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Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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Pure Score (Opening Scene of Elevators to the Gallows)

 

When hearing jazz, I imagine a bird flying, soaring above, you know- “free as a bird.”

I never know when it will change direction or where it will come to rest. Could Florence be yearning a similar freedom when she says, “Then we will be free”?

 

We do not know free from what, but by the look on her face it does not matter because “free’ is the thing. Free as the trumpet in the opening credits; never knowing when a note will go long or be cut short. Freedom of expression in music and in love.

 

The music matches the film perfectly in that what we see and hear is melancholy.

Love here is not the cause of sadness. It is the helplessness of being “caged” and the loneliness of being apart that has her feeling emotionally empty to the core.

 

This is the emotion we feel when we hear Miles Davis’ piece during the opening credits.

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WOW!  Just...WOW!  The sorrow of the trumpet (played by the brilliant Miles Davis), the tears and looks of bleakness in the two people, almost a sense of futility in their words.  

 

What a beautiful note to end the class.  I'm sorry it's almost over!  I think I need to turn up the Miles Davis music, down a shot of bourbon, don my favorite fedora, close the blinds and shut off the lights.

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Bravo!   Your description is tre' noir, made more apropos because it's a citiscape that no longer exists.   It could serve as the opening for a noir film or story.   Gimbels, Horn & Hardart, the 'Flower District' just south of Herald Square, etc. are distant memories as long-lost as Penn Station.  And no other instrument, not even Miles' trumpet, speaks to the city at night like the saxophone.   That part of the city was a special haunt for jazz musicians in an era before live music venues abandoned Manhattan as they sadly have today. 

 

Are you familiar with The Jazz Loft Project?   From 1957-1965 W. Eugene Smith shot nearly 1,500 rolls of film...40,000 photos...and recorded over 1,700 reels (4,000 hours) of audiotapes of his building/neighborhood from his loft at 821 Sixth Ave...just a few blocks south of where it sounds like you lived.  The address was a late night haunt of some of the greatest musicians and luminaries of the period; and his photos and recordings captured many of them.      

 

Sam Stephenson discovered this treasure trove of Smith's photos and recordings in the 90's, and it's a captivating portrait of a city and an era long gone.   As a native New Yorker old enough to remember the period and the area, The Jazz Loft Project brought back lots of fond memories.    Sounds like it might have the same effect on you.     

I wish I'd gotten there a few years earlier!  Thanks for your comments.

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Is Jazz really linked to Noir? I can't say that I've seen it in so many films that I'd make that conclusion, any more than I'd say Hip-Hop or Rap is linked to modern-day films: surely it's more just a reflection of people's musical preferences at the time the movie is made? Also, if we are making that assumption then why use a possibly-not-noir movie to illustrate the point? 

 

Ah, the French and their romance...there were more "I love you"s in that short clip than in a boatload of American Noir movies. I get the impression that this moment between the lovers could be the last lovey-dovey conversation that they're going to have in this movie, or possibly period! 

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Is Jazz really linked to Noir? I can't say that I've seen it in so many films that I'd make that conclusion, any more than I'd say Hip-Hop or Rap is linked to modern-day films: surely it's more just a reflection of people's musical preferences at the time the movie is made? Also, if we are making that assumption then why use a possibly-not-noir movie to illustrate the point? 

 

Ah, the French and their romance...there were more "I love you"s in that short clip than in a boatload of American Noir movies. I get the impression that this moment between the lovers could be the last lovey-dovey conversation that they're going to have in this movie, or possibly period! 

 

I don't get the feeling jazz music was used a lot more in noir than it was in other type of films made during the 40s and 50s.   As you note when jazz was used in any film the main reason was because sound like Big Band jazz was the 'pop' of its day.  Jazz standards (e.g. songs written by Porter, Kern, Berlin, Rogers,  Van Heusen etc..)  were typically created as show tunes.  Jazz musicians adopted these songs as the basis for their playbook. 

