Grey Sighs of the Fog

The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid
An Appreciation
Parts I & II

By: Payman Akhlaghi

Music 597 Prof. Roger Bourland

Fall 2006 – Winter 2007 UCLA

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

Chapter 1

Yellow Wails of the Meadow

In 1928, Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948) wrote in praise of the Japanese Kabuki for its integration of the different sensory and intellectual elements of theater into a cohesive artistic entity, one that if perceived as it had been instinctually intended, would induce a unified emotional and dramatic effect in the audience. There, he spoke of “a monism of ensemble”, where “sound-movement-space-voice … do not accompany (nor even parallel) each other, but function as elements of equal significance.” The Kabuki artist employed the theater as a quasi-synesthetic medium, building “his summation to a grand total provocation of the human brain, without taking any notice which of these several paths he is following.” As he observed, for example, once a character moved to the fore of the stage, ever further away from a surrendered castle, his movement was conveyed and accentuated in four stages of removal: spatial (by the actor’s steps), flat painting (the change of backgrounds), intellectual indication (a curtain was understood to obscure the fading castle), and finally, the employment of sound (i.e. the Japanese samisen music with its rhythmic and onomatopoeic sonar characteristics.) In Kabuki’s cohesive appeal
Page 2 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

to sensory data, its application of the macro and micro views of the scenic and stage events, and in its sense and methods of timing and tension-building, Eisenstein found an ideal case in point for his own theories on “the basic unity of theater”, but more importantly, on what he now considered the rightful heir to theater, that is the art of cinematography. In his words, “here we find something totally unexpected […] where theater is transformed into cinema. And where cinema takes that latest step in its development: the sound film.” [These and all other subsequent quotations from Eisenstein are taken from The Unexpected, first published in 1928, found in Film Form, a collection of essays by the director, pp. 18-27. For more information, see below, Bibliography.] To him, the principles of cinematographic montage and the ideal state of soundfilm were already realized in the Japanese arts and its world-view, most conspicuously in the Kabuki theater, but also in the hieroglyphic notation of its language, and especially, in the pictorial imagery of its poetry. Here, he saw the perfect opportunity to emphasize what he had previously declared necessary in order to achieve “a contrapuntal method of combining visual and aural images. […] a new sense: the capacity of reducing visual and aural perceptions to a ‘common denominator.’” Of course, the quest for a gestalt experience in multi-media performing arts had not been unknown to the Western classical artists throughout the ages, the most eloquent expression of which could be found in the elaborate Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk, both in its theory and in its rather successful practice. But to Eisenstein, the co-operation of a

Page 3 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

multiplicity of elements in opera or even in “emotional theater” still lacked the inseparable cohesion of parts, as well as the immediacy of communication, as he found in Kabuki. In general, he thought “we also are slightly Kabuki! But not sufficiently!” Whether Eisenstein’s evaluation of the Kabuki theater was an accurate description of what this Japanese art actually was or that his judgment was heightened by a wellintended exoticism and a certain degree of language barrier, is open to speculation. However, regardless of what the conclusion may be, it does not seem to be of any prominent concern for our discussion if we are not familiar with this Japanese art as well as Eisenstein was. His words on the Kabuki theater are of prime value for us not as much for their ethnographic observations and critic, but for the fact that they were essentially meant to formulate and confirm his long-standing views on the art which he had come to love most: cinema. For an apprentice of film music, in particular, this brief study represents a most concise expression of the intricate relationship between picture and sound, the essence of the problems emerging from their interplay, and an insight into an approach toward finding the right solutions for a variety of situations. The fact that this article was penned by one of the greatest cinematographic minds of all time, whose collaboration with his namesake composer, Sergei Prokofiev, was destined to become legendary, could only add further to our interest.

