Thursday, January 31, 2013

Jurassic Park

Falan Fish

According to Louis Giannetti in Understanding Movies, “music can serve as a kind of overture to suggest the mood or spirit of the film as a whole” (Giannetti 214), and the music in Jurassic Park does just that. In fact, the poignancy of the music is so memorable that the main theme song is listed as number 15 out of the top 25 most recognizable movie soundtracks. But why is this so? What about this is so “memorable”?

Well, in the beginning of the movie the main characters sit in a helicopter as they travel towards the island where Jurassic Park is located. So far Dr. Grant and Dr. Sadler have no clue what they are going to visit, and, technically, neither do we. As they sit in the helicopter discussing their professions, fast paced, high-pitched music plays rather noticeably in the background. Besides simply propelling the action in the scene forward, the music performs a greater purpose. Because “the faster the tempo of sound, the greater the tension produced in the listener” (Giannetti 208), the music serves to heighten our anticipation of what is soon to come. It also emits a tone of impatience and wonder as it builds up to a pivotal moment, which further connects the music and us, as listeners, to one of the overall themes of the movie. This theme conveyed by Jurassic Park is the potential danger of science and the danger of scientists who wield that power. As Dr. Malcolm says, “You’re scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” The scientists of the film were impatient. They were so excited to see the wonder they could create, that they didn’t even pause to think of the consequences of their actions, which Michael Crichton argues is exactly parallel to scientists in real life.

From here the music climaxes with the introduction of the main theme song as the island is revealed for the first time. Here the song is very dramatic and loud in volume. The speed continues from before as fast paced, emitting an emotion of wonder, accomplishment, and overall pride that transfuse with our own emotion. In Everything’s an Argument Andrea Lunsford says, “If you strike the right emotional note, you’ll establish an important connection” (Lunsford 33). With the help of the grandiose music, Jurassic Park established this connection early on, in order to keep you connected with the rest of the film. This connection then helps us recognize its messages and, of course, make the studios money at the same time.

As the characters are riding in jeeps through the park, the music immediately stops and changes as they approach an off-screen dinosaur for the first time. While we still can’t see the dinosaur the music is slow, very lowly pitched, and laced with foreboding, emphasizing the gravity and significance of what they can see but we can’t. Obviously the message here is that these dinosaurs shouldn’t have been created and it foreshadows the destruction to come. Once we see the dinosaur, however, we immediately forget this as the film switches back to our happy, awe inspiring theme song, albeit slower and quieter this time to convey the admiration of the living, breathing dinosaur.

The main theme song is used many more times throughout the movie, and each time it represents something a little different depending on the particular context of the scene. The most dramatic change is at the very end. The song here uses a piano and slowly morphs into light orchestral instruments to produce amazement, appreciation, and a sense of humility (as opposed to pride), not for what has been created but for life and nature, themselves. There is so much more I could say on the music of the film, especially the scene with the baby raptor, but that alone would produce enough information for another entry. As a whole the music drastically adds to the emotions and messages conveyed by the film. Without it, Jurassic Park wouldn’t be the same. Because of its importance to the film, it’s importance in emotionally connecting the audience, and it’s own fame, I grant the music a 3-ticket rating. 

Field of Dreams

                I once saw a quote on a movie poster for this film that I think sums it up quite nicely.  It said, “All his life, Ray Kinsella was searching for his dreams.  Then one day, his dreams came searching for him.”

                Field of Dreams is not so much a sports movie as it is an inspirational drama about believing in something greater than oneself and reaching out to others regardless of the cost.  Does it help to have some knowledge about White Sox outfielder Joe Jackson and the 1919 World Series?  The answer is yes, but one does not have to be a baseball fan to embrace the magic surrounding the character played by Kevin Costner.  One’s imagination would be peaked regardless as the farmer, Kinsella, hears a mysterious voice tell him, “If you build it, he will come.”  What really make this moment stand out are the sounds that give the scene an aura that establishes the setting as something more than the middle of a corn field in Iowa.  This is a theme that will be consistently repeated throughout the film, in which this world and the next collide from Iowa to Massachusetts and from the present day to a bygone era.