 

While jazz is central in some noir films most noir films,  in most cases,  especially noir films of the 40s  the same type of musical scores as found in other type of films.      

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The cool jazz sounds of Miles Davis are definitely seductive.  I did an experiment and watched this

clip muted to see if I could imagine the same seduction play out without the sounds.  It seemed rather innocuous, just lovers setting up a rendezvous at some bar. The jazz playing its lonely sad music leads us to believe that there is an evil plot involved for this liaison.

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-- 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?

Miles Davis and his trumpet sets up a mood. A dream-like mood where Florence is thinking about her task and getting together with her lover Julien.

 

-- 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?

Jazz is and can be used to set the energy and beat that the director wants to set for the scene. For this scene, the energy was slow and dreamy, but jazz can also be fast with high energy and have a beat for a scene with high energy.

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What's not to like about this film? Louis Malle directing, the incredible Jeanne Moreau and best of all, score by Davis! Jazz, especially a full score of pure jazz like this one, is haunting, seductive,  unpredictable and cerebral.  Could become one of my favorite films just for that!

 

The music especially  Works well with this scene because of it's seductive sound. Since we don't know much about Florence and Julien at this point, it lends an air of mystery.

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What a beautiful opening! I've read through several posts here that helped me understand and appreciate it, and I got pretty familiar with the "like" button today. I'm not very familiar with jazz, but I will definitely need to pick up some  Miles  Davis now.

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What music does for any film is provide a level of emotional complexity. Music tells us how to feel about what we are seeing...whether it be a smoky sultry jazz number or an intense, violent noir score, the idea is much the same. Music isn't just something to hear in a movie, it's something to experience, and it has the power to evoke the right feeling in the audience. When you take something like the opening music to border incident, that's the only way to know what you are about to see is going to be intense, especially because it launches into that realist documentary style which doesn't exactly scream dramatic. The reverse can be said as well. In the intro for Lady in the Lake, there is this ludicrous strain of christmas music in the opening that sets entirely the wrong tone. Granted they bring those noir cords into it eventually but by then the damage is done. The audience isn't in a Noir frame of mind, they are thinking "christmas in Connecticut" or "shop around the corner" With this piece here, the Jazz makes it instantly apparent that these two people are in a steamy romance together. Add that to the very stylized extreme close up  with dramatic lighting that it opens the clip, you have a clear  idea of who these people are and what they mean to each other before much is said at all. 

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The miles davis score goes good with sequence because it lets you know how he feels. They are on the planning a get together after Julian commits a murder

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The miles davis score goes good with sequence because it lets you know how he feels. They are on the planning a get together after Julian commits a murder

"Two tickets ruined," - now that I know it was the butler who did it.  :(

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I wanted to say thank you to everyone who read and "liked" my ramblings. I enjoyed this program and will miss the Daily Doses. It's the first "course" I've done in over 20 years and I forgot how much I like learning. Richard Edwards did a great job with the Notes and everything. Oh - I wanted to ask, is anyone else having a hard time watching "normal" movies now? Are they boring? Unexciting? Uninteresting? "What? Nobody's dead yet and the main characters are still in one piece (both emotionally and physically)?" Bah!!"

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I wanted to say thank you to everyone who read and "liked" my ramblings. I enjoyed this program and will miss the Daily Doses. It's the first "course" I've done in over 20 years and I forgot how much I like learning. Richard Edwards did a great job with the Notes and everything. Oh - I wanted to ask, is anyone else having a hard time watching "normal" movies now? Are they boring? Unexciting? Uninteresting? "What? Nobody's dead yet and the main characters are still in one piece (both emotionally and physically)?" Bah!!"

Yes!  "That was a good movie, but it was no Out of the Past."  I've definitely started to view contemporary movies in light of older movies, but I guess that's OK.  I'm sure those who are creating the movies are also harkening back to their movie viewing experiences.

