In Ashby looking for

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The films of Hal Ashby overflow with music. His particular approach to the use of music in film developed as he served as an editor on five Norman Jewison films in the s. As a result of this editing practice, when Ashby started directing, his films regularly began to incorporate instances of trans-diegetic music. The term trans-diegetic refers to music or any element, including other types of sound that either begins as diegetic source music and then becomes part of an extra-diegetic or non-diegetic soundtrack or score, or, vice versa, when the extra-diegetic becomes diegetic.

In other words, trans-diegetic music, by acting as a bridge between the diegetic and the extra-diegetic, also acts as a bridge between such concepts as place and time in film; it can even act as a bridge between meanings of particular on-screen occurrences a possibility Ashby seems to have been well aware of. For Hal Ashby, though, trans-diegetic music was clearly a technique fundamental to his filmmaking practice.

Indeed, Ashby incorporated trans-diegesis in every film he directed. Finally, I will analyse a particular instance of its use in the film Coming Home Its inescapable presence in the films of Hal Ashby offers an intriguing entry into a deeper consideration of this fascinating, but seldom discussed, element of music in film.

His general preference was to use scored music only minimally and to rely, like many of his contemporaries, on song-based soundtracks. Three of his films from the s— The LandlordHarold and Maude and Coming Home —avoid scored music completely, while Shampoowhich is billed as having original music by Paul Simon, uses one brief refrain on three occasions in the film, for a total of less than two-minutes running time. When an Ashby film is fully scored—as is the case with The Last Detail and Bound for Glory —it still includes at least a few popular music tracks generally diegetic as part of its musical landscape.

Each time the sailors undertake a new leg of their journey, a snare-drum roll kicks in and the brass section pipes up as if to echo the U. However, unlike the sailors of World War II embarking for the Pacific, the protagonists of The Last Detail are on their own personal and idiosyncratic journey—one that is less than heroic or glorious—and the music serves as a counterpoint to that journey.

Bound for Glory makes much more intricate use of the notion of counterpoint and contrast.

In Ashby looking for

Throughout the film, during narrative shifts or moments of emotional intensity, the score fades in gently, perhaps with a simple string arrangement and a maudlin guitar. One example comes nearly half an hour into the film, as Guthrie David Carradine prepares to slip away from his family in Texas and make his way to California. From any reasonable point of view, Guthrie is abandoning his family in the early days of the Great Depression, with only the slimmest of hopes that California might promise work and therefore enough money to bring his wife and young children out to the West Coast with him.

As is typical throughout the film, after the first quiet strains of the score, the guitar begins to pick out a tune that sounds vaguely familiar, in this case about forty-five seconds after the music has begun playing. Then, depending on the particular sequence, either the music swells or the guitar picks up its pace, and in both cases the score melds into a variation on an original Guthrie tune.

We do not see Guthrie play the song, but only hear the scored version of it. Such references are sometimes straightforward, sometimes ironic, but the effect is to create more dialogic layers, between the soundtrack and the narrative and between film and viewer. One example comes in Harold and Maude when the two titular characters sleep together for the first time. Harold and Maude are sitting on a jetty after a very emotional conversation, watching fireworks over the city.

There is a dramatic cut to Harold Bud Cort in bed naked. He is staring directly into the camera, almost defiantly, and blowing bubbles. Whether one finds the narrative commentary by the music insightful or insipid and Coming Home is the Ashby film that makes most frequent use of the technique might depend on how willing one is to indulge Ashby by looking for other, less obvious functions of the commentary.

In any case, it is a formal strategy that Ashby seems to have valued and returned to frequently. Such deterministic cuts are frequent in both the films Ashby edited for Norman Jewison as well as in early Ashby films, but as he became more adept at using the technique Ashby began cutting around the beat, just behind or ahead of audience expectations, thus creating additional, subtle moments of surprise.

The result is a playful moment of uncertainty in which the trans-diegetic contributes to narrative meaning but not always in ways that are particularly clear. Using the example of the violins during the shower scene in Psycho Alfred Hitchcock,Cecchi argues that the music—while clearly extra-diegetic in the sense that the violins are not there in the bathroom with Janet Leigh and Tony Perkins—cannot be so easily divorced from the diegesis.