                A simple whisper in the night with almost no sound accompanying it is how the film gets under way after the setting is established via a montage of photos.  Kinsella looks around in confusion as he hears it while walking through his field.  This was meant to be awkward to the audience, as strange as it seems to the protagonist himself.  We heard a cue prior to it, a slightly jarring screech that only the audience hears, a sign that something is amiss and giving the following voice an initial ominous feel.  Other than that, silence is golden.  Then something changes, and a light-hearted air of chiming bells precede the voice as Kinsella hears them over and over as he attempts to understand them.  Then he finally sees a vision that shows him that he must build a baseball diamond, and another thing changes.  The stunned silence that follows is replaced by a few soft notes of piano music that eventually increase into a full melody that represents the reflection and subsequent understanding by Kinsella.  The Iowa farmer hears the voice again and again throughout the movie, and from here on in, the sequence of sounds surrounding the voice will remain the same.  Composer Clint Mansell mentioned such a repetitious soundtrack in one of his movies in the article “Music and Mood”.  He claimed not to be discouraged by having such repetition, as his synthetic accompaniments helped create the overall feel for the film that was desired by producer and audience alike (Kroll 1).  The same thing seems to apply here, as they overlying music maintains the aura of magic and the otherworldly feel that give Field of Dreams its identity.  The songs that take up whole sections of films might leave a temporary impression, but perhaps it’s the single notes that give the movie a truly lasting one.

                After a while, the sequence of sounds surrounding the voice does more than just evoke emotion in the audience; it creates a sense of logic through its repetition.  We know that something very important is going to happen simply because we hear the bells start ever so slightly while all other sounds gradually fade away.  For example, Kinsella is sitting in the stands at Fenway Park in Boston when he sees a message on the scoreboard that he thinks might be a clue.  We pay attention to everything that stirs our senses in any way at that moment, and, through logos, when we hear the chime of a bell, we know the voice is about to speak.  And sure enough, the atmosphere of the ballgame fades away, and Kinsella hears, “go the distance”.  Arguably the best moment for logos is late in the movie, when Kinsella has somehow gone back in time to meet a ballplayer from half a century ago and picks up a random hitchhiker who turns out to be exactly who he’s looking for.  We do not know initially who the hitchhiker is, but when Kinsella asks him what he does and the man replies, “I play baseball,” we hear three piano keys, as if being told to focus on this man and take a guess as to who he is.  Sure enough, Kinsella asks him what his name is and he replies, “Archie Graham,” the name of the ballplayer Kinsella had been searching for.  We knew what was coming, if only for a split second, as the music told us what to listen for.  We inadvertently use logic every day, and in movies, our ears are as powerful a tool as our eyes in regards to learning about the plot and figuring out what will come next.

                The movie soundtrack is comprised mainly of background music and individual notes designed to add drama, but there are a few exceptions, most notably when time and space are being crossed.  Upon hearing the voice tell him to “ease his pain” Kinsella embarks on a long-distance drive to Massachusetts, which is accompanied by some fast-paced rock music by the Doobie Brothers.  This does something more for me than just give us something fast-paced to match the images we are seeing.  This is a break from the drama, a relief from this cross between reality and assumption.  Shakespeare used buffoonery in the midst of his tragedies to take the edge off his audiences, and that’s what this does.  We get a break from thinking and are treated to rock music and a few laughs as Kinsella stumbles over what he plans to say when he meets the author whose pain he was told to ease.  The movie came back down to earth in many ways.  We no longer feel isolated from a main character who seems to be “above us”, and we are more readily in tune with what will come next, undoubtedly something important.  I think that this scene fits in with the section on pathos in Everything’s an Argument by Andrea A. Lunsford.  One’s audience needs to identify with them if an argument is to be made or if such a character is to keep his audience behind him (Lunsford 34).  This music is mainstream; the audience has heard it before, just as many of its members have also probably driven long distances.  This connects them in an additional way with Kinsella.  We would never leave his side throughout the film, but now we have one less reason to anyway.  Music is often pure emotion made tangible through words, and I would say that this change-of-pace scene does wonders for the well-being of the audience in this very emotionally-charged film.

