Sounds and images in The Twilight Zone, ‘The Invaders’
This chapter analyses the unusual and expressive uses of both visual style and sound in an episode of the science fiction series The Twilight Zone, ‘The Invaders’ (1961). The episode has no dialogue, though it has some framing narration spoken direct to camera, and it has little music. Nevertheless, this chapter makes the case that the consequent rebalancing of the usual expressive means available to television is both innovative and compelling. The absence of sound becomes an occasion to think more precisely about what sound does, and by removing some of the usual functions of sound the episode allows us to question the customary hierarchy in which sound is a support for the image. Shifts in the viewer’s knowledge of the fictional world depend on how image and sound manipulate our relationship with the female protagonist of ‘The Invaders’ in both conventional and unconventional ways. Sounds produced by her vocally, by her body movement and as a result of actions she initiates, as well as sounds coming from alien invaders and their technologies, carry an extraordinary weight because of the lack of other kinds of audio information. Lack of the speech which would usually convey information, emotion and tone encourages the viewer to attend to images more intensely than usual, reading details of setting, costume, posture and facial expression for example, to make sense of the action.
Jazz music and images of the past in Stephen Poliakoff’s Dancing on the Edge
Will Stanford Abbiss
This chapter examines Stephen Poliakoff’s television serial Dancing on the Edge (BBC Two, 2013), focusing on its use of originally composed jazz music and its development of fictional spaces. The analysis of the chapter shows how these elements can agree or disagree with each other; this embodies the dichotomy between optimism for the future and the political and social developments that lead to the Second World War, felt in the serial’s 1930s setting and represented by the binary of its title. Focusing on a Black British jazz band, Dancing on the Edge’s narrative concerns of racial identity are reflected in the struggle of their invigorating music to overcome the darker elements of 1930s society. The moment examined shows the Louis Lester Band performing for members of royalty, their ascent into high society undermined by the intercut scene of their manager being deported to America. It is argued that music becomes the organising element of this scene, allowing cultural significance not indicated by dialogue alone to be felt. Following this, the serial’s use of ‘Poliakovian’ spaces is assessed, considering the importance of the hotel space as a potential heterotopia and Poliakoff’s own cultural position. Lastly, the postmodernism of Dancing on the Edge’s music is identified, through the modulation of its music and its ‘decoupling’ from the band’s performances in the serial’s final episode. The conclusion asserts the broader significance of Louis’s subjectivity in the serial, in terms of both its historical moment and the potentials of period drama productions on television.
This chapter explores the use of direct audience address in Netflix’s flagship drama House of Cards, and the role of this technique in building up a relationship between the show’s Machiavellian anti-hero, Frank Underwood, and the television audience. As was the case with the BBC series on which the show was based, critics were divided on the ‘theatrical’ strategy of breaking the ‘fourth wall’ between the audience and the lead character. This chapter, however, will argue that the device of direct address is key to the characterisation of the anti-hero as well as to the viewer’s investment in his story. On a simple level it gives us privileged access to Frank’s character allowing us to enjoy the ‘operational aesthetic’ of watching his plans unfold. On a more complex level it creates an inter-diegetic space and a reflexive metanarrative, while employing a shifting tone that subtly informs the dynamics of the narrative. Frank’s use of direct address to camera is as variable in form as it is in function, producing a degree of affective disorientation, both in terms of our cognitive and emotional alignment with Frank himself and in terms of our immersion in his story-world. We are lured into an imaginative investment in the anti-hero, who at once seduces us with this cleverness and repels us with his cynicism; simultaneously we are reminded that both he and his world are fictional constructs, enabling us to set aside our own moral judgement and blamelessly enjoy his wickedness.
