Classy Koreans

Why so many Korean films and shows feature classical music

by Sean Moon

When you watch popular South Korean titles, you might notice the frequent use of classical music as part of their soundtracks. Whether it’s the background music of romantic piano in Parasite, the Blue Danube waltz in Squid Game, or the strings throughout Snowpiercer, you might wonder: why do so many Korean directors are so set on including classical music as part of their soundtracks? What makes this kind of music so pertinent to Korean stories?

To begin understanding the unique relationship between music and Korean film, there must be an understanding of the history of South Korea and its relationship with class. To be educated, in the arts, is to symbolize class. When Western music was first introduced to Korea in 1885, Okon Hwang explains that classical music was regarded with “cultural sophistication and prestige due to its Western origin and its affiliation with formal educational institutions from the beginning of its presence in Korea”. In South Korea, like many other countries, to have a formal education in the arts and classical music is still one that is considered esteemed and of high social status. It requires vast resources and formal education to become a scholar of classical music. Korea’s appreciation for classical music is an appreciation for what it represents: an elite status.

Classical music in Korean films will always have connotations of class and social distinction, but the way in which it is used by directors changes the narrative and the meaning of both the music and the scene. Directors play with the undertones of status that classical music generates and incorporate it into their unique story. The reference that this genre makes to class transforms an otherwise incomplete picture.

A still from the ending of Parasite: Is upward social mobility possible?

The ending of Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-Ho, is a montage of a letter from Ki-woo to his father. He explains his plan to accumulate wealth and eventually purchase the house his father has trapped himself in, and reunite his family. Ki-woo explains all his father needs to do is ascend the stairs. The music played during this scene is a soft romantic piano piece, reminiscent of the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, repeatedly playing ascending notes as its base. Strings are introduced as a very calm and simple melody. Its tempo is steady and peaceful, creating an intimate and introspective atmosphere through its pace. The repeated phrases of ascending notes as the father reaches the top of the stairs is incomplete, and the last and highest note is absent. Almost as if the final step of reaching Ki-woo’s goal will never be taken, the absence of the complete phrase seems to indicate that the letter he is writing to his father is an imagined future rather than one he will achieve. The genre of the music connects with the theme that plans never work out,  and toys with Ki-woo’s life goal of achieving  will never stop chasing and never achieve. The essence of classical music and its unique use does more than tell us of Ki-woo’s dream of a higher social status, but of its impossibility.

Squid Game has stormed the world with its gripping tale of 456 players in dire economical circumstances playing a deadly game of survival to earn millions. Featured prominently in scenes after finishing a game and the dining scene in the final episode, “The Blue Danube” waltz by Johann Strauss II, plays a satirical role for the show. Strauss composed the waltz in 1866 after Austria was defeated by Prussia in the Seven Weeks’ War. Faced with poor morale and economic depression In Austria, he wrote the piece based on a poem in hopes of lifting the spirits of the Viennese. Originally a choral work, it had mediocre success, but when changed to an orchestral piece, it instantly became popular.

Director Hwang Dong-hyuk plays with the story through the music as a way to lift the spirits of the players, but also the fact it is of the classical music genre cruelly reminds the players of a status they have not achieved. The French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu points out that taste for certain classical music can be predicted and indicated by class. He specifically describes “The Blue Danube” as a song “preferred by manual workers, while Bach’s ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’ was popular with those who had higher levels of cultural capital”. While it is a piece more accessible to the characters of the show, it is also immediately recognizable to the audience and denotes ideas of class and elite education by its association with Western culture and Viennese refinement. In the final formal dining scene, the three remaining players are treated to a rare steak and wine. All dressed in formal attire, Gi-hun and Sang-woo devour anxiously as though it is competition while Saebyeok picks at her food as she weakens from her wounds. Surrounding them on the walls are depictions of the violent games they endured to get to the final round. Throughout this tense scene, “The Blue Danube” plays triumphantly in the speakers overhead as a grotesque reminder of the unthinkable experiences that led them to the finale in hopes of earning money. A false sense of class, false sense of achievement, and accessible classical music counterpoints the expectation of the characters of escaping their shackles to capitalism and rise to gain freedom.

“Taste” as a marker of social distinction in The Squid Game

Unlike Parasite and Squid Game, the characters Snowpiercer, also directed by Bong Joon-ho, reject the chains of capitalism and force their way from the back of train filled with poverty, illness, and poor conditions to trudge to the front of the train where they pass by the highest echelon of passengers. After they break through their first obstacle, they pass through an elaborate aquarium and sushi bar. Minister Mason, an antagonist, explains that the aquarium is a delicate self-sustaining ecosystem and that sushi is served only twice a year. After she explains the importance of balance, piano music begins to play serenely as the characters their first taste of sushi rather than their usual protein blocks made of cockroaches in the back of the train. When Minister Mason speaks of balance, her words are very clearly applicable to the balance of the hierarchy of class: in a hierarchy triangle, there are only a delicate few at the top balanced on the masses at the bottom: the protagonist’s band going forward disrupting  this balance. The elegant piano music mirrors this sentiment as a counterpoint to the rugged unruly hair and bruised bloody faces of the party as they enjoy their classy meal. They are out of place. To bring us back to reality, a stinger of the rattling of Minister Mason’s chains as she reaches for the sushi reminding the audience of the privilege of the food and of the elite. As Curtis orders Minister Mason to instead eat the protein block, the music decrescendos to silence and we hear the unsavory sound of chewing, ending the fantasy-like experience and immersing us to the reality of where the party stands in society. 

Classical music in Korean films will always be featured in movies about class because of the deep connotations and its influence in Korean culture, but each film and director twist this genre of music to serve purpose in their titles. A deeper analysis of classical music in Korean films reveals more than just class, but generates depth.

Sounding Furious

How an angsty rock ‘n’ roll record rebels against the Nashville mainstream

by Stewart Slayden

Album Cover from “SOUND & FURY” by Sturgill Simpson

In 2019, American singer songwriter Sturgill Simpson released “SOUND & FURY,” an album featuring ten songs that stunned critics by breaking the boundaries of genres. The Grammy award winning artist drew on country music, synth rock, and funk to create ten unique songs. The goal of the album, Simpson noted, was to make “a sleazy, steamy rock ‘n’ roll record.” Rebelling against the music industry, the album tells the story of the shallowness and cruelty in the music business further highlighted in the accompanying Netflix anime film Sturgill Simpson Presents SOUND & FURY.  

The album and film reflect the title through his use of unique instrumentation and violent visuals. The title, which is also the name of a book by an American author William Faulkner, is a reference to Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In an interview by the New York Times, Simpson quotes Macbeth saying “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” He continues “I was like, that’s how I feel right now, like, what is all this really for other than making a bunch of strangers happy and trying to let people have fun?” The title’s reference to the cynical story of Macbeth reflects Simpson’s view on the music industry. This view is furthered in his album with his use of rebellious lyrics, instrumentation, and production.

The album’s release comes at an important time in Simpson’s career. The artist, at the peak of his success, turns away from the style of music that got him there. Nashville mainstream wanted him to be the modern traditional country star, a title he rejected. (Simpson protests outside Country Music Awards) After winning a grammy, Sturgill decides to experiment with genre and sing lyrics filled with hateur. He has developed an outlaw character, similar to country artists in the 70’s who also had strong opinions on the Nashville music industry. His shift from classical country to an eclectic rock album is a dramatic one. The album’s rule breaking serves as a powerful message to an industry that often restrains artists’ creativity. Rarely do Nashville artists stray from the simple themes that define country music so Simpson’s departure proves artists can go against the grain. By singing about the greed and restraint in the music industry, he subverts the mainstream and develops a unique point of view.

