14 Actors Acting series

Text and musical version by Sofía Oriana Infante

 

                (Original Music by Owen Pallet)

 

 

‘14 Actors Acting’ is a series created by Solve Sundsbo for the New York Times, where 14 actors represent different emotions in unrelated brief scenes. Here, I present my own musical version of the scenes.

 

The process followed for composing the music consisted of, first of all, analysing meticulously the information given in the image. It does not exist any previous conceptual analysis of this series, so the interpretation of the details of the acting, it is inevitably subjective, consisting this work to a personal point of view. This personal contribution is obviously the body of the work, as any kind of artistic work supposes an expression of the thoughts and emotions conceived by the creator. However, an important labour of research is needed to transmit these details effectively through music to the public, being fundamental to search for references in both images and music supporting the own perspective.

 

This labour resides in choosing and using specific styles and instruments, researching the cultural connotation added by the instruments and how harmony and texture can modify the meaning of the images.

 

The black and white images and the actors’ outfit, give a classic style to the series. This, mixed with the acting gestures, the situations represented and the scenarios, contributes to an old way of filming, referencing classical movies and placing the meaning in a specific context (first decades of the twentieth century). Obviously this description is made under a contemporary perspective about a past époque, implying cultural differences of what it is understood as aesthetic.

 

All these aspects create the aesthetic of the series, which would be fundamental to consider in the music, so as to respect the coherence with the images. This supposes to use musical styles that fit with the temporality of the scenes, which gives an interesting range of possibilities due to the diversity of styles that arise in the 20th century.

 

Having that diversity of possibilities, implies to use an specific criteria to choose the most appropriate music for the image, or, on the other hand, to modify and play with its meaning.

 

Tilda Swinton

In this scene, a woman shows a profound and painful feeling of sadness, crying desperately for some reason, as it could be, the loss of someone. This idea arises from the wedding ring she wears, becoming extra information given by the actress.

 

However, it is not possible to reduce the emotion represented to just a feeling of sadness. Her facial expression reveals something else, with wide opened eyes, looking up and down in a confused way. This suggests, at the beginning, that, what happened, created a feeling of impotence, frowning and looking up, trying to find a response or any kind of physical or metaphysical help. Then, every time she looks down, she closes her eyes, as feeling the real pain again, remembering the truth of the facts. Another interesting point is the obsessive touching of the face and the mouth with her hands.

 

Taking these possible interpretations into account, and if we consider the similarity with the performance of Maria Falconetti as Jeanne d’Arc (La passion de Jeanne d'Arc, 1928)1, the most plausible meaning is the need of help from God, with confusion, becoming an almost obvious reference of the film, with some variations. However, the feeling of self-confusion, impotence, and both emotions of sorrow and hope are totally evident and very well represented by the actress.

 

The instrumentation chosen here is very similar to the original, although the treatment of the instruments is quite different. In the Owen’s Pallet version, the music is non- timed with the image, becoming too linear. In contrast, the polarity of hope (God) and pain are represented in this composition, with noticeable changes of texture and timbre timed with the looking up and down of the woman (it can be called the polarity of heaven and earth). The harmonies highlight the confusion through the dissonances and the pain is represented with suspended notes in both minor and mayor chords played by the strings.

 

The chords in the piano and the choral textures in clarinets suggest the mystical connotation (46”), accompanied by modal changes between the chords, as for example at the 28”.

Chloe Moretz

A young 13 years old Chloe Moretz represents a classical screaming of hate and fury.

 

It could be a scream of grievance, as a reaction of not wanting to keep on with a situation. In addition, the way of looking suggests some deep hate about something. However, the fact of lacking tears, means that is more about anger, not implying frustration or grief. The acting shows a situation of absolute madness.

 

With the composition presented here, it is intended to invigorate the statism of the scene, trying to represent more than one emotion, completing the meaning of the images.

 

With the use of drastic changes of structure, harmonic progressions, contrasting dissonances with consonances, minor and major chords... a feeling of instability is given to the image and a background to the story represented is given too.

Vincent Cassel

Vincent Cassel practices a dancing scene in the style of Gene Kelly. Comparing this scene with the very famous “Singing in the rain” and replacing the umbrella with a chair, the similarities are evident. However, this supposes an exercise as a practice in front of the mirror that, taking into account the numerous cuts of the scenes, makes it difficult for the timing with the music.

