A blog post about an experience with making meaning out of the juxtaposition of visual images within a particular context.
To delve deeper into issues of what makes a narrative — and how that story can be received by an audience with different levels of knowledge about the root material — I chose the following video of the first day of this past weekend’s InfoCamp, made by the I School’s Paul Goodman.
At first glance, this short video doesn’t appear to have a lot in common with my class project. (What does the first day of a conference have to do with how people watch television?) But while their content and subject matter are quite different, the InfoCamp video and my project must address, or attempt to address, issues of narrativity and “trueness” and be constructed in a way that accounts for the levels of meaning that different members of the audience may bring to the story. I have struggled with how to make sure the interviews I’m doing end up used in a fashion that feels fair to my interviewees; in that way, watching a video in which I appear was an interesting exercise in seeing whether the depiction felt fair to me.
For the sake of this post, I want to discuss whether this video is a narrative. But my viewing and writing are absolutely informed by (and tinged with bits of) Sturken and Cartwright’s writing on “the myth of photographic truth” and our class discussions of such issues. In essence, this video is a surveillance video — recording events as they happened, no words, just movement — framed in a particular way to show a particular slice of the event. And yet for all its surveillance conventions, it’s not objective. It’s altered, sped up and set to music, cut together in a particular way to evoke a particular feeling. I recognize this event (see also: Barthes), but it’s not the event as I experienced it.
So: Is it a narrative? It absolutely has temporal events, and many of them, as per Steiner’s definition; the video shows the passing of time. (I know that, because I was there, but I believe even a viewer coming to this video fresh would see discrete events and even gain some sense of their time order: a room begins to fill up with people; an empty board has papers tacked to it by the end; people leave one building and enter another.) Characters appear, disappear, and reappear as they move throughout the building; the first time I saw the video, I was struck by how many times one person in particular seemed to go up and down the stairs. The repeated characters help to keep the viewer anchored in the narrative: “Oh, there’s that girl with the headband again!”
But could the events in this video really be “double ordered”? The video itself is sequential; the events it depicts are also sequential — again, something that I know from being there, but something that the structure of the video strives to make clear as well. Could a viewer zoom to a particular part of the video and tell a story from just that? Re-order the footage and tell it backwards? I’m not sure. What I do know, though, is that even if the temporal ordering stayed the same, the retelling of the story would almost certainly be different for different viewers. People who were there might look for themselves and remember what they were doing in the moments the video caught them; I certainly do. People who weren’t there might make up their own stories about what’s happening, because aside from a few text titles sprinkled throughout, there’s nothing in particular to explain the events.
This video also seems to gel with Ryan’s definition of narrative. A setting? Yes; we see the event’s world — or, more accurately, worlds — clearly. (Back to Steiner for a second: the buildings almost become their own characters in this story, as we start at one, leave for another, and return to the first.) Characters? Yes, those repeating figures who dart in and out of the frame. Actions and happenings? Yes: people drink coffee, bound up and down the stairs, pin papers on boards, greet each other. Changes in the narrative world? I believe so; the main room shown at the start of the video looks and feels different at the end than it does at the beginning, and we see conversations start and stop — little changes in those people’s worlds, even if we can’t hear or understand them.
And yet: Even though this video seems to fit both Ryan and Steiner’s definitions, even though it has a clear temporal ordering that define its start and finish, and even though my own definition of narrative when we first discussed these two pieces in class should be sufficiently broad to encompass this video as an absolute example of a narrative, some part of me still wonders if it is. Are time, characters, and setting really enough? Can a start and an end of some event fully constitute a plot? Perhaps it’s because I know that the end of this video isn’t the end of the event, but it feels unfinished to me. I want to know more; I want to see how it wraps up. But for someone else, someone who wasn’t there, perhaps this video tells a satisfying story (or lets the viewer tell him or herself one). I’d be curious to know.