The album’s opening four minute instrumental track “Ronin,” refers to a samurai without a lord or master during the feudal period of Japan (a reference to the main character of the film). It begins with an audio clip of right-wing radio host Alex Jones announcing “there is an overwhelming body of evidence that supports a conspiracy on the global scale.” Another voice can be heard immediately after saying “the problem with this country is consumption, we consume too much.” Sound effects like footsteps on gravel, a tuning radio, and keys starting a car can be heard in the background. Following the voices, is rolling drums paired with a mid tempo guitar for four minutes. It is a reverb-heavy electric guitar that has a trance-inducing effect on the listener. The post-apocalyptic and dystopian vibe of this track sets the mood for the album and film. The album, which is the background music for the entire film, is mostly rooted in Southern Rock and Country but implements aspects of music from many different genres. 

The album characterizes his rebellion with tracks like “Sing Along”,Last Man Standing”, and “A Good Look” which feature aspects of rock ‘n’ roll such as melodic grooves, guitar feedback and synth riffs. In addition to the instrumentation, the lyrics characterize a disdain for the music industry. For example,“Mercury in Retrograde” tells a story about “journalists” and “haters” and how “living the dream makes a man want to scream / light a match, and burn it all down.” This song is characterized by a psychedelic pulsating melodic beat. The disdain for the music industry being sung over instrumentals that are unique and genre breaking encapsulate the mood of the album. Every song on the album is unique in the way each has a variety of genre characteristics. “Remember to Breathe” features a pulsating electric guitar while a song like “All Said and Done” features psychedelic keyboards and powerful vocals. A song like “Fastest Horse In Town” mixes traditional blues instrumentation with grunge rock and a touch of funk. To the naked ear it is often difficult to make out what Simpson is saying. In “A Good Look” the instrumentation is so loud that it nearly drowns out the vocals, pointing to the message of the album about disdain for the music industry. This represents the idea that opinions can be repressed but time and attention will allow understanding. In addition to his music, the release of an accompanying Anime film furthers his rebellion against the music industry. 

Made with Kamikaze Douga animation studio founder Jumpei Mizusaki and Afro Samurai creator Takashi Okazaki, the film loosely tells the story of a female samurai in a muscle car as she seeks out injustice in a post-apocalyptic world. Though classified as Anime there are some live-action scenes, specifically the woman who rides a skateboard through a toxic wasteland. There’s also no dialogue or closed captioning.  Instead, the music and the lyrics help tell a story which is closely connected to the album. As suggested by the title the film has a different “episode” for each song largely aligned with the music’s tone and telling a unique story of resistance and anti-conformity. The second “episode” features the track “Remember to Breathe.” Two villains go on a killing spree, one of them, “Mr. Slick,” representing the military industrial complex and violence while the other, Barrister,  represents the pharmaceutical industry. An important moment in the plot comes when Mr. Slick kills the black man and Barrister kills the white man– an allegory of the way many people in the United states fall victim to violence, police brutality, or drug addiction. 

The film’s forty minutes shift styles very often between violent graphics and other animation styles. Sometimes the viewer is first person, at other times we watch a violent fight, or observe a girl peacefully riding a skateboard through a toxic wasteland. Amid this variety, the film’s references and main themes remain consistent, raising awareness of social and political issues.  All in all, the anime film is a warning against authoritarianism and conformity. It ends with a quote by Japanese philosopher Miyamoto Musashi: “Get beyond love and grief and exist for the good of man” and a dedication to “the lost souls and victims of senseless violence.” While this quote seems to contradict forty minutes of violent imagery it affirms defiance against the cruelty in the music industry and desire for good in the world. 

An anime film featuring music by a “country” singer may not seem a likely place for social commentary, so Sturgill Simpson tells the story of cruelty in the music business in a unique way. The music on the angsty album rebels, unafraid of being creative and breaking the rules turning SOUND & FURY into a musical middle finger of sorts to all the destructiveness he’s witnessed in Nashville mainstream. 

Technology Envoicing

How voice technology plunges us into the “Uncanny Vocal Valley

by Antonio Valdez

If something non-human can scream out in pain, should we bother caring for it? When someone screams out in pain, we have the impulse to help. What if that thing had no heartbeat, should we even worry about it? What is this “something” is a cell, to be exact a yeast cell? Wait a minute? A yeast cell? Can such cells experience pain? And if so, could we hear that as pain? Is the voice of someone pain?

In a 2009 study, Jim Gimewsky found that something as simple as yeast cells have a way to communicate distress. Yeast cells are single-celled microorganisms that are similar to bacteria in structure. In the experiment conducted by Gimewsky that studied screaming yeasts, he found that they made a sound by vibrating their organelles when they were in distress (Gimewsky 2009). But were these sounds noise or signals? Some of Gimewsky’s colleagues believed that the sounds being produced weren’t screams and instead the connotations of the noises being made were a product of humans (Gimewsky 2009). His experiment raises some interesting questions. If a simple yeast cell can convey distress, how does this relate to human suffering? Is it like an anguished emotion? Humans have the impulse to anthropomorphize, that is ascribing human characteristics to nonhuman things (Hamilton 1983). We often find anthropomorphization in animation and anything non-living that humans grant agency and empathy. What is more: can something as complex as technology do the same? 

Technology is a central part of our daily lives and seems to have taken on a life of its own. We ask Siri or Alexa a question; we listen to directions from our GPS; we are nudged by the subway announcement to get ready for our stop. We give technology a voice. We also hear technology alter the human voice every day. The rising popularity of auto-tune in the music industry is technology shifting our voice. How voice technology is influenced by humans and how technology influences our voice has deep entanglements with anthropomorphization. It is amazing how we give technology a voice and how our voices are altered by technology, but what would future conversations look like as voice technology advances? The answer is both amazing and terrifying. 

First off, what does it actually mean to have a voice?  In their book Locating Voice in Film: Critical Approaches and Global Practices, Tom Whitaker and Sara Wright suggest that voice is a conduit for language and is not only a form of communication but also a form of self-expression as well as a measure of social identity (Whitaker 2017). This definition is fluid. Voice is hard to pin down. Voice is also a critical concept (“you have a voice in this”) as well as a material phenomenon (vibrating vocal cords). Or more broadly: we think of the voice of nature as the sounds of animals make or we even say the wind “howls”. In terms of giving technology a voice, where can it be found?

The sound of technology can be found somewhere around or in the uncanny valley. The uncanny valley is a theory made by robotics engineer Masahiro Mori in 1970. The theory is that intense human-like robot replicas can create an intense sense of eeriness if they approach high levels of realism while still having small imperfections (Mori 1970). This can be applied to voice-altering technology as well as human-constructed voices for technology. 

Uncanny valley model (redrawn from Mori, 1970)

If a human-made robotic voice sounds too human-like while simultaneously retaining robotic-like qualities, it can fall into the uncanny vocal valley. We experience uneasiness from sounds from the uncanny valley because of the evolutionary fear of cognitive dissonance. This is the fear that when we encounter an entity that counters what we already know about them, we feel uneasiness (Stein 2017). We categorize groups such as humans or robots to which we associate specific beliefs about them. When those beliefs clash with what we see, we feel uneasy. But where does voice-altering technologies such as auto-tune fall? What about anthropomorphized versions of technology? 

There are two aspects of voice that cause it to clash with what we know about it enough to fall into the uncanny vocal valley. The first is agency and the second is experience which is the ability to feel emotions and physiological sensations such as pain, bodily sensations, and pleasure (Grey et al. 2007). Sound can also have these qualities. Like yeast cells when they are in distress. There are two takes to the yeast cell screams. One side believes that these are screams of agony. The other side believes these screams are just noise— given significance by humans. Is the voice of technology the same? If we amporphamorsize technology then that then triggers the capacity to feel empathy for it. An example of this is in the animation of technology.

Lightning McQueen tongue | Cars movie, Disney cars movie, Disney pixar cars
Lighting McQueen, Disney Pixar’s 2006 Cars (Erin Huddleson from Flickr)

In the 2006 film Cars, all of the characters in movie are talking cars. They communicate with spoken language. Their voice hits all of the checkmarks required to fall in the uncanny vocal valley. Yet there’s no feeling of uneasiness watching these cars communicate. The cars have human qualities but still imperfections of being motor vehicles. They are able to leap over the uncanny valley by having enough empathy and agency through amporphamization. When imagination is added to amporphamorsize technology, they can escape the uncanny valley. Moreover, the human voice actors also allow the cars to reach nearly complete human likeness. Even though the technology assumes human-like qualities, animation is able to manipulate it into a form that is comfortable and recognizable to the viewer— allowing Cars to escape the uncanny vocal valley.

The future of the voice of technology and technology voice alteration advances every day. Voice alteration in music is becoming more common with the rising popularity of autotune. Singer Laurie Anderson began playing around with technological manipulation of voice with songs like “O Superman” in the 80s, and music producer and rapper Kanye West brought auto-tune into contemporary pop with his album “808’s and Heartbreaks”. Voice manipulation jumped the uncanny valley to nearly one-hundred percent human likeness, but this may hold consequences. The future of voice-altering technology is scary because it is becoming impossible to tell what is human and what is not. The rising popularity of “deep fakes” that began in 2017 makes the future especially frightening. According to the Congress Research Service, a deep fake is a term used to describe an ultra-realistic photo, audio recording, or video with artificial intelligence technologies that could serve a multitude of national security risks in the near future (Harris 2021). The voice of technology and voice-altering technology are advancing at such a high rate that now it is nearly indistinguishable from a real human voice. The voice of technology is essentially taking human’s voice. It is frightening how advanced technology’s voice is advancing, but it’s also spectacular. The feat of Cars anthropomorphizing technology and escaping the uncanny valley is something to behold. There is something amazing about the beauty and danger of feeling empathy for technology— and that all starts with the voice.

Audio in the Aisle

How Retail Stores Turn Music into Money

by Brayden Napoli

From local businesses to international franchises, music has become an integral part of the shopping experience. Walk into Target, Costco, or Walmart and you will hear music—if you are actually listening. Otherwise, the soundtrack of the store has a much more subliminal presence—but that may make it even more powerful. Indeed, its influence on shopping patterns and spending habits is more far-reaching than one might think. Music can keep customers in-store longer, drive impulse purchases, and more.

When it comes to using music as a means of unconscious advertisement, simplicity is key. The music of the store should target the emotions to be elicited in the customer and should have a unique character fitted for the environment. This is because the actions of in-store shoppers are heavily reliant on the human sensory experience. For a customer to leave the store with a bag in their hand, the sensory experience often needs to approach near-perfection. Thus, it is important to fit the proper music to the moment.

For instance, retail brands associated with elegance and wealth, such as jewelers or designer shops, often incorporate classical music into the soundtrack of the store. This makes sense, as classical music has been proven to enhance a customer’s impulsive spending habits on expensive items. The high-class association of classical music leaves customers in a wealthy state of mind. In turn, customers feel more qualified and invited to make expensive purchases, therefore increasing the profit of these stores. Furthermore, the inclusion of other types of music, such as hard rock or R&B would be counterproductive. These types of music are unimaginable in a luxury setting, and research shows that the wrong music actually decreases a customer’s desire to buy.

Brands must acknowledge music as a means of advertisement, but that is only the first step. Further research on the consumption of this music by different demographics and the ultimate application of this music is where retail stores gain the extra edge. It is well-known that demographic distinctions are a prevalent topic in the marketing industry. Age is one of the strongest indicators of a consumer’s shopping habits and is a worthy predictor for a store’s success. It is easy to use specific genres, artists, and albums of music for distinct ages of customers. Even details such as the volume of the music can play a role in the demographic mood: younger people tend to prefer higher volumes, whereas older people prefer softer ones. Age is not the only demographic of interest, though, as a retail store’s revenue is also strongly determined by geography, ethnicity, education, and income, among others (see here). All of these seem like common knowledge, so how is music uniquely catered to these demographics to boost sales?

Retail stores do an incredible job of visually dividing their stores, which directs certain demographics to separate areas. Most customers are aware of this organization and appreciate the clarity in aiding their experience. Most do not recognize the purposeful shift in the soundtrack of the store, however. A team of researchers from Washington State University looked into this phenomenon specifically and were able to conclude that area-specific music choice, or zoning, yields longer shopping trips and increased spending, on average. Given that mood has an influence on a customer’s time in the store, items bought, and money spent, retail stores will do everything in their power to manipulate the variables that lead to a happy customer. Most of this manipulation will come in forms unrecognizable to the average customer, meaning retail advertisers are doing their job correctly. By switching the music based on the zoning of the store, retailers can subconsciously lift the mood of their customers. This results in boosted sales and satisfied shoppers, as evidenced by research displaying experimental confirmation of these hypotheses.

Using the mix to shape the mood is a simple concept on the surface level, but how hard is it to implement? In a recent article by CNN Business, the idea of mixing music for the mood of the store is analyzed, with insight from top retailers and playlist companies. Danny Turner, a well-known DJ of the industry, knows that “‘music can influence shopper behavior and help brands create an emotional connection with their customers’” The process for him is exciting, and he and his team work hard with individual locations to cater to the music choice. He feels the selection of the music can be a crucial process for stores because what is chosen to not be played can do more harm than expected. As the holiday season approaches too, music becomes increasingly important as the narrowed variety can leave many annoyed. The work of Turner and many others are vital to finding the right soundtrack for a store at all times as they take the pressure off managers who may inadvertently lose money with the wrong choices.

Still, some retailers choose to take the issue of auditory advertising into their own hands, including Walmart. What better example of retail success is there than Walmart, known for their international commitment to an affordable and efficient shopping experience? Walmart employs the use of their own radio as background music in their stores. The diverse array of music on “Walmart Radio” appeals to nearly all audiences, increasing revenue through a boosted emotional mood in customers. Additionally, Walmart’s expansion of their radio to include customer interaction, where anyone can “call to request a song or give a shoutout on air,” turns shopping from a necessary chore to a therapeutic experience. The conversion of shopping from a necessity to an experience is a crucial step that retailers must take to turn strangers into customers. Proper background music is the stepping stone to forming a connection with the customer, and brands like Walmart are paving the way for the retail industry to follow suit.

