Monday, October 19, 2009

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

This link leads to a YouTube reconstruction of an illustrated song set synced to a period recording of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." This set is more elaborate than most in terms of the number of slides; the producers of this presentation have also added cut-ins to resemble close-ups and the so-called "Ken Burns" effect, where the image seems to pan across the scene; consequently there is the appearance of an image change for almost every line. As I have not done much research on the magic lantern, I'm not certain which of these effects could have been accomplished by an experienced projectionist using a dissolving lantern apparatus, but the video as a whole strikes me as quite a bit more active than would have been typical for the time.

The rich coloring on these slides, which would have generally been done by hand, is completely characteristic of the more expensive sets available at the time. Cheaper sets without coloring were also available.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Film Music in Concert Redux

This is a follow-up to the post on film music in symphony concerts. The November issue of Discover magazine (available now) has a short column-qua-ad on Star Wars: In Concert, currently touring North America after strong reviews for performances in the UK. The event combines live orchestral performances of music from the films with large-screen video montages, including some material of the sort that would probably be found in the "special features" section of a DVD. The tour's website is Star Wars: In Concert.

Special Lectures on Notable Films (II)

W. Stephen Bush published a lecture on Pathé's The Birth of Christ (1909) in the same issue of Moving Picture World as he did La grande bretéche. Because the biblical story would have been extremely well known, this lecture did not need to supply the same type of information with respect to plot and motivation. Bush therefore offered an extended quotation from the first chapter of Luke for the first scene, and suggested using Christmas hymns to fill out portions of scenes III and V.

Bush, like other regular contributors to Moving Picture World, advertised his services regularly in the pages of the trade paper. This particular ad dates from the 15 January 1910 issue.

The Birth of Jesus.
Released by Pathe Freres December 24th.

Scene I.

When in the fullness of time God had decreed to redeem mankind, He chose as the instrument of salvation a spotless Virgin, Mary, dwelling in the little village of Nazareth in Galilee. There at eventide Mary returns from the fountain, where she has drawn water, and seeking the seclusion of her chamber, she bends her knees in prayer to the Lord, when presently there appears unto her a messenger from the throne of the Almighty and addresses her in these words of sweet and tender promise: “Hail thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women, though shalt conceive and bear a child, which shall be called Jesus. He shall be a King in Israel and of His Kingdom there shall be no end.” The archangel having delivered his message, Mary arose and exclaimed: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to Thy word.”

Scene II.

Bethlehem! A name of magic sound. The city is thronged with people and soldiers, for a decree has gone forth from Rome, then the mistress of the civilized world, that all the people of Palestine shall be counted and taxed. Mary and Joseph belonging to the tribe of David, have left their home in Nazareth and after passing through Galilee, and Samaria at last arrive in the city of their royal ancestor David. The journey has been long and hard as Mary feels that her hour is drawing nigh, Joseph looks about for a shelter in the night. He applies to one of the inns, but alas, every inn in Bethlehem is crowded and overflowing and they are turned away, when in their distress a little child comes to their rescue and directs them to a stable, now forever famous, just beyond the walls of Bethlehem.

Scene III.

Hallowed and gracious were the days the heralded the coming of our Lord. Signs and wonders were seen in many parts of the world and in the eastern sky, near Bethlehem, shone forth a wonderful star. (Here interrupt the lecture and render a suitable song, such as “While the Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night,” until the title for

Scene IV

appears on the screen, when you resume the lecture as follows:)

Close in the wake of the shepherds, now on their way to the stable, likewise following the star, came the magi, wise men from the East. They, too, in their far distant lands have seen this great, strange star, telling them of the birth of a new King of Israel. They are now on their way toward Jerusalem to ask Herod and his scribes and priests, where, according to ancient prophecy, the new King of Israel was most likely to be born. And they bear in their train many precious gifts to lay at the feet of the new king—gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Scene V.

Every door in Bethlehem is being barred against them, Joseph and Mary at last find refuge in this most humble of abodes, and here, in poverty, in a manger, even on a bundle of straw, there is born into the world the new King of Israel, Jesus Christ. (Sing here one verse from the hymn, “Come All Ye Faithful” and then resume lecture as follows:) And as you see the golden glitter of the star shines again above the crib, so likewise does the star shine again unto wise men from the East. They have been to Jerusalem and there they have learnt from Herod and his priests and scribes that the new King of Israel was most likely to be born in Bethlehem in Judaea, as foretold by the Prophet Micah. And the star has again appeared before them and they are now on their way to the stable. (Here end the lecture and bring the picture to a close with one or two more verses, sung or played, from the hymn, “Come All Ye Faithful.”)

