Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Vertigoed! The film scholarly value of mash-up?

Last updated January 20, 2012

A psychosexually obsessed man wanders the streets of 1950s San Francisco; he spies [on] seemingly unavailable blonde women; he makes a woman fall from a height; she drops into water; the scene is filled with circle imagery, especially circles within circles.....  [See the original sequence]
As Film Studies For Free's readers may have heard, Kim Novak, co-star of Vertigo, took out an ad in trade magazine Variety to protest about the recent use of an excerpt from Bernard Herrmann's score for Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 film in Michel Hazanavicius’s 2011 modern silent film The Artist. "I want to report a rape," went the headline. "I feel as if my body - or at least my body of work -- has been violated by the movie, The Artist," Novak wrote. She went on to criticise the “use and abuse [of] famous pieces of work to gain attention and applause for other than what they were intended.”

There was quite a strong international reaction to Novak's intervention. Some were dismayed by her recourse to the lexicon of rape; others were more sympathetic to her stance and background as someone very much not from the digital age of remix and creative appropriation; still others remind us that, in 'Scene d'Amour', the musical Vertigo theme in question, Herrmann was, of course, inspirationally reworking some of Richard Wagner's motifs from his Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal. Good artists copy; great artists steal?

Enter the story the PRESS PLAY blog which launched a contest inviting readers to re-use Herrmann's "Scene d'Amour" music in their own mash-up, inspired by the idea that "Bernard Herrmann's Vertigo score is so passionate and powerful that it can elevate an already good scene -- and a familiar one at that -- to a higher plane of expression."

Film Studies For Free's author was only too happy to have a go, joining the legions of those who, like Hazanavicius, have used Herrmann's music in their work, in large or very small ways. Her choice of film sequence? One borrowed from The Sniper, Edward Dmytryk's 1952 film noir, with its own, obsessed, wandering male protagonist and San Francisco setting.

The Sniper was one of the films that probably directly inspired Vertigo, as well as Hitchcock's 1960 film Psycho -- see critic Dave Kehr's thoughts on this. The above mash-up chooses, then, to marry Herrmann's lush Wagnerian romance with the key 'amusement park' sequence from Dmytryk's brilliant film, with its astonishing performance of overt misogyny by Arthur Franz as Edward "Eddie" Miller -- perhaps the perfect, filmic, mirror-image of James Stewart's unforgettable, unconsciously misogynist, John "Scottie" Ferguson.

FSFF's author was excited to experience at first-hand the scholarly possibilities of remixing film clips in this way (the contest rules state that the original film sequence cannot be re-edited in any way -- except, if you choose to, by removing its sound -- in order not to cheat with the creative re-juxtaposition process).

Remixing is an astonishingly good (and amazingly easy) way of really -- almost literally -- getting inside a film sequence. It is thus a truly great exercise for all students of film with access to the right digital tools. Analysing just how the mash-up adapts the meaning of the original music and original sequence is rather educational and fun, too!

If you get your skates on with the Vertigo score exercise, there are still three days left for Press Play's contest entries. Click here to watch the (over 60) entries at present.

FSFF's favorite entry to the contest, so far, is a mash-up which, rather like its own, plays on the conscious or unconscious connections between an earlier film and Vertigo. It's Matthew Cheney's wonderful work with Mädchen in Uniform (the brilliant 1931 film by Leontine Sagan). But there are loads of other imaginative and highly satisfying remixes that you will enjoy checking out. UPDATE: the videographic legend that is Steven Boone just added a late Vertigoed entry which is FSFF's new favourite: a scene from Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

If you want to see even more brilliant, Vertigo mash-up work -- actually, a work of remix in a completely different, utterly sublime class -- you simply must check out The Vertigo Variations by remarkable critic-filmmaker B. Kite.

And, for more vertiginous sublimity, don't forget FSFF's very own Study of a Single Film: Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo entry.

The mash up video at the top of the post was made according to principles of Fair Use/Fair Dealing, with non-commercial scholarly and critical aims, and was published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License in January 2012. 

1 comment:

Tom Ruffles said...

I thought the use of Hermann's music in The Artist was distracting, as it is so closely bound to Vertigo, and rather lazy, but rape? At least it isn't as overused as Nina Simone's Sinner Man.