                  You do not need to be a sports fan to love this movie and appreciate the fine sounds associated with it.  I will give Field of Dreams three tickets in a heartbeat.  Just remember that, sometimes, those voices we think aren’t real just might be more so than we can ever imagine.   And also that, when we least expect it, they will come.

Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump

“For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield

 “Music is what feelings sound like”.  Author Unknown

The greatest film soundtracks are those that play just as big a role as the actors. Great soundtracks add depth and support to a film. One of the most acclaimed was that of the classic film, Forrest Gump. The album includes several famous tracks, and was nominated for an Academy Award. One song in particular is imprinted in my mind forever. That song is Buffalo Springfield’s, For What It’s Worth, from 1966. It is interesting to note that this song is only playing for a portion of a scene, but it is regarded as one of the most famous tracks from the film. I believe this song represents the film as a whole, and the feelings that the track evokes emulate those of the film as well. Forrest Gump is difficult to categorize in one particular genre, but it has elements of drama, comedy, war, and romance. The song embodies all these elements as well, thus corroborating the genre and establishing more of the overall theme.  
                Springfield’s song plays at the beginning of Forrest’s trek through Vietnam with his unit and Lieutenant Dan. As the first verse begins, it is pouring down rain. The men are trying to navigate through with wide nervous eyes and anxious thoughts of what is to come. The first lyrics heard are, “There’s something happening here…what it is aint exactly clear…” Without the soldiers saying anything, that lyric alone sets the tone for the beginning of the scene. The calm, steady, yet almost somber tone of the song personifies the same feelings that Forrest and the others have in that moment. This is a perfect example of pathos because the song lyrics and tone create an emotional connection to the characters. In their book, Everything’s an Argument, Andrea Lunsford and John Ruszkiewicz write, “When writers and speakers find the words and images that evoke certain emotions in people, they might also move their audiences to sympathize with ideas that they connect to those feelings and even to act on them” (Lunsford and Ruszkiewicz 41). This song connects the viewer to the characters immediately, and helps them further understand what the characters are experiencing.
                As the song and the characters continue moving forward, a feeling emerges that something is about to happen. The mention of guns in the lyrics and Forrest’s voice over both add to the building anticipation. In his book, Understanding Movies, Louis Giannetti writes, “Music can be used as foreshadowing, especially when the dramatic context doesn’t permit a director to prepare the audience for an event” (Giannetti 214). This song feels like the calm before the storm; it is almost daze-like. The metaphorical storm that ensues in the second half of this scene is a gruesome battle that the lyrics abstractly alluded to.
                The song even possesses logos and ethos appeals. The vibe of the track almost resembles slow talking instead of singing. The singer asks young people to see and understand what is happening around them. The lyrics come across as calm and logical. In terms of ethos, it is important to understand a little background on the song. Stephen Stills was inspired to write the song because of the civil unrest that was plaguing his hometown of Los Angeles in the 1960’s. The song became an anthem for protestors and was eventually slapped with an anti-war label. Knowing that the songwriter experienced the tumultuous sixties gives the song even more credibility in the film.
                When I think about how to rate this song I ask myself, would the scene have been the same without it? Personally, I believe that the film itself would not have been the same. The song represents the themes and feelings of the entire film, and the fact that it only is heard in a small segment yet it made such a huge impact speaks to its effect. I would give this song three tickets for its part in Forrest Gump. It sets the scene, sparks feeling, and connects the film to real life.

Garden State

I still remember the first time I ever saw Garden State. It was one of the most mesmerizing times – each scene making my soul wonder where this movie had been my entire life. Zach Braff produced, directed, acted and handpicked the soundtrack for this film. Basically, the guy knows what he’s doing. He received a Grammy award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album, which helps solidify the fact that the music used throughout this film is of epic proportion and well worth your time.
One of the best scenes of the movie is found in the beginning when Sam (Natalie Portman) and Andrew (Zach Braff) first encounter each other in a waiting room. It’s clear from how they act that they’re both very unconventional people. Sam’s proclamation, “You gotta hear this one song. It’ll change your life, I swear” is so ingeniously identifiable. All music lovers know, that one of the most rewarding things in life is to introduce others to your own favorite music, in hopes that it will touch them in the same way and become a part of their life as well. As Andrew is listening to Sam’s headphones, The Shins music fills the air with a carefree innocence that greatly resembles the good nature of Sam herself. It’s almost as if Andrew realizes this connection because his face stares somewhat in amazement at her, while she is smiling back at him, eager to read his reaction of the song. Without the song, this scene would have never been able to encapsulate the true essence of not only these characters but also the movie as a whole.
“Music can also provide ironic contrast. The predominant mood of a scene can be neutralized or even reversed with contrasting music” (Understanding Movies 216). This exact circumstance is found in one of the most memorable scenes, referred to as, ‘that party scene in Garden State’ by many who love the film. It’s apparent on Andrew’s face that he is quite unsure of what to expect with the people he is surrounded by and the ‘party favor activities’ they have began to partake in. As you see his night taking off, the song “In The Waiting Line” consumes the speakers and seems to magically numb the series of scandalously illegal activity that is going on. The compelling music entrances you with its rhythm and lyrics, “Do you believe in what you see, motionless wheel, nothing is real.” These words beautifully annotate Andrew’s emotions of disbelief and awe as he remains in the same spot on the couch the entire night. In most movies, a party scene is accompanied with rap or electronic raging music but Garden State refuses to do what is normal and instead creates a fascinatingly juxtaposed scene.
Famous composer Gabriel Yared says it best when asked about how he creates his masterpieces, “When I write music for a film, I try to connect with its spirit rather than working shot by shot” (Music and Mood article). Garden State accomplished Yared’s wise words by making the audience fall in love with the characters and then elevating that love with the addition of a perfectly constructed soundtrack. During this movie, you’ll notice your pathos being taken to another level that you never imagined impossible – all due to the music illustrating layers of the characters that words could not.
Tickets: 3

The Graduate and "Mrs. Robinson"

For me, if there is any film that can be summed up in one song, it’s The Graduate. Pretty much everyone in the English speaking language knows the song, “Mrs. Robinson”.  I personally thought it would be on the top 25 most recognizable theme songs, but that is just my opinion. (The theme was certainly important enough to make it into the scene from The Holiday…which I have included for those who do not know what I am talking about).

I was not able to find the exact scene where the song plays with the lyrics, but I have included a video that shows clips from the film!

Here I have also included the scene from The Holiday (because it's hysterical...and also further proves that The Graduate is awesome) :)

I only did the link because the embedding was not working :(

Now the main event...

Simon and Garfunkel’s  “Mrs. Robinson” is not only the theme song to the film, but has become known in everyday American slang; people know what the term “Mrs. Robinson” refers to even if they have not seen the film (for those of you who have not seen this film, stop reading this blog right now, and go watch it…Netflix streaming! It is the greatest movie ever made).

First, I will share some background on the relationship of the song and the movie (mainly because it is a pretty cool story). First off, the film features two versions of the song, but neither is the critically acclaimed version from Simon & Garfunkel’s album, Bookends. According to an article written by Variety’s Peter Bart, “director Joe Nichols was obsessed with Simon & Garfunkel during the shooting of the film. Larry Turman, [the film’s producer], made a deal with Simon [of the famed folk duo] to write three songs for the film. By the time the editing process was done, Simon had only written one” (Bart 1).  Bart goes on to explain that when Nichols met with Simon at the end of the editing process, Simon had only completed one song, but offered to play Nichols a few notes from another song he was working on that was NOT intended for the film. The song was about times past; it was entitled “Mrs. Roosevelt.” Nichols insisted that it now be about Mrs. Robinson…and the rest is history!

