Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #28: Pure Score (Opening Scene of Elevators to the Gallows)

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So true about the jazz clubs. Thank you for your info on Hopkins. Years ago I had picked up an album of his from an old Wax Trax record store after which there was much discussion as to his slot in jazz or blues. Best.....to you on the day.

 

Howard Rumsey,  the owner of the Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach died July 15.    He was 97.

 

Nice obituary in the L.A. Times today and mentions the musicians you saw; Davis, Cannonball Adderley and Monk.  

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Not being a trained musician I have  trouble expressing my thoughts on a musical score and its contribution to the film. However, I love music and  recognize the importance of sound and especially music to the success of films. I watched the clip three or four times focusing on the visual effects and dialogue, only letting the jazz/blues provide subconcious background to what I was hearing in dialogue and seeing on the screen. The music added a lot even when I was not focusing on it, and I was acutely aware of the music and the effect it had on me.

 

Then closing my eyes I listened to the clip two more times and focused only on the musical score.

 

I heard three instruments, a piano, trumphet, and base. There may have been a drum but I'm not sure because of the prominance of the trumphet. The trumphet started with middle range notes, slow and mornful, with trailing effects which pulled out somber emotions, even grief. The base added support but was not very loud by design, I feel sure. The piano was also just audible giving up center stage to what amounted to a trumphrt solo. Then we heard high wailing notes, played at a bit faster tempo evoking feelings of tension and drama, only to fall back in pitch to mid range slower notes and feelings of everlasting sadness and despair.  The sound "fit" the camera shots and added tremendously to the mood and feel of the film, especially with close ups of the face of a beautiful but sad woman pleading with her lover. With out the music the film would be very different indeed. A perfect fit between sight and the

sound of music.

 

IMPORTANT NOTICE BELOW

 

If you are a jazz/blues fan go the web site      sidecarsocialclub.com            you will get a real treat by my son's jazz group

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Ah, Jeanne Moreau’s lovely face, running the range of emotions as she professes her love to Julien, reels us into her happy moment.  But the camera pulls back and we can see her body language is anything but happy, and the same can be said for her lover, Julien, as well.  His face matches her uncertain movements as he hangs up the phone, and we can infer that this affair is about to get a bit more complicated.  


 


The lazy tempo of Miles Davis’ horn lulls us into thinking that we may just be seeing a typical love story, set in a French city, on a beautiful day.  But this film isn’t called Elevators to the Gallows for nothing...


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Throughout most of the sequences we've watched during the course, we've mainly focused on the hopelessness of a protagonist or women in general in noir. There's a feeling of being trapped and being pulled towards your own inevitable demise. There's loneliness, as most of the protagonists are on their own searching for meaning and direction. Jazz, to me, ultimately encompasses sadness and loneliness musically.  When you listen to jazz, you are both energized and demoralized almost simultaneously as the pieces hit their climax and then mellow out. You reach every possible emotional high there is. I feel like this has to do with how improvised jazz can feel. The musicians and composer are trying to hit every emotion there is in one piece. It's essentially manipulation, in my opinion. Film noir tries to do that.

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One of the most steamy, sultry and sexy of the Daily Doses. Perfect accompaniment from score by Miles Davis. Wow.

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One of my favorite openings.

 

The close up on her face and her passion makes you think that surely she's in bed with the guy or at least locked in an embrace, and then the slow pan back to realize that, nope, she's on the phone. And not only on the phone, but she's in a phone booth or a public phone, while he's stories up in a commercial building. Their surroundings are sterile and not at all fitting to the grand love affair taking place over the wires.

 

And then the camera pulls back from both of them as the jazz score kicks in, and you realize that they are apart and lonely, and that their passionate love is pushing up against something ugly and desperate (whatever it is that must be done). Between the score and the way that the two characters are shot, you get the feeling of doom right from the start.

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The Miles Davis score in the opening is pensive or even melancholic.  It evokes, for me, two lovers sitting and sharing secrets in a small dive of a cafe or bar with the score as background music.  The lovers, perhaps, are talking about their future, or their past--or murder.  The first visuals are of the two lovers talking over a phone line.  The shots are closeup for the most part, invasive to their secrecy.  Then the shot pans farther away, to the man standing behind the window of a cold, corporate, concrete-looking construction containing a multitude of various kinds of workers.  Finally, the conversation ends, and the man steps forward into their future plans.

