Archive for March, 2012

                 “I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain!”  When I was about 11 years old, my best friend back then went to watch the musical and came back with two souvenir’s for me. The first was a pocket calendar picturing the casts of the musical on the front (which I believe I still have) and the second, the chorus of the all-time famous “Singing in the rain” song in which its tune I’ve never forgotten till this day. I never got around to watching it although I always told myself to try and get a copy of it. I was ecstatic when I learnt that I would be viewing it as part of the Film 101 course. Finally!

The musicals back then (as I’ve come to realize) have so much more depth and meaning as compared to the musicals done these days. Each song tells of a story but in such a poetic and ingenious way of rhyming that I wonder, are good writers a dying breed? Hence, every song in this movie has an important plot point that explains either the background of the story or foretelling what is about to occur. Numbers like “Fit as a Fiddle (and ready for love)”, “Make ‘Em Laugh” and “Moses Supposes” are such important plot points with specific and dramatic functions that sew the story together.

“Fit as a Fiddle (and ready for love)” is the first musical number we see at the beginning of the film (excluding the “Singing in the rain” introduction by Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynold and Donald O’Connor) and is a crucial one. This musical number is part of a history shared between Don Lockwood and his best friend Cosmo Brown as they both struggled to survive in the entertainment industry with their yet undiscovered talents. The song that they sang and danced together interprets their boyish-ness as they are still young, inexperienced and untrained in their professions. The word “fiddle” has many meanings; one of which is to play a tune on the violin (which they are), another is to touch or move something in small quick movements and lastly, to get money by producing false records (Microsoft Word Dictionary). Basically when they are singing this song they are saying that:

  1. We’re fit and ready to be played like this violin. We’re musically gifted and talented in the performing arts and we’re ready to shine.
  2. We’re big boys now. We’re ready to have some sexuality in our lives and we’re ready for “love”.
  3. Lying is a way to get to the top. Such as in this case where Don who is now a famous movie star, lies about his entire life and even says his one motto is “dignity”.

“Dignity, always dignity” 

The costumes worn by Don and Cosmos are like one of a strolling player’s costume – cheap, bright and colourful. With happy bubbly music, we see them dancing on a stage that’s most likely to be in a bar or a cheap theatre for poor townsfolk to go to that’s found in every state and town. Even the dancing depicts a sense of boyish-ness with Cosmos walking directly behind Don, legs kicking in the air like a bunch of kids with big cheerleader smiles all the way.

Immature behaviour that we don’t see in Big-O stylo Hollywood. No one respects them as the audience jeers and mocks them after their performance. This immaturity gives a background to Don’s live as we see that until he meets Kathy, he is merely that boy dancing in a green striped costume.

“Make ‘Em Laugh”, a solo by Cosmos (Donald O’Connor) is one where he is trying to cheer Don up as well as enlighten him that movies needed a change and a new direction, one that would make the audience laugh perhaps. In the beginning of the scene we see Don getting all touchy when Cosmos repeats what Kathy told Don; “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all!” referring to the pictures in which Don is regularly casted in. Cosmos then enquires about his friend’s confusion over this unknown dame, Kathy who’s appeared to turn Don’s world upside down. To cheer him up, Cosmos starts singing and dancing beginning with the most hilarious lyrics that are by far my most favourite:

Short people have long faces

Long people have short faces

Big people have little humour and

Little people have no humour at all

Which is an irony in itself as Cosmos is what we’d consider as “little people” and yet he himself has plenty of humour. It is in this scene we see a sort of predicament of the future that when change happens, all sorts of calamities occur before it is perfected. With this, Cosmos performs this number with a clown-like character and actually making people laugh during this scene whilst causing calamity around him.

He gets carried by a log, hits the wall and makes faces, has comical dance moves and a cheeky face throughout. He plays with a human figurine pretending it to be a girl he fancies, does tumbles on the ground, runs and does backflips on the sets and even runs through the wall. At the end we see him dancing on the floor and finally ends singing “Make ‘em laugh!” and flops back to the ground.

Even the sound effects in this scene play a huge role in making it comedy-like with sounds of knocks and gears twisting. This plot point explains a change in the cinema world when ‘talking pictures’ is invented instead of the previous silent films. This turns Monument Pictures Studio upside down (just like Cosmos flipping upside down in the number!) as the main actress, Lina has a terrible voice. In a way, Cosmos is trying to tell Don not to be rigid but to loosen up and find another way to reach the audiences instead of what Don usually does.

This musical number is also one of Cosmos trying to cheer Don up from his worries of Kathy (who is also a little person that disrupts Don’s world and changes him into a man). We see all of this in Cosmos movement where in the beginning he’s rigid and stiff and slowly loosens himself till he finally let’s everything go.