This chapter argues that the creative and evocative use of sound throughout BBC’s drama Bodyguard played a particularly important, though generally unacknowledged, role in the show’s success. Analysis of the prolonged opening sequence, in which the protagonist thwarts a plot to blow up a moving train, reveals how claustrophobic visual framing and dynamic editing contribute to an overarching atmosphere of threat. However, the most critical factor in producing the intense paranoia that pervades the scene is the aural mise-en-scène, a blend of composed music and sound design. The discussion explores a carefully nuanced soundscape integrating diegetic sonic components, such as metallic screeches and groans apparently emanating from within the scene’s train setting. These aural elements transform the composed non-diegetic music into a liminal acoustic presence that shifts between sound design and underscore in a manner resonant of the musique concrète, pioneered by Pierre Schaeffer. The chapter argues that these aural themes act as accelerants for the dramatic tension of the overall narrative, as well as metaphors for its protagonist’s mental state. It further explores the ways in which the text uses aural and visual points of perception to create an ambiguous psychological portrait of Bodyguard’s central protagonist. It then traces the ways in which similar aural themes emerge extra-diegetically in subsequent scenes, where the story setting no longer provides a diegetic rationale for their inclusion. This chapter argues that Bodyguard’s complex sonic structures represent far more than an aural reflection of visual storytelling: here sound design undercuts, intensifies and challenges the visual domain.
The Wire (HBO, 2002–8) enjoys a well-deserved critical reputation as an example of complex television. This chapter seeks to supplement and complicate this view, by highlighting and investigating elements of clarity, redundancy and simplicity in the programme’s aesthetic design. First, Erlend Lavik’s suggestion that The Wire exhibits minimal narrative redundancy is challenged, via a close analysis of first-season episode ‘The Buys’. It is argued that The Wire uses narrative redundancy, and that this does not qualify the series’ complexity but in fact enables it. The chapter’s broader argument is that The Wire’s particular aesthetic distinction is to offer a complex representation of its narrative world, and to do so with a style characterised by clarity and straightforwardness. The chapter makes a case for the interrelated aesthetic and ethical virtues of what it terms ‘clear-sightedness’. This mode of representation, however, can be seen to harbour epistemological assumptions that have been subject to critique, and the main example of such critiques that the chapter engages with is that offered by Colin MacCabe in relation to the ‘classic realist text’. The Wire’s end-of-season montages are critically examined as moments where the programme’s delivery of ‘epistemological gratifications’ (Bramall and Pitcher) risks undermining the virtues of its overall way of seeing. However, the chapter concludes by arguing that the programme as a whole successfully avoids succumbing to the overcertainty that is the risk of its clear-sighted mode of presentation.
This collection appraises an eclectic selection of programmes, exploring and weighing their particular achievements and their contribution to the television landscape. It does so via a simultaneous engagement with the concepts of complexity and simplicity. This book considers how complexity, which is currently attracting much interest in TV studies, impacts upon the practice of critical and evaluative interpretation. It engages reflectively and critically with a range of recent work on televisual complexity, expands existing conceptions of complex TV and directs attention to neglected sources and types of complexity. It also reassesses simplicity, a relatively neglected category in TV criticism, as a helpful criterion for evaluation. It seeks out and reappraises the importance of simple qualities to particular TV works, and explores how simplicity might be revalued as a potentially positive and valuable aesthetic feature. Finally, the book illuminates the creative achievements that arise from balancing simplicity with complexity. The contributors to this collection come from diverse areas of TV studies, bringing with them myriad interests, expertise and perspectives. All chapters undertake close analysis of selected moments in television, considering a wide range of stylistic elements including mise-en-scène, spatial organisation and composition, scripting, costuming, characterisation, performance, lighting and sound design, colour and patterning. The range of television works addressed is similarly broad, covering UK and US drama, comedy-drama, sitcom, animation, science fiction, adaptation and advertisement. Programmes comprise The Handmaid’s Tale, House of Cards, Father Ted, Rick and Morty, Killing Eve, The Wire, Veep, Doctor Who, Vanity Fair and The Long Wait.