Rather, the violins are a necessary component of the subjective experience of the on-screen action even as, objectively, they are not present on-screen during that action. Sometimes it occurs only minimally, as when, near the beginning of The LandlordElgar Beau Bridges is running towards his car and a non-specified early s rock song begins playing. A series of jump cuts follows as Elgar drives home from the Bronx to Long Island, but the advertisement continues playing uninterrupted.

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A shorter, subtler instance occurs at the very beginning of Shampoo. This perception, however, lasts only briefly as, instead of being greeted by an opening credit sequence, we are first treated to the sounds of the vigorous lovemaking of two characters who will turn out to be George Warren Beatty and Felicia Lee Grant.

The screen remains black and the song continues uninterrupted. Then the credits begin and a dim light from a shaded window appears in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. Roughly a minute into the film, a telephone rings and George makes a frustrated grunt before turning off the music and answering it.

This technique can generally be regarded as a violation of classical Hollywood principles by which the diegetic and extra-diegetic should remain discreet and distinct. It remains, however, a rare occurrence in classical Hollywood films, especially in comparison with the films of the s, whose New Hollywood directors would feel little compunction about violating principles of classical-era continuity.

Martin Scorsese employs the technique frequently, if less comedically, using it to great effect in Raging Bull In a sense, trans-diegesis creates a liminal space—music that is both of and not of the filmic world. Some instances of trans-diegetic music in early Ashby films can come across as coy, a deliberately postmodern affectation in keeping with the spirit of early New Hollywood.

As he develops the technique, however, it becomes a more ambiguous strategy, its relationship to the viewer being more elusive. Coming Home is a film about the Vietnam War. In addition to making frequent use of music for narrative commentary, Coming Home is also the film in which Ashby makes his deftest use of trans-diegetic music. Often there are discreet fluctuations in volume for particular songs, so that it can be unclear whether a given song is meant to be diegetic or not.

He is at home fixing a toaster for Sally. There is a cut to Sally and Bob in their car at the base parking lot moments before he is to ship out, and the song is still playing quietly, with no temporal displacement. It is unclear whether the song is meant simply to be extra-diegetic which does not explain why the volume is so low or whether it was diegetic in the kitchen, but not in the car, or least likely if Bob and Sally just happened upon the same song in their car radio as had been playing hours before in the kitchen. In any case, they get out of the car and say goodbye.

In this moment of heightened irony, the joyful and triumphant singing during the coda is enhanced by the rapid increase in volume. This strategy comes to fruition during a three-song, cross-cut sequence that takes place soon after Sally returns from a visit with Bob in Hong Kong while he is on leave. The three songs proceed back to back with no cuts, even while the visual edits oscillate back and forth between two scenes and suggest a fragmentation of the narrative. There is a cut to Luke in his wheelchair rolling towards his car with a box on his lap.

It is late afternoon. The song, extra-diegetic at this point, continues as Luke reaches his car and lo the box into the passenger side. As he slams the door, there is a cut to a nightclub and a noticeable increase in volume. The song is now diegetic, playing in the club that Sally and Vi are visiting, and the dancers in the club are clearly dancing in time to the music.

The music has become extra-diegetic again as it will remain throughout the parts of the sequence that focus on Lukeand now it is night. Luke has parked his car and is unloading the box, which we can see is full of heavy chains.

In Ashby looking for

There is another cut back to the club and, as the song fades out, Sally and Vi make eye contact with two men whom they call over to their spot at the bar. As soon as the song begins, Vi and the two men walking towards them begin moving in rhythm with it. There is another cut to Luke, who is rolling his wheelchair up to a Marine Recruiting office. The music is very quiet at this point, almost indiscernible, and then there is another cut back to Sally and Vi, except that they are no longer in the club. They are entering a hotel room with the two men from the club Vi obviously drunk and being carried by one of them.

Diegetic time has clearly elapsed, but the music continues uninterrupted, albeit still very quiet. This instability mirrors the instability—both mental and situational—of the main protagonists at this point in the narrative. The sequence returns to Luke, now being harassed by Marines who are indignant at his action. The music can hardly be heard at this point, but is still playing quietly in the background. She gets up on a chair, starts dancing provocatively, and then removes her top she is not wearing a bra.

While one of the men is visibly excited by this—exhibiting his approval with smiles and shout-outs—the other man and Sally are both clearly uncomfortable. The atmosphere in the room becomes more tense and unsettling when Vi begins stomping up and down fiercely, with a pained expression on her face.

Sally goes to her, and Vi seems suddenly to realise where she is and what she is doing. She covers herself up and storms out of the room.

In Ashby looking for

Yet, for the viewers, the breakdown is less perplexing than the striptease that precedes it, knowing as we do what she is trying to forget. As the sequence begins to come to its conclusion, Vi and Sally walk through the hotel lobby, presumably a few minutes after leaving the hotel room.

The music has stopped, but in the background a TV news report can be heard. Sally and Vi stop momentarily. For nearly thirty seconds of film time, Sally and Vi watch the news report in which Luke is explaining why he chained himself to the fence gate. Thus, the two cross-cut sequences, playing out in different temporal and physical space, but linked by the three songs, begin to merge towards a temporal restoration. After nine minutes and forty seconds, the three-song plus news reporting cross-cut sequence has ended.

As this sequence analysis exemplifies, trans-diegetic music in the films of Hal Ashby serves several purposes. First, in the form of narrative commentary, the music indicates awareness of the emotional state of at least two of the characters, as Luke and Vi are both emotionally distraught and perhaps in need of saving.

In Ashby looking for

The music is also somewhat cathartic, at least for the characters, including Sally. Moreover, there is an intertextual element to the music here. So Ashby is clearly setting his film in a particular time Easy Rider was shot inboth Shampoo and Coming Home are set inand associating it with other political films. While this example marks one of the most elaborate uses of trans-diegetic music in any Ashby film, its use in other films often serves similar purposes. It is liminal music that is both in the film and not in the film, and it creates a similar space for the viewer. The Russians Are Coming!

On the latter film, released in the UK as Chicago, ChicagoAshby served as associate producer as well as doing uncredited editorial work. Ashby, who directed eleven feature films and two concert films between andis perhaps best known for four of the films he directed in the s: Harold and Maude ; Shampoo ; Coming Home ; and Being There During editing, such film generally remains silent until post-production sound is added. Recently, trans-diegetic music and sound have been subjects of increasing interest in the study of video games.

Northern Lights5. In fact, as Dawson points out, United Artists were quite reticent about letting Ashby use so many different songs in the film, fearful of the tremendous cost. On the other hand, Stilwell does spend part of her essay considering instances of meta-diegetic music, which should not be confused with trans-diegetic music. Meta-diegetic, as explained by Gorbman 22—3 and articulated by Stilwell, refers to an instance wherein an utterance of extra-diegetic music appears as a reaction to or a comment on an instance of diegetic action or dialogue. Note 4 explains my preference for the latter.

It is worth noting the exception of the Hollywood musical, where the elision between diegetic and extra-diegetic music has long been a regular stylistic convention of the genre. Superficially, this sequence resembles the classic montage sequence during which one or more characters are seen in a variety of settings during the play of one, usually extra-diegetic, musical utterance.

According to Jeff Wexler, a great deal of music was played on set throughout the filming of Coming Homebut, as is standard industry practice, all music was cut during actual filming. So it was in the editing of the film that the illusion of the dancers being in rhythm with the music was created Wexler It is not made explicitly clear whether the news report they watch is live footage, which would indicate full temporal restoration, or filmed footage, which would indicate that the timelines that we as viewers are seeing are still temporally unaligned.

Charles A. Zimmerman comp. The Last Detail. Hal Ashby. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Applebaum, Ralph. Hal Ashby: Interviews. Ed Nick Dawson. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, Ashby, Hal. Interview by Rochelle Reed.

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