Page 4 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

The New Sense

The “common denominator” in Eisenstein’s words may be best described as that underlying matrix of psychological events which propels the narrative of the greatest works of art and gives them a strong sense of cohesion. The sweeping momentum of a Beethoven symphony, the harmony between words and pitches in a Schubert song, or the multi-layered coordination of drama, music and visuals in a Wagner opera, all appear to stem from the artist’s prodigious ability to access this least ostentatious reservoir of creative resources. It is certainly there, and we certainly sense it, either as an emotional aggregate of the whole or as the quasi-tangible common denotation of the sound-picture and the dramatic elements. And yet, even in a more literary art such as theater or cinema, one might find it all but impossible to descriptively capture in words this elusive unifying thread of the drama with absolute certainty. Consider the all too well known case of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The plot might be described as to begin in grief and disdain, pushed forward by curiosity and the desire for revenge, and land in a partial settlement of the grievances and the fatalistic death of the hero. As such, the play follows the curve of a classic tragedy rather faithfully. But is there not more elements and layers to this story—the unanswered loves, loyalties and betrayals, sanity and madness, justice versus revenge, scrupulous investigation against impulsive action, nobility and savagery, and so on—the organic interweaving of which could not be so easily obviated in words?

Page 5 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

The mere reluctance of Hamlet in revenging his father’s death, for instance, has long been a cause célèbre amongst analysts and performing interpreters. Here is a partial illustration taken from various film adaptations:

Freudian interpretation attributes Hamlet’s reluctance to the unconscious workings of an unresolved Oedipus complex and hence, a tacit sense of complicity, a view which was most unequivocally taken by the Franco Zeffirelli/Mel Gibson team in their 1990 adaptation;

The present writer has long thought of it as a result of Hamlet’s sophisticated regard for the boundaries of the material world as opposed to the ancient world of spirits, his attachment to the etiquettes of nobility and the supremacy of reason, a perspective which is consistent with his educational background in philosophy and his royal status, and one that seems to be in line with the Grigori Kozintsev/Innokenti Smoktunovsky film version of 1963;

Alternately, one could see his long hesitation to act as an outcome of Hamlet’s effeminate, soft-spoken manners of nobility, a view seemingly endorsed by the 1948 Laurence Olivier production, or…

Consider him incapacitated to kill by a progressive early 20th century existential mind and a heroic soul trapped in a eighteenth or nineteenth century [sic!] body, as Kenneth Branagh did in his 1996 version, or yet…

Think of him as a sane young man simply thrown in a torturous depression by the agony of a knowledge he cannot possibly use in a court of law, as Michael Almereyda/Ethan Hawke did in their 2000 setting of present-day New York …
Page 6 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Excerpts of a Projected Book

Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

And so on.

The case of Hamlet’s hesitation for revenge, only one of many forceful dramatic elements in this play, demonstrates how futile would be any attempt in claiming the ultimate definition for the “essence” of this work. After all, amid their so many interpretive discrepancies, each of the aforementioned adaptations is successful in its own right, the story of Hamlet still captures their respective audiences, and with all likelihood, the play will continue to lure new artists into finding still fresher angles to tackle its all but too familiar plot for decades to come. Furthermore, in addition to the ambiguities of the character and plot, there still remain so many other interpretive and creative possibilities for so many of the other theatrical or cinematographic elements of this work—be it the scenic design, costumes, language style, sound design, lighting, historical setting, etc.—each of which could be played with latitude, but all of which should be in harmony with each other, if a coherent adaptation is desired. And now, let’s add music into the equation! Of all the intangibilities that impede communication in the social world behind the production of a play or a film, the abstract nature of the music by default makes it perhaps the hardest of all to be conquered. As we watch and listen to each of the above cinematic adaptations of a single play, be it accompanied by William Walton’s 1948 minimal usage of brass fanfares, Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1963 tragic mood of the octatonic strings, Ennio Morricone’s 1990 lyrical melodies, Patrick Doyle’s 1996 heroic orchestrations, or Carter Burwell’s 2000

Page 7 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

melancholic voice, we can see how each of these composers has tried to be consistent with the vision of his director, has more or less enhanced the overall atmosphere of the work, and still, has maintained a recognizable degree of his musical personality. Undoubtedly, at the outset of his job, each composer was faced with an almost infinite degree of possibilities—the tonal and harmonic language, instrumentation, placement of music, overall musical style, etc.—a rather frightening prospect indeed, until the choices became increasingly limited by each successive step. Notwithstanding their various degrees of success, the music of these composers all seem to have come in contact with that elusive “it”, that underground river of dramatic cohesion, the interface of music and all the other elements involved in this complex art-form. Thus, the challenge, as well as the solution, seem to be essentially the same for any composer who collaborates in a dramatic production, be it an intimate Kabuki ensemble or an extended cinematic production: in a miracle of human nature, to feel and to express that common denominator by the means of music.