Lastly, “Moses Supposes” is a number that is actually my personal favourite as its originality stands out tremendously. The song “Moses Supposes” was actually one of the only songs specifically written without the help of Arthur Freed (original composer of all the numbers in this musical, made for other musicals). This number serves as a plot point of the process of transformation as both Hollywood and Don Lockwood are transforming into different characters slowly. As the Studio learns to work around the technology of sound, the actors are required to prepare as well with diction’s and their pronunciation. Don is having no problem with this and aces all his dictions perfectly till it comes to the tongue-twisters. Here, his comical friend Cosmo enters the room and helps Don in both loosening himself and the diction coach as well as helping him get through the tongue-twisters.

Moses supposes his toes are roses

But Moses supposes erroneously

Moses he knowes his toeses aren’t roses

As Moses supposes his toeses to be.

This number is the beginning of Don’s “loosening” from the person he is. It is also like a mockery to being prim and proper, minding your “P’s” and “Q’s”. We see Don is once again trapped in a stuffy room having to sharpen his diction by an equally stuffy coach. In comes Cosmos in the nick of time to save his friend from the mundane teachings and setting him free (time and time we see Cosmos turning Don’s world upside down and helps him be free). He encourages the coach to continue on with tongue-twister after tongue-twister but is in fact making fun of him. Don immediately joins in the fun and together they become like the two boys from “Fit as a Fiddle”. They start singing a song about Moses Supposes, a tongue-twister, making it into something that hardly makes and sense but fun to say.

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Gestures like throwing the book away and loosening the tie of the coach all symbolize the throwing away of old, the structured and what is expected of us and instead embracing a different way of learning. The usage of curtains as costumes and dancing on chairs and tables – things that society, especially men, do not do. They are indeed breaking out from the stuffy Hollywood world just as Hollywood and Don are both changing on the inside. The ending is epic with them singing the vowel, “A” as if to have a last laugh at the English language and its perfections.

The dancing and music in this sequence is superb as it is energetic, lively and very athletic. As a dancer myself, I believe that this dance requires plenty of stamina and control as it is a long number in which both Don and Cosmos are constantly moving about with their feet, hands and bodies. I admire them both for this number as I belief that this is a tiring dance routine but is rehearsed so well to look effortless. The amount of positions to perfect synchronously amidst vigorous dancing is certainly a task but is done so flawlessly. With such an upbeat music and rhythm that changes halfway through the song, it makes it such a unique and fun number in the midst of a stuffy boring classroom. This musical number and many others makes me want to get up my seat and join them in dance as well.

Singing in The Rain is definitely a musical one cannot forget. With its musical numbers that are needed as particular plot points, the use of song and dance to express aspects of characters or plot situations, it is no wonder it is well remembered till today. My only hope is that Hollywood would continue to create many more well-produced musicals such as this in the years to come and not let it be just a “dying breed”. As for me, I would definitely show this to my kids when I do have them in the future!

ET 6: Deconstructing Vertov

Posted: March 21, 2012 in ET Blog Essay

“The Man With a Movie Camera”. What a title. The title in itself would capture an audience of any kind simply because of how simple sounding it is; sparking an interest to the viewer of what this man with a movie camera is all about. Unlike the other movies such as “Birth of a Nation” or “The Battleship Potemkin” where both movies have a straightforward title (that these movies are related to wars or about patriotism in a country not of theirs), The Man With a Movie Camera evokes curiosity to all viewers of any age or race. It has an innocent appeal to it and leaves room for imagination for the audience to create a story behind what this movie might be of. It certainly evoked my curiosity especially when it began with a truly unique start as compared to the other movies previously viewed.

Man With a Movie Camera begins with a statement saying that the movie is an “experiment” without the help of interfiles, story and theatre. In short, Vertov is creating an “international language” by creating a movie that does not involve a scripted play with actors and in a place where most people can related to. Vertov creates an international language through the absence of a plot, narration, subtitles, and actors and is explained below.

Firstly, the absence of a plot can be seen throughout this movie. In the Man With a Movie Camera we often are shown clips that what appear to be all over the place with no storyline whatsoever. We see pictures of a little girl laughing or the movement of trains on the road and it all seems so random with no flow or order. Just a constant flow of moving pictures of the everyday Russian life. For example, the movie starts off with clips of the streets that are quiet, people who are asleep such as the women, undisturbed machinery that stays as still as a rock. As it progresses, more seemingly random images are shown repeatedly all over the place like the pictures of gears of the factory, packing cigarettes, pigeons, the homeless or cutting in and out of scenes from a factory to the streets. This creates suspense to the viewer as we’re constantly at the edge of our seats wondering, “What’s next, what’s next?” as we do not know where this movie is headed. As mentioned before, this allows the viewer to imagine the next clip that might be shown or simply infer the meanings of the clips shown through the movie. This is a clear “international language” as anyone from anywhere can form their own imagination and infer theories based on their own opinion in contrast with “Triumph of the Will” that clearly imposes someone else’s idea as your own (that is, a strong sense of patriotism to Hitler and Germany).

