The Sound of Menace

As a child, The Sound of Music was one of my favorite movies. Even to this day, whenever I see it on TV I have to sit and watch it to the end, and I never get tired of it. I mean, really, who could object to a rags-to-riches tale of a light-hearted and innocent young woman who falls in love with a diamond-in-the-rough widower and his musical brood of seven? I’m sure I’m not the only person who grew up singing with this classic, inspired by a true story (whose real-life counterparts are predictably nowhere as attractive as Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews).

It’s not #1 on my list of favorites, but it was the first movie I thought of when this assignment came up in class. I’m very familiar with it, so I would easily be able to navigate and select certain scenes to use in a trailer recut. Plus I also figured that since it was so long, I would be sure to find enough ambiguous scenes that I could use to my advantage in this assignment. Luckily, I was right. Of course the obvious recut genre for such a happy, saccharine musical would be a horror movie. But I wanted it to be a bit less predictable and subtle, and decided to go for a thriller/suspense trailer instead.

To accomplish this, I decided to find the perfect audio before I even started cutting up the film, because I knew the enormous importance of music on the mood of a trailer. It took me a long time, and I surprised myself with the choice, but I eventually chanced upon a cover of the famous “Immigrant Song”, by Led Zeppelin. I’m not a fan of heavy metal or hard rock, and if I had heard the original song first I would have passed by it in a second. However, the cover I heard was produced by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and performed by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and its rhythm immediately grabbed me. I decided it would add an unexpected and interesting dimension to my trailer, making the sugary old film seem more contemporary, urgent, and edgier despite its WWII era setting. It was also a good length, at 1:30 long, which gave me a perfect timeframe to work within. I listened to it on loop, over and over again while doing homework, to give myself a good feel for its rhythm and its essence before I even started putting it together with the film.

When choosing the clips I wanted to use, I knew I had to be extremely deliberate about my choices. Using Danesi’s article on semiotics as a guide, I used symbolism in my trailer to help me create different meanings in my trailer. Whereas in the original film the convent is a symbol of Maria’s innocence, and purity, I used clips of the nuns in the convent to signify a stern and ultra-religious, socially isolated background for Maria, who is unaware that she is being sent away as part of a dark plan. I also used two great shots with the Nazi flag in the background to signify the sinister political and social ideas of Captain Von Trapp. Of course, I also used Bernard Dick’s principles of film, in particular utilizing close ups to indicate emotional distress or distrust, and medium shots to allow the viewer to see the subject’s face as well as their surroundings as context. As well, I decided to make both the opening and the closing scenes of the trailer extreme long shots, to give the viewer a sense of the characters as living in a remote, mountainous Austrian village, a setting very conducive to scary happenings. And according to Sobchak, genre films are distinguishable because we have already been trained to recognize certain features that belong to each genre, and so we can place each movie in its proper category due to our past familiarity with said category, or in other words through our understanding of imitation. Blackmore agrees that imitation is an advantage that allows humans to develop culture. Thus, I took cues from other suspense/thriller movies from that era as well as modern day, such as Rebecca, Psycho, Rosemary’s Baby, The Silence of the Lambs, The Prestige, and Black Swan and tried to pull similar elements from The Sound of Music.

I used lots of short clips to create a choppy, frenzied mood combined with a few longer clips that I needed to build a suspenseful atmosphere. After playing around with some transitions and fade-in/fade-outs, I ultimately decided that with my limited editing skills they made my trailer look very novice and amateur. So I stuck with abrupt cuts, which actually heightened the overall mood of the trailer. I took the same approach with voice-over narration. Having tried it a bit, I ultimately decided that it sounded too silly, especially compared to the seriousness of the music. I had originally wanted to have a few lines from the movie to play perhaps in the beginning and the very end, but it proved to be too difficult to separate the audio from the video, so I decided to leave it completely dialogue-less. Thus, the only dialogue in the trailer is from the song, but I think it lends a sleeker and more professional feel to the entire work.

Another thing I tried very consciously to do was make the actions in the clips sync with the rhythm of the music. This was very, very difficult to do! I think I managed it sometimes, and at other points it could’ve been a lot better. For instance, sometimes I would get it to match perfectly, but then after editing a little bit of another part of the trailer, the audio would be just a little bit off so that the heavy beats didn’t happen in tandem with Maria’s footsteps, or something. And when it came to formatting the text for the title, I agonized for what must’ve been two hours over which font to use. I think I probably could’ve found a scarier font if I’d looked around a bit more, but the one I ended up using is suitably grave, if a little bland I suppose.

As for advice, of course I have to say the basics: most importantly to SAVE OFTEN AND ALL THE TIME, after changing anything! And to start early, because I usually am a huge procrastinator, but this time I started way early and I’m so glad I did. Also, I would advise other students not to be scared of using unconventional music because I think it really works well if you’re careful about your choices. In a way, it’s kind of like double genre mixing; not only are you changing the meaning of the narrative through recutting the film, but you’re also defying expectations by using music not traditionally prescribed to certain types of films from specific  time periods.

Overall though, I’m very pleased because it turned out to be much better than I expected, as I have zero experience with video editing. And the end result is pretty close to what I imagined in my head from the very beginning!

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