 

As an aside, Queen of Noirs and I watched 7-1/2 straight hours of noirs last Friday night.  I don't think I've binge-watched anything (well, maybe soccer) for that long since college.  We then went to see Double Indemnity last Sunday, which was great.  This has been a really great course and series of movies, and I'm hoping that another course will be dropped in our laps in the near future.

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This Daily Dose is kinda hard, because when I watch the clip, I find myself slipping into the Miles zone and not paying attention to the movie! So what was the question, again?...OK...

 

The inexpressibly perfect jazz score Miles Davis laid down for this movie paints everything it touches a very moody blue. I went ahead and watched the clip on mute to see just what it added to the visual design of the movie, and found that without the music, that shot of the guy in the office taken from outside and backing up, up, up ain't much. I mean, you sorta get a disaffected vibe from the camera work alone, but not that overwhelming sense of sad danger you get when the horn blows. Then I closed my eyes and listened to Miles without the image of the movie and found that the music alone was enough for me, so I'm getting my jazzy self over to Youtube and bailing on the rest of this assignment!

 

 

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This is a movie I've never seen, but now I'll catch it for sure!

 

The opening is amazing. You never saw two such lonely people. The extreme closeups on both their faces only heighten their solitude, instead of the warmth you usually expect from such shots.

The music only adds to this sense of detachment, but is amplified by the camera pulling farther and farther back from the male character, to show him as a tiny, trapped speck in the soulless, concrete-and-glass modernist office building - truly lost.

 

She also is lost, and trapped, inside the glass walls of a cramped phone booth.

 

Like other noirs in this series, the movie starts with people making a plan - in this case, to meet up later that day. The overly formal, almost contrived dialogue of the two as they go through the details of the rendezvous is a good contrast to their repeated declarations of love - or, perhaps it's a kind of foreplay.

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Wk 8 Elevator to the Gallows

 

-- 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?  Without your voice, I’d be lost in a land of silence.  I don’t know how that line figures.  I just like it. The music comes in, the voices go out.  The music I guess is supposed to personify what they are saying.  Are they improvising the plans for a murder, or are they speaking words so sensual, that only music like this can make you feel what they’re feeling? The music goes out, the voices come in.  It seems they’ve firmed up the specifics of their chicanery and now are putting the finishing touches on it.

 

-- 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?  Jazz uses new rhythms, goes against convention, is best listened to at night, is emotional, generally improvised.  Films noir have many of these qualities. The modern looking clock (if that’s what it is) on his desk juxtaposed with the archaic filing cabinet are an interesting combo.

 

 

Since this dose is about jazz, I will share a small part of my history: in 1976 I moved into an artist’s loft (it had the designation AIR for “Artist in Residence”) on the top floor of 58 West 31st Street in New York City, the southeast corner, a few blocks from Herald Square. I managed a cabaret, and did photography “on the side.” My bed faced north looking up Sixth Avenue, and at night, an orange-red neon sign flashed in and out through my window.  As I slept, I felt the light on my face, flashing in and out.  Alright, it flashed “Gimbels,” but we’ll leave that part out of the narrative.  Looking down onto the 31st Street side between Sixth and Broadway, I could see a traditional Chinese laundry, the kind that had wooden cubby holes where they would put the freshly laundered shirts, folded neatly into brown paper wrapping and tied with string.  In a film, perhaps gambling or something more exotic would be going on behind that wall of wooden cubbies.  On the southwest corner of Broadway and 31st was a huge building, freshly burnt-out, which, had I moved in a few months earlier, would’ve been the place I’d eat at most days: the Horn and Hardart Automat.  Bad timing!  Oh, and the cherry.  When I lay in bed at night, after I came home in the wee hours of the morning, I’d get into bed, and with the neon flashing on my face, I occasionally would hear the sound of a lone saxophone, playing live and perfectly, burrowing through the wall of the building next door, muffled enough to make it seem like it was in my head.  I treasure that memory, and place and time.  I had forgotten it until all this delving into the noir allowed it to waft back.

