Alfred Hitchcock held an ambivalent position toward the sound elements of cinema. He remained faithful to the idea of pure cinema realized through shots and sequences, and considered dialogue as a lesser expressive resource due to its tendency to break down the narrative tension gained by the images.
On the other hand, he considered sound effects and music to be highly effective devices, with their ability to modify the rhythm of the action, or to voice the depth of characters and the hidden forces of dramatic situations. He often gave sound effects and music central roles in dramaturgy and structure.
The 1956 version of The man who knew too much is a film completely pervaded by music. The recurring song Que sera, sera is one of Hitchcock’s most remarkable examples of diegetic music, informing the audiovisual structures in concurrence with concepts developed by Gilles Deleuze in L’image-mouvement.
This according to “Immagine, suono, relazione mentale in The man who knew too much (1956) di Alfred Hitchcock” by Matteo Giuggioli (Philomusica on-line XI ).
Tomorrow is Hitchcock’s 120th birthday! Above and below, Doris Day’s iconic performance in The man who knew too much.
Night on Bald Mountain, Walt Disney’s animated rendition of Modest Musorgskij’s Ivanova noč’ na Lysoj gore, follows the structure of the work, linking the main theme to the demonic figure of Černobog and introducing new ghostly or monstrous creatures for each new musical section.
The climactic orgy includes all of the previously introduced characters as well as newly introduced ones, often depicted in an expressionist style that contrasts with Musorgskij’s own realist aesthetic—indeed, expressionism was an overt rebellion against realism’s Romantic ideals.
Disney’s version also follows the program of Musorgskij’s work as the village church bells put a stop to the hellish festivities, but a happy ending was deemed necessary, resulting in an unfortunate segue into an inappropriately Romanticized arrangement of Schubert’s Ave Maria.
This according to “Klasična glazba u crtanom filmu <Fantazija> (1940.) Walta Disneya” by Irena Paulus (Arti musices: Hrvatski muzikološki zbornik XXVIII/1–2  pp. 115–27).
Today is Musorgskij’s 180th birthday! Below, the full segment from Disney’s Fantasia.
Hip hop teen dance films flourished in the 2000s. Drawing on the dominance of hip hop in the mainstream music industry, films such as Save the last dance, Honey, and Step up combined the teen film genre’s typical social problems and musical narratives, while other tensions were created by interweaving representations of post-industrial city youth with the utopian sensibilities of the classic Hollywood musical.
These narratives celebrated hip hop performance, and depicted dance as a bridge between cultural boundaries, bringing together couples, communities, and cultures, using hip hop to construct filmic spaces and identities while fragmenting hip hop soundscapes, limiting its expressive potential.
These attempts to marry the representational, narrative, and aesthetic meanings of hip hop culture with the form and ideologies of the musical film genre illuminate the tensions and continuities that arise from engagement with musicals’ utopian qualities.
This according to “Space, authenticity and utopia in the hip-hop teen dance film” by Faye Woods, an essay included in Movies, moves and music: The sonic world of dance films (Sheffield: Equinox, 2016, pp 61–77).
Above, a scene from Save the last dance; below, a scene from Honey.
The legendary nāgasvaram player T.N. Rajarathnam Pillai performed in two films—once just in a cameo as himself, but once as the star!
In 1940 Rajarathnam Pillai appeared in Kalamegam, portraying the 15th-century Tamil poet Kavi Kalamegam. The film’s director, Ellis R. Dungan, recalled working with him:
“When Rajarathnam was sober, he was fine and took direction well with interest. But when he was lit, he could not be controlled and proved a nuisance and a pest on the set. Of course, when he became sober, he would apologize for his unruly conduct. People treated him like some kind of god because he was a big gun…I also found that he was very fond of women! But then who is not?”
The role required Rajarathnam Pillai to sing, which he did beautifully—but unfortunately his many fans only wanted to hear him play the nāgasvaram, and the film failed at the box office. No prints remain; only a handful of stills and recordings attest to Rajarathnam’s single appearance as a film star.
This according to “Foray into films” by Randor Guy (Sruti CLXXI [December 1998] pp. 39–42).
Today is Rajarathnam Pillai’s 120th birthday! Above and below, rare artefacts of the film.
BONUS: Rajarathnam Pillai plays the nāgasvaram!
Filed under Asia, Performers
Audio recordings of Balinese kecak performances are de- and re-contextualized in two landmark films: Federico Fellini’s Satyricon (1969) and Joel and Ethan Coen’s Blood simple (1984).
Kecak’s use in these soundtracks is a case of schizophonic transmogrification: the rematerialization and thorough reinvention of people and places whose voices and sounds, as inscribed on sound recordings, have been separated from their original sources of identity and meaning and resituated in entirely alien contexts—real or imaginary or somewhere in between.
