Presentation Expectations and Nourishment

I have received quite a few emails in the last two days about final presentations tomorrow indicating that many of you have questions and doubts about what is expected. Thus, I elaborate:

  • Limit your visual media. Since presentations are only 10 minutes long, you should keep film clips to a minimum. Generally, two clips is plenty to cover in a brief presentation.
  • Focus on the argument rather than plot summary. As should be the case with your papers, the argument/thesis is more important than a blow-by-blow account of what happens to music in your film(s) of choice. Remember, your colleagues will be giving you feedback in the form of comments and questions. You want them (and me) to have the best understanding of what you are trying to do. Note: those doing creative projects should focus on explaining creative choices.
  • Keep the classroom’s technology in mind. Our classroom computer runs a Windows OS, has two browsers on the desktop (Chrome and Firefox), and uses VLC and Quicktime to process visual clips. If you intend to use a laptop, you are responsible for bringing a VGA adaptor.
  • Slides are optional. I personally avoid using slides for short presentations unless a visual display of information can do something that is more difficult in words. If you are savvy with making your own film clips, embedding them in a slide software such as Google Docs, Prezi, or PowerPoint will save time. (Note: If you are using PowerPoint on a flash drive, you will need to copy over the film files as well.) If you intend to transfer your presentation to the computer via email, it’s best to email the files to me rather than to yourself. This will save time.
  • Order is determined by those who have academic commitments before 6PM. You are all responsible for coming up with a suitable presentation order. Those who have a class meeting later in the afternoon should get priority. Everyone else is expected to attend all of the presentations.

3-plus hours is a long time to spend together and we never worked out how we were going to get food for final presentations. Thus, I bring you a poll where you can tell me which cuisine choices are the best. Respond by Thursday at 9AM to have your voice heard!

Tika Tika Walk

Delicatessen (1991) is a quirky film that uses music and sound to draw the audience into its world and detract from the horrors of its plot. What else explains how a film the prominently features cannibalism can be so funny and charming? The soundtrack itself is eclectic, featuring such unique timbres as accordion, musical saw, and crooning vocals. This is no surprise since one of its directors, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, has made a career of setting quirky plots to unique music and sound design.

There are a number of scenes that illustrate how music and sound design soften the grotesque aspects of the plot (c.f. the musical saw and cello duo); however, the “Tika Tika Walk” scene stands out for highlighting dance over its other unique aspects, mainly rhythm and timbre. Luison demonstrates his three-legged dance to Mademoiselle Plousse while she flirtatiously dances and shakes the maracas.

As one of many instances in the film that features music that is loosely based in Latin rhythms, this one stands out for the way its subtly highlights foreignness alongside grotesque humor. This helps to fuel jealous tension between the romantic leads: Luison and Julie. She sees the flirtation, and Luison’s three-legged outfit highlight both his appeal to the residents of the building and his inability to immediately qualm her insecurities. The rhythm is an intentionally ham-handed interpretation and transformation of another song with a similar title, “Tico Tico no Fubá,” the most internationally famous example of choro. What is that instrument? And why is the rhythm so simplistic? Compare “Tika Tika Walk” with a richly textured performance “Tico Tico no Fubá”:

The composer for this film, Carlos D’Alessio, also utilizes Brazilian rhythms in the music for the film’s credits. In both of these cases, only those listeners aware of the specificities of Brazilian musical content would recognize it.* (It is no surprise that choro keeps appearing in French films – Paris and Rio de Janeiro have had a close cultural affinity for one another for over a century.** Further, Parisian audiences were an important part of choro and samba‘s international spread in the 1930s.) Apart from that, these examples of transformed Latin music highlight the ways that the characters in a post-apocalyptic apartment complex haunted by cannibalism and botched suicide attempts are finding joy in a situation that would be unimaginable. It’s a creative statement both on the world of the film and the full extent of music’s globalization.

* Full disclosure: I have seen this film many times, and I only began to hear the Brazilian content in the last two years.