Re-Establishing Shot

As our discussion is about music in film, we should bear in mind that:

Page 8 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

The ideal integration of music with other aural, visual and dramatic elements is often a much harder task to achieve in a cinematic context than it would be in a much more intimate setting such as the Kabuki ensemble or even in a live stage performance. On the other hand, through the works of noted film composers, from Max Steiner and Franz Waxman to Bernard Hermann, Jerry Goldsmith or John Williams, as well as those of directors with a heightened, perhaps intuitive musical taste and aural sensitivity, such as Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick or Steven Spielberg, an ever-expanding vocabulary of musical idioms, conventions and styles has accumulated that often mitigates much of the mystery involved in the process of composing for film. Like any other period in music, such semantic associations have conditioned the audiences to certain expectations [e.g. a diminished chord or a string cluster implies suspense; a wailing trumpet sets the mood for a film-noir], have given rise to safe conducts and clichés, have generated transient periods of common practice [the early symphonic era of Hollywood; the song period of the 60’s; the neo-romantic resurgence of the 70’s], and after awhile, have given way to new trends because of a breakthrough work or a simple change in public taste. There shouldn’t be any reason to fear the power of cinema to generate new connotations for abstract musical elements: as long as the cinematic artists handle this power with responsibility, it could help promote a more sophisticated musical taste in public. [Bach’s St. Mathew Passion could become unforgettable to an unacquainted ear after hearing its proper use in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice (1986); symphonic sound would be no more remote to the public ear after being exposed to Star Wars (1977).]
Page 9 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

Finally, notable achievements in film music could be found in the more commercially successful movies [Miklós Rózsa’s score for El Cid (1961); Simon/Garfunkel/Grusin work on The Graduate (1967)], as they could in the so-called art-films [Jürgen Knieper’s music for Wings of Desire (1987); the use of J. and R. Strauss, Aram Khatchaturian and György Ligeti music in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)]. There are also cases where the asymmetric sophistication of the music stands out and gives a helping hand to the lesser maturity of the film for which it was composed [William’s music for Jane Eyre (1970) and The Terminal (2004); Jerry Goldsmith’s score for The First Great Train Robbery (1979)].

Velvet Whispers, Crimson Cries

Of the same Kabuki performance, Eisenstein further wrote:

The moment of the discovery of the hiding-place [of the villain after a fight] must be accentuated. To find the right solution for this moment, this accent must be shaped from the same rhythmic material—a return to the same nocturnal, empty, snowy landscape [as seen earlier in the play]…

Page 10 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

But now there are people on the Stage! Nevertheless, the Japanese do find the right solution—and it is a flute that enters triumphantly! And you see the same snowy fields, the same echoing emptiness and night, that you heard a short while before, when you looked at the empty stage…

The multi-faceted connotations of a sophisticated musical composition, often hard to be verbalized, allows for adding layers of meaning to a naked scene, and even define its sense and purpose for the audience. Here, unlike a concert setting, an immediate emotional experience of the music precedes its intellectual appreciation. This would very much please Leo [Lev] Tolstoy (1828-1910), who late in his life —What is Art? (1896)—endorsed what he considered the immediate, contagious art, particularly in the world of music, over works that would require intellectual mediation. For him, the sincerity of emotion ruled in true art. What Eisenstein admires in the Japanese art strongly suggest that he had been influenced by the ideas of his compatriot. This is an ironic fact, because for all the ‘formalism’ that he was to be accused by the Stalinist regime, he seems to have always been an artist of nature at heart.

