as the altered version does not make the "original" version inaccessible. Those original sound track mixes are often of great historical interest and, among other things, we lose a lot of lose information about how film makers thought about sound when a sound track is remixed according to today's standards.

I much prefer it when DVDs provide an option for the "original" theatrical sound track, as for instance, this one for Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).

Yet even when given the appearance of a choice we must be careful. Here is a shot of the menu of the sixth installment of the series Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991).

The claim that the "stereo" mix represents the theatrical release is misleading inasmuch as the original theatrical release was in Dolby Stereo (actually Dolby SR), which in fact carried four channel (left, center, right, surround) stereo. Here, the 5.1 mix might in fact come closer to the theatrical SR mix than does the two-channel stereo. Yet this stereo mix is no doubt of historical interest itself since it most likely reproduces the two-channel stereo of the original VHS release.