Music Takes A Supporting Role in Psycho

Known by many as the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock proves he’s earned this nickname with each of his horror films. In Psycho, he succeeds once again in feeding off human emotions with various aspects of filmmaking. For this film in particular, sound plays a major role in keeping audiences on the edge of their seats.

Hitchcock juxtaposes complex psyches with simple music and a black and white layout. The single tone color of an all-string orchestra reflects the black and white images and matches the strained tone of the film. Hitchcock manages to retain suspense in the slower portions of the film, such as when the main character steals a large sum of cash. As Marion leaves town with said cash in her passenger seat, the fast-paced violin sounds create a flurry of nerves, and audiences can practically feel her stomach churning. This musical style reappears any time Marion handles the stolen money, revealing the fear and tentativeness she feels for her impulsive actions. A similar musical scheme is used when Marion’s sister, Lila, sees Norman approaching when she’s inside the Bates’ house. The curt violin sounds reflect the sister’s sudden panic as she searches for a place to hide.

Though the soundtrack has great success retaining tension in the slower portions through ostinato—a technique in which each note has the same stress as the last—the film’s true victory is the birth of an infamous violin combination. A combination so shocking that it has become synonymous with horror. This horrifying violin-centered sequence keeps eardrums ringing with each high-pitched strain. Hitchcock uses screeching violins in the film’s most intense scenes.  The first of these scenes is when Marion takes a shower in her motel bathroom. The scene starts out quiet, and audiences can relate to the feeling of vulnerability as they hear the familiar sounds of water running down the drain and the surrounding stillness just outside the shower curtain. Even as the murderer approaches, the music doesn’t start until the curtain is ripped aside and the dagger is raised, revealing “mother’s” cruel intentions. Shrieking violins accompany Marion’s screams, and viewers can hear the sound of the knife slicing through her flesh. The screeching violins actually resemble a bird’s shrill call, which may hint to Norman who admits his hobby is stuffing dead birds.

In addition to Marion, the P.I., Arbogast also finds himself a victim of Norman’s twisted personality. As Arbogast approaches the Bates’ house, he’s accompanied only by dull cello sounds. The music changes to high pitched violin chords when the detective enters the house, signifying that Arbogast has put himself in a risky situation. The violins continue to strain as he carefully proceeds up the stairs. When Norman—dressed as his mother—attacks Arbogast, the music returns to its familiar screech and screams out on behalf of the fallen investigator. Audience members can assume the intensified violin sounds signal impending violence. This assumption proves true when Marion’s sister ventures down into the Bates house cellar, where she finds Mrs. Bates sitting in a chair. As Lila approaches the figure in the chair, the music remains relatively consistent, suggesting that Mrs. Bates presents no real danger. When Lila discovers that Norman’s mother is really just a corpse with a wig, the music does not change; but when Lila screams and looks to the cellar door, the violins accompany her screams. This time, the violins sound even before the oncoming danger is present. Despite this slight delay, suspicions are confirmed less than a moment later when Norman runs into the room, wig in place and a dagger in hand.

Psycho emphasizes the importance of not only cinematographic techniques in suspense, but also of sound strategies. Suspense relies heavily on these two facets of film-making, and by utilizing both aspects, Hitchcock manipulates audiences and once again proves his mastery in the art of true horror.


Dramatic Irony in Singin’ in the Rain

A happy and extremely catchy classic Hollywood musical, Singin’ in the Rain has audiences humming its tunes long after leaving the theater. Although what appears as a simple-minded, upbeat musical is actually a complex satire filled with dramatic irony.

Viewers first notice the juxtaposition of words and images when the movie’s leading man, Don Lockwood tells his many fans the tale of his rise to stardom. Don describes his beginnings as respectful, coining his catchphrase, “Dignity. Always dignity.” Despite the star’s allegiance to his motto, viewers see in the flashbacks that the star’s career started in tacky vaudeville clubs, performing acts that seemed desperate for laughs and far from dignified. The fans admire Don’s artistic past, emphasizing that fans will always believe whatever façade movie stars put on.

The contrast between the characters’ perceptions and reality continues soon after the premiere of Don’s silent film when his beloved, beautiful costar, Lina Lamont argues with Don about how he never lets her speak. As soon as she opens her mouth, we can understand why none of the men let her get a word out: she has a horribly unpleasant voice, a characteristic masked by her performances in silent films. Aside from an uninformed audience, Lina seems the only one that has failed to make this observation. This scene is the first of a few that uses dramatic irony to clue audiences in to Don and the other men’s motives.

