The idea of montage is heavily explained, and defended by early soviet film-makers such as Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and Alexandrov. They would discuss theories in the construction and purpose of montage. When the introduction of sound into the cinematic experience, sure enough, the same soviets had much to say about the way sound should exist and interact with the montage.
The Soviets introduce a few possibilities for how sound can serve a purpose in montage, and also how sound could be the detriment of the piece. In attempts to stray away from the theater and grow into the potential film has apart from it use to capture theatrics, rather as a medium of constructing montage, the automatic adherence of sound to film is what is could be the driving detriment of a film. A “backing track”, so to speak, is what these thinkers are referring to: the purpose of adding sound for the sake of adding sound. This addition of a “backing track” to film is curious in early film because, often the music added to a film was being performed by a live orchestra in the cinema. In order to avoid “destroying the culture of the montage” a few applications for sound in film are introduced.
This particular permutation on my usual lecture occurred following a screening rich with films composed either in whole or in part from found footage: Take the 5:10 to Dreamland (Bruce Conner, 1976), The Exquisite Hour (Phil Solomon, 1994) and Is This What You Were Born For?, pt 7: Mercy (Abigail Child, 1989). The readings I had students do were “Montage as the Foundation of Cinematography,” a chapter from Lev Kuleshov’s The Art of Cinema, Sergei Eisenstein’s “The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram,” and Abigail Child’s “Locales” interview with Michael Amnasan, reproduced in her book This Is Called Moving: A Critical Poetics of Film.
Grades for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Fall 2016 semester were due today, and I wanted to take the occasion to do a quick postmortem on “Comedy and the Moving Image,” which I consider to be the most successful course I taught this term—as well as one of my most fun and productive courses ever taught. I’ve posted several lesson plans from this course already throughout the past couple of months. Links to those will be provided below, as I sketch out a skeletal version of the course’s themes, and some of its most interesting surprises.
It is a shame to only teach one week on animation in an Intro to Film class, but I bowed to departmental tradition when I taught Intro to Film in spring 2015 and devoted only my final week of class to it. My screening for this week included Hummingbird Wars (Janie Geiser, 2014), Adventure Time S1E6, “The Jiggler” (Larry Leichliter, 2010), and The Lego Movie (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, 2014).
This lesson preceded that screening, and pursued the following learning objectives: 1) I wanted students to understand that animators can work with individual frames of cinema, which can lead to the illusion of movement, but doesn’t have to. This would prep them for the flicker effects and broken motion of Geiser’s Hummingbird Wars. 2) I wanted to direct student attention to the salient aspects of Eisenstein’s theory of the “plasmatic” potential of animation, which finds expression in the Adventure Time episode. 3) I wanted students to be able to express some key aesthetic differences between hand-drawn and computer generated animation—specifically, that while hand-drawn animation excels at fulfilling Eisenstein’s “plasmatic” potential, CG animation excels at accurately simulating the physics of our everyday world.
Spending one week on sound in an Introduction to Film course can be a daunting task. So much vocabulary, and so many new issues to discuss, with only a class or two to dwell on them. What to do?
I like to take this week to introduce the concept of synesthesia—the “bleeding” of one sense into another that results in sensations in one sensory modality being interpreted as impressions in another. It’s a phenomenon that has been studied from the era of classical Greek philosophy up through modern neuroscience, and it has provided inspiration to artists for nearly as long. For understandable reasons, it was something that was on a lot of filmmaker’s minds during the transition to sound cinema. Turning to this topic allows us to rope in stalwarts of classical film theory such as Eisenstein and Vertov, and to freely intermingle experiments in feature filmmaking with more radical experiments in the avant-garde.
In this particular lesson, I focus on music. If one’s spending two days on sound, this leaves another class for sound effects, if one so desires. Continue reading →