Music dominates the modern world, with artists like Dua Lipa, The Weeknd, and Taylor Swift revolutionizing the music industry. Young adults are much of the target audience for these performers, so hearing their songs in stores indicates intention. Stores purposefully play more music from these performers, a trend that correlates strongly with the data illustrating young adults as the most avid listeners to music, among all age groups (see figure). Since retailers are aware of the high percentage of young adults listening to music, their music choice in-store reflects the broadest demographic, yielding a higher average return in revenue. Tactics like these are what separate profitable retailers from others, proving the power of music in real life.

Undetectable, purposeful advertisement to the ears–that is all the soundtrack of stores is. Yet, it is a fascinating concept that is often unnoticed. Retail stores have nearly perfected this art of auditory advertisement, and brands like Walmart are leading the way, turning demographics’ musical preferences into money. All of this, though, is a part of the experience that has become in-person shopping. What was once a chore is now an experience as customers feel the power music has to consciously and subconsciously sway our emotions. So after all, there is a method to the madness, it just lies in the mix that fits the mood, and that is the soundtrack of life.

Morricone’s Surfer-Cowboys

How an Italian composer captured the American frontier

by Sean Lonergan

Two grizzled gunslingers face off in the middle of an old, western town. Or maybe in front of a church. A saloon? The camera cuts from each’s face to the other and back again as they stare daggers. One holds a crinkled cigar in his mouth, or he might have a poncho with some vaguely Mexican pattern. His clothes are muddy and ragged, and he wears a light shade of brown—because he is a good guy.  His adversary wears all black. The brim of his hat sits flatter, and he wears a neatly trimmed moustache—because he is a bad guy.

You can tweak elements of this setup—maybe even add a third cowboy if you’re quite creative—but it all works the same in the end. This is the duel, and it’s a cliché that appears in every spaghetti western you’ll ever find. We might roll our eyes, but when a trope is reused again and again across an entire genre, it can hint at the filmmaker’s intentions by showing us which elements they thought were indispensable. Spaghetti western music can be looked at in this same way, and picking it apart helps us understand the one of the genre’s most influential composers and see the American spirit as he saw it. Not to mention, it reveals what exactly Dick Dale could possibly have to do with Clint Eastwood.

A now famous subgerne of Western films produced in Europe starting in the mid-1960s with the Italian director Sergio Leone, the so-called Spaghetti western so tied to a specific setting that just setting one outside the new American west is a huge deviation, even a gimmick unto itself. It makes sense then, that the scores of these films were designed with a central goal of evoking this setting. Instruments are used which would have actually been heard on the frontier. This includes fiddles, harmonicas, tambourines and hand drums, small horns, and others. What they all share is that they were small, easy to carry, and able to be brought along while traveling. This made them common on the frontier, and it’s why they were common in the scores of western films. This all makes sense—until you come across the electric guitar. Their use in the scores of the Spaghetti Western completely shatter the logic behind the rest of the instrumentation. The first electric guitars were heavy and cumbersome and required some sort of power supply—not to mention, they weren’t invented until well into the twentieth century, long after the American frontier had been tamed and the cowboys had gone. This begs the question of why? What justified the out-of-place guitars? This seems bizarre, but bizarre choices like this often conceal the interesting motivations behind them, the kind which can tell us something new about a genre.

Just like the genre as a whole, the guitars were subject to their own tropes, with several constant elements. The main theme from Leone’s 1966 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly typifies this distinctive sound. An isolated guitar plays a melody based around the minor pentatonic scale. The picked notes are twangy. The tone is slightly distorted and drenched in heavy reverb. Strangely enough, all of this is exactly the characteristic sound of the surf rock guitar. Take, for example, the Surfaris’ “Wipeout.” The same twang, the same emphasis on a picked melody, based around the same scale, and most of all, the same heavily-reverbed guitar tone. For anyone familiar with guitars, this shared tone is unmistakable. The guitar found in western scores shares so much in common with the surf rock-style guitar that a coincidence seems unlikely. To understand why though, brings us to the legendary Italian film composer Ennio Morricone.

Morricone scored more than 400 films, but he not only shaped the sound of the Spaghetti Western but in doing so perhaps wrote some of his most memorable film scores. Spaghetti westerns were depictions of America from outside America, born from cultural myth instead of ancestral memory. They were so campy and overdone because they were a romantic imagining of America. The spaghetti westerns were like tributes to the American soul, and for Morricone and other film composers, this soul was all about broaching new frontiers in their own domain—music.. Even in the sixties while these films were made, this spirit was still going strong. Whether through the new musical counterculture which erupted at Woodstock, or the landing of the first man on the moon, 1960s America was captivated by the idea of crossing boldly into new frontiers. This must have gripped Morricone and his peers.

With American popular music at the forefront of musical innovation, Morricone drew from surf rock as an influence. The style was cutting-edge, and even before the British rock which later overtook it, surf rock represented the boundary-pushing new frontier of sound. It was a part of the first wave of music to rely so heavily on electric guitar based songs. Earlier rock musicians like Chuck Berry had already made electric guitar-centric music, but surf rock musicians pushed this further still. These songs were faster and flashier than anything else which came before. This all made surf rock the perfect symbol of the American identity which Morricone wanted to capture in his scores.

Suddenly the electric guitar in a Western seems seems less ludicrous. Morricone channeled surf rock sound as an allusion to the spirit of the West. The guitar fits right alongside the other instruments of the frontier–just as the tambourines and harmonicas summon the physical setting of frontier, the guitar captures its spirit which Morricone believed was so central to the American character. He could have stuck strictly to historical realism, but instead, the guitar was important to his vision of what a western film was supposed to express.

Morricone’s vision continues even today. American director Quentin Tarantino was greatly influenced by the Italians’ westerns. His use of Dick Dale’s “Miserlou” in Pulp Fiction made it the single most iconic piece of surf rock, yet Tarantino sees the spaghetti western vision underneath. He said in an interview, “Morricone and Leone affected my films in every way, shape and form. First off, the surf music, Dick Dale, ‘Misirlou’. I never understood what surf music had to do with surfing. To me, it always sounded like rock’n’roll spaghetti western music: Morricone music with a guitar-driven beat. I’ve always said that Pulp Fiction was a modern-day spaghetti western.” You’d struggle to make the direct lineage any clearer. The surf rock identity is so baked into the spaghetti western that for someone like Tarantino, who was exposed through the westerns first, the surf rock even seems to be taking from the westerns.           

When he was being considered as the composer for A Fistful of Dollars, Morricone was accused of writing derivative music. He responded by saying that emulation was precisely the assignment. His mode of composition was self-aware, and he understood the theme that the spaghetti westerns were meant to capture. This made Morricone’s music authentic, even in a genre filled with camp and cliché. Morricone passed away in the summer of 2020. We can never ask him to explain why he put electric guitars into movies about cowboys. A pioneer in his own right though, Morricone’s legacy outlasts him through those who follow his trail.

Sounding Out Zara

Some people become really obsessed with the soundtrack of retail spaces

by Delaney Baumer

I love shopping at Zara. And I like the music in their stores. I am, to be sure, not obsessed with it.  But others are.  When researching the music piping through the speakers in their stores, I came across many different playlists on Spotify, a music streaming service. They are created by consumers trying to mimic the real Zara playlists to have in their everyday lives. Here are three different playlists I found:

They have everything from pop to soft EDM music. These songs are not overwhelming and create a relaxed environment in what could become a crowded store. The wide variety of music in these playlists suggests that Zara’s soundtrack consists of songs from each genre, allowing almost every person to connect with a song during their experience. One playlist (far right) is even made to mimic a Zara in Greece, showing the consistency with their branding around the world. They enjoy their experience in Zara stores so much that they want to be able to have that feeling wherever they go, so they make a playlist to do so. 

Shopping in a retail space is an everyday experience for a majority of people. Usually they don’t even pay attention to the environment they are in. In almost every retail space there is music being played and odds are the customers are familiar with the songs they hear. Bertil Hultén, of Linnaeus University Marketing, found that familiar music has a positive influence on consumers and their buying. Music sets the mood and transforms the shopping experience; it creates a mood that matches the atmosphere of the store and the customers tastes while covering up the trivial noises of a typical store (workers helping customers, cash registers, moving hangers on the racks). The music is supposed to make the customer buy more, instead of overwhelming them.

Michael Beverland, Elison Ai Ching Lim, Michael Morrison, and Milé Terziovski are researchers in the Department of Management and Marketing at the University of Melbourne and Monash University studying the relationships between in-store music and consumer-brands. They have proven that “certain music types are more appropriate for certain stores and mismatches can have negative results”, reinforcing that the music can have a drastic impact on whether or not they gain/retain customers. A cohesive fit between the atmosphere and the brand is crucial.

All retail spaces have to select music that best fits the desired customer experience. Hultén suggests in-store music has a positive effect on customer’s cognition, emotions, and purchasing behaviors. Because of this the music must also be in line with other atmospheric variables, such as lighting, product placement, and staff. These all play a role in the way the customer perceives the brand. If they do not fit together to accurately represent the brand, customers may become confused and create a negative perception of the store, damaging future relationships. A customer said she recognized an inconsistency in the way she perceived a brand through the music they were playing. She believed the music went against the shop’s core values which made her question their intentions and authenticity as a brand. 

Clothing stores have the freedom of choosing how they want customers to perceive them. From the floor set to product placement and the music, everything can be manipulated to have the best outcome. In-store music reinforces perceptions of the brand made by previous customers, while enticing new customers to come into the store creating new relationships. In an interview with a customer, she mentioned how in-store music is a necessity for brands because it can get the customer in the mood for shopping. She said the right music must be played for the brand to distinguish itself from others by having their music represent the products as well as the brand overall. A store must be unique in the way it presents itself through music because it creates a pleasant experience that is memorable when building relationships and brand equity. 

Some genres of music send a message that the store is marketing for a certain age group. One customer said that if she were to walk by a store playing loud disco or rap music, she would think it was too young for her and would even presume that the products are poor quality. Stores not only have to think of the fit between music and atmosphere, but also who they intend to market to, and if it is attracting the right customers. Every customer perceives music in a different way, whether it reinforces past experiences, shapes new perceptions about the demographics and quality, or creates a fit between the products themselves.  

Misfit relationships can create counterfactual thoughts about the brand. One customer, who has shopped at a certain store before and likes their clothes, mentioned that the music they were playing did not fit the clothes one would come out wearing from the store. Even though she enjoyed the song on its own, she felt like she was in a “trash shop” because the music was more aggressive than it should have been. These thoughts can turn customers away in fear of having the same experience again. This is not the way the brand wanted to represent itself, but the music choice made it that way.

In-store music misfit can also alter the perceived value and desirability. A store that is marketed for men that is playing a Britney Spears song was proven to have turned away a male customer. He said it was “not the type of shop that I would shop in”. Even though he loves the brand, he would drop them because of their music choice. The music in stores challenges customers’ perceptions of the store and the type of people they are when deciding where to shop.

Misfit does not always have a negative outcome. A customer’s perception of a seemingly “older” brand was challenged when she heard “young, cool” music. She had never thought of this particular store as being a place she would shop. Seeing the young female workers wearing the clothes completely changed the way she thought about the brand. She had always thought of the brand as being highly priced, but now her perceptions of the brand are that it has lower costs because it targets a younger age group. This was not the intention of the brand, but they gained a new customer through positive repositioning.

Zara is a store that has clothing for almost everyone. They have a women’s, men’s, and kid’s selection all with the same music being played. Their clothes are hip and trendy and are appealing mostly to women roughly ages 15-45. The music suggests this is their target audience as they play pop and soft EDM from the top charts over the years. Their music is so enticing to customers that they even create playlists to match those of the ones played in the store. The music shifts from the soundtrack of the Zara stores, to the soundtrack of the customer’s lives through these playlists. Spotify allows them to listen anywhere and everywhere they wish in order to capture those same feelings of being in a store that they love listening to the music they love.

Memorable Montages  

How Christopher Nolan compresses character emotion and time

by Ryan Tressler

Top 10 Christopher Nolan Films - The Maroon
Critically acclaimed director Christopher Nolan and the Oscar-winning movies he has directed

Christopher Nolan, known for such masterpieces as The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar, Memento, The Prestige, and Dunkirk—seem to have perfected the art of modern cinematic storytelling for the big screen. He is best known for his intricate, detailed, and sometimes highly confusing plotlines that reward careful and attentive viewers with ‘aha’ moments when discovering a plot twist, understanding a flashback, or finding the film’s message in the bottle.

This often happens in his now legendary montage sequences.

According to the EB, cinematic montage is the “editing technique of assembling separate pieces of thematically related film and putting them together into a sequence.” Nolan uses montages for many reasons and in many different ways. For example, he uses a montage to build a character arc in The Dark Knight Trilogy, to powerfully end a film as he does in Memento, and to draw out a specific theme such as the one in Dunkirk. However, one of Nolan’s most prominent and powerful montage sequences stems from his desire to draw out a specific and powerful emotion from a character.

One such example occurs in the first film of the Superhero trilogy: Batman Begins.

Batman Begins - The Will to Act (Training Scene HD) - YouTube
Bruce Wayne trains with Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman Begins (2005)

This montage effectively condenses the entirety of Bruce’s training with the league of Shadows into two minutes. Rather than showing the physical portion of the training, Nolan focuses on the mental maturation. Different aspects of the training always cut back to Bruce and Ra’s sword fighting on the ice to keep the focus not just on Bruce’s physical development but on his emotional growth. Bruce must overcome the guilt and trauma of his parents’ deaths, for which he feels responsible. This montage provides the backstory and the beginning of what will become ‘The Batman.’ Nolan repeats this theme of overcoming fear throughout all three of the films, using other such “montages of the swarming bats and their screeching occur as traumatic memories whenever he is beset by fear…” (The cinema of Christopher Nolan: imagining the impossible). Nolan uses the montage sequence to compress the time of this maturation from two months into two minutes.

Cooper watches videos sent to him from his kids Tom and Murph in Interstellar (2014)

Perhaps Nolan’s most emotional film, Interstellar is a sci-fi thriller that ultimately focuses on love and family. Nowhere are these themes more evident than in the montage sequence where Cooper watches the missed messages from his family over the twenty-three years that he missed while on the planet for only a few hours.