The story’s dramatic irony also contributes to the humor displayed throughout the film. Don’s right hand man, Cosmo Brown, makes many sarcastic comments to characters that usually only the audience can understand, but he takes his comedy past mere mumblings when he mocks Don’s speech therapist. A close up displays both men’s faces, Cosmo’s behind the therapist’s, and as the man reads his tongue-twisters, he is obviously unaware of Cosmo making ridiculous expressions just over his shoulder. This humor is enhanced by the man repeatedly looking over his shoulder only to find Cosmo sporting an expression similar to that of a mischievous schoolboy’s. This sort of comedy appears even in small moments, such as when a police officer suspiciously walks up behind a love struck and seemingly deranged Don just after he finished “Singin’ in the Rain.” The officer’s confusion as to why he finds Don prancing around in the rain brings the musical number back to reality where not everyone breaks off into song and dance.

Perhaps the scene with the greatest presence of dramatic irony is when Lina stands in front of Kathy, exposing her lip-syncing to “Singin’ in the Rain” in front of all her adoring fans. At first, neither Kathy nor Lina realized that the men planned on bringing to light the diva’s lack of talent, but their intentions were soon revealed along with the show’s true singer. But before Lina turns to see Kathy singing behind her, viewers and the audience in the movie can see what the curtain behind Lina reveals and we know what Lina doesn’t, making her shock to the situation all the more satisfying.

In Singin’ in the Rain, the dramatic irony adds not only comical aspects to the film, but also suspenseful moments before all the characters come to know what we know. Even in the shortest moments, the presence of this irony connects audiences to the story and enhances the overall enjoyment of the film.

Biblical Allusions In Metropolis

Using special effects very advanced at the time, Fritz Lang’s 1927 German film Metropolis amazed audiences with its futuristic-styled machines and concepts. Despite these innovative approaches to …. FIX THIS some of the most prevalent themes of the movie could be considered ancient.
Throughout the course of the film, Lang constructs the plot around various Bible passages, filling the movie with religious allusions. Allusions that may not have agreed with Germany’s beliefs at the time.
From the moment the blandly-dressed workers board an elevator that takes them to their subterranean workplace, to the eccentrically-garbed young people found frolicking in the Eternal Gardens, audiences can see distinct class separations. But what audiences don’t realize until later in the film is that these classes are separated by much more than an elevator ride. Compared to the harsh environment of the underground, the upper city of Metropolis is heavenly. The Eternal Gardens allude to the Garden of Eden, where luxury and sin both dwelled under God’s supervision. In charge of this garden and the rest of the ethereal city is Joh Fredersen. Joh displays the worst kind of pride when he plays god, telling his son, that the workers beneath the city are “where they belong.” Joh’s son, Freder, rejects his father’s belief and rushes underground to investigate, and to find the woman that inspired his rebellion. A woman who appeared to him in the garden surrounded by children and a halo of light around her head. This woman, Maria, is made to represent an angelic figure who viewers later learn has been preaching the Gospel to the workers and giving them hope for a brighter future.
Although inferred biblical allusions enrich the film’s story, even more obvious ones assist in propelling the plot. One of these is the New Tower of Babel, the heart of upper Metropolis. This structure alludes to—and even resembles structurally— the Tower of Babel from Genesis chapter 10. Under God’s watch, his people assembled and started building a city, Babel. In this city was a tower that they believed could reach the heavens. God feared that through their unity, the people could accomplish anything they wished and eventually overrule him. In order to prevent this rebellion, God scattered the citizens of Babel, making them all speak different languages so that they could never find their way back to the city. Once Joh learns of Maria’s preaching, he fears the workers plan to rebel against him and he sets out to squelch their spirits, acting as God did towards the people of Babel. He uses an evil robot doppelganger for Maria who leads the workers to the destruction of their own city. Lang incorporates a passage from Revelation 17:3-6 which introduces the Whore of Babylon. The robot Maria becomes an obvious symbol for this Biblical femme fatale when her seductions entrance the workers into rebellion.
Caught in the midst of the action, Freder has been proclaimed the “Mediator.” Maria tells Freder his destiny of creating peace between the heavenly paradise of the city and the earthly underground. In this new role, Freder represents a Christ figure. Son of a godly figure and disguised as a worker, Freder becomes the common ground that unites the two very different worlds.
In addition to the many other religious symbols in the film, these allusions played a large role in the story. At the time, though, Christianity was not the dominate religion of the film’s country, Germany. Around the time Metropolis was released, various Nazi religions were established and Christianity was often rejected. According to anthropology Professor Karla Poewe, “the rejection of Christianity was due to the fact that it is universal, and they wanted something local… They wanted something with a historical-genetic-racial link to them.” The fact that the movie was still able to thrive outside of Germany speaks highly of its artistic quality and the impact it still has on films in the years since.