 

Film noir, largely, is about a lonely world or a world inhabited by lonely people--perhaps desperate people.  The somber jazz of Miles Davis, or other musicians of his style, plays well as a accompanying background to this loneliness or desperateness.  People listen to music for many reasons.  The score for the opening of "Elevator To The Gallows," and reflective, thoughtful jazz in general, serves to fill in the overall mood of these two young lovers and their mysterious plan.

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The fact that Miles Davis improvised the score as he was watching scenes from the movie gives the music a more soulful edge. Davis was reacting to what he was seeing on the screen, how the scenes moved him personally, rather than just being given a generic description of the plot and told to craft something that could be played almost over anything. As soon as Julien says he would be lost "in a land of silence", the music begins and slowly starts to take attention away from the conversation. It continues over the opening credits and even though we can no longer hear what is being said, the haunting, melancholy theme gives the scene a sense of sensuality more so than any conversation might have. We still hear Florence's breathless voice and the pangs of desire as they both exclaim their love for one another. As the camera floats away and we are as far as we can possibly get from the extreme close-up which began the scene, we still feel the intensity of the emotion and love these two characters have and that is completely due to the excellent score.

 

While this may not be a "film noir" per se just because it was taken out of the American setting, the lush jazz score still grounds the film in that style with a very American staple. A great film can be universal and language is just one of the many tools used to convey the universe that is being crafted for us. My pick for the best film ever made is Ladri di biciclette, or Bicycle Thieves, an Italian neorealist film where the expressive faces of the (non-)actors give a greater sense of emotional depth than dialogue. Here, they start be exclaiming their love for one another, and rather than listen to a bunch of platitudes which may sound hollow, we pull back and let the music tell us what is being said. It makes us want to get back to their conversation, rather than want to push through and just get to the plot. Once the credits end, the noir elements take over, as Florence is clearly pushing Julien to do something that he may not be sure of, but his love for this woman will see that he does as she wants.

 

Because jazz is such an iconic American tradition, the fact that we are not in the United States, and that the language being spoken is not English, is almost dissuaded as we listen to Davis' score. The music transports us to those smoke-filled, dimly-lit jazz clubs in a sprawling metropolis we are used to seeing our films noir in. It transports our soul to the staple location of a film noir even if the characters are located physically elsewhere. Combine that sentiment with a plot that already contains greater noir elements just in this opening scene and you have a film worthy of being called film noir even if it doesn't meet one of the most basic criteria.

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Howard Rumsey,  the owner of the Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach died July 15.    He was 97.

 

Nice obituary in the L.A. Times today and mentions the musicians you saw; Davis, Cannonball Adderley and Monk.  

Thank you very much for letting me know about Howard Rumsey. I am touched that you thought to tell me. Well, this marks the end of an era, doesn't it? He certainly lived to a ripe old age and he will be missed. The Lighthouse afforded everyone with a great opportunity to listen to cool music and then be able to reminisce about it years later. That's what it's all about. Thank you.

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The Jazz of Miles Davis contributes an additional layer to the visual style of Elevator to the Gallows.   It does this by contrasting the visual style of the opening scene.    The Jazz focuses the direction of the ‘elevator’ down, and sets the mood for what is waiting:  doom in the gallows.  It does this as the dialogue and visuals are focused upwards – to the heights of passion and tall buildings.   The music sets a fatalistic mood to the characters – one of resignation and even welcoming.   In short, the Jazz is taking the peaks of passion and pulling it down to its ultimate resolution.  The dissonance is intense, heady, and painfully Noir.

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The French were who defined the noir film, and this film sums up the essence of the film noir, and, in this framework, Miles Davis music is essential, since the jazz gives it a special connotation to the environment. Improvisation, phony or syncopated, sounds the personal "touch" of the "body and soul" of jazz musicians are an ideal setting to accompany characters failed or criminal, to a city that oppresses, to a situation where, if something can go wrong, surely will come out wrong. Excellent film and excellent music!

 

 

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This opening scene in Elevator to the Gallows, could be the first scene in any of a dozen different genres, except for that incredible jazz score.  Two lovers on the phone making plans to run away together and be free, sounds so happy and hopeful.  What could possibly go wrong?  