Occasionally (and usually at the moment when the nerves seem about to burst from tension) the Japanese double their effects. With their mastery of the equivalents of visual and

Page 11 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

aural images, they suddenly give both, “squaring” them, and brilliantly calculating the blow for their sensual billiard-cue on the spectator’s cerebral target. I know no better way to describe that combination, of the moving hand of Ichikawa Ennosuke as the commits hara-kiri—with the sobbing sound off-stage, graphically corresponding with the movement of the knife. There it is: “Whatever I [Givochini, a comic forced to sub for an operatic bass!] can’t take with my voice, I’ll show with my hands!” But here it was taken by the voice and shown with the hands! And we stand benumbed before such a perfection of—montage.

Today’s film audience is likely to take the synchronization of sound-music and screen movement in cinema for granted. From transliteration of action to music in works of animation or even live-action comic or battle-scenes— commonly dubbed as ‘mickey-mousing’—to broader thematic and atmospheric relationships found in more dramatic scenes, precise timing of the music to the picture is often paramount. But this article was written only one year after the very first talking-movie, the Jazz-Singer (1927) was released in the United States. Furthermore, Eisenstein’s Kabuki-based extrapolations for sound-film were being made from within a country, which still had a few years ahead to catch up with the new technology. In short, his views appear to be remarkably insightful.

Page 12 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

Not surprisingly, a few months following the publication of this article, in the fall of 1928, he embarked on a journey to Europe and the United States, in part to become acquainted with the new techniques of the sound-film. This 3year-plus journey (1928 to early months of 1932), although longer and less successful than intended, was not without its fruits. Perhaps most consequentially, was his apparently welcome visit to the Disney studios in Los Angeles, which at the time were making gigantic steps in the techniques of synchronization of sound-music and animation. Despite the fact that Snow White and Seven Dwarfs (1937) was released 5 years after Eisenstein left the United States, and the committed work on the monumental Fantasia (1940) was not begun until 1938, there is room to believe that Walt Disney and his team had already developed the necessary techniques for sound-picture coordination at the time of Eisenstein’s visit. Indeed, according to the film historian, Russell Merritt (2001, 2006), not only Eisenstein, but also his future collaborator, Prokofiev, studied and discussed the recording techniques behind these two feature musical animations while working on their most famous joint project, Alexander Nevsky (1938). Merritt also states that even “Prokofiev had been at the studio when parts of Fantasia were being recorded and mixed” (ibid). This is quite plausible, since although as early as 1934, he had moved back his home permanently to the Soviet Union, he toured the United States in a concert tour in 1938, and visited several studios (Jeff Eldridge, 2002). Prokofiev’s close involvement with the production of the film,
Page 13 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

composing and even recording some of the music as the film was being shot, his use of then modern recording techniques, such as mixing separately recorded tracks of chorus and orchestra or placing a bassoon closer to microphone for balance enhancements (ibid; and Prokofiev’s own recount), all bring the Disney animation-music techniques of the time to mind. Even some of the scenes were later cut to the original music, which had been already recorded, a rare opportunity for any living composer of the time. In Alexander Nevsky, principles of concert ballet and animation-style synchronization came together, a fact clearly demonstrated in the masterly choreographed battle sequence on ice, over a frozen lake, along with the dramatic cantata-style choruses elsewhere in the film. The timbral element for each side of the battle was uncanny: the dark and ominous low brass depicted the Teutonic forces, while a folk-like, lyrical chorus was assigned to the Russians. Here one also finds an example of a quite legitimate onomatopoeic cue, where to create further suspense—as the ice begins to break under the feet of the enemy army, the composer uses an eerie silence and timpani glissandi, to a maximum effect. The music understands the inner rhythm of the action, the well-thought pace of the montage, and the macro-scope of the drama, without losing the view of the microscopic sound elements. The “well-calculated blow of this sensual billiardcue” hits right on target, and the effect is mesmerizing. As seminal was Prokofiev’s work on Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky, it was coming five years after Max Steiner’s ground-breaking application of
Page 14 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

