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Sunday, 16 November 2003

Drama Free Zone

I've decided, as of this morning, as my mind was clearing from the smoky haze and beer of the biker bar I was at last night, to avoid people that make me feel stressed. I can keep my own stress in check by not thinking about it. Two giant papers due at the end of the term that I haven't yet started or even know how to begin? not thinking about it. those books I'm reading about medieval drama? they're pleasure reading of course. no need to stress. no need to panic. deep breaths.

But then when someone else starts ranting and ranting and ranting about how they have no idea what to write and there's not that much time left in the term and they're going to flunk out, etc, etc, etc, then I get all keyed up too. this works for other ranting subjects, as well. so I'm going to hang arund mellow people instead.

Biker Bar? Did you say "biker bar?"

What's new?

As friday was a total wash anyway, what with having an all-day long gamelan gig, I decided to not worry about working in the evening, so some folks and I went to see Love Acually, a romatic comedy staring Hugh Grant. What was I thinking? I'll never have those two hours and eight minutes back in my life. (Before anyone accuses me of a lack of accuracy, let me make it clear that I don't actually know how long the film was, but two hours and eight minutes seems like a reasonable number, any anyway, you have to factor in things like previews, leaving before the credits are finished, arriving late, etc, and it could well have been two hours and eight minutes. Anyway, you don't read my blog to find out how long movies are right? but I can give an accurate review.) What made the film even worse is that I've sat for two weeks of lectures about film scores. So the always-terrible movie of romantic comedies was especially evident. There was an unruly number of simultaneous plots in the film, something like 12. there were three main musical themes: one was the romantic angst theme, one was the triumphal theme and one was the much more rarely used dark theme. there was also a liet motif mostly attached to a comic relief cahrecter, but also present in the rest of the film. the dark theme was so rarely used, that I have forgotten everything about it except for it's existance.

the romatic angst theme was played on the clarinet. It was most certainly not in major. The clarinet, historically is used as a signifier of sexual experience. Here, it retains a connection to it's early 20th century predecessors by signifying sexual tension. In the middle part of the movie, this theme was often used as the story switched from plot to plot. So there would be some development in one of the plots, a sexual tension would develop or be made more evident, the clarinet theme would come in as the actors mimed an approximation of angst, and then the scene would switch to another set of chracters.

the trimphal theme was mostly present at the end of the movie, as all of the plots but two (more on those two later), came to a triumphal conclusion. It also appeared however, earlier in the film. For example, as the Prime Minister of the UK was calling the US a bully and otherwise dissin the President of the US in an unplanned moment in a press confrence, the triumphal theme swelled majestically. Almost all of the emotional information theme is encoded in the romatic triumphal theme. the PM's speech was controversial enough that using the darker theme would have shown it to be an unmittigated failure. The lack of a theme altogether would have been so ambigious that the audience would have been unable to gauge the PM's sucess or failure until later scenes where characters discuss the speech. The triumphal theme was the equivalent of having the press corps burst into cheers and appluase, the kind of rediculous movie contrivance that we are spared at least until the last quarter of the film.

Near the end of the film there actually is a scene where a croud bursts into applause, but it is not for something so boring as poltics, but rather when the writer asks his former maid to marry him. the entire Portugese quarter of some unnamed French city has followed him to the restaurant where the woman, with whom he has never had a convesation in a mutually-understandable language, is waitressing. the incidental music drops out. he asks her in broken Portugese to marry her. She says yes in broken english. the restaurant bursts into applause as she decends a staircase to his arms. the triumphal music swells. Interrestingly, the restaurant contained a band playing source music (source music refers to music that the characters as well as the audience can hear), who had fallen silent for the proposal. When the woman accepted, the band immediatly struck up again, but the sound track only contained the triumphal theme in it's orchestral scoring. the scoring of the triumphal theme, as well as the dark theme and the calirnet theme, never varied in scoring.

the triumphal theme is unrelentingly cheesy. More romantic than the romatics would have wirtten. It saturates the sound track at the end. Assaulting the audience, and informing them of the very happy endings.

