JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

Part four: record sales

   

The scene is devised to connote "recording," not to actually describe the act.

 

32: 2.46 Superimposition. Sheet music curtain rises. Recording studio engineer twists knobs.

33: Recording studio, musicians.

34: Crooner friend of Dixie and Eddie — Buddy — making a record version of "LBG." Again, a very abstract and unrealistic scene — Buddy in a tux, one mike, musicians seen do not match instruments heard on soundtrack, etc.

Technical work; association with RCA Victor dog trademark; wishing for good luck.

 

35: 3.07 Eddie and Dixie watch the master record being cut ...

... with their fox terrier, Buttons. Dixie blows a kiss to the machine.

 
36: 3.16 Buttons and machine. 37: 3.20 Superimposition. CU of record being cut and completed records spinning upward. A rather dense set of superimpositions follows showing records being cut, records stacking up, records rolling.  

Increase, multiplication, acceleration are used here, as earlier, to suggest quantitative success.

 

38: 3.27 Variety "Best Song Sellers" list appears; LBG is No. 15.

39: 3.30 New headline appears as record machine disappears.

40: 3.32 Superimposition continues: "'Lady' Sweeps Nation"; map of USA; large ocean waves. The montage becomes extremely literal (wave/ sweeps, map/nation).

41: 3.36 Superimposition, stacks of records grow upward.

Another pattern of three commences as record and performance are combined in three geographic areas.

42: 3.41 (left) Camera moves in on California while superimposed records pass by.

43: 3.43 Lifeguard sings LBG to young women in swim suits. Another gag. ...

... Camera cranes up and back to reveal them under a beach umbrella in heavy rain. Superimposition. Alabama on map; records pass through frame.
 

46: 3.56 Interior of Black club. ...

... Musicians, woman dancing in foreground.

 

47: 4.01 Map and moving records. New York.

48: 4.03 Iris out. Bandleader in night club cues spotlight to travel.

Success in public recognition (in this case in cafe society). The success of LBG has brought them together in public places and in the public eye. Material success produces personal recognition.

49: 4.04 As LBG is played, Dixie and Eddie are discovered by the spot at a table; the room applauds them.

50: 4.14 Variety: "Lady Makes Good."

51: 4.15 LBG is now 11 in Variety chart.

Validation by the authoritative newspaper on entertainment.

Part five: mass popularity

 
Another pattern of three commences as LBG climbs the chart: ordinary people begin singing the song in everyday situations and change the words, making it their own. Mass culture becomes validated as folk culture.

 

52: 4.16 Window washer sings LBG to a delighted Dixie. He is Italian (accent, cap, bandana, broad gestures) and changes the song lyrics to "bambina." At 4.20, LBG goes to 10, 9, on chart.

53: 4.24 Rag popping Black shoeshiner sings LBG substituting "hot potato" for "sweet and lovely."

54: 4.27 Camera tilts up to Eddie having his shoes shined and smiling. At 4.28, LBG moves up 8, 7, 6, 5.

 

55: 4.28 Manicurist sings LBG changing words to "dark and handsome."

56: 4.31 Camera movement reveals Dixie having her nails done. LBG goes to the top of the chart.

 

This sequence implies that a successful song goes all the way to the top when ordinary people take it up and make it their own. The hit parade is a measure of popular opinion, consciousness, activity. Interestingly enough, the previous indicators of commercial exchange are missing now. Although the chart indicates record sales, by being parallel cut with plain folks singing the song, it seems that it is more of a popularity poll. As people sing the song (not as they buy the records) it becomes number one.

 

Part six: peer recognition and triumphant success

 

After the two have achieved great success, peers give recognition.

57: 4.38 (left) Variety announces banquet for Eddie and Dixie.

First depiction of the radio in the sequence.

 

58: 4.41 Iris out. In a cab dressed up for the banquet, Eddie and Dixie seem extremely happy.

59: 4.46 Eddie turns on the vehicle's radio

60: 4.47 He mimes the Lucky Strike tobacco auctioneer calling on the Hit Parade Program.

61: 4.49 Their song is again number one, for the 10th week.

62: 4.56 They feign boredom with success.

Radio seems to be the last medium for songs to catch up with the popularity of LBG: it responds to the groundswell of public activity (rather than itself shaping taste and purchases). In this segment the highest success combines (1) maximum quantitative success (record sales per week) with (2) public recognition by one's peers (the banquet).

 

63: 5.07 Eddie and Dixie exit from the cab. A brass band is playing LBG, flash bulbs go off (the press, news), many bystanders are held back by police (glamour, celebrity, etc.) ...

... The camera tilts up to a sign on the Hotel Whitney-Paige (WASP ethnicity) announcing a Testimonial Dinner.

64: 5.21 Dissolve through sign to Banquet with Max presiding. Song LBG down, applause of people at the banquet up.


After seeing the sequence, if we ask the question, "How does a song become a hit?" we find that it all seems to happen spontaneously. When created, a song either is a hit or it is not. After that, all that's needed is the exposure so that everyone (the publisher, the performers, the record companies, the public, radio) can share in that recognition of the hit's essence. This is, of course, a distortion of how the music industry actually operated in 1941. In fact, it is so much of a distortion as to be completely fantastic and imaginary. We can see how the very simplified form of the Hollywood montage with its continual use of stereotypes, of univocal conventions, of simplified symbolism, meshes very well with producing a vastly simplified and simplistic understanding of the processes of mass culture.

We know that many techniques and examples of montage were brought to Hollywood in the Thirties by Slavko Vorkapich who had studied with Eisenstein and other Soviet filmmakers. Vorkapich worked on a number of montage sequences and gained such fame for them in Hollywood that "Vorkapich" became a slang term in the industry for any montage sequence. Unfortunately, we've been unable to find out very much about how such sequences were handled in Hollywood. Some studios had separate units just for such sequences, and young directors often started there, as did Don Siegel, for example. But there seems to be no article that discusses what specific methods were developed for the Hollywood montage and what the people making them thought about montage and how they compared their work with that of the Soviet filmmakers.

Other questions also come up. For example, how does rapid montage work? How do audiences understand it? How much information and what kind of visual and sound information can be conveyed? The answers to such questions may well come from work in perception and cognition and from studying the work of avant-garde filmmakers who have worked extensively with rapid montage. Short of launching such a full-scale investigation, it seems fair to say that in Lady Be Good we have a very watered-down version of montage, if we take Eisenstein as our standard reference point. In the hands of Arthur Freed's MGM musical unit, intellectual montage became what we would call "lobotomizd montage."