Wagnerian leitmotifs in the first stop-motion/live-action feature, King Kong (1933). According to the memoirs of the surviving members of the crew [featured documentaries on the 2005 DVD release], Steiner worked closely with the sounddesigner of the film in order to decide where and how the music could be heard— that ageless dilemma of the film-composers! The effort certainly paid off. Not only the individual themes, such as those associated with Kong or his love interest appear on time, but even the music manages to underscore an action, such as the footsteps of a sacrificial priest, with the drumbeats of the soundtrack, perfectly synched to his uneven descending pace on the stairs! The success of this symphonic score paved the way for many other well-educated composers, such as Erich W. Korngold, who arrived in Los Angeles a year later, fleeing the early signs of the Nazi persecution. With the involvement of such noted composers as Prokofiev, Steiner or Korngold, and later on, William Walton, Dmitri Shostakovich and Aaron Copland—often with one foot in the concert stage and another in the recording-studio—film music achieved a higher level of sophistication than it would have otherwise been afforded by the mere use of songs, folk or other forms of more accessible music. And yet, from Kabuki to King Kong, from Alexander to Superman, the question would remain the same: what music would work for the scene?!

Page 15 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

Chapter 2 Beyond Mere Accompaniment

A striking synthesis of music and picture occurs when the music goes beyond its commonly supporting roles, beyond defining the sentiment of a scene or accentuating the action in synchronic reinforcement, and instead, it finds a new function as a direct contributor to the narrative of the story. Consider the following examples:

A middle-aged woman challenges the musical memory of two innocent bystanders on a train by charging them with the responsibility of learning a tune and delivering it to the headquarters of the British intelligence services in person! The tune is defined to contain an encoded version of an important secret message, and it has to be protected from the hands of the enemy—Alfred Hitchcock, The Lady Vanishes (1938). A serial killer is finally captured by the people of a German town with the help of a blind man, who recognizes the killer by the tune he once whistled when he bought a balloon for a child victim—Fritz Lang, M (1931). In reinforcing the main concept of the film, a swirling melodic structure joins the twisting spiral figures of the opening credits and successfully conveys a maximum degree of dizziness—Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo (1958), with muic by Bernard Herrmann.

Page 16 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

A woman is being stabbed under shower. First a 4-note chromatic cluster, consisting of the pitch-classes Eb-E-F-Gb, with octave transpositions at M7 intervals, expands downwards in musical space. Next, repeated upward glissandi of the upper violins, finally ending each time on an accented M7 E-Eb interval, replaces the sound of her screams and the noise of the killer’s blows—Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho (1960), with music by Bernard Herrmann. (For an excerpt of the score, see R. M. Prendergast, Film Music: A Neglected Art, second ed., 1977-1992, W W Norton; p. 145. In 1995, copies of the original violin parts were at display in Hollywood Bowl Museum’s exhibition on film music.) Driving alone in an empty road, a young man is in a hurry to win back his beloved— just on the day she is going to get married to another man. The car is not properly maintained. We are listening to a carefree song. The song gradually slows down, as if it is now the sound of the engine. Via this ritardando, both the music and the car come to a full stop, communicating the fact that it has run out of gasoline. The effect is a juicy bit of deconstructionist comedy, hardly imaginable without such clever use of the music—Mike Nichols, The Graduate (1967), with music by Dave Grusin/Simon & Garfunkel. Following the death of a king, two heirs to the throne engage in a quarrel. The conflict escalates into a sword fight. The music begins to synchronically accompany each crossing of the blades. Finally, as one brother dominates the fight, they move off-camera, behind a set piece. Now, it is left to the percussive attacks of the music to continue the