Not all the endings are happy, however. for instance, one of the plots contains an agressive female. this plot, like all the other plots, aside from the other unhappy ending, is told from the male's point of view (the movie contains only heterosexual pairings). a woman in his office is trying to seduce him, despite his having an exceptionally wonderful wife. the other woman, like all the other characters is entirely one dminesional. One of the advantages to squeezing in so many plots is that virtually no character development is required and there is opportunity to use every romantic comedy cliche that exists. however, the other woman is even more one-dimensional than anyone else in the movie. Her motivation appears to be evil. For example, her male target is talking to his wife at the office Christmas party. his wife goes to get him a drink or perform some other small favor. the man calls his wife either a saint or an angel. then the other woman appears, wearing devil horns and a red dress. This level of (un)subtlety is used throughout the film. his story ends unhappily as his disabused wife painfully smiles at him, miming being happy at his return while the evil temptress is pictured looking evilly happy in her apartment, standing in front of her mirror in her sexy underwear, putting on the necklace that the husband bought for her.

the story of the cheating husband (who never went further than buying a necklace) is contrasted with the story of the cheating wife. this story, also told from a male perspective, involves, like all the stories except the Other Woman plot, involves an agressive male. It begins with two men in formal wear discussing the regretablity of them having recently frequented prostitutes who turned out to be men. the camera pans out and we see that one of them is getting married. the best man is angsty at the reception and iirc, someone asks him if he is in love with the groom (at least, I think that's what I heard). the man acts alarmed, but not homophobic at the question and then changes the subject. Later in the movie, the wife views the wedding video shot by the best man and discovers it is all of her, thus indicating that he loves her. he storms out of his apartment, deliberating for a while whether to go back in and speak with her, while a score ("score" refers to music not heard by the characters) pop song plays in the background. finally, he zips up his jacket and the pop song becomes louder, thus providing a stinger and signaling that he has made up his mind to leave. Near the end of the film, he goes to her house and she kisses him. At the very end of the film, he, she and the husband are pictured together whiel the triumphal music swells, thus indicating approval for him persuing her. thus a male homewrecker is acceptable, while a female one is trouble.

however, some of the conversations earlier in the film may have ben intended to convey a much more complicated relationship. In the old days, a converstaion about male prostitutes (and the shared sexual experience) and a question about his relationship woth the groom would have been enough to signify the best man as a bisexual. As romantic comedies do not tend to be on the cutting edge of film convention, it may have been the intended implication here as well. Perhaps playing triumphal music for the three of them is designed to show that they all manage to live happily ever after.

the other unhappy ending is the sole one told from the female point of view. All of the other stories end at the arrival gate of Heathrow airport, while the triumphal music swells for all but the cheating husband. this story doesn't even get to the airport. A woman, working at the same office as the cheating man, has a crush on one of her colleagues. Junior high-style, they slow dance at the office Christmas party and thus are then dating, or something. He asks her to dance, so she is passive during their plot. they go back to her apartment and are making out (his idea) when her phone rings. Her phone rings constantly throughout the movie. In this scene, it is revealed that the person she talks to is her brother, who is insane. the male is annoyed at the interruption. they resume making out when the brother calls again and she agrees to go see him. the male love interest objects. this may be one of the scenes where the dark theme is employed.

near the start of the film, the woman is encouraged by her boss, the cheating husband, to make a pass at her colleague and told that the colleague is aware of her interest in him. Despite this, she continues to act entirely passivle until she goes to visit her brother in the mental hospital, rather than have sex with her colleague. when she become active, she annoys her potential partner and their relationship is ended. During her second to last scene, she is seated, at her computer, working late, while he, the second to last person to leave the office walks by and they awkwardly wish each other a merry christmas. In the last scene, she is wrapping a scarf around the neck of her brother in the mental hospital.

the theme that plays in the mental hospital is the leitmotif theme, a major theme in the movie, but also attached to an aging rockstar, one of the few people not persuing anyone. He has re-recorded a version of his old hit song, which used to go "Love is all around us./ I can feel in my fingers./I can feel it in my toes." the new version has been changed to "christams is all around us." the movie open with him in the recording studio accidentally singing the wrong version several times before getting the right one. the song thus functions both as a love theme and a holiday theme, thus reminding us that it is a christams (and christian, really) movie.