Secondly, the absence of a narration is avid in this movie. Not one word is said throughout this film, not one clip of an explanation of any scene. This again, allows the audience to be free in his own interpretation and does not need to be guided by anyone to know what the film is about. This makes it easy for anyone to understand and watch as those who cannot read may be able to view it without missing out in important explanations of the movie. Besides that, the mute and deaf are even able to watch this movie as again, there is no need to listen for an explanation of any scene of sort. I believe that this is a key tool used in this movie as most films are screened to fit an audience who are hearing-able as well as educated enough to read. This allows literally, people of all ages and forms to view this screening in such a simple manner. Furthermore, many movies back then were made in Germany or in America where others from different parts of the world might not understand that language. With the absence of narration, there is no need for translators or a translation that might take the viewer away from the imagery shown.

This leads me to my next point which is that this movie has created an international language through the non-appearance of subtitles. Due to this reason, many are able to understand the “language” spoken through the art of moving pictures. As this movie is made purely with pictures, one is able to decipher his/her own meaning and interpretation or form questions such as, “Why does Vertov take pictures of the train?” or “What is the meaning behind showing the lady from naked to dressed at the start of the movie? Is it to show some form of sexuality?” As mentioned before, subtitles are like a wall between the audience and the film as the constant viewing of the words shown below the screen distracts us from what is happening in the scene. If you don’t understand the language or can’t read, we miss out on what is happening. If we linger on the words too long or simply read too slowly, we miss not only the current subtitles shown but important parts of the scene and the next thing we know, it’s a whole new scene already. Man With a Movie Camera takes the hassle out and allows the viewer to just enjoy the videogrpahy and art presented without any disruptions to the flow.

Lastly, we see Vertov filming ordinary people in the midst of their ordinary lives instead of actors in this film. From the start to the end, the imagery shown of people are literally random strangers like the homeless woman sleeping, or the traffic marshal of the trains or workers at the factory. We don’t see a famous movie star or a handsome actor strutting down the street in pretense of a traffic officer. Instead, we see ordinary faces from ordinary humans beings like you and I being portrayed in the film. This brings the audience to a level where they can connect as it is as if they are seeing themselves or someone they know on the screen. It is as if someone recorded their lives and displayed for all to see. This is what happens in everyday life; no acting, no stuntman, no props, just the world as how it is. By creating such an element, the audience is able be drawn to the movie, comparing how different their lives are compared to those of the Russians and find that except for facial features, everything is done in the same way.

Why, you may ask, would Vertov do such a thing as this? Rejecting societal norms of filmmaking – narration, theatre, etc – and doing something completely different? In my opinion, I believe that Vertov did this to firstly break out of society’s norm. In order to reach a mass audience widely, in order for anyone of any race or background to be able to watch and connect this film, elements like language and writing have to be taken away. I believe that he also did this for the world to see what life really is especially in the Russian world with no actors or sets or scripts. Many more can also be reached as this movie shows plenty of middle class workers in factories, the vast majority of the population. Hence, many more people are able to related to this movie as compared to “Bringing up Baby” for example which involves the higher class, the wealthy.

In Man With a Movie Camera, Vertov’s idea and methodology and the Marxist theory of equality are strongly linked. When watching the movie, one gets the idea of that everyone is equal and the same and there is no hierarchy of importance from one person or the other. For example, the viewings of the workers at the factory are equal importance to the traffic marshal of the trains. One does not see a distinction of statuses of any sort be it in cash received or any statements projecting that the traffic marshal is of higher importance than the workers. Instead it is like a statement made that what you see in my country is what you see in yours. It raises the question in the viewers mind whether they want to see this same image in their own lives – the image of no upper class dominating the lower class but everyone is treated equal. Do we want to find joy and laughter working in these factories such as the women seem to be having? We see factory workers, common class people and the poor and homeless so often in this movie. Do we really want to be trapped in this routine, robotic life of capitalism and having to strive and work hard for nothing? The opening of Man With a Movie Camera is a clear statement of this; the world is in a state of equilibrium and everyone is happy doing their own thing without any authorities barging over their lives or threatening them. There is also a sense of equality when Vertov juxtaposes images of death and birth as the same or marriage and divorce as a balance, a part of life.

All in all, I thought that Man With a Movie Camera was one of the most well edited films watched thus far in this course and I was greatly impressed by the speed of the film and the effects that were pretty advanced for that era. This work of art is surely an international language that can be viewed by all, anytime, anywhere and whenever and can be successfully understood by many.