One of the most overlooked aspects of motion pictures is their soundtracks. By "soundtrack" I don't mean the collection of hit songs that are packaged to help sell a movie, but the tracks of sound that accompany the images, from dialogue to door slams to wind in the trees. Bad sound can make the prettiest footage seem coarse, while clean sound can smooth over the muddiest of pictures. Rarely do you ever notice sound unless the director is making a point of it. That's why I recommend the upcoming run of Jean-Luc Godard's A Woman Is a Woman for any aspiring filmmaker and every aspiring film lover. He makes you notice. Sometimes the sound drops out entirely, other times music comes up for no reason, and every time he does something like that you learn something else about the nature of sound on film.
You will also notice the effect sound has in relation to images during a silent film. This is because silent films are rarely really silent. There's always music happening underneath, and music is a direct pipeline to your emotions. When things get exciting, like in a chase, the music runs faster; when things slow down, like during the mushy parts, the music slows down too; when the music runs counter to what's onscreen, then things start to get really interesting. You can see this for yourself when Silent Movie Mondays start up again at the Paramount with Dennis James on the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ. The three-week series begins on Monday the 13th with The Cat and the Canary (1927), a classic silent film about the ghost of a madman who wanders the halls of a rickety old house.
Sometimes the music is the reason for the movie. My stoner friends will want to head down to the new Columbia City Cinema on Friday, October 10, for The Harder They Come. The movie features Jimmy Cliff as a poor Jamaican youth who lands a hit reggae record and plays a bunch of songs. There will be some overlap on the next night when my rocker friends who can't wait for the Tenacious D DVD (last I heard, it's scheduled to be released on October 21) will head down and see another screening of This Is Spinal Tap.
The EMP is continuing its season of the blues with a screening on Wednesday, October 15, of Wild Women Don't Have the Blues. It's a documentary on female blues vocalists from the '20s that incorporates rare performance films of the likes of Ma Rainey, Mamie Smith, and the only existing footage of Bessie Smith.
Finally, there's an event at the Rendezvous on Saturday, October 11, that may or may not have anything to do with soundtracks and sound manipulation, but I wanted to mention it anyway. Shortkutz is one of them DVD magazines devoted to short films, and it's having a DVD release party featuring, among others, a short film by Sue Corcoran and Angie Louise (Gory Gory Hallelujah).