Alex Hobbs — Mandy, The Film Concert

Over the next ten days or so I shall be posting a wide range of video essays. The series begins with this superb work from Alex Hobbs


Mandy: The Film-Concert – Creator’s Statement

This video essay explores the use of music and sound in Mandy (2018) in order to gain a greater understanding of how modern film scoring and sound design can be used to extract and/or enhance a film’s deeper themes and meanings.

I was particularly drawn to the term ‘film-concert’ – originally coined by Laurent Jullier – after reading Emilio Audissino’s definition:

“the sound track embraces the viewer and occupies the frequency spectrum almost entirely; coming out from loudspeakers, the sound track plunges the audience into a sound atmosphere from which it is impossible to escape.”[1]

The idea of an immersive and overwhelming ‘aural experience’[2] intrigued me, and it seemed like the perfect way to approach a film as atmospheric and experiential as Mandy. Yet, upon further reading, I was surprised to see that Audissino was actually using the rise of the film-concert as an example of how contemporary film scores are lacking in complexity and originality. Although I agreed with his argument that “Film music is now more about designing soundscapes rather than composing music”,[3] I took issue with his overall attitude towards these developments, which seemed to be primarily based in a nostalgia for classical Hollywood. Additionally, his suggestion that film scores have to “cope with a thicker and louder texture of sound effects”[4] inherently implies that film music is artistically superior to other sound elements, something which I strongly disagreed with.

Consequently, even though my video essay is largely focused on the narrative themes within Mandy, I decided to begin the essay by framing it as a counter-argument to Audissino: a case study of a film-concert which utilises all elements of the soundtrack as a narrative tool. Hopefully, by starting with this context, the viewer will be encouraged to consider the wider implications of a collaborative approach to film music and sound design. This is partly why I put so much emphasis on the role of Jóhann Jóhannsson – who composed all of the original music for Mandy and spoke several times about how “this idea of a score being just an orchestra playing from notes is just very old fashioned.”[5]

I was also inspired by Phil Witmer’s article, in which he interprets Jóhannsson’s score as an expression of director Panos Cosmatos’s “anti-masculine mission”[6] at the heart of Mandy. In turn, I also chose to focus on the gender politics of the film’s narrative, which I then related to larger concepts within music theory and aspects of the sound mixing which Witmer did not cover. However, after watching other successful video essayists online such as ‘Lessons from the Screenplay’, ‘Nerdwriter’ and ‘Every Frame A Painting’, I knew that I wanted to keep my video essay as accessible and entertaining as possible. So, while I do approach the more technical aspects of music composition, I always try to pair these segments with a visual aid to keep the viewer engaged. Furthermore, although I did decide a voiceover was necessary in order to discuss my topic with the level of depth and detail I wanted, I have tried to avoid talking over a clip if I really want the viewer to listen to the sound design of a specific scene.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that I purposefully chose to structure my essay into four movements – reflecting the structure of a symphony – and named three of them after the different components of sonata form (exposition, development and recapitulation). Although this is primarily a stylistic choice, I do believe it brings a sense of cohesion to the essay by making its central purpose clear: to appreciate the role of sound and music in film.

[1] Emilio Audissino, John Williams’s film music: Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the return of the classical Hollywood music style, (Madison, Wisconsin; London: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.), p. 197.

[2] Emilio Audissino, ‘John Williams and Contemporary Film Music’, in Coleman and Tillman (eds.), Contemporary film music: investigating cinema narratives and composition, p. 223.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid, p. 224.

[5] Chris O’Falt, ‘Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Fight to Be Visionary, From His Film Scores to His Directorial Debut — Interview’, IndieWire, (12 February 2018), accessed 1 November 2019.

[6] Phil Witmer, ‘Nicolas Cage’s Slasher Freakout “Mandy” Makes Prog Rock Kick Ass’, Vice, (11 October 2018), accessed 21 January 2020.

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