One final note: I wonder about the decisions made about the music for this video. Why this score? Why paced this way? On my third or fourth viewing of the video, I realized it wasn’t actually the music itself that fascinated me but the way it matched different segments of the action and didn’t — to me — seem to match others. The soundtrack is consistent here; it’s all instrumental except for the lyrics that come in right at the end and essentially serve as another signal that the narrative is done. I don’t know the source song well enough to know if it’s all one piece of music, but it certainly could be. What strikes me is how well it seems to gel with the (artificially accelerated) movements at the start and finish of the video, and how it seems out of place with the more natural-time sequences in the middle. And again, I think this has something to do with how I experienced the event. The first and last few scenes of this video really did feel that rushed, and the music seems a perfect soundtrack to the frenetic activity. But the middle segment, when the keynote speaker takes the stage, was a chance to breathe. The event felt like it slowed down at that point; the rush ended and time reverted to its normal pace. The video slows down, perhaps to mimic this. But the music pushes relentlessly on; it doesn’t let us rest.
I was particularly taken by the articles about how sound had such an emmense effect on video during the emergence of talkies. Particularly in the Murch article, he describes how the sound box was so import to creating the talkie. In the movie, Singing in the Rain, Don Lockwood stars in the movie The Dancing Cavalier, which is converted from a silent to a talkie film. Singing in the Rain illustrates some of the many issues with early talkies, where actors had difficulty talking into the microphone, and the sound director would come running out of the box yelling “CUT!!” Singing in the Rain also has Lina Lamont, who has a shrill voice and would not be suitable for singing in a talkie.
Wingstedt talks about how Music has an effect on the mood and power of film. However, he focuses on good synchronization with mood and theme. Yet in a few instances of Singing in the Rain, poor synchronization of the soundtrack with the film causes quite a different effect on the viewer. In Singing in the Rain, in the screening of The Dancing Cavalier, The soundtrack goes out of sync, so instead of Don saying “Yes Yes Yes” and Lina saying “No, no, no” they appear to swap so the characters are voicing each other’s lines. This results in laughter from the screening audience and the event is quite funny to the viewer.
Because I didn’t read the email instructions for the assignment closely, I ended up making a short video that is unrelated to my story. Below is a link to the video and analysis of the video using Wingstedt, Brandstrom, and Berg’s article “Narrative Music, Visuals, and Meaning in Film” from last week:
For my video, I tried to borrow from Wingstedt, Brändström, and Berg’s understanding of the metafunctions of narrative music in film. I used “The Ants Go Marching” to set the mood of the video. The choice in music for the video has an interpersonal aspect in that the audience can only make a connection between the music and the video if they are familiar with the children’s song “The Ants Go Marching.” Because this is an instrumental version of the song, the audience must have some background knowledge of the song lyrics in order for it to make sense. I understood Wigstedt et. al.’s use of the term ideational aspect to refer to the aspect of music that helps the audience establish relationships between different characters or events in a film. Given the length of the video, I was not really able to include one. The textual aspect of the music was “The Ants Go Marching,” which is non-diegetic, given that it is not a sound that ants would hear in a typical setting. At the beginning of the video is the introduction to “The Ants Go Marching” and the more recognizable part of the song starts to play as I show more ants and show them in action. I looped a portion of the song and made it louder each time to put emphasis on the build up “action” in the movie, with the music loudest at the climax. In some parts of the movie, I made the actual sound from the scene audible so that the audience would hear just enough to know what was going on. I hope that this video is a good example of Walter Munch’s idea of conceptual resonance, cited by Wigstedt et al. where the sound influences how the audience sees the video and the video influences how the audience hears the sound.
Short essay on an image I took in Austin, Texas in relation to Sturkin’s Practices of Looking.
“Representation refers to the use of language and images to create meaning about the world around us” (Sturken and Cartwright, 12). I “get” this statement, but do different mediums inherently speak a different language? I ask this because I have both photos and video from which to create my final project. Additionally, because of confidentiality issues, I may need to extract audio from the video.
Video combines image and sound, but does this necessarily tell a complete story? Do the moving images distract from what one still image can convey? For example, a photo taken in a Los Angeles public school’s classroom shows a mix of two dimensional technology and three dimensional models. Also, there’s a photo of a covered smart board that’s in a storage closet. The snapshot freezes time, and audience members will likely grasp what’s literally in the image. What does this covered piece of expensive equipment signify in a world full of meaning? My interpretation is that technology isn’t always the solution. Meaning, the teacher has much more basic issues, one of which is limited physical space.