** The cultural exchanges between Paris and Rio de Janeiro are well documented. For two good discussions, see Hermano Vianna’s The Mystery of Samba: Popular Music and National Identity in Brazil and Ruy Castro’s Rio de Janeiro: Carnival Under Fire.

Sound Art in French Film

Here is the reading for this week. Our screened film is Delicatessen (1991), directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro. Jeunet is best known for Amélie (2001), A Very Long Engagement (2004), and Alien Resurrection (1997). In addition to Delicatessen, we’ll also discuss scenes from among the following films: Amélie, Nikita (1990), The Triplets of Belleville (2003), and 8 Women (2002), among others.

Self-Awareness in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

There are some telling moments in the first half of Les parapluies de Cherbourg [The Umbrellas of Cherbourg], where the sung dialogue reveals a self-awareness of the strangeness of a non-stop movie musical. The first instance happens at the beginning of the film. Guy is talking/singing with two of his coworkers about his evening plans to attend Bizet’s Carmen at the theater on a date. One of Guy’s coworkers in the garage complains about opera, “I don’t like operas. Movies are better… All that singing gives me a pain.”

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 7.50.51 PM Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 8.13.14 PMThat he says (sings!) this while in the midst of a movie musical/opera is a conspicuous moment of self-awareness. Within the first 5 minutes of the film, the audience has been treated to title music and a jazzy set-up for the garage. The initial shock of non-stop singing still lingers for many first-time viewers and to have a character indicate that this is difficult may help win some over to the film’s assaultive aesthetic (and perhaps its melodrama).

Later in the film’s first part, after Geneviève and Guy consummate their love the night before he goes off to war, Geneviève confesses to her mother that she lied about her evening outing. When she says “I cannot live without him,” her mother comforts her by saying, “Stop crying. Look at me. People only die of love in movies.”

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 8.31.33 PM

People also die of love in opera, and the movie where this statement is made is basically an opera. The self-awareness in that moment is quite funny and could potentially cause some cognitive dissonance. The style of the film is as foregrounded as ever – the pattern on Madame Emerg’s bathrobe matches the wallpaper – and yet, the film pushes it even further in the audience’s attention by foregrounding the artifice of a movie musical. It’s quite clever as a style and places the film firmly within a post-New Wave (Nouvelle Vague) sensibility.

A.R. Rahman Goes Broadway

During the group screening of Lagaan, there was a moment when the entire room let loose with uncontrollable laughter. True to “masala” style, this film had many comic moments, but the laughter that spread throughout ACE 217 was due to a scene that was not intended to be funny.

When Elizabeth enters with her solitary confession of (unrequited) love for Bhuvan, the music shifts from Bollywood fusion to something more appropriate for Western Europe, and dare I say it, the Broadway stage. Gone are the lilting syncopated rhythms and fretless bass that is so crucial to the sonic palette of most of the film’s songs. Instead, Rahman introduces a harp followed by straight rhythms performed by operatic altos, violins and even a flute. Their melody consists of a rather simplistic contour in something of a caricature of Western European art music: upward moving arpeggios followed by a rounded descent, the second time with more ornamentation. To visually complement this, Elizabeth dances around her room, lays in her bed, and releases a white dove. As she sings, her rhythms are even and easy and the orchestra is replaced by warm synth patches with an occasional viola line. This is the vocal approach that audiences of musicals in New York City and London are accustomed to hearing. All it lacks is some of the richness of, say, Sarah Brightman, and it could easily be mistaken for any number of composers whose music gestures to opera (I’m looking at you, Andrew Lloyd Weber). Given that A. R. Rahman would be involved in a stage musical, Bombay Dreams, within a year of Lagaan‘s release indicates that Broadway’s approach to dramatic climaxes in songs was not too far from his thoughts.

