Film Studies Speaker Series – Research Symposium on Film Sound with Dr Liz Greene (Liverpool Screen School of Liverpool John Moores University) and Professor Helen Hanson (University of Exeter)
The first instalment of the Film Studies Speaker Series in Spring 2020 will be devoted to research on film sound, featuring two presentations by leading sound researchers:
Dr Liz Greene
Sound (Re)placed: Postproduction Tensions During the Making of THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980)
David Lynch’s second feature film, The Elephant Man, was shot and edited at Shepperton Studios, England in 1980. This production was Lynch’s first significant venture within the film industry, but his second feature film collaborating with the supervising sound editor, Alan Splet. Before The Elephant Man, Lynch and Splet had worked together on his short film The Grandmother(1969) and Eraserhead(1977). On The Elephant Man, the production and post-production process was tense with many disagreements arising about creative direction between cast, crew, producers and director. In this presentation I will explore the significance of the sound track being edited and mixed in England for Lynch and Splet. Splet and his partner Ann Kroeber came into conflict with the English post-production crew who had different expectations of what a period drama should sound like. This transnational production history will be unpicked through interviews with key personnel, including the director, Lynch, and Kroeber, and archival research into the Sound Mountain archive, a sound effects library that houses Splet and Kroeber’s work. John T. Caldwell describes critical production studies as “slippery territory” and consequently I will problematise my primary research (from interviews and archive) into The Elephant Manby outlining some of the gaps in this story, such as finding out about the cutting of an alternative sound track for the film, although this soundtrack is now un-locateable. I will consider some pedagogical lessons from the classroom where students offered creative and speculative responses to this gap, through the creation of a period soundtrack for a scene from The Elephant Man.
Professor Helen Hanson
Constructing a Classic: Gender, Labour and Agency in the Post-Production of Sound in the Classical Hollywood Musical
Despite her important contribution to classical Hollywood’s most polished golden age musicals, Lela Simone is little known in film history. Undertaking the role of ‘music coordinator’ for the Arthur Freed Unit at MGM (1944- 1957), the German-born Simone developed expertise for exacting technical supervision, overseeing pre-scoring and synchronisation for the iconic musicals for which the Unit are renowned, includingAn American in Paris (1951), and Singin’ in the Rain (1952). Simone is not known because in her technical role behind the scenes she typifies one of Leo Rosten’s ‘anonymous movie workers’ (Rosten, 32). Her work might be labelled ‘generic’, seemingly unexceptional compared to the ‘talent’ of stars or the ‘agency’ of producers or directors.
Using Simone’s career as a case study, this paper will reflect on the methodological challenges in relocating women within Hollywood’s production histories. Drawing on archival sources from the Arthur Freed and Roger Edens papers, which document Simone’s work, the paper will demonstrate the importance of scale in historiography and the use value of a ‘microhistory’ of a production culture (Trivellato). Examining some of the archival traces of Simone’s many day-to-day decisions, the paper will ‘reconstruct [the] choice situations’ of her work (Bordwell, 156), illustrating its variety, and her flexibility and responsiveness. Thus, the paper will revise existing production histories of the Freed Unit (Fordin) and, more widely, will challenge the notion of gendered and technical work as ‘simply’ generic by demonstrating how the textural variety of technical work contributed to classical Hollywood film style.