 

Consequently, the style chosen for composing the music saves these similarities with the one used in that movie, consisting in an exercise of style. It is interesting to say that the song “Singing in the rain” is a version from the song with the same title interpreted in “Hollywood Revue of 1929”. Both songs have a strong swing presence, with the instrumentation of the Big Bands, very typical in the America of the first decades of the XX century.

 

Therefore, the instrumentation used here for this scene consists of a main melody interpreted by the brass section, with a rhythmic accompaniment of the saxophones supporting the harmony, as the same as the string section in maintained chords and the piano.

Anthony Mackie

Here, it is possible to find a reference to the chase scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘North by Northwest’.

 

The emotion on anguish is prolonged, focusing the entire scene in the facial gestures to express it. The actor looks back repeatedly highlighting the pressure of being chased.

 

The challenge is to keep the tension the whole time, working with the emotion of anguish. To do this, a very similar option from the original was taken, using clusters and textures coloured by shorter divisions of the halftone.

 

Keeping the higher notes for a final crescendo contributes to the expectation of the climax that, in the end, does not exist.

Javier Bardem

Javier Bardem releases an accumulated fury in an explosive way, breaking all that is at his fingertips. 

 

In the process we find two parts; the first one is when he is trying to control himself or when the fury is getting into him. The other part would be the release of that fury. The structure of the music respects these two parts, very well contrasted with the cut changes too.

 

The music of the first part consists of a very rhythmic, irregular and unstable melody, played by the woodwinds (flute, clarinet and oboe) in unison. Later, timed with the emotional explosion, the whole orchestra participates, interpreting strings and woodwinds the same melody, and the brass accentuating things breaking.

 

 

 

Noomi Rapace

In this case, the aim of this scene was different to the rest. As it is the unique video that represents a live musical moment, the composition tries to make the diegetic function. This means that it is tried to recreate the music that should be sounding in the scene, not representing the concept of soundtrack but the ambient music.

 

It would be correct to place the interpretation in a nightclub with a similar atmosphere of decadence. The element of the cigarette gives that impression, due to the indifference that the singer gives while smoking it during the performance.

 

Having defined the style and the atmosphere, it is necessary to find the tempo of the music that the actress is singing. To be able to do this, the movement of the body, hands, and head was taken into account.

 

The stops and the rhythm of the lyrics served to define the musical structure.

Robert Duvall

Clarinet: Ivan Fernandez Coba

The original composition seems to reference an operatic technique, with a solo violin accompanied by the strings in tremolo, in a very Italian style. In this version, the same option is taken, but with a less expressive music, meaningless, as the images, representing a normal situation without any intention.

 

The satisfactory feeling of the end is highlighted with a perfect cadence at the end, repeated a few times.

 

Jennifer Lawrence

This scene is maybe one of the most representative of the classical acting, especially of the silent movies, where the gestures were very exaggerated to enhance the emotion represented. So, far away from considering the scene overacted, it is a great point to consider for the music.

 

Here, Lawrence, makes the spectator remember the famous scene from ‘Metropolis’ where Rotwang captures Maria. She is not taken by surprise. She stares at the ‘danger’, paralyzed by the fear, waiting for the end. Consequently, one important point of timing would be the screaming part that ends, with another point of timing to be considered, the hand scratching the wall.

 

The original music gets these ideas and intensifies the classical acting style, exaggerating the gestures with the timing, as it is possible to see at the end, with the last appearance of the hand on the wall. The same concepts were applied in this version, although the technique is different.

 

The choice of using electronic music is purely for intensifying the lower register and to contribute to create an atmosphere of tension. In addition, the desire of exploring different styles and techniques is the aim of this project, so as to obtain conclusions about the outcomes of using any of them.

Matt Damon

The music, as the words he is pronouncing and the body gestures he is making, should be as aggressive as he is being. This means that using a very rhythmic music in strong dynamics, with more attacks than resonances, could contribute to empathise with this feeling of angriness and aggressiveness.

 

In some sense this happens in the original version, where the composer uses a constant rhythm, an ostinato, with an aggressive melody constructed by ascendant arpeggios in the strings. In this version, the idea of the ostinato was taken too, working with drastic changes of sections to contribute to the sensation of instability. The use of dissonances in the brass in frullato in crescendo also works well with the emotion of fury, transmitting an unpleasant sensation.

Natalie Portman

The emotion transmitted is about feeling tired of life, not being happy with her routine. They way she is undressing, is showing the spectator how the costume she is wearing makes her look a totally different person. This can be understood as she has to act like someone she is not, obviously as every actress has to do, but in this case, it seems is not only on stage.