Here, Nolan takes a non-traditional approach. Rather than it being a traditional montage for the film watcher, the viewer instead watches Cooper watch a montage of the video log. With the help of Hans Zimmer for the score, Nolan masterfully crafts a heart-wrenching scene that leaves Cooper in tears. Zimmer’s piece ‘S.T.A.Y.’ has a repetitive flow to it with the organ dominating the piece in a minor key, allowing the dialogue to be clearly heard. Nolan syncs the music up so that as soon as the video stops, the music cuts out – signifying the emptiness and loneliness that Cooper feels. Once again, Nolan uses another example of “the psychological afflictions of his male protagonists, who variously experience flashbacks…emotional damage [that] often stem from grief or guilt” (Grief, Amnesia, and Traumatic Memory).

Frequently, Nolan centers his movies around the theme of time – how it changes, how it can be altered, or how it can be reversed – and through the use of  this montage, he portrays the immensity of this loss of time.

In Nolan’s Inception, the main character Dom Cobb suffers from the trauma of his wife’s suicide, and, as a result, experiences many flashbacks of memories with her. Throughout Inception, Cobb and his team infiltrate other people’s dreams to extract information and also implant ideas into the minds of people without their knowledge. While dreaming, Cobb finds the ability to interact with  his children (who he is currently unable to visit) and deceased wife. Nolan intertwines the two, with “the film persistently [invoking] Cobb’s memories of his children and his deceased wife, both through flashbacks in his waking reality and in his dream states… [and therefore]… there is also constant uncertainty about whether he is experiencing a dream” (Representing Trauma Pg. 14).

With these thoughts in mind, let’s take a look at the ending in Inception. The question of whether or not Cobb is dreaming answers itself with the use of a spinning top. When spun, it will eventually stop in the real world but keep spinning forever in his dream world. The film ends with Cobb spinning his top right before being reunited with his children; the screen then goes black before the audience has a chance to see if it stops or not, leaving the answer unclear. Nolan not only plays with his characters’ emotions, but here he enjoys teasing the viewer’s.

Inception ending EXPLAINED: The HUGE clue you missed which reveals truth  about final scene | Films | Entertainment |
Cobb’s spinning top at the end of Inception (2010): will it stop spinning or not?

Because Nolan specializes in playing with time –  stopping it, compressing it, and speeding it up – often  displaying his characters’ emotions at the forefront of these time-warped sequences, perhaps one of his most emotionally potent montage comes near the end of  Interstellar where seventy-five plus years pass while Cooper is in space saving the world, and yet he only ages a few months. When he awakes on Cooper Station, a space habitat orbiting Saturn, he learns that Murph, his daughter, is on her deathbed soon to pass away due to old age. The film’s closing  montage not only captures how Nolan takes the pairing emotion with time to another level, but does so by playing on the convention of a quasi-cinematic life review experienced by characters before their death.

Cooper holds Murph’s hand and recalls stories from their life: Interstellar (2014)

This montage shows Cooper and Murph reconnecting one last time before she passes away. The scene  then cuts to clips of Cooper getting ready to venture on a rescue mission to save Brand, who is stranded on the planet Edmunds. A voiceover of Murph is heard speaking  to him during these frames. Within this short montage, Nolan captures the love between father and daughter, the love between man and humanity, and the connection between Cooper and Brand. 

Though the film deals with complex scientific methods, interstellar travel, and multi-dimensional worlds, the core of its meaning lies in humanity’s unwavering love and connection amid a powerful commitment to survive. Nolan realizes that emotions are not unlike matter; when condensed, they may encapsulate an entire period of one’s life, whether it is just a brief memory or a cosmic interval. 

Christopher Nolan has achieved remarkable success due to his masterclass films. Through the use of montage, he elevates them to another level. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what makes his film’s so spectacular – take a look at the storytelling, soundtrack, and cast to see why they are treasured so much as well.

Imaging Indigeneity

The Cultural Mosaic in Lilo and Stitch

by Aidan Gordley

What has Norman Rockwell’s famous painting “Freedom from Want ” got to do with Disney-Pixar’s Lilo and Stitch? Painted in celebration of President Franklin Roosevelt’s America, “Freedom From Want” attempts to portray a prosperous America. 

Rockwell Video Minute: Freedom from Want

While Rockwell imagines the ideal America as uniform and white in this painting, Lilo and Stitch offers a colorful counter argument.


The dinner table is heterogenous and vibrant where Rockwell’s is muted. Lilo and Stitch’s Hawaii is a mixture of bright colors, animated by indigeneous traditions and partly by tokens of mainland culture, such as the music of Elvis Presley. This use of color also emphasizes the often-overlooked beauty and tradition of indigenous Hawaiin culture. Where Rockwell’s painting forgets to include cultural variety, Lilo and Stitch illuminates it and proves that differences in color and background do not prevent family and unity. 

In Disney’s Lilo and Stitch, an escaped alien outlaw finds a family in the form of a bereaved Hawaiin family consisting of two sisters. The sisters, Lilo and Nani, try to teach their new alien pet, named Stitch, the ways of American life as Nani attempts to prove to a social worker (Mr. Bubbles) that she is a suitable guardian for Lilo. When the alien government tries to take Stitch back to prison, Lilo and Mr. Bubbles are able to convince the aliens that Stitch can stay on Earth with his new family. 

Elvis Presley as the “Model Citizen”

Elvis Presley is an American Rock icon. Beyond his influence on American culture, Elvis has interacted frequently with Hawaiin culture throughout his career. Using Elvis to represent the ideal American, Lilo and Stitch adds a gorgeous Hawaiin background to highlight how American and Indigenous culture, despite their glaring differences, can work and exist together. 

In this sequence, Stitch evades two aliens tasked with returning him to prison. While there is little emphasis on the music in this sequence, the inclusion of the Elvis song “Stuck on You” reveals Stitch’s reluctance to accept his role in the family.

Stuck On You (Elvis Presley) – Lilo & Stitch Movie Clip (HD)

After Mr. Bubbles’ threat to Nani, she attempts to find a job and Lilo starts to teach Stitch how to behave like a proper American. Lilo uses Elvis Presley as her example to show Stitch the model American way of life. Elvis’ “Devil in Disguise” plays through Lilo’s record player as Stitch learns how to dance and play guitar and Nani tries to find employment. 

Lilo and Stitch – Elvis – Devil in Disguise

This scene marks Stitch’s first attempts to become a functioning member of his new family. To be a proper family member necessitates being a model American. However, Stitch stands out from every other being in Hawaii, let alone America. In order to be a model citizen, Stitch has to learn how to be like Elvis, including dancing and playing guitar like a rockstar. This is all done not with the goal of eliminating cultural differences, but rather to help Stitch learn what it means to be successful in this society that is so foreign to him. We also get insights into the mind of Lilo, who sees music as a main indicator of American-ness. 

Hawaiian Culture Education

A rough day leads to the Hawaiin version of therapy: going to the beach and riding waves. In this sequence, Stitch learns to surf and begins to understand that his destructive tendencies have hurt his new family.  

Lilo & Stitch – Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride (lyrics) [HD]

Surfing is an activity that can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of color. Stitch, naturally afraid of water, sees his family having fun and longs to join them. Even though the activity makes him uncomfortable, Stitch recognizes the importance of camaraderie in a moment like this. 

The song itself is a mixture of English and Hawaiian language. The languages work together smoothly to communicate the indigenous Hawaiian message that there is no better place to be than the ocean. To people like Stitch who don’t realize what makes the beach so special, the song reveals the appeal of surfing. The title of the song, Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride, is also revelatory. Nearly everyone in America has experienced what it is like to ride a roller coaster. Comparing surfing to riding a roller coaster is one of the ways that the film attempts to make Hawaiian culture accessible to people who are unfamiliar with it. 

