Peet’s Friday Screentest

June 29, 2007

Every Friday, a cold shiver ripples through the blogosphere: Whose turn is it to be screen tested? I’m talking about DVD Panache, of course, the award-winning blog where Adam Ross hosts an on-going series under the name Friday Screen Test. Each week, someone from the film blogging community is asked to answer ten questions. The resulting posts are always rewarding, either as a way get to know your favorite bloggers better or to discover online personalities you’ve never heard of before.

And yes, I’m afraid it’s my turn today.

Adam, being the sneaky bastard that he is, knows that it’s the most simple questions that are the hardest to answer. When I received his list of ten by email, I almost burned a hole in my computer screen mulling them over–instant writer’s block! Fortunately, it was just a phase…

So let’s get down to business: If you’re wondering how Peet outside his comfort zone sounds like, and if you’re not easily put-off by a few personal confessions, check out today’s Friday Screen Test.

NEGATIVE SPACE #22: Letters from Paris

June 27, 2007

(Click on the image to see this cartoon slightly larger.)


Any which way you look at it… the girl ain’t worth the look.

In defense of Mickey Mousing

June 22, 2007

This is my contribution to Damian Arlyn’s Film Music Blog-a-Thon at Windmills of My Mind. ___________________________________________________________


A catchy negative term can do a lot of damage. As far as film criticism is concerned, just consider the massive abuse of a phrase like “style over substance,” a knee-jerk “yeah, right” to instantly smother a filmmaker’s poetic license, or the buzzword of the moment: “torture porn.” In more or less the same category falls the catchphrase “Mickey Mousing.”

Mickey Mousing is the standard description for film music that directly mimics the action onscreen. You know, just like the old Disney shorts: Goofy falls flat on his face–TOOT!–a tuba honks. A classic example is the ending of the original King Kong, in which the music is crescendoed in such a way as to suit Kong’s motions in climbing the Empire State Building.

In criticial and educational circles, Mickey Mousing is often looked down upon. The general consensus is that it’s lazy, cheap and old-fashioned for a soundtrack to ape the visuals. And yet many Hollywood maestros frequently make use of the technique: Danny Elfman (Beetlejuice, The Simpsons), Hans Zimmer (Spirit, Pirates of the Caribbean) and the late Jerry Goldsmith (Gremlins, Total Recall).

The opposite of Mickey Mousing takes place when a piece of music complements the images to establish a general mood or theme. This is usually called “underscoring.” Contemporary underscorers are Cliff Martinez (Traffic, Solaris), Michael Nyman (The Piano, Gattaca), Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain, Babel), Thomas Newman (American Beauty, Little Children), Alexandre Desplat (Birth, Syriana) and Philip Glass (Candyman, The Hours). These guys rarely emphasize what’s already on the screen, and needless to say, I appreciate their work as much as the next cinephile.

The king of Mickey Mousing?

With no one questioning the merits of underscoring, why exactly deserves Mickey Mousing such a bad rap? What seems to bug people the most is that it wears its intentions on its sleeve. Mickey Mousing tells the audience explicitly what to look for, how to empathize, and when to laugh, cry or shiver. It takes the frontal assault, whereas most critical minds prefer a soundtrack to blend into the background and leave room for personal reflection. Frankly, some of us don’t like to be blatantly manipulated.

Even respectable directors like Sidney Lumet (in his excellent book Making Movies) and John Carpenter (in his director’s commentary on the Prince of Darkness DVD) have openly expressed their disdain for Mickey Mousing. The latter jokingly crowned John Williams the king of Mickey Mousing. In the same breath, Carpenter claimed that Bernard Hermann was the quintessential underscore composer, with Vertigo being an honorable example.


Fair enough. A bombastic music cue like The Imperial March (you know the one: “TAAA! TAAA! TAAA! TAA-TADAA! TAA-TADAA!”) leaves little room for ambiguity. It practically screams out to the audience: Beware! Something Sinister, Totalitarian and Oppressive has entered the room! And honestly, isn’t that exactly what makes the tune so irresistable to begin with? When a hard-breathing Darth Vader is about to wipe Rebellion ass, do we expect anything less than military drums and pumping brass? Of course not! A gentle woodwinds motif just wouldn’t cut it…

Click to hear a sample of The Imperial March

By the same token, what’s not to love about Hans Zimmer in prime fighting shape, or a rousing Danny Elfman score? And before you start to think that Mickey Mousing doesn’t leave room for subtlety: Take another look at the prom scene in Carrie, in which Pino Donaggio‘s music Mickey-Mouses in perfect harmony with Brian De Palma’s visual orchestrations to bring you to the edge of your seat in anticipation for the bucket of blood to fall.