Page 17 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

rhythm of the fight, and after a short pause, suggest the landing of the fatal blow— Anthony Mann, El Cid (1961), with music by Miklós Rozsa. A young and optimistic newly-wed strides the endless and steep stairs of her new apartment on an upper floor in an old building with an unceasing energy. The music first begins to accompany the overall rhythm of her leaping steps, but with each successive floor, it further falls behind—and out of breath—as would later do all of the other characters of the story, except her!—Gene Saks, Barefoot in the Park (1967), with music by Neil Hefti. The alien beings of a far-away world have finally arrived at their rendezvous with humans on planet earth. The seemingly impossible barrier of language is finally overcome through the intergalactic medium of music—Steven Spielberg, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), with music by John Williams. An accomplished director sits alone in the darkness of a private theater to see for the first time the mysterious gift which an old fatherly figure has left for him after his death. To his surprise, a succession of short clips from the better known love scenes of the history of cinema parade on the screen. Multiple layers of love and nostalgia appear in the almost wet eyes of the man and flow into the main theme of the film, now fully exposed. The reuslt is one of the most sublime epilogues in the history of the cinema, and perhaps that of any other dramatic art—Giuseppe Tornatore, Il Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (1988, revised and expanded edition 2003), with music by Ennio Morricone and Andrea Morricone.

Page 18 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

A foreign diplomat has become the target of an assassination plot. The act is expected to take place at the climax of a symphonic composition in the concert hall. The tension becomes tighter with each successive bar of music, until the heroine of the story succeeds in preventing the tragedy by shortly advancing on the percussionist—Alfred Hitchcock, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934, remade 1956), second version in particular. The music of this scene in both version is a Cantata by Arthur Benjamin. The music in the 1956 version is conducted by Bernard Herrmann, who also wrote the original music for the remainder of the film. It is the time of war. A love-song is being played in a café, imprinting itself on the memory of the two lovers and the audience, and weaving itself into the entire fabric of the musical score—Michael Curtiz, Casablanca (1942), with original music by Max Steiner, with L. Forbstein as director, and F. Friedhofer as arranger. The theme in question was from the precomposed song by the uncredited Herman Hupfeld.

The list could become easily extended if we also include those films in which a musician (e.g. the 2000 Claude Chabrol film, Merci pour les Chocolat or Billy Wilder’s 1964 satire, Kiss Me, Stupid) or a musical instrument (e.g. the 1993 Jane Campion drama, The Piano, with original music by Mychael Nyman) have been given an obviated prominent role in the main plot.

Page 19 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

Music As The Blueprint

For those directors with a more heightened sense of aural appreciation, the film itself might become an attempt in interpreting a musical composition. Consider the following cases:

The Lives of the Others (Das Leben der Anderen)

This film is one of the latest examples of an essentially prominent role for the music in the plot. As part of the story, a young playwright has just finished reading a seemingly published score by Edition Peters—in reality, an original composition by the film’s composer—at the piano. The score was a farewell gift to him from a fellow East German intellectual, before his committing suicide. The cover of the score reads in German, “Sonata for a Good Man”. In lines that directly reflect the Platonic argument on the purifying effect of music on the young souls, the character turns to his lover and asks her rhetorically, “How could anyone who truly hears this music be a bad person?” Unbeknownst to him, this moment has just been shared by another person, a Stasi surveillance officer who has been monitoring their apartment in secret. The music becomes a catalyst of transformation, and afterwards, the officer goes through a radical

Page 20 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

change, eventually sacrificing his position in the government in favor of saving the playwright from imprisonment. In a TV interview with Charlie Rose, the writer and director of the film, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, mentioned in length how he had asked the composer, Gabriel Yared, to compose this piece in advance, and how he had asked him to make a piece of music that if Hitler had heard in the years before WWII, he would have known the terrible consequences of his plans, and he would have avoided waging the war. The director described the music as being similar to the works of the young Alban Berg, as a depiction of what is real, and as something that won over him with repetition. The music indeed captures the essence of the era and the characters in its short span of few minutes.

Saraband

Ingmar Bergman is reputed for his highly sophisticated taste not only in cinema, but also in theater, in literature, and in classical music. Each of his films demonstrate a different approach to the application of music in film. Consider the following:

1960: In The Devil’s Eye, he opted for the unusual use of Scarlatti Sonatas, played on harpsichord.

