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Sound Advice
by Sarah L. Polson

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Movies are meant to be a visual medium, stimulus for the eyes if you will, but not every method of manipulation used by a director is visual. One of the most common devices they use to make movie goers think and feel exactly what they want them to is the soundtrack to the movie.

Anyone who's ever seen a Steven Spielberg movie knows exactly what I'm talking about. Who can separate the big orchestral music from any scene in Jurassic Park? Our emotions swell right along with the music as we first encounter dinosaurs in the park.

A background soundtrack like that is one form of using music in a movie. There's another form, which I'll call situational music since I've blanked on what the technical term is for it. This is the music that comes from a source in the movie, like the music coming from a jukebox when Kevin Costner dances with Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard. There are plenty of other examples like the quartet playing as the ship sank in Titanic or the music playing from the stereo John Cusack holds up in that infamous scene in Say Anything.

I watched House of Flying Daggers this week and while there was mostly background soundtrack music to enhance the mood, there was also another great example of situational music.

What caught my eye was the unique way they brought music into the scene to heighten the tension. Ziyi Zhang's character is a blind dancer in a house of ill repute. She's about to be arrested but the officer instead has her perform a special dance. It starts out as a game where the officer bounces beans off drums and she must follow the same sequence on the drums using her special long sleeved-costume while dancing. I know it sounds a little ridiculous the way I describe it, but it's really quite mesmerizing.

As the game continues, the tempo rises and behind her several other drummers join in to create an incredible drumming rhythm that enhances her dancing and drumming and increases the tension in the scene until Zhang is able to pull a sword on the officer and a fight scene begins.

It was all very graceful and though the music was a product of the scene, it also enhances the scene to build up to the inevitable confrontation between the dancer and the officer. Just another masterful scene in a Chinese film, which are rapidly becoming some of my favorite movies to watch for their beauty, ingenuity and less obvious story lines.

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Smoke and Mirrors
Every other Wednesday

Movie magic isn't just about special affects. Sarah L. Polson shows you the other tricks and techniques used to manipulate movie goers.


Other Columns
Other columns by Sarah L. Polson:

A Whale of a Tale

Violence with a Purpose

Slo-mo, The Weapon of Choice

In Living Color

I'm Ready for My Close-up

All Columns


Sarah L. Polson
As a journalist from the midwest, Sarah L. Polson has a few years under her belt writing in the newspaper world. Having worked mainly in news writing, deviating from "just the facts" is a new experience for her.


Contact
If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Sarah L. Polson by clicking here.


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