Friday, July 17, 2009

Subdivisions of the Dramatic Picture

This week, Sinn continues his breakdown of the different film genres. In the previous column, he had given suggestions for the scenic. Here, he provides brief suggestions for "dramatic" pictures, which basically encompasses all fictional narrative film. He breaks the genre of film drama into ten sub-genres, each of which requires a slightly different approach and selection of music.
When Artemus Ward, the American humorist, toured the country with his panorama, more than fifty years ago, he hired local musicians occasionally to furnish music for his pictures. He told of one genius who played “Take Your Foot Out o’ the Sand” for the illustration of the children of Israel crossing the Red Sea, and “A Life on the Ocean Wave” for Pharaoh’s pursuing army engulfed by the waters. So the problem of appropriate picture music is not altogether a new one; the difference between then and now is in degree rather more than substance. It is not many years since stereopticon views occupied the position in vaudeville houses now held by motion pictures, and even then some of us tried to fit these pictures with music, though our efforts were limited. Waltzes and marches, interspersed with “Flower Song,” “Rock of Ages,” “Skeleton Dance,” with patriotic songs, was about as far as anybody got.

It is a long step from the old stereopticon views to the splendid moving pictures by our best producers of to-day. Has the music kept pace with it? In some instances—almost. But generally speaking—no. The fact is, the change has been so rapid that we haven’t fully realized our opportunities, but the moving picture musician will soon advance to a plane as distinctive in type as any phase of musical endeavor.

Our problems are more complex than they seem to be. We have no rehearsals; we know nothing of the pictures until we see them at the first show, during which we must “play something” and at the same time determine on the most fitting music. This entails good guessing and a good memory, and our compensation lies in the fascination of the game and a consciousness of work well done. To those who are good improvisers the task is less difficult, but, if one depends entirely upon impromptu stuff, he is apt to fall into a rut, and that spells “monotony.”

We have roughly classified our pictures as scenic, industrial and dramatic. The last has many sub-divisions: tragedy, farce, melodrama, drama, light comedy, burlesque, fairy tales, mythological, biblical and historical plays are the ones most commonly met with and each has its own type of music.

Tragedy (Shakespearean order).—Music is stately, massive and always serious. Marches in “four-four” time; heavy “hurrys” for combats and battles; gavottes and polonaise for “fill-in.” Dances in court dress are usually the gavotte or minuet. No waltzes, two-steps or anything suggestive of modern music. For pathetic scenes use standard numbers or ballads of the period.

Farce.—Lively, snappy stuff; rag and other marches; popular song choruses whenever they can be applied. All comedies should be worked bright and lively from the start to finish except where special points are to be made. For example, the funeral march in “A Live Corpse” heightened the absurdity of the situation, and a dirge or other lugubrious tune makes a comedy duel all the funnier. But, generally speaking, comedies (especially farces) move swiftly, and the music likewise.

Melodrama.—More or less of a sensational order. Get in all the local suggestion possible; “Cheyenne,” “Idaho,” etc., for the cowboy pictures; “Old Kentucky Home” and Southern songs for the South, and so on. Mot localities have a song written around them—if your audience knows it—play it. This class of pictures is the most common of all and calls for plenty of dramatic music. “Hurrys,” “plaintives,” “agitates,” and “sneaky” music abound. The contrasts are usually well defined and the changes of music are often abrupt. If you have the gift of progressing from one number to another with a few connecting chords, it helps. The “fill-ins” depend on the character of the picture. Two-steps, rags, waltzes, intermezzos and popular music generally. These pictures are the easiest to work up and the most showy for the musician.

Drama.—Quieter and more refined, but on lines similar to melodrama. Often calls for long and dainty numbers like “Laces and Graces,” “Cozy Corner,” etc. Sentimental and pathetic like “Apple Blossoms,” Simple Aveu” (although these numbers are good in all pictures). For “fill-ins” use waltzes, marches, gavottes, intermezzos, etc.

Light Comedy.—What is said of farce will apply here also. “Mosquitos Parade,” “Lobster’s Promenade” and numbers of humorous quality are useful.

Burlesque.—These are mostly European productions, and the range of subject is very wide. They are often of the “Humpty-Dumpty” pantomime order with gymnastics, clowns and quick transformations; the music is generally lively. For demons, magic, etc., J. Bodewalt Lampe’s “Vision of Salome” is fine. Th. Bendix also has some fine number in this line. “Hurrys,” mysteriosos,” are frequently called for.

Fairy Tales.—Waltzes, intermezzos and pretty, graceful numbers generally. Like the burlesque, these pictures vary so much that nothing definite can be suggested. Both kinds of pictures embody all of the elements in any of the others.

Mythological.—I have seen but few of these pictures, and they were of the Greek mythology. The music required was stately, interspersed with mysterious, weird and agitated music. They are serious pictures.

Biblical.—Of a dignified character throughout. Standard church music and sacred songs. Grandioso movements and ponderous marches in four-four time when marches are required. Nothing suggestive of modern times. An organ, even a small reed organ can be used with telling effect.

Historical—are martial, romantic and religious. They vary so much that little can be suggested further than to fit the time and nation when possible. Avoid modern music, especially waltzes and two-steps. Often they “work up” like melodrama.

The hints given here are of a general character only, as there can be no fixed rules applying to all alike. However, they cover the ground as far as they go. I have said nothing of the scientific and educational pictures, as they require no special treatment. Any concert music, as selections, waltzes, overtures, etc., will be suitable.

(To be continued.)

Source: Clarence E. Sinn, “Music for the Picture,” Moving Picture World 3 December 1910.

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