Source: W. Stephen Bush, “Special Lectures on Notable Films,” Moving Picture World 8 January 1910, 19.
Image Source: Moving Picture World 15 January 1910, 60.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Special Lectures on Notable Films (I)

This is the first of two lecture texts that W. Stephen Bush published in Moving Picture World at the beginning of 1910 for films released in December of 1909 by Pathé Frères. As both texts contain performance indications ("Order appears on the screen"; "Here interrupt the lecture and render a suitable song"), the lectures were clearly intended to be read as the film was running.

Bush's text for his lecture to La grande bretèche (1909) is primarily descriptive: it supplies names of characters and specifies some background information that might not be evident to those who do not know the story. Bush also clarifies the plot situations by providing motivations for character actions and, toward the end, by adding dialogue.

La grande bretèche was a Film d'Art based on a short story by Balzac. This story was also the basis of D. W. Griffith's The Sealed Room, which had been released in September of the same year, and Vitagraph's Entombed Alive, which was released in October and starred Annette Kellerman.

La Grande Breteche
Pathe Film of Art. Released December 12th.

After darkening the house this brief and general explanation of the film may be offered with advantage:

La Grande Breteche is the name of a castle in the beautiful and historic French province, Vendome, and made famous by the celebrated French story-teller, Honore de Balzac. It is now nothing but a mass of ruins and weeds, but at the time in which the story is laid, it was noted for its wonderful flowers and gardens, a fact, which in the running of the film, will be observed by you with pleasure.

As soon as this preamble is finished and the moment the title is flashed on the screen, the following lecture may be found useful:

Scene I.—The first picture takes us back to the time of the great Napoleon. In the war which he had waged against Spain among the many captives was a noble prisoner, Count Ferredia. An adjutant from Napoleon’s military staff has come to Vendome and is now calling at the office of the sub-prefect, announcing the coming of the Spanish Count. The latter, a perfect type of the young Spanish grandee, enters and the adjutant hands the order concerning the prisoner of war to the assistant in charge of the office. (Order appears on the screen.) The assistant reads the order which commands him to exact his parole from the Spaniard and obeys by asking the latter for it. Slowly, proudly the parole is given, the prisoner is politely dismissed and leaves, while the adjutant continues his report to the assistant sub-prefect.

Scene II.—A scene in front of the splendid gardens of the Grand Breteche, where the people gather evenings to play and promenade. The Spanish Count is in the throng, and presently observes with unfeigned admiration a strikingly handsome woman promenading with her maid. She is the wife of the sub-prefect, accompanied by her maid. She has lost the fragrant white rose she carried and gallantly the Count picks the precious flower from the ground and with a graceful bow hands it to the wife, who regarding the prisoner with ill-conceived favor, bids him with her eyes rather than her words to keep the flower. The adjutant and the assistant pass at this moment and meet the sub-prefect himself, Count Merrett, the husband of the handsome woman. All this has been quickly observed by Ferredia, who asks the assistant for an introduction and is thereupon introduced both to the prefect and his wife.

Scene III.—In the gardens of La Grand Breteche the Spanish prisoner and Countess Merret are sowing the dragon seed of sin at many a secret meeting, guarded by the faithful Rosalie. It was well to have her on the watch, for she has time to give the lovers warning, the Spaniard disappears with the maid through a rare path in the shrubbery, not a moment too soon, for it is evident that beneath the husband’s formal politeness there lurks suspicion. He finds it strange to see the wife in the gathering darkness busy with needlework and when she, still hoping for another glimpse of her lover, hesitates to come in, he forces her with scant ceremony to come with him.

Scene IV.—Two masons from the village have been ordered to do some work about the castle and have come for further instructions as to where to begin. (Short pause.) Count de Merrett, more suspicious than ever of his wife’s fidelity, now seeks to test it. He pretends to go away on a journey and the Countess falls unsuspectingly into the trap. When the clumsy, stupid masons have at last been gotten rid of, the wife sends her maid with a message to Count Ferredia asking him to come to Grande Breteche at once. (Message appears on the screen.)

Scene V.—The message has been delivered, the maid signals to Ferredia hiding in the bushes and at the very moment appears in a different part well able to watch all the Count Merrett. The latter observes with bitter rage how the Spaniard is admitted into the house, cautiously walks over the lawn observed only by the clownish masons, who little realize what tragic part they will soon be called upon to play.

Scene VI.—The maid brings the happy lover into her mistress’ room, he fervently kisses her hand, but is uneasy at the presence of the maid, who, however, is presently dismissed from the room. Their cup of happiness seems full, she, gently restraining his ardor, takes his mantle and hat and hides it in the closet next to her room and then returns to her lover. He sees a small crucifix on her bosom and she, to show him her love, takes it from her neck and gives it to him. He in turn bethinks himself of an ancient crucifix of silver and ebony and offers it to her, but in the impatience of his affection lays it on the table to devote himself to his new found love.

Scene VII.—Faithful Rosalie is guarding her mistress’ door, an evil office and an useless one as the event will show.

Scene VIII.—The lovers have drunk their fill of the cup of sweet venom, the lover draws the trembling hands of his mistress from her glowing face, turns the key and still lingers.

Scene IX.—Rosalie still on guard is found and pushed aside by the enraged husband, now sure of his prey and trembling in his eagerness for revenge. (Short pause.)

Scene X.—The knocking at the door strikes terror into the guilty lovers—they start and tremble and in their confusion they retain enough presence of mind to hide the Count Ferredia in the closet.

Scene XI.—A moment later the furious husband bursts into the room. No one there but the wife. He turns here and there, the wife is pale but self-possessed, he starts for the closet, she bars the way, the husband is in doubt as to his next step, when his eyes fall upon the crucifix on the table. “Who is in the closet?” he cries. “Speak.” “No one.” “No one? Then swear to it now on this crucifix.” “I swear.” Scarcely have the words dropped from the woman’s faltering lips, when the husband summons the maid and orders her to bring the masons into the room at once. “I will show you,” he says to the wife, “how much I trust in your words.” The masons come and are ordered by the Count to wall up the closet and do it at once and in his presence.

Scene XII.—The ill-starred prisoner is in an agony of suspense—he only can fear and suspect, when the blows from the masons’ tools rouse his worst fears. Are they digging his grave in which he must die?

Scene XIII.—Still the husband watches the work with feverish attention, the maid announces a visitor. He keeps his eyes on the work—at last he rises. Hope for one brief moment flames up in the Countess’ breast—“Here, take this, money, gold, jewels and more later, break a pane in the door. Be quick about it. Quick.” One of the masons does as he is bidden and the Count peers out, the terror of death in his eyes—the sub-prefect returns, summons the masons back to their work.

Scene XIV.—And now the dim light of the closet has turned to darkness and in the darkness of death the prisoner gropes about, every moment making it clearer to him that he is to die within the narrow walls.

Scene XV.—The work of the masons is complete, they have gone. Never for a moment does the remorseless husband change his cold, formal politeness and bows to go.

Scene XVI.—Scarcely has he gone, when the wife seizes a pick to free the lover.

Scene XVII.—But the husband suspects this. He runs back, seizes the wife, crying out: “Madam is ill, she must to bed and it is my duty as her husband to stay right here with her.” Suiting the action to the word he has his slippers and his house cloak brought into the room and makes himself ready for a long stay. She rises on her couch begging the husband to believe her and go and he tells her he believes her and that’s why he stays.

Scene XVIII.—Count Ferredia realizes that his end has come and dies with a last look at the fatal crucifix.

Scene XIX.—The doctor, called to attend the wife, after a brief examination, pronounces her speedy dissolution very probable and, after a world of sympathy to the husband, leaves.

Scene XX.—In her dying moments, quite forgetful of the presence of the stern husband, with the precious token before her eyes, the wretched wife strives and struggles with a last effect to rise and gathering all her feeble strength together, seeks with faltering steps the wall of death and gently, with the last remnant of her life, strikes the cross of silver and ebony against the cruel stones—a glance at the husband, still unbending, and she falls over—dead.

Scene XXI.—And separated from her but by an inch or more of stone lies stark in death the partner of her guilt.

Source: W. Stephen Bush, “Special Lectures on Notable Films,” Moving Picture World 8 January 1910, 19.
Image Source: Film Index 4 December 1909, 11.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Human Voice as a Factor in the Moving Picture Show [A Response to Bush]

Bush's article prompted the following response by James Clancy, who was involved in producing "talking pictures"—actors working behind the screen, providing the dialogue and sound effects for the scenes depicted. Clancy had an elaborate ideal of the scene playing behind the screen with the actors going through very much the same actions as those depicted onscreen:
As an example, take a woman in tears. She should go through the same action that she would if it were happening to her in real life, using the handkerchief and hands and all gestures that accompany it. Struggles should be gone through in the same manner. To make the effect more complete, the breaking of a glass or the shooting of a revolver or a gun, or slapping the hand on a table to bring out a convincing point in an argument should always be done by the person speaking the line.
With such a setting, we can see that such a performance would require a rather extensive investment of labor (and transportation), and these costs more than anything else probably caused the the practice to disappear once the novelty had diminished sufficiently that receipts no longer warranted the much higher expenses.

The writer of the article, [W. Stephen Bush] “The Human Voice as a Factor in Moving Pictures,” in the last issue of the Moving Picture World, brought out some useful facts, but leaves himself open to slight criticism, in regards to talking pictures produced by people behind the drop. He states in his article that the illusion cannot be made perfect. He is right to a certain extent, but if judgment is used in selecting the reels to be used as talking pictures, a great deal of difficulty can be overcome. Certain reels which are very good for a lecture (a point I will take up later in my article) will not be suitable for talking pictures. If details and effects are to be brought out in talking pictures, the actors and actresses must use judgment in regard to placing the voices of the character in speaking from the center of the drop. The line should be read directly behind the character that he or she is impersonating. This will apply either to the right or the left of the center. At all times, in talking from behind a drop, try to keep as near to where the character is standing as possible. All letters and titles, before scenes, should be taken out, so that the story will not be told before the actors and actresses have read their lines, as this will have a tendency to kill the dramatic climax. The operator must also be drilled carefully and thoroughly in regard to the running speed of films, of struggles, horses galloping, battles scenes, which must be run very fast, while scenes in offices and homes must be run at a certain speed to bring out the desired effect of the character, and to give the necessary illusion. But many will ask, How can this be brought, not alone by explanation, but by having everyone act the character thoroughly, as if he were appearing on the stage, without being hidden by the drop. As an example, take a woman in tears. She should go through the same action that she would if it were happening to her in real life, using the handkerchief and hands and all gestures that accompany it. Struggles should be gone through in the same manner. To make the effect more complete, the breaking of a glass or the shooting of a revolver or a gun, or slapping the hand on a table to bring out a convincing point in an argument should always be done by the person speaking the line. A great deal of thought and consideration must be given when selecting a company. I have found that people with stock or repertoire experience, that are bright and can think, usually make the best talking picture actors and actresses, as they study the script much quicker than the others, and sometimes they have lines which are much better than the ones which you provide for them. Still, I do not advocate or advise rehearsing the people too much, as they lose a certain amount of interest in the subject, and as well all know they are compelled to do anywhere from four to ten shows daily, it is a hard matter to keep them interested, and if they lose interest they lose the effect which you are after. Talking pictures can and will receive applause from the audience for speeches and climaxes, the same as a traveling theatrical company, providing the proper spirit is put in the work. Applause will also be given to characters when they are shown on the drop, like the late President Abraham Lincoln or General Grant, or any other will-known character. The only fault that I have found with this is that the actors do not impersonate the characters with the dignity and bearing called for. They all seem to think that they should shout to be heard through the drop, which is wrong, as we all know the voice will carry much better when spoken in an ordinary tone. The actors and actresses back of drop must watch every minute, so that they will not be talking when characters are not seen before their entrance or after exit. No doubt a great many will wonder what subjects are best adapted for talking pictures. This will depend a great deal upon the clientele to which you are playing. War pictures are always sure fire hits. Melodramatic ones are always very good, providing they are not too sensational. Plays like “East Lynne,” “Camille” and “The Two Orphans” can be made to stand out with proper attention to the minor details. It is advisable in plays of this nature to follow as near as possible the original script. Any subject of a historical nature must be one that your audience is familiar with, or else it will not be a success. Comedy reels are also good, providing that you can keep up swift action. The talking pictures are only in their infancy, and they will grow and get better, and the people are going to like them more every day, providing judgment is used in these suggestions. An audience will sit and listen to good grammar and proper pronunciation, and stories with some logic, but they will not stand for fake lines and people back of the drop talking about something that they do not understand. If the artists will put their heart and soul into their work they will make this part of the moving picture line as much a success for themselves as for their manager. In regard to lecturing upon reels, it will always be a success, providing it is handled in the proper manner and the lecturer uses judgment in his language. If he will use plain, ever-day English, and not words which he does not know the meaning of himself, and that the audience will not be compelled to have a dictionary beside them to find out what he is talking about, he will find that they will give him their undivided attention. If the lecturer will go right on with his lecture and not stop until he has finished he will find the applause of the audience will show him that they are satisfied with his efforts. As I stated early in this article, talking pictures are only in their infancy. The lecturer also is only in his infancy. I think the time is not far off when three and four-act dramatic productions will be produced in moving pictures by persons behind the drop. People themselves will get away from the idea that they are getting buncoed by five and ten-cent theaters, but are receiving more for their money than in any other branch of the amusement line. The recreation which they thereby receive will make them regular patrons of the moving picture theaters.

James Clancy, “The Human Voice as a Factor in the Moving Picture Show,” Moving Picture World 30 January 1909, 115.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Human Voice As a Factor in the Moving Picture Show

Below is another article by W. Stephen Bush arguing for the value of the lecture. Here he takes specific aim at varieties of the "talking picture," by which he means both those that use mechanical synchronization with a phonograph as well as those that place live actors behind the screen to supply the dialogue. It is significant that Bush sees both methods of providing a "synchronized" voice as less than optimal, which also means that he must argue against the idea that film should ideally be simply a recording of reality. Yet he also ends up arguing against a cinema of illusion.

Notable is Bush's citation of a French critic's response to the the inaugural Film d'Art, L'assassinat du duc de Guise (1908), which famously had a special score composed for it by Camille Saint-Saëns. If we assume the critic attended a performance of the film that used Saint-Saëns' score, the critic's lukewarm response and insistence that the medium of film needed supplementation by the human voice tells us that music alone was, at least for some prominent cultural authorities, not yet deemed sufficient for full artistic expression of the film medium. For a thorough discussion of Saint-Saëns' score, see Martin Marks, Music and the Silent Film: Contexts and Case Studies, 1895-1924 (1997), 50-61.

Most of our knowledge and a good deal of our pleasure and entertainment is imported to us by eye and ear. All public amusements appeal to eye and ear alone. It is indeed impossible to move mankind through the drama, to instruct it with knowledge, without the aid of both these senses, and as a rule no entertainment or amusement is complete or truly pleasing without these channels to the soul combined. These are, of course, exceptions. It is possible to enjoy music without seeing the musicians (sometimes this is the only way of enjoying it), and a man may listen to the solemn and inspiring strains of an organ without looking to see whence the sound is coming. Likewise a good pantomime may be enjoyed without a sound of any kind. As a rule, however, the burden of absorption soon becomes too heavy and tiresome for the one sense alone: the eye demands to be satisfied as well as the ear, and the ear becomes eager to share its burden with the eye.

In some vague and wandering way this fact was felt from the very beginning of the moving picture, and numerous have been the attempts to supply sound, and especially the sound of the human voice. Our poor and patient English tongue has been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in an effort to find names for both the inarticulate and the articulate sound in the moving picture show. At one time a craze for effects infected the electric theaters and instruments were devised to imitate common sounds. There was a little success and much failure, and there is to this day, and there always will be. Then came “cameraphones,” synchronizers” and “talking pictures,” produced by men and women hiding behind the screen and endeavoring to “make the pictures talk.” Not one of these devices has solved the problem: What is the proper function of the human voice in the moving picture show? The trouble in all cases was the inability to produce a perfect illusion. Illusion is pleasing only when it is without a flaw. The ventriloquist with his dummies upon his knee pleases and amuses the audience with his illusion, though of course everybody knows that the sounds and voices are produced by himself and that the dummies are nothing but painted pieces of wood and rags. As soon as the illusion is broken the thing becomes tiresome in the extreme. Even, however, where the illusion is perfect, a little of it goes a good ways. It is very much the same with all the vaunted devices, summed up in the fitting name of “talking pictures.” In the first place, the illusion is hardly ever perfect, and even where it is nearly perfect it cannot hold the attention long, for the whole business is unnatural, and nothing that is unnatural will ever last long, though persistent and reckless puffing may give some of these contrivances a fleeting vogue.

It may be that the voice best suited to the moving picture is the voice that runs with the picture, not with the individual figures in a silly attempt to imitate their very words, but the voice that runs with the story, that explains the figures and the plot and that brings out by its sound and its language the beauties that appear but darkly or not at all until the ear helps the eye. Take any dramatic or historic picture; in fact, almost any picture, barring magic and comic subjects. Stand among the audience and what do you observe? As the story progresses, and even at its very beginning, those gifted with a little imagination and the power of speech will begin to comment, to talk more or less excitedly and try to explain and tell their friends and neighbors. This current of mental electricity will run up an down, wild, irregular, uncontrollable. The gifted lecturer will gather up and harness this current of expressed thought. He has seen the picture before, and convincing his audience from the very start that he has the subject well in hand all these errant sparks will fly toward him, the buzz and idle comment will cease, and he finds himself without an effort the spokesman for the particular crowd of human beings that make up his audience. What all feel and but a few attempt to express even imperfectly, the lecturer, if he is worthy of the name, will tell with ease and grace in words that come to him as naturally as iron obeys the law which draws it to the magnet. All at once the human voice has found its proper mission; the darkened house and the dumb show cease to be a strain to the overworked eye, and as the ear shares the burden the amusement becomes doubly attractive and the period of exhaustion or disgust is deferred. No longer any need on the part of the audience to make loud guesses and supply the voice themselves; the entertainment is complete and the patron feels that he ha seen a different kind of moving picture.

This is felt and appreciated by the well-known Parisian art critic. Cellatier, who in a recent issue of the “Temps” speaks of the picture, “The Assassination of the Duke of Guise,” and who after praising the acting and staging of the piece goes on to say: “. . . But after I had sat there a while and looked at the pictures I felt a great longing to hear the human voice. If this sort of entertainment is ever to stop being a toy and is to become a permanent institution in the amusement world it needs the assistance in some shape or other of the human voice.”

Source: W. Stephen Bush, “The Human Voice as a Factor in the Moving Picture Show,” Moving Picture World 23 January 1909, 86.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Film Music in Concert

Variety reports on a recent surge of symphony orchestras programming film scores.
October alone is jammed with major film music events across the nation. Today in Anaheim, Calif., a 58-city tour of the arena show "Star Wars: In Concert" kicks off at the Honda Center. On Friday and Saturday (Oct. 9-10), New York's Radio City Music Hall will play host to nearly 300 musicians and singers performing Howard Shore's "Fellowship of the Ring" score live while the three-hour film unspools.

In the Emerald City, the Seattle Symphony will play Bernard Herrmann's "Psycho" score live to the Hitchcock picture Oct. 29-31 in Benaroya Hall.

And in greater L.A., John Williams will conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic in an all-film music concert Oct. 16-18, and John Mauceri will perform an all-Disney music program Oct. 20, both at Walt Disney Concert Hall; the Golden State Pops Orchestra will devote most of its Oct. 24 program to music from both incarnations of "Battlestar Galactica" at the Warner Grand theater in San Pedro, Calif.; and Ennio Morricone will make his West Coast debut at the Hollywood Bowl Oct. 25.

Lest we think this is more of the same (film scores have been a staple of pop concerts for decades), the report ends with this:
The Chicago and Cleveland Symphony Orchestras (two of the so-called Big Five, which also include New York, L.A. and Boston) have added film music concerts to their [regular] subscription lineups in recent years, suggesting that film music may finally be moving away from the pop-concert ghetto.

Click through to the Variety article for some good quotes from David Neumann, Richard Kaufman, John Goberman and John Waxman.

(H/T Kristin Thompson)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Music in Early Films of Katharine Hepburn

I have added a set of viewing notes that can act as informal cue lists for the early films of Katharine Hepburn, from A Bill of Divorcement (1932) through Break of Hearts (1935). The page is linked under "cue lists" on the "Supporting Materials" page. Here is the link: early Hepburn.

All of these films were released by RKO and as such make an interesting study not only in Hepburn's early development but also in studio style. That's true of music as well, as most of the underscoring was done by Max Steiner (the films after 1933 by Steiner's protegé Roy Webb).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Underscoring by Miklos Rozsa

The website Chiaroscuro is a highly idiosyncratic collection of commentaries, critical quotes, stills, and posters for about 100 films. The site's owner is obviously a cinephile, and so one finds titles of films from American, European, and Asian traditions, including both famous (2001: A Space Odyssey) and not so well-known or early films of a variety of directors. (Caution, though: The site owner's own commentaries are usually in German.)

On the page for The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), we find this critical comment embedded in a longer quotation from Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward's book Film Noir. An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (1992):

Miklós Rózsa wrote the music for The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, and it illustrates the conventional Hollywood leitmotif technique of film scoring. This technique associates a musical theme with each character, setting, or situation, thus heightening the dramatic flux and the audience’s unconscious understanding and expectation of the film’s story. It should be pointed out that the popular song "Strange Love" represents the sweetness of Toni and the happy ending, not the hardness of Martha. Rózsa over scores to the point that nonmusical moments in his films amount to negative emphasis. (267-268)

Much the same could be said of Rozsa's better known underscores for Double Indemnity and Spellbound. As an alternate to the two-film compare/contrast paper discussed in the first writing Interlude (HtM, 125) or in connection with the critical essays discussed in the second writing Interlude (HtM, 234), it might be a productive exercise for a student to compare Silver and Ward's evaluation with the glowing assessments of Christopher Palmer (who was Rozsa's assistant during the composer's last years), Royal Brown, Lawrence MacDonald, or Fred Karlin.

Palmer's book is The Composer in Hollywood (1990); the chapter on Rozsa is on 186-233 and starts with this sentence: "Miklos Rozsa is the complete professional, and without doubt one of the great musicians of our time." The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is mentioned on 189 and 201. Brown has an extended essay on Double Indemnity in Overtones and Undertones (1994), 120-133; see also his introductory comments at the bottom of 119. MacDonald has an essay on Spellbound in The Invisible Art of Film Music, 85-88; on the other hand, see his somewhat equivocal evaluation of Rozsa's music for films in the 1970s (270-272). Karlin also has a detailed analysis of Spellbound in Listening to Movies, ch. 6.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Essays from early editions of Film Art: An Introduction

David Bordwell has posted PDF versions of a number of interpretive essays (case studies of individual films). These were included in early editions of Bordwell and Thompson, Film Art: An Introduction, but were not carried over into more recent editions. Most are concerned with narrative construction; some are presented specifically as samples of film criticism.

Here is the link to his site: David Bordwell. This is not the home page; it's the page for Film Art. Find the essay download buttons about half way down the page.

And here is a list of the essays, which are written with clarity and concision and thus might serve not only as starting points for student projects but as models for their writing. I have noted points relevant to sound.

The Man Who Knew Too Much
dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1934. From
Film Art, 2nd edition (1988): 292-295.
--Described as "a model of narrative construction," this film -- like its 1956 remake -- has a famous scene in which an assassination is attempted during a concert.

dir. John Ford, 1939. From
Film Art, 4th edition (1992): 366-370.

Hannah and Her Sisters
dir. Woody Allen, 1985. From
Film Art, 4th edition (1992): 376-381.
--"Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters examines the psychological traits and interactions among a group of characters." One paragraph in the essay discusses the varied treatment of intertitles, which serve to introduce (and so articulate) scene or section changes. Sometimes the intertitles are silent, sometimes spoken by characters.

Desperately Seeking Susan
dir. Susan Seidelman, 1985. From
Film Art, 4th edition (1992): 381-387.

Day of Wrath
dir. Carl Dreyer, 1943. From
Film Art, 4th edition (1992): 387-391.
--In a web of motifs of all kinds, the musical motif or theme plays a role. Here it is the familiar chant melody
Dies irae.

Last Year at Marienbad
dir. Alain Resnais, 1961. From
Film Art, 4th edition (1992): 391-396.
--"Abrupt changes on the sound track accentuate the film's discontinuities."

Innocence Unprotected
dir. Dušan Makavejev, 1968. From
Film Art, 4th edition (1992): 401-406.
--"It is useful to think of its form as a collage, an assemblage of materials taken from widely different sources." Among those are songs and song performances.

Clock Cleaners
dir. Walt Disney, 1937. From
Film Art, 4th edition (1992): 418-420.

Tout va bien
dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 1972. From
Film Art, 4th edition (1992): 436-442.
--Three principles of separation--interruption, contradiction, and refraction--operate throughout this film, affecting not only narrative and images but, to an equal degree, sound.

High School
dir. Frederick Wiseman, 1968. From
Film Art, 5th edition (1996): 409-415.
--This documentary is in cinema verite style; it "uses no voice-over narration and almost no nondiegetic music."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Glossary terms in Chion, Film, A Sound Art

I have compiled a list of all the glossary terms in Michel Chion, Film, A Sound Art, tr. Claudia Gorbman (Columbia University Press, 2009). Here is the link: Glossary terms.

I had previously posted a detailed table of contents (with chapter subheads and sub-subheads) here: Detailed TOC. The book incorporates, and greatly expands on, material previously published in Audio-Vision and The Voice in the Cinema.

One example of the acuteness of Chion's audio-visual observation and critique: "A visible no that is hastily made over with an audible yes: this can also be taken as a metaphor for sound film." (178) This is in connection with a post-production dialogue change in Blade Runner. From this Chion derives the following: ". . . we can't be sure that what we hear is not something other than what we see being articulated. Is there not a suspicion of dubbing behind every sound and speaking image in the cinema?" He rejects the generally accepted notion of redundancy (one of the glossary terms, btw).

Friday, October 2, 2009

Musical Themes from Glory

In Ch. 3 of HtM, we discuss a scene from Glory (1989) in detail. In the graphic below, I have transcribed three important melodies, two of which appear in that scene or immediately thereafter. The Bugle Call (a) was heard early in the film and is played again at the end. Melodies (b) and (c) are the principal themes in James Horner's orchestral underscore, which is developed almost entirely out of them (they even form the basis of the end credits music). Theme (c) often follows immediately after (b), as if it's an ending phrase (or coda), but it is used independently as well.

Theme (a) appears in its entirety during the second segment of the party scene, a conversation between Shaw and Governor Andrew, at the mention of Antietam (DVD timing 00:11:40). Theme (b) appears in the third segment, under conversation (00:13:00) as Shaw and his friend Forbes talk about forming the regiment, then more plainly in the foreground @ 00:13:44. Details for the first part of the scene are given in HtM. Here is a link to a page that gives details of the second and third parts: Boston Party Scene, 2-3.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Picture of the Rialto

I stumbled upon this picture of the Rialto, with the orchestra visible.

Source: Green Book Magazine (July 1916), p. 176

For those without access to Google Books, a jpeg is available here.

Comments on Music in Darby and Dubois, American Film Composers

In the first writing Interlude, under the section "Examples from the Published Literature," we quote William Darby and Jack Dubois's negative assessment of the treatment of music in Scarface (1932).

Here's another:

The Virginian, released by Para­mount in 1929, typically features orchestral fanfares during the opening and closing credits and then uses strictly sourced music throughout its other portions. While characters whistle and even sing, and a traditional tune ("Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie") serves as a rudimentary motive for the death of Steve (Richard Arlen), the erstwhile friend whom the protagonist (Gary Cooper) must hang, there are large gaps -- trail drives, romantic in­terludes, a final gunfight -- that seem strange because they lack the dramatic musical support to which modern audiences have become accustomed. (p. 9)

From this, you can see the basis for their lack of sympathy with the sound tracks in many early films: their aesthetic priorities are clearly those of the mature Hollywood sound film, with a bias toward dramatic underscoring.

Darby and Dubois also write a large number of short descriptive essays on individual films. Some of these run to several pages and could serve as the stepping-off point for an analysis exercise, project, or comparison/criticism paper. (Their book is American Film Music: Major Composers, Techniques, and Trends, 1915-1990.)