Aesthetic Terms From the Days Term Paper

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[. . .] A shame then that the almost inevitable pop song rears its ugly head (http://www.musicweb.uk.net/film/2000/Nov00/crouching_tiger.html).

In contrast, while the score for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" tends to bind the film together and tends to bind us in the audience to the film (and especially to the main character), the score of "Iron Monkey" tends to be more effective in creating (and controlling) the cinematic space of the film that in turn creates a distance between spectator and film. The score in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is a siren song, luring us in to drown us once we have become too dazzled to pay attention. The score in "Iron Monkey" keeps us at arms' length, warning us that this is not a world in which we want to enter casually.

The use of music in "Iron Monkey" is also far more ironic than it is in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" because the new score that Miramax added for its U.S. release plays with conventions of American musical theater. While the action in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" truly is choreographed to the music, here the martial arts sequences were written to be supported by a different soundtrack, and so there is often a disjunction between score and actions or score and overall emotional effect:

Thus, the fight scenes in Iron Monkey operate as kung fu counterparts to, say, the dance sequences in an MGM musical or the death-defying slapstick of a Buster Keaton comedy. What's more, the characters in Iron Monkey bring grace and dignity to all their movements. This is best illustrated when the wind blows some papers loose inside Dr. Yang's home. Yang and Miss Orchid collect the floating papers through a dazzling and seemingly effortless series of leaps and twirls that will have viewers laughing with delight. When Yang, his feet now planted on the ground, casually flips the hem of his tunic to create a small updraft that allows him to nab the last errant sheet of paper without exerting himself, he instantly becomes one of the coolest characters ever seen onscreen (http://staging.gomemphis.com/mca/movie_reviews/article/0,1426,MCA_569_845469,00.html).

In "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," what we see and what we hear are in fundamental ways the same, with the result that the movie draws us in as alluringly as a dream - or a drug. In "Iron Monkey" that seamlessness has been broken so that the movie plays more effectively as an action picture, which is an essentially artificial format (as is the musical).

Music as Guide to a Foreign Land

Both scores invoke a particular sense of geography. These scores are acts of ethnography: They attempt to persuade that we know what it is like to be in a foreign land - although this land is made foreign not by its physical distance from us but by its insistence on the efficacy and finality of violence.

The two scores also each evoke a particular era, although "Iron Monkey" has the advantage in this case since the world in which it is set (although still fictionalized) is far more real in its basic epistemology than the world of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Reviewers are critical of the heavy reliance that contemporary movie scores place on the importance of pop songs rather than relying on original music to do the harder but more sophisticated work of creating a feel that is unique to the film and that does not rely on the already established connotations of a rock star - as in the analysis of the score of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" cited above.

However, such criticism ignores the importance of pop music as a psychological temporal anchor. Few things - perhaps nothing else at all - helps us to perform the magic of time traveling as hearing a song from a particular year. Both of these films take advantage of the fact that they are anchored in time by the songs that are included along with the original music. "Iron Monkey" uses music to both take us to the end of the 19th century and also to remind us of our own time.

Music as Affect

Both films also rely on the ability of music - and especially of music that is accompanying action in a film that it parallels in important ways - to evoke strong emotions. This is especially true of the music that accompanies the very-much-buttoned-down acting in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Repeatedly throughout the film we find ourselves leaning forward in our seats, ready for the emotions that we know must lie just below his surface to burst forth.

And repeatedly the score teases us with the promise that this will be the case: It seems to call out to the two lead actors, to try to pull forth their emotions. But the characters - and the actors - resist the lure of the music. Because of this, the audience forms a bond to the music.

Music creates the emotional tone of the movie - which is not necessarily the emotional tone of the character on the screen at the moment: We are both waiting to see if love and happiness are possible for the two of them.

Another strong function of a film score is its ability to generate an emotional response from the viewer while he/she is watching a film. It assists in intensifying or relaxing the pace of the film. This is such an influential function, that some critics believe it to be the only one. These critics believe that the emotional response that a score generates from a viewer is also able to provide the film with other musical functions as well, since all music, whatever its other functions are, inherently presents emotion, because that is its nature (http://www.filmscoremonthly.com/features/functions.asp).

We have been arguing here that it is certainly not the only function of film music, but it would be foolish to deny the importance and even the supremacy of music as an affective tool for the director.

Conclusion

Music - from the opening credits - helps to make us receptive to the message that the director wants to convey in the film. It acts as a sort of drug on us, making us far more susceptible and far more suggestible than we would be otherwise. Both scores accomplish this task, providing just a little hit of opium-like pleasure to us. Music plays such an important part in the opening titles of a film (and not simply or even especially for these films because it provides us with that moment of anticipation. Music draws us in with the same kind of trembling anticipation that an addict feels in that instant before the drugs enter the body - that moment of expectation and eagerness that is better than the reality can ever be.

A well-constructed musical score - and both of these certainly qualify - transports us to the reality of the film and allows us to understand the world through the eyes of the characters while never letting us abandon our own perspective. More than any other element of a film, the music that enters into us and that we carry away with us allows us to merge our inner reality with the subjective vision of the filmmaker. We see in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and at least in some scenes of "Iron Monkey" the full effect of the power of an intelligent and challenging musical score.

Works Cited

Flinn, Caryl. Strains of Utopia: Gender, Nostalgia, and Hollywood Film Music. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992. http://staging.gomemphis.com/mca/movie_reviews/article/0,1426,MCA_569_845469,00.html

http://www.filmscoremonthly.com/features/functions.asp http://www.musicweb.uk.net/film/2000/Nov00/crouching_tiger.html [END OF PREVIEW]

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