Beauty of Indigeneity

[HD] He Mele No Lilo – Lilo and Stitch 

In this sequence, Lilo arrives late to dance practice during a traditional Hawaiian routine. Soaking wet and more interested in her exploration of the beach, she makes the dance floor slippery and ruins the rehearsal. A similar scene occurs in Disney’s Moana, a film that also showcases Hawaiian culture. 

Moana Best Funny | Movie Dance – cartoon movies | 2017

When Moana teaches a traditional dance to children, one of the kids goes rogue and performs modern, less traditional moves. The context of the performance is much different. While Moana places an emphasis on indigenous mythology, Lilo and Stitch more boldly attempts to portray Hawaiian culture in a modern context. 

From Lilo & Stitch He Mele No Lilo (Dance)

This is a mash-up of the opening dance scene from Lilo and Stitch and a short that shows Stitch and Lilo (with the help of Nani, David, and two alien scientists) performing the dance. Compared to the first scene, the performance that includes the aliens is way more relaxed and lighthearted. However, the sense of unity across both performances remains the same. The color varies, yet the product (a performance of a beautiful, traditional Hawaiian routine) is of the same quality. 

Identity and Family

Lilo & Stitch – Part 13/13 | Can Stitch say ‘Goodbye’? (HD)

When Stitch is located by the alien authorities, different aliens and humans work together to keep him on Earth with his family. This heartwarming scene is the product of the whole film’s establishment of a family blind to color. At first he was reluctant to adapt to not be a force of destruction and chaos. Eventually, Stitch understood what it means to be both an American and a brother. By the end of the film, every character, alien and human alike, understands the importance of relationships. 

Lilo and Stitch supports the perception of America as a ‘cultural mosaic’. Individuals from different backgrounds, places, and ethnicities maintain their cultural autonomy and live in community (not in competition) with each other. They combine the best parts of their identities, origins, and passions to create a loving community. Indigenous art and culture is put on full display. Looking back on the dinner table, the uniformity of Rockwell’s painting “Freedom from Want” suggests an inclination toward the imagination of America, a country of immigrants, as a ‘melting pot’ combining worldwide cultures into one ‘white,’ American culture. The family at the dinner table is happy, but uncomfortably washed out. There is an obvious emphasis on family and bonding, but no nod to the plethora of diverse cultures that together form ‘America.’ The whiteness of it is almost blinding. In contrast, the bright watercolor of Lilo and Stitch pops out in every stroke. There is a combination of indigenous Hawaiian, African American, and alien representation. The ideal America is not a blend of culture. Rather, it is a heterogeneous mixture. Lilo and Stitch defines the ideal America as a place where diversity and identity are celebrated and where model U.S. citizens are the people who are proud of their unique identities.

Out of Sync

Why One of the Weirdest Films of All Time Deserves Another Look and Listen

by Donald Wallace

Sixty years after its release, Last Year at Marienbad by the French director, Alain Resnais, remains a challenging film to say the least. The plot seems incoherent, the black and white cinematography peculiar, and the music puzzling. In short, everything seems out of sync. Hailed at the time as a modernist masterpiece, Marienbad’s plot and story as well as its image and sound are incomprehensible and deeply at odds with mainstream cinema. Resnais and film composer Francis Seyrig broke all cinematic conventions to create a counter piece to classical Hollywood cinema. In particular, the film’s underscore operates in a way where the principles of traditional film music are violated. To the average viewer, the film is not particularly amusing, but it is important to explore films outside of your comfort zone to find beauty in the unordinary.

In a 1961 interview, Resnais stated that he wanted each spectator to come up with their own solution to his film. This task remains difficult as the plot is like a puzzle that can be assembled differently. The film’s manipulation of time through the use of flashbacks, flash-forwards, and repeated scenes bewilders the spectator and creates a fragmented, discontinuous atmosphere for a first-time viewer. There are three main characters: two men, X and M, and a woman, A, in an elegant hotel setting. According to film scholar Ellen Schwartz, the plot tells the “story”  or the “non-story” of the pair, A and X, who may or may not have met the previous year at a hotel in Marienbad. M might be A’s husband and X wants to persuade the woman that they met the previous year and that the woman had promised to leave with X a year later. Film critic Jean-Louis Leutrat mentions that the film raises various questions: did they really meet or is everything a dream? Was seduction or a rape involved in their assumed sexual encounter? Is she pretending to forget? Who really is M—a brother, husband, or friend? 

Two major parts of this cinematic puzzle are sound and music. Film scholar Claudia Gorbman, in her 1987 seminal study of film music, Unheard Melodies, outlines the six key uses of music in film. Marienbad violates all of Gorbman’s uses of score. Her first principle, inaudibility, states that “music is not meant to be heard consciously” because it is supposed to subordinate itself to the dialogue and visuals. Marienbad’s score is all over the place: disregarding dialogue, being loud sometimes, being quiet at others, and seems out of the ordinary in most scenes. All of these infractions make the score heard to an inordinate extent, violating the inaudibility rule. When two men in the film are having a conversation, a strident organ strikes into the score and completely interrupts their conversation. As Marguerite Valentine describes, the score’s atonality and harshness lack a sense of subordination to the film, making the film and music seem out of sync.            

(Notice the music over the dialogue)

One of the most perplexing scenes from the film demonstrates the violation of Gorbman’s invisibility principle which states that the source of musical underscoring should remain hidden from sight. In turn, when the music becomes diegetic, the source of the music is revealed. In the scene below, the depicted band looks to play two violins. Strangely enough, we don’t hear that music. Instead, Resnais chose to continue with the eerie, non-diegetic organ that is heard throughout the film. The combination of events being shown out of order and the odd use of music in certain scenes creates a radical discontinuity between what is heard and what is seen. This uncertainty raises the question of whether certain scenes are real and in the present or just a memory or dream?

The score does nothing to smooth out discontinuities or create a sense of unity in the film as it does in classical underscoring. There are moments of awkward silence, scenes where the score is prolonged, and sequences where the music seems completely disassociated from the film itself. The music does not even suture scenes together! This lack of suture resembles the disconnect between audience and film. The music is not alone in contributing to these discontinuities. Sudden scene cuts, odd stoppages in movement, and jumps between the past and present make it difficult—even impossible—for the audience to follow what is happening in the plot. Again, everything from cinematography to music to cinematic conventions just seems to be out of sync.

As Gorbman describes in Unheard Melodies, music should lead the audience to a certain conclusion or signify actions and emotions in film. The score in Marienbad does not give any cues to the narrative or highlight the emotions of the audience or characters in the film. Marienbad takes an opposite approach to Gorbman’s principle; there’s constant underscoring of a daunting and disturbing organ in all but two parts in the film. It did not matter the scene, whether happy or sad, the connotation that the music produced remained the same. This is what Valentine meant when she said “the music challenges … understanding.” The misuse of music vexes the audience for a seemingly unknown reason. Why would Resnais choose to confuse his audience?

A variety of other films in history have infringed upon Hollywood cinematic conventions, but typically the directors have reasons for doing so. For example, director of Deadpool, Tim Miller, “broke the fourth wall” when he had Deadpool address the audience. Every spectator was able to pick up on Miller’s comedic technique. Additionally, Christopher Nolan told his film Memento in reverse “in order to give the film its meaning.” Essentially, the main character has short term memory loss, and Nolan wanted to give the audience the same experience as the main character. On the other hand, the debilitated, out-of-order, and confusing storytelling combined with the constant violations of Gorbman’s principles of film music in Marienbad seem to have little to no meaning other than to confuse the spectator. Consequently, one may ask the question, why exactly was this film made and why does it matter?

The reasoning behind this enigma of a film and its violations are discovered when one looks at the film from a distance. Marienbad was made for the sole purpose of breaking rules. Film critic, Roger Ebert, asserts that Resnais sought out to produce a “deliberate, artificial artistic construction” of a film that would serve that exact purpose—to create a film that could be interpreted in an original way. Resnais challenges traditional narrative techniques and uses of film music in order to entice the audience to explore the film authentically. Based on today’s standards, the film is not particularly entertaining. This does not mean that we cannot take something away from this mysteriously beautiful film. This film is not for everyone, but it is important to expose yourself to works of art that you would not typically go out of your way to see. Last year at Marienbad resembles a film that can broaden someone’s horizons as it is a historically problematic film to understand and in one line: the movie is out of sync.

Musical Foreshadowings

The opening credit sequence often reveals what will happen in a film

by Ashley Utnage

When was the last time you paid close attention to the soundtrack of a film? Music enables  viewers to “bridge the emotional gap… between these two [emotional] extremes…much faster than dialogue or visual stimulation” (DePree). Isn’t that what movies are—a makeup of audio and visuals? If one were to pay attention to the music accompanying the opening credit sequence, how much of the story would be foreshadowed to the viewer?

Let’s look at the films Spellbound, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Inception, each one showcasing a different level of foreshadowing to viewers—romance in mystery, peril in play, magic in the mundane, and a chanson to dream of. 

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 Spellbound is a murder mystery with music composed by Miklós Rózsa. The main suspect, John Valentine (played by Gregory Peck), cannot seem to recall the murder, and here psychoanalysis becomes a central element of the plot. Valentine shows up at a clinic where the main psychotherapist (played by Ingrid Bergman) befriends him, attempting to help him uncover his memories through psychoanalysis. Not surprisingly, their relationship develops into a romantic one, and the film ends with the murder being resolved and the romance fulfilled. 

Viewers first hear a spooky tone in the opening credits, creating an overall dangerous mood that is felt throughout the film. Another portion of the opening credits—when information about psychoanalysis is shown on-screen—slow string music is heard that is later used in each romance scene between John Valentine and Constance. Although we don’t yet know how the murder mystery will be entangled with romance, the music raises our expectations that it will.

(“‘Alfred Hitchcock’_“Spellbound”1945_‘Classic Thriller Movie’”)

Spellbound Opening Credits

The Hunger Games, produced in 2012 and composed by James Newton Howard, tells a story of a dystopian society in which children are selected for a “game” where they fight each other to the death. The opening credits use text to explain these games, and the intertitle ends with an ominous sentiment: “Fight to the Death, until a lone victor remains” (The Hunger Games). The song being played utilizes a guitar sound at a slow tempo and eventually brings in more stringed instruments. A dissonant note is played at the end of the track while this last line appears onscreen.

(“The Hunger Games – First Scene HD”)

Hunger Games Opening Credits

Fitzgerald notes that: “a sudden shift to the parallel minor key enhances the sense of foreboding associated with the Games event” (Fitzgerald). The brief use of the minor key is ominous, even for musically untrained viewers, who can tell the difference between the major key tune played at first, and the later switch to minor for this dark message. While this opening music does not foreshadow any specific event, viewers are warned that this “game” is not to be taken lightly.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has captured the hearts of readers and viewers around the world, in part because of the score by veteran film composer John Williams. Viewers follow the story of a young boy who discovers that he is a wizard. At the beginning of the film, we hear “Hedwig’s Theme”. Brass instruments carry the lighthearted melody with random strings in the background adding a sense of chaos and uncertainty. According to Ojala, these instruments “open the main story with a hint [of] darkness and mystery” (Ojala). As  Dumbledore enters, the strings grow in volume and dissonance. Hagrid then flies in on a motorcycle with baby Harry Potter, and when they carry him to the front porch, the music crescendos to the point when Dumbledore says, “until he is ready” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone). As they set him down on the porch, he says, “Good luck, Harry Potter” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), and the same main melody is heard with a bell-sound creating the tune this time. 

(“Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – the first scene (HD)”)

Harry Potter Opening Scene

As Morgan notes, “The most foundational element of Harry’s existence becomes the concept of magic. In the same way, the most foundational elements of Hedwig’s Theme are those that are chromatically altered, thus rendering Hedwig’s Theme a musical projection of magic” (Morgan). Since chromaticism is the use of notes that vary from the scale being used for a piece of music, the slight uneasiness in the main theme suggests to readers something mysterious about this child. The leitmotif therefore represents “the wizarding world as a whole, and signifies the existence of that world to the audience for the first time here” (“Filmic Techniques”). Again, while the opening music does not foreshadow a specific event, such as in Spellbound, it suggests that the story will be suffused with magic.

Inception takes foreshadowing to another level, using one song in the opening scene to function as a key to its intricate plot where a team of “dream hunters” enter into people’s subconscious dreams to extract information. They implant an idea inside someone’s mind—dubbed “inception”—which requires a very complex plan of creating multi-leveled dreams within their target’s mind.

Because this entire concept is so complex and dangerous, the team utilizes a specific song as their countdown for waking up outside the dream: the French chanson “Non, je ne regrette rien” made famous by Edith Piaf. Used “both as a diegetic as well as a non-diegetic source” (Engel), this song plays a massive role in the plot.

Take a minute to watch minute 2:15 through 4:05 of the following video…


Was it Diegetic, or Just a Dream? Music’s Paradoxical Place in the Film Inception

As viewers, we not only hear this song used as the “dream hunters” cue to wake up, but also as an indicator of being inside the dream. When inside one’s subconscious, the tempo is slowed down to an unidentifiable rhythm (or at least I was unable to identify it). The original French song uses higher-pitched brass instruments, but the slowed-down version has a much lower pitch. We hear this “dream-distorted version” (Doll) in the opening credits.

Musical score for “Non, je ne regrette rien” versus the slowed-down version (Doll)

Without knowledge that this opening music from the soundtrack is a slow-tempo version of the French song, the opening music serves as a simple foreshadowing of a dangerous plot. After giving some thought to the use of this song (and after obtaining the knowledge that these two songs are the same being played at different tempos), however, this opening track reveals the ending. I must applaud Professor Doll for making this suggestion: “Perhaps this is diegetic music from up above, and everything we see in the film is just a dream” (Doll). If the dream-distorted version is an indication to viewers that the “dream hunters” are inside a dream, and this dream-distorted, slowed-down version is played in the opening credits, then is this song ultimately foreshadowing the fact that the entire film takes place inside a dream?

I had never realized the extent to which foreshadowing could be used, but these four examples of films showcase various possibilities, whether that be a suggestion of emotion, as experienced in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Hunger Games, an indication of romance, as witnessed in Spellbound, or an entire plot concept, as discovered in Inception. Musical composers of films play a significant role in developing the plot, and in some instances, offer pieces of the plot to viewers who choose to pay close attention.