The entry of Broadway in the middle of a “masala” bollywood film shocked just about everyone. I giggled and it spread like wildfire. It is a jarring moment that is meant to musically demonstrate some of the fundamental differences between Bhuvan and Elizabeth just at the moment when he is declaring his love for Gauri. By mixing these two approaches, Rahman exaggerates the musical differences between England and India. However, it’s also jarring to hear singing in English (and the faux Western European Art Music) when the only lyrics the audience has heard thus far are sung in a dialect of Hindi. As the two styles and languages become more mixed and layered towards the end (“O rey chhori” / “Oh I’m in love”), the sequence utilizes a common technique to musicals: the layering of two seemingly disparate songs for dramatic effect known as a “combination song.” The technique will not work if the dramatic function of one of those layers is called into question, as was the case with Elizabeth’s music at the class screening; the camp overtook the seriousness with which the music and direction treated the love triangle.

If comments on youtube are any indication, some audiences find this song to be an emotional climax for the love portion of the story. Many Bollywood films relish the heightened emotional expression of song, even if it veers towards the ridiculous. (Students from Music and the Global Metropolis got to see another example of this.) I can’t speak for the rest of the group that attended the screening, but when I laugh, I do so with an appreciation for why someone else might see it with all seriousness. And underneath the smile, I wish I could let go and get caught up in Elizabeth’s ecstatic declaration of unrequited love. That’s powerful stuff.

Bollywood II

Here is the additional reading for next Thursday. The author, Greg Booth, is known for Behind the Curtain (available through USF online), a book on the process of making music in Hindi Cinema.

Most of what we discuss next Thursday will deal with what happens to this film industry (and its music) after the economic liberalization of the 1990s. Recent blockbusters have been propelled to huge profits due to simultaneous releases through streaming video services and cinemas. This, of course, is having an effect on how the music is composed and how it is incorporated into film.

For those of you who want to view the clips we covered last Thursday once again, here they are:

“Dream Sequence” from Awara (1951)

“Eena Meena Deeka” from Aasha (1957)

“Holi Aayee Rei Kanhai” from Mother India (1957)

“Aaja Re Pardesi” from Madhumati (1958)

“Dum Maro Dum” from Hare Krishna Hare Rama (1971) (MP3 here)

“Aashiq Ho To Aisa Ho” from Noorie (1979)

RD Burman’s Scoring Techniques

RD+Burman+RDBurman

Bollywood film composers normally garner most of their praise for the songs on the soundtrack. R.D. Burman is no exception to this. As I stated in a previous entry, Sholay’s soundtrack is a major reason why the film was such a big hit in the theaters. One of the less  appreciated aspects of this Hindi cinema composer is his approach to blending the ambient soundtrack to scoring action sequences. For example, during the train scene at the beginning of the film, Burman uses the sound of the orchestra to mimic the sounds of the train whistle. It might be hard to miss except that the the brass blasts repeat at predictable intervals and their pitch changes as the scene progresses. As the action heats up, the percussion beats mimic the chugging sounds of the train. One might miss that Burman is borrowing the train sounds in this score were it not for their regularity and slight deviations in execution more typical of musical performance. As you listen to this scene, pay attention to how the sounds of the orchestral blasts and percussion are used to blend the action and the affect as Jai and Veeru do the honorable thing for Thakur, their captor.

Through his collaboration with his musicians, Burman is able to employ a similar effect in the chase scenes towards the end of the film (around 02:42:00); however, in this case it depends upon his use of traditional North Indian instruments thereby changing his role and the music’s function. When Basanti is attempting to escape Gabbar Singh’s men, the score introduces some ferocious tabla playing. The rapid beats on the right hand create a rough mickey-mousing effect with Basanti’s footsteps. As the scene progresses, the tabla blends with the sounds of the horse-hooves hitting the ground in a chase. It is a knowing display of compositional and improvisatory dexterity that mixes the affect and action of the scene. As a viewer, I can interpret the tabla beats and enharmonics as mimicking Basanti’s heart-racing panic as she tries to escape, or I can follow them to their physical logic in a manner similar to what the class has observed in other action sequences–an attempt to make the audience’s heart race through elevating tension. As my friend and colleague Allen Roda explained to me, tabla players are famous for being able to make their instruments mimic a wide variety of sounds: birds, trains, horses and more. It isn’t a surprise that the musician came so close to the sounds of the horse hooves. Further, the transition from first five seconds to the cart elevates the tension in the scene, demonstrating that the tabla player is accompanying the action in the scene through an improvisation more than playing a composition – he is clearly following and enhancing the action on-screen through his playing. The low pitched “ge” gives the music a cyclical sense of periodicity, or, in other words, a sense of stable time.