This chapter explores themes of complexity and simplicity in relation to the animated television series Rick and Morty (Warner Bros Television, 2013–). The programme is considered as an example of the kind of narrative sophistication and intricacy that is the hallmark of a number of contemporary television animations, and which connects them to broader notions of complexity that have influenced key debates in television studies. The discussion moves on to reflect upon the particular ways in which fan audiences have responded imaginatively to Rick and Morty’s narrative complexity by using brief moments from the show to formulate their own extra-textual connections and meanings. The chapter concludes by returning to a moment from Rick and Morty to look again at features that, against a backdrop of elaborate plot speculation, may be considered simplistic but can equally be understood as complex expressions of creative choice, in turn providing rich opportunities for critical engagement.
The moment of petrification in Children of the Stones
Peter Hughes Jachimiak
This chapter provides an opportunity not only to take children’s television seriously on both artistic and cultural terms but also to gesture towards Children of the Stones’s significance in terms of TV’s art history. Undertaking an exploration of this TV series via the binary of sound/image, the moment in television, as far as this chapter is concerned, is the climax of the final episode, ‘Full Circle’: the point at which the villagers are, in a blindingly white flash of psychic energy, and amid a sonic swirl of discordant wails, turned into stone – that is, the moment of petrification. This chapter engages with sound/image binaries in ways that not only refuse to separate sound out from image but seek out the dynamic third space to be found in between them. In fact, Children of the Stones is more than an isolated moment, as the series is seen as part of a much wider sonic-visual space-time continuum, whereby this classic example of paranormal-fixated children’s cult television of the late-1970s allowed its young viewers to connect with a Neolithic past, and also to contemplate the far more nuanced relationship that the past, present and future hold between themselves. As an example of British Gothic televisuality, this series set itself apart from what had gone before, whilst the contemporary viewer’s ability to recognise the distinct aesthetic qualities of such televisuality means that Children of the Stones is forever embedded within our collective televisual memories.
Audiovisuality and the multisensory in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks - The Return
Caroline L. Eastwood
David Lynch is well known for his idiosyncratic and experimental approach towards sound-image aesthetics in film and television. His latest collaboration with Mark Frost, Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) constitutes a powerful televisual moment, and marks Lynch’s desire to push the stylistic boundaries of mainstream television. The bold and startling audio-visual expression of the 1945 Trinity bomb test in ‘Gotta Light’ (part 8, season 3) is indicative of the abstract expressionism present in many of Lynch’s films. Sound and image blend, collide and intensify one another, pushing the viewer’s sensory awareness beyond hearing and sight towards bodily feeling, eliciting kinaesthetic effects such as heat, bodily tension and physical discomfort to convey the overall sense of horror of the wider narrative. The sound–image relationship, or what Michel Chion (1994) refers to as ‘audio-vision’, provides this sequence with an immersive quality, presenting a significant opportunity to examine the fundamental role of sound in the viewer’s experience. Despite the growth in interest from scholars in the style and aesthetics of television, much literature is dominated by the visual. In addition, the powerful sensory appeal of this moment from Twin Peaks: The Return highlights the need for discussion of the embodied relationship between screen and audience in television studies. This chapter addresses these concerns through close textual analysis, engaging with theories more commonly associated with film studies such as sensory embodiment and multisensory perception to identify how the viewer can obtain narrative meaning from a powerfully aesthetic-driven televisual moment.
Television, style and substance in The Time Tunnel
This chapter argues that the US science fiction adventure series The Time Tunnel (1966–7) is about television: about the capabilities of the medium, the experience of watching it and the technological apparatus that television comprises. Visually, the series often adopts a grandiose, excessive visual style, especially in the opening episode focused on here. Key images are characterised by a sense of scale and visual spectacle, and the format seems calculated to advertise the attractions of colour television and the episodic adventure narratives that television offered in the US in the mid-1960s. The opening episode introduces the viewer to a massive underground base hidden beneath an American desert, in which an extraordinarily costly government project is being secretly carried out. At the heart of this technological facility, a physical apparatus, the massive Time Tunnel itself, acts as a portal for the protagonists to move to any moment in the past or the future, though without control over their destination. This premise is a self-reflexive representation of what television can do, transporting its viewer to real or simulated places and times beyond his or her experience, and engaging the viewer in thrilling narratives of exploration and peril. The style of the series, I suggest, articulates the substance of what television might be.