Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tones

In my post below I talked about feel and tone. These are important concepts in writing, as they are in film-making and in music. You can use tone to empower a scene or sequence with a deeper reasonance. By arranging the tone to fit the context, or by seeding in momentary clashes in tone to have that clash deepen the effect.


In this video of the 1987 classic 'Glad I'm not a Kennedy' by Shona Laing, (directed by Bruce Sheridan) there is a great use of tones throughout, both in tones to match context and to clash with it.

The visual tone for most of the clip is austere: the singer is garbed in dark colours, the visual tones black and white, sepia, or a very leached colour bordering on monochrome. There are images of hard surfaces, steel staircases, concrete buildings. Even the scenes in natural landscapes have a windswept, windworn feel. This works in well with the archival footage which was shot on black and white film stock.

This works in well with the song's musical tone (melody and lyrics) which is sombre in both style and context (John F Kennedy was shot dead at the age of 46 in 1963.) 

There are however key moments where there is a (likely) deliberate clash of tones. Particularly the scenes in full colour (the only ones in the clip) taken from the Kennedy family's home movies. It is these moments that make this a great clip. The full colour and its attendent sweetness and breath of life deepens the emotional response, because of the clash between tones, and because of the terrible knowledge we have of the character's fate. The very simple moment at 1:24 with JFK crossing the road with John Jr is heartbreaking, because of the knowledge we have that both JFK and John Jr (after this clip was made) died young.

Sometimes in storytelling a sudden, brief injection of a tonal clash can have great effect. A sombre image in the midst of a seemingly joyous scene (a boy standing alone in the background, isolated for a second from the foreground of a group of children playing). Sometimes a joyous image in a sombre background (a butterfly above a barren desert floor) can trigger an internal clash of tone in the reader and deepen the resonance. Poets do this, film makers too. It's another tool you can use in your writing.

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