As the reading  makes it clear in the very first chapter, film shares a lot of similarities with music, and many other art forms:

"Film employs the compositional elements of the visual arts: line, form, mass, volume, and texture. Like painting and photography, film exploits the subtle interplay of light and shadow. Like sculpture, film manipulates three-dimensional space. But, like pantomime, film focuses on moving images, and as in dance, the moving images in film have rhythm. The complex rhythms of film resemble those of music and poetry, and like poetry in particular, film communicates through imagery, meta- phor, and symbol. Like the drama, film communicates visually and verbally: visually, through action and gesture; verbally, through dialogue. Finally, like the novel, film expands or compresses time and space, traveling back and forth freely within their wide borders.” (The Art of Watching Films, pg. 3)

chorusSo perhaps it's no surprise that I love music just about as much as I love movies. When the two are formally combined, one gets  the musical. Musical theatre has been around since ancient times, perhaps reaching a pinnacle with the chorus of ancient Greek theatre. Ironically, the Greek χορός, or khoros, means something more like singing and dancing, as members of the khoros were more likely to dance as well as sing in order to complement the emotional states of the actors on stage.    

As mentioned in the previous module on sound, when motion picture technology emerged in the early 20th century, films were often accompanied by music, played live in the theatre, that had a similar function to that of the Greek khorus: to convey the emotional component of the narrative arc.

Perhaps it isn't so surprising then that, as soon as synchronized sound was invented and perfected, the first thing Hollywood did was produce a musical: 1927’s The Jazz Singer.  Since that time, the musical film has emerged as one of our most beloved genres, with award-winning iterations for many sub-genres of music, from classical (Amadeus (1985)), to jazz (West Side Story (1961) and Chicago (2002)), to the undefinable and uniquely American (My Fair Lady (1964)).

The Reading

For this module you are going to begin by reading Chapter 9 in The Art of Watching Films (pgs. 250 – 266).

The Watching


Little Shop of Horrors (1986) by Frank Oz

51nKSOjkyXLFor this module, you’re going to watch what I think is an underrated musical remake of Roger’s Corman’s not-so-great B-movie Little Shop of Horrors (1960). This doo-wop inspired story of one man’s ill-fated relationship with a mutated house plant is pure 50s kitsch, and it really sums up the fascination we had with mid-century America during the 1980s. For this reason alone you should watch it. But pay attention to the music and how it marries a lighthearted emotional feel to an otherwise gruesome story of murder and deception.


Birdman (2015) by Alejandro GonzAlez INArritu

0cf932b9eeedda4813de2d427a590498Then you’re going to watch a non-musical film, but a film that nonetheless deftly combines its flowy, jazzy score with an equally flowing and winding narrative. This film won the 2015 Academy Award for Best Picture, and is the second Iñárritu film we’ve watched for this course (the first being Module 05’s The Revenant). Emmanuel Lubezki also served as this film's cinematographer, and – surprise! – also took home the 2015 Oscar for Best Cinematography.

And while that's great and all, I want you to pay close attention here to jazz percussionist Antonio Sánchez’s amazing score, which is mostly percussion, and has an important connection to the cinematography and the narrative. 


Note: as always, the media for this can be found in the LEH 353 - Visual Storytelling library on Plex.

The Questions 

After completing the reading and the watching, please complete the following questions: