Monday, March 1, 2010

Week 6 Lectures

This week we covered Chapter 5, Music in Film Form.*  Because it deals with relatively large spans of time, the content for this chapter is a bit more challenging to present during lecture—especially if your class is organized, as is mine, without a required screening of full films. I compromised a bit and watched the first 50 minutes or so of Casablanca, so we could discuss some of these issues of large-scale organization of film and music.

[*update: 2-23-18: The basic material of the first edition Chapter 5 that is covered here is in Chapter 6, pp. 187 ff. Because of the chronological sequence adopted for the second edition, the film examples are from around 1930. In the second edition, the establishing sequence for Meet Me in St. Louis is discussed in Chapter 7, pp. 254-55.]

I began this week's lectures talking about the differences in runtime segmentation between music and film. I followed the text in presenting the hierarchical divisions of music (motive, phrase, period, section, movement) and film (shot, scene, sequence, act). For music we then looked at the chorus of "Meet Me in St, Louis, Louis" in terms of 32-bar song form. (The sheet music itself is available here.)

For a variety of reasons, terminology for 32-bar song form is not always consistent, with the repeated A sections sometimes called "verses" on the one hand, the B section called a "bridge" or "middle eight" on the other. Since "Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis," like most Tin Pan Alley-era songs, also includes a proper verse, calling the A sections "verses" easily leads to confusion. I therefore chose to label the opening two phrases as "phrase one (A)" and "phrase two (A')"; I labeled the final phrase as "recapitulation (A")"; and retained the term "bridge (B)" for the contrasting middle section. At subphrase level, I marked out "basic idea" units of two measures rather than motives proper; the varied rhythmic repetition of the second "Louis" (which in performance is sometimes transferred to the initial "Louis" as well) creates a distinct motive that recurs in every phrase of the chorus, including the bridge.

As I noted above, "Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis" has a proper verse that precedes the chorus, which makes the chorus a section of the full song.

In terms of film form, we looked at an early segment of the film, Meet Me in St. Louis, where the song is introduced by Agnes and then passed along to Grandpa and the older teens. Here is a shot list:

From Title Song Scene—Shot List

  1. LS, Agnes and others in kitchen, tracks into hallway

  2. LS, Climbing stairs

  3. MLS, Grandpa in bathroom

  4. LS, Agnes and Grandpa, tracks following Grandpa

  5. MLS, Grandpa in bedroom, at end to window

  6. ELS, Street from Grandpa’s window

  7. LS, street level

We then lined up the shots with the musical articulations:

From Title Song Scene—Shot List and Music

  1. Agnes sings (AA’ beginning of bridge)
  2. Middle of bridge
  3. Grandpa takes over (AA’)
  4. Bridge and A”
  5. AA and bridge (offscreen teens)
  6. Recap (A”)
  7. Stretched out cadence.

One of the parallels between music and film form we can see here is that the beginning of each chorus initiates a new space (Agnes into the hallway; Grandpa in the bathroom; Grandpa in his bedroom). In each case the shift to the bridge also brings pronounced movement: Agnes climbs the stairs; Grandpa in the hallway; the teens coming to the house in the carriage. Here we can say that the film form seems to be responding to the particularities of musical phrasing; this is fairly typical in musical sequences, especially in musicals. (A brief discussion of this segment can be found in HtM, pp. 167-68.)

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The remainder of the lecture for the week was taken up with screening and discussion of roughly the first half of Casablanca. Here the emphasis was on issues of larger level audiovisual phrasing and the identification of structural sync points. In terms of the audiovisual phrasing I drew attention to the nondiegetic music (and voiceover) for the opening prologue; the exclusive use of diegetic music for the early scenes at Rick's; the diegetic musical reaction to Ilsa's initial appearance and the nondiegetic stinger when Rick first sees Ilsa (the crucial sync point in the first half of the film); the audio dissolves that bookend the flashback; and the emotional fluctuations in the music as it responds to the dialogue in the scene with Ilsa that follows the flashback. If I had time, I would have carefully compared the scene where Rick and Ilsa meet (discussed in the text on pp. 102-06) with the scene between Rick and Ilsa after the flashback in terms of audiovisual phrasing and the location of sync points; I haven't completed laying out my lectures for this week, so if I can find 20-30 minutes, I may well spend the beginning of Tuesday's lecture exploring this issue.

* * *

Finally, we ended the week with the second quiz. I tried something new. Besides having the students define and discuss terms, I gave them short transitions to identify using the terminology from Chapter 4. I chose four segments from (500) Days of Summer, each lasting roughly 30 seconds, and played them three times each. Although the students were quite apprehensive about the task—with copyright issues it is difficult to give students much practice since it takes class time—they actually performed quite well. I also had them write a short essay on the party scene from the same film. Here is the question:
This scene comes from near the end of (500) Days of Summer. After having broken up with Summer, Tom meets her at a wedding of a mutual acquaintance. They seem to hit it off again, and she invites him to a party. This is the party scene, which is accompanied throughout by Regina Spektor’s “Hero.” The lyrics to the song are attached.

Note that the music is similar in form to “Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis,” which we discussed in class; the large musical sections are marked in the margins. It is basically an AA’BA” song with the second BA” repeated in varied form. The first A” also repeats the lyrics of A’ whereas the final A” introduces new lyrics. The individual sections are longer than the standard 8 measures—this is common in popular music today—and each is divided into subsections (indicated by stanza breaks in the lyrics).

Write a paragraph describing the sound track of this clip paying particular attention to sync points and issues of audio visual phrasing. How is film form affected by the music in this scene? What lyrics stand out and how do these relate to the image and unfolding narrative situation? What role do the musical articulations (the beginning of sections) seem to play organizing the scene? Mention anything else you see as particularly significant or interesting in the sequence. Aim to be as complete as you can in describing the sounds and music.

Obviously, I provided a lyric sheet with musical sections indicated. I also played the sequence, which lasts a little over 3 minutes, three times. I found the students did pretty well on this question as well—although more than I would have liked had difficulty with the concept of the sync point. Nevertheless, most noticed that the beginning of the final (ironic) A section coincides with the close-up of Summer's engagement ring.