This according to “The abduction of the signifying monkey chant: Schizophonic transmogrifications of Balinese kecak in Fellini’s Satyricon and the Coen Brothers’ Blood simple” by Michael Bakan (Ethnomusicology forum XVIII/1 [June 2009] pp. 83–106).
Above, a performance of kecak in Bali. Below, the Minotaur scene from Satyricon; further below, the failed abduction scene from Blood simple.
In the broadest sense, 2001: A space odyssey imbues the concept of music with the philosophical gravity it enjoyed in an earlier age, delineating the various planes on which the term once operated by drawing on astronomy, biology, and technology.
To this end, the soundtrack juxtaposes two mutually exclusive harmonic realms—tonality and atonality—each ultimately developing its own metaphors to affirm the film’s central quest toward the confirmation of a fundamental, higher order.
The long-range integration of these realms amounts to one of the subtlest yet most extraordinary aspects of the film: Their abstract relationships engender an arch that itself embodies music’s own underlying system of natural order, welcoming a detailed reading in relation to the unfolding narrative. Despite flaunting itself as an odd patchwork of musical hand-me-downs, 2001’s soundtrack conveys the film’s visionary qualities with an astonishing and incisive network of relationships.
This according to “Music, structure and metaphor in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A space odyssey” by David W. Patterson (American music XXII/3 [fall 2004] pp. 444–74).
Today is the 50th anniversary of 2001’s premiere! Below, the celebrated Star gate sequence, with music by György Ligeti.
Sergej Mihailovič Èjzenštejn’s collaborations with Prokof’ev, along with his essays from the same period, illuminate the director’s reconceptualization of his editing practices in relation to the possibilities offered by synchronized sound.
Throughout his career, Èjzenštejn sought to understand rhythm and tempo in their psychological dimension: How fast do things seem to be going? What formal parameters or systems affect our sense of rhythm and of pace? These questions continued to inform his sound films, and shaped his work with Prokof’ev in fundamental ways.
This according to “A lesson with Eisenstein: Rhythm and pacing in Ivan the Terrible, part I” by Lea Jacobs (Music and the moving image V/1 [spring 2012] pp. 24–46). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.
Today is Èjzenštejn’s 120th birthday! Above and below, his Ivan Groznyj I, the film discussed in the article.
Though Greek people rarely perform it among themselves in their own country, where the dance is mainly a tourist attraction, the internationally renowned syrtaki choreography by Giorgos Provias from the 1964 film Zorba the Greek functions as a symbol of Greek identity worldwide.
In the last decade syrtaki has drawn further international attention through its documentation by Guinness World Records as the world’s longest chain dance performance—twice, in 2007 in Cyprus and in 2012 in Greece. The enduring popularity of this international dance phenomenon engages the concepts of cosmopolitanism, globalization, and urbanization.
This according to “For the syrtaki dance once more: Cosmopolitanism, globalization and urbanization in continuum” by Maria I. Koutsouba, an essay included in Dance, senses, urban contexts: Dance and the senses—Dancing and dance cultures in urban contexts (Herzogenrath: Shaker Verlag, 2017, pp. 173–83).
Above and below, the classic film sequence.
BONUS: The 2012 record-holding performance.
In an experiment, over 100 listeners reported associations with crime and detectives when presented with musical examples that were not originally intended to evoke such responses. These examples all involved melodic and harmonic tritones or half-diminished seventh chords, which have long been standard features of the music of crime-themed films, radio programs, and television shows.
The use of tritones and half-diminished chords in these contexts owes as much to their function as a style indicator of certain types of jazz—and as a genre synecdoche of people, places, and activities associated with that style—as it does to its history of harmonic ambiguity and associations with drama and woe in the European classical tradition.
This according to “Tritonal crime and music as music” by Philip Tagg, an essay included in Norme con ironie: Scritti per i settant’anni di Ennio Morricone (Milano: Suvini Zerboni, 1998, pp. 273–309).
Above and below, The man from U.N.C.L.E. brought a plethora of tritones to family televisions in the mid-1960s.
The soundtrack of Barbarella (1968) combines the popular lounge style of music from the 1960s with futuristic exotica to create a fun, sometimes psychedelic, experience that acts as a tool to propel the story forward from one sexual encounter to another.
This combination of the familiar lounge styling, so popular with the newly emerging bachelor section of society, with fantastic electronic sounds serves to transport viewers into this newly created movie universe.
Similar to the two different interpretations normally ascribed to the visual aspects of the film—that of “woman as currency” and the opposite of sexual empowerment—the music likewise can be heard in two differing manners; this disparity represents an issue that is still relevant in today’s society.
This according to “The intergalactic lounge: Barbarella and hearing the future” by Mathew J. Bartkowiak, an essay included in Sounds of the future: Essays on music in science fiction film (Jefferson: McFarland, 2010, pp. 134–147).
Above and below, vintage publicity for the film.