the christmas/love theme is often source music, as the rock star frequently appears either on a television watched by one of the other characters or on the radio, however it also occurs in the score, but possibly with a different scoring in that case. It has been stuck in my head for days. the theme acts as intermediate theme, signifying love, but not sucess or angst. the 11 year old boy, while running through the airport to tell a departing classmate that he loves her, pauses for a minute to watch a television with the rocks star on it. after his pause, he runs past the final security barrier to talk to his classmate. the pause thus reaffirmed somehow his love for her and thus was worth the possibility of the persuing secrity gaurds catching him.

there are a few instances where the music is ambigious in regards to being source or score. For example, characters will be at a party where source music is playing, but then they are shown in a car with no cut in the soundtrack, so the pop song has changed from source to score. In one scene, a radio station plays a love song in honor of the Prime Minister and in movie cliche fashion, he dances all over his house until someone walks in on him. the music is assumed to be source, except that it cuts off suddenly as he is discovered, thus showing that it must be score. this is such a movie cliche, that the audience does not pause for a moment to wonder why the prime minister would be dancing around his silent house.

The last elemnt of the movie worthy of discussion involves body image. All of the women are exttremely skinny except for the Prime Ministers' love interest who is an average weight. Most of the other women look emaciated. the chaeting wife weights about 10 pounds, for example (this is an exagerration, please don't raise issues of accuracy). This normal-looking woman is discussed several times, being described as having huge thighs and giant butt. In my opion, she was one of the most attractive women in the movie, and she does get her love interest in the end (the Prime minister, at that), but her weight is criticized several times.

the other character to have her weight discussed it the Portugese maid's sister. the maid first brings her up as she declines an offored pastry. then the sister later appears in the film as comic relief. the writer appears at the door of the maid's father to ask for the maid's hand in marriage. the sister appears and the father orders her to marry the writer, despite never having met him, as nobody else would want to marry someone so fat. the writer asks for the other daughter. the father takes the writer to the restaurant where the maid works while more and more people follow along to see what will happen. the conversation along the way is half people wondering what will happen and half the father insulting the daughter for her weight. He calls her "Miss Dunking donuts 2003," for example. the musical cues, the comic setup inherent in the cliche of the confused follwing crowd and the predjudices fo the audience solicitted a laugh from the theatre that I attended. Other fat jokes along the way were also laughingly approved by the audience.

In conclusion, I have written far too many papers and I can't make it stop. Also, this movie, like many romantic comedies, is hetero-normative and essentially conservative, urging women to adopt conventional social roles and to be passive in relationships. Non-passive women are either evil or alone. It may even be dangerous to have a story told from your own point of view. The anti-feminist viewpoint is most prevelant in romatic comedies, a genre of films made for women viewers. why some women enjoy cheesy movie cliches, being assaulted by triumphal themes that Wagner or even Bruckner would have been ashamed to write, and being programmed to be helpless and undernourished is a mystery to me, but somehow it seems to work finacially for the studios. I'm not seeing anymore films unless they're somehow art films or the last section of the lord of the rings trilogy.

what about the damn biker bar

We decided to go bowling with angela last night, but we got lost and we called to ask for directions, the alley told us they weren't going to have any free lanes. So we went to a billard hall that we had passed along the way, but they had a cover. So we decided to go to the Red Dog Saloon. Tiffany loved it. it's a real biker bar. Jessica arrived later and was given a hard time by the bartender. She has nothing of a biker bar about her and is entirely out of place in such an establishment. Angsty conversation ensued, which was widely overheard by interested eavesdropping males. Yesterday, I also gave Xena a bath, so she smells much less offensive. And I wrote the introduction to my Joan of Arc aper. Today, I'm supossed to be creaing 12 sounds for some john cage thing, but i'm posting to my blog instead. alas.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had never even considered thinking about the musical score/scores of a movie before. So it was really interesting to read this post. It looks like the score was as shallow as the movie. It is hard to waste time in a movie like this, but at least it is fun to analyse in different ways....TQ