The other level at work here is how the music highlights the genre borrowing that is fundamental to the film. Through its narrative conventions, Sholay is a clear blending of Spaghetti Western and Hindi film;* it features gun fights, train robberies and a vigilante sense of justice. Yet, there are many instances when the film emphasizes its time-frame in the 1970s; Jai and Veeru enjoy their ride on a motorbike, and at one point, Jai picks up an automatic weapon to gain the advantage in a gun fight. By bringing the sounds of Hindustani music to the foreground in the chase scene, Burman further emphasizes the ways that the film blends 1970s India with narratives of honor and justice more fitting for the Wild West.

R.D. Burman’s musical approach is fundamental to making this blending work in a filmic context. As a composer, he was most famous for adapting “Western” (i.e. based in European classical and popular music, not the Western genre film style) scoring techniques to Hindi cinema through rhythmic complexity. As Ethnomusicologist Gregory D. Booth has argued, Burman’s adoption of Hollywood scoring techniques and linear notions of rhythm and time (in contrast to the cyclical nature of Hindustani’s tala) made his films more viable and current with a younger and more globally oriented generation. In both scenes above, Burman emphasizes the narrative imperative of the music and rhythmic regularity to ground the audience while also allowing them to feel tension and excitement. It makes these scenes especially satisfying when compared to scoring conventions from other parts of the world.

* In this week’s reading, Ganti points out that the film blends other narrative conventions – love, action, comedy, drama, song – making it a masala.

Sholay

sholayyehdosti1975amitabhdharmendra

This week’s film is Sholay (1975), one of the highest grossing Bollywood films of all time. Due to the film’s length (just under 3.5 hours), we will be ordering pizza(s) for the group screening.

Fun fact about this film: it took a few weeks for it to find an audience, but the successful release of the soundtrack album (with snippets of dialogue) alongside good word of mouth helped propel it into the stratosphere of success. The film’s story and style borrow heavily from Spaghetti Westerns (e.g., A Fistful of Dollars). Slumdog Millionaire (2008) refers to one of the film’s stars, Amitabh Bachchan, in a comedic scene at the beginning of that film.

AAMITAAAAAAABH

AAMITAAAAAAABH

Term Paper Proposals

Now that we are in Mod 2, written work is going to be directed towards a larger term paper. I generally require formal proposals to ensure that everyone is on the same page and is fully prepared to do the work necessary to write a good paper.

Proposals should state the research questions, the method, and attempt to place the inquiry into a larger intellectual framework. That larger framework means that you will consult other scholarly sources on your topic in addition to the textbook(s). Proposals should be 250-500 words, and they should append an annotated bibliography of at least 3 scholarly works to get you started (creative project proposals will require at least 2 scholarly works in the bibliography). This means that you should, at a minimum, skim the source you find and briefly explain how it will help you write a good paper.

In class, some of you asked about the best scholarly resources. I have placed a number of books on reserve in the library. There are also additional book-length studies that might be useful to you, depending on topic, that are available through UBorrow. In addition to JSTOR, Project MUSE, and Google Scholar, the best place to consult journal articles on music and film are in the following databases (all available through the “Databases” tab on the NCF Library website):

RILM Abstracts of Music Literature

Music Index

International Index of Music Periodicals

These three journals specifically address music and film and might be worth browsing online:

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (via Project MUSE)

Music and the Moving Image (via JSTOR and EBSCOhost)

Journal of Film Music (available through ILLiad)

Proposals are to be emailed as a PDF by 11:59PM on November 1st. Please feel free to make an appointment to meet and discuss your ideas.