I just remembered this: There was a local dive bar on the ground floor of this building.  The interior is briefly featured in the first "The In-Laws," with Peter Falk and Alan Arkin.  In true noir style, the real-life bartender of that establishment, who gave us "AIRs" heat in the evening if we greased his palm, was shot and killed protecting the till.  Life imitating art, or the opposite?

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The opening scene of Elevator To The Gallows (1957) cuts back and forth in close-up shots of Florence (Jeanne Moreau) and Julien (Maruice Ronet) involved in a serious phone conversation.  The mood seems to be tense as the couple proclaim their love for one another and for the first 43 seconds the only sound we hear is the desperation in their voices until the lone shrill sound of Miles Davis' trumpet begins to underscore their solitary existence and longing to be together.  Davis' haunting score continues as the camera moves from a medium shot of Julien on the phone and as film credits roll, the camera zooms back until the frame is a long shot revealing an office building dwarfing Julien in a maze of windows and intersecting vertical and horizontal lines.  It appears clear that Florence is the one in control as she pushes Julien's emotional buttons and pulls the strings to get whatever it is she wants.  Even though the couple is exchanging words of love, the music score is telling us something different.  It's sad, it's lonely and empty, lacking the more emotional, upbeat tempo you would expect to accompany a pair of lovers exchanging affections and words of devotion.  Miles Davis' score definitely enhances Louis Malle's visuals and we know something is very wrong, very dark and something very noir is about to unfold on the screen. 

 

Side notes: I have not seen this film but from the clip I'm seeing Jeanne Moreau as a French version of Lizabeth Scott, meaning I can see her acting range go from sweet and vulnerable to wicked and hardcore in a New York second (whatever that is).  And is it just a coincidence the title is so similar to Build My Gallows High which Out of  the Past (1947) was based on?  One more note.  France used the guillotine for capital punishment right up to 1977.  So shouldn't the title have been "Elevator To The Guillotine"?        

 

 

Actually, I believe the title in French, "Ascenseur pour l'echafaud", translates into "Lift to the scaffold", and I think 'scaffold in French is in fact a synonym for guillotine, just as 'lift' equates to our elevator; so you're probably right on target.   That's exactly what the title means.  

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Since jazz has been a focal point of this movie and noir in general, I am about to wax nostalgic.

 

I was a California girl born and raised. When I went to college, way back in the day, and when we all thought we were so cool, we'd drive the Coast Highway to Hermosa Beach so we could go to the Lighthouse. There was Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk just to name a few. It was fantastic; and what an experience and a privilege to have seen these artists.

 

Saw B.B. King in New Orleans. Best place in the world to have heard him play. What a wonderful man. His music will stay with us for a very long time.

 

There was also a small jazz house at the Santa Monica pier, but I can't remember the name. That place was intimate (lots of smoking, if you get my drift). It attracted a few  jazz musicians, who where just starting out. They would do a few sets for practice and to cut their teeth. Most of them were pretty darn good, too.

 

Well, that's about it. Get lost in Miles Davis and you will experience a musical treat.

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Since jazz has been a focal point of this movie and noir in general, I am about to wax nostalgic.

 

I was a California girl born and raised. When I went to college, way back in the day, and when we all thought we were so cool, we'd drive the Coast Highway to Hermosa Beach so we could go to the Lighthouse. There was Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk just to name a few. It was fantastic; and what an experience and a privilege to have seen these artists.

 

Saw B.B. King in New Orleans. Best place in the world to have heard him play. What a wonderful man. His music will stay with us for a very long time.

 

There was also a small jazz house at the Santa Monica pier, but I can't remember the name. That place was intimate (lots of smoking, if you get my drift). It attracted a few  jazz musicians, who where just starting out. They would do a few sets for practice and to cut their teeth. Most of them were pretty darn good, too.

 

Well, that's about it. Get lost in Miles Davis and you will experience a musical treat.

 

The Lighthouse was a very cool place.   I saw a lot of musicians there but not Davis or Monk.   I assume they played there before I started going there (which was only a few years before it closed down).   

