Film Rhythm after Sound

Film Rhythm after Sound: Technology, Music, and Performance

LEA JACOBS
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 280
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt9qh2gv
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  • Book Info
    Film Rhythm after Sound
    Book Description:

    The seemingly effortless integration of sound, movement, and editing in films of the late 1930s stands in vivid contrast to the awkwardness of the first talkies.Film Rhythm after Soundanalyzes this evolution via close examination of important prototypes of early sound filmmaking, as well as contemporary discussions of rhythm, tempo, and pacing. Jacobs looks at the rhythmic dimensions of performance and sound in a diverse set of case studies: the Eisenstein-Prokofiev collaborationIvan the Terrible,Disney'sSilly Symphoniesand early Mickey Mouse cartoons, musicals by Lubitsch and Mamoulian, and the impeccably timed dialogue in Hawks's films. Jacobs argues that the new range of sound technologies made possible a much tighter synchronization of music, speech, and movement than had been the norm with the live accompaniment of silent films. Filmmakers in the early years of the transition to sound experimented with different technical means of achieving synchronization and employed a variety of formal strategies for creating rhythmically unified scenes and sequences. Music often served as a blueprint for rhythm and pacing, as was the case in mickey mousing, the close integration of music and movement in animation. However, by the mid-1930s, filmmakers had also gained enough control over dialogue recording and editing to utilize dialogue to pace scenes independently of the music track. Jacobs's highly original study of early sound-film practices provides significant new contributions to the fields of film music and sound studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96001-5
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Online Film Clips
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1. Introduction: Film Rhythm and the Problem of Sound
    (pp. 1-24)

    The many complaints about the early sound film by critics and filmmakers frequently turned on the perceived disadvantage of introducing speech into what was fundamentally a visual medium. In 1930 Dorothy Richardson wrote of searching the cinemas of London for a theater that was still showing silent films and finding only one, a backwater that was screeningThe Gold Rush. She explained her continued preference for silent film on the grounds that sound represented a dilution of the essence of the medium:

    In daily life, it is true, the faculty of hearing takes precedence of the faculty of sight and...

  6. 2. A Lesson with Eisenstein: Rhythm and Pacing in Ivan the Terrible, Part I
    (pp. 25-57)

    In speaking of a filmʹs rhythm, I mean to address the general problem of how duration is structured. A film, like a play or a dance or a piece of music, unfolds in time and therefore unavoidably poses the problem of rhythmic organization. But a film is more like a play and less like a dance or a piece of music in that such moment-to-moment temporal organization seems looser, less obviously necessary. It is not clear that all films have a coherent rhythm or that they have it at every point. This contrasts decidedly with music or dance, which are...

  7. 3. Mickey Mousing Reconsidered
    (pp. 58-108)

    One of the earliest sound genres to achieve thoroughgoing rhythmic organization was the animated cartoon, which, as is well known, came to be structured around the music track, a process known asmickey mousing. The term encompasses a number of different aspects of the relationship between music and action, and music and other sounds. Most important for my purposes is the idea of a tight synchronization between movement and/or cutting and the beat. But, it is also used to refer to the musical imitation of physical movement, as in the use of a glissando when a character slides down a...

  8. 4. Lubitsch and Mamoulian
    (pp. 109-165)

    During the early sound period, filmmakers across Europe and America experimented with organizing live-action films rhythmically in relation to the music track. Perhaps the best known of such works are René ClairʹsSous les toits de Paris(April 1930),Le million(April 1931), andA nous la liberté(December 1931). As I noted in chapter 1, Claudia Gorbman has described the first of these as privileging music over speech and effects. The film is thus in consonance with the early sound cartoon but at decided variance with what came to be the established hierarchy of elements in the classical Hollywood...

  9. 5. Dialogue Timing and Performance in Hawks
    (pp. 166-216)

    By 1932, considered by most historians the ʺendʺ of the transition to sound in the United States, many of the most crippling technological problems of shooting synchronized dialogue had been solved. The camera was out of the booth, multiple-camera shooting was no longer necessary to maintain the fluidity of editing, and noiseless recording had increased the usable volume range. Even as late as 1939, however, Alfred Hitchcock thought dialogue posed problems for film rhythm and pacing.¹ Contemporary observations by film editors second Hitchcockʹs observations. In a talk delivered in 1937, Maurice Pivar, of Universal, complained: ʺWith the introduction of sound,...

  10. 6. Afterword
    (pp. 217-226)

    Since LessingʹsLaocoön: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetrythe distinction between static forms such as painting or sculpture and temporal forms in which a narrative unfolds has been crucial to the humanistic disciplines. But Lessingʹs distinction between picture and narrative, space and time, does not account for the affinities among arts such as music, theater, dance, and cinema. While not necessarily narrative, the performing arts do necessarily unfold in real time and therefore pose special problems in the handling of duration. In music or dance the time of the performance is obviously structured from beginning to...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 227-244)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-252)
  13. Filmography
    (pp. 253-256)
  14. Index
    (pp. 257-266)