Page 21 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

1968: In The Hour of the Wolf¸ the dissonant ambiguities of original modern compositions, almost in the style of musique concrète (Lars Johan Verle), mostly provide a window into the agony of the mysterious paranoia of the protagonist. This is while elsewhere, within the context of the story, a puppet presentation of an opera by Mozart yields in an enormously suspenseful and intense scene, which takes place in the mysterious castle. 1972: For Cries and Whispers, he chose a collection of classical pieces, including Chopin’s Mazurka in Am, to maximum effect. The above were in contrast to two of his better known works up to that point: in the case of The Seventh Seal (1957) and Wild Strawberries (1957), he had primarily employed the original music of a contemporary film composer, Erik Nordgren. 1975: Mozart’s Magic Flute received an interesting treatment by Bergman in his film production of the work. Compared to such later masterly operatic adaptations as Don Giovanni (1979) by Joseph Losey, or Carmen (1984) by the Italian neo-realist director, Francesco Rosi, Bergman’s work obviously lacks the transplantation of the action into more realistic settings. Indeed, it seems to be a straightforward TV adaptation of a stage production. Yet, Bergman has managed to convey intelligently his interprertation of not only the music, but the composer’s own personality and his niche in the global culture, through the synched cuts of various headshots during the musical Overture and the Interludes. Here, the director briefly examines various faces from the audience, each of a

Page 22 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

different age, sex or nationality and expression, one resembleing Penderecki and another Schoenberg, one an Indian and another a European, until each time he settles with the fermata on the clever smile of a little girl—Mozart’s spirit personified.

In an extended 145-minute documentary, made during the making of Winter Light (1962), Bergman was asked what the letters “SDG” meant at the end of his script. The well-known spiritual atheist answered candidly that the letters were an acronym for a latin expression, meaning “Only For the Glory of God”, and that he signed his works with those letters after Bach, who also did so at the end of his compositions. With such reverence for the master, it should not come as a surprise that the director’s last work to date, Saraband (2003), was not only named, but also structured, formally and thematically after a cello suite by J. S. Bach. Saraband is conspicuously divided into several episodes, each being introduced with a card, each bearing the title of a movement of a suite, and each being of a different sentiment. The composition for cello is intertwined with the film on several levels. On the one hand, each of these movement-titles open their respective episodes and set its tone and mood. On the other hand, two of the main characters of the piece, a musician father and his daughter, practice and play segments of the piece on two cellos. The intericacies of their love-hate relationship approaching incest, the suffocating tension of the father’s relation
Page 23 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

with his own father, the loneliness of these characters in the depth of a Swedish forest, and the sadness of it all, are so amazingly captured in the tone of the music. Overall, the film adds still another psycho-emotional, perhaps philosophical depth to the semantic associations of the original musical composition. We might also note that the title is possibly making a reference not only to the dignified and melancholic manner of a Baroque sarabande, but most importantly to a particular aspect of its rhythmic motif: “quarter - quarter - eighth rest - eighth note | quarter – quarter - quarter rest…”. The rise of the eighth-note on the last beat of the first measure is similar to a final gasp, very much like the autumnal rekindling of the old relationship between the old couple of the film, now reunited for a visit, the very protagonists of the earlier Scenes of a Marriage. This theme, besides the age of the director, resonated in the title of Time’s Richard Corliss’s review, The Lion’s Last Roar.

Les Uns et les Autres, aka Bolero

Claude Lelouch is a director with a heightened musical sensitivity, with an inclination towards the more popular genres. In his first signature piece, A Man and a Woman (1966), he allowed the memorable melody of Francis Lai, with a 3+3+4 meter, to reign over this poetic love-story at large. Later, with a
Page 24 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

stroke of humorous deconstructionism, he allowed the main character of The Crook (1970, played by the same actor but otherwise unrelated) to whistle that very theme upon simply hearing the expression, “a man and a woman”! The narrative of his later work, And Now Ladies and Gentlemen… (2002) is presented through the extended use of dramatically related songs, all ostentatiously related to the story-line, executed by the main character, herself a singer and played by a real-life singer, so much as the work becomes in effect a realistic take on the musical fable genre, without yielding into its numerous constraints. Yet, the sophisticated musical understanding of Lelouch is best in display in his 1981 three-hour poetic epic, Les Uns et les Autres, literally, “The Primary and the Secondary People”, but better known in the United States as Bolero. And there is good reason for this alternate title. True to Lelouchian fashion, Les Uns… opens with a poetic quotation to the effect that all life stories are variations of a single story. A man’s voice, presumably the director’s, also adds that all the characters of the film are based on real personalities, who once lived more- or less-known lives. The story spans approximately 45 years across the globe, from the beginnings of WWII in Russia and the reception of the news of the war in the United States, to a humanitarian festive gathering, organized by the United Nations in the 1980 Paris. Many of the characters are artists—singers, instrumentalists, dancers, or conductors. All characters are related to each other through the war, and their parallel or intercepting stories culminate quite effortlessly in that climactic celebration.
Page 25 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