 

Then, the first notes play, and we are instantly transported to the dark shadowy world of film noir.  The music is powerfully lonely and sad.  Nothing visually suggests that this love affair is going to go horribly wrong, but Miles Davis' haunting score gives us all the clues we need to know that this isn't the hopefully optimistic accompaniment of a new beginning, it's the mournful soundtrack of the end of the line.

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1.)   Miles' Davis' score works with and contributes additional layers of meaning to Malle's visuals in that as the camera pulls back from the main character talking on the phone, we see he is occupying one room in a large apartment or hotel where there appears to be no one else in the other apartments or hotel rooms.  The score underscores the isolation of the scene and further complements Malle's visual style.  The building shows a sens of symmetry and geometrical repetetiveness;  the viewer sees that each room is exactly the same, a complete clone of the room next to it.  The character appears lost in this and the music emphasizes an overall sense of loneliness and malaise.

 

 

2.)    The idioms of jazz resonate so well with film noir because many jazz scores such as the Miles Davis score in this film  usually highlight the saxophone as a major instrument in the foreground of the music. The saxophone has a lonely sound used to punctuate scenes of a character living is isolation or a deepening depresseion.  The saxophone can also become stronger to underscore romantic scenes or scenes of dangerous passion.   A quickening of the sax can be used for chase scenes or suspense sequences.

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Mile Davis' score definetely makes the entire conversation more intense, more powerful and more sexy. And we're talking here about a phone conversation. The two charactyers are not seeing each other's faces.

 

Once film noir is full of meanings related to the unknown, the imprevisible and the enigmatic, jazz covers that with excellence. Trompets are just the right musical instrument to make notes echoe with a sad and sexy sonority. If music in films noir were real characters, they'd be femme fatales.

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The music adds lots of layers it brings in the romantic and sultry layers of their conversation as well as the dangerous aspect of them being together. It's cool that it was made exactly for this scene and I think that its very apparent and really flows so well with the beginning of the movie.

 

Something about jazz just feels like there is a slow burn to it. Much like noir where the tension isn't built though action but through story and mannerisms the feel and flow of jazz is built slowly to a peak where it falls back down tumultuously. But in a way that is so riveting to watch or hear.

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Here are a few discussion starters (though feel free to come up with your own):

 

-- In what ways does Miles Davis' score (improvised while watching scenes from the movie) work with and contribute additional layers of meaning to Louis Malle's visual design?

This clip was a pleasure to hear and watch.  These questions are hard to answer because they're filtered through 5 decades of different understanding.

Eddie Muller has pointed out elsewhere that strings are more prominent in classic Film Noir scores and we've come to associate smoky be-bop brass with Noir as a later accretion.  Still the sound is a dominant association with Noir and is reflected in the Neo Noir/Classic Noir, Chinatown and Bob Beldin's Noir piece The Black Dahlia.

For this film I think the jazz soundtrack conveys an air of modernity and existential ennui. This film is totally mid-century modern when mid-century modern was still modern.  That clock.  What the heck was that?

I also read that be-bop jazz was disorienting to returning G.I.s.  These guys went to war when swing was the thing but music changed while they were away.  The improvisational, cerebral and undanceable be-bop was another factor that contributed to men's disorientation in the post-war period.

 

-- Going back to our original discussions of jazz on the film noir style, what is it about the "idioms of jazz" that resonate so well with the style and substance of film noir?

Among its many influences Film Noir represented a reaction to the disorienting Post War world.  Jazz could be chaotic or melancholy in a way that fit its time.  It grew out of a social context (dance halls and before that bars & brothels) often performed by large coordinated bands and evolved into a more abstract and cerebral art form improvised by individuals or small groups.  This evolution paralleled the social evolution with the breakdown of norms that coordinated the "big band" of society and the changing roles men and women had to play.
The jazz musicians were performing a musical heist with highly skilled individuals getting together to pull off the job by whatever means fit the circumstance.
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Interesting. The two lovers are planning something over the phone.  He has to be at work and she is in a phone booth somewhere.  I'm not sure if it's a murder or if she's just planning to run away with him, never to be seen again.  Kind of like Romeo and Juliette in the sense that they are obviously in love and want to be together with nothing to stop them.  Also like the doomed "star crossed lovers" of Shakespeare's story, they will not have such an easy time of things I think.  For every plan there is a wrench thrown in to complicate matters very nicely.  There may be a husband and children involved.  He may also have someone in his life. 

 

The score to this film reminds me of noir films in that it's music that follows the femme fetal throughout the noir film.  I can hear the commentary from the detective, "She has a full set of curves.  Red, pouting lips that make you drool." All the while the detective is describing the femme fetal, there is her music playing.  In the opening you can see the sheer extacsey on the woman's face as she talks to Julien.  After that, he goes about his job maybe thinking about what they are going to be doing later.  They are definitely up to something.  Like Beware my Lovely, this grabs the interest/attention of the audience from the start.  The mystery is what is going on between these two lovers?  How will this story play out?  As long as the opening sequence grabs the audience, the film noir will unfold and questions will find answers.   

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Mile Davis' score definitely makes the entire conversation more intense, more powerful and more sexy. And we're talking here about a phone conversation. The two characters are not seeing each others faces.

I agree with this, but I also feel like the music is a distracting. It is taking the audience away from the initial conversation and giving them time to wonder.

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I think Miles Davis' jazz music here conveys a sense of longing. We're witnessing a lovers' tryst but at a distance, both of them apart from one other but wanting to be together. Then as the music starts, we lose the dialogue as if we are not privy to what we are eavesdropping on. The camera pans back at a distance and it's as if we're intruding on a neighbor's intimate space. The music's yearning tones allow us to experience their longing for one another while the long shot point of view simultaneously makes us beg for a closer look. We the viewers have become voyeurs, from the outside looking in.

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The shot begins with an extreme close-up of the woman, seductively speaking into what looks like a payphone to a man telling him, "I'm the one who cannot take it anymore... I love you." She then proceeds to talk him into something we are not sure of. Her body language makes love to the phone, caressing it, rubbing her face on it as if it were the man himself. The camera changes to the man standing, in a room, holding the phone as if he is holding her as he professes his love of her, as well. They repeat I love you, almost like a chorus of a song as the Miles Davis score begins, softly and begins to rise and eventually take over the whole sound. We no longer hear the words of the couple, just hear the music as it speaks for them. It is sexy, seductive and disjointed. The camera pulls back from the close-up of the man and we see he is standing in the window of an office building with hundreds of other windows just like it. Strangely and strikingly, he is the only living thing in any of them and his movements as he talks on the phone are obvious in contrast with the lonely, inactivity portrayed by the camera shot. He is alone in a big city. He is alienated, but very much alive despite the cold, lifelessness around him.

The use of jazz is wonderfully effective. It takes over as the dialogue. There is no need to hear what they are saying, we get it. She is seducing him into doing something for her. The music swells and sways, with the horns and dissonance that characterizes jazz music.

Jazz is perfect for film noir because it embodies so many of the same elements. It is music that rose out of the streets and from the blues. It represents the common man, not the classically trained musician, although many of them were. The music is offbeat, introspective, with propulsive rhythms. It embraces non-conformity. It is disjointed and not bound by compositional structure. It moves with life rather than objectively representing it. It is gritty, realistic, with blaring horns that are much like the rapid fire dialogue in film noir detective stories. It is all about feeling and groove than it is about form and structure. It is sometimes hard to listen to - atonal or dissonant, much like the lives portrayed on the screen of film noir movies. Jazz is played in minor keys in the blues scale which tends to stir up feelings of sadness, depression - thus the term "the blues," perfect for FN scores!

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According to Wikipedia,

 

The film presents also unique and completely new solutions in the history of cinema in the relationship between music and image.

 

The score by Miles Davis has been described by jazz critic Phil Johnson as "the loneliest trumpet sound you will ever hear, and the model for sad-core music ever since."

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Elevator to the Gallows begins with a telephone conversation between two lovers. The fact that they cannot see each other in the moment creates an intensive longing while at the same time there is a separation or a barrier between them. As they are talking to each other, they are both blankly staring off into another space. There is a loneliness in this conversation that is also captured so beautifully with the musical score of Miles Davis. The fact that the music was completely improvised by Miles (after watching this clip) reflects this very conversational dialogue between these two characters. Jazz has no real structure; it is free. Same is true with a conversation. Meaningful interpersonal interactions ideally should be free of structure. With that, the emotions come into prominence and are heightened, which is an integral component of the style of film noir.