 

Therefore, the music for this scene was composed with the aim of not only transmitting the emotion, but also a context of an iconic actress of the first decades of the XX century. An artist that belongs to an environment of decadence, with a hard past and a hard present. Moments of glory are over.

 

Lesley Manville

In the style of Bette Davis in ‘Phone Call from a Stranger’, the woman has a phone conversation where she feels clearly disappointed by the other part. The first few seconds are kind of ambiguous, it is not clear how the scene is going to be developed. But soon it is possible to see how the woman feels sad about what she is listening to, probably from her lover. Not only she feels disappointed or sad, but also frustrated.

 

The choice of the strings that accompanies the scene is the most effective. Owen Pallet wrote the music with a more ‘old sound’, with the melody in the cellos, quite romantic and dramatic. In this version, the music starts being so ambiguous as the emotion represented, becoming more intense and dramatic when the woman shows clearly the frustration she feels for her pain. The use of minor and major chords combined with the sustained notes, contribute to the main emotion of sadness. In addition, the textures in chords, with a crescendo in the lower registers, enhances the deepness of her feelings, being interrupted with intermittent silences, which consists of a metaphor of the acting.

 

In this sense, the music is synchronized with the gestures of the woman, trying to respect the course, the evolution of the acting.

 

Jesse Eisenberg

It is difficult to guess the situation in this scene. The emotion represented is not very clear due to the ambiguity of the actor’s facial expression: Does he want to shoot or is he being pushed to do it? Is he going to kill a person and, although he wants to do it, it is the first time? Is it revenge? A job?

 

The clothes he is wearing make more plausible the idea that he is doing a job, remembering a Tarantino style of assassin, like in Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction. However, under this statement, it would not be difficult for a professional killer to pull the trigger and it is possible to see some attitude of challenge in his way of looking.

 

This shows that maybe the job he has to do is with a person he has some implication with, interpreting his look as defiant (revenge?).

 

Owen Pallet’s music consists of a solo flute that gives a mysterious touch to the scene, increasing the tension with the trills in the strings at the moment he takes the gun. In this version, the decision of creating a constant atmosphere of tension was taken, highlighting the timing points, as the moment of taking the gun and when shooting, with short musical gestures in the piano or with electronics.

James Franco

This is simply an acting exercise of seduction. James Franco flirts with himself in front of a mirror in a way that resembles the acting style of James Dean.

 

This scene is one of the most opened in possibilities for composing music. In the original music, the composer opted to use a tremolo in the strings, with an interrupted rhythm. Here, the option of using maintained chords with melodies, coloured with chromatic intervals, was taken, in a style that remembers to some moments of the soundtrack of West Side Story.

Michael Douglas

In the comments of this interpretation in YouTube, most of the people agreed in that the actor is planning a murder. The similarity of the images with the film The Godfather (1972) was commented too. These impressions are given by the facial expression of seriousness and coldness, looking first to the floor and then directly to the spectator, adding the movement of the fingers. His position, sitting in a chair, with crossed legs, suggests an apparent calm, serenity, that combined with the movement of the hands and the facial expression give the meaning of hatching something.

 

The clothes, in black, and the leather chair (as symbol of power, superiority), contribute to the reference to The Godfather.

 

The music style chosen for this scene is classical. This enforces the interpretation as a killer’s plan, as classical music has been associated in numerous films to the climax scene of a murder. Example of this could be when Hannibal Lecter listens to Bach’s music just after killing the guards in The Silence of the Lambs (1991)5. Another obvious example is the famous use of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork orange (1971).

 

This choice of associating classical music for crime scenes can be done for various reasons. One of them is the meaning that it gives to the murder: he is intelligent and cautious, he takes time to plan the murders and he is able to feel the music but not compassion for the victims.

 

 

 

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James Franco - Sofia Oriana Infante
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Michael Douglas - Sofia Oriana Infante
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Jesse Eisenberg - Sofia Oriana Infante
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Natalie Portman - Sofia Oriana Infante
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Matt Damon - Sofia Oriana Infante
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Lesley Manville - Sofia Oriana Infante
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Anthony Mackie - Sofia Oriana Infante
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Jennifer Lawrence - Sofia Oriana Infante
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Vincent Cassel - Sofia Oriana Infante
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Noomi Rapace - Sofia Oriana Infante
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Javier Bardem - Sofia Oriana Infante
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Chloe Moretz - Sofia Oriana Infante
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Tilda Swinton - Sofia Oriana Infante
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Robert Duvall - Sofia Oriana Infante
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