In fact, I’d even argue that Vertigo‘s soundtrack, which Carpenter embraces as a full-blooded piece of underscoring, incorporates quite a bit of Mickey Mousing. There’s no doubt that Herrmann’s haunting score is layered and full of conflicting emotions, but it sounds fittingly lyrical when Scottie and Madeleine share a passionate kiss, and appropriately disturbing when Scottie’s fear of heights comes into play. And wasn’t it Hermann who wrote Mickey Mousing history by syncing shrieking strings to the fatal stabs of a killer’s knife in the world’s most famous shower scene? When a composer drums up a frenetic, percussive score to support a thrilling car chase, or lays an elegiac theme over a melancholic tableau, his or her technique isn’t that far removed from Mickey Mousing. The music still follows and punctuates the visuals–only the beats are longer.

Sometimes film music is supposed to take a back seat or provide its own commentary on what happens in the picture. Sometimes film music needs to work in tandem with the visuals to help the viewer relate with the characters or a given situation. Both approaches are legitimate. You can spend the rest of your life arguing wether Thomas Newman (Finding Nemo) or Scott Bradley (Tom & Jerry) wrote the superior soundtrack, and I’ll say: Isn’t it great that we don’t have to make these either/or choices? We can have both to enjoy!



“Our minds may focus on what there is to see, how we
experience the view is often heard.”
Sound as Vision: Riding The Blind Giant

NEGATIVE SPACE #21: Home theatre?

June 17, 2007


You think I’m making this up? Check out Jim Emerson’s post on the Landmark multiplex in Los Angeles. If this doesn’t signal the slow death of the collective theatrical experience, I don’t know what will.

NEGATIVE SPACE #20: Phone rule

June 13, 2007


Katherine Heigl: the new Barbarella?

June 12, 2007

With the heated debate over the moral repercussions of Eli Roth’s latest blood fest currently dominating the blogosphere, it’s high time to switch over to a lighter and altogether more pleasant subject…

You’ve probably heard by now that they’re planning a Barbarella remake. Some are screaming blasphemy already, but I’m all for it. Apart from the shagadelic art direction and Jane Fonda’s impossibly sexy leading role, the original has lots to improve on.

Robert Rodriguez will be helming the project. Sounds like a groovy choice to me. The guy has a natural flair for superficial, glossy trash and Barbarella’s universe should be right up his alley. What’s more: this is the man who gave us Desperado’s Carolina and Sin City’s Gail, so I trust him to push the costume designs in the appropriate, sleazy direction.

There’s just one big question: How on Earth are they going to find an actress as INSANELY HOT as Jane Fonda in her prime? It’s impossible, right?

Well… almost impossible.

I present you: Katherine Heigl.

A spectacular blonde with dark brown Bambi eyes, a killer body and genuine acting chops. If this isn’t tomorrow’s It-Girl, I’ll eat my shoe before a rolling camera. Honestly, you don’t actually believe it’s the dorky Seth Rogen that’s responsible for drawing massive crowds to Judd Apatow’s sleeper hit comedy Knocked Up, do you? Of course not, it’s Izzie Stevens from Grey’s Anatomy!

Just watch this clip and nod in approval:

No need for a screentest: Katherine Heigl is the 5-star double-rated astro-navigatrix of the future!

Sure, I’ve heard the other names that have been tossed around. I love Salma Hayek and Scarlett Johansson, but they’re too short for the role. Uma Thurman or Cameron Diaz? Old hat. Drew Barrymore? Sorry, not up to standard. Angelina Jolie or Rose McGowan? Way too dominant. (Barbarella is submissive at heart, not a sexual predator!) Jessica Alba? Small potatoes. Kate Beckinsale? Hold on–that’s actually a pretty decent second choice, but surely no match for Heigl…

Just picture this girl in a transparent perpex top and plastic thigh-high boots… Mr. Rodriguez, are you paying attention? (And now we’re at it: for God’s sake, keep the title sequence, will ya?)

Is anyone with me on this? Am I leaving out any promising contenders? Let me know! Meanwhile, here’s one more pic:


NEGATIVE SPACE #19: Muslims in disguise

June 5, 2007

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This is your last warning: Do not underestimate Michael Bay, or he’ll blow you up from 25 different camera angles.