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Listening to Film

February 23, 2022, 7:00 PM

|Recurring Event (See all)

One event on March 16, 2022 at 7:00 PM

One event on April 20, 2022 at 7:00 PM

One event on May 4, 2022 at 7:00 PM


Listening to Film is a free series accompanied by a discussion of the film’s sound design led by Colby students in Music 298B: Film Music and Sound. The series comprises four films presented on Wednesday nights at 7:00. Details about the individual films are below. The series is sponsored by the Colby Department of Music, the Colby Department of Cinema Studies and the Colby Center for the Arts and Humanities.

The Farewell (February 23)

Lulu Wang’s intergenerational and international story is based on real events in the director’s family, or, as the opening credits tell us, an actual lie: Billi (Awkwafina), a Chinese-American writer, and her family try to come to terms with the news that their beloved Nai Nai, Billli’s paternal grandmother, has terminal cancer. While one fundamental role of Hollywood film sound is to communicate the inner experiences of characters, Alex Weston’s striking score actually gives voice to emotions that members of the family feel unable, for various reasons, to outwardly express. Multiple covers of borrowed tunes, as well as Wang’s own piano performances of classical music, help craft the story of Billi’s sense of self, cultural identity, and family.

(PG, 100 min.)


City Lights Shown with “Black & Tan” (March 16)

A beautiful, blind woman who sells flowers (Virginia Cherrill) falls in love with Chaplin’s famous recurring Tramp character after mistaking him for a wealthy man. Styled as a silent film amid the industry’s obsession with talking pictures, City Lights (1931) explores excess, the senses, and a love story through music and exquisite, hilarious pantomime. While in City Lights Chaplin avoided the “talking” aspect of talking pictures, lampooning spoken dialogue with sound-specific jokes, he took full advantage of the opportunity to synchronize onscreen movements to a musical soundtrack. Chaplin’s own score for the film reflects established stylistic traits of live film accompaniment, including musical themes attached to characters and ideas, borrowing existing music, and playing to action and mood. City Lights is Chaplin’s beautiful response to the film world being wired for sound.

Dudley Murphey’s musical short “Black & Tan” (1929) stars bandleader and pianist Duke Ellington and actress and activist Fredi Washington as a jazz musician and dancer, respectively. The couple secures a performance venue through the prestige of Washington’s character, who continues to dance despite the precarity of her heart condition. In addition to showcasing typical approaches to music and sound design in the very early period of sound film, this short features the Hall Johnson choir and one of the earliest film performances by a black jazz orchestra, showcasing jazz as dance music and a serious form of musical art. While this was his only lead acting role in a film, Ellington appeared in later films as a bandleader and wrote multiple film scores, most famously for Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder (1959).

(G, 87 min.)


Monos (April 20)

In this coming-of-age war film from director Alejandro Landes, a teenage guerrilla group known as the Monos pass time in an unnamed landscape while watching over their hostage Doctora and a dairy cow named Shakira. Prior to Monos, British composer Mica Levi, who also fronts an experimental pop band called Micachu and the Shapes, crafted scores for Jonathan Glazer’s erotic thriller Under the Skin (2014) and Pablo Larraín’s biopic Jackie (2016). These scores both maximize expressivity through minimal musical materials, as well as playing with both acoustic and electronically crafted sounds, and Levi’s score for Monos continues to play with sparseness, borrowing the trope of the whistle to evoke epic landscapes (think The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly), innocence, and isolation.

In Spanish with English subtitles.

(R, 102 min.)


Akira (May 4)

Set in Neo-Tokyo in 2019, a dystopian city devastated by World War III, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira draws together multiple communities in the city, including motorcycle gangs, the military, psychics, and politicians. Based on the director’s manga by the same title, the film chronicles Shōtarō Kaneda’s search for his missing friend Tetsuo, who has gained telekinetic powers following a strange motorcycle accident. The music and effects were created by Shōji Yamashiro’s experimental music group Yomashirogumi and draw on music from multiple cultures: Indonesian gamelan, Balinese kecak, Bulgarian polyphony, Japanese noh, and Buddhist chants. In most modes of filmmaking, music is one of the last elements to be completed, but in animation it is more common for the music to be composed first and animators to draw visuals in synchronization with the music. Akira was also partially prescored, with significant components of the music complete prior to animation; Otomo wanted “a work of Yamashiro’s music for Akira.”

In Japanese with English subtitles.

(R, 124 min.)


February 23, 2022
7:00 PM


Railroad Square Cinema
Schupf Art Center, 93 Main St
Waterville, ME
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