Despite their surface differences, they all have one thing in common: they are all victims of the war, even strangely true in the case of a German conductor, who falls in love with Paris and with French music. In their relation to the war, their stories grow to appear as varied repetitions of a single theme. And in their convergence toward the symbolic celebration of humanity, they appear all ascending toward the glorious dénouement of a symphonic variation. Motives repeat, slowly come together, gradually add up and finally blast into an exuberant outburst. It is Shostakovich in the first movement of his Symphony No. 7. More closely, however, it is the Bolero. Viewed from this angle, the script is actually designed according to the formal strategies of Ravel’s Bolero. The world is the orchestra, the instruments are the characters, and the melody is the endless story of their sufferings and their hopes. Not only the film does not hide this relation in disguise, but it presents Ravel’s music in full display. Les Uns… begins its tale in a cold Soviet conservatory, as a young ballerina auditions for the role of her lifetime to the sound of the Bolero on the piano accompaniment. And it arrives at the climax of the work, four decades later, in a pleasant Parisian evening, by a French orchestra, conducted by a German maestro, sung (sic) by the soaring voice of an American singer and a French youth, attended by many of the victims and survivors of the war, and danced to by the son of that very young ballerina. While the overall arch of the film and the details of the script are based on the Bolero, Les Uns… also employs a large arrary of other musics and musical
Page 26 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

events. One of the most succinct instances in musical contribution takes place early on in the film, during a live concert. A middle-aged pianist is playing along with the orchestra. A young violinist notices his smiles and fixes her eyes on him beyond the music-stand. But as she gazes at him across the stage, her face becomes increasingly alarmed. The pianist is now prespiring and uneasy. His demise and eventual death off-camera is reflected not only on the face of the woman in shock, but more amazingly, by the increasingly erroneous pitches coming out of the piano, until they stop. We do not see the death of the pianist; we hear it through the death of his sound. (Compare to the epilogue of the 1956 George Sidney film, The Eddy Duchin Story.) At the climax of the film, that very Jewish woman violinist, having been lost to dementia after years of war, suffering and the search for his lost son, is now sitting next to his son in the audience, recently reunited, together listening to her grandson, singing the theme of Bolero.

Given the above, Les Uns… appears to be a rare accomplishment in cinematic use of pre-music, although it also offers an extended use of original music by both Francis Lai and Michel Legrand. It is a film that has used the music as the basis of its structure, as the conceptual core of its theme, and as the major cohesive element between its numerous characters, underlying a still independently viable narrative. Such close association of the picture with the music requires a genuine insight into both mediums, in addition to a true
Page 27 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Grey Sighs of the Fog: The Liaison of Pitch and Celluloid A Graduate Level Independent Research Paper, Submitted Toward Degree of PhD in Composition Author: Payman Akhlaghi Excerpts of a Projected Book Fall 2006 – Winter 2007, UCLA

understanding of the particular piece at hand. And the film succeeds in this not in a more or less fantastic setting such as an animation or a fable, but in a fully realistic environment. As such, with all likelihood, Les Uns… is bound to remain a singular achievement.

NOTE regarding Chapter 2: Titles, Names and Dates were primarily checked against, or retrieved from the reliable www.us.imdb.com, with occasional consultation of www.google.com or www.amazon.com. The films cited have all been screened, at least once, by the author, either in a theatrical setting or on the small screen.

(*) Complete Bibliography pending completion of the projected book.

Page 28 of 28

www.ComposerPA.com
© 2007, 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful