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Tomatoes Another Day - Participatory Live Film Scoring Remix

by Marina Hassapopoulou

In Film & Media Studies, sound is usually analyzed in association to its relation to moving images. As Thomas Elsaesser and Malte Hagener assert, "in classical cinema sound is usually analyzed strictly in relation to (and in dependence on) the image." (154) How does spectatorship change when images are understood in relation to sound? Reversing the conventional hierarchy of image-sound into sound-image can be very productive in terms of how our minds and bodies attempt to make sense of sensory synchronization in cinema. Furthermore, moving beyond ocularcentric paradigms of cinematic reception challenges our bodies to, literally, make sense of films using other modes of perception besides vision.

James Sibley Watson and Alec Wilder's* Tomatoes Another Day (Tomato is Another Day/It Never Happened, 1930) reflects on the anxiety caused by the introduction of synchronized sound in cinema. Innovations in sound-on-sound film led to the first mainstream synchronized movies in 1923. Film theorists such as Andre Bazin, Sergei Eisenstein, and Hugo Munsterberg had offered diverse insights into the impact of synchronized sound on cinema's recording capacities and its status as an art medium, particularly in relation to notions of realism, montage, audience reception, and cinema's ability to reflect the inner workings of the mind. In most early theories, the incorporation of sound is regarded as a hinder to the expressive qualities of the medium. Tomatoes Another Day presents an ambivalent critique of the use of sound in transitional sound films of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Perhaps similar (but far less documented) debates had occurred in the early years of cinema about the use of intertitles in narrative films; once text was incorporated into filmic narratives, cinema had arguably ceased to be a transnational/universal medium because of the language-specific intertitles that added layers of meaning to the then-silent moving images. Was synchronized sound the next step to rendering spectators less active by attempting to shape -- in more sensory ways than before -- their response to moving images and their (now) accompanying sounds?

On first viewing, Tomatoes seems to criticize certain conventions of the talkies, particularly in its exaggerated and unnecessary use of sound to state the obvious. It seems as though the incorporation of sound into the love triangle of Tomatoes' narrative only serves to highlight what the moving images make plainly obvious, and to unnecessarily describe the emotional state of the characters, which is already exaggerated through their dramatic performances. However, the directors manage to turn what initially seems to be an overt critique of cinematic cliches (going beyond the talkies and also critiquing narrative and performative conventions) into avant-garde experimentation and, ultimately, a meditation on the productive uses of sound in cinema.

Acoustic and temporal experimentation is particularly manifest in moments in the film that highlight the disjunctions between what is shown (and how) and what is heard, such as an extreme close up on a match that throws off the rhythm and temporal linearity of continuity editing. Disjunctive temporality, reflected in conspicuous editing and visible cuts, is especially noticeable when the husband shoots his gun in the direction of his cheating wife and laments on what he has done, while a few seconds later his wife appears on the screen unharmed, as if the shooting had never occurred. The temporal disjunctions in the narrative necessitate an active viewer and listener, thus suggesting new modes of participatory spectatorship. Furthermore, the addition of synchronized (and asynchronous or subversively synchronized sound, as Tomatoes demonstrates) sound would later enable more recent film scholars such as Vivian Sobchack to develop theories based on phenomenological, synesthetic and coanesthetic sensory film experiences. Andrew Grossman argues that the film's rebellion against sound and other cinematic conventions resonates even more strongly "in a media age intolerant of aesthetic 'dissonance' and intent on madly synchronizing nearly every aspect of thought, culture, and behavior." The incongruity of sound, image and -- I would add - temporal sequencing in the film suggests productive uses of sound in the subversion of mainstream ideologies, precisely in the refusal to abide by the standard ways of conditioning mainstream viewer behavior.

The clip above is a new version, collaboratively produced during an impromptu remix session in my Film Theory Through the Senses graduate course (NYU Cinema Studies, Spring 2016). The objective was to add more interactivity to the already interactive "original" version of the film, by treating Tomatoes as a remixable database. This participatory mode of spectatorship has resulted in some interesting moments of re-synchronization between the sound clips and the moving images, and encouraged students to think of other inter-relations between sound and image that surpass ocularcentric paradigms.

See more on the evolution of the live film scoring collaborative remix, take 2, with online brainstorming and live DJ performance: https://filmtheory2016.wordpress.com/live-film-scoring/ . For part 2 of this live scoring experiment, see: http://www.criticalcommons.org/Members/marinahass/clips/dream-of-a-rarebit-fiend-live-film-scoring-remix/view

 

*Note: Some sources, such as digitally restored anthologies of experimental early/transitional cinema, credit Watson and Wilder as the directors of the film, while other sources like Grossman (cited below) credit Watson and Webber as the film's directors.

Sources:

Thomas Elsaesser and Malte Hagener, Film Theory: An Introduction Through the Senses. 2nd Edition. New York: Routledge, 2015.

Andrew Grossman, "Tomatoes Another Day: The Improbable Ideological Subversion of James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber."Bright Lights Film Journal. 28 Nov. 2014. http://brightlightsfilm.com/tomatoes-another-day-improbable-ideological-subversion-james-sibley-watson-melville-webber/#.VyUzYT85g4p

Tomatos Another Day Live Scoring // Sound Remix Final Version

A participatory live scoring sound remix of Tomatoes Another Day (1930) for my Film Theory Through the Senses graduate course, NYU Cinema Studies - Spring 2016.

from Tomatos Another Day (Tomatoes is Another Day) (1930)
Creator: Sibley & Watson
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Marina Hassapopoulou
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