A coupla "great moments in pedagogy" from today:
- Screening that Shining parody trailer in class [a student had forwarded me a link], and using it to discuss how editing and sound/music work together to tell us how to read an image
- Learning from another student that David Fincher is allegedly working on a Fight Club musical, with music by Trent Reznor. Gosh, is it too much to hope for a show-stopping Ikea number?
Can you tell we watched Singin' in the Rain this week?
Today's class felt a little disorganized, but only because I had so much I wanted to say. We looked at/listened to Singin' in the Rain as part of the unit on film sound. So we talked about the diegesis and sound perspective and yadda yadda wasn't it funny when the sound at the "Duelling Cavaliers" preview went out of synch with the image?
But the two concepts I really wanted to get across were bricolage and synchronization. I introduced the idea of bricolage to discuss what Janet Feur terms the prop dance [think basically any number Donald O'Connor is part of, as well as Kelly's famous stroll through the precipitation]. It also provided a nice way to reintroduce last week's work on mise-en-scene and demonstrate that just because we've moved on to sound, that doesn't mean we can forget all about the other stuff.
So I screened a sequence from Hal Hartley's Surviving Desire. In it, Jude and Sofie have just kissed for the first time. Jude is elated even as he knows the relationship is doomed from the start. And what does he do to express that emotion? Busts into a dance number. Naturally.
An ominous low guitar chord plays nondiegetically as a cut brings us, with Jude, to a red gate. He leaps onto it as it swings open [bricolage!], then performs a little choreographed number with two other random men that enacts the entire trajectory this relationship will take, culminating with Jude assuming a crucifixion pose as the two men kneel at either side of him and "churchy" organ music wells up--again, nondiegetically--on the soundtrack.
See, it's not a musical, but we know how to read it because we know musical conventions.
The other thing I yammered on about was synchronization, and not just in the sense that the voice matches up with the moving lips [although, as we see in Rain, that can become problematic]. The textbook invoked Kaja Silverman's work on the voice, so I wanted to spend a little more time pointing out how "voice of God" style voice-overs and aural authority in general are usually reserved for white guys, while the voices of women and minorities are not usually allowed to circulate untethered from their bodies. [Except, of course, when the voice is Morgan Freeman's.]
For that, I showed 'em Doris Day tremulously belting out "Que sera, sera" toward the end of Hitchock's 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much. If it's been awhile, Doris and Jimmy Stewart are married, and their boy has been kidnapped to keep them from revealing what they know about an assassination plot. Before Doris was a full-time mom, she was a professional singer, and it is in this context that she's been asked to perform at the embassy.
The thing is, she and Jimmy believe their son may be hidden somewhere in the embassy. So, in an extraordinary sequence, Doris's voice "leaves" the room during her performance of "Que sera, sera" and ascends several flights of stairs in a series of still shots cut together. As it rises, it actually grows fainter, which is contrary to the false sound perspective at work in many movies. Her voice is hollow and barely audible on the soundtrack by the time it reaches the room in which the boy is indeed trapped, but it is enough. Her song "discovers" him and leads her husband to the boy as she keeps the other folks distracted with her performance.
We also spent a little time in the Royal Albert Hall sequence because it illustrates so nicely that sound gives film the dimension of time/duration. A musical number lasts as long as it lasts. There's no leaping ahead the way you can by editing the image. Which means, if you're Hitchcock, you can torque up the audience's anxiety simply by lingering with the musicians.
We did, of course, also talk about Singin' in the Rain. Probably all the sequences you might expect. But then I had to blow the kiddies' minds a little. I couldn't help it. See, I was rereading Peter Wollen's bfi monograph on the film last night when I stumbled across a little item I'd somehow forgotten. Debbie Reynolds, who plays the plucky songbird Kathy Selden, wasn't much of a singer--or a dancer--in real life. So the filmmakers dubbed her voice in all those numbers. Yes, even the sequence where we see her looping Lina's songs.
So whose voice is it really? Uh, Jean Hagen's. It's true: that squawking Judy Holliday manquee sings beautifully. So this means that in the big comeuppance number where Lina performs "Singin' in the Rain" live in front of the curtain while Kathy actually "sings" from behind the scenes, both Jean Hagen and Debbie Reynolds are lip synching to Hagen's voice.
Yeah, that was a satisfying moment. Because then we looked the sequence again, and I enjoyed watching their brains explode trying to process it all.