Singin’ in the Rain: Music and Sound Review

6 May

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Singin’ in the Rain (1952) is an American musical film starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. This movie is based in 1920’s Hollywood, in the middle of the “talkie” revolution. Two film stars go through trials and tribulations to create a “talkie” for their upcoming film. The only problem is that the audience favorite “leading lady” has a voice that can make dogs whine. An example of this can be shown in this example: http://youtu.be/OTFCctdiS04 

This film is an iconic, legendary film that has been referenced many times in the American culture. Singin’ in the Rain not only depicted the advancements of sound in the 20’s, but it also stood as a benchmark for sound in movies during its time. The original score/musical numbers, the era and the characters all emphasized sound in Singin’ in the Rain. 

Singin’ in the Rain is a musical film, interweaving the characters and songs to advance the plot. This film is also unique. It is able to stand on its own, even without the dance numbers. It feels as though the songs by themselves are mere subbranches to the plot of Singin’ in the Rain. The entertaining numbers of dance and song blend into real life. Hollywood is a dramatic and flamboyant town, and the storyline within this film is told through many unique and bold ways. An example of this would be Broadway Melody Ballet, a long and drawn out musical number consisting of the main character pitching an idea of how to finish the talkie to a Hollywood producer. It blurs the line between reality and fiction with its realistic view of entertainment and how the characters are portrayed. The characterization in Singin’ in the  Rain is very light, since this film is considered a comedy. But, it keeps the characters dramatic personalities to a minimum and focuses on the fun and entertainment aspects of the movie. 

Another one of the numbers is the song Singin’ in the Rain. The title number that is the most memorable out in the entire movie. It feels like an extended dream sequence, yet very real at the same time. It feels realistic because the scene is also relatable. It is joyous, and it is an expression of the heart through song. This celebration of love has the main character of the movie, Don Lockwood, splashing in the water from a rain storm. This only to be interrupted by a police officer looking at him strangely.

The lyrics are used as an expression: I’m singing in the rain/ Just singing in the rain /What a glorious feeling I’m happy again/ I’m laughing at the clouds so dark up above/ The sun’s in my heart and I’m ready for love. 

Instead of adding new information or moving the scene along, the musical numbers in this film are used to express emotions and ideas (which is an aspect that covers much of the overall film) 

During the 1940’s and 1950’s, a production unit at Metro-Goldwyn-mayer headed by Arthur Freed made the transition from old-fashioned musical films, whose formula had become repetitive, to something new.  This was known as the Freed Unit. Singin’ in the Rain is an example of this popular movement. So popular in fact that within a short matter of time after the release of Singin’ in the Rain, Gene Kelly became a household name. This Freed Unit era of musicals was one of the many ways sound has been changed over the decades. 

Singin’ in the Rain was not only an example of the way sound was expressed in movies, but it depicted an accurate representation of the transition from silent films to talkies in the 1920’s. This movie is part of the sound revolution. In early days, sound was recorded and synchronized, then projected in a movie theatre. This was done by the use of microphones and records. In the video clip above, we see a good example of the actual procedure that went into making talkies and the dilemmas the directors had to face with placement and accuracy. 

Within this movie, we have a very prominent film score and an overall film theme song: Singin’ in the Rain. The film score and the orchestrated pieces that went along with the dialogue are the only prominent non-diegetic sound (sound not coming from source, sound coming from outside of space). Examples of diegetic sound (sound heard from seen source) would be the dialogue between the characters, the musical numbers and music coming from instruments. In some cases, audiences might believe that there is a blur between non-diegetic and diegetic sound, an example being when Donald O’Connor’s character, Cosmo, is on set for the filming of the upcoming picture to add “mood music” to the scene (this is when the film was still silent). We hear the mood music that would traditionally be in scene, but since Cosmo is playing the songs, we have to take this diegetic sound. 

The character of Cosmo in the film is the best friend of the famous actor, Don Lockwood. Cosmo and Don, in their younger days, had a dancing, singing and instrument playing act. After Don became a famous silver screen actor, Cosmo stayed with him, being kept as the piano player for the movies. His character, like many others, are used to emphasize the use of sound in this film. Without his character, the excuses to sing or create musical numbers would not be very realistic. 

Another aspect of sound through characterization is the voice of Lena Lamont, the famous opposing part to Don Lockwood. The voice of the famous actress Lena Lamont is whiny, high pitched and annoying. This has never affected the work of Lena before, however, since she has been a silent film actress all of her life. She has kept her actual speaking voice from the public for many years, before she started working in talkies. An example of this would be in the very beginning of this film. We are introduced to Lena, but her impact of character is only given to us through her presence onstage. She is beautiful and intriguing, but the direction in this film was used to lead the audience to make Lena as likable as she could be. That is, until the damn suddenly breaks, and we hear her voice for the first time. Not only is it high-pitched and whiny, but the mind of Lena Lamont is not that bright. All of this together leads to a comedic approach to the villainess of the film. 

The voice of Lena Lamont sets the plot for the character of Debbie Reynolds’ character of Kathy Selden. Kathy Selden is a nobody who is working as dancer for the motion picture industry when she is noticed by the character of Don Lockwood, and they take a liking to each other. Kathy is used as the “voice” of Lena Lamont, because her voice is softer and classic. It is sophisticated and likable to an audience because it does not create dissonance. It is easy on the ears. The voice of Kathy Selden is also used in musical numbers, which only enhances reality due to the fact that Kathy is a talent, trying to catch her big break. She can sing, that is why she has been trying to make it as a singer. 

In conclusion, Singin’ in the Rain uses sound to enhance the reality of the film, to bring a lightheartedness to the plot and to bring to light the era of advances for sound. It emphasizes sound in as many ways as possible, including characterization, setting, plot and genre. Singin’ in the Rain is a classic film that stands today as an icon for popular culture references, and for a good reason. In my opinion, Singin’ in the Rain is a great movie and should be seen by all music lovers, young and old. 

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