Because the song is by Simon and Garfunkel, it has a lot of appeal as far as ethos goes. The film was released in 1967, when Simon and Garfunkel were at their prime. The song “Mrs. Robinson” had not been released yet, but the single, “The Sound of Silence” had been released. A lot of fans of Simon and Garfunkel would be drawn to this film because they love the music of the folk rock duo. Simon and Garfunkel’s album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme had come out in 1966 (the year right before The Graduate was released), and it did very, very well. Sidenote, I couldn’t even write that sentence without singing “Scarborough Fair” in my head! Almost the entire soundtrack is Simon and Garfunkel, so naturally fans will be in the theater for this film.

The chorus of the song is the only piece that actually is heard in the film. Paul Simon actually changed the lyrics after it appeared in the film to what we know we know they are today. The first time the song is heard, is in the last fifteen minutes of the film when Benjamin asks Elaine (spoiler alert!! Elaine is Mrs. Robinson’s daughter) to marry him. That time, as well as two more times, the song plays with no lyrics, it is just a whistling version and an instrumental version of the music for the chorus. The last time the song is played, it is played with the lyrics. At this moment, it is played when Mrs. Robinson calls the police on Benjamin. I think it is very important that this is the only time the song is played with lyrics. The lyrics are the main aspect that gives the song an emotional meaning within the story. In Louis Gianetti’s book, Understanding Movies, he says “when merged with lyrics, music acquires a more concrete content because words, of course, have specific references,” (Gianetti 213). This statement is very true, and “Mrs. Robinson” goes right along with this statement. The filmmakers were able to make use the song to give a more concrete definition of the character of Mrs. Robinson because the song was written for the film, so the lyrics could be tweaked to convey a certain emotion about her. While the pace and instrumentals of the song match the easygoing personality of Benjamin Braddock, they are not necessarily the emotional cue for the audience. In order to fully make the connection between the song and the character of Mrs. Robinson, I had to watch the film, listen to the full version of the song, and then watch the film again. This was best for me because the full lyrics for the song match what the filmmaker wants the audience to feel when thinking about Mrs. Robinson, but they aren’t all heard within the movie. The lyrics make a very convincing argument about the character of Mrs. Robinson. In Lunsford’s book, Everything’s An Argument, he states that “[striking] the right emotional note, [establishes] and important connection,” (Lunsford 51). I think this song does exactly that. If you take it as striking the right note figuratively, not literally, that is exactly what Paul Simon did with this song in bridging the emotion of the character and the plot of the story. In the film, we discover that she is an alcoholic, and in an unhappy marriage (this is why she seduces Benjamin). The song is almost what the audience would want to say to Mrs. Robinson if they could speak to her. Lyrics like “stand up tall, Mrs. Robinson,” and “we’d like to help you learn about yourself,” are things that someone trying to help her would say to her. She is basically throwing away her marriage and her family by having an affair with her best friend’s son, who is also dating her daughter, and resorting to drinking all the time. The lyrics of the song are, to me, what I feel for the character when I watch the film. I just want her to help herself. Also the lyric, “stand up tall, Mrs. Robinson,” is very appropriate for the time in the film when the song is first heard. Benjamin just found out that Mrs. Robinson told her family that he raped her, the lyric conveys the emotion that we want her to own up to what she did instead of making up some outlandish story. Although the film does not really mention religion, the song goes on to talk about how Jesus is watching Mrs. Robinson, and how he will take care of her, which appeals to the emotion of feeling sorry for her. The song bridges the gap between the emotion of being mad at her for what she did, and feeling sorry for what she has done to her own life. It talks about how she needs to own up to what she did because she will be forgiven, and how she needs to take care of herself. The song literally speaks of sympathetic eyes watching her, which is one of the main emotions the audience takes away when watching this film. Although the true meaning and connection the song makes to the character and to the story may not be picked up on in the first viewing (it is quite hard to watch the film, take in the dialogue and action, while also listening to the lyrics of songs playing), the song is very tailored to the story, and truly connects the emotion of the audience to the emotion of the character.

This song and this film deserve three tickets!! "Mrs. Robinson" is an iconic song that draws a great connection between the story and the character, as well as draws the viewer's emotions into the emotions of Mrs. Robinson.