 

Did you every go to Dontes' in North Hollywood?    That was a club I went to often as well as The Baked Potato.   

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This coming Friday night will be a noir binge I am really looking forward to & hope all can enjoy!  I too would like to take this time during our last Daily Dose to thank all my classmates (accomplices) and true fans of noir for all of your posts, input, thoughts and creative interpretations of all that we have viewed together!  Even when we can't agree, the very idea of pooling all of these different ideas and perspectives helps stir the pot and potentially formulate new ideas of just what it is we love about film.  To my new found friends, I hope we can continue trading ideas on the TCM message boards keep going forward with posts anew.  Never look back, baby!  And a special thanks to professor Edwards for giving us the tools, the motive and the opportunity to enjoy the film art we love!  Thank you all!     

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When you stumble across a film titled Elevator to the Gallows, featuring a pure jazzy score by famous American musician Miles Davis, you could easily guess that it's an American film, a classical noir of the Golden Age. But, surprisingly, it's a French film, and it's not even strictly considered a film noir, although it shares quite some elements with iconic films of the style.

 

There have been a handful of American noirs with lively jazzy scores (such as The Big Combo), but usually orchestral music dominates, though jazz music always plays the most important role as it's featured in many climactic and intense scenes of those films. I think that jazz critic Phil Johnson's descirption of the score as "the loneliest trumpet sound you will ever hear, and the model for sad-core music ever since" says it all. A music masterpiece, fitting perfectly with the noir world, even when we're in France and its cycle is close to an inevitable end.

 

Watching the whole film, it's very interesting to notice that film noir, influenced by European cinematic waves and French poetic realism in particular, had a great impact itself in post-war European cinema, espe, in this case Nouvelle Vague and the New Wave of European cinema, which would have its own Golden Age in the 60's when Hollywood entered its post-classical era and film noir dissappeared.

 

So, the conclusion that comes to mind is that, while film noir was coming to an end by the late 50's, its influence and impact to the later films, both in Europe and the United States, was immense, and continues to be so to the present time.

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The Lighthouse was a very cool place.   I saw a lot of musicians there but not Davis or Monk.   I assume they played there before I started going there (which was only a few years before it closed down).   

 

Did you every go to Dontes' in North Hollywood?    That was a club I went to often as well as The Baked Potato.   

Unfortunately, I did not get to either clubs. If I could have been a fly on the wall at the Baked Potato, though! Those clubs were just getting underway when I graduated college, went to work and started a family so my priorities changed. I do have one question that you might be able to answer: I remember an artist by the name of Lightnin' Hopkins. Was he a jazz or blues musician? I think he may have crossed over to one or the other. I know this is off topic, sorry.

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The music rises and falls languid and lush, so does the staccato conversation of the lovers with a little poetry in their language and a great deal of emotion in their voices.

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I saw this film at the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts not long after I graduated from college.  The score by Miles Davis was the reason I went to see it. Fortunately while I was in college I made extra sure to watch Ken Burns's Jazz series on PBS (it was also simulcast on our local NPR station, WDET in Detroit) and it was because of that series I came to love jazz.  I recall people applauding when Miles Davis's name popped up in the credits. And just from the first notes I knew it was going to be good. I hung onto every last note during that film, and especially when Jeanne Moreau walked the streets of the Champs Elysees with a mixture of fear and sadness in her eyes. 

 

 

La tres jolie Jeanne Moreau is seen in extreme close up and there is fierce passion in her voice as she speaks to her lover Julien. There seems to be melancholy in her eyes as she talks to him as well, as if she can't live another minute without her cheri. But she does seem in control in the relationship as she gives him the instructions and what time to meet. She goes from sad to aggressive over the phone before abruptly hanging up on Julien.

 

I often play the soundtrack whenever I am in a femme fatale mood as well.....

 

I'll just say that we were all on the edges of our seats that fateful evening in Detroit. As the French say, ca, c'est du cinema!

 

 

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