Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Great works I have seen

I read two books during my blog silence, Neverwhere and A Tenured Professor. I was strolling through the library aisles, looking for more science fiction to read. I grabbed the Gaiman and Lethem's Fortress of Solitude (not yet read) with this intention, when the title of the Galbraith perked my curiosity. Coincidentally, I picked this book one day before he died. Neverwhere is a great exploration of culture and desire, with some good Beast-slaying thrown in. A Tenured Professor is beguiling in its quiet presentation of political bombshells. It subtlely skewers Ivy League academia, economics, high finance, the media, and (most subtlely of all) personal relationships. I need to think about it more before I can describe my interpretation, but I'd be happy to hear other opinions.

I re-watched Lola Rennt with my students last week, reminding myself what a fabulous film this is. The music is captivating, from the techno to the pseudo-Honegger synthed strings to Billy Holiday. The actors are great, and the cinematography is spectacular. The week before, we watched The Mission. I've realized that while I love the music Ennio Morricone composes, I feel that it sometimes misconnects with the film. The entirety of Mission to Mars is an example of this, but so are some parts of The Mission. When the natives first start to pursue the Portugese soldiers' canoes, Morricone provides some victorious music that seems completely out of place. It suggests that the natives are attacking for the pure pleasure of winning, rather than to save their lives and freedoms. I also think the "Ave Maria" sung by the Guarani is made overly nasal, suggesting a primitivism that is unjust.


Peter (the other) said...

I am often surprised by how much those who have not experienced the truth, the hurly-burly that is the post production process of a film, assumes an orderly process of great and revered men (a constant musicological mistake, wrapped in the ├╝bermensch thinking). The composer, whether John williams, Jerry Goldsmith or whomever, all get to watch music they wrote for one scene get placed in another, shortened or lengthened (by repetition or insertion of music from another cue). No one is too important a composer so that the director (producer) does not treat his music like so much raw material to be used at his aesthetic pleasure.

One can't assume that Morricone provided any of the music you hear, for any specific synchronization. In Europe in particular, there is a long tradition of non-synchronized work, the composer provides music and the powers that be cut it in to the movie wherever they wish. Even in Hollywood (this years Oscar winner is a good example), this technique can be used.

Ethnomusicological accuracy is not as important to a filmmaker, rather, the semiotic message. Perhaps it was specifically to strengthen the impression of primitivism that the nasal passages were chosen.

The many years that separate your two films, and if you consider Morricone's age, the composers, you witness how much film music has changed from a subjective form to a functional form.

Scott said...

Peter, thanks for the correction on director vs. composer. I am pretty careful about that distinction in the classroom, but was careless in the post. I also agree about the semiotic intentions overweighing the cultural accuracy, but I think that is still a source of criticism. Why must the natives be portrayed as so primitive? They were clearly advanced culturally to be able to absorb European music so quickly. I found the singing to be offensive, whereas the use of Andean flutes was not. The flutes signified a different culture (even though it took place in the Amazon rather than the Andes) without suggesting it was a more primitive culture.

Peter (the other) said...

On a project as big as The Mission, and most films/tv shows of any size, often choices are made that very probably might have been different on another day. I think your point is interesting. I do not know Guarani and the vocal sounds required to speak it (that might be the reason). It also seemed as if the film took a very subjective stance to "The New World", what it must have been like for a Spaniard to find himself in such a situation. In which case the extra-primitive sound would have helped us imagine/experience what the spaniard was thinking/feeling.

Your question also raises the issue of what is a film makers social/political responsibility. That could fill a truck load of blogs :-)