Tell Your Tale
In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, we have many different themes presented: love, passion, rebellion, and individuality, to name a few. However, the theme that has the most influence is that of humor. In Andrea A. Lunsford and John J. Ruszkiewica’s book, Everything’s an Argument, they note, “Humor has always played an important role in argument, sometimes as the sugar makes the medicine go down” (46). In this movie, we can connect with Jack Sparrow as the “sugar [that] makes the medicine go down” and more readily accept various arguments made throughout the movie (46). Jack Sparrow's introductory scene displays this comedic relief. In this scene music helps propel the tone of humor. This is done through irony, timing, and emphasis in music.
The entrance scene for Jack Sparrow immediately signifies his role in the movie. At first, we see him with his back to us, standing on top of a ship’s sail—wind blowing, sun setting in the distance, and his posture upright with a hand on the waist. The image is noble, brave, and triumphant. The music aligns exactly with this image. There is use of drums and a French horn, as if he is a leader of a marching army and victor of the seas. However, when we zoom out to discover he is in a small boat flooded with water, we realize he is a wanderer in a disaster. The music’s mood does not change even though our perspective changes. This creates irony and invites the comedic relief yet to come. Not only does the action contradict the music, but Jack Sparrow’s clothing contradicts the music. We would expect a clean, silver-buttoned uniform and shiny boots in accord with the colonial sounds, but he is wearing dirty, worn clothing and dread locks. This dissonance strikes a chord of sarcasm. He, in fact, holds his hat to his heart when passing fellow martyred pirates. This is a gentleman act, which agrees with the music, but greater reflects the behavior of the English government than a sinking pirate.
There are pauses in the music of this scene that contribute to the humor. When the pirate is greeted by a civilian, the music stops, as if we have left Jack Sparrow’s world and entered the real world. A hanging note is struck before the silence, leaving us focused on what is said and anticipating the next note. In Understanding Movies, Louis D. Gianetti points out, “Music and song often replace dialogue” (2). This scene supports that claim because when there is no dialogue, there are music and visuals to communicate. Furthermore, this particular scene seems to separate dialogue and music bluntly. By doing so, the music becomes the theme music in Jack Sparrow’s ironical life. When the pirate presses on, the marching music presses on as if we are reconnected to Jack Sparrow’s individual, humorous story.
In the timing of the music, Jack Sparrow’s moves are emphasized, as if he moves the music along. The boat sinks to perfect timing of stepping onto the dock. When he steps, a louder, lower chord is struck. Gianetti recognizes that “The ear […] is just as selective as the eye” (2). Without seeing, we would still know an event occurred, just by the emphasis on tone and volume. The music conveys that an important step is being made, just as much as the close-up on Jack’s raggedy boots hitting the dock do. By using an original soundtrack, the movie can manipulate the songs to be softer or stronger so as to mimic the rocking of a boat or the booming of guns. While this is effective for many reasons, it leaves out the possibility of using familiar songs that have acquired meaning in the public already.
These examples of how music is used to enhance the film are only a few. The use of irony, timing, and emphasis through music tells a story and generates laughter to better the whole experience. The perfect contradictions in instruments and melody, the impeccable timing of movements with music, and emphasis on action in volume and note create an argument that this is a story that involves humor to tell its tale.