Monday, February 8, 2010

Chapter 3 Examples

Like Chapter 2, Chapter 3 covers a lot of terms. I began my lecture by identifying three basic distinctions: onscreen/offscreen, diegetic/nondiegetic and foreground/background. We then watched the "Tears Flowed Like Wine" performance sequence from The Big Sleep. The diegetic performance begins offscreen and in the background but quickly moves onscreen and to the foreground.

We then watched the party scene from Glory (HtM, 67-71) as a second example; as mentioned in the text, this is a very rich example, featuring extensive intermingling of diegetic and nondiegetic music as well as distortion of diegetic sound.

I then lectured a bit on diegetic and nondiegetic as a distinction that applies to the level of narrative. I find the following quotes to be useful:
Diegetic—"Pertaining to or part of a given diegesis and, more particularly, that diegesis represented by the (primary) narrative.”

Diegesis— “1. The (fictional) world in which the situations and events narrated occur. 2. Telling, recounting, as opposed to showing, enacting.”

—Gerald Prince, Dictionary of Narratology

And this succinct definition from Claudia Gorbman:
"Diegetic music: music that (apparently) issues from a source within the narrative" (Unheard Melodies, 22).

The third example I used was the de Lesseps' dance sequence from Shakespeare in Love (HtM, 71). As mentioned in the text, this example has subtle and narratively effective blurring of diegetic and nondiegetic music. This example is also a good one to initiate a discussion of the audio dissolve.

I find the title-song sequence from "Me and My Gal," which we discuss in the text (HtM, 83-84), to be particularly good for illustrating the audio dissolve proper, as the process is slow and deliberate. I also showed "The Way You Look Tonight" from Swingtime (at right) and "Cheek to Cheek" from Top Hat. In both the transitions back to diegetic sound after the song involve collapses that very much emphasize the way the nondiegetic sound creates an idealized space. "Cheek to Cheek" has the added complication of beginning with a dance orchestra so the dissolve itself is more conceptual than real, involving the disappearance of other dancers from the screen and the orchestration seeming to react empathetically to Astaire and Rogers dance rather than a shift from music anchored diegetically to nondiegetic orchestral support.

The best example of an audio dissolve used dramatically probably occurs in Casablanca, the transtion to the flashback sequence. Because I reserved this example for a quiz, I chose to illustrate the dramatic use of the audio dissolve with Pippin's song from the "Sacrifice of Faramir" sequence in Return of the King, which is discussed in the text (HtM, 83, 85).

* * * * *

The other big topic of chapter 3 concerns issues of onscreen and offscreen sound. In fact because we often infer nondiegetic status from its systematic offscreen placement (since it does not belong to the scene depicted), it is not always easy, nor wise to separate the two distinctions and I use this slide to relate the two. To illustrate offscreen sound, I showed the scene from Bleu mentioned in the text (HtM, 74) and the first "Que Sera, Sera" sequence from The Man Who Knew Too Much, which uses offscreen singing to unite mother and son conceptually; the idea of this curious unity returns near the end of the film when the mother sings the song again in an effort to locate her kidnapped son. We also watched the end of The Apartment, with the misrecongized champagne cork (HtM, 78) to illustrate how filmmakers can play on the inherent ambiguity of offscreen sound. In the past, I've also used the approach to Skull Island sequence from King Kong, which features a misrecognition of drums and also seems to blur the distinction between diegetic and nondiegetic, and the end of the Indian attack from Stagecoach, where Mrs. Mallory recognizes the diegetic cavalry bugle amid the din of nondiegetic music.

Voiceover was the next topic. I used the opening narrations of Laura, Clueless and The Apartment. The openings of American Beauty and Sunset Boulevard (HtM, 81) are worth considering as well because they feature the "impossible" condition of the dead narrator. Letter from Siberia (HtM, 80) illustrates how effective narration can be in telling us how, and even what to see in an image; this holds important consequences for thinking about how nondiegetic music functions.

The opening narration of The Apartment also uses musical sweetening to underscore the returns of accounting machine (HtM, 86), which makes this example effective for making a transition to the concept of mickeymousing and sweetening. I showed two examples from Casablanca to illustrate this idea. I began with the final scene, after Strasser has been shot and Renault has to decide whether to accuse Rick. After Renault decides to protect Rick, he throws the Vichy water into the trash bin, which Max Steiner's score underscores with a sharp stinger. We then watched an earlier scene where Rick first sees Ilsa (image at right), a moment Steiner also underscores with a poignant stinger that serves to mark Rick's painful recognition (HtM, 87-88). Here, the stinger serves not as a sound effects sweetener marking a significant narrative action, but as a nondiegetic representation of emotional shock.

I concluded this week's lectures by returning to the "Mapping the Possibilities" slide and filling in the very counterintuitive fourth quadrant, onscreen nondiegetic. My favorite example of this is the band in There's Something About Mary, which functions something like a Greek chorus and goes completely unnoticed by diegetic characters despite being onscreen. As an example, I use the final scene because it is relatively short and the singer ends up being inadvertently shot by one of the diegetic characters.

I also played a clip from Ferris Bueller's Day Off; the title character's asides to the camera seem similarly nondiegetic, intended solely for the film's audience and externalized in a way that makes them difficult to interpret as interior monologue. The end of the Chez Quis restaurant sequence illustrates the difference by interpolating a clear interior monologue by Ferris' sister (rendered as voice-over, here understood as a voice of interiority rather than nondiegetic) and then shifting to Ferris speaking to the camera in the bathroom with the attendant completely oblivious to his words. (The mirror is perhaps a complicating factor in this particular scene, though most of Ferris' asides do not involve a mirror.)

* * * * *

Because I had a quiz scheduled, I deferred discussion of the acousmêtre. I plan to use Wizard of Oz and Psycho to illustrate the concept. In the past, I have also used 2001 and Friday, the 13th.