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The opening scene in Elevator to the Gallows appears to be a wonderful tribute or compliment from the French to the films and film makers of the U.S. The French are wonderful musicians and have always been devoted and at times were fanatical about the American Jazz period. It is said that Jazz is probably the only true American art form. At least at the time it probably was. Many musicians, painters, sculptors, writers, etc. made their way into the major cities of Chicago and New York to hear this "pure score" if you will that jazz musicians create and improvise. To name a couple from the "Modern Art" period would be Stuart Davis and Piet Mondrian, whose images reflected the visual representations of the sounds of jazz in the form of color, line, texture, etc. 

 

The basic pretense of jazz is to have a standard framework or chord progression, and a motif or repeated phrasing in the melody. From there, is it pure improvisation in which each musician is given an opportunity to expand upon the subtle nuances of the rhythm and melody. The musicians begin the song playing "together" and then break out in solo leads. It is in these solos that the individuality of the instrument/musician is brought out as a unique response in just that performance. Never to be repeated again in the same way.  

 

Miles Davis is doing just the same in Elevator to the Gallows, but responding visual cues and playing his musical phrases against the imagery of the screen. The instruments are each like different characters in the film. Like in film or theater, you have a leading instrument (lead role), and supporting instruments (supporting characters). As the songs progress, the dynamic and posturing of each character or instrument shifts. In this scene the lonely characteristic that is a part of the trumpet or saxophone plays to the desperation of each of the main characters. They are somehow unable to be together. The camera cuts back and forth between each of them on the phone, and finally in a long slow pull shot we hear Miles playing as the camera moves away from the man, out the window exposing how isolated he is in this gigantic office building. 

 

The period of time or specific dates are somewhat irrelevant in this case.  The reaction of one group of film makers to another group takes time. So it is inevitable that there is latency in the manner and degree to which one series of artists views, ingests, reflects, and thus creates based on what others have done. Like a silent behind the scenes dialogue amongst great creative minds one group pays homage to another as they reckon with the human condition. 

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The opening scene in Elevator to the Gallows appears to be a wonderful tribute or compliment from the French to the films and film makers of the U.S. The French are wonderful musicians and have always been devoted and at times were fanatical about the American Jazz period. It is said that Jazz is probably the only true American art form. At least at the time it probably was. Many musicians, painters, sculptors, writers, etc. made their way into the major cities of Chicago and New York to hear this "pure score" if you will that jazz musicians create and improvise. To name a couple from the "Modern Art" period would be Stuart Davis and Piet Mondrian, whose images reflected the visual representations of the sounds of jazz in the form of color, line, texture, etc. 

 

The basic pretense of jazz is to have a standard framework or chord progression, and a motif or repeated phrasing in the melody. From there, is it pure improvisation in which each musician is given an opportunity to expand upon the subtle nuances of the rhythm and melody. The musicians begin the song playing "together" and then break out in solo leads. It is in these solos that the individuality of the instrument/musician is brought out as a unique response in just that performance. Never to be repeated again in the same way.  

 

Miles Davis is doing just the same in Elevator to the Gallows, but responding visual cues and playing his musical phrases against the imagery of the screen. The instruments are each like different characters in the film. Like in film or theater, you have a leading instrument (lead role), and supporting instruments (supporting characters). As the songs progress, the dynamic and posturing of each character or instrument shifts. In this scene the lonely characteristic that is a part of the trumpet or saxophone plays to the desperation of each of the main characters. They are somehow unable to be together. The camera cuts back and forth between each of them on the phone, and finally in a long slow pull shot we hear Miles playing as the camera moves away from the man, out the window exposing how isolated he is in this gigantic office building. 

 

The period of time or specific dates are somewhat irrelevant in this case.  The reaction of one group of film makers to another group takes time. So it is inevitable that there is latency in the manner and degree to which one series of artists views, ingests, reflects, and thus creates based on what others have done. Like a silent behind the scenes dialogue amongst great creative minds one group pays homage to another as they reckon with the human condition. 

 

It is my understanding Patch quilting and Jazz music are the only true American Art forms.    I don't do any patch quilting! 

 

PS:  Nice write up.

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The Miles Davis score exacerbates the yearning and isolation the characters feel in the large, impersonal city.  It also points up the single mindedness of lovers; these two are literally the only two people in the scene, the only people in anotherwise empty world, all one another thinks about.  The music is muted, almost purring at times, like the lovers' phone call.

 

The improvisationalism of jazz, and its night city, not-quite-legal feel, echoes the film noir